Feb 202012

As I have always said in some of my previous posts, we being the residents of coastal region, fish is our main diet. We vasaikars, love fish. Though our daily diet consists mainly of seawater fish, we do eat fresh water variety too. In fact fresh water fish was our regular diet some years back.

During summer, the water level in the well or the lake would go down, and a normal person could wade through the water which was at waist height. Most of the villages had lakes and ponds(or a large brick well for irrigation, but which was also used for breeding fish) of their own, and the youngsters from the village would group together on a fixed day and catch for the evening meal. It used to be a big occasion, and we children would sit for hours together at the edge of the pond, or on the huge brick well, marveling at the skills of our elders whenever they landed a big fish. They did not use fishing hooks, but instead, tossed the nets skillfully or used traps made of bamboo baskets. The entire catch would then be divided in to equal parts and each part would be handed over to the families of the people involved in fishing, by the way of lucky draw.

I was quite small when this happened, may be around 8-10 years old. After the summer season ended, the pond used to be auctioned to someone for a particular period for fishing. The income through the auction would be sufficient to pay for the irrigation pump electricity bills. But one particular year, the auction didn’t go though and after rains the pond was anyone’s for fishing. People from the village and neighboring village started fishing on regular basis using fishing hooks on a pole. The catch would be sometimes sufficient for two meals.

On a particular holiday, I decided to try my hands at fishing. That was the very first and the last time I tried fishing. I was accompanied by my brother. With a fishing hooks tied to nylon string, which was further tied to end of a sufficiently long pole, we two amateur fisher-boys marched towards the lake. The bait we planned on using was earthworm(which was a common bait in those day). On reaching our pre-decided spot we were unsure who would get the earthworms. Sensing that my brother would not do it, I went about the job of finding earthworms in damp places on the ground. I had to dig in to the mud and turnover few stones until I managed to get 3-4 live ones. The bait being in hand, we were not sure who should handle the juicy part of fixing the worms to the hook. It was disgusting. I tried it, and I am sure that I tortured the worm a lot. Somehow the earthworm was attached to the hook and in to the water went the hook. Within seconds I felt a slight tug and yanked out the line. A small fish, about the size of my finger, was attached to the hook. I would require about 25-30 of such to make some decent amount of curry. I tried again and managed to catch even smaller one. After 3-4 tries resulting in small catches, my brother, my ever supportive brother, decided it was time for him to play some other game and left me alone. Now it became my sole responsibility to feed the family of four.

After many tries and virtually no success, I felt embarrassed. How would I face my family(not that my family was depending on me for food, but I had not asked my parents permission to go near the lake so would need something to please them in case they decided to get angry). How would I walk the road to my house with people teasing me all along?(Actually no one would care). But I was small and those were my thoughts. Sensing despair, God sent an angel in the form of a neighboring uncle. He asked me what I had managed to catch and seeing the small fishes he was quite amused. He asked me to try again and I hooked an earthworm. He took the fishing pole from me and removed the earthworm. Then he rehooked the worm, hiding the entire hook by its tubular body while still keeping a wiggling tail free. Apparently, I was hooking the bait in a wrong fashion. Then he asked me to cast and he went away. Within seconds something was tugging my line and I had to use my full strength to yank out the fish.

It was a small wonder. Bigger then my palm(but actually smaller then my mother’s palm). I didn’t even know how to unhook it and was afraid that the sharp fins would hurt me. But neglecting all this, I started yelling with joy and few people on the opposite bank of the pond were startled thinking that I might be in some kind of danger. Seeing me yelling with a fish dangling to the hook, they resumed their business.

At home I proudly displayed the fish to my elders, my cousins, neighbors and my parents. They were very proud and so was I.

In the evening, dad went to the fish market and bought enough fish to feed us. I gave up fishing….

Jan 012012

It’s 2012. Time passes. As I sit through a somewhat boring sermon in the church, I turn my wrist to see the time and find that I have forgotten to wear the watch. Again. My thought rotates around watches. And as always, I am reminded of a watch which I can never forget. This watch has had some influence on my life and I would surely like to have it back, if it’s still in existence. It was my Grandpa’s watch.

