Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Life’s Little Ups and Downs

As a child one often dreams about kings, queens, castles, forests, friendly animals, princely frogs waiting to be kissed, unlimited supply of chocolates, finding treasures and many more things. Thinking about them, children go to sleep with a smile on their lips. When they wake up, all is forgotten and a new day starts with a clean slate – waiting for new dreams to be written on it. Nothing gained – nothing lost.

One continues to dream even as an adolescent. As adults, we continue to hope for good things to happen. Life does not always pan out the way you wish – there are surprises waiting to spring upon you from nowhere. The human mind, in some ways, is very naive and is ever ready to accept good tidings. Often we are disappointed as events do not unfold the way we expect them to.

It was the summer of 1960 and, like any other summer, it was hot and humid. I was 11years old with lots of time on hand, foot loose and fancy free. Guru Kumar and I were dawdling aimlessly when we saw a bright and shining object lying on the road. As we stood there examining the object, Kumar said, “I know it’s something to do with cars, let us pick it up and go home”. At home all of us concluded that it was a ‘car silencer’, an item which would fetch substantial money, if we could sell it. The next few days were spent in day dreaming about what we would do with the money once we sold the silencer. Some of the options were - endless dosas at the local restaurant followed by ice cream at Venkateshwara stores or a picnic to Lalbaug, buying an actual leather cricket ball and a good bat and so on – the list was endless. We also swore not to tell the others about this windfall. Having mustered sufficient courage, we went to City Market to flog the silencer. Kumar was supposed do the talking and we were to stand by him in support. The scrap dealer took one good look at the silencer and burst out laughing. It was worthless. Taking pity on us, he gave us 25p to buy some peanuts and return home.

PC Sorcar, the famous magician, had come to town and was performing at the ‘Town Hall’. My dear friend, Ravindra Pandit, gave me a few passes for the show. My friends and I were really excited by the very thought of witnessing a magic show and that too, one by Sorcar. Dressed in our Sunday best, six of us arrived at the Town Hall, only to be told that the passes were invalid as they had been used the previous day. Pandit had done a ‘Sorcar’ on all of us. In total silence we reached home, not knowing what to tell our parents.

In school I used to do ‘Combined Studies’ along with a good friend of mine, DK Sriram, in his empty ancestral house in Vishveshpuram. Viji and I used to carry our dinner to his place. DK ‘s hot dinner came in a tiffin carrier from Chamarajapet, lovingly packed by his aged and absentminded grandmother. Filled with an overpowering hunger and salivating in anticipation, DK would open the tiffin carrier with a lot of expectation– only to find plain rice in all the four containers.

In the early sixties, having a girl friend in South Bangalore was very rare. I had made friends with a girl who wrote a very short and sweet letter to me, whilst I was attending a NCC camp in Mangalore. I was the happiest boy on earth and carried a permanent smile on my face. When I returned, I went and promptly thanked her for writing. She shook the very ground under my feet violently when she said, “What letter?” and quickly walked away. Disappointed and grim faced, I returned to my gang to narrate the sad story. They were in splits, as GR Mallesh, my neighbour (who went on to become an ace pilot in the IAF) owned up to the gag.

My parents and their friends were going to the famous theatre ‘Navrang’ in Bangalore to watch ‘Do Aankhen Barah Haath’ directed by V.Shantaram. Going to a theatre was a privilege and it did not happen very often. I decided to skip the movie and play a tennis ball cricket match in my friend Santaram’s house. What a strange coincidence. Shantu had promised us a ‘Silver Cup’ at the end of the day’s play. He did keep up his word – the only flaw was that the cups were made from the silver foils of used cigarette packs.

When we were young naval officers in Kochi, we met a friend of KM Nair’s over a drink in the club. Late in the evening the friend invited all of us over for lunch the next morning to his house in the city. We were a sizeable lot – eight of us went for lunch. The initial impression was very encouraging – we entered a huge bungalow – the residence of the ‘Commissioner of Kochi Port Trust’ (the friend’s father) to be received by a retinue of people. We met his father very briefly and proceeded straight to their spacious and well appointed dining room. Lunch was served in the finest crockery with all possible pomp and show. The only flaw of the wonderful morning was – the lunch was sufficient for only one person. All of us were shell shocked and stunned at the meagre spread on the table. We thanked the friend politely and prodded on by an empty stomach, made a quick dash to Hotel Woodlands for an ‘Unlimited Thali’ (Lunch served on a plate). Later, we came to know that the family was in the middle of a transfer and had packed, ready to leave for Thiruvanthapuram soon after.

In the Indian Navy, officers are required to specialize in one field or another. I specialized in ‘Gunnery and Missiles’ and was posted in my Alma Mater as the Chief Instructor – a very important appointment indeed. One fine morning the Commanding Officer called me to his office and handed over a signal from Naval Head Quarters, which stated that I had been selected to attend the most prestigious course that any naval office could aspire to – the “Dagger G” course in UK (G short for Gunnery).Only three or four officers in the entire navy had done the course. On seeing the signal I froze and just could not utter a word. It took some time for the message to sink in. I was simply ecstatic and literally on top of the world. As evening approached and the sun started to set, I was plunged into total gloom – in all the excitement of the morning, I had forgotten to note that the day was 1st April, 1980.My short lived happiness was courtesy my very close friend, Lt. Cdr. Vijay Gopal (Viji).

We learn to live and voyage (often a bit wiser) from one experience to another.

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