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There are indeed times when one is feeling rather chuffed and believing that God is in heaven and all is right with the world, and it is precisely at times such as these that life plays a cruel joke on one. Residents of Plumsville would agree that it quietly sneaks up behind one and strikes at the not-at-all-bulging-at-the-back head of one with a hollow lead pipe, duly stuffed with cast iron pellets.

A straight forward person like yours truly would never aspire to walk in the footsteps of someone like Soapy Molloy or Sid Marks. But life recently played a prank and made me come very close to such an experience.

I had just returned to my home and hearth in Pondicherry, India, from a lovely trip to Europe, full of sweet memories of the time spent with my children and grandchildren who inhabit that part of the world. The door bell rang and, to my utter surprise and horror, I found a stern looking policeman eyeing my humble abode with a suspicious gaze. I mustered some courage and peeped out of the main gate.

‘Ashok Kumar Bhatia?’, he asked, giving me a supercilious look which would have met with hearty approval of someone like Bartholomew.

Having had a great deal of experience with dominating bosses, I did what I know best – I nodded in quiet affirmation.

‘There is a warrant for you’, said the policeman.

Even at the best of times, the long arms of law leave me twiddling my thumbs. The declaration that there was a warrant for me left me shuddering from the top to the base of my frail frame.

‘Warrant?’, I bleated.

Ignoring my nervousness, the policeman proceeded to clarify that I was wanted in the court on the given date, though not as a criminal but merely as a witness. Given that the local language is as alien to me as is Latin and Greek, and that the party of the other part had never progressed beyond the first lesson of a correspondence course in Queen’s English, the dialogue between us was sporadic.

Eventually, it transpired that I was expected to appear in a court in connection with a crime which had been perpetrated by four criminals in respect of some property of a company I had worked for more than a decade back. The wheels of justice do move rather slowly. Sixteen years after the crime took place, I was supposed to pop up and testify that the crime indeed took place.

Well, as a duty-bound citizen, I had no other option but to receive the warrant. The soul was left all of a twitter. There were sleepless nights till the date of appearance. Dark circles formed below the eyes are yet to disappear.

An encounter with Ma Bassett

When the day dawned, a hurried breakfast was put down the hatch. A rush was made to the court complex. After parking blues were faced with a chin-up attitude, the challenge of locating the court room specified had to be braved. A climb of three floors left one’s heart thumping even more than the agitated state in which the poor thing already found itself on that fateful day. Once the court room concerned had been identified, the long wait for the honourable judge began. The gang of four criminals, standing in a corner with a furtive look on their not-so-pretty faces, kept giving me dirty looks at frequent intervals.

A stern looking lady judge shaped along the lines of Mom Bassett finally arrived. I confess I have no information as to the physical features of the lady who had brought into this world a unique specimen of the tribe of the delicately nurtured, namely Madeline Bassett. Unlike her daughter, she was neither soupy nor blonde. Nor was she a breath-taker that takes one’s breath away. If her daughter was mushy and fanciful, the lady beak in question was surely not. She had a perpetual frown on her visage, leaving me wondering if she suffered from dyspepsia.

The court was called to order. Several other witnesses got called, with each one getting cross-examined by a lawyer bloke who looked at witnesses as if they were the dust beneath his chariot wheels. The local language was in use, and yours truly could hardly understand precisely what was transpiring.

When called to the witness box, the soul was in torment. I confess I felt weak in the knees. An oath of truthfulness was administered. The lady beak had to be requested to accept my use of English, to which she very graciously consented, but not before eyeing me with unmasked contempt. The typist assisting her with the help of a vintage typewriter was duly instructed.

The lawyer concerned then pounced upon me with all ferocity, desperately trying to establish that I was not present on the scene of the crime. I meekly assented, because that was indeed the case. After each of my answers, the lady beak turned to the typist clerk and repeated what I said at a very slow pace, thereby enabling the typist to do justice to the transcription. After what sounded like a few hours, but might have merely been a span of twenty minutes, the questioning ended and I was asked to get off the stand.

The allure of policemen’s helmets

The ordeal over, I heaved a sigh of relief. I was asked to wait, so I could sign my statement typed out by the court clerk. While waiting outside the court room, I ran into two friendly cops who kept me engaged with their small cross-talk in the overcrowded corridor. Unlike Sergeant Edward Voules, they were rather slim and trim and were surely not built on the lines of the Albert Hall. Possibly, they could have made a cut as his nephews, Dobson 1 and Dobson 2, in search of their respective heartthrobs.

I was sorely tempted to request them to allow me to try out their toupees, but the sinister ambience of the court complex thwarted my ambitions. Pinching was out of the realm of feasibility, simply because it entailed the risk of their apparent friendliness getting quickly transformed into a disastrous viciousness.

This was not the first time, though, that I had missed an opportunity to lay my hands on a copper’s helmet. Even earlier, while at the Amsterdam airport, I had once spotted a pair of young policewomen who sported gleaming headgear. Their smartness merely added to the gravitational forces of allure which fans of P G Wodehouse generally experience when in the vicinity of policemen’s helmets. But the steely look in their opaque eyes and the manner in which they were wielding their batons had then stopped me in my tracks.

When it comes to making court appearances and pinching helmets, I guess I need to work further on my nerves and try to pour some chilled steel into them. I wonder if there are surgeons out there who wield a scalpel and are good at such transplants.

Or, my Guardian Angels need to send in a Stephanie Byng who would keep prodding me in the ribs at frequent intervals, exhorting me to pinch a policeman’s helmet as and when the next opportunity presents itself.

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ashokbhatia

Napoleon, had he been around in our times, would have been amused upon discovering the high level of influence he exerts over the residents of Plumsville. Much like a spiritual sun which shines with equal benevolence on all, his leadership traits and planning skills provide inspiration to almost all the characters we come across in the narratives dished out by Plum. Even in defeat and disorderly retreat, he does not fail to provide succour to a tormented soul. His soft power extends to a wide variety of situations and continues to enthuse many amongst us.

When it comes to handling a difficult task, Napoleon provides the inspiration. With him around, failure is not an option. When irate nerve specialists have to be confronted, his skills in planning wars come in handy.

Members of the so-called sterner sex shudder at the prospect of being expected to carve out a Napoleonic career…

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Recently, your truly had the privilege of addressing members of the Rotary Club of Pondicherry Mid Town. Business lessons from some of the cartoons created by the inimitable R K Laxman and Mario Miranda were presented.

Since the orange juice served before the talk was not laced with an appropriate tissue restorative, yours truly was all of a twitter. At such occasions, one tends to get tongue-tied, much like a Gussie Fink Nottle when he runs into a Madeline Bassett. Nevertheless, the Wooster policy of a chin-up attitude comes to one’s rescue. Services of one’s nerves of chilled steel have to be called upon. It also helps not to have any giggling girls in the audience.

This is how yours truly was introduced to the audience.

“Mr Bhatia is a management guy by profession and a romantic at heart. He did his MBA in what he labels as the pre-Jurassic period of management education in India.

In the 42 years he has spent unlearning management theories in the private sector, he spent quite a lot of time with Tatas, Hidesign and HCL. Whenever he left these companies, the managements there were absolutely relieved and delighted. He has been a promoter director of several companies, all of which you will never hear of.

As a speaker, he has already been hooted out at several IIMs and other leading management institutes. Whichever city he speaks in, he makes the vendors there very happy, because the audience buys rotten tomatoes and eggs in bulk, so the same may be thrown at him. Organizers of his talks are invariably on the lookout for body scanners which can be used to screen the audience before they enter the auditorium.

He still has some grey cells left. These keep the flow of creative juices going on. He creates movies on topics of family interest. He has a regular blogger on various subjects – management, movies, P G Wodehouse, etc.

We may call him a wordsmith and a management thinker. He has even published a book entitled “Surviving in the Corporate Jungle’ – first in Portugal, then in India. He claims he is not a descendant of Vasco da Gama.

He claims to suffer from two maladies – Professor-itis and Wodehous-itis. He is not wanting to be cured of these.

He is a non-resident Puducherryite. He is a harmless creature otherwise.”

The talk ended with some brilliant questions posed by the attentive audience getting handled by a jittery speaker.

A Drones club atmosphere prevailed thereafter, what with a lavish dinner getting served and some bread-crumb-throwing getting practised by those present on the occasion.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/about-me)

ashokbhatia

Those of you who are fond of cats would perhaps be able to draw a parallel between the behavioral traits of the bosses they deal with at their place of work and the feline creatures whose company they cherish at home.

Here are some of the roles which appear to be common between the two species.cat 4

Actors

Both expect to be treated like royalty. The way they conduct themselves is nothing short of regal. They lord over whatever they survey. They can show off annoyance at being interrupted – while devouring a slice of fish as well as while delivering a sermon on office manners.

Never would they show appreciation for what you do. The only time you find them cuddling up close and purring is when they need a tacit assurance of your support towards an assured delivery against a juicy target set by the top dog.

Try and…

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(Here is the final part of a story whipped up by Shalini, an eight year old who has an abundance of creative juices sloshing about within her. Yours truly was merely assigned the task of putting it to pen and paper, so to say.)

A chance meeting in Switzerland

Suraj was part of the school orchestra. The school orchestra had become popular. It was invited to play at the Lucerne Music Festival.

Rakesh and Kala were worried about the high expense involved. The school music teacher explained to them the importance of taking part in an international festival. Seeing the enthusiasm Suraj had for playing as part of the school orchestra, they decided to send him to Lucerne.

At the Mumbai international airport, whole family came to see off Suraj. Kala had packed some of Suraj’s favourite sweets. She had tears in her eyes but was happy that her son had got this opportunity.

At Lucerne, the orchestra team was taken on a sight- seeing tour of the city. Suraj looked wide eyed at the lake, by the side of which was the Culture and Convention Centre where the team was to perform in a few days.

On the other hand, Leo was practicing hard on the piano. He was one of the students chosen by his school to take part in the orchestra which was coming from India. He had heard about India from his parents. He looked forward to making friends with some Indian students.

Three days before the performance, a practice session was held. When he entered the venue, a teacher stopped Leo from going inside.

‘You had already gone inside’, she said. ‘Where are you again coming from?’, she asked.

‘Maam, but I just came in. My mother just dropped me outside,’ said a surprised Leo.

‘OK, show me your school card.’

Leo showed her his school card. She took him inside and then identified Suraj. She called him over and checked his identity card also.

‘I am sorry. I must have made a mistake. But both of you look so much like each other’, she said and withdrew.

Suraj and Leo shook hands. Both were surprised to see each other. They looked like mirror images of each other.

The practice session began and went off well. When it was over, Leo ran into the arms of his mother who was waiting outside. He told her excitedly what had happened. Leila could not believe her ears. She went into the building, with Leo following her. She first met the teacher who had stopped Leo at the auditorium door. She was directed to where Suraj was standing with his school mates.

One look at Suraj, and Leila was happy and sad at the same time. Happy, because she thought she had met one of her missing children. Sad, because she did not know how to check if Suraj could indeed be her own lost child. She went ahead and shook hands with Suraj.

‘So, you come from India?’, she asked politely. She felt like hugging him.

‘Yes, maam,’ said Suraj respectfully. He somehow felt drawn towards Leila.

‘Where are your parents? Who are they?’

‘Maam, my father’s name is Rakesh. My mother’s name is Kala. We live in Mumbai.’

‘Do you have any brothers and sisters?’

‘Yes. We are four – two brothers and two sisters.’

Leila could not control her tears of joy. She gave Suraj and tight embrace and kissed him on his forehead.

‘My dear…..what is your name?’

‘Suraj, maam.’

‘Are you parents here with you?’

‘Only my father has accompanied. He is waiting outside.’

‘Let us go and meet him, then!’, said an excited Leila.

Outside the hall, Leila and Rakesh met. Rakesh was surprised to see Leo, who looked just like Suraj. After a brief introduction, Leila took Rakesh and Suraj to her home. There, Rakesh met Joseph, Livio, Sara and Anisa.