The story can be long enough to bore you, or quick and short leaving out the essence. But I care less and write as much as I fell should be written.

The watch was pocket watch, similar to the one Gandhi had. I do not remember the make, and I wouldn’t dare make guesses. Ever since childhood, I had been fascinated by everything mechanical. And this spring action watch was one equipment I loved to watch. Today we have quartz powered watches which require changing battery after a long duration. But this watch required winding up so that it wouldn’t stop. Everyday, after coming back from market, my grandpa would wind up the watch to keep it running. The second hand(smallest one), ticked away on its own, on a separate dial just below the number 12. I would sit minutes together watching it completing those many rotations, and along with that, the movement of the big minute hand. I wasn’t allowed to touch it until I came of age, which I guess was around the age of 7-8. At first, Grandpa would allow me to wind it up, but being scared that I would over wind it, he would allow me to give it only a few turns and then take over. Anyway, the spring was too tight for my tiny fingers to over wind. And after a few turns, my finger tips would become raw due to the serrations on the small winding knob. But I didn’t complain since I wanted to handle it regularly.

By that time, my grandpa had been explaining me all about the numbers on the dial and how to read time. I was, may be in 3rd grade, and one day, my grandpa dared me to tell the exact time. I took my time to read the numbers and their meaning with respect to the hands. Finally, somewhat scared, I muttered, “11:20”. “100 marks to you!!”. I remember my grandpa saying this in excited tone. My Grandma was very happy. Though not educated herself or being able to tell time, she strongly had a view that we all should be well educated, and I had passed one test for which she relied on the church bells. She proudly told around about my achievement, and though it took me quite some time to actually read time any time of the day, in her view I was the most intelligent boy in the village.

I kept learning the art of reading time for few more years on the same watch. And around sixth grade, the watch was gone. No, it didn’t stop working. It ticked as good as it ticked before. But the circumstances under which we had to part away with the watch were a bit disheartening to me personally.

My Grandpa had crossed 80 and time and again he fell ill. He was losing strength and he was sure that the time for his passing to another life was coming near. All he was worried about was not to burden his family with the expenses for the funeral.

One day Grandpa informed us that he had sold the watch. We were all shocked and asked him about why he did that. As it turned out, he had spent the money in taking a portrait photograph of himself and framed it. He had bought new footwear, new dhoti(a traditional cloth worn below the waist), a traditional jacket and the traditional black cap. He had prepared himself for the journey and didn’t want his family to bear the expenses. He had instead parted with his one beloved possession.

As the details of the events were later revealed by him, he had gone for a visit to the doctor where he met a man from a neighboring locality. During a conversation with him, the subject of time and watches had somehow crept up and my Grandpa informed about the pocket watch which he owned. The man was quite interested in the watch and offered my Grandpa 1100 rupees for it. The year was 1991 and 1100 rupees was a big amount. My Grandpa had immediately agreed, caught the next bus home, picked up the watch, went back and traded it for the amount. He had then used the money on the above mentioned articles.

He had bought the watch quite a few decades back for the sum of 35 rupees.

My Grandpa passed away the very next year, in his new clothing. And his portrait hung on the door frame for years till the house was demolished.

My Grandpa, and that watch, taught me to read time. One of the most valuable lesson anyone can learn. I always feel nostalgic whenever I remember that watch and feel that it should have been in the possession of our family. But the financial conditions of the family at that time, were “just making ends meet” and my Grandpa had enough self respect to not ask my mom or his other daughters, or his son for the money for such a cause.

The watch was gone forever. The man who bought it for such a large amount, surely had some knowledge of its value and am sure, the watch is still ticking somewhere. And I am hoping it’s ticking with a collector or someone who really cares.

Jul 252011

Press the shift key and the * key together. Then press the Space Bar once. Now type out the word BASIC. Press the Return key and then the break key”.

Those words were the milk on which I begun my nourishment in to the digital world.

