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One month has passed since my father left us. The last three months- two months of his illness and then one month after his departure- have been the toughest in my life: and believe me, I have faced way more than my share of tough situations in life.
It is only when a parent passes away, that you realise that you have just lost the most precious possession you ever had. The deep void that settles in your life is unlike anything you ever experience, the grief- heart rending. Because after all, it is to your parents that you owe everything in life – including your life itself. It is they who teach you everything – starting with the first steps you take, to the first words you utter, to every value and belief that you posses. It is to them you owe every morsel of food you eat and the education that made you someone.
My mind has been reliving every wonderful moment with my father – the stories that he told, painstakingly ensuring that I understood and internalised the morals and messages he couched in them; the innumerable hours we (the four of us) spent together repairing our old second-hand car, then painting it ourselves, building a car shed ourselves; creating working science models for our school projects- all these demonstrating that every problem can be solved and also inculcating problem solving skills in me; the many times I accompanied him to his workplaces and watched in wonder how a great leader handles his people; the many hours he spent recounting to me exactly what is happening in his work, imparting 35 years of extra professional experience to me and also teaching me how to convert every job into a fun challenge and every uncertainty into an opportunity.
As I grew up to be an adult, I was pleasantly surprised when the knowledge transfer and sometimes value-transfer became both ways- that he would actually seek my advice on professional matters and sometimes change his own deep rooted beliefs because he saw merit in my arguments pointing out fallacies in his belief. Of course, this was another lesson to me that one should always be open to learning, however painful and contradictory to one’s existing beliefs the lessons are, and whoever the lesson might come from. And then came a time when, to my delight, every time I told him how much he inspired me, he would tell me in turn how much I inspired him.
I think I am a dutiful son. More importantly, I love my parents unconditionally and wholeheartedly: and I never hesitated from telling them this, time and again. Almost every day, I would spend at least half an hour to one hour speaking to my parents on the phone. I made it a point to tell each of them how much they meant to me, and how much I loved them- each and every day.
But let me tell you, this is not nearly enough to stop the immense feeling of regret and guilt when a parent actually takes leave. My heart is filled with thoughts of how much more I could have told him, how much more time I could have spent with him and what all I could have done to postpone my father’s departure. And this is me – a person who has mastered the art of never thinking of what could have been. I lie awake at night, talking to my father, telling him how much I love him. I have discovered that when it comes to powerful emotions, scientific rationality flies out of the window and I find myself hoping against hope that my father’s spirit can hear me. When I speak to my brother, I know that he is going through the exact same feelings. But both of us are united in one more way – we will move heaven and earth to ensure that we will take the greatest care of that most precious asset that my father has left in our care – our mother.
Theirs was a 53 year long romance: a romance filled with love and respect, of giving and sharing, and of taking every step together. The next generation in me would sometime baulk at the division of duties in their marriage and also how much my father overprotected my mother from day to management of life. She still cannot write a cheque; operate an ATM; or even cross the road herself. But deep down inside, I know that they had reached their own unique equilibrium, one of perfect harmony and love. Neither of them would go out anywhere on their own, neither of them had a friend who was not a shared friend; neither of them would eat a meal on their own or watch a TV serial on their own. If they went out to a restaurant, they would always share a dish. If that was not enough, they would order a second dish and share that too.
So now when I look at my mother and see how she is able to cope with her grief with so much dignity and courage, my heart swells with pride, at the same time it quakes with deep grief. For I know that her grief must be equal to mine amplified infinite times. I grieve as much for her grief as for the loss of my father.
In my quest for a balm to assuage my grief, I have hit upon a thought that I would like to share. Our parents will always live within us. Genetically, it is their exact set of DNA that exists in us- nothing more, nothing less. And more importantly, every personality, trait and value we have is a result of what we have learned by observing our parents. So while we mourn their loss, we can also focus on nurturing those values, polishing them up and passing them down to the next generation.
To all my friends whose parents are alive, my humble request is this – like me, each of you must be having a unique relationship with your parents: speak to them today, right now, and tell them just how much you love them and how much you appreciate everything they have done for you. Then repeat that action every single day of your life. You might be able to minimise your regret.
To read more about my father and his influence in my life, read my humorous, yet inspiring autobiography From Ouch to Oops
I just spent two traumatic weeks in Rajagiri hospital in Cochin. For a change, this time I was not the chief guest of the proceedings. It was my dad who was admitted there with a cardiac failure. He was brought there with a urinary tract infection; but on examining him, his doctor had immediately placed him in the ICU.
I am very very close to my parents. My father has been an inspiration for me all my life, having instilled in me love for science through many an experiment conducted at home and also having ignited my sense of humour by reading out and translating P G Wodehouse stories into Malayalam for me at a very young age. It was from him that I learned the importance of tenacity and people management through relationship building. I had learned the art of converting every downturn into a success by observing him. He was always a larger-than-life figure for me.
My mother, on the other hand, is the epitome of love. With her, I share an amazingly easy relationship. As a sickly child when I spent many nights struggling for breath, it was she who kept vigil all night, warming my chest with hot towels and cleaning me up – sometimes a dozen times in 24 hours- after bouts of vomiting.
Over the last few years, I realised that the best way to keep them happy is by calling them every single day and speaking to them at length, sharing in their daily lives. I would call them every day at around 8.30 and speak to them till 9.15. With my dad, I would discuss my Speaking Assignments, my science magazine, my plans for touching a million lives positively, about our startup company etc. With my mom, it is a completely different story. We would talk such inane stuff and end up laughing non-stop for about 20-25 minutes. Thus, through that call, I end up getting inspired, getting enveloped in love, getting my daily dose of advise and also lightening my heart.
So when dad went through a near fatal crisis, it was a huge shock. But I was lucky that the flexibility in all my different activities allowed me time to spend 12 days in the hospital along with mom, looking after dad – meeting him twice a day in the ICU for the first 5 days, and motivating him; and once he got into the room, feeding him, pushing him to start walking, helping take him to the bathroom, helping clean him etc.