Joseph explained to Rakesh what happened when they went to India more than ten years back. Rakesh could not believe this could be happening. Late night, after dinner, Joseph dropped Rakesh and Suraj at the hotel where they were staying.

A family reunion 

The concert got over well. The Ambassador from India was the chief guest. Rakesh and Joseph met him together and explained what had happened. The ambassador suggested Joseph and the family visit India soon. A meeting between Leila and Kala would help, he thought.

Rakesh and Suraj returned to India. The day came when Joseph, Leila, Leo, Livio, Sara and Anisa came to Mumbai and met Rakesh, Kala, Madesh, Suraj, Sita and Yashoda. Leila was very happy to meet Kala and her other children.

Rakesh and Joseph went to the orphanage and met an elderly Sister Alicia. They told her about discovering each other by chance. They wondered if the orphanage had any record of how Madesh, Suraj, Sita and Yashoda had reached there. After searching old records, Sister Alicia gave them John’s address in Goa.

All of them travelled together from Mumbai to Goa. They sang songs together and were very happy. Leila was happy that all her lost children had been brought up so very well, with good family values. Several times, she expressed her gratitude to Kala for having taken so very good care of the children.

Upon reaching Goa, they located John, who confirmed that he had rescued four children when the boat accident took place. He was happy that the family had got reunited.

All is well that ends well

After some time, they all decided to be together at Lucerne in Switzerland. Jospeh helped Rakesh and Kala to start a catering service for Indian dishes. They stayed on two floors in the same apartment complex. They shared meals, ideas and things between themselves.

Madesh is now training for lawn tennis. Suraj has joined a violin academy and become part of a local music group. Sita has started studying to become a doctor. Yashoda has taken up a course in hotel management. She also helps her parents in their business.

Leo continues his practice on the piano. Livio has become a ski instructor. Sara is studying engineering. Anisa has started offering ballet classes. Often, she can be seen performing on stage in various parts of Europe and Asia.

Lake of Lucerne and Bristenstock

Leila and Joseph are happy that all of them are finally together. All the children are honest, truthful and good at heart. They have a strong character. They are talented. They speak politely and respect their elders.

The whole family has faith in a super power which keeps all the people in this world happy, joyful and satisfied.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/07/05/an-eight-year-old-whips-up-a-story-part-1-of-2)

 

 

 

 

 

(Here is a story whipped up by Shalini, an eight year old who has an abundance of creative juices sloshing about within her. Yours truly was merely assigned the task of putting it to pen and paper, so to say.

The story is dedicated to the loving memory of Shri Murali Manohar Goel. It is the story of Leila, Joseph, Kala and Rakesh; of how the four pairs of twins born to Leila got separated; of how they came together again.)

The story of a family coming together again

Leila faces a storm

Leila was standing on the upper deck of a boat, watching the blue waves in the Indian Ocean. As the sun started setting, its rays created beautiful patterns. Some seagulls were diving down and catching fish for their supper. The skyline of Mumbai was just becoming visible.

Leila used to live in far off Lucerne, a big city in the heart of Switzerland. She and her husband, Joseph, had saved some money over past few years and planned this trip to India. They had landed in Delhi. They had seen the Taj Mahal in Agra. They had travelled through the Thar desert. Mumbai was their last stop, from where they they had taken a ferry to visit Elephanta Caves nearby. After two days, they were to catch a flight back to Switzerland.

Leila was tall and beautiful. She had hazel blue eyes and long dark hair. She was happy that their dream trip to India had gone well so far. As she gently patted her swollen abdomen, she thought how happy her eight babies, waiting to come into this world, would be.

Suddenly, she noticed some big waves rising in the ocean. A strong wind started blowing, rocking the boat. She turned and saw her husband Joseph had also joined her on the deck. Just then, a siren blew. A seaman came rushing, telling them to return to their cabin. A storm was coming, and the captain wanted all the boat’s passengers safe.