The year was 1992. The Gulf war was on. The stock markets had crashed. I was in class VIII. And to escape the agony of the drawing class, and explore the new thing in India, the computer, I had got myself enrolled (paying exorbitant fees) into the computer class in lieu of the drawing class. I had no idea, neither did lakhs of people who tried to embrace this technology, how far this invention would advance. But there I was, listening ever so attentively to the instructor, as she dictated the steps we had to follow, in exactly those words. I never got the heads or tails of what I was doing, but following her instructions, I could display “Hello” or even my name as the output of the ‘program’. I was thrilled. I continued computers for rest of my school years, during which I learnt DBASE, WordStar and missed out on LOGO as I was ill during those classes. Then they taught PASCAL.

By now, I couldn’t understand what was going on. Where were we going to use DBASE, or WordStar, or why would we buy a costly piece of electronic equipment just to add two numbers? And what was this Pascal all about? But I always scored good in the computers exam since I was good at memorizing or learning “by heart” as we called it.

The real breakthrough in to understanding what programming was all about, came when I was in the junior college. As it happened, I opted for computer science since I was scared of dissecting cockroaches and rats in the lab. And as it turned out, I was scoring poorly in computer science as well. Then I joined extra coaching with a particular teacher from another junior college. And my God, that guy was amazing. He explained how exactly LOGIC was to be applied in to programming and then taught us the syntax(grammar) of PASCAL and later C. I started seeing computer programming in new light by then. 386 machines were just so common and the 486 machines were admired and envied. Windows 3.1, with its “colorful” desktop was just arriving. On the rarest of the rare occasions would we get a peek at a machine with such configuration.

But my heart was in to machines, those moving assemblies which we could see and predict and with very little guidance, I picked up Mechanical Engineering as a branch to make career in. I successfully pass through the course, within the minimum possible time for passing the examinations(no failures, straight success). Programming did taunt me from time to time during engineering studies, and I picked up FEM/CAD/CAM(Finite Elements Methods/Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing) as a vocational subject.

That was the time when it struck me that I had not learnt enough of the programming. The above vocational subject involved designing using C++ programming, and I had stopped short at C during my junior college days. I tried to apply the concepts of C while programming in C++ and I passed through, miserably though.

And by the time I completed my engineering, I got my first personal computer, with the latest configuration at that time. It did cost my dad a fortune, but with the Pentium III processor, 64 MB RAM, and windows 98 running on it, I was not complaining. The year was 2000. I did learn lot of things on it. I learned how to use windows, how to install OS and other software, how to play games, rip music, watch videos. I learned to use the internet using the dial up connection, which cost my dad a fortune on telephone bills each month. I learned to assemble a computer from scratch, troubleshoot the operating system, rectify the problems. I learned a lot.

The only thing I forgot to learn was any specific programming language. I had the brains to apply the Logic properly, but didn’t have the guts to change my field from hardcore mechanical engineering to software development. Few of my friends changed, and they did succeed. I, meanwhile, was comfortable with the machineries, since they were physical, real and visible to naked eyes.

Due to lack of any good job opportunity, I finally choose marine as my career path and then invested some six years of my life into it, with good returns in monetary terms. The world meanwhile moved on from Pentium IV to hyper-thread to dual core to Core 2 Duo. Microsoft dished out Windows ME, XP, and Vista. By the time I decided to leave marine, I was a proud owner of a Core2 Duo laptop with windows vista and 4 GB of RAM. Alas, I hadn’t known how soon it would turn obsolete. Core ix series and Windows 7 was just around the corner.

I was good at computers while onboard. With almost none of them having any knowledge of troubleshooting a PC, I was the doctor whenever any PC related problem crept onboard. On ship, I was the God of that small machine. Onshore, I was way behind. I missed out on many issues of Chip, the technology magazine on which I fed for information and by I used to swear. I missed out on lots of technological advances while onboard. But then I had submitted to my life and being a genius in computers was not an option.

Now I have left marine life since about 3 years. I work onshore and my work keeps me glued to computers for about 8 hours a day. I am sure that it has become an integral part of my life. And I am even more sure that I am not making the most of it. I could have been a genius computer programmer, had I chosen to be that at a certain point of time in my life. I could have been the one who wrote the blog editing programs instead of being a lame blogger who uses it. It would have been so much different. It would have been so great to see people surrounding me using my program for their daily use. Like I do now.

