Archive for January, 2011


Since I rose in the morning my anus has been itching. Sorry, this is not the way to write something that would tug at the heart of the readers or keep their attention hooked on to your page. Some would consider it beneath their dignity to read an article on such a mundane or earthy subject as anus itching. But what can I do against those itching ? They would come again and again and knowingly or unknowingly in the midst of other activities, sometimes even while I am with others, my fingers would compulsively be led on, around, and sometimes slightly into my anus and I would scratch furiously in a bid to dislodge those worms responsible for the itches. This is a very embarrassing act but who among us can say that he/she has never experienced this sensation, this itching in or around anus? I am leaving aside, for the present, another similar embarrassing act which takes place exactly at or through this organ of our body, i.e. farting. Because many years ago one day I was so exasperated by frequent farting that I went for consultation with a medicine specialist, the most famous in the city, to know its cause and cure. I complained out of frustration, “ Doctor, there is a lot of gas in me, lot of farts, what is happening with me?” He took it very casually and replied, “ How else did you expect a pipe to behave which is open at both of its ends? Of course, air will occupy wherever it finds empty spaces and this air also has got to be expelled. These come out as farts. Nothing is unhealthy about this. You have no problems. You may go now and rest easy.” Since that day I am cured of farts. I mean farts happen but I don’t bother about them. Now it is the time for the wife and children to bother. Nor am I bothered by anyone else’s farts. How else am I to expect an open ended tube to behave ? It is so easy to figure out now. Kaput, gone with the winds, the problem just melted into thin air, leaving no trace behind. Now I can truly say,” Oh, Fart ! Where is thy sting ?”

But itches are different. Some itches maintain a low key, some take a higher pedestal and demand immediate attentions. Some say “Life is full of sufferings.” I say “Life is full of sufferings, aches and itches too.” The largest organ of our body that drapes us from head to toe, our skin, houses so many tiny insects, microorganisms, bacteria and fungi, that a doctor friend of mine says, no man in his senses will ever kiss a woman nor a woman will ever kiss a man on any part of the body if he/she sees that part of the body under a microscope. No fastidiously clean or too fussy a man or woman will allow oneself to engage in sex either. My learned friend, whose learning almost always overwhelms me, also says that almost forty two types of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms are ‘commensal’ with us. He defines commensal as something that is born with us. That means those microorganisms were there with us while we were born and will be there throughout our lives and will only be burnt out with us at our cremation. In a sense they are our permanent companions. They have to live with or within us, otherwise they die. They have to feed on us. They choose to live at different cites, in different organs of their choices in our body. Some of them also do useful work for us. For instance, those who have chosen to live in our intestines are responsible for the shape, color, consistency and softness of our stool. Some choose to live inside our mouths, some inside noses, some inside eyes, some inside ears, some inside sex organs etc. Leaving aside these, there are hundreds of varieties of microorganisms we ingest into our body through breathing, eating and drinking. So we all are veritable walking and moving zoos with the kinds and varieties of living beings in us as cannot be found in any single zoo. No wonder, it is not a miracle that we die ultimately, it is definitely a miracle that we survive at all. Because most microorganisms come into us to feed on us and while securely lodged in and fed on us, many of them secrete toxic substances or deadly disease causing germs into our bloodstreams. My anus itching is also a result of mischief of some of these tenacious brave souls.

And what haven’t I and my parents done to eradicate them ? When we were children, my parents if they heard that eerie sound, of someone grinding his/her own teeth while asleep, coming from any one of us their children; the momentous fact would be discussed in the morning in front of us one and all and the problem would be diagnosed as anus itching due to infestation of hook worms inside the intestine culminating in the anus. We would all be forcibly administered each with a glass of juice of raw turmeric mixed with juice of pine apple leaves. As the mixture tasted like hell, we were cajoled to drink the potion with promises of the best of health, the best of body, the best good looking chap of the village and above all nights of undisturbed sleep. No wonder, under such enticements each one of us caved in and gulped down the most unpleasant potion. No doubt, the potion must have been causing havoc to those unwelcome guests lodged within us too, for a few nights they used to lie low and mislead our parents into believing that they have abandoned the hosts for good. But unerringly and unmistakably they returned without fail to their dirty, old games some nights later. One night, a fortnight or so afterwards, someone of us would start grind his/her teeth and the return of the horde of hookworms would be confirmed.