Even as Leila and Joseph were climbing down a staircase to reach their cabin, a very big wave hit the boat. It turned over dangerously. Leila looked at Joseph with alarm. Joseph pressed her hand by way of an assurance.

All of a sudden, Leila started feeling labour pains. Even before they could reach their cabin, the boat rolled over. She felt as if she was about to enter a watery grave. She was worried about the safety of her yet-to-be-born babies. Leila’s head hit a staircase rail and she lost consciousness.

When Leila awoke, she found herself in a white bed. She was connected to some tubes and an equipment at her back was making a rhythmic bleeping sound. A concerned Joseph, with his head in bandages, was sitting by her side. He patted her hand affectionately.

‘Where are we? What happened?’, she asked feebly.

Joseph smiled weakly.

‘We are in a hospital in Mumbai. Due to the storm, our boat had started sinking. The captain and the staff took good care. They brought us safely ashore and got us admitted here.’

Instinctively, Leila felt her abdomen. It felt empty.

‘What about the children?’, she asked with sudden alarm.

‘Well, you delivered all eight of them while on the boat itself. Congratulations, dear!’, said Joseph.

‘Hope they are fine? Where are they?’ Leila asked.

‘Hmm..as luck would have it, in the confusion, when the boat sank, we somehow lost four of them. But the other four are fine and safe, don’t worry.’

‘Can I see them? Where are the others?’

‘Yes, I shall tell the nurse to bring them in. Lovely kids. Two girls and two boys.’

‘But what happened to the others?’

‘We are trying to find out but have lost track. Police have asked people on the sea coast but we still have no news.’

‘That is so very sad’, said Leila, suppressing tears rolling down from her eyes. ‘How do the four remaining with us look?’, she asked after some time.

Just then, two nurses came in, carrying the four babies in their arms.

Leila was overjoyed to see the babies, who were all sleeping.

‘My little angels’, she said, kissing them all one by one. ‘I hope God is taking good care of the other four also!’

John survives the storm

John was an auto mechanic. He used to live in Goa and was unmarried. He had a nice helpful nature. He was on the same boat on which Leila and Joseph were.

After the boat sank, he found himself floating in the open sea. He was on some planks of wood. With him were four newly delivered babies – two boys and two girls. In the darkness, they were simply lying there, with a torn bed sheet from the boat covering them from the chilly air. Their eyes were closed. They were unaware of the storm around them. Two of them were even smiling, as they slept soundly.

John cuddled all four of them, two on each of his sides. He did not want any harm to come to them. He was praying and hoping that the winds would gently propel them towards a safe spot on the Mumbai sea shore.

Once ashore, John was wondering what to do with the four babies. He was poor and could not bring them up. He thought he could leave them at an orphanage which might take better care of them.

And this is what he did a few hours later when the raft hit the shallow shore. He went to a church nearby and met the pastor there. The pastor was caring and nice. He gave him some bread and warm soup. He also gave him some clothes to change.

Both of them dried up the four babies. They wrapped them up in fresh dry clothes. The pastor then accompanied him to a nearby parish which also had an orphanage. Sister Alicia, the in charge there, was happy to receive the kids. She had some nurses under her, who started taking good care of all the four.

After two days, when John had had some rest at a friend’s place in Mumbai, he came back to the orphanage. He felt that the kids were in good hands. He left his address with Sister Alicia and returned to Goa.

It never occurred to John to inform the local police about the four kids he had found in the sea waters after the boat had sunk.

Kala and Rakesh get a gift

In a two bedroom flat in Mumbai lived a couple, Kala and Rakesh. They were married for six years but were still childless. The doctors had advised them to adopt a child instead. Both used to love children. Often, they would pray to have a couple of children.

Kala was of medium height. She had beautiful eyes. She was very loving. She cared even for her neighbourhood kids, helping them in many ways.

Rakesh had a close friend in the restaurant where he worked. His name was Peter. Once, Peter was having dinner at their place. The topic of adopting children came up. Peter said he knew about an orphanage where they could try their luck.

Next Sunday, the three of them went to the orphanage together. Peter introduced them to the in charge there, one Sister Alicia. She walked around with them and introduced them to many children who were happy and playing in the compound.

