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Archive for December, 2020

“So, Mr Bhatia, what do you think?” asked the tough looking beak-in-chief. I had just been ushered into this mandarin’s plush office. A cup of tea had been duly arranged, with few snacks in tow.

Across the road, the sea was going about performing its normal task, its mighty waves relentlessly pounding the rocks, roaring and frothing. The night sky was clear and a mild breeze was blowing. The moon was enjoying its usual saunter, its soothing light creating dancing ripples on the surface of the sea. It was a scene which was designed to soothe any soul in aguish.

But my soul was in torment. The heart was aflutter. The brow was furrowed. The pride of the Bhatias was wounded. You see, life had so far never prepared me for being treated as a criminal of sorts. Having been a law-abiding citizen all along, I was not used to being interrogated and that too so very late in the day. Having been held in captivity throughout the day, and asked to pen down my responses to a long list of obnoxious and repetitive questions, the nerves were all of a twitter. All this had happened under the stern watch of some of the junior beaks who looked much like a bunch of dreadful villains straight out of a Bollywood movie.

I eyed him narrowly. Obviously, the beak-in-chief’s looks were not much to be written home about. He reminded me of Sir Watkyn Bassett, the magistrate from the canon of P G Wodehouse. Nature, when planning this unique specimen, had endowed him with bushy eyebrows, a pencil moustache and a prominent jaw which would have prompted even someone like Adolf Hitler sit up and take notice. His eyes were a bit too keen and piercing for one who was not an Empire builder but a mere revenue official of a senior cadre tasked with milking businesses which, in his opinion, had many skeletons made of unalloyed gold stored in their cupboards. Revenue officials all over the world happen to be a class apart; particularly, those in India are well known for their deep distrust of businesses. Guilty till proven innocent is their credo. Shakespeare, I suspect, would have etched out Shylock’s character based on an earnest and conscientious taxman hounding him for concealing his royalty earnings.

I summoned all the Bhatia courage, resilience and tact and gave him an artificially sheepish look.

“To be frank, I feel like crossing over the road and drowning myself in the sea,” I bleated weakly.

All gibberish, of course, designed to deflect, deceive, distract and bring in a temporary rapport between me and the party of the other part. His relief on hearing these words, containing as they did no reference to the facts of the case, was great. He smirked. A sarcastic smile adorned his visage.

The dialogue with this officer of the law continued far into the night but I would spare my audience all the boring details which, if mentioned here, might promptly put them to sleep.

As P G Wodehouse would have put it, one of the several difficulties which authors face when telling a story is as to where to begin it. If they take too much time building the atmosphere and etching out the characters, the audience may simply decide to junk the narrative and start checking their social media updates instead.

On the other hand, if the author were to permit his narrative to take off like a rocket to the Mars, the public simply starts twiddling its thumbs trying to figure out what is happening. They simply walk out on the hapless soul, leaving it a wee bit clueless, much like an Olympic athlete who dazzles with his performance in a stadium which happens to be empty and utterly devoid of humanity, thanks to a raging pandemic.

Allow me therefore to go back a little bit in time. Assigned a senior management position in a small company operating out of a small town located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, I had somehow been sucked into the eye of a storm since past several months. Thanks to a two-timing junior employee and an array of operational goofies, the revenue authorities had been persuaded to suspect something fishy going on in the operations. A detailed investigation was underway for some time. The authorities, as is their wont, were keen to quickly size up their pound of flesh and make my employers cough up a sizable sum without delay. My feudal sense prevailed. A close friend from my college days who had risen to a senior position in the same department of the government elsewhere kept advising me informally throughout the sordid process.

As the episode unfolded, however, it transpired that I was suffering from a misplaced sense of loyalty to the company. My brand equity was at its lowest ebb. The credibility of the technical department which was the real defaulter in the matter was somehow much higher. In me, the company found a ready villain who could take the rap for the unfortunate incident.

Once the case had assumed a shape, I was given the marching orders and left to fend for myself. If I myself had been in the position of the owners then, I would have reacted similarly but perhaps in a gentler and more humane manner. In fact, had the company followed the principles of natural justice and an equidistant approach to all functions, the probability of a corporate embarrassment of this kind could have easily been nipped in the bud.

Subsequently, I had learnt that the matter had dragged on for quite some time and had got finally resolved on mutually agreed terms.

The stress suffered over a period of 18 months of the investigation eventually led to a cardiac issue popping up, duly followed by a long period of rest and recuperation. The family moved in to provide unstinted support and I was soon up and about, living as normal a life as one could wish for.

A great thing about the harsh slings and arrows of life is that even when we feel that there are dark clouds on the horizon and not even a single ray of hope visible anywhere, our Guardian Angels wake up and decide to offer us an olive branch. For the past several years, I had not ventured to seek greener pastures in the town my wife and I made our home. The impression was that for a person like me having a senior position in a company, backed by a package which was otherwise fine though not something to write home about, it was well nigh impossible for me to secure another assignment with a matching, if not higher, paycheck, especially in a town which did not boast of many industries.

A Good Samaritan amongst the broad circle of friends I had came up with an olive branch in the form of a suitable position in the large organization of which he was a key decision maker. An offer got made and was duly accepted. Some nine months after I had lost a great degree of my self confidence, personally as well professionally, I now had an opportunity to turn a new leaf and rebuild it.

This change was just a way for life to show me the importance of observing values and ethics in whatever I did. I realized that one’s brand equity is built over a long period of time. Once built, it becomes like the fragrance of an exotic flower. It travels much ahead of one, often opening up new vistas, offering a wider canvas for one to perform and excel at whatever one undertakes to do. The observant ones amongst those around us are surely able to size us up much quicker than we can manage to do ourselves.

I would urge my audience to take my suicidal intentions – conveyed to the stern beak-in-chief – with a bowl full of salt. Close friends who have noticed the Bertie Wooster streak of resilience within me have held that amongst their circle of pals, I shall be the last one to ever consider a deliberate attempt to kick the bucket.

My idea of mentioning this nasty episode in my life is not to play the victim card and seek sympathy from my audience. I just thought I could share with others what I learnt in the process. My mistake was to not to keep a tab on the ground realities myself. Instead, I practiced partial abdication, mistaking it to be delegation. Trusting some colleagues who had an axe to grind with the company was another. Like the incident mentioned above, there are many others which can also be captured here.

Life, as you all know, is not a bed of roses. It is not a social media platform where narcissism alone rules. It also makes all of us undergo major setbacks. This is indeed its unique way of chiseling us out of hard rock and giving us a better shape.

But with each harsh chiseling, one had somehow managed to wriggle out of the throes of a deep V-shaped depression. One had risen from the remains of one’s dead self. Mighty forces of positivity had prevailed. The chin had yet again become high. The stiff upper lip had come back and the sky had once again turned a cheerful blue. A leap in the professional affairs had eventually come about.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/about-me

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2019/04/03/planning-a-career-with-an-owner-driven-outfit-consider-some-of-the-values-followed-by-such-businesses

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/of-a-mom-bassett-and-the-allure-of-policemens-helmets

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/divine-grace-works-all-the-time)

 

 

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Fans of P G Wodehouse (Plum) often wonder why their favourite author of sublime humour is often found missing on the high table of English literature.

Comparisons are odious, but let us take the case of The Bard, considered one of the literