The Arc over the path

A lovely spring evening, and today’s work is done. It is the end of the week in fact, and I get up from my desk and stretch. I venture out hopefully, to take a walk, and refresh myself, from being tied to a computer, all day. Not many people are about, as I start to get into my stride. I adjust the volume on my headphones, to the music playing from my iPhone. It is the Beatles, playing ‘Elanor Rigby,’ and I pick up pace, while reminiscing about my school days. The printed paper, the Jesuit Father passed to me, with the words of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, for us to study for Moral Science Class. It was one of the 3 songs we studied, over 3 weeks. I knew the words well and the music brought pleasant memories, of old friends, and companions. What an education it was, and what great bonds we formed.

 The walkways lead me past some of the other people, who are up and about, taking their evening walk. I pass some couples with their dogs. We all kept a safe social distance from each other. I would often step on to the road, to let a couple pass on the walkway, as there is little traffic these days. Silently etiquette is maintained between us as we pass, avoiding coughing or coming close. By now the Rolling Stones are playing ‘Brown Sugar,’ and I am bent down, slowly climbing the slight incline. The nearby wooded path beckoned me, and I crossed the road from the walkway, to head into the trees.

Within a few steps on the by now familiar path, it went into a steep incline. I knew the path well, and stepped on familiar flat rocks, avoiding the slippery slope. It was a zig zag pattern I followed of my own choosing, and anyone watching; would have been baffled, at my approach. It was to make the climb easier, and gave me better views of my surroundings, instead of just gazing down and concentrating, on the soil and the roots. This wood and I had become old friends, and we knew each other well. Now in the spring evening except for the occasional blossoms, most of the lofty Oaks and Maples, were still bare. The wind did not whisper, as it did in the summer, through the thick leaf cover. Now it was more the sighing sound, of the open sky, as the wind swept freely about.

There along the way were fallen trees, whicht I had to cross, as I followed the path higher. Then it started to level off and I saw, the Arch of the Spring Blossoms, strung across the path. It was like a gate, made specially for me to enter, as if I imagined it to be a gateway, to a different land. I stopped to take a photograph of the path which beckoned, my very soul. What was so special, that it drew me back again and again, to walk only this path, and no other? I have the whole universe to explore, and still I stand here and admire the blossoms, and love this sight.

As I walked on and passed under the Arch of the Spring Blossoms, I passed into a different realm. The old laws did not hold, for now. I found myself in a strange land, of quite and beauty. Life was reduced to its elemental form, of man and nature, as one. There was no me walking on the path anymore. In fact, it was not a path distinct and different, or an extension, outside me. We are one, and so is the forest around us. The birds that fly across the branches above,  and the deer who stand below and stare up at me, with their white tails raised, ready for flight. We are all one in this moment, and time becomes a wave, and space is flowing. I look up to see and an eagle flies high above, in the clear blue sky, with white puffy clouds, floating in space.

The setting sun sends its rays, at angles, through the bare branches, to my foot steps. I walk on and the light and shadows, play with my eyes, in delight. What is inside, is outside, and what is outside, is inside; in a strange feeling, as the boundaries of my body blur. The unity of everything into one moment, can only be experienced, or so this path, led me to believe. I am no longer a walker, who walks his solitary path. Now there is only one universe, and the path itself is gone. There is no longer a goal for the future, or a fear of the past. There is only this one forgotten raindrop, sheltered on a fallen leaf, glistening in the rays of the dying sun, as if alive with joy. I meditate on the light, and here is no goal to strive for; as desire falls on the path, left behind.

The weight of existence is lifted; from my shoulders, and I walk erect. Each step is now an effortless move; as nothing binds it down, anymore. The Earth Mother, on this Earth Day; binds me to her bosom, and I am content. The vines hang down from the tall Oaks and I can almost feel; the budding leaves, about to sprout. Nature is no longer a mystery, as I have become nature. A Robin calls and a sparrow answers, and now I listen only to the music, of my fellow creatures. A feeling arises, from the soil; beneath my feet, that now I have become the path. Who was the walker, and who watched him in the woods?

Bergen County now stands at 15,830 positive test results for coronavirus

Hudson County now stands at 15,148 positive test results for coronavirus

Essex County now stands at 13,994 positive test results for coronavirus

Passaic County now stands at 12,814 positive test results for coronavirus

May Day 2020, NJ – ‘ Ah, look at all the lonely people ‘

Pandemic times thinking

In this time, some of us are reevaluating our values, and our pursuits, in our life. It has taken a Pandemic to cloister people into their homes, to isolate, and hopefully become human again. As we examine our actions and our lifestyle, I wonder what have our possessions given us, in our time of need? As time passes, those of us who are wise, simplify our needs and aspirations. We realize how little we need to survive, on a day to day basis. We start to question the continued accumulation of more material objects. We realize a lot of humanity, has none of our comforts, or our security, of home and food. We also realize that a virus attacks anyone, and no religion, or class, is immune from its effects. We are all in this together, as simple, plain, human beings. A universal income is within our reach; as no person should starve, in our modern world. Instead we will see million’s livelihood ruined and will see them struggling for food and survival, if this pandemic spreads further.

A more equitable society with law and order, is a must, for human development. Hopefully we will all come out of our introspection, stronger, and more willing to make the sacrifices needed; for all of us, to prosper together. Great economic and social change is coming, and may it be for the better for everyone, after this health crisis has passed. We should not allow this to develop into a mass killing of innocents, due to lack of food and other essential commodities. We must learn from past famines and other natural disasters in human history. For the strongest to survive, we must also provide for the weakest; as in a chain the weakest link, causes the whole chain to break. We must do better and learn to take care of ourselves, and not get distracted, by fake news, or poor political and social actions. Humanity is about loving and caring for all creatures, in the worst of times. May we all rise to this challenge together to raise our thinking, and do the right actions within reason!

Dis-Invest our past

Arvind Panagariya blames the socialist educated elites, from leading Indian Institutions of higher learning, sprung up during the previous regime, for India’s current shrunken GDP. He cites “the government attempts to privatise a large number of public sector enterprises, which have remained stalled despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push, to get cabinet approval for the list of companies drawn up by the NITI Aayog”. He goes on to further state that,


“Remarkably, in India even business leaders have played an insignificant role in pushing for market-friendly reforms. In most countries, businesses try to use an economic crisis as an opportunity to seek removal of regulations that impede their progress. But in India, they use a crisis as the opportunity to seek subsidies and protection from imports,” he says.

Why do we have so many different Ministries in a nation of good governance. The list is alarmingly long, so I won’t print its entirety, but suffice to say that a huge 80% reduction, would not hurt as you could still effectively lead as in Germany. There should be fewer ministries, but effective ministries. The Indian Government needs to Dis-invest on a large scale, from current Investments in such sub Ministries which prevent them from being privatized. The clear answer is to reduce the Government, and to let private industry develop, to fill the gap. It is time to finally step away from the ‘Nationalist” era of Indira Gandhi, which followed Nehru’s Socialist and Non-Aligned Era.

Huge land and other resources from these closed enterprises, can then be re purposed to build the new cities, airports, transportation hubs, Universities, Hospitals of tomorrow. The money from the spin off, of majors like LIC, IOC, SBI, or the top 50, would make a sensible approach, to build India’s tomorrow.  Banks, Insurance, Healthcare, Education should be largely dis-invested to form large Private service industries. The focus should be to provide the most jobs, on a massive scale, to let the Indian entrepreneurship, and native intelligence, combine with modern markets, and interfaces, to develop. The people will find their own way of life, as this is India after all that we are talking about, once they are provided the tools. We can enjoy all the bonus, of India’s young and growing population, for the coming decades, Will have to take the right steps now and change direction, to a more direct approach.

Our Government has no business being in Business.,and should free itself from this burden with the right precautions. For too long has the Indian Bureaucracy caused a pause, in India’s growth story. They hold on to it’s colonial and socialist past, while the nation needs to move ahead; into modern markets and modern industrial\service areas.  The left often gets in the way of the right’s implementation, causing good recommendations, to flounder in red tape. It is time to cut this red tape once and for all. Mr Modi should allow the Indian people, to decide their own economic future, and not ministers, enclosed near him on Raisaina Hill.

It is time indeed for a new Era, for the young and newly educated Indian youth; to become the service providers, to the modern world of the future. We need to fund them with all the States resources at its command, to make the future digital India.  This only means massive dis-investment from the old businesses of yesteryear’s. Now we have to make the most important investment for our future, into the youth of this nation. All our public enterprises, rightfully belong to them, and should be used for their greatest good. Get rid of Syssypuse’s burden of running large economic enterprises, and rise to build the superhighway of the future, with energy and hope. I hope, with a slight change in direction; our path ahead, becomes clearer, and brighter!

Future incubators

I am surprised, to read that in the US, “ Research and development have been cut so much that the US is now in second place and high-quality higher education is becoming unaffordable for most middle-class students. Yet every time someone proposes new investments in our future, they are told that the nation is broke, massively in debt, and cannot afford new investments.”

The Jouirnal Blog continued, “The United States had plenty of money half a century ago. In the 1950s and 1960s, we paid down the huge World War II debt at a time when we maintained a much larger military than today and fought wars in Korea and Vietnam. We built the Interstate Highway System and much of the other physical infrastructure we use today. We funded vigorous research and development, including the fabulously expensive Apollo program. We supported higher education well enough that middle-class students could graduate from elite universities without crippling debt.”

I am surprised, as I always believed that the best years are ahead of us. Yet the article sounded as if our wild economy, and can-do attitude, is a setting Western sun. We have become a nation that refuses to invest in itself, it allows private business to thrive, at the cost of public expenditure. Who will build the future modes of transportation, or the new fuel cells and batteries? Future cities will house, millions in a new tech world. Future farms will be climate controlled. Flora and Fauna will be preserved in video, and reserves. Humans will use artificial companions, for living, and transportation. Entertainment will be through focused sensory stimulation experiences, including physical, chemical and mental stimulants. 