I remember, on one such night, my mother led me to one of my younger brothers who was deeply asleep and from whom the sound of grinding of the teeth was coming. Slowly she made him sleep on his stomach and very carefully so as not to wake him up she eased his pant down and extending the torchlight to me to hold, she with the help of her both thumbs very gently prised apart his buttock folds covering the anus and told me to focus the light into it. Sure enough, a bunch of hookworms were undulating to and fro there with their white thread like bodies and some had already come out and were walking all over his buttocks. My mother took out each of them with her bare fingers and put his pants on and went out to throw those and wash her hands off. On the next morning we were all subjected to the turmeric and pineapple leaf juice regime. As I was the eldest, on some nights I took upon myself this duty of inspecting anuses for the confirmation of those offending presences , to give some relief to my mother. So my battle with those worms has a long hoary past.

One day, to give a twist to this battle in our favor, my father brought home some packets whom he called the Rama Ban (the never failing arrow of Lord Rama) against hook worms. He declared with a lot of fanfare that no hookworms would survive this drug, it was a wonder of modern medicine, the doctor himself had strongly recommended that. When he told that that medicine didn’t taste at all unpleasant like our home remedy, we children, all nine of us, felt a lot of relief. He called it Helmacid with Sienna. He invited each one of us to come forward and take each one a packet of those and drink it with water. He also kept a jar of sugar nearby, if anyone found the taste a bit bitter to his taste he was allowed to take it with sugar, he said the doctor had instructed him so. We couldn’t believe our ears. Modern medicines have gone thus far? Killing hookworms with the help of sugar too ? So each one of us readily agreed, who won’t love to get rid of this anus itching and teeth grinding? We all took in a packet of Helmacid with Sienna each. We hoped we were cured of hookworms and this nightly inspections of anuses.
But that was never to be. A few weeks afterwards they again resurfaced and again we were administered with the Helmacid with Sienna. Since then we have taken how many packets of Helmacid with Sienna I have lost count of. We no longer consider it as Rama Ban, certainly the hookworms didn’t care for it. We the nine brothers and sisters gradually grew up and went each his or her separate ways. Since a number of years I haven’t any knowledge of what strategy or therapy each has been following to have his/her anus cleared of those all powerful hook worms. I can now speak for myself only.

I distinctly remember a day in 1985. I was engrossed in a conversation with a woman when I experienced
this anus itching and automatically my left hand became restless to prise out the offending object from the orifice. But the woman had her full attention on me, how could I do this operation without drawing her attention ? She soon noticed my restlessness and asked what was the matter with me. I told her I had just remembered to buy a couple of packets of Helmacid with Sienna. I had never thought that she would be intelligent enough to understand why I had needed those. I had thought those two words would sound like Abracadabra to her. But that woman had the sharpest brain I had ever met. She straightaway asked me, “Do you suffer from hook worms ?”
I timidly replied, “Yes, I am.”
She suggested I take Albendazole, instead. She said that was the latest medicine for hookworms and a whole host of other worms too. Lest I forgot the name, she got me write the name on a piece of paper. Sure enough when I asked for the medicine from a chemist, it was there. Thereafter, for the last twenty five years I have been taking this Albendazole as and when I suffer from anus itching. I also have my water filtered before I drink. Nowadays I drink water from Aquaguard only which as per the claims of its manufacturer kills the germs by ultraviolet rays after separating them by two or three layers of filteration. But it is another matter whether I have got rid of those worms. They are very much there in my intestines, in my anus. They are almost as immortal as the hopes and dreams of men. I no longer get hopelessly depressed by the immortality and tenacity of those worms and germs as I used to be for a considerable part of my life. Rather they are now like inspiration to me for being resilient, resourceful, forward looking and never losing hope even after all the earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, droughts and famines. Isn’t taking a dose of powerful Albendazole an equivalent of tsunami to them? How many of those mustn’t be perishing with one such dose? Do they ever despair? Do they not always rise up after each fall? Are they not expressions of life energies too? Have I not promised to accept life as it is? They are my tests. Let me not fail in these and my other tests in life too.

