Posts Tagged ‘slice of life’

I am a war child, in a manner of speaking. When I came to this world, there was a world war inexorably grinding down to its bitter end. Short of everything that made life easier, the wartime austerity left its scars on me as with all others of my generation. At home a meal was not just a meal without being told we ought to be thankful whatever was ladled out to us. ‘Consider the millions who are orphans elsewhere and you ought to be thankful..’ while the spinach and rice were served, leftovers warmed for the occasion. The parents prided on their duty and knowledge they did it with their sweat of blood. It was thus our meal-time, it was tantamount to a moral issue every time. A clean plate at the end equated with a clean conscience.
Now that I am on my own (I for one eat indifferently) while my siblings and I have learned to put our ghosts behind us. We have no excuses and we dribble a little with our conscience when we splurge on food we have brought from far corners of the earth. Did we not filch with our colossal capital reserves from those who are economically less endowed? We call it free enterprise that they must deliver at our terms. Africa, Asia and Far East we know as country of origin when we survey the overstocked shelves in our supermarkets. Fishes from their rivers feed us and their grains we import wholesale, in cereals, crispies cookies and what not. We supply the cunning to make their produce palatable, We bar code their sweat to make it sell. Moral issues are dismissed with the click of cash register. When we cart our weekly grocery we are only conscious of the parking place and not of some rain forests cleared for biofuel. We of our generation have distanced from the burden of our parent who made both ends with hard cash while we do it on credit. Our families were raised on future promises by living beyond our means. Plastic credit cards opened doors at High Street shops and our children knew branded items gave their childhood pleasures a shine. A pair of Reebok shoes made them forget the boredom of walking to the school bus. Our consumerism dulled our conscience from harsh realities of global trade and commerce unduly. Children learned to appease theirs.

Moral issue of now is made more abstract, since our children have no time to listen to us anyway. They are all into the sweet life of virtual reality, of their consumables and privacy of their own den. We are made to feel more as intruders at home since our economic clout is becoming fainter and less constructive to be providers for all. Of course children have their own means of which we are least in the know. We have our own worries: issues of pension funds to sort out than of children whose worlds are on fast tracks. Our world wherein we lashed ourselves to work ethics and burnt incense before family gods for prosperity is gone; those corporate heads whose appeasement was chief concern also have gone; and so are pension funds.
Coming to think of it we have only ourselves to blame.

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In a couple of weeks I hope to celebrate my birth day. Should I treat it as a day of sorrow? You see I am coming into the wrong side of sixties. But incurable and hopeless idiot I am for a good laugh, I could celebrate it for another reason. You see I am still on the good side of seventies.
On looking back I see the moments of panic and shudder in my life and see nothing I feared did really happen. Fear of parents,teachers who breathed fire and rattled rulers and imposition are all gone. Faces of martinets and House rules are out focus. A nasty marriage divorce, and the fearful step unto the unknown are equally behind me. From where I stand clarity of life as I imagined and how it has been give me a new insight. Clarity of life as a whole, places emphases elsewhere; the reality is much more significant since I can see many chain of events that I had merely treated then as coincidence connect and a few others disappear as of no consequence.
My trust in grace of God and in the mysteries of life has been vindicated. Love as an experience I find far more important and satisfying than a life of ideas. What are sparks of ideas without the reality of life? What is love but the nature of life given the wick to burn? I hope my wife and I shall be warmed even as old age is about us.