Traditionally we have been a nation of Innovators and Free Thinkers as part of the American Way. Unfortunately, the cost of fostering human social conditions, for this innovation and education, has been going up. Over the past 5 decades, cost of social justice and security, has largely drawn from the pocketbook of employees, instead of the pockets of the corporations. Even before Reagan the cry to lower taxes, on the corporate and Wall Street big wigs, had a quaint resonance, in the elected house and Senate. Lobbyist swarmed and payroll taxes doubled many times, since initiation. Corporate taxes continued to slide, even hailed today by current President Trump, as one of his proudest moment, in this White House.

It is time now, to once again invest in the American Spirit and our people. Ever since the revolution, we have always risen from the ashes of past wars, and failures, with even more strength and determination. We are on the cusp of another revolution, where we tax more, and invest more, into American roots. The roots will grow green shoots which will create the forests of tomorrow. These schools and, universities are incubators, of our future world. What we teach them today, as basic human values, will take our place; in the universe, of tomorrow May they live long and prosper, on our blue planet!

The future is not ours

Image result for himalayas

Thankful am I, for the beauty, of our future,

It started, in the beauty of the Himalayas,

At an early age, the magical folk tales, conjured,

A realm of icy mountains shrouded in Monsoon clouds.

To be passed on, to posterity, untouched.

Let me fill my heart, with the soulful music, of our ancestors,

Of our centuries old generations, articulating and composing,

A spoken language, of wisdom, and karmic consequences,

The drum, the melody, the freeing of the voice, and the rhythm,

All combine to fill our hearts, with compassion and universal love.

Hear the song of the wind in the hill’s pines, and the patter of rain,

The sun will rise in the East again, and the mountains will shine,

Will our children catch this eastern glow, and dance our joy of existence?

Hear the songbird, just when our music has died,

Look up and seek the stars, and wonder about this life, and our passing?

“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” -Ansel Adams, photographer (20 Feb 1902-1984)

Peace of the Yogi

His associate spoke in high accolades, about the power of the Yogi. Then he took a freshly filled Chillum, and with the help of another devotee, he lit it, in rhythmic, deep, breathing. He seemed to time the breaths, to the rhythms; of the devotional music, playing in the background. The Associate Ashok, passed to the Yogi, his newly lit Chillum. Then he bowed, towards the setting sun. The yogi sat erect, and was framed by the setting sun, of red, and a horizon of orange clouds, with a golden lining.  He partook of the fire, and the smoke, and engulfed them all, into a different world. The chillum did its rounds, and the followers started to sway; to the heavenly music. It was a simple elemental beat, but seemed to have the variances, of the universe. Sometimes it sped up, and was the crashing of galaxies in our spatial universe. The music represented the change of the cosmic events around us. At other times it flowed slowly, like the river of time, then appeared to enter into a deep valley; rushing ever faster but reaching nowhere. It finally reached a crescendo leaving the audience afloat, on a vast ocean.

At last the Yogi pulled himself even more erect, in his posture. His magnificent chest had swelled in all its glory, when he had taken the Vayu breath, and stayed in his samadhi, still and composed. Having absorbed his fill, he did a deep discharge of breath, and the last of the smoke. He looked around him, as if focusing on the reality, of what was before him. He finally raised his head and eyes to the heavens, and the beautiful sight of the universe, passing into night. As all eyes seemed to turn to him, he raised his arms and spoke “Hear, me, here, here me now,”

The followers all turned, as the leaders hissed for silence, across the clearing. The Yogi and his companions, sat on a raised platform, with the group of musicians behind them, they followed the classical style, passed down for centuries on their drums, and musical instruments. They had learnt the accompanying music, from him, as the Yogi himself was trained, by the ancient Yogis, and their musicians, before him. They had played all day, with numerous breaks, to refresh, and meet others. Many far away devotes of the council, had gathered, for the Spring festival. Other leaders had brought their followers, and they now listened intently, as he spoke.

“The whole struggle is in our mind. My mind is not very different, from that of the Adi Yogi, whom we all want to emulate. He has passed beyond time, as we know it, and most of us will never rise to his wisdom… It is the way of the mind, that it stops all of us, from reaching the state of our Adi Yogi. This state is not a static state, and I will show you what is the way, to break this dependence, on a million years, of our mind’s conditioning. From the dawn of humanity, we have chased the question of eternity, and existence. Even our Vedas and Upanishads, have explored the relationship of our creator and us. We have come a long way, but still we have the critical question to ask of our Gods. How do we change our mind to experience, what the Adi Yogi, experiences?”

” So I will teach you all now, the path to this experience, but first you have to remove all the past, from your minds. Till we cleanse ourselves, through meditation and efforts, we cannot still our minds. Much less discipline our minds to become still, so we can move on, from this confusion of change, to our next level of awareness. Think on what I have said, and we will take up our minds, in the morning. We all must change, and remember with hard work, we can only do this together. This river of time and our memories are tied together, like an eternal rope, which makes up our mind. Freedom from this rope, demands a different passageway of our mind, to be first awakened, and then connected.”

He rose and then bent his arms and brought his hands together over his heart. He bowed in the direction that the sun had disappeared. He then walked down from the platform and headed off towards his cave in the mountain face. The tall evergreens were separated by a large path that led from this clearing towards the stream, that led to the cave. He walked erect and Ashok his devotee and companion followed closely behind as always. Ashok had also taken the role of scribe, and would spend a lot of time recording the discussions, and the debates, of the attendees. He and his companions would spend hours discussing various speakers, and their expressed views, were ascribed in the night. They lived in wooden log homes, with thatched roofs, and mud and stone walls of their small town.

They had ample water from the running stream, and had some enterprising young men had set up a water mill, and an irrigation system, long ago. They grew more than they needed and fed their visitors all year around, and gave the rest away, in charity to the needy. The neighboring gujjars raised their sheep, and their goats, in the valleys and fields, in the surrounding mountains. The local villagers fished in the autumn, for then the fish were plentiful. The Council always had the best variety of meals, for their varied visitors. Most of course were vegetarians, and largely satiated, by the whole grains and pulses, from the fields. The fruit orchards were ancient and well-kept, and so were the vegetable gardens. The famous nuts from the neighboring mountains, were traded in exchange for local largess, and served with compassion and love.  

Ashok remembered his grandfather telling him about a 20-year ancient drought, but in his lifetime he had seen only a few small droughts. The gods had been kind and livestock and fields had continued to flourish. Most of all Ashok was thankful for the current Yogi who had arrived 10 years ago, out of the forest with wild hair and fiery eyes. The head priest had seen something in the crazy creature and taken him directly into the high cave for discussions. He had not emerged for 3 months and wild rumors of his antics floated about, his working with the priest. Laments of pain so loud and on other days loud laughter, was heard, and then there would be long periods of silence.  

When he finally emerged, he was much changed. His wild hair was gone, and now was tamed into a tight bun above his head. He was now wearing the lion cloth of the yogi, and held a staff in one hand, and a wooden bowl in his other, measuring his total possessions. He had taken his vows of chastity and was ordained as a devote of the Head Priest. On that day our Head Priest spoke that he had visions of his arrival to our cave, many months ago. He whispered of his lineage from some ancient monastery, and his disappearance into the Home of Snow 10 years ago into the North. Fate and fortune led him on his travels to distance lands of Tibet, and the Far East, and Japan. He had sailed the seas and arrived back at the ports in Bengal. From there he made his way up the Gangetic Plain, strangely arriving back from his great journey, from our south.

Ashok finally bound up his work and decided to sleep. It was late in the night and as he lay down he saw a vision of the Yogi sitting in his samadhi as the man never seemed to sleep. He just sat there and meditated on this universe and it appeared to Ashok that the Universe existed in its order because of this Yogi. He seemed to exist beyond time and he looked forward to hearing him in the morning. As sleep took him he felt the Adi Yogi appear in his dream, suddenly his Yogi and the Adi Yogi seemed to merge into one. He was also swept into this flow of the great river, and gained the speed of flying stars, and worlds flashed by; yet in all of this change, he felt a strange peace, The peace of the yogi.

An early train to catch

Sam looked at me, with those large innocent eyes of hers, blinked her larger eye lashes twice, smiled, and said to me, “You have always had a way with words, Ashok. I can never imagine, what you will think of, next. I wouldn’t even last five minutes, in that crazy head of yours?” She became lost in her own thoughts as we waited, I squeezed Sam’s hand and she looked at me and I smiled back, as these moments were rare. I looked at my watch as I had to leave. The Producer came into the recording studio, and gave us a thumbs up sign, and Sam yelled with delight.  He was followed by the sound engineer, and our agent Suresh.

“I am tired, and have an early train, to catch,” I said.

“Ashok, that last track you laid today, is just amazing, how do you come up with these rhythms, and beats.” Suresh gushed, giving me a hasty hug. Suresh is my agent and childhood friend. “Why do you have to go on this discovery trip, I cannot understand?”

“Like I told you Suresh, something is calling out to me, from out there. I am going to the rock, where Swami Vivekananda sat, where Lord Ram sat, and prayed to Lord Shiva.  Something is telling me to go there, and find the truth, of what is India? I can’t explain it.”

“You can’t do this to me,” Suresh, “to us”, he continued

I replied. “I have given all I have, for this album, for over a year, now I need some time for myself. Suresh my dear friend, this is not about you or us, this is a strange hollow feeling, inside of me. All my   mathematical rigor and training is lost, within this, self-doubt. I do not even know myself or what is my purpose. I have made up my mind, to just go out there, and travel our land. I hope to find what is missing, in my current life?”