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P. B. Shelley wrote, “Life like a dome of many colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity”.
Yes, the Eternal is One, but when it is manifested it takes up myriad forms and colors. When I take an objective view of things and look all around, I find the western world, during the last few centuries, have done almost all the solid good works in all fields of life. It would require pages to enumerate all of them. But here I would like to confine my observation on one field only; namely, the observation of nature, its flora and fauna.
Just a few days back, I was watching some videos on Animal Planet channel. The kind of intelligence that goes to make one such video; the knowledge of behavior of animals, birds, reptiles or fish required to take close shots of them in their natural habitats; the daringness and fearlessness required for photographing dangerous animals in their lairs in land or under water; the infinite care, concern and compassion with which they handled the dumb creatures etc. are simply awesome and mindblowing. In one such video while the presenter, Austin Stevens, poked his head and torso into a cramped hole where a large python was resting for the day, with only a camera in hand, I got a nasty shock with my heart beating at its peak.
What I observed in all such videos was that in nature everyone ate everyone else, sometimes even members of one’s own species. In the beginning I got a lot of pain witnessing this daily dose of so much killing and cannibalizing others for food. In fact, even now I have not been able to completely get over this uneasy feeling. But I became gradually accepting to the inevitable. If it is the way of the world, who am I to resist or raise my objections? And who is there to listen to them ? I am just a tiny tot or dot compared to the vastness of the creation. So gradually, one after another of my objections dropped and I tried to ferret out a meaning of life out of this seemingly meaningless, inchoate and chaotic life, instead.

One day while watching fascinatingly a most interesting animal life video, a terrible thing happened and something clicked in my head and I began to see some meaning in all this mayhem. It was a video of a large pack of hyenas succeeding to hunt down a buffalo cow with her calf. Clearly the calf was their target. In all animal huntings, the calves, the ailing and the old and the weak are the first ones to succumb. Hunger drives all mercy out of the predators. The hyenas ran down and attacked the calf first but its mother came to its rescue. The cow valiantly fought for some time with anyone that came to its calf. Very soon the hyenas divided themselves into two groups. The larger group attacked the cow, clearly not with a view to kill her, for to kill a prey of her size was fraught with too many risks; but to separate and effectively shield her from coming to her calf’s rescue. The other group, the smaller one, attacked the calf and began straightaway tearing it apart and eat, now unhampered by its mother having been separated and held back by the larger group. The cow fought on with the pack but ultimately got exhausted and overpowered by sheer number. Then suddenly she stopped fighting and stood still watching her calf being eaten by the hyenas. Now barring for just one or two hyenas guarding her, all members of the larger group too had joined the feast. She stood there transfixed for some time watching her calf, just a few feet away from where she stood, being devoured, being gulped down and vanishing by the minute at a rapid rate into the mouths of the pack of hyenas. I wondered what was going on in her mind during those silent moments of watching.

Was she calculating the risk and reward ratio of that situation for herself ? Would she gather all her last bit of energy and recklessness to launch another attack ? Did she realize that her calf was now dead and past saving, in fact now half eaten ? Won’t it be suicidal to disturb so many hyenas in their feast all alone by herself ?

Then the cow did a thing which was not one among the options I had considered in mind. Abruptly she took a complete about turn and marched away with a quick pace and walk and, what seemed to me, a purposeful one too. There was no look of being lost in her eyes. Sure enough, no hyenas were after her this time. What could be its purpose ? May be to flee away from a pitiless battlefield ? To wrench herself physically away from a most harrowing sight ? Maybe if she stayed there any longer she might be the next prey of that pack of warring and fighting and hungry hyenas for which the meat of a calf might not have been sufficient to satiate their hunger? May be all these, but to me it seemed as if her purposeful walk was declaring a grand Truth which I have not yet learned fully in my life.

It was saying, as if, “What is the use of crying either over spilt milk or over a battle that is all but lost? It was my baby. Didn’t I love it to its fill ? Did I leave anything to make it happy? It was a gift to me, but now it has been taken back. What could a cow do against that ? Didn’t I fight as energetically as I could, when called on to fight? But now when the battle is lost, why cry over it, why carry an attachment with just one painful outcome? Why not carry the whole of life with me, with all its possibilities and all its outcomes? ” She knew by instinct that it was not for her good to identify with a pain, to overpersonalize it. If she did that that would only create more suffering. She knew that pain is but unpleasant sensations. Suffering is the story, the dramatics that people put around it. Suffering is pain that’s gone to mind, pain that’s doing time in mental cells, mental hells. As such, suffering is unhealthy separation from pain. She knew that as we become more intimate with our pain, we find that we are less troubled by it. So for her awareness is utmost important. Awareness upstages suffering, dissolves its grip on us, taking us to the heart, the core, the epicentre of pain. And there, in that place of hurt, we meet not more hurt, but more of us. More healing, more peace, more sacred welcome.