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Many years ago I went with a friend of mine on a long journey. We both had entered into that exciting part of our lives namely college education. My all male boarding school was behind me. Girls, girls girls were all about us!
It so happened we both were about to spend our first vacation in Simla, a hill station. At the first leg of the journey we are buoyant of what waited at the end of it. Of course we both were eager to share our experience with girls. And my friend was equally brimming with joy of discovering how far I had progressed in the matter of the real thing. And we drew lots and it was my friend’s turn to describe his experience.
So he takes a bottle of vodka that he said his uncle got from the Russian embassy. In those days it was Soviet Union (for those who prefer to have the details right) and pouring me in a thimble he says,’Uncle Jacobi gave the shirt off his back to get this beauty.?
‘You mean vodka or girl?’
“Ah Ben, must you interrupt?’ he was at the moment performing something akin to a Japanese ceremony while the train rolled and pitched. I was sure the engine driver was drunk to which he merely said,’Nonsense.’
I didn’t mind it since he was pouring libations before a great subject like sex.
He held out my thimble. I smelt it with what I remembered of WC Fields in The Bank Dick. The drink was colorless odorless and I said,.’is it water?’
Ignoring my inanity he downed his and said,’I think I had sex the other day with the girl in the C division.
‘Is name important?’
‘Oh no.’ I stopped and he said,’I managed to find her alone and and sweet talked into sex.
‘What you were talking about?’ ‘Oh sweet nothings.”
Ah common, pardner, ‘did you talk of dirty stuff to get her interested?
Giving me a sad look he said, ‘I got close to her saying I knew who were all making the women’s hockey team.’He added,’That floored her.’
Almost immediately I wanted to ask where, at home or any other specific place. But I was already in his bad books. So I let him talk on.’It was smooth go till I said team building was like sex. Ben she let out a squeal and I knew she was almost in shivers. So I lost no time but groping where to begin.
‘Between legs if you were to ask me.’ I snapped on my fifth swig. Vodka was my excuse. So I went bold.
‘Did she let you?’I asked looking squarely at him.
When I casually put my hand around her waist all she said, ‘Will I make it?’
‘Sure thing, I said while she went on giggling and saying all kind of excuses. So I had to remove her folderol one by one.
‘Yeah she was talking as if she had been cut out to lead the team’.
I had heard enough. I said wearily,’So you had sex at the end?’
‘I think so,’
I knew that he wasted my time. To think he would have scored was beyond me. It was his turn to ask me so I said, ‘My sex was fantastic. It was the world of pleasures all distilled into that brief moment’. He squirmed in his seat feeling a little uptight. So I said slowly,’ My eldest sister’s friend came visiting us. When I got a chance I walked where she was sitting. I looked around and saw it was all clear. So I put my hand out.’
My friend evidently was feeling extreme discomfort. It was his turn to ask,’ What happened?’
‘I pressed against one bosom and she said only for me to hear,’Stop it’and I stopped’.
After emptying the bottle my friend knew the vodka was nothing but water. He said in a disinterested way turning in for a nap,’You cant’t get a better deal from a Russian. My uncle was wearing a terylene shirt and he got a dud in exchange. And we have been drinking it like real pro.’
Coming to think of it we were talking of sex like jerks.

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I am at a stage life has come to mean something; funny it also means it doesn’t make much difference one way or other.
I can see it as if it is happening to someone who has to live while each day I am on the go under creative urge. I almost wanted to write fire but it sounds a little over the hill.
I sleep soundly and even though shorter duration the moment I open my eyes most of the time my head is clear and it is to write or read as though during the night my filing cabinets have been cleared and rearranged for the day. My memory is as good as ever. It was total recall but now it is downhill. Yes. it is natural.
Curiosity and creative touch is still as though in full flow and ready at the turn of a tap.
Of course there are moments that I feel time’s winged chariot to borrow Andrew Marvell’s expression is getting nearer. Should I really bother? Wisdom of age tells me it doesn’t matter.
I live on the nerves and yet I seem to be teflon coated to get down to the brass tacks when things need to be done and keep my inner poise in tact. Words crowd into my mind and while speaking I am at a total dither since I have to concentrate what I need to say. Sometimes, no often I have made nonsense of what I what I intended to say. I have laughed myself at it. A man of contradictions and yet old age has given an inner resilience to laugh at my own follies and go past them.
My childhood was terrible and yet I could weather it all and be all things to all without giving away myself. My inner life without let up was spent making sense of all I read, heard and outward thing hardly made a dent unless I let. Use of money and fashion didn’t make much claim and yet all that I value, I could indulge in art music books cinema and still they do claim my attention.
From youth up I was at ease with the idea of a loving God and I never let fear ruin my bond. It was an everyday thing. Even now it is thus. I know I am in the plan of God and our relationship is bonded by age.
At a time of my utmost need in the early morning(late 80s) I was woken up by a thought. It was clearly a verse. I took my bible to read. The exact verse was Moses blessing on Benjamin( I was Benjamin to my father) where it is written He shal dwell between his shoulders( Num.33:16). What is between shoulders but the head? I knew what it meant in my case. Five years later I had to step out of nasty relationship and when it came I knew everything shall be Ok. It was so.
So many years in personal and creative life I could not wish more. Now I keep recalling the words of A.C Swinburne a poem that makes more emotional appeal to me.
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

I take exception the idea that ‘dead men rise never’ but as poem it takes on meaning and poetry suits my mood to set out passing thoughts. Sometimes droll, foolish wise well all these are part of me. So why complain what is natural?