I was incredibly lucky that during these 12 days, I spent so much time with my mom (Amma) and got a chance to observe her closely – maybe for the first time after I became an adult. And I was totally amazed.
To me, hitherto she had appeared to be fairly scatter brained and always dependant on my father for taking any decision and even for any day-to-day activity. For instance, she didn’t know how to operate a bank account, how to draw money from an ATM, how to use a credit card or even how to cross a road. So protected was she by her husband – well meaning and obviously from a different era and mind-set.
So I had expected Amma to be in pieces when dad was hospitalised. Especially on day 3 when the doctor informed us that dad had taken a turn for the worse and anything could happen. Over the years, going through many downturns myself, had taught me how to handle tough situations- by keeping the mind firmly on the solution and not on the problem. Even then, I couldn’t help but dwell on the worst possible outcome and almost ended up in tears. I thought Amma would break down completely.
But she completely surprised me. Even though she understood the full import of what was happening, she bounced back really fast. I realised that throughout the ordeal, she was tapping the biggest strength that she ever had – love and compassion.
Every single time she stepped out of the rom, she would make a bunch of friends – from the nurses who took care of our floor, to the sweepers and cleaners to the security guard to the lift operator to the cafeteria server, each and every person would be chatted up, creating an envelope of warmth everywhere she went. By day two, all of them would be, in turn, smiling at her and asking after her and dad’s health. She must have made about 25-30 friends in those 12 days. With her, it was not a superficial act. She felt deep compassion for each of them. I realised that she never felt alone in the world. She had a huge family everywhere she went.
For me, who deliver talks on creating positivity and happiness, this was not only an affirmation and proof of the efficacy of my messaging, it was also a lesson in how to take it to the next level. Thus, at the age of 73, my mother taught a valuable lesson in motivation to me, a 48 year old, successful motivational speaker and compulsive gyan-giver : the lesson that deep compassion and acts of kindness always keeps the giver happy and positive.
I guess it is never too late to learn, if you follow the time tested scientific method of observation, collection of data, hypothesis, experiment and proof. You can also learn from anyone and any incident if you keep your eyes and mind wide open.
Dear Prime Minister,
As I sat glued to the TV on the night of 8th November, I was thrilled. Here is a bold decision taken by a bold leader.
To tell you the truth, I am not a fan of your party or the extended so called Sangh Parivar. During the elections, I knew the Congress party was corrupt, useless and blindly following the Gandhis. However, your and your party’s track record on the treatment meted out to minorities was a bigger danger to our country than uselessness and corruption in my opinion. So I made it a point to become one of the millions of likeminded people who vigorously hurled social media missiles at you.
But, the day you were elected, you became my Prime Minister, legitimately elected by the people of India and I decided to suspend judgement and give you my support. I must say that overall, the direction seemed to be positive and focused on development. My biggest concern has been that you have really made no effort to condemn, rebuke or rein in the fringe elements that went berserk on those allegedly consuming beef. Your ‘supporters’ also seemed to brook no opposition to you whatsoever, however much this opposition was issue based. To them, you seemed like the tenth avatar of Vishnu, who could do no wrong and any criticism to you was blasphemy. They also started fuelling a brand of hypernationalism which I thought would be a danger to the country in the long run. When the surgical strike happened, I was proud and delighted. Here is a strong prime minister, finally showing the enemies what we are capable of doing.
And then the demonetization happened. I called up my father and a few of my friends to exclaim what a great move this was. You see, I have never made a single rupee in black and have meticulously paid tax on every rupee I earned. When I see those who make much more than me avoid paying any tax, my blood used to boil. I know that almost the entire middle class feel this way and instantly you became a rock star.
However, the details started unfurling only over the next few days. I was aghast. I have handled many a complex project in my career. The one thing that we always try to do before we launch a new project or process is do a comprehensive FMEA (Failure Mode Effects Analysis). We try and think through all the potential pitfalls of a new process or project and devise ways to counter each of them or avoid them. What you were launching was a million times more complex than any project I have done. Now I realise the most basic pitfalls have not been identified let alone thought through. You have led our countrymen into a most perilous and hazardous journey with your eyes and ears firmly closed.
To take a step back, I believe you had these following reasons for the demonetization in order of priority
I believe you would definitely achieve 4. and to some extent 5. I am sure you have already achieved 2. and 3. I guess where you went wrong was that you had so much belief in your own infallibility that you decided you don’t need anyone to advice you. I am saying this, because if a larger set of people had spent enough time in thinking through the pitfalls, many of the disasters we have witnessed over the last ten days wouldn’t have been there. It was your job to know the following…
I can almost see my friends who are your devotees jumping up to defend you – the whole idea was to have absolute secrecy and thus it was not shared with or discussed with others. Really? You took this massive national make-or-break decision without discussing this with a set of advisors who should have done their number crunching and shown you how much hardship the common man would go through? You thought you were uniquely qualified to make this decision for the nation based on your gut and the nods from 2-3 of your yes-men? If that was the case, and absolute secrecy from even those who could give you balanced advice was necessary to launch the scheme, you should not have done it. No man, however amazingly intelligent he is, should take a decision of this magnitude on his own.
So today, thanks to your overconfidence and over-reliance on your smartness, the country is going through the biggest crisis it has faced after the partition. It is by no means anywhere near over yet.
Oh, you have done a great job in milking the situation to its utmost. Playing the ‘solidarity with the soldiers who are dying at the LOC’ card, turning up the emotional quotient by breaking into tears, dragging your poor mom to a bank for a photo op etc.
But what I would have expected you to do, like a man with a 56” chest is to face the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and engage with the other parties. Except Mamata, most of them actually gave a grudging approval to the plan on day 1 and 2, till they realised, like me, that there has been hardly any thinking through.
Now that the die is cast and we are up to our necks in the brown stuff, there is only one thing to do- grit our teeth and see the damn thing through. A continuous status update from you to the nation every day would be helpful- like a war room communication. Keep the people engaged and informed. (like for example on when the Rs.500 notes are reaching)
Lastly, I hope the move succeeds beyond even your wildest imagination and with minimum casualties. Because we Indians deserve a break. And remember, FMEA is a time-tested tool. It will ensure that personal biases and limited knowledge is not what drives important decisions, but collective wisdom of a strong core team. Do use it next time when you want to implement one of your creative ideas. And I say this without a trace of sarcasm.