Some lovely children caught the attention of Kala. They were very cute, with blue eyes and dark hair. Sister Alicia told them that these four kids had survived a boat accident some time back. She wondered if they were from some foreigner couple. She had tried locating their parents, but had failed to do so.

Kala and Rakesh were delighted to meet these four kids. They offered to take care of all of them. Sister Alicia could see they were good people. She agreed.

That is how the remaining four kids of Leila and Joseph found an Indian family. Kala named them Madesh, Suraj, Sita and Yashoda.

Leo, Livio, Sara and Anisa grow up

Back in Lucerne, Leila and Jospeh started bringing up the four kids lovingly. The boys were named Leo and Livio. The girls were named Sara and Anisa. Like their mother, all of them had hazel blue eyes and dark hair. Often, Leila would worry about her missing four children. She would pray to God that they be safe, wherever they may be.

Leo was a simple boy by nature. He was obedient and caring. Livio and Sara were naughty and playful. They liked to play pranks on others. Anisa was a quiet and studious child. They all looked the same. By nature, they were all quite different from each other.

 

They loved playing on swings. They enjoyed their outings on the lake. Leo and Anisa liked to spend time at the Natural History museum, identifying different butterflies and insects displayed there. Livio and Sara liked to visit the Transport Museum. All four of them liked skiing, swimming and ice skating. Trekking in the mountains was a favourite hobby of theirs.

Leo and Anisa gradually developed interest in music. Leo learnt to play the piano. Many times, he represented his school in different concerts. Anisa learnt ballet dancing. She was liked by all those who saw her perform.

All four of them looked like each other. Often, people would mix up between the four children. Livio or Sara would play a prank on another kid at school, but Leo or Anisa would have to take the blame. Leo or Anisa would do some good work, but Livio or Sara would get praised.

At night, all four of them would cuddle around Leila and go to sleep after listening to a story. Often, they heard the story of the boat accident. They believed that they had four other siblings who were their twins. But they did not know if those four were still alive. If so, where were they and what were they doing?

Madesh, Suraj, Sita and Yashoda blossom in India

In India, the other four kids started going to a good school near their home.

Madesh was naughty. He liked to play in the garden outside and would be found fighting with other kids. As he grew, he developed an interest in playing tennis. He thought he could play for India team when he grew up. Roger Federer was his role model.

Suraj was a quiet boy. He was good at studies. All his teachers liked him. He took to learning the violin. He dreamed of learning Western music from a professional academy. He wanted to play as part of an orchestra all over the world.

Sita was a quiet girl. She would play with her dolls all alone.  She was an obedient child. She was good at heart, and would willingly share her toys with other children. Her dream was to become a doctor and serve people.

Yashoda was a mischievous kid. She was intelligent and did well in her studies. At school, she would often make funny drawings in the copy books of other children. She was more like a tom boy and liked playing outside the home with other boys. She wanted to become a restaurant manager, like her father.

All the four of them were fond of listening to tales from Indian epics at night. Their grandmother, Rakesh’s mother, used to tell them stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata at night. On holidays, they would go out for picnics to such places as the Juhu beach. They loved making sand castles and picking up shells at the beach. They learnt good family values. They did not know they also had four siblings in a far off country known as Switzerland.

(Continued in Part 2)

Bringing up kids

ashokbhatia

Hapless parents who are always rushing from pillar to post to make the two ends meet carry a lovely responsibility on their tender shoulders – that of bringing up kids.

Families have shrunk. Technology has sneaked into the family space. Most parents themselves have one sibling each, and they also happen to be equally busy chasing their own dreams. The desire to enjoy independence from parents has led to the current trend of singular families. Kids no longer have the luxury of curling up in bed with the family seniors and listening to juicy stories and fables from the distant past.

kids-internet-1

Often, hassled parents, already bearing the guilt of not being able to spend enough quality time with their kids, get into a conflict with kids over such inane matters as the choice of their friends, the dress they wish to wear in their free time, and the shows they insist…

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