Bird eye view…

High above the skies 30,000 feet over the Indian ocean, the skies beneath in shades of black and deep grey, in the midst of these scattered clouds flashes of light. What a wondrous sight it was to see flashes of lightening from the other side of the skies. As if an unknown force stands in between the vast ocean of grey and black and releases a humongous amount of white incandescent light that swallows up the surrounding puffy cotton clouds.And then after a few minutes orange glow cuts through the black, far beneath the abyss. The first lights from the land mass flicker like little oil lamps as they play hide and seek with the passing clouds. The bird’s comfortable hum drones on. I always listen out to this hum through the darkest of the nights; it is but the hum of life.

The monsoons are visiting us. Bangalore’s temperature has dipped and by late afternoons, the clouds scurry towards one another and blanket the city with fresh rain. The leaves are an emerald green, the tarred roads are a raven black and the skies above are a somber grey. I bask in Bangalore’s monsoon glory for a few days and satiate my senses with the sights and sounds. Once again it was time to take to the skies. As Bangalore became smaller, the grey clouds above got bigger. I flew into a few, rocked as I cut through layer after layer, like a dagger cutting through sheets of silk. I could hear the tear and feel the rip. And then all of a sudden, calm and quiet. I rise above the skies again and wait for the time to descend. Descend I did as rain lashed on the transparency around and amidst another bout of rocking. Do I feel like a baby at these moments? I most certainly do, my life firmly clutched in the hands of another. No matter how many journeys I undertake, I reach my destination with a quiet murmur of gratitude on my lips.

Slush and rain do nothing to the roads in Mumbai; they merge together in happy unison. Life chugs at it’s usual pace as thousands mingle into one another as they pour out from trains and busses. This is the city that kills the aspirations of many and realizes it for a few. There are many who dream here, many more whose dreams vaporize into thin air. For those who dare to dream, the city is an oasis for the tired soul. In it they immerse their dreams with profound hope. Watching this city go by is manna for the tired mind. Sitting on the bay window of my room, I watch the world go by a hundred feet below. The vibrant hues of the masses scattered like a patch work quilt makes a pretty sight. A city where glaring poverty barely hides under rusting zinc sheets and tin roofs. Even more macabre to the senses as I witness the parading of the rich as they alight from their gleaming cars, dressed in their finery.

Do the rich have heart I wonder? I see one rich man stare out of his tinted windows, he sees a young boy hurriedly rush to the front of the car and wipe down the windscreen with a colorful feather duster much to the irritation of his driver who had already started hurling obscenities at the boy. The rich man is furious and snaps at the Driver “Shut up Raju; let the boy do his job”. The boy prances around on all four sides of the car, furiously dusting it and then taps on the window where the rich man sits. The boy stretches his hands out, with his black, gleaming eyes he pleads. The man lowers the window and asks him “how much do you want?” The Boy says “Ten Rupees Sir”; the man pulls out his wallet, flips it open and intuitively is aware of the boys piercing eyes into his wallet bearing crisp five hundred rupee notes. He pulls out a five hundred, waves it in front of the boy, looks into his deep black bright eyes and asks, “Do you have change?” The kid is bemused and is torn between grabbing the note from his hand and losing himself in the maddening peak time crowd or to honestly admit that he did not have the change, let alone a coin in his torn pockets. The traffic light turns green and the driver looks at the rear view mirror hoping that his Boss would ask him to hand over the Ten rupees to the boy instead. The rich man still in possession of the Five Hundred rupee Note and the boy still looking confused, horns are now blaring from behind the gleaming, black VW. The rich man abruptly hits the auto button that lifts the window up again and probably irritably yells “ You are not parked in your father-in-law’s garden, move it”. Raju, the driver watches the young boy dart across the road lest he be run over by a BTC bus hurling itself down. Raju watches the boy’s image get smaller in the side mirror and grits his teeth in irritation and mutters “Saala “under his breath, and simultaneously increases the FM radio volume. The rich man distractedly flips the pages of Economic Times.