Image credit armrest
I believe there are about 40 million people on earth who are descended from Genghis Khan. Every time I have to take an early morning flight, I become convinced that I am one of them. The ferocity with which I want to kick the daylights out of every individual who crosses my path can come only from such an exalted lineage. From the cab driver who gets grunted at; to the fellow passengers in the queue ahead at security who I dream of murdering slowly in their sleep; to the policeman who gets a dirty glare for feeling my butt, all human beings are equally abhorred during these traumatic periods.
However, none gets the brunt of my ire as much as the Despicable Encroacher of the Arm Rest (hereinafter referred to as DEAR). It is he who breaks the sacred gentleman’s unsaid agreement of sharing the armrest fairly and squarely. Like the constitution of the United Kingdom that is unwritten, but robust thanks to centuries of legal precedents, the ‘Covenant of the Economy Class Armrests’ states that the ones with longer arms should stretch their arms out and rest their elbows lightly on the farther half of the armrest while the ones with shorter arms have to snuggle their elbows in closer to the seat. While doing this, all precaution must be taken by both parties to ensure that contact between the two is minimised.
All fine so far. Almost all civilised human beings follow this. However, the DEAR is not civilised by any stretch of imagination. He sits upon the middle seat as if it were the iron throne of the Seven Kingdoms. With his left elbow, he takes full control over the entire territory of his left armrest and with his right elbow, he actually pushes out the unobtrusively placed elbow of the right side passenger by employing the sinister tactic of placing his elbow right at the edge and then proceeding to viciously shove out the co-passengers elbow. Then he looks blankly ahead and picks his nose in a nonchalant fashion.
It was two weeks back that I came across the worst of DEARs. As, prescribed by Murphy’s law, the passengers in the middle and window seats made their appearance well after I (the aisle-seater) had sat down. Being a courteous and well brought-up individual (even though the heir of Genghis), I politely got up and let DEAR and his wife move in. I gave them a full 30 seconds to settle down before plonking down. I sat back, heaved a sigh of contentment and placed the right elbow on the right armrest. Then I slowly started the process of snuggling my left elbow unobtrusively to the rearmost point of the left armrest, preparing the deploy the standard operating procedure of sliding it in further and further till it encountered human flesh. And then… I sat bolt upright!!
The blighter, who was a clear six inches taller than me -and hence possessing longer arms – had occupied the territory. I shook my head in exasperation. Another example that civilisation was falling apart. Resigned to my fate of having to lean my elbows far out – and thereby permanently damaging my arm sockets – I moved my elbow to the farthest reaches of the armrest and slowly lowered it. (civilised behaviour did not permit me to look to my left. Looking directly at the co-passenger is early bad taste.) As my elbow descended, I froze!!
My elbow had yet again encountered human flesh. It struck me with sickening clarity that I was sitting next to a DEAR.
Now I had two options.
Anyone who has watched Game of Thrones can tell you that option 2 is better. Besides, I was a bit worried that he might also be a descendant of Genghis Khan and that his genes, amplified by his eagerness to impress his wife, might prompt him to get up and pound me mercilessly if I deployed Option 1.
I have gone through many harrowing experiences in my life; but the next couple of hours were as nerve wracking as any I have experienced, as I put my cunning brain to work on DEAR dislodgement. The bulletised version of my process- without going into the details of my tumultuous feelings- is given below to help others who might find themselves in the presence of a DEAR…
It was during the deep sulk phase that DEARs wife politely asked me in Hindi if she could get out to go to the loo and I instantly saw my opportunity. I went through the motions of getting up and the wife and DEAR both stood up. I quickly shoved in my elbow and pointed out that due to turbulence, the pilot had turned on the fasten seatbelt sign and she was not allowed to get out. She promptly sat down and from the ensuing agitated conversation, I understood that she was about to throw up and moreover, that neither she nor her husband had any clue about the existence of the barf bag. Then realisation dawned on me. The poor guy was no DEAR. He just had not travelled much (if at all) on flights and knew nothing of civilised behaviour on airplanes. I quietly kicked my own backside (that hurt, since the recent bout of weight-loss had left my backside lean and scrawny) for being such a judgy bastard.
I redeemed myself in the next few minutes by quickly going through a well thought-out lesson plan on the usage of barf bags. The fact that I demonstrated how to open one and how to use it- with the necessary sound effects and actions thrown in- ensured that I covered all possible learning styles. The woman and the husband were both eternally grateful.
But what changed really was my attitude. I who had triumphantly and slimily taken over the armrest earlier quickly ceded this territory. After all, how do these small things matter between gurus and shishyas. Surprisingly, the husband also seemed to have learned his lesson and refused to reclaim the territory. The woman was good enough not to barf. We finished the rest of the journey in chummy silence, interspersed with loving sidelong glances at each other (the husband and I exchanged, but I absolutely desisted from returning the wife’s loving glances!)
The thought then crossed my mind – if India and Pakistan can find grounds where we can help each other and feel grateful/content, and both vacate Kashmir and give it breathing space, much like the armrest, all three of us can hug and smooch and exchange sidelong loving glances. This is actually what a fun Game of Thrones should be.
To read my humorous, yet motivational bestseller, click here From Ouch to Oops
I first noticed it in 1986. When it repeated itself in 2015, it became a hypothesis and finally, yesterday, the hypothesis was validated and proved right. There is a direct correlation between my backside and Indian team’s victory in crucial matches.