Sam went off with the sound engineer, to listen to the last tracks, we had played. She had a better ear for music, I just knew instinctively, when my drum notes flowed in rhythms, like mathematical equations. I just followed my instincts, and strict composition steps, and made my notes, follow my mathematical patterns, which only I could see. We had realized early in our partnership, that it is Sam, who just made the melody flow, with her singing. She played the guitar and harmonica and had an amazingly versatile voice. Somehow mine and Sam’s singing, worked well together, and this was tour second album together. We co wrote the lyrics of most of our songs.

My work is done here.” and I handed my drum sticks to our producer, and walked out.

The next day I had started my journey, just like Mahatma Gandhi had started his journey, on his arrival from South Africa. I had my sleeping bag and my laptop, and phone and books for the way. I wanted to see India, from the ground, and hear the names, of the familiar stations. I wanted to hear the languages, and the dialects, of the people, from the millions, who had passed before us. They too must have traveled on these same rails, on their way south. I wondered how many of them had sought the meaning of their lives, in the clackity-clack of these trains wheels, rolling down these rails.

Delhi was left far behind and I heard the clackety-clack of the railroad tracks, as the electric trains did not huff and puff, anymore.  The countryside passed, as I gazed out the window, and he went from State to State. I had a sleeper and slept in my sleeping bag, on the foam-covered bed. Late in the night, I heard the now familiar calls, of the tea hawkers, and the food vendors. The PM had helped his father, at a tea stall, I thought to himself, as another day passed, on the tracks. I loved the smell and color of the passing countryside. The sun broke out and the fields are green, and I am away from the dry cold land, of my air polluted city. The green Ghats beckoned my soul, and I thought I saw, a waterfall with a rainbow, flash by from my window, and then it was gone.

                                    >>>

An year has passed, and I have become a Math teacher, in an all-girls school, in the town of Gangtok, in Sikkim. I had come there to study, in the Buddhist Monastery, almost nine months ago, with a companion I found, in Ma’s ashram, in Pondicherry. It had been a long journey by train and Bus, to cross into the mountains, of the Eastern Himalayas. We had then hired a jeep, to take us, across some very remote areas, to the monastery, at the top of a cliff face. We had to climb on foot up the narrow path, along the cliff face, to get to the Monastery. There we finally come to a rest. We were admitted by the Abbot, and we studied with the monks.

We meditated for three months, and then went herd gathering, in the mountains. I helped to bring the animals back, from their summer, alpine forage lands. The rhythms of the seasons, and the might of the towering mountains, moved me. We would begin by rising at early morning, before dawn and start our trek. We had to climb a thousand meters up, around the hills, to get to the grazing grounds. My mind and body were fully engaged in these long walks. away from civilization. They made me face the last of my inner demons. As I gathered the Goats and the cattle, I made a new life, for myself. The cows and the goats helped me gain the realization, of what I am.

My meditation is progressing well, with my guide, and I feel a healthy glow of joy, for all creatures, I am now comfortable with myself. I sat on the side of some running water, taking a break. I had my bare feet, in the cold, clear, water, of this mountain tributary, of the Teesta river. My mind is as clear, as the flowing water, and only time is still. As I watch, a fish nibbles, on my big toe, and then swims on, as if, uninterested. But at that time, I was fully present in this moment. I have peered into the eye of this fish, who peered back, and there was a deep connection. I felt a sudden belonging to this eye, this fish, this stream, this land, this India, this universe. I looked up, and the sun was rising, over the evergreens, its rays lit up the rushing water, and my being, and this creation, is complete. Tears of joy, ran down my cheeks, at the realization; that the sun’s eye, and the fish’s eye, and the light reflecting off the waters, are part of my being.

                                    >>

I bade farewell to the Abbott and on his assistant’s advice I started teaching Math’s again, at the High School for Girls. They were desperate for a good math’s teacher in Gangtok. The girls loved his no-nonsense style and fell into his fevered pace, of teaching math’s. Their minds were fresh as the mountain air, and they seemed to grasp everything Ashok taught, with the rapidity of sponges. Their marks began to show steady progress, and the laggards were helped, by his open teaching methods. Tough concepts and theorems, where explained by examples, they could understand and use.  He had taught far advanced students before, but the girls of this new generation, had access to so much more information. He challenged them individually, and in small competitive groups, and his students grew.

The music teacher was the one, who encouraged Ashok to help (when he found out that Ashok was a drummer), with the group, who had won the State Championship, in group singing, last year. The area had some very bright musicians and the girls in the school, had especially great voices. It wasn’t every year but for the past few years, they had some outstanding talent. He loved this work and he threw himself into the music and the girls loved him for his strange rhythms and sounds. He tried to teach some of them the mathematical patterns behind them and some of the brighter ones understood. Their voices began to rise and fall with the rhythms he adopted from them, making a strangely uniquely sound of the mountains of Sikkim. You could almost feel, as if the music was carrying you there. The beat one was hearing is the beat of the hunters and gatherers, who had done this in these beautiful mountains, from time immemorial. Everyone is saying that this time, the group may win the National championship.

                                                ***

When he got home late, he checked his email and noticed a message from his old friend Sam. He had not heard from her for a few months, so was intrigued, and opened the message. She wrote, “Dear Ashok, Just had dinner with the producer in Mumbai. We have got ourselves, a multi crore deal, for two albums (including “Dunia” our new album). We open this Christmas at the Goa Christmas Festival, with Dunia, doing a National rollout. You are the drummer, and cocreator, singer, and the new corporate producer is dying, to finally meet you. He is a mathematician also, and was mumbling your kind of lingo, on algorithms and geometrical patters, in the music. More when we meet, your’s, Sam”

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” -E.M. Forster, novelist (1 Jan 1879-1970)

The Coder

The Coder

Liaquat Ali was in his cubicle, working on another production issue, where the Bank’s reports to the SEC, did not tally. The business had come back, on review of the results, that there was a discrepancy, in the numbers. The revenue numbers of the Banks divisions did not match, the Total for the bank. There had been a lot of transactions carried out in the quarter and this was a quarterly report. Now they were stuck with reconciling all the transactions in the quarter to see where the miss was. It was going to be a very long night he thought to himself. Williams his business VP, was not happy either, being asked to join the “War room,” that had been set up by the SVP, to fix the report. Their mission was to ensure that we worked till we got the file, for submission ASAP. Currently each of the divisions totals were being revisited, and checked. And everyone waited to hear back from the business, if any discrepancies were found.

The Application that Liaquat Ali was working on kept all the transactions for HQ, and it had evolved over the decades. The Consulting Company that he worked for, had helped the Bank Co-Develop this application. Ali had started off in a small village in the State of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India. With a lot of luck ad the right education, he had created a successful career, for himself in the US. With most of the developers of his team, in India. Even here in the war room, it was the offshore system analysts, who were working with the business analysts, at onshore. Working through the night. Ali was also monitoring, the other production jobs, that were running for lights on work. His utmost desire was to ensure, they did not need another war room, if something else got delayed.

The matter was finally resolved by a sleepy old accountant in HQs. When woken up, he looked at the registers and questioned, some intra division transactions, which were not properly accounted for. It was early morning, before the changes could be done, to fix the transaction ledgers. At 6 AM they installed the fix, ran the report, and Business had it out by 7 AM The Compliance Officer was happy that it was in time, for their SLA of 8 AM, to the SEC. William was very happy to bring the war room, to a close. He came over to thank Ali,

“You are The Coder, my man.” William said sounding relaxed, now that the crisis was over. He enjoyed working with Ali, as he was technically very competent, and did not panic or scream, and shout at things, he could not control. He was easy to work with, and William shook his hand, “Go take some rest, it has been a long night.”

                                    >>>

 Ali woke up and looked at his phone and it was 9:20 and wondered who was calling him, on his work phone? “He picked it up from his bedside table and answered it still half asleep. It was Vinay the Account Manager. Ali had spoken to Vinay on the day he joined this assignment, four months ago.  Ali thought he was calling about the War Room, and reached for his water bottle as his throat was parched.

“Ali, your petition has been rejected for the transfer,” Vinay announced instead.

“What the one  filed with the Dept for Immigration to move from TX to here?” Ali asked, thinking back to try and remember his filings as immigration rules in America were complex, and hard to track. Ali had heard that all his Muslim friend’s applications were being turned down, this year. He was not surprised to hear that his may have been denied also.

“H R says that you have to leave the country in 48 hours.” Vinay continued.

“But there must be some misunderstanding, my visa standing has always been good. I am even getting my Green Card.” Ali replied, slowly waking up to this new nightmare.

“Hey Ali, I am only the messenger here. I know you do great work, and I am sorry to have to let you go. I cant fight the US Immigration system you know.” Vinay replied. “Talk to HR, as they know the laws and can connect you with our Immigration Law Firm, in New York.”

The HR lady called him at 9:30. She told him to start packing and they were booking his ticket to India. He would be returning back to his old office, in Lucknow. The Company was making all the arrangements, and they will inform him his Ticket details, once the travel department made the arrangements.

                        >>>>

Ali packed what he could and got rid of all his worldly possessions, which he could not take back, to India. A guy he hated in the office, for his meanness, bought his precious, secondhand Beamer. He stared wistfully out of his window watching, the red car disappear around the corner. He fondly remembered all the road trips, he had taken with his sweat heart, all over the US. He loved those countries highways and Parks, and had traveled thousand of miles, in search of, even he did not know, what?  “One kept looking, but one could not find, America,” Ali thought to himself,  as he silently said bye, to his companion of so many red sunsets, on the bridges, and roads of America.

