Friday, February 29, 2008

Laughter Challenge

No ....... This is not about Raju Srivastav or Shekhar Suman. The challenge is not to make others laugh, but the other way around is to face up to the ordeal of laughter and come out unscathed. Yes, you read it right.Laughter can be an ordeal at times ... here is how.

Despite living in the same complex, we colleagues used to meet up only during social functions or bump into each other while at official errands. It was therefore decided by the Boss (let's call him B)that everybody would have lunch together on working days. From that day on, a daily joint lunch became a norm .....and the trial began. We would all sit across the loooong dining table with B at its head.

A few "lunch sessions" later we realised that B was actually in love with his own voice. He would narrate experiences and tales, putting his mimicing skills to frequent use. The culmination of every sentence would invariably be a thundering laughter (seemingly wicked kind that reminded me of the satans of Harry Porter and the notorious "Krur Singh", a charcter in a hindi teleserial). It often happened that none of us could make head or tail of his "hilarious" sagas, but had to burst into mirth, just to stay in sync ... you know what I mean. The only positive factor being the hope to invountarily imbibe the proclaimed benifits of laughter therapy. The problem was that these mealtime meetings would seldom conclude before our cheeks pained due to the synthetic laughter and until the food was almost digested. Gradually, a time came when "lunchtime" would translate as "horror time" in our dictionaries and some of us started getting nightmares of the "laughter beast".

We worked out methods to deal with the crisis … taking turns to attend lunch … scheduling work to match the lunch timings … etc …..but the fear factor remained. I was enjoying the pleasures of an afternoon siesta yesterday when shaken awake by an appalling dream….. All I could remember hearing was that savage laughter … a very familiar voice asked .. “Pahchan Kaun” …. And I shuddered …

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It's All in the Mind

Khor fulus is a little hamlet by the Sobat River in central Sudan. We were standing at the jetty awaiting a boat that would take us across to this village, where we were to establish a medical camp. On the opposite pier was a group of people trying to get into an already teeming boat. Each one was carrying a small bundle of personal belongings and infants were clinging on to the backs of their frail mothers. The latest spell of fighting in the village had consumed twenty –two lives and the small rustic market was ransacked and reduced to shambles. Some villagers were abandoning their dwellings to seek out safer (but not greener) pastures. This was a supposedly poignant scene and I felt a slight lump in my throat. As we got closer I strangely realised that there were no signs of remorse writ on their faces. There seemed to be no qualms of an uncertain future. Instead, everything appeared routine and the people looked as jovial as ever. These people were raised in an era of invasive ambiguity, and so were two generations before them. Decades of civil war had perhaps habituated them to violence, robbed them of all desolate emotions and coerced them to look for the sunny side, even in the midst of calamity.
As the medical camp was being set up, the county commissioner arrived in his posh Land Cruiser escorted by two AK bearing sentinels. He wore an expensive watch and wielded a satellite phone. The solitary show affluence and clout amid blatant poverty was an odd paradox. We sought his permission to see around the village which he quickly accorded and walked off towards the “panchayat style” congregation which was awaiting his arrival under a nearby tree. We took a walk amidst the ruins and realised that almost everything had been plundered. A few children were foraging the leftovers and grown ups were still taking stock.

There was a group of children playing soccer, totally unmindful of the ruckus all around. They were conditioned to such carnage, I guess. The most striking factor one observed was the boundless energy displayed by the kids. They would wave at you, salute you and give a comic pose when they notice a camera. They wore torn clothes, ate a pittance, drank from the dirty river and still retained the spark in their eyes.

During our break for lunch, the Doctor narrated an incident that took place at a medical camp that he organized at a place called Akobo. A pregnant lady was brought in by two young men. She was bleeding profusely and needed expert care. On inquiring he was told that she hailed from a village around thirty km across the border in Ethiopia and that her husband and brother had carried her all the way to the camp. The doctor recommended that she be taken to Nasser County (a couple of days walk away) where an NGO managed hospital could provide her the medical expertise required. Her husband quickly calculated the provisions he would require to buy, to sustain them for the journey and promptly proceeded ahead as advised, carrying his wife on a stretcher.

When I set out for the day’s task that morning, I had a few worries of my own. By the end of the day my issues seemed trivial. I felt grateful to have what I have.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Handy" Nuggets of Wisdom

"Always take care those little things" he said "the ones that make the difference between success and failure, between victory and defeat". Dr Joseph, the Principal was speaking at the morning assembly after I had finished my first "news-reading exercise" at the school assembly. The term "Disaster" would be a liberal euphemism if used to describe my performance. The script was well prepared and practised, but the knees wouldn't stop shaking as I took my place on the stage. I gathered myself with a few deep breaths and started reading out the news. I was taken by surprise when the whole school burst out into laughter after a few minutes. Apparently there was a loose connection in the cable of the public address system which was causing the mike to get switched off every half a minute. I was too engrossed in putting up a confident looking show to realise that I was sounding like a barking dog to the whole school. After giving a bewildered look to the Principal (who was smiling too) I sped down the stage. It was then that he gave this "little things" talk which got imprinted in my head. Iwalked up to him later that day and asked to be allowed to read the news again. The next morning I took my time to check the connections at the amplifier and mike (even as the whole school was watching with amusement) before commencing the news. It went of pretty well this time and I got a nod of approval from Dr Joseph.

There have been numerous instances later in life when this advice came in handy. The most prominent one that comes to mind was during my attempt at paratrooping. The ground training was piece of cake and it all seemed too simple ... till the day of reckoning. As all of us strapped on the gear, wore the helmets and boarded the aircraft for the first jump, the strange growls in the stomach and unusually rapid tempo of the heartbeats made me forget the check-list. Being the seniormost novice in the sortie I was the automatic choice for the first jumper. As we reached an altitude of 1500 ft the instructor put both thumps up and gleefully shouted "ALL OK?" .... and all of us replies back in a feeble chorus "ok". I took my position at the door, consciously avoiding that downward glance and took the customary deep breaths. When the instructor shouted "RED ON". A voice clicked in the head .. "check .. check "it said and I did a quick survey. To my horror the static line cable which was hooked on to the aircraft was passing from under the right arm. I quickly took it over the arm even as the instructor said "GREEN ON ...... GO" and leapt out. Had I not carried out that last minute check and the cable remained where it was I wouldn't have been able to type this post today. The right arm would have got ripped off.

I am getting back to blogging after a long hiatus. The break was taken because my ultra slow internet connection and as my circumstances weren't exactly compatible to regular blogging. I realised during the time off that I was missing something. Though I don't subscribe to the view that "blog-space" can be used as "personal-space" in totality, I do believe that it provides us with an avenue to give expression to the ideas we can call our own. Every blogger has a personal reason for blogging. Some may see it as a canvas to discover their "till now dormant" creativity while others may appreciate it as a useful vent to relieve themselves from the pressures and apparent inadequacies of professional and personal lives. I don't exactly know which definition fits my cause, but definitely feel an urge to return .... and hence this post.