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I just read that Dame Judi Dench is going blind; so bad it is she cannot even see who she is sitting against at a restaurant table. She is suffering from progressive Macular degeneration.
I am also a fellow sufferer. I have already lost one eye to it.
But my case (even with one good eye) is somewhat different: ‘My eyesight affects only when the waiter brings the bill to the table’.

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In their self-published book, To Train Up a Child, Pearl, 66, and his wife Debi, 60, recommend the systematic use of “the rod” to teach young children to submit to authority. They offer instructions on how to use a switch for hitting children as young as six months, and describe how to use other implements, including a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line. Older children, the Pearls say, should be hit with a belt, wooden spoon or willow switch, hard enough to sting. Michael Pearl has said the methods are based on “the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules.”
One sure to make a monkey of your child is to monkey with their natural drive. Amish way of driving sense into mules is to make them bear burdens. Pity the Pearls thought it fit to mistake a child for a stubborn mule. The Pearls broke the cardinal rule in child-rearing: know who is under your charge. One of life’s many miracles is that bonding where a child knows its peer and the elder knows what is best in that never before tried article under their watch. How would that be realized, one may ask. As Locke would say consider a child as tabula rasa a clean slate. If you are writing your frustration or momentary annoyance on such a table, be forewarned you have already driven deeper something into the child. After having impressed such errors of your own weakness and failure it is easy for you to wash your hands off blaming your partners side of poor genetic material. Education means you are bringing out what is best in a child. The child being a clean slate needs to be taken on trust and by careful observation create certain natural disposition for it to respond to. The more a child’s curiosity is aroused in certain line of interest it could be enthused to seek it out on its own interfering only where your presence is warranted. A child is still flexible and shall bounce out of its limitations in the sense of economic necessity imposed on it from without. It is not the latest gadgets that determine quality of happiness for a child but in his self discovery. Everything it encounters is fresh and miraculous and it is what parents need to preserve and not its tantrums and rudeness. Not getting what it wants is soon forgotten if child can be certain there are other alternatives where his attention can latch onto. The child seeks the boundaries and in certain areas it must be shown by its peers as crucial to be understood.
Accept a child as possessing good sense and it shall understand what it means. Treat a child as twit and you have already made preliminary steps for an obstacle course in the future. At the age of six I thought I would write like Shakespeare for the home theatricals we siblings played under the direction of the eldest sister of 10. Nobody made me feel like a fool. I never thought it was impossible. My father, a stern disciplinarian that he was, and a figure of authority eased his discipline in my case. He was certain that I was not cut out to be a doctor like my siblings but as an artist. So he allowed many liberties that other never dared to take within his earshot. He let me study at my own pace and read whatever took my fancy. Luckily my memory was quite good to absorb from such varied reading I did with no formal plan. It was my decision to take up architecture since I felt architecture combined, many disciplines as one and at the core was clarity of vision. It was up my alley.
Sorry for the digression.
Before closing, I was reared by the rod and yet it did not bruise me since My father spared my amour propre from any bruise; howsoever strict he was I knew he cared for what I am and what I was struggling to be.

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What is that drives one to write a theater piece?

I remember the time I was eleven I wanted to write a play. No simple play but something like Shakespeare would have. It never struck me as impossible. I had not read the Bard but heard him spoken about by the grown ups.  Of course it was as good as written.

So I sat down to write and of course four lines and I could not go beyond. It was my first brush with reality that I could appreciate.

I still recall my play more or less.

King: ‘Who goes there?’

servant: I your majesty!

King angrily: call my son,prince!