 The bedroom furniture was bought by a newly married couple, in Graduate School, obviously very much in love. His big HD TV he sold on EBay and this giant black dude, just picked it up like a toy, and walked right away with it. Everything else Ali stashed away into two suitcases, and his laptop bags. The last night he spent sleeping in his old sleeping bag, on the carpet in his den, with the glass fireplace on. Early morning, he called Uber on his iPhone, and loaded his stuff, and headed out to the Airport.

He was in the Company’s Lucknow Office for a week, when he was given the notice that his post would be eliminated, and he would be better off, looking for alternative employment. He was actually in Saharanpur, his home place in UP. He was visiting his uncle, in his ancestral land, when the news came. They had a large two storied home, near their land of over forty acres, and their Milk Cow sheds, and the  new Poultry farms. The Ali’s had lived here for centuries from the 15th century. Like Liaquat occasionally one would venture out f the ancestral lands, and travel the world. Some Ali’s had settled in the UK, and some in Canada.  It was his father’s younger brother, and his family, who were now running, the vast establishment for their clan, in UP.

                        >>>

Liaquat was happy to be with his uncle, and spent time with him and his family. He did not really bother with the emails or his laptop, as he was transported back to his childhood memories. His uncle Firoz was also happy to see his nephew. They had been a close knit family, his father and his younger brother and one sister, who was married. She lived away in Calcutta, in another old Muslim family and had 2 boys. The family had prospered, as their agriculture income was good, from their two crops of winter wheat, and the Monsoon rice plantings, had brought added incomes. The Artesian Wells peculiar to their sub Himalayan fields, brought all the water for their needs, from the foot hill of the Himalayas. With free water, their fruits and vegetables, also added a lot of labor, and value. Liaquat personally knew almost 500 families, which evolved around the Ali’s land and enterprises, in the area. When the family gathered for the Friday prayers at the local mosque, they had a special unspoken place for their prayers, at the head of the gathering. After all this mosque had been largely financed, by one of Liaquat’s ancestors, while working with the Sultan, in faraway Delhi, in the fifteenth century.  

After the prayers they had been called to the home, of the local head master of the school, an old family friend whose education, had been paid by the family. His wife was a close friend to Ali’s Chachi and she came over to their home quite often. She had not been over for some time, so Ali was happy to see her. She ran a great kitchen and Ali was anticipating a nice feast, after the prayers, as he had only had water since the morning. She soon rushed off to give the instructions for the help, to serve chilled drinks to the men after the sunny day.

The Men sat together in the living room. Farooq the Headmaster, was in earnest conversation with my uncle already, when I got settled in. They often spoke of all the local issues, and I also sipped my cool sherbet, in a tall metal glass, with some ice, and half listened, to their words.

“The other day Chottu reported that in the Grains market, the Sangh people want to do a procession for Holi. We had all agreed, as we have always celebrated, all the Hindu and Muslim Festivals together. The market is made up of traders who are Muslim and Hindu; Sikh and other faith’s traders, also have their business, in the Grain Market.” Farooq was telling Firoz.

“This year they took over the whole market, and Lalan and his boys, were given free reign. Chottu and our young people were given no role, in the celebrations. They only used their Sangh brotherhood shakhas, and others to organize. Even in the music and plays, we were left out, as if it was only a Hindu celebration. Our singers have sung Kabir and Meera Bhajans, every year at Holi, from our old gharanas. Chottu is very worried, as to the way things are going, and we are being excluded, and marginalized. There have been fights over the stalls, and the dances, and even some of our streets, have been closed; for their use only, to make mandals and stalls. Their leaders have made it clear, that we are not part of their celebrations anymore.” Farooq continued.

“Lalan and his boys are just showing their youthful spirit. We have celebrated Holi together, for so many generations. One more Holi will come and Go, and so will our ID, later this year. Young hotheads, will be controlled, by our community, as usual. We have not had any communal riots here, and we should keep cool heads, and hearts.” Firoz replied, after thinking for some time, on what he had heard.

“I spoke to his father, but he said that Lalan is out of his control and has come under the influence of the Hindutva wing, of our town’s party. I pleaded with him to talk to Lalan, as he seems intent in making some mischief, this Holi.” Farooq said.

We were summoned for the Jumma Feast and the old friends kept talking, as I concentrated on the delicious delicacies coming out of the kitchen. I had forgotten the taste of our home made cooking, and relished everything, whether it was the tender kebabs from the Tandoor, or the fried, or curried meats, that exploded, with new tastes, in ones mouth. My palate was in a state of constant amazement, as smells and tastes I thought I had forgotten, were rekindled. The aroma of the creamier dishes, was over powering, and the Naan’s with herbs and spices, just filled the room, with their earth oven cooked, smell. I ate slowly, concentrating on each morsel, and enjoying a meal this thoroughly, after many years. I remembered coming to this home with my father, as a young boy. Apparently, nothing much had changed in the routine of life, and the traditions just carried on.

                                    >>>

Firoz Chacha was of course proud to have his world traveled nephew, back home. He installed me in My Father’s wing, of our old Haveli. In fact, I felt strange staying in my parent’s suite. I would have loved to live in my old room by the stairs, in the back, but Firoz Chacha insisted.

“Lallu, this is your rightful place in our home, so just settle down here. I will hear none of this nonsense, of going back to Lucknow. It is good riddance, as who needs a job anyway. You are heir to our Ali Family Lands and Estates, I m getting tired of looking after all our family affairs, after your father passed away. I need you back here to help me,” Chacha hugged me to his heart. He looked up into my eyes and said. “Enough of this madness, you have seen your America now. Come back home son.”

Firoz was going to Lucknow, the following week, as there was a big cattle show held their annually. He had some prize bulls to sell, and he wanted to get some new cows, to replace some of his older herd, at the Milk Sheds. I had to go and do my paperwork at my old employer, in any case, to finish my termination and meet with HR, for my exit interview. I decided to join him and square up my old travel accounts, for which my presence was needed, in the office.

>>> 

Firoz had rented a Truck to transport his prized Bulls to the Lucknow Cattle Fair. On the appointed day a young bearded strong man from the grain market, showed up with an old Lorry, and loaded up the bulls, with some difficulty. He finally had them safely aboard, on the back of his lorry, and headed out, through the market. There he found his way blocked by one of the bamboos and wooden pandals, being used for an impromptu lecture, from the local politician, waxing on about the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Ram Mandir. “We will now build our Ram Mandir, our time has come again. We will bring Ram Rajya, back to this great land. Mother India is blessed. Jai!”” He shouted to great cheers, and loud repeated chants , from his audience.

Lalan and his boys jumped off the back of the stage and swaggered towards the offending Lorry, with Lathis and hockey sticks, in their hands. The driver realizing his mistake, started to turn his Lorry around, to take another way. Their orange scarves, and white short sleeve shirts, and brown shorts were mlike a uniform, and they all stood around the Lorry. They could see the bearded driver and Lalan jumped up on to the Footboard of the Lorry, and yelled at the driver, “You want to disturb our Leaders speech, we will kill you, if you disgrace our leader.”

The driver replied “Lalan Bhai, it is nothing like that, I did not know you are having your rally here, as I go this way every day. You know that as you are a regular, in the market also.”

“Turn around and go quietly, I do not want to see you, or your kind here,” Lalan said jumping off, as the Driver maneuvered the Lorry around, and headed off.

One of the boys jumped up and hit the lorry’s canvas, with a hockey stick from the back. The closure gave way and the Canvas parted, and one of the bull’s heads came into view, it was slowly chewing its cud, and looked balefully, at the scene.

The Lorry sped away and the boy yelled to the others, that the Lorry is transporting, Mother Cows. There was a lot of murmuring, and discussions as the boys returned to the stage for the rest of the speeches.

                        >>>

My day at the Company Office went smoothly, as I went from office to office, and got my clearance. There were a few colleagues I had worked with, on numerous occasions in the past, over so many years. They decided to take me our for a Barbeque Lunch. By the time I got to the fair, I saw Chacha pacing up and down, besides the Lorry. Apparently, the day had gone well, and he had been able to get more than he had expected, for his two prize bulls. He had bought two new young Jersey Cows, and two Desi Cows, from other people at the fair, that he knew from years past. He had a satisfying day, and was now anxious to get back, to his home and family.

So, I picked up Firoz Chacha in his car, from the fair, and then he made sure that the Lorry driver, took off before us, with his fare. He had also picked up 2 other passengers from our community, who needed a ride back from the fair. So, we all set off as it was going to be a long drive, to back home. We eventually arrived very late in the night and I was tired from all the driving and went off to bed. The Lorry driver had been instructed to not drive through the night, but find a place to sleep, on the way and take his time. The cows were important, but not urgent, and it was better to be safe.

I woke up late and had a shower and breakfast. I headed off to our office in the Grain Market, as Chacha had left before me. The car was gone, and I took a rikshaw from the main road. Normally the Rikshaw peddlers would take the loop on the main road, to avoid the inner smaller streets traffic. Today however the Rikshaw puller, took the side streets way, instead. When I asked him why, he told me there was some accident on the main road, and the police had closed it off. It was slow going through the narrow streets and he often had to get off and pull the rikshaw by hand, to the side, to make room for oncoming traffic or carts. When I got to the office only the accountants and clerks were there, and Chacha was not in his office, so I went off to my larger room, and started reviewing the reports, of our business.

I was meeting with the accountants to understand some of the intricate accounts that needed settlement, with one of our two banks. We worked with The State Bank of India’s Saharanpur Branch, for most of our business. We did a large business with the Food Corporation of India, and other buyers, of our wheat and paddy. Most of the funding for government accounts went through the State Bank, as it was easy to use their systems and many branches. The second bank was a Co-Operative Bank used by our Muslim traders. Many smaller farmers and traders and iron workers, and leather workers, needed banking services also. They did not qualify, for some of the bigger bank’s requirements. Here our family’s money had been invested, to take care of the families, during their needs for weddings, children, funerals etc. It was not a very big bank, but it was very effective in taking care of our many extended families, in the area.  They helped build homes, dig wells, buy equipment or animals for income. The Bank and Family’s money had grown over the years, and the client families, had also prospered.