I still remember with a cold and clammy feeling that day in 1986 when I had walked into the hostel common room to watch India play Pakistan at Sharjah. India had batted first and had scored an imposing total. When I walked in to watch the match, Pakistan was struggling at 140 for 4 and Miandad was at the crease. Pakistan required some obscenely high run rate to reach the target and it looked certain that we could celebrate that night by getting sloshed silly. Till I walked in and plonked my butt down on the chair, that is. The next couple of hours were the worst in my then-eighteen-years of life, as I watched Miandad pulverising India and leaving Chetan Sharma looking like a complete Idiot. But the one who looked even more like a complete idiot was I. In IIT, where students did complex mathematical analyses for fun, every single person sitting in the common room had noticed a direct correlation between my butt hitting the chair and India’s downturn. Being a very sensitive guy, who moreover loved his country very much, I was forced to acknowledge that there was a distinct possibility that the positioning of my butt in front of the TV seemed to in some mysterious way switch off team-India’s supply of luck. I was devastated, but kept hoping that we had misread the signs. After all, correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation.
However, what happened in 2015 world cup semi finals made the possibility a near certainty. That day, at Zentron Labs, our start-up company, we had ordered pizzas for everyone so that we could happily sit back and watch India thrash Australia. Australia had set an extremely high target, but the Indian boys were chasing with gusto. Till my butt swung into action again, that is. I had plonked onto the seat in front of the makeshift screen we had created amidst our gizmos and equipment to feed our tummies with pizza while our spirits were to be fed with the sight of India winning. No sooner had I sat down than the all too familiar sinking feeling started– the well-set batsmen started playing ridiculous shots to get out. Eventually India lost. The young kids at Zentron were also smart enough to figure out the correlation, though they desisted from calling my butt seditious, since I had fed them pizzas. This time, I was also completely convinced that my butt was a reverse juju of sorts. Being very nationalistic, (RSS please note) I stopped watching cricket altogether.
Over the last one year, however, the rationalist in me managed to convince my superstitious side that laws of physics did not support my theory that my butt could have any significant effect on the outcome of Indian cricket team’s performance. (Except for marginally curving space-time – a localised effect, which should not matter unless I was sitting on Dhoni’s head.) So after a year of inner conflict, yesterday I sat down to watch the match between India and Bangladesh. As I watched the match progress, that sinking feeling again gripped my heart. Indian team was displaying unmistakable signs of being haunted by a malicious butt. Finally it came to a point where Bangladesh required just 2 runs off three balls. I performed the supreme sacrifice for my country. I switched off the TV and removed my butt away from the presence of the TV.
I know what you are thinking- you think I walked away because I believed that it was a lost cause, that I did not have faith that Bharat Mata would pull the team to an impossible victory. No, my friends. I knew that only by switching off my butt, could I strengthen the Indian team sufficiently. That and only that is the reason that I went away muttering.
All of you know what happened subsequently. Saved from the influence of the baleful backside, India took three wickets in the next three balls and won the game.
I have decided never to watch another Indian cricket match again- till scientists invent a material that can shield the invisible juju rays that come out of backsides. Then you will see me watching my country’s team, all dressed like superman and cheering India on.
In the meanwhile, if you think that yesterday’s victory was due to Dhoni’s captaincy or Hardik Pandya’s bowling, and have started worshipping them, think again. You know who (or to be specific, what) should be worshipped by the 1.2 billion people of India.
To read a whole wacky and humorous book authored by me, please click here From Ouch to Oops
Shakespeare said – or rather, Brutus told his friend Cassius in ‘Julius Caesar’ – There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.
I tend to agree with the first part of the quote. If we look back at our lives, we can identify specific instances that changed our fortunes. I call them inflection points.
In my case, it was the tail of a dog which I grasped firmly which took me thru the flood that set me off on a path that would eventually end up in IIT Chennai!! No, I don’t mean IIT is full of mutts. Though that also might be true, the story is a bit different.
I was in the seventh standard then. In a school famous for its headmaster – a man referred to by the students as ‘Laddoo’. Not for any sweetness of personality but for the fact that he tended to be rather spherical in shape. In fact, he was exactly the opposite of sweet. He used to bestride the corridors of Model School Thrissur like a colossus, with an equally colossal cane liberally waving in his hand. And he equally liberally used to ply the aforementioned cane to the bottom of many a boy unfortunate enough to cross his path while he rolled around. This attitude of suppression of students was generally shared by most of the teachers and my maths teacher was no exception.
And then, on that fateful day, the maths teacher gave the class an interesting assignment as homework.
It was rather a simple one- a set of coordinates was given which were to be plotted on a graph book. And once these points were joined, some amazing picture was to emerge.
As soon as I reached home, I set about plotting the coordinates. But imagine my utter agony of soul when I realised that the sheet on the graph book was too small to accommodate 3 of the points referred by 3 sets of coordinates. So I had an incomplete picture. I could already feel the cane of the maths teacher swishing its way towards my posterior!! I decided to join together at least the rest of the points and see what emerged. Well, what did emerge was a nice looking dog. But alas, a tailless dog. The three points left out would have completed the dog’s tail. I brooded and I brooded and I brooded. How on earth do I get these 3 points in? But no solution came to mind.
At this juncture, my dad happened to notice me hunched over the graph book, tearing my hair out and asked me what seemed to be the problem. At this point, my impression of my dad was that he was a nice and interesting character that came home for bed and dinner, and would tell us lots of stories during the weekends. But graph paper and coordinates? Man, you got to be kidding. How would he know such complicated stuff!!Still, in a rather condescending manner, I told him the problem, patting my backside to drive home the extent of the peril.
“Is that all? Simple. You just cut off a small piece from the next page in the graph book, staple it to this page and then you can draw the tail on that piece.” He said.
What??? Cut off a piece? This would only prompt an even more vicious assault on the posterior!
I refused. But my dad insisted. Finally age carried the day against good sense (or so I thought)
But I had to admit that the dog, complete with its tail looked rather cute.
The day of reckoning came. With a quaking heart and trembling hands, I showed my book to the teacher. And wonder of wonders – he grunted. You might well ask, so what if he grunted? Don’t these vicious types usually grunt? Ah, but this grunt was different. It was a grunt, modulated to show deep appreciation. A type of grunt as yet unheard of in his classroom. He also showed the book to the rest of the class and said- Only Ramgopal has got it right.
My father, whom I had considered an also ran till then, suddenly became the hot stuff. My admiration for him grew leaps and bounds.