But then, I wouldn’t have got the time for my blog. I am sure I would have envied those bloggers, as the programmers envy me now. I would be just a faceless programmer, unknown to the outer, real world and not a blogger with friends in that circle. Life wouldn’t be like what it is now.

And you know what, I am happy with my life now. So, even if my 18 years of close contact with computers didn’t make me someone great in in that field, I don’t care. My Odyssey is still digital, but the destination is different.


Also I have some lessons from my experience which I would like to share with you.

  • It doesn’t matter what path you choose in your life. Stick to it and make it lead to your destination, and,
  • Technological turnaround cycle has become very short, so wait for the right moment before you buy your computer. And anyway, your machine will go obsolete in six months.
Mar 082011

It’s 8.30 in the night and I am sitting on my front porch, overlooking the road. It’s dark on the road, due to the dim street light. I have switched off the lights on my porch, so it’s like a vantage point for me, offering an unobstructed view of the passing vehicles and people, while being invisible to them.

I am trying to connect to a telecom customer centre, and I know my attempts are futile. But I still persist, as I don’t like accepting loss so easily. Not at least in arguments. I hear a rustling sound nearby. It’s a coconut tree branch, dried, dead, which has fallen across the road. A bike comes at it’s majestic speed, brakes near the coconut branch, rides over it, and is gone in a flash. I get up from my seat to clear the road off the obstruction, but stop halfway.

I have enough time at hand since I am trying hopelessly to connect to the customer care, and I know that I have an opportunity here. The opportunity to observe the behaviour of the road-smart people who pass by. I know that the the branch is on a straight road, and poses no immediate danger to any biker, as they can see it from miles. But how they react to it, will be a subject of observation. I give about half and hour of road time to the branch, after which I will remove it myself and clear the road.

I sit back, with my eyes on the road. The customer care centre no longer interests me. A bike is coming along the road at good speed. It’s slows down, crosses over the branch, and speeds away. Another bike does the same. Then it’s a car, and an auto rickshaw,  another car, a bike. All drive, avoiding it by riding on the very edge of the road, or slowing down. A bicycle rider comes along, ringing his bell. My hopes soar high. At last, I might witness some sense of social responsibility. The bicycle rider, doesn’t need to even slow down. He wouldn’t care less. Worst of all, a man who comes walking after that, does the same. It’s the man from the neighboring village. This is as much his road as mine. But he doesn’t seem to even notice the branch.

It’s almost 20 minutes past since the branch is on the road. I am tired of being bitten by mosquitoes, so I get up to clear the road. Then I see in a distance, a door to door fruit vendor, pushing his cart, with his unsold stock, back home. He has walked in this manner the entire day. At the time when I like to be at home, fresh and relaxing, he is still miles away from his home. It’s a long, tiring walk back home, which he takes day after day, along the same road. And this coconut branch will always be a big obstruction for a man tired by walking. He crossed the branch and moves ahead. I give a sigh of disappointment. A few paces ahead he stops his cart. He goes back, picks up the branch, moves it along the side of the road, and continues home. The next person won’t know that the road had had any kind of obstruction a few minutes back.

I just wonder. All these people are my villagers. They have passed in their expensive cars, and swanky bikes, proclaiming all along that this village belongs to them. That they are the real population of this village. But no one cares to do something which might benefit others. On the other hand, the fruit vendor, who does not originally belong to this village, who is always looked down upon and is called a “bhaiyya”, which means brother in Hindi, but is used like a racial abuse, has already crossed the obstacle but cares enough for other to remove the obstacle from the road. No matter what his mindset is in moving this branch, he is not to gain from the act today, so his act shows a sense of social responsibility.

And he is not the one who cares for our village, as some people feel.

This reminds me of a story where a king placed a big boulder on the road, and observed from a vantage point that all the rich and powerful people of his kingdom abused the king and the governance for not moving the stone. Meanwhile a poor farmer came along the road, and moved the boulder away, and found a pouch full of gold coins under it, which were kept by the king and meant for anyone who moved the boulder.

I wish to been a king. I want to gift the fruit vendor for this act of social responsibility.

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