Suddenly a young man rushed into our office. His shirt was torn and one of his sleeves, seemed to be wrapped around his head. There were blood stains on the side of his head, and some on his remaining shirt. He came into the room where I was, and seemed agitated and nervous. When one of our accountants asked him, what he wanted, he just stared at him, as if at a loss for words. Then he turned to me, and said, “Please come to the clinic, your uncle Firoz has sent me.”

As I looked closer, I recognized him as one of the companions of our Lorry Driver. Intrigued by his appearance, I decided to leave with him, at once. As we walked, to find a Rickshaw, I asked him to tell me, what had happened? The young boy, as now I noticed he was quire frail, started to sob and cry. “Sir, I do not know, what to say. It is all so strange, as everything was normal, on our drive, and we slept at a Dhabha after a hearty meal, thanks to you, and your uncle. We headed out again in the morning after tea, and a good breakfast. We were doing well and only when we were near our town on the main road, that the driver stopped, and got out to use the bathrooms, and get some more tea. Lalan and his companions, were already there; having tea and got excited, when they saw us.

“Where have you been, we have been looking for this lorry, all day?” asked the young man, who had exposed the bull in the back, with his hockey stick, and called it a cow.

“We are returning from the Cattle Fair in Lucknow and it has been a very long drive.” Responded the driver, who knew Lalan.

“We saw that you took our Mother Cows, in your Lorry. What do you have there now?” the boy asked getting even more excited, “Let me see what you are carrying now, you beef eaters?”

“I am only the driver of this lorry; the goods belong to Mian Firoz Ali of the Grain Market. If you have any questions regarding the merchandize you will have to ask him,” The driver replied. “We have all the papers from the Fair, for our purchases and way bills.”

The young man looked at Lalan and asked rudely, “How can you allow this kind of trade in cows, and their slaughter? I have come from Delhi, to prevent this kind of behavior. We cannot allow the slaughter of cows in our land, as they are holy. I have come here with the specific instructions, to teach these people, a lesson.”

Lalan listened to the anger in the man’s voice and said. “This is their business. We do not interfere in their business, long as they do not interfere, in ours. They trade animals every year, and it is not a crime, to do their business.”

 We and the driver sat down to one side at a small wooden table and ordered our tea. As we drank our tea, we watched the ensuing battle of words, between the boys. There seemed to be two groups, the first were Lalan and the local boys, whom we knew. The second group were outsiders, who must have come from Delhi, with their leader. They seemed far more belligerent and were far louder, and becoming more agitated, as if itching for a fight. Lalan and his friends backed off and then the group from Delhi went off to examine the Lorry’s freight.

They climbed up on the back despite our driver’s entreaties, to leave the cargo alone. When the young leader saw the young cows, being transported, he seemed to lose all his own control. He knelt and caressed the cows and put his arms, around their neck. Then some thought struck him, and he jumped up, and started shouting, “Murderers, thieves, killers of innocents, bloody meat eaters, not in our land.”

He jumped down from the lorry, and went and grabbed his hockey stick. “How dare you kill, these beautiful cows? You are monsters all of you. We will not allow you to murder these creatures. Come my companions, let us teach them a good lesson.” He yelled out loud. He and his boys then attacked our table, the driver stood up to defend us, his wards. They ganged up and circled all around him, taunting him with words. The driver threw up his arms, and cried out loudly, “That was Firoz Bhai’s prize Bull you saw us taking to the fair, to sell. Now we have brought cows back for the milk sheds. We have all the papers.”

The young leader was red in the face and jumped up on the table, in his excitement and started swinging his hockey stick, like a weapon. “You will teach us about our sacred cows, no we will teach you, how to treat them well.” He turned to his companions and said, “We have found him, let us teach him a lesson, like our leaders have said.”

Then they began to beat him up mercilessly, in front of us. Others grabbed us and started to beat us, with sticks and other instruments, and then someone hit me on the head, and a blinding pain erupted above my ear, and I fainted.”

I tried to comfort the young boy, as we approached, the Government Medical Clinic, in the Rickshaw. He was obviously very frightened and had gone through a frightful experience. “The last thing I remember, before I fainted was seeing Firoz Bhai, pulling up in his car, and coming towards us. When I woke up, I found myself in the clinic and Firoz Bhai must have brought me in his car, along with the rest.” He said, as we approached the square whitewashed building, of the clinic.

                        >>>

Firoz Chacha was lying on the clinic bed, and Dr Khan from our neighboring town, was administrating to him, when I walked into the clinic. “What happened?” I asked, as I approached.

“Just a few stitches on his forearm, and some lacerations and bruises on his legs, and arms, where he defended himself. Luckily nothing broken or impaired.” The wise Dr Khan said, shaking his head slowly. The poor Driver is dead, and his companion has a left leg and a right arm fracture and is in pain and I have sedated him, for the time being. He may have some fractured ribs, and a broken nose.  Ah, this is the other fellow, that I must attend to,” the doctor said looking at my companion’s injuries. “Firoz Bhai mentioned he had gone to fetch you Liaqat,” he said using my formal name, from school.

“What can I do to help?” I asked the doctor.

“None of the local clinic staff is ready to help. Firoz called me on the phone, to come and help, and I rushed over as quickly, as I could. My advice would be to take Firoz home, or to a safe place, as soon as possible, these situations can turn very bad.” Dr Khan spoke from his experience. He shouted out to one of the orderlies at the clinic, to help. Dr. Khan helped Firoz get up slowly, and handed him a crutch, as his right leg was also injured. The orderly was afraid to help, so I stepped up and put my uncles’ arm, across my shoulder and bearing his weight, walked him slowly out. We then turned to the car parked, on the roadside and he groaned with pain, as we slowly got him, into the vehicle. Dr. Khan took the injured companion with him, back to his own home, and clinic.  I finally drove away carefully, avoiding any sudden turns and potholes As I turned a corner, I saw a Lorry approaching with a Saffron flag, headed towards the clinic.

>>> 

For two days we stayed at the Headmaster’s home (on his advice), as Chacha was confined to bed. Dr. Khan came and prescribed anti biotics, as he was running a high fever. He also gave me a bottle of strong pain killers, to be administered every night, to help him sleep. I returned home on the third day, as work was piling on and the excitement in the Mandi had died down a bit, after Holi. We mourned the passing of the driver and his innocent companion, while the third survived, and worked for Dr Khan and his family. I was active In the Market again and our trust work, was also keeping me busy. Chacha called me “The Coder” as I tried to quantify and classify everything, and worked, with a priority system.

On some melancholy days, an anger would seize me, and I would pace endlessly; in the inner courtyard, of our ancient home. The expression of the young man from Delhi, the hatred and the poison are new for me and my anger, would rise. Those loud words of hate were seared in my brain, as most of the outsiders seemed to live in Delhi, and not Saharanpur. He would recover from the dark fits on his Chacha’s urgings, and they would throw themselves into enjoying the seasons of life. He was intent on regaining his family’s stature, in society lost in the sordid descriptions in the media which hounded them. Their work was to better their families, and to make their community safe. They actively worked in their market and their education systems, to ensure more brotherhood. Where before he had taken what this system gave him, now he wanted to give back. He put all his efforts in arranging opportunities, for the next generation of families, in his hometown. He felt he had found his life’s calling and he would remain within the heart and soul of India.

                        >>>

A cycle stopped and the dust in the street rose from its wheel, as it had been very dry weather. Postman Chacha tapped me on my shoulder. I looked up to see his gnarled and wrinkled, unshaven, face. “Lallu beta,“ He said, panting a little, as if he had been riding hard, to catch up with Ali. He got off his bicycle and we got on the side, of the road. He reached into his mail satchel and rummaged around, for something. He pulled out a rumpled old package and smiled that wide broken teeth smile, I remembered. He apologized that the package had undergone a lot of wear and tear, as some parts were stuck with scotch tape. He handed it to me and said. “I have been looking for you, to deliver this. “  he patted me on the head, to give me give me his blessings. In an age old custom. I automatically reached down to touch his dust baked feet, in the rubber and canvas shoes, he wore without socks. My childhood seemed to pull me back in time, as I saw him get back on the road, mount his bicycle and ride back, the way he was doing his rounds,

I opened the package from my US office, of my old company. From it came a letter from the U S Consulate and another package. From this emerged my old lost passport, from the brown envelope wrapped in red tape. I opened the passport, and there where the page opened, was the official stamp of the US Government. I was staring at my Green Card.

The music singer

Goddess of knowledge Saraswati, loved music!

The day had started on a bright note, as I left my flat in Gurgaon and headed off to my office. It was not far in distance, a mere 7 miles, in a nearby glass and steel office tower. It was the traffic cacophony, I was trying to beat, which had always bothered me. Soon as I crawled in my car to the end of our lane, I beheld the same daily mayhem; at the merge point, with the feeder road. The sound of all variety of honking, of truck and car horns, was constantly blaring I quickly put up my window and turned on my AC, even though it was a relatively cooler day. When I had moved to my apartment, it had been a deceptively serene lane, with minimal traffic about 7 years ago. I had just graduated from my college, got my current job, at the multinational IT firm, as software security trainee.

Since then Gurgaon had exploded in traffic as more and more people, moved in. The empty plots started to fill along with the new towers that were only tall cranes, when I moved in. Now I am surrounded, by huge residential towers, which had led to the explosion in traffic, at all the crossroads, during rush hour. I found nothing on the morning news on the radio, as I waited. I switched to the disc player. The music that Sudha loves so much, filled my car, and I closed my eyes, thinking of her, as I waited for the light to change. Ours had been an arranged marriage, which had blossomed into love. She has introduced me to the classical Indian music gharana, that she had been tutored at, as a young girl, growing up in Lucknow in UP.