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49 Responses to “Bird eye view…”

  1. Dear Sharmila,Thanks for sharing more of your beautiful thoughts!I enjoyed reading as usual.
    Have a great evening..enjoy the Monsoons..enjoy your time at home in India!
    Love always…
    Saroj

  2. Thanks much Saroj and great to see you here.

  3. Sharmila,

    Interesting journey… permit to share my own experience of flights in the open desert…

    Here, we have sand all around us, as you know, and beyond that there is some more, and from there, across the flat terrain till the horizon, there is still more of the same… a brownish yellow, shimmering stretch of desolate sand – bone-dried by the onslaught of UV radiation and heat.

    In the late ‘80s, in the middle of this vast inhabitable desert, we rolled and prepared a pitch and called it an airstrip. I remember, an Australian pilot, called Rob, flew us from the city to the desert every week. In a wooden cabin at one side of the airstrip, a young boy kept some stock of water and a blank flight manifest where we would enter our names. A small 2000 gallon fire tender would arrive at the spot just before the aircraft was visible in the sky. The aircrafts then were 40 seater propeller driven folkers. We used a ladder to get in like army soldiers.

    The scene has improved today since those days. We now have jets with gas turbines and aviation fuel tanks in the desert. The old strip has now been black-topped. The journey, nevertheless, remains the same, perhaps a bit more risky, depending on your perspective. Earlier we flew at 11 to 13000 feet. Now we fly at 25000 feet. But I think if we were to take a fall, 11000 would feel the same as 25000 at the end.
    The heat waves across the plain are the real jinns in the air. Air turbulence is quite common and can be pretty unnerving if you are not in a hurry to meet the creator.

    The last time I came over was two weeks ago.

    The flight attendents were petite young filipinas, dressed to kill. The aircraft pulled out of the taxiway, slowed down at the turn-off and stopped for testing the brakes. The little digital screens overhead blinked and began to play the usual rigmarole about what to do if the aircraft landed on sea. Speaking for myself, I was content if it just landed properly, no matter where. Besides, landing in the sea was improbable unless the earth stopped rotating East-West and turned South-North, which, I had good reason to believe, was very unlikely in the present circumstances.

    I had a nice window seat overlooking the right wing. The glistening, aluminium fins pulled in tight as the aircraft picked up speed on the runway. The sight of the desert sand streaking past the end of the wing was a relief. The entire length of the metallic wing shook in a rhythmic wave as the wheels left the runway and the craft soared upward into empty space.

    We hit the first air pocket about 15 minutes later. The earth below had turned a few degrees. I could see the boundary of the desert lined by a range of sandstone hills.

    Inside the plane, the delicate little hostess was swinging like a trapeze artist with a tray in her hands. I was about to ask her to hold on to something when the plane fell into the air pocket.

    For one long moment, I left the seat, moving straight towards the roof. The lady with the tray politely fell into the arms of the man next to me.

    I was shaken, to say the very least. Nothing seemed to make sense. I looked around and saw a few passengers counting beads. I wished they wouldn’t call God at such a moment. If He decided to see them, we would all have to go and meet Him.

    And then something weird seemed to have occurred. The right wing was not visible out of my window. And I looked sheepishly at the lady and said,

    “Excuse me”

    “Yes, Sir” She said, gathering herself.

    “The wing is not there outside the window”

    “The window, Sir”

    “Yes,” I said, pointing helpfully “The window. This one”

    “Yes, Sir” She said, “It has closed. Please open it.”

    “Eh?”

    “Open the window, Sir” She said.

    “Oh… oh yes… I see now… thanks…” I said, much relieved, as you can imagine.

    To cut a long story short, that’s how close I came to meeting my ancestors who have kicked the bucket. I love them, I can assure you, but moments, such as these, remind me that I prefer them waiting some more for a family get-together.

    • Reader – Glad you made it back to entertain al of us with your remarkable anecdotes! Air pockets are as unpredictable as Air India and good chances of meeting the creator in record time if you are caught in any one.

    • Sharmila,

      Thank you. Everyone is not always happy to see me back, but in this case, I found that at least the mirror at home was smiling back at me. Like, “My dear fellow, welcome back, you almost didn’t make it…!”

      🙂

    • MonaLisa Says:

      🙂 🙂 🙂 Reader,
      Sorry…! that that apple fell into your neighbor’s arms and you missed the chance to save that delicate Filipino trapeze artist….!!
      One can imagine how shaken would you be then……! 🙂
      Glad your meeting with God wasn’t destined then…or else we would have been deprived of such an interesting narration a very hilarious way… 🙂

    • MonaLisa,

      Depends on the circumstances. I didn’t grudge the man in this case. When the damesl fell on him the poor fellow was so shocked that for one moment he thought the sky had fallen on his head. It all happens so quickly.