Of course these many words would not have seen the light of day in my transcription book but for home theatricals my eldest sister organized from time to time.  She being 5 years older to me directed the play.  She also decided parts but we spoke lines off the cuff. She always took the plum role. Once she was the queen and I the prince, her son. My elder brother took the role of an evil genie. He brought for the occasion his prop, a blanket. My sister thought it would  do. When he wore it he became invisible. None of us took it otherwise.

The play was going on smoothly. Till the prince had to make love.  Had I known well then I would have called my self Hamlet. Of course I didn’t. My younger sister, nine was the poor girl to whom I had to speak my feelings. So I said how I loved her and would bring nice goodies and so on.

It was her turn and she said,’But you must not leave me holding the baby’.

That shut me up. I didn’t have a reply to that. Was it the awful feeling of truth (that child gets to hear of family scandals?)0r lack of an equally strong line to match? I do not know. It stopped however my playacting for good.

Of course I wrote a few plays later as an exercise and I know I would not bother reading them. It was merely derivative and weak lacking life experience.

My attempt to write like Shakespeare was a kind of awakening to my world and my attempt to write was my urge to speak with my own voice of that world. My life experience was the means to flesh them out.


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When I became aware of fashion trends Elvis was the reigning king. My  eldest brother Babs was the trendsetter for my brother and me. Being the first born he had the privilege of clothes by yard and stiched to measure by one tailor whom we knew by name. What’s more my father made it a matter of family honor to accompany him to shop. Afterall Babs was going to study medicine.  He could parade the thoroughbred for the punters to bet on.  A doctor made every Marwari, Bihari or arami sit up and notice. It was thus my brother set out to be fashion plate.

At home my brother and I waited to see the outcome. That evening my eldest brother came home very agitated. he had seen himself as a buck in the swim of things among young bucks as he. He swore a father who didn’t know Elvis or what he stood for was a disgrace. Babs confided later in the evening, all he had mentioned drain pipes when the tailor took the measure. It seems my father put his foot down emphatically and said, ‘No way!’  The tailor said helpfully it was the trend.  My Father seemed to have said, ‘devil take the trend’ Of course it was he who paid, so tailor was sure drainpipe style was a flash in the pan. From my brother’s angst I became aware of fashion as one’s visiting card to the world.

The world took measure of you in the way you presented yourself. Period.

When my turn came I was sure I would say no as emphatically as my father had expressed, to drainpipes. Unfortunately it didn’tcome to that. My brothers were already in far corners of the earth and their discards were in the shelf. My father examined them and they were more mothballs than fabric in them.  For once he and I were in accord. He said in my earshot to my mother,’I hate to see Benny in them.’ I felt proud that he placed me rightly as the youngest in the family. ‘No drainpipes, No discards for one as privileged as I’, saidI.

In 1964 when I first went to Chennai (Madras then) I found among list of  my wardrobe written in my mothers rounded handwriting most of fathers woollen pants neatly packed. Only then I appreciated Joseph’s coat of many colors. Every color that graced on the backs of Ruben Levi, Naphthali and Simon must have found in the patchwork. Wily old Jacob! wily old father who knew how far the hand-me-down should stretch!

Even now I shudder as I write these ,’what madness came over me to wear my fathers clothes?’.

Under the sweltering Madras summer 40 degree heat my woollen pants took a terible beating. While my friends and I were chilling out at Buharis on the Mount Road, I was feeling the heat that stuck to my calves.

The pants of my father was designed to hang sportingly on a gargantuan midriff but I always had that lean and hungry look in those days. Of course I hungred after a slice of fashion but to tell the truth the belt tightened around the middle belied that  lean and hungry look.

At an age of drainpipes I was sporting bellbottoms! Now I have a sneaking suspicion I set the trend of bell bottom that came only a decade later.  Did some Mexican tourists copy my style or what?

Once or twice my friends noticed my woollen pants and asked in a friendly concern,’Wouldn’t you find it terribly hot, ben?”

“Oh no In  fact I love them!” How humiliating to think of it!

Having brazenly weathered under discards, hand-me- downs I don’t care too hoots for fashion.

Only two prayers I have in my old age:

O God let me have fresh clean toilet roll for my bottom and a clean handkerchief to blow my nose in. For the rest I don’t care.’


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Over the years I have found that I know much more than I give credit to myself. The only area where I had to be careful was in the timing and how I put them into action.