We were of the same caste but our upbringing could not have been more different. She had been brought up, in an orthodox Hindu household. Her father was a professor at the University, and her mother a teacher at the local school. They celebrated all the festivals with regularity and she was encouraged to study music and the arts. Her mother would tie her saree around her waist; she would tuck it tightly into her petticoat to avoid any flames. She would then proceed to show her daughter, the fundamentals of vegetarian cooking.  Being the girl in the family, she had to provide steady help to her mother in the kitchen, to learn the traditional dishes for family meals. It was her Guru Ji, who mesmerized me, as his rendering of the traditional Ragas while playing a Harmonium, accompanied by his table players and ensemble, was truly uplifting.

Despite my lack of knowledge of this ancient tradition, I also soon also discovered, that I had no ear for music. I could not follow the nuances of the tones, or the flow and beats of the melodies. I missed all the changes in tempos and beats, and could just hum the most basic of melodies, in the shower. I had listened more to western bands and foreign artists, singing in English, in School and Engineering College. I had led an isolated life from general society, as the hostel and the college, was an intense place. We worked very hard just to stay up with the courses we are attending, each year. Each year the courses became more intense and I escaped into Western modern music and listened with my headphones and cheap device for endless hours, sometimes even while I studied. I completed my Masters from IIT Delhi and had started working right away.

Sudha came into my life after I had settled into my job and saved some money, to rent my own two-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms. Somebody from my family was always visiting and one room was for my parents or other visitors. More and more young professionals had moved in, and there was a lot of gossip on where to eat, and where to hang out after work. New restaurants had opened catering to a wide variety of Indian food, and some Italian and Chinese and Thai. Sometimes when we could get away, we would even meet for lunch, in the various cafes and new gourmet chef’s offerings.

When my father decided that I had a steady job and sufficient savings, he had my mother show me the picture of Sudha amongst other girls, which my Mom liked. She was the daughter of his best friend from his college days and of our caste also. I had gone through the photos on a whim, not expecting to find anyone I would find attractive. Suddenly the picture of Sudha passed before the front of my face, and my eyes seemed to catch a glimpse of something.

 “This is the one, your father likes.” Said in my mother’s usual stern tone, when she did not approve of something, her husband wanted. I stared at a lovely young woman, clad in a traditional Indian Saree, in bright Red color. The traditional Banarsi Sari had a gold embroidered border that framed her face and was draped smartly, across her body. She sat erect, strumming at her Veena with one hand and singing intensely. Her hand had henna and her long fingers extended out in the gesture of a mudra, which seemed very mysterious to me. I was intrigued, as she seemed to be lost in her performance. She probably had no idea, that this photograph, was even taken. She reminded me of the Goddess Sarasvati, I had seen in Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s painting, which my great grandfather had framed, from a calendar in our old home. It had always intrigued me and I couldn’t believe my eyes, that a real women could exist like her, as I thought she was just a fable.

I looked up inquiringly at my mother, who was already pulling the photo of another more suitable girl, having fulfilled her marital duty.

“Who is she Maa Ji?” I asked pointing at the disappearing Sudha, knowing she didn’t like the formal title, but preferred, the modern mummy.

“It is Sudha” said Mom flipping the photo over and checking some details, “she is the daughter of his friend Bipin in Lucknow.”

“Tell me more,” I said reaching out, and taking the phot from her retreating hand. I looked closely and started admiring her thin lips, angular nose and wide fair forehead. Large eyes gazed away, looking at the mudra that her long fingers were making. A small gold ornament ran along the parted flat dark hair, peeking out from under her Sari’s Pallu. Around her neck above her young breasts, peeking above her silk blouse was a Sarasvati goddess pendant. My head spun, at the sight, of my thoughts personified. I was even more attracted to this strange mythical creature, my father wanted to become my life companion.

“Oh nothing he is Professor Sahib’s college friend. They were very close even though Bipin was from Lucknow. We have seen Shobha grow up from our visits between our homes, over the years.” as she would refer to my father. “She is too traditional for you and from a small town. You need a vibrant and modern young girl, to suite your multinational lifestyle.” My mother continued.

She handed me the photo of another girl and said, “This one is more suited to being your wife. She graduated from Ladies Sri Ram College here in Delhi, and is becoming a lawyer. You should marry a professional working women, as now both of you have to work, to live a good lifestyle.” Mom advised me with a smile.

I vaguely remembered a large home in Lucknow from my childhood visits, listening to a girl learning singing, in the home somewhere. My father was happy there, and I had enjoyed the visits, though my mother had kept me close. I looked at an innocent face staring of the stranger, my mother handed to me. The girl was smiling, but it did not do anything for me, and I handed it back to mummy, and continued to stare at Shobha’s photo. There was something in her intensity of expression, which seemed to say, that she truly loved her life.

                                                ***

Much to my mother’s disappointment and my father’s delight, I was married off to Sudha within six months. It was a regular middle class marriage with all the ceremonies and Sudha and her friends entertained us one evening, at the Sangeet, to my father’s joy. I was mesmerized at her rendering and my mother was still getting over the shock, but was warming up to their kind hospitality. Our barat had gone to Lucknow and their arrangements were well suited, to our caste’s expectations, of food and places to stay. My father and Bipin my new Father in law got along fabulously, and catered to all the demands of our various relatives and friends, who attended the functions. After the marriage, we came back from the gracious city of Lucknow, and my parents held a reception to welcome the new bride in Gurgaon.

Sudha and I set off to Nanital for our honeymoon and over the next week I discovered, that she was full of life and a joy to be with. We took walks, sat by the lake, and talked about our friends and our families. She was much more interesting and I soon ran out of the tales of my hostel life, and college pranks. She seemed uninterested in the world of cyber security, to which I had devoted my life, since leaving college. I started to enjoy her telling of life from a very human perspective, while I seemed tied up, in my digital world. She was beautiful, and I became enchanted with her common sense and quick responses. She always seemed ready to explore, new ideas and experiences, and I felt faded in my experiences.

A completely new world seemed to open up for me, which I had lost in my insular life. Our nights were fun and she showed me how to laugh again. I slowly lost my seriousness, with which I had approached every endeavor, in my young life, so far. We settled into a routine, as I would set off for work early, and she would pull out her harmonium and get ready to do her music riaz and Alap in the mornings. Sometimes I would even sneak back at lunch, if I could get away from work, to enjoy her company. Evenings I usually worked late at work, and would return to a fresh and enthusiastic Sudha, who would tell me about the new friends she had made, or the places and stores she had visited. I enjoyed the delicious dinner she would make and on weekends, I would take her out and hang out with my coworkers at the local hangouts. Sudha enthralled them all as she brought a completely new world of experience into our lives, from her traditional but cultured upbringing.

In a years’ time Sudha bought our first 3-bedroom apartment, in a close by residential tower. We were helped by my Father and Father-in-Law, to put down the deposit, and I used up my savings and started to pay the monthly payments, from my rising salary. Sudha did not mind the frugality we had to live with now, as I had also bought a better car. She went about making our new apartment, into our home, by decorating it with the artistic collection of paintings of the artists she liked. Each piece of furniture and decoration were chosen for their esthetic value, and I was delighted at her sense of tradition and knowledge of historical and cultural refinement. Our apartment became the gathering place for our new friends that she had cultivated. We enjoyed long evenings of discussions and music becoming the norm on our weekends, along with Sudha’s delicious food.

Sudha the homemaker was ordained in her nature. Unlike me who often got caught up, in the latest fashion sneakers and other nice to have things, she planned ahead. She knew what she wanted in her carpets, curtains, sofas, beds and even chairs (old wooden carved designs, with comfortable cushions, straight back). She waited patiently for our savings to grow, until she could buy each item. Over the years, I saw her dream home take shape. Her one constant was her music space, where she continued her morning practice on weekdays, when I was in the office. She became socially popular with her outgoing easy personality. She got invitations to sing at various social gatherings, and became very popular singing our folk songs, with great gusto, at weddings. Aunts invited her for other suitable occasions, with other women and her popularity increased. Even Mummy would beam lovingly, at her beautiful and accomplished daughter in law, in front of her friends and relatives.

We would take a trip each year to a hill station, or down south, to places; we had not visited in India. Sudha was always interested in the local musicians, and looked for other musician’s performances, wherever we went. I attended more music concerts and festivals, than I could follow, but oftentimes we just visited the local sights, and returned with many photos.  She was invited to sing in some of these concerts, as a proponent of her Guru Ji’s, Lucknow Gharana. She would get carried away in her live performances, always performing with a deep understanding of the music, she was singing devotionally. Her love for her Guru Ji, and his style, flowed in her melodious voice, filling the hall. Along with the raga, her voice’s tempo, kept rising and falling, as people listened swaying, in pin drop silence. She had a way with her fans and they loved her natural rhythms, coming down from ancient times. It was a primordial sound, coming down in a vocal tradition, since humanity’s existence started.

I rose in my MNC and started travelling abroad on assignments. Sudha didn’t mind my travels, as she loved her home and her music. Then I got an extended assignment in USA and I was ecstatic. It was a great opportunity and my boss told me, I should leave immediately. Sudha helped me pack two suitcases and with quick basic cooking lessons to survive, in a non-vegetarian country. Half a suitcase was packed with beans and daals with instructions on how long to cook them. They came with recipes, and suggested spices, for various dishes. It all came along with a small pressure cooker. Packed in plastic bags was a small masala box with coriander, garam masala, haldi, kali mirch and many oher spices and dried leaves and seeds, in various compartments, with see through lids. It was meticulously planned as I had learned was the norm, with my beautiful and gifted wife.