      And besides, when she was falling over, I was already on my way towards the roof. This reminds me of a very interesting episode narrated by Jeeves in PGW’s chronicles (or is it the other way?).. yes.. I mean PGW’s narration in Jeeve’s chronicles…

      Allow me to recall it here..

      Two bicyclists, named “Nicholson” and “Jackson”, were involved in a messy accident when they collided head-on with each other. They broke up so bad that the people could not tell which part belonged to whom. So they finally buried them together and called the tomb “Nixon”.

      Now, you see, if that ‘Filipina’ and me ‘Indian’ were to bite the dust together with that aircraft, we might been buried as ‘Find’…

      🙂

  4. Sharmila,

    Conscience is such a difficult argument.

    The episode of the rich man – driver – poor boy at the traffic signal describes an whole instituted social establishment.

    The rich man and the poor boy are both enterpreneurs in their own right, although the boy is mistaken in looking for opportunities to make a living off the streets. The driver is the classic employee, reading other’s minds like a faithful dog, only in this instance he focuses on the boy instead of his master.

    Someday, the poor boy will buy a car and drive alongsode the rich man’s car. The driver will still be with the rich man and probably the driver’s son will be driving the poor boy’s car.

    The rich man and the poor boy don’t exhibit any feelings for each other. They trade their worth, negotiate their lives and live by edicts. The driver, on the other hand, wears his conscience on his sleeve and although he seems to be in the driver’s seat, his life is not going anywhere.

    The poor boy exposes himself to risks for a dream. An accident on those streets can cripple him for life.

    And when that accident happens, another rich man’s car stops and takes him to the hospital. The poor boy is thankful. Both smile at the irony of their states. The driver continues to feel vexed.

    Conscience is such a difficult argument.

    • Reader – marvelous set of thoughts. There is also a good chance that the poor boy remains that way, the rich stays that way and the driver too. Besides, there is also a chance that the Driver is an ambitious one, recall the White Tiger by Arvind Adiga?

    • Sharmila,

      You are right about the probabilities. And also some Englishman in a bowler hat, once said, ‘Difference of opinion, thats what makes horse racing’…

      However, I don’t stake much on the driver in this one. The chap has such a strong conscience, I am afraid he might retire half-way on the career -like, imagine, if a heavy weight boxing champion is in the ring, going pretty strong till the third round, and is suddenly overcome by childhood memories, thinks about his mother, walks out of the ring, hangs up his boots and becomes a priest! Just not cricket, I say!

      The world needs the strong, rough hands of gardenere as much as the songs of a bumble bee…

      I agree, Life is not always fair, but who said we cannot fight?

      🙂

      • Reader – What would the driver do when he retires? Is that even an option for him?

      • Sharmila,

        You have this silent way of raising fundamental issues.

        My answer to the driver’s predicament about retiring is this.

        Long ago, at the end of the 18th century, industrialisation made salaried employment more attractive than self-employing activities – more money, less work, less responsibility, more access to comforts.

        Shortly later education added a further impetus to the process and as the momentum gained, sons from the big joint families left their house to settle in towns and cities. they sent money home to their parents.

        As the availability of labour increased, the earnings reduced and there was little to spare for sending money… some parents even moved in with the kids.

        The next generation simply opted out. The nuclear family with a working wife became the norm. Housemaids and servants became indispensable. Retirment was no more an option. There was no place to go back to.

        Housemaids and servants are perhaps most common in India. People in many parts of the world keep their house themselves.

        The urchins, the touts, beggars, the Oliver Twists are actually leftovers from a generation that left their garbage behind.

        Governance cannot do anything about this. The driver must decide where he went wrong and hold on to his convictions without riding his conscience unbridled.

      • Reader – Hmmmm.

      • Sharmila,

        Not so silent please…. I can’t understand Hmmmmm

        🙂

      • Reader – It means I am thinking..and still at it.