I knew she was heading straight towards her herd from which the hyenas had separated her and her calf. I knew the nursing mother in her would pine for her calf for many days, especially when her udder would be full of milk and pressing against her. But I also knew that she won’t desperately try to hold on to her memories of the calf for long. She would just let them come and go as they pleased. She just knew that memories were not the real things, they were not her lively and lovely calf. What was the use of holding on to such dead memories ? After all who was going to live here forever? She just knew by instinct how to flow with things, how to let things be and allow them to unfold. I knew she won’t even any longer hold any grudges against those hyenas who only did what they had always been doing, just as she did what she had seen all mothers always doing. I also knew that soon the urge to live would reassert in her, soon life would choose to flower even through her. I knew too that a couple of months down the line, she would allow an insistent bull to mate with her and by this time next year she would be a mother again with a lovely real calf beside her.
She had actually had no attachment with any one thing or outcome but with the whole of life itself, which frequently included pain and death too, besides love, tenderness and joy.

By easy settlement of marital problems and discord through legal divorce and widest social acceptance of divorce, the western world has got a head start by putting its acts together on a very contentious issue. Not all nations or countries are so fortunate. Take for instance, the case of my country, India. Since 1955 divorce has been accorded legal sanction. But divorce is not accepted socially. It is frowned upon and a lot of stigma is attached to the couple who go for divorce. As a result of which though marital discord and disharmony is as high as in other societies, the percentages of couples who actually divorce is less than 2 per cent of all married couples. Some Indians parade this low divorce rate as a great virtue of Indians. But this low rate of divorce is achieved at a very great price to warring couples themselves and to the country as a whole. The price is shockingly, murder of one spouse by the other. As no spouse would be agreeing to an amicable settlement through divorce, being fearful of courting a lot of social stigma, the daily spurring and warring between themselves inevitably reaches a point where one of the spouses murders the other to preempt the other one murdering him/her. This shocking practice of solving marital problems by killing one’s spouse and inheriting his/her property automatically in the absence of a legal system of inheritance through will, has now assumed gigantic proportions.

Just a month back, the Commissioner of Police for Bangalore, the famed Silicon Valley of India, quoting statistics opined that out of 200 murders in 2008-09 in Bangalore city among the techies only, leaving aside statistics for less literate populations around, more than 40% of murders were committed by the spouses themselves directly or by hiring professional killers. In thousands of other cases though the spouses do not go to the extreme point of murder, but it is always a warlike atmosphere that prevail in the homes and these spouses go through untold miseries and their children and other dependents are drawn into the vortex of despair and desolation. Some of these children take to criminal ways like drug taking and trafficking, gun toting, robbery etc.

In this respect how blessed are the western nations ! There people don’t have to murder their spouses to solve their marital woes, they simply divorce. How human, practical, energy saving and beneficial to the parties themselves and to the society at large ! There the divorce rate may be 40% of all marriages but none is murdered for marital discord. In my opinion what is touted as India’s strength is only its weakness. Considerable energy of young and active couples is wasted in these family quarrels and squabbles. A wide acceptance of divorce socially and legally could free these men and women for pursuing their individual goals and also enable them to explore and find other more suitable mates for themselves.

As one American bard sings,
“Plenty of fish in the sea,
I know some wanna swim with me”.

P.S. I too am one of those unfortunate Indian spouses who couldn’t persuade his spouse, even after trying for 25 years, for a amicable legal divorce.

Sania was extremely popular with me. I know popular word should not be used in such a narrow context. In order to be popular one needs applause of many. But in that tender age of ten or twelve you don’t look around for seeing other’s reactions and responses to declare someone as your most favourite or as the most popular. Someone made you feel good by always smiling at you or obliged you by telling a story that regaled you or made you shake with laughter or by making funny faces and expressions that delighted you and you are not long before declaring him as your favourite or as the most popular. Sania was such a person to me. He was only to be rivaled by Padu as my favourite for popularity and charm later on in my life. But about Padu, may his cheerful soul rest in peace in heaven, later. I have set out to dedicate this page to Sania only.