After this, I would go to him every time I had doubts in maths. And he proved to be equally adept at aspects of maths other than dog’s tail, like square roots , cosines and such similar pippins. In a very short while, my fundamentals were clear. Maths, which was just another subject became my favourite. This love for maths finally paved the way for my outstanding performance in IIT JEE.
So I fondly remember the dog’s tail. And I tell my kids the tale of the tail of the dog. What more interesting inflection point in life can one think of!!
You can read more humorous (and supposedly inspiring) stuff from my life in my humorous book, From Ouch to Oops.
To buy, click here From Ouch to Oops
Image credit http://runsickboyrun.blogspot.in/2011_01_09_archive.html
My tummy has weathered many an assault and shock treatment. Primarily because of an unfortunate mathematical correlation between the girth of my tummy and my age. When I was in my twenties, the circumference of my tummy was also in its twenties – inches, that is. When I grew into my thirties, my tummy obediently followed. This annoying habit continued, and when I aged (none too gracefully) into my forties, my tummy did its best to achieve a similar result. Tried its best, I say, since I did everything in my powers to scuttle Tummy’s diabolical plan (since the only advantage I perceived in such a vast and expansive tummy was that I could rest a glass of scotch on it while reclining in my seat).
To contain Tummy’s rampant ambition, I enrolled in VLCC twice. But each time Tummy sprang back viciously, like the long suppressed proletariat. I exercised like a maniac and dieted- in multiple discrete cycles. Tummy sprang back even more viciously each time. Even the chemotherapy I underwent made only a negligible dent on Tummy.
But, unknown to Tummy, dark tidings were brewing. And about two months back, catastrophe descended on poor Tummy. With the greatest of glee, I said, ‘Tummy, from today, thou shalt not eat rice or roti’. Tummy shuddered. Nastily, I ground my heels in further ‘Thou shalt no eat any form of wheat, nor potato, nor tomato’. I could feel the bugger quailing. Relentlessly, I continued ‘Thou shalt not eat red or green pepper, nor milk, nor cheese, nor butter, curd or ghee’. Poor Tummy recoiled in horror. I twisted the knife vigorously ‘Thou salt not eat dal nor legumes nor nuts nor oats nor any other grain.’ By now, Tummy was resigned to its fate and to the total madness of its lord and master. I drove in the last nail firmly “Ah, Tummy, by the way, thou shalt not drink alcohol, tea, coffee or have anything which has sugar, jaggery, or honey’, I said with the same supercilious air God must have had when he told Moses ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his camel, nor his ass’.
You must be wondering, like my tummy, why on earth was I implementing such drastic austerity measures. No, I had not gone bonkers. The aforementioned diet is part of my plan to rid myself of the autoimmune disorder I have called CIDP. The diet called the Myers Way has been found to be very effective in reducing or even curing autoimmune conditions- provided, of course, the person retains his/her sanity.
The restrictions ensured that my daily food intake was rather exotic. Every day, with monotonous regularity, I eat baked sweet potato, vegetable smoothie and fruits for breakfast. For lunch, I have vegetable smoothie and sautéed vegetables; and for dinner, I have fruits, chicken/fish/prawn and vegetable soups.
After the first few days of absolute revolt, Tummy slowly adjusted to this torture. It would convulse and send signals to my mouth to start the waterworks every time my kids unwrapped a chocolate (which they seem to be doing incessantly since my diet started), but by and far, things were on track. The fact that I felt my condition improve and saw my weight plummet downwards also added to my resolve to continue on this path. Till disaster struck, that is…
That is when intolerance raised its ugly head. The first offender was my son- Advay, the bhelpuri-muncher. Out of the goodness and generosity of my heart, I had taken on the task of teaching him concepts of electricity. All was going well, till he suddenly upped and brought himself a humongous bowl of bhelpuri. With every new sentence I taught, he would deposit one spoon of bhel into his mouth and chomp away. The rampant irrigation that ensued in my mouth made the going tough. My tongue had to wade through Chennai-like floods to deliver V=I*R. Finally I got up, gathering any semblance of dignity I could, excused myself to go to the bathroom and chomped on a wet towel for the next ten minutes- till the bhelpuri-muncher finished his work. Little did he know how close the physics textbook was to transferring momentum on to his head in a southwardly direction.
Soon afterwards, my daughter, Ananya the multi-food-muncher, never one to be left behind, joined the fun with gay abandon. While sitting next to me on the sofa, watching Quantico, she proceeded to chomp away on two sandwiches, two scrambles eggs and a doughnut, all within a span of half, heartbreaking, hours. The reason I swallowed multiple times during Quantico that day had nothing to do with the suspense of the show.
Having survived these onslaughts, Tummy and I limped along, grumbling, till disaster struck again- and like all movie sequels, the second attack was far worse than the first. It came from completely unexpected quarters- from the 54 kilo weight, diminutive Krishnan, lovingly called Rbuddi(pronounced Arbuddi), my classmate, friend, colleague and boss. The disaster unfolded as below…
That eventful day, Rbuddi and I had to catch an early morning flight to Mumbai. I swallowed 4 sweet potato patties and a glass of smoothie a 4.30AM before embarking on the jouney. I met up with Rbuddi at the airport and we checked in. So far so good. Wait! This is where the ordeal started. No sooner had we cleared security, than Rbuddi embarked on a series of contiguous pigging acts that blended seamlessly into one another- starting with one breakfast, moving on to yet another breakfast, a sumptuous lunch, a heavy snack at the airport, finally culminating in parippu payasam (!!!) on the flight back. All that while poor Tummy was feeding on the sweet potato patties that I had carried and cut fruits.
I tell you, my poor tummy cannot take any more of this intolerance. If the bhelpuri-munchers, the multifood-munchers or the parippu payasam-drinkers continue their assault on poor Tummy, we will have no option but to migrate to Ethiopia, where we can live like kings.