    • MonaLisa Says:

      Usually such a vast gap between two classes result into a Revolution sooner or later. In case of India larger middle class creates a buffering zone which might be prolonging a revolt for an uncertain time period.
      Its a pitious and a very disappointing social structure where a child has to try to make his living this way or to join such an institute for survival. What would you do if you are in the place of that car owner…!? Would you keep a bundle of crisp 10 rupees in your pocket and give it out to every boy at every traffic light who has to join this new and upgraded institution of beggary by choice or no choice…?!
      i pity that driver who was hoping that his Boss would ask for 10 rupee note to hand it out to the boy…
      The driver himself is one of those who fall into the lower class, those who has to worry about how to meet two ends and make his family happy..well..! Happy is a big word…atleast to see that they don’t sleep empty stomach unlike many others have to.
      The driver sympathises with the boy and his poverty,his situation in a way but his own helplessness to do anything about it turns into frustration. Life really sucks by & large…..atleast for those who are deprived very unjustfully….

      • MonaLisa,

        you have driven home a point in the last line. The question is who decides what is unjust. The poor boy does not quite think of it that way. If he dreams of making enough money one day to buy a car while the driver is only willing to be an employee for life, I would opt to be the poor boy. At least he is keeping his options open.

  5. Aishwarya Says:

    No other city can give a tourist a more startling visual contrast between the lives of the wealthy and the poor like Mumbai.
    The rich man deserves a thwack on his head…with the copy of the Economic times!

  6. MonaLisa Says:

    Aish,
    Money Talks,Money Walks and Money Rules…..Who’s gonna count Lion’s teeth…!? Money is Power and no one dare to go against those mighty ones….

  7. Anand Khare Says:

    Sharmila,

    ‘Labour exploitation’ and ‘Day light robbery’ are two principles being practiced by Indian riches for ages now.I would completely agree with Reader’s examples of driver as classic employee.

    The car cleaners on the red lights are evolved form of beggars and may be a part of larger syndicate. May be the books/magazine sellers or other hawkers on red light can be called small entrepreneurs.And they are also subjected to same treatment by this hypocrites.

    Long back, I read a similar story. In that, the rich man sends his Rs. 501 ‘cash’ gift in an envelope to one of his relatives through his driver. Then, he calls his relative and confirms whether the gift of Rs. 1001 was received.The relative tells him that it was only Rs. 501. The rich man puts the whole blame on the driver.

    No doubt, such drivers become the white tiger one day,

    I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door.

    It opens.

    I’ve been knocking from the inside!

    — Rumi

    Anand

  8. MonaLisa Says:

    Reader,
    Poor boy has very limited knowledge of the world,whats right what is wrong,what the rights are etc. because of very limited exposure and too much of deprivation. Hence his ability to think is limited too. what he see is some material world he is deprived of or at least he barely can possess if he is lucky in future. How many of those Boys could and would succeed no matter how hard they try with their limited resources…!? one in a million…!? that’s not a very promising picture at all…!

    • MonaLisa,

      Point noted. However, the education should not provide him with a choice of becoming the driver. It should make him strive to become a rich man. People should drive their own cars, keep their own houses and gardens. Drivers, housemaids, servants etc create a caste system.

      In my opinion, a business is for making wealth not for creating employment.

      Hmmm… did I finall say that?…

    • Correction: finall… finally..

      • Yes, Reader, I completely agree. From my Western point of view it makes me feel very uncomfortable to have servants doing personal things that I can do very well myself, like driving my car, cooking my dinner or cleaning my toilet.

        If I need help temporarily, be it larger projects around the house or spring-work in the garden, I hire professionals.

        Not everyone has the desire to be an independent businessman, but the educational system needs to provide everyone with the skills to do well in the job market at their chosen profession

      • Renate – Agree, and nobel thoughts from your end indeed. Education over and over is the answer for most situations.

      • Renate,

        Thank you. I hope Sharmila is reading this.

        Also, I believe Conscience is a silent killer. One must keep it under a tight leash.

        🙂

      • Reader – Reading and agree. Delighted to see so many points of view around this discussion.

  9. Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

    Your narration has taken me back to what I had studied in my English text.It had a similar story of how the future of some children is limited to their environs that are not likely to change for their good.Do read the second lesson on this link if you wish.The tittle itself conveys a lot “The Lost Spring”

  10. Reader- Sorry to barge in; couldn’t resist 🙂 Conscience is a silent killer? But if one silences the conscience what becomes of us?

    • Jagan,

      No barging at all… love a discussion any time.