At a time when my first marriage was sliding into a point of no return I sensed my ex was setting traps  about me. One of that was in using our daughter against me. There was another issue, that of divorce. This was frowned upon in our society where religion was made a big thing and breaking commandments as serious as sin and damnation!After my first marriage I had  switched to Pentecostal worship as a sop to the belief of her.( Of course being among these closed in community I felt playing the part in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  I fell among thieves, literally.)

I had to take counter measures against the stratagems of these. With the passing of my father I was on my own. In a way it opened up a way out. I could think of asking for divorce, a matter which my father as a Christian would have found uncomfortable.

I had no problem with it. Only that there was a daughter to take care of. She was, as I sensed rightly, my ex-wife’s trump card. I knew it. Months before the split my ex was sending her to her parent’s house every weekend so I may have little chance of seeing her when I had time and leisure for it. I could see the way the game was progressing.

I was set that I would not allow myself to be emotionally blackmailed. My daughter was old enough to know her mind and make her wishes known. Since she was a willing tool I didn’t wish to make an issue of it. Mentally I gave her away to her mother.

In 1994 I decided to marry my old pen pal. I sent a letter to the last known address ( I had not heard from her for 23 years), and it reached her! It was a wild card but it hit the mark. Coincidentally I had a chance to go abroad and meet her. The chains of events were all showing in my favor.   I decided her children would be my children. It was indeed the case. After marriage I closed my practice and went to live with her. I could easily establish a friendly relationship with them. Because of this choice I could enjoy the best period of my life watching five of my grandchildren grow. Nothing else could match except the love and warmth I enjoy in my marriage. The manner in which events developed I could seize my chances and come out of what might have been a terrible situation.

Looking back I see that my mind could sense the way to effect an emotional healing. The cure was all in me.


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My perfect holiday is when I can sit back with a book on an easy chair and not answer for my idleness to anyone. I do not mind what book I read really. Books are meant to do something to me and it is all that I expect in a holiday as well.  After having fortified myself with some solid breakfast a book stays with me for the day till sleep claims me. I casually dip into the page where I stopped last only to make a free fall. I have no intention of finishing the book on hand but let an accidental word or passage to trigger certain responses to set me free. By such manner one might take me for a traveler who has circumnavigated the globe many times over. I am a traveler non pareil who never got wet even when I went after Moby Dick. I have been with Crusoe and not a speck of sand got into my shoes by that experience; even as I followed him around on that desolate isle I was as affected as he. He may not have had me much as a company but I had him and it was great. Holiday is where you get your pleasure without others exacting theirs out of you. Books on that score alone top the list of essential items that make up my holiday travels.

Looking back I can quite recall my first holiday with my father. The school was closed for summer and three months I could claim as my due for having mastered multiplication tables. My slate and pencils were thrown into a heap along with books as of no use. No more I would need rap on my knuckles with a ruler from my master but let to be myself. It was something. How often can a child of 8 be told to act his age? I could have wished to go to the zoo or for a movie. No my father had decided sea air would do some good. How thrilling that notion was! A child of seven or eight is wet behind the ears so he wishes to see an animal that is something of a rarity. He wants to see something else because he is bored. His world is so small. But the suggestion coming from my father had something of a new world. An adventure! Only when we walked along the magical sea shore I knew I had come to an important point in my life. The sea would take me faraway places. On that moment something seemed to open my understanding. It was a liberating moment. The sea and I. I watched in fascination the waves riding towards me.  Bedazzled as though the wave that surrounded my ankles cast a spell. It will take me on a journey, after all.  I must have shivered at the thrill of it.  My father intuitively took hold of my hand. Clutching my hands harder he said, ” You have learned multiplication tables. Division isn’t a big deal.” It would have been so if he had not set about teaching me division. Then and there. Since then I decided the idea of holiday travels will have an altogether new definition for me.

Of course I used to think seeing places made the holiday travel worth the while. No more I subscribe to the Philistine notion that seeing places is essential for a man’s education. You go to Washington D.C, London, New Delhi or Amsterdam. I speak from experience. If you think you soak up culture by such a visit, perish the thought. Without any exception all that you see will be the same: McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway and so on. Holiday travels, when all said and done, help you renew yourself. Allow me to do it my way.


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