To read more fun stuff, read my humorous motivational bestselling book ‘From Ouch to Oops’. Click here to buy it and have a blast Amazon
Image from https://twitter.com/e_of_blandings
If someone had told me at the age of ten that one day I would write a bestselling book in English, I would have been completely surprised. English and I were not on the best of terms, since I was doing my schooling entirely in Malayalam, my mother tongue. Not only the sciences and social studies, even English language was taught in Malayalam by our well-meaning teachers. Moreover, like any staunch Communist, as most Malayalis were, I abhorred English as the language of capitalist imperialist pigs. Thus, I would have been wandering through life quoting Malayalam poets at the drop of a hat and drawing myself up indignantly at the mere sight of anyone speaking in English, had it not been for P.G. Wodehouse.
Yes, yes, I can imagine the perplexed looks on your faces. ‘PG Wodehouse is English personified’, you must be thinking. So how did this Anglophobe gain from the great man?
Well, the story goes as follows. I used to love reading. Apart from reading mythologies of every conceivable country– Indian, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Mexican, Nordic, Celtic etc. translated into Malayalam, I would also read translations of classics such as the Three Musketeers or Bram stoker’s Dracula. (not a very wise move, considering I used to stay awake many nights, clutching on to a pod of garlic, staring at my brother’s face to see if his fangs were growing). But my mind was always on an enormous tome at home with the title ‘Most of P. G. Wodehouse’. One night, after my brother BalG, our cat Namu and I pestered my dad relentlessly, he picked up this volume and narrated to us ‘Monkey Business’, the gripping story of Montrose Mulliner, who ‘overcame’ an 800 pound gorilla to win the hand of the girl he loved – all in chaste Malayalam. He managed to retain most of the original humour in the translation, and we were hooked on to PGW. Over the next couple of years, we learned how Wilfred Mulliner rescued his lady love from the vile clutches of Jasper ffinch ffaromere; how Adrian smiled his way through to victory; how George sizzled like a cockroach when he should have been crooning sweet nothings etc. among other assorted Mulliner stories. Golf stories, Blandings stories and Jeeves stories followed in quick succession.
I realized two very important things in life 1. Reading English books can be really fun and 2. Pigs are noble creatures.
Over the next couple of years, starting with Enid Blyton and swiftly working my way up, I managed to improve my English vocabulary sufficiently to be able to read the great man for myself. There were, of course, words that completely stumped me at first – such as ‘imbecile’ and ‘predicament’. However, I gamely plodded on and over time, as I devoured every one of those 952 pages, my grasp and love for the English language grew by leaps and bounds. English language was great – and one that could express humour so well. And with my newfound chummy disposition towards pigs, even being a capitalist, imperialist pig was not so bad. Sad to say that my yearning for a porcine companion remains unfulfilled to this day.
It is not surprising then, that when I wrote my first book, ‘Oops the Mighty Gurgle’, it bordered on the absurd, being sprinkled with situations that could remind one of Bertie Wooster’s predicaments. The greatest compliment I received was when someone told me that the book was a perfect blend of PG Wodehouse and Isaac Asimov. You see, the book was an attempt at marrying science fiction with absurd humour – and I must confess with all humility that I have had many a fan mail, blaming me for causing the reader to look like an imbecile for giggling inanely on a flight. Not surprising, considering that the Darth Vader equivalent in the book is an evolved future-pig called Napoleon and that the most interesting chapter of the book is based on a planet called Holibutt that is inhabited by a species called Cerebums- whose brains are strategically located in a more central part of the body.
And then I wrote my second book, the one that went on to become a bestseller, titled ‘From Ouch to Oops’. This time the challenge was even more – to marry humour and inspiration. It narrated my own life story through its various ups and downs, culminating in the story of how I was crippled by an autoimmune disorder at the height of my career and then reinvented myself as an author, writing my first book using a voice to text software. Thanks to PGW, even this story – which people have found inspiring- was told in a lighthearted, humorous and extremely positive vein.
I guess I can never write a book that is completely serious. But then, I ask you, why should one tell a story as if one has a stick firmly shoved up one’s posterior, when one has the ability to make readers laugh their posteriors off!!
To read ‘Oops the Mighty Gurgle’, click here OMG!
And to read ‘From Ouch to Oops’, click here FOTO
( Image courtesy Aswajith Online )
We Mallayalis are a strange breed indeed. I have always known that. I was reminded of it this time when I visited Kerala. I had gone there to address two groups of English teachers – in Kottayam and Cochin. Driving from Cochin airport to Kottayam, I was once again struck by the incredible beauty of this land and by the amazing contradictions in the people there. You see, apart from being born and brought up there, I have had the ‘experience’ of a lifetime spending couple of years of my adult life in Kerala. In terms of excitement, that experience falls somewhere between being bludgeoned continuously every 30 seconds with a blunt object and having 220 volts of electricity being applied intermittently to your backside every five minutes. Massive ups and downs if you get my drift. I often ask myself why this is so. The answer always comes back to ‘The Fundamental Rights of a Malayali’.
To understand the ‘Fundamental Rights of a Malayali’, one has to first understand the psyche of a Malayali. The Mallu is one incredibly sensitive being. I have long pondered on why the good lord made Mallus so fair minded, yet so darned bristly at the same time. Finally, in a moment of inspired insight, the answer came to me. Unlike the rest of humanity, who evolved from mere monkeys, the Mallu has evolved from porcupines. This simple fact, so well hidden from Darwin (possibly because his limited experience never encompassed extreme cases such as meeting a Mallu), explained the bristling behavior of the Mallu. Having laid the foundation, I have taken great pains to put down a comprehensive list of the ‘Fundamental Rights of a Malayali’, a compendium of guiding principles which govern a Mallu’s life, his interaction with other Mallus and with other lower level mortals and why his ‘each particular hair stands on end like the quills upon the fretful porpentine’ (as you can see, Bill Shakespeare on the other hand, has certainly experienced a Mallu to have written these lines so appropriately) when he is affronted (as is his usual wont).
The ‘FRoaM’ reads as follows…
Right to equality – Every Mallu is born a communist unless otherwise specified by his/her parents. They shall continuously strive to create a society of equals by uplifting themselves as much as humanly possible and after that by subtly taking potshots at others who are more equal.