      In my view, Conscience cannot replace reasoning. And when it is allowed to do so, it operates like a negative multiplier bringing the equation to zero or more closely like a reducing agent that neutralizes a chemical reaction.

      I prefer to learn from mistakes rather than allow my conscience to bully me into a depression.

      🙂

    • Jagan,

      Sorry to come back again… Sharmila can testify on this… I am never able to say everything in one single comment…

      Regarding silencing the conscience…

      I guess that is impossible in a sense.. conscience is like a girlfriend… always says something unexpected and cannot be switched off at the mains…

      Kidding..

      But more seriousy… permit me to give a rational example..

      Very early in high school I was taught that the area of circle is the square of its radius multiplied 22/7 times. pie aar square… and when I asked ‘why?’ it took the teacher 2 hours to prove it…

      Later, in the high school, we learnt to develop simple linear formulae for any systematic phenomenon. These were again pretty straight forward… detect the static variables give them symbols and write their relationships…

      Then, during engineering, came more complex conceptual challenges. Represent dynamic variables integrate or differentiate them and arrive at a probable end value turns out to be another variable! In short, complex formulae solved by simpler formulae… wheels within wheels…

      The approach is rather dumb… choose a model or if tehre is none just hypothesize.. and stick to it through the whole process till it is proved right or wrong….

      Applying it to social life, if I allow my conscience to indulge in its usual mischief I will go forward and backward forever without ever deciding what is wrong or right. The simpler way that I adopt is, reach an answer, if it is wrong, come back to the beginning and start all over again.

      And if I hear my gleeful conscience saying, “I told you so!” I just wrap it on its head and move on. At least it saves me from guilt and remorse when I am merely on a learning curve.

      One advantage of delving in philosophy is that metaphysical evaluations do not affect the self-esteem of a person.

      I have often found that I hurt myself physically when my imagination does more than my physical ability. This is probably where conscience as a progarm plays its role – in rationalising conceptual potential with the perceptual reality that is available.

      In any other role, conscience is like my spinster aunt terrorizing little children in the house…

      🙂

      Sorry for the longish response.

      • Reader- Probably too simplistic, but I feel that ‘conscience’ is just that something (I liked that spinster aunt bit, reminiscent of P G Wodehouse)which ‘pricks’ us whenever(which is almost always in my case) we are contemplating a selfish act with a total disregard of how it would affect others. It notifies us when we are about to indulge in ‘conduct unbecoming’. Repeatedly ignoring it would probably make us completely insensitive and indifferent to those less fortunate than us. A tall order undoubtedly, following ones conscience 😉

      • Jagan,

        Indeed. P. G. Wodehouse was a comic genius. As a tribute to him, I have moved all his books in my collection to the Philosophy section and all world history books to the Humor section on the shelf…

        Here is a pick from PGW’s Eggs, Beans and Crumpets:

        Quote

        “Do you know,” said a thoughtful Bean, “I’ll bet that if all the girls Freddie has loved and lost were placed end to end – not that I suppose one could do it – they would reach halfway down Piccadilly.”

        “Further than that,” said the Egg, “Some of them were pretty tall.”

        Unquote

        (PGW introducing ‘The Drones Club’.)

        Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t make such a tall claim… mainly because I don’t know how far is Piccadilly from Mumbai…

        🙂

  11. Sharmila,

    I will be offline beginning midnight tomorrow for 2-3 weeks… hope to be back in due season…

    • Reader – ENjoy the trip and hope to see you back in a jiffy!

      • Correction: I am landing in BLR…

        I never get anything right first time 😦

    • Sharmila,

      Thank you. Shall try to log in wherever I can.

      I will landing in BLR Saturday morning and flying to Coimbatore.. then by road to Coonoor. Shall return to BLR later for a short stop at the Vedanta bookshop at Chamraj Peth, a BLR special Masala Dosa at Vidyarthi Bhavan in Gandhi Bazar and a brief visit to Ramkrishna Ashram on the road to the BMS College.

      There on to Hosur to see a TVS site and then to Mysore, Pune and Mumbai, all by road. Finally back to BLR on the last leg before flying back.

      Shall find net services wherever I can. Not planning to buy any local wireless connections this time.

      🙂

  12. Raju, the driver watches the young boy dart across the road lest he be run over by a BTC bus hurling itself down.

    it’s BEST.

    did that really happen or is it fictional ?

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