So began my two-year stint in Huston, looking after the cyber security of a major Oil and Gas Conglomerate. It was followed by a two-year stint, in a Bank in the Carolinas. Then came a 3-year stint, at a Health Care company, in Indianapolis. Sudha would visit over the summer months and we would travel across America, to the usual places; like the trip to the Niagara Falls and New York City. We loved the night in Niagara with the falls lit up at night, and the rainbows in the daytime. It was a magical evening, as we walked along the sound of the falls in the mist, rising around us. We had never been more in love, than when we walked in our hooded parkas, holding hands; and Sudha hummed a song, from the monsoon season. We found protection in a covered Octangular shaped space, and she sat down on the wooden floor, and started to sing. I sat mesmerized, as the sound of the falls seemed to rise and fall with her music, or she had become, one with the falls. When she finished we realized that many couples has joined us and they clapped softly in appreciation.

We were used to our separate lives, and we never thought of having kids, despite the social pressures; from both, our families. We were both busy with our careers and life was giving us; whatever we could desire, from it. She now had her own songs, on All India Radio. Sudha had produced an album, which had been well received, in critical music circles. Now she was busy, on her second album, where she was trying to fuse the ancient ragas; into a more modern interpretation. She wanted to add her extensive touring experiences, and add her current experiences, from the cultural bylines’ of a resurgent New Delhi

She was touring with another famous singer from Delhi, who specialized in Sufi music. It was a strange mixture of Hindustani Classical, with Sufi mystic, but the combination seemed to work for their eclectic fans. They became very popular, as the word spread of their wonderful live performances. The producers had released a live album last year, and their popularity grew. I would watch her performances on You Tube, and we would talk on skype, for hours. Most days we were too busy, so time became a river, and we met on the islands in the Caribbean, or in the Maldives, or Indonesia, as her tastes became more exotic. She took me to the Greek islands and we danced the night away, with the local musicians, in a town center. She had become very good at finding exotic locations, and somehow I started to feel that I was just was along for the ride. I loved every moment with my exotic wife, who was as comfortable in a bikini, or in a sari, or a sarong.

Sudha had purchased a 2 acre plot of land in a “farmhouse” in New Delhi. She went about hiring a famous architect, to make her future home. I had got my Green Card for living permanently in the US and had moved to another better position in San Francisco, with one of the FANGS.  I started funneling my excess income, to help Sudha, with our new future home. I trusted Sudha, as she now moved in some of the most exclusive circles in India, as many of the rich and famous were not only her fans; but had become friends. During my visits I saw Sudha blossom into a woman of stature, due to her social standing in the music world. She had taken up the cause of girl’s education, and become very active in an NGO, and was its new spokesperson. I saw her on You Tube performing in fundraisers, for catering to the needs, of the underprivileged and poor families.  

My parents came and visited me in my new apartment in San Francisco and my mother lamented the absence of her grandchildren. She argued with my father, that if I had just selected the lawyer she liked, for my marriage (as she now had 2 boys, and 2 older girls, and we had none). Luckily, Sudha was not there but I was sure, that she had heard my mother’s demands in India, when they met.  My father was fascinated by the city, and we took long walks along its busy streets, or the beaches, and talked about life. His friend Bipin had passed away, and Sudha had got a full time maid to live with her mother. I was unable to go for the funeral and my father had represented me.

                                                ***

Another 5 years passed and Sudha’s new Farmhouse was now complete and she named it Alap in memory of her music training, with her Guru. The home itself was not large and had barely 3 bedrooms like our old apartment. Yet it had its own unique style, which was reminiscent of the ancient pleasure homes of the Maharaja’s and blended in, with its surroundings. The large music room with its excellent acoustics, with large glass rising to the ceilings, seemed to blend in with the greenery and the old trees that she had preserved.  The rooms, kitchen and bathrooms were huge and luxurious to my mind, but she had apparently spent a lot of time, in imagining what an Indian home, should be. She had acquired two German Shepard’s and they were her constant companions now.  I had become a footnote it seemed in her life, as all her friends seemed to absorb all her attention.

Our trips together have come down and I missed her laughter and companionship. We have drifted apart now and seldom meet. On my drive to my office in my Tesla, it remembers the songs I like. The recording of Sudha singing the songs of our early days, come on.  Sometimes a tear slips down my cheek and I become melancholic. I shake off my melancholy, and re-immerse myself, in my current and hectically busy, American life.

A new American friend asked me once, as we were driving to a Lady Gaga concert, “What is this beautiful music?” as the car played Sudha’s songs again, out of my favorites.

I replied haltingly, as so many memories, came flooding back, “It is from a past era, from someone I knew, in India.”

She replied, “Wow, you are lucky to know someone, who is such an accomplished music singer.”

I turned and looked at her honey brown eyes, red hair, and intelligent and inquisitive look, but it did nothing for me. Lost in my thoughts, she felt my mood change, and patted my hand, in reassurance and compassion. I pulled into the parking lot, and mumbled, “Yes I also feel lucky, to have known her, as she taught me, how real music, and wisdom coexist. She was my goddess of wisdom, and she loved her music, more than anything, in our life. Somehow I lost her, and now all I have are her memories…”

About Goodbye to a ladies hair accessory designer

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The view from the bus on the helix, of the approach into the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey excited me, no matter how many times I saw it. Empire State Building and the Chrysler tower rose to a great height in Mid-Town, while downtown had the spectacular World Trade Centre Towers, with the other tall buildings in the Financial District. In the early morning the sun would be rising from the East casting strange shadows and light on the city. Most of my fellow commuters slept or read, and did not even look out of their windows. My fascination with the great city of New York continued and my friend Eddie, showed me the romantic side of its existence.

The walk from Port Authority down from the third floor to the bustling streets of Mid-Town Manhattan, was a hurried affair. Everyone wanted to get out in the streets to avoid the occasional bum, or pan handler, or drunk, who had slunk in to the crowds. The streets were flowing with traffic, as one walked pass the peep shows, and the XXX theaters that surrounded Times Square. From the Garment District, I would walk down a few blocks, and then cut across East on the Streets, after Macy’s. My office was on the third floor of an old brick building, which served as our back office and production center.

Wendy was always there before me heading her shift with her girls. They would laugh and joke amongst themselves, as while she was a hard taskmaster, she was still a good boss.  We had become friends as she was half Indian, from the West Indies. They also ate whole wheat rotis as bread, but their dishes were spiced differently. She would surprise me sometimes with a homemade lunch, and I would eat the food at my desk, enjoying the strange flavors. She would talk about her Grandfather, who had come from a town in Bihar, India, to work in the sugar plantations. Her mother had brought her up and her siblings, as a school teacher and a husband, who was also a farmer.

Wendy now lived in Queens, and so did most of her girls. They would ride the Subway into Manhattan, and it was an easy commute with a short walk on both ends. She kind of looked down on me, because I had to travel into her city, from NJ. She admired our owner however, with her Apartment in Manhattan, and the week-end home in the Hamptons. Wendy and her husband, who worked in a Bodega near their home, had scraped up enough money, to put a down payment, on a 3 bedroom apartment. With their two kids, and a dog, and color TV, they were living the American Dream. Her two girls went to the Public School, and were becoming more American every year, in the way they dressed, and talked, and what they watched.

David was the one who would arrive next and would head into the room to gather his orders and papers, and then head of to his belt makers. Eddie would saunter in when he felt like it and you could hear the giggles of the girls, as he joked with them, even from my desk. My two junior accountants were very punctual and would become busy in their work upon their Arrival. Ralphi was from Cebu in the Philippines, and extremely intelligent and diligent, and carried a lot of the routine load, of following up on the accounts receivables. Sam the other one was married to a nurse, and he was quieter, and kept mostly to himself. Ralphi had recommended him, when we were extremely stressed, and the owner had finally agreed to add another person, on Lou’s recommendation. We were an efficient team, as we managed to keep the business back office going.

Towards mid-morning I would take a break and walk around to stretch my legs. If Eddie was around he too would see me walking and he too would take a break. We would go into his and David’s office and take a coffee break. Eddie would have collected the latest Fashion Trade Rags that the mailman dropped off, and would skim through them, while we drank. He would read aloud anything interesting, or share an article or picture for me to look at. His knowledge of people and events was incredible and he would tell me outlandish stories of his capers from the past night, after a particularly interesting show. He did not linger long as he was a workaholic, when it came to his ladies hair accessory creations.

Eddie had extended his range to other accessories, like fabric belts, and some I called jewelry, and he referred to as his dear baubles, for his darlings. He would painstakingly make the samples, using newer materials, and exotic imports. The girls would cry at him, when he made them too complex, and he learnt to bring simplicity, and elegance into his pieces, over time. He realized that not everyone was as he gifted with their fingers, as he was, or had the eye, he had for detail. Plus the rush of orders demanded speedy execution, and he was always rushing from work table, to work table, correcting and improving his creations. Then in the late afternoon he would rush off to the showroom, or his suppliers depending on our needs. The owner loved him and David was upset, that Eddie was now making even more money, than even him.

The fall from being the head Designer of the company, to second fiddle, did not really go down well with David, but even he was overawed by Eddie’s creativity, and resourcefulness. The man just had a natural tendency, to pick up on the latest trends, which would sell in the next season. His color selections were seldom off, for the Spring, or Holiday Season. His prints were vibrant, or very delicate, depending on the style, or age group, he was going after. The Junior Store buyers loved him, and he would flirt with them, and entertain them, at the latest happening places, in the city. He was loads of fun, and the young women would find him exotic, and ‘just marvelous dear,’ as he called it. The big black muscled man, with often a couple of young things, hanging from either arm, was a common sight at events. The women felt safer in numbers with him, and he was quite capable, of having fun with all of them.