Right to Samaram(strike) – Every Mallu at birth is inculcated with vast knowledge of Satyagraha, which he/she hones by continuous practice of striking at least once every month from grade 1 to the age of 77. During months in which holidays are limited, he/she strikes several times extra to get his/her rightful number of off days.
Right to Flag Hoisting – Every Mallu male is entitled to hoisting his Mundu or his Lungi several inches above his knees and to showing off his hairy legs while pretending to be Silk Smitha.
Right to Freedom of Spirit – Every Mallu must at all points in time be pickled liberally and should strive for this exalted spiritual state by imbibing from early morning. Even if he has to queue up in front of the Kallu Shaap before it opens at the ridiculously late hour of 8AM.
A corollary to this is Right to Brandy – A true blue Mallu shall only drink Brandy, since he is able to assuage his guilt by pretending that the good spirit is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Right to Red rice & Fish curry – A Mallu may consume fish curry and red rice any time of the day starting 6AM.
A corollary to this is right to Beef fry and Porotta, right to Appam and Muttakkari and right to Tapioca and Fish curry. (except that Appam and Muttakkri may start at 5 AM.)
Right to Consider Sreesanth as the God of Cricket – The Mallu does not believe in RamG’s epic story on the 10th Avatar of Vishnu being Sachin Tendulkar as given in Oh God!!. In his mind, Sreesanth is the only god of cricket and has been unfairly treated by Krishnamachari Srikanth, a mere jealous Paandi.
Right to Murder English Pronunciation- This is a very Fundamental and inalienable right of a Mallu. Specifically, he may murder all words having an ‘O’ in them or may ‘simbly’ substitute a ‘B’ for a ‘P’ every time it dares to make an appearance after an ‘M’. The same may be said of a ‘K’ or a hard ‘C’ if they so much as try to jump in ahead of an ‘L’ as any of my ‘Ungles’ may agree.
Right to Amazing Names – A Mallu may be named by clubbing together any set of right sounding syllables as in the case of Jiju, Joji, Shiny, Shiji, Shiju… etc. Siblings may adopt rhyming agglomeration of syllables as in the case of Jincy and Lincy or even Tiju, Liju and Biju.
Right to scoff at Tamilians – A Mallu may at all times treat the Tamilian as an inferior being (Having actually drawn a substantial part of their cultural heritage from Tamil Nadu) and may call them Paandis.
A corollary is that the Mallu has the right to be offended if the Tamilian retailiates by calling him a ‘Malayali Gentleman’ in a sneering fashion. For more on this, you may read up my treatise on the subject as given in Tamil Brahmin Father-in-law
Finally, and most importantly, the Mallu has a Right to Bristle at all insults, real, imagined or not yet imagined. He has to uphold the traditions of his ancestor, the fretful porpentine. A very very important corollary to this is that all male Mallus must sport some of the quills inherited from their ancestors on their face- namely on their upper lip. This helps them bristle.
That, my friend, completes my well researched document on the Fundamental Rights of a Malayali. Now let me warn you, we Mallus are actually amazing. We have religious harmony, communal harmony, sex ratio, development index, literacy rate, female infant mortality, all to prove that we are a great breed. And we even have the ability to laugh at ourselves. But if you, who is evolved from a mere ape and not an exalted porcupine even so much as dare chuckle at this article, we shall all bristle in indignation, and poke your sorry backside with so many quills that you will never be able to sit again to have your Masal Dosas and your Tandoori Chickens.
For reading more such fun stuff, read my book, ‘From Ouch to Oops’. (be prepared to startle those around you with sudden explosive laughter and at the same time, feel awesomely positive). To but this, click here From Ouch to Oops
“So Jayashri’s visit to Bombay is f***ed ?” He asked me, eyes twinkling.
I stared at the man open mouthed!! The versatile four letter word so blithely flowing out of the 60 year old, supposedly god fearing Tamil Brahmin’s lips stunned me. Hey, this guy is cool, I thought to myself and gave him a chummy smile, almost as if to say, “hey you old coot, did not know you were one of us”!!
Again he said “So thanks to the strike in her factory, Jayashri’s trip to Bombay seems to have gone Phut”
Ah! I realized with a tinge of disappointment that he had actually said Phut (means Kaput) and not really the word of words.
This was my first interaction with Mr. V. Ramamurti, my would be father in law. My wife and I met each other in XLRI, where she was one year junior to me. Subsequently, she also ended up at Titan watches, where we had our respective first jobs (she vehemently denies that she chased me and came to Titan – Ha). We fell in love and wanted to get married. The only catch was that she was from a Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) family and I was from a Malayali Menon family. Since Jayu’s mom had passed away when she was quite young, quite a bit of her upbringing was done by her grandmother, who also ran their household – in a very traditional manner.
So when Jayu upped and told her dad that she wanted to marry a Malayali, he even refused to acknowledge it.
It took a fair amount of work from her sister to convince her dad that I was rather higher in the evolutionary pegging order than a pathetic worm. The fact that I could down 12 pegs of rum a day without blinking an eyelid and smoke enough cigarettes to make a substantial contribution to global warming were facts that were wisely hidden from him at that time. So one fateful day, I reached Mumbai to make first contact. With a heart full of apprehension and hope I waited in Shubha’s (Jayu’s sister) house for the prospective father in law, V.Ramamurti to descend. And his first words as he descended were what I described in the beginning.
Even though it turned out that he did not use my type of words, over the next couple of days, I came to the conclusion that he was a decent sort of bloke. Quite amiable and sweet, though he did take me thru a bit of history (namely of his own childhood thru to adulthood days), by the end of two days we were on decidedly chummy terms. But my restlessness kept growing, since after 48 hours, the gentleman never once mentioned the holy alliance between his daughter and myself. I felt a bit deflated, much as how Musharaf did when after being invited by Clinton to discuss a $1Billion aid, at the end of the visit he discovered that all he and Bill had discussed were Pakistani women, Cigars, terrorists, Kababs and what not.
But I was made of strong stuff. In the last 5 minutes before I was to eject from the house, I took courage in my hands and with a prayer in my heart, I told him – “Uncle, I am sorry if I have hurt you in anyway by falling in love with your daughter.” Impressive stuff, you must admit. And it finally penetrated the armor. VR got quite emotional and I could see that I was now well on the way to winning the trophy.