Perhaps Sania was born on a Saturday and named after the god Sani (Saturn)like millions in India born on that day of the week. He was a landless labourer of my village, but he used to do tenant farming on others’ farms, especially on one of my late grand uncle’s farm. As my grand aunt was living alone after the marriages of her three daughters, it was Sania who used to run errands and do the odd jobs for her besides looking after her farming . The route to her house passed by our house. So It was en route to her house we used to meet Sania. We mean myself, one or two of my brothers and my father who used to teach us on the veranda outside of our house. At first it was my father who brought this humorous aspect of Sania to our notice by asking a particular question to Sania. It was my father’s pet question to Sania. I remember him asking this particular question to Sania for possibly more than ten times at intervals. But such was Sania’s story telling ability, such was his facial expressions, his tender and sensitive voice, his gestures by hand that though we knew his reply by heart after the first few times, yet we found it extremely entertaining on each occasion.
My father would ask, interrupting his teaching, “Sania, tell us how did your and your friend Krishna’s meeting with the Raja of Nilgiri pass ?” Then Sania would regale us with laughter describing how amidst the surrounding courtiers these two village ragamuffins, whom the Raja had sent for bringing some roots of some herbs easily available at our village possibly for medicinal purposes, and how as soon as they thought that they had gotten the Raja’s attention to them, they were into courtesying and deep bowing only to find that the Raja had chosen that precise moment for looking at some other thing. This drama went on repeating for many times and on each occasion Sania would out of frustration utter under his breath these words audible to himself and Krishna only, “shoot the bastard’. As this Raja was a tyrant, extremely unpopular and used to employ people without paying any wages, took away the things and belongings of people without paying anything , Sania’s jibes at him, though uttered inaudibly, never failed to send us into peals of laughter. I would never forget his facial expressions and gestures illustrating it all as if the whole episode was taking place before our eyes. We didn’t have television then, not even a radio set in the whole village till Manoranjan’s wife brought one with her as dowry. But that was another story by itself, if possible we may come to know about that some other time.

Sania was fulfilling a deep need of ours, the need to entertain ourselves. I think my writing this story, even in this age of plethora of entertainment, some would even say surfeit of entertainment, is my humble attempt at carrying forward this tradition, this catering to the need for entertaining ourselves. Our lives are so poised in precarious positions, based on such shaky foundations, life always finding itself in the jaws of death, diseases, disruptions and destructions that a little laughter, a little humor is what we always crave for to cope with the uncertainties, the tremblings and totterings our lives too often are fraught with. Sanias and Padus of this world then become relevant to us. Their humor and cheerfulness give us the feeling that somewhere jest for life and living could be found as the fountain was still flowing in and through them. The fountain may be lying deeply buried in us too under the debris of despair and fear.

On a midday noon in summer I slipped out of my house to grand aunt’s house nearby where I heard Sania talking. I thought he liked me, so without any ado, on seeing him seated relaxed on a bamboo and rope cot, I straightaway requested him to tell me a story. I never treated him as a laborer but as a very lovable man, sometimes to the consternation and confusion of my parents . He had a son named Ramakant who was reading two classes above me, though not without considerable financial difficulties. That was another consideration for me, he was a friend’s father too. He acceded to my request readily. For the next hour I became his sole audience, but all his charming smiles, hand gestures and everything at appropriate places were there for my enjoyment. His voice was as tender, compassionate , joyful yet with an undercurrent of pathos and sensitivity as ever. I know of no other man who could modulate his voice so well from deep joy to deep pathos within the span of a sentence or two. No wonder he was a very good actor in the village theatre group which used to put up at least one new play annually for the villagers’ entertainment. It was as if I was seeing everything in the story before my eyes. The unforgettable story ran like this; I don’t yet know what was his source.
In a jungle there was a fox and a rabbit. As usual this fox too was cunning. One day he approached the rabbit and proposed that they be friends. The rabbit was at first a little hesitant and apprehensive but ultimately prevailed upon by the fox’s persuasions. So they roamed the jungle in unison. One day as they were roaming in the jungle, they saw a man coming with some heavy things laden in large pots hanging on ropes from each end of a pole slung on his shoulder. The fox said, “ Dear friend, I know what is there inside those pots. That man carries the best quality cheese for the wedding of the king’s daughter. If you would only do what I tell you to do then the whole of those cheese should be ours . We could eat those to our heart’s fill.” Hearing this the rabbit was sufficiently tantalized. He asked to know about the plan. The fox replied, ” You have only to run ahead of the cheese bearer, at first quite slowly only to arouse his interest to catch you or kill you for his dinner. When his interest is sufficiently aroused seeing a slow, lethargic and easy catch, he will certainly let down his load, leaving them then and there and taking out the pole out of his load will go for a chase after you. When he will be near, you will increase your speed just sufficiently to keep him behind but not too much for him to lose interest in you. In this way you will take him far away from his pots of cheese only to enable me to hide them away at a safe place for us to finish them off later to our heart’s content”.