 Sometimes when I got off from work, and he would drag me off, when it wasn’t Fashion Night, or he had some other appointment. His current boyfriend would often join up with us, at the latest haunt and he would transform himself into his night creature mode. He would transform from being the Giant ladies hair accessory designer, into a lover with no restraints. Then the true talk would start of the Jazz bars, and comedy shows, or the next major music band, which was playing in Madison Square Gardens. He would hang out with famous actors from Broadway, and once even a Ballet Dancer from the Met. Each one seemed more creative and talented than the last, and it was a merry go round, that I could not keep count of. Yet each creature was even more exotic, and no wonder Eddie loved them so much.

Then one day Eddie retched all over the bushes, on the side of Bryant Park, in the back of the NY Public Library, after an event. I was there with him, and looked around at the old Baroque, and Gothic buildings, and then stared at the sleekly flowing glass tower, that surrounded the park. I had never seen Eddie throw up, no matter how much he drank, or inhaled substances. His friend gathered him up in his arms, as Eddie felt he was suddenly dizzy, and he guided him, to a nearby bench. He sat him down carefully and put his arms around his broad shoulders, and sat there, waiting for him, to catch his breath. He then went and got a water bottle for Eddie. I sat there holding Eddie’s hand not knowing what to do, as I stared down, at his long artistic fingers against mine. When his friend returned he drank some water slowly. He then gargled and spat some out, as if his mouth tasted foul and then dry heaved, but nothing came out.

Eventually he got his bearings again and looked around, and his lover smiled at him hopefully. Eddie gave a twisted smile back, and passed his hand over his head, as if he was still dizzy, and not really sure of what was going on. I looked at my watch and noticed I was running late, and would have to rush off for my bus down 41st Street soon. Luckily Bryant Park was not far from Port Authority, and I stayed for another ten minutes, as Eddies friend softly spoke to him. They looked so much in love. The light from the Street lights and the shadows of the Park, made their silhouette look like two lovers, out for the evening, enjoying companionship, on a Park Bench. It was the quintessential city scene, which must be enacted out everywhere, that people were free. Seeing everything returning to normal, I took my leave of Eddie, and he blew me his usual kiss, and I heard him joke, as I walked away “Beware those peep shows darling, and those beautiful whores, on the corner of Eighth.”

He thought he was suffering from the flu when he had thrown up, as he had a fever and headache for a few days and did not come into work and the work tables seemed empty without him. Months passed without incident, but Eddie seemed to be losing his bulk and getting gaunt.  Summer came and the owner went off to the Hamptons, and Eddie was not as busy and I saw less of him. He would come in occasionally to ensure the girls, did not need his help, and work on the pieces, for the next season. David told me that he thought Eddie was not his usual self, some months later. He said that they were not hanging out as much later into night, when the cooler fall nights came along. The fashion season started and this used to be Eddie’s favorite time, to hang out, and he would be the life of the party wherever he went. Now he would often leave early on some nights, claiming he had things to do, but David knew he just appeared very tired and exhausted.

Months later in January only David was in his office, and Eddie’s desk was empty. I presumed he was also away on a much needed break. I got into my routine and was swamped with the work that was waiting for me to catch up on. It was a week later and I heard Eddie’s voice and the girls giggling at work one afternoon. I was busy in something for our Bank, and silently smiled to myself, and decided to go and meet him once I finished. In an hour I finished my report and headed off and found that Eddie was not with the girls anymore, and they were busy on their routine. I went to David’s office and thought I saw the back of a stranger sitting at Eddie’s desk, and thought it may be one of his friends waiting for him to return.

He was smaller than Eddie, although he seemed to have a similar build and hairstyle. Then he turned around, and I realized that it was no one other than Eddie himself. He had lost a lot of weight, and was looking very gaunt. He smiled when he saw me and the same old booming voice spoke up “Darling, where have you been? I have been missing you terribly, and am so happy to see you. David is no fun anymore and it is good to see you and is that a new tan that you have got? You are looking great so the time off was good for you.”  

I walked in and took his proffered hand, and felt the familiar artistic fingers, but the handshake, was not as firm as before. His bulk seemed to have shrunk much more than the last time I had seen him. He had on a long sleeve shirt and it looked strange on him as he normally wore tight fitting fashion Ts, to show off his great body and arms. I looked into the eyes of my friend and they were the same, all full of life and mischief. Then he turned away and pointed to the article he was reading, “Look at my darling wearing my latest creation, in Aspen, at the ski slopes.” He said pointing to a famous model, photographed on the snow white slopes looking very glamorous in the latest colors, of Eddie’s design.

Even to my untrained eye the piece looked beautiful and intricately made. Eddie spoke up again, “My new line is doing fabulously, and the beautiful people just love it. Wendy says the girls can’t keep up with the demand, and she has started farming work out for her girls, to work at home, with additional help.” We had started the piece work last year, as we were losing too much business, with our constrained capacity. Eddie had ranted and raved that the quality of work will go down, without his direct input, and supervision. Our owner had agreed with me, that we had to do this to increase volumes. I also found it easier to control costs, as I could reduce the per piece cost, for the new contractors. Plus we had run out of space and the owner was not ready to sign another long time lease which could prove to be expensive fixed cost, if trends changed and our business went down.

We chatted for some time catching up on the recent shows, which Eddie had attended while I was away. I tried not to stare as he looked so strange, as I was used to his overpowering presence and now he seemed to have lost, some of his mojo. Besides the gauntness he seemed to have slumped as he did not appear as big as he used to be. As I left to get back to my desk, I saw Eddie out of the side of my eye, pull his sleeve up and rub a purple bruise on his left arm. Even his extraordinarily muscular arms, seemed to have lost bulk. I quickly looked away and walked off to my desk, deeply troubled about the changes, I saw in my friend.

The next day I caught David before he went off on his rounds. Eddie was still not in as was usual and I wanted to talk to David about what was happening to Eddie. David hung out with Eddie much more than me, and I thought he could explain the changes I was seeing. David explained that Eddie was seeing doctors for the past few months, as he continued to lose weight, and nobody could really explain what was wrong with him. He had been admitted to a Hospital for further checks and investigation and the specialists were stumped. All they would say was that something seemed to be wrong with his auto immune system as his body seemed to be suffering symptoms that normally would go away with anti-biotics, or other medicine. In Eddie’s case nothing seemed to work, and his condition continued to worsen.

David further informed me that at first Eddie had withdrawn to himself, and just stayed in bed and relaxed, hoping that all his troubles, would go away with time. He ate healthy, gave up smoking and his other vices and tried to get back in shape. Then one day another friend had visited with David and shared a motivational book and music tapes with Eddie. It appeared to make a difference, as a gaunt Eddie had shown up at work the following week. The girls were shocked to see him looking so gaunt, but had soon realized that he was still the same person, who joked with them, and showed them amazing things. They learnt to ignore his physical appearance, and just treat him like before.

                                                ***

David and I, visited Eddie in the hospital. He lay there on the white sheets, with flowers from his friends, spread around him. In his military gown, he lay on the bed with an IV sticking out of his arm to the medicine’s being dispensed into him. David had told me that they had diagnosed Eddie with an Auto Immune disease and there was no cure for it. The decrease had come from Sub-Saharan Africa and was spreading fast all over the world, especially in urban areas or transit points. India and USA were reporting sporadic incidents of the disease also, and the numbers were spreading. Nobody knew what was causing it and it may be viral, but it was becoming associated with Gay, or Bi-Sexual men. Poor Eddie could have caught the disease from any one of his beautiful partners. The exotic life also led to a great exposure to many different partners and Eddie had no idea as to who gave it to him. The tragic part that Eddie told us from his bead as lively in his head as ever. It was strange to hear the same voice and mannerisms come from his bed. It looked like life had taken everything from him that he had physically built of himself.

This great towering large muscled man who had been my friend, looked so frail and shrunken. The nurses had a hard time inserting an IV to find a vein, from what had been beautifully muscled arms and legs. He beckoned to me and joked, “What darling you did not bring any flowers? Look what Freddy sent me – what a fabulous bouquet.” Referring to Freddy Mercury and I looked carefully, and there was a short poem, on a personal note, on his side table. It was from Freddy, lying on his side table, along with many other letters, and cards. He sadly informed us, that a lot of his fabulous friends, had died, or also had the same disease. It was the scourge of his artistic friends, he told me.

David was more regular than me, in visiting Eddie, as he was far stronger, than me and was a true Eddie friend. Their friendship was as deep, as it came; even though they had nothing in common, in their backgrounds. Life and human tragedy, had made them, soul mates, in NYC. I had nothing more to say to Eddie, as his life source, had been my main source of life also, it seemed. The talk of my family, and my economic concerns, on how well my peers with similar backgrounds from elite Indian Universities, were doing, meant nothing to Eddie. He would listen to me talk, about my children, and cousins, but beyond that, I had nothing to say. All my thoughts had also shrunk with Eddie and all my educations, could not share another joke, with Eddie. How could this fantastic man, in the prime of his life, the ultimate ladies’ hair accessory designer become this man, lying in a hospital gown? How do you talk about the future, to your friend who has none?

                                                ***

Farrokh Bulsara was born in Sep 1946, in Stone Town, Zanzibar; to Indian Parsee, parents. For some time he studied in Indian boarding schools, modelled after the British system, led to an interest, in the writing and performance of music. . The revolution in Zanzibar, which later became part of Tanzania, drove the family out, to England. There he transformed himself into the lead singer of Queen, due to his love of music. Freddy Mercury became one of the best performers in modern music and their concerts were legendary. His creations and his songs topped the charts for many years, and he spent the last part of his life collaborating with some of the other greats of the age. He died in Nov 1991 aged just 45, at the height of his career. He admitted to a friend on the day before he died, that he had AIDS. That was the first time I learnt, about this dreaded new disease to which we went on to lose, some of the brightest people, in our generation.