And trophy I did win in Feb 1995. From the wedding onwards, our cultures were a study in contrast. The wedding was in Malayali style, in a temple. The visiting Tam Brahm clan, which had braced themselves for the usual ‘2 nights of smoke and lack of sleep, which causes headaches’ kind of wedding felt like the rug was pulled from under their feet when having been herded into the temple, after the first blink, they discovered that RamG and Jayu were now man and wife. Cheated, I say!!
Appa (from that day, that is what I called Jayu’s dad) had sent 50K to my dad to organize the wedding. He had carried another similar sum in a leather bag, clutched to his bosom for the past 48 hours. The sum, he was sure may not be enough to cover the overall cost. He could not believe his ears when my dad returned some money from the original 50K itself stating that the total expense was below 50K. All said and done, the flag of RamG was now generally flying high in Appa’s eyes.
Appa made a formal entry into our home after our first baby – Ananya – was born. It was a huge relief for us, since it meant an overall supervision of things at home. A supervisory role which Appa took to with gusto!! A bit too much of gusto at times!!
The incident, which was to be referred to ever since as the ‘Economic Times Crisis’ happened around 6 years after our marriage. We had just shifted to Coimbatore. I discovered Hindu Businessline there and wanted to order this daily, along with the Hindu and Eco Times. Appa vehemently protested. Or so I heard, since Mappilai Maryadai (the respect due to a son in law) prevented him from disagreeing with me directly and all such conversations were routed thru the medium of Jayu!! His point was that Hindu Businessline and ET covered the same stuff and so why order both. I put my foot down. I pointed out to my wife that I was the master of the house. I made sure that she personally briefed the paperwallah on our daily requirements. Matters went well for 3 days. Then I realized that the ET was missing from the daily bouquet of papers.
An intense investigation was instituted at home. And I couldn’t believe the findings!! Appa, the god fearing Brahmin, the man who was so courteous and sweet had got up at 5AM (which anyway he does) and instructed the paperwallah to stop ET. I was speechless. This complete underhand deal left me baffled. Of course, I could not express my displeasure to him directly, except by giving him dirty looks behind his back and muttering – “where is the ET?” in a marked manner within his earshot. Jayu, of course was a chingari. She took it up very strongly with Appa and finally we restored the ET. Except on Saturdays and Sundays – where Appa still had his way. He believed that at Rs.5, this edition was a waste. So we finally entered into a truce – ET stayed, but not the weekend edition. Peace reigned throughout the household again. All was well.
Apart from these few incursions across the LOC, Appa was generally the personification of sweetness, piousness and love. I am yet to see a more wonderful human being in my life. His sweet nature also ensures that most of the young women that we knew clustered around him. (This of course was also a very positive development as far as I was concerned)
When I shifted to Coimbatore and Jayu gave up her job after Advay, our son was born, Appa was very worried if we could still afford the quality of rice we were used to. Since he ran the household, cheaper rice became the norm. It took us quite sometime and a promotion to convince him that we were not actually below the poverty line.
This is the quintessential Appa – he worries about everything. He worries that we might miss our flight every time we go on tour. He worries about our work. He worries about the kids… If he has a train to catch, he would be at the platform 2 hours early.
But the huge contradiction is the incredible courage he displayed when his wife was suffering from MND at a young age. I believe he never ever gave up hope or stopped trying. He took care of her every need, spending hours by her bedside in her last days. After she passed away, he continued displaying the same courage – bringing up two girls, trying to ensure they never felt the absence of their mother, pushing them academically, till one got into the civil services and one got into XLRI. Today, he is a proud father, happy at their achievements.
Over the last few years, he has adjusted so well to me and my Malayali ways. (He refers to all Malayalis as Malayali gentlemen, almost as if it is an oxymoron.) He does not even mind that we cook chicken at home. My son, in a mad sense of humor once went and told him – “Tata, I am a Brahmin”. Thrilled, Appa asked him why he felt that. The answer came promptly “ Because I eat chicken!”
Over time, he realized that his son in law was rather attached to the occasional binges. He however turned a blind eye. Except on one occasion, when a lot of my friends had come visiting and we were partying late into the night. Having run out of Tequila, we decided to have shots of Triplesec. In about half an hour, I was completely sozzled. The nearest bed in sight was next to Appa and I decided to sleep it off. Unfortunately, as soon as my head hit the pillow, it seemed to be caught in a tornado, and I had a terrible urge to throw up. I got out of bed, only to find out that my legs seemed to have lost all coordination. I gamely crawled on all fours to the bathroom and back. Poor Appa was awake all the while, watching the antics in horror. But his heart melted when having laid down next to him, I kept muttering, “I am sorry Appa.” “Even in his dire straits, he only thinks of me” – he proudly told my wife later.
The most touching moment in our relationship happened when I had a job in Gurgaon and we had to shift from Hyderabad to Gurgaon. Appa had many friends in Hyderabad and I knew he would miss the place terribly. I asked Appa whether he would mind moving. He looked at me and said “ When I was young, I wanted to bring my old dad from Tanjore to Mumbai. I asked him whether he would feel out of pkace in Mumbai. He turned to me and told me – where Ram is there, that is Ayodhya. Similarly, for me, where Ram is there, that is Ayodhya”. I was deeply touched.
He has become such an essential ingredient to daily life, that I miss him so much when he is away. Even his micromanaging ways- my wife jokingly asks me whether Appa has been acting too Uppity every once in a while – has now become an entertainment. When a person loves you unconditionally, how do these small things matter? Every moment he is at home, I feel enveloped in his love and tenderness.
Kudos to Ramamurti – the Tamil Brahmin who was born in an ultra orthodox family in an Agraharam in deep Tamil Nadu, who has had the courage to modify his traditional beliefs and who has been able to accept, love and wholeheartedly embrace a son in law like me.
To read more such fun stuff, you can read my bestselling book “From Ouch to Oops”. I promise it will make you laugh, even while inspiring you.
It is available at From Ouch to Oops