The rabbit readily agreed and did his part as per the fox’s plan and the plan was fully successful as the man chased after him with the pole in hand leaving his wares behind. At the end of the hour, after being completely exhausted from the man’s rugged determined effort to hunt him down, as the rabbit found his friend fox, he saw to his dismay and disbelief that the pots have been licked clean and dry by the crafty fox. In fact the fox was burping along contentedly after such a bellyful feast instead of answering to any of his questions. This galled the rabbit to no end. He thought he had put his life at stake for the things which the crafty fox enjoyed without doing or risking anything. This was unbearable. He thought he would have to teach the fox a lesson.

A few days after, the rabbit was found sitting under a tree on which a creeper wound around with its most itch-causing, ripe tamarind like fruits hanging down in plenty from each of its stems. Sometime later the fox reached there searching for the rabbit and finding the rabbit underneath the tree asked, “Dear friend, why are you sitting down here so silently, while I have been searching for you throughout the forest ? Tell me what is the matter with you?”
To this the rabbit silently put a finger before his mouth and said in a very low tone, “Shsh , don’t speak so loudly. Now I have been employed by the king to guard his pickle tree. The ripe tamarind like fruits you see hanging overhead are actually Raja’s favorite pickles. None is permitted to taste or take them away. I am employed just to see that no pilferages of these tasty pickles take place”

Now the interest of the fox in these most itchy, poisonous fruits touted as the Raja’s tasty pickles was so aroused that he was willing to obey anything the rabbit might lay as his condition for letting him eat some of those. He begged the rabbit to allow him to eat some. The rabbit, in a conspiratorially whispering tone said, ” O.k. friend, if you are found out eating these precious pickles I would be the first to be beheaded. But as you are so hellbent on eating some I have to think a way out. Let us do one thing. While I am looking out if anybody is approaching us or watching us, you pick just one or two and finish eating very quickly. But remember just one or two, I am going out watching.”
The fox’s joy knew no bound. Instead of picking one or two he grabbed as much as he could and ate them all quickly. In fact the rabbit’s admonition acted on him as invitation for more of the same. But soon the itchy poisonous fruits had their effects and the fox just rolled and rolled on the forest floor screaming in pain. The rabbit returned just then and laughed to his heart’s content at the plight of the fox. He reminded the fox that it was his revenge on him for the dirty trick he had played that day by consuming all the cheese.

The fox survived the agonizing pain but the drubbing he received from a mere rabbit was rankling him to no end. He devised a plan. On a sunny morning in the winter, he found a large crocodile sunning himself on the river bank. The crocodile seemed to have been deeply asleep. The fox without making any sound, approached the crocodile from behind and sat silently by his tail. Hours passed. The rabbit, after finding the fox nowhere searched the whole jungle and at last found him sitting alone beside a mysterious looking large object. He approached the fox and asked, ” Dear friend, why are you sitting here by yourself ? Why are you so silent ? What is this object lying before you ?”

Now it was the turn of the fox to be conspitorial and secretive. He replied in whispers, “ First you lower your voice as low as possible. Only talk in whispers. This object lying yonder is the begul or the whistle of the king. When the king is to make an announcement to the people he blows this whistle from the other end and it produces the mighty sound we sometimes hear. I have been engaged to keep a constant watch over it, so that nobody else has a chance to blow it. Only the king has the prerogative to blow it.”

The rabbit’s curiosity to examine this unique instrument and go for a blow into it from the other end was now at its peak. He begged the fox to let him blow it just for once and he promised he would do all his biddings thereafter.
The fox at last agreed and instructed him to go to the other end of the whistle and blow forcefully into its mouth. As the rabbit did exactly as instructed the crocodile woke up to find his meal inside his mouth. He had the rabbit as his breakfast of the day within seconds.

The fox was now satisfied. He had had his revenge. He had had the last laugh.
Sania ended the story here and excused himself for his lunch and I returned home dazed, mystified and delighted by the unique story teller that he was, though sad at the sorry end of the rabbit. I was, as it were, charmed and spell bound by his story telling, his humor and his modulation of voices as the story demanded from time to time for enactment before my eyes.

Sania is dead now for many years. The man who could regale me to laughter so easily, who had such an expressive face and voice, who never told me about his poverty unless I quizzed him much to know a little about that, had every reason that could easily have turned him into a cry baby, someone who too frequently and too easily fell into recounting his woes and agonies of life at the slightest pretext to get others’ sympathies and ears. He didn’t have a decimal of land in a village which was solely agrarian in economy. So he fed his family by selling his labour and time on other peoples’ lands. He was illiterate but he could hold his own against any educated youth. He somehow knew the value of education, so only he, out of many other labourers like him in my village, got his sons educated in the village school, in spite of much financial difficulties. Ramakant, my friend and his eldest son as a result of his vision would later become a teacher and thus be able to pull his family out of the vortex of poverty. I would say that was a remarkable tribute to the sunny, cheerful nature of Sania, whom grinding poverty could not finish off as one of its victims.

Sania’s wife, the mother to his one daughter and three sons, was unlike Sania a shy, completely homely woman who very rarely went out of her orbit, which was her home, a small hut. On one such rare occasion, she was at our home for a few days to earn a little wage to supplement her family income. She was separating chaffs from rice by winnowing after the rice was milled at a holler. I was a boy of twelve then. I had bought a small bioscope then and used to show my prized possession to anyone that came my way. When I showed that to Sania’s wife, she stopped winnowing to hold the instrument and when I instructed her to close one eye and peer into it through the glass with the other eye and as she did that I went on changing the slides one after the other and I don’t know even to this day which one of us was more surprised or pleased. Because with each change of slide she used to make such faces out of wonder and amazement and sometimes uttering those Ahas! like expressions that I had never seen in anyone. I had thought that day that my investment of all my savings on that instrument was actually paid off by her unforgettable expressions of awe and wonder. She was such a simple and uncomplicated soul that my heart became torn when she died shortly thereafter when she was just forty. Sania thus got widowed at forty five and Ramakant, my friend and his three siblings became motherless.
As I write about Sania, Padu and others I am constantly haunted with one thought. If people like Sania, his wife, Manoranjan’s wife(the most beautiful one of our village) who brought the first radio set to our village as her dowry and just two years afterwards committed suicide, Padu and many many others who have left such indelible memories in me, are dead now since long ago, then what am I ? What is my status? Am I not a collection of memories in others’ mind also? Or do I have an independent existence outside of the thousands of memories in my mind and others’ mind? Sometimes I am at a loss to know who is living and who is dead. Such abrupt has been the passing from one state to another by many dearly loved ones ! About one thing, however, I am certain that life is ever perilously poised in the jaws of death. At any moment those jaws may snap shut and from the state of living I will become only memories in the mind of some for some time and then life will find its inexorable ways to wipe clean off those memories too from the minds of those who harbor them. But even now when custom hasn’t deadened or made stale, nor life’s inexorable process of erasing them completely hasn’t been completed, the memories like that of Sania or Padu, that defied to be cowed down by poverty, their smiling faces refused to be mowed down as they lost their life partners in their prime, some like Padu who maintained their sanity, charming smile when one after another of their family members passed into the jaws of death before their eyes, I am frequently visited by their memories. Am I trying to cull a lesson or a moral out of their lives and their stories ? No, they were life’s embodiments or finding its ways to enact its drama. It happened such that finding themselves in the thick and thin of a hard life, they tried to cope with it the way that came easily to them; by being more humane, more compassionate and kind and an unaccountable cheerfulness that has no reason to be there in their lives. Life in the jaws of death and yet mindful of only the task at hand and the joy that can be seized now. Though they worked for some time as laborers in my father’s farm, I take this opportunity to bow deeply in appreciation and admiration of their immortal souls and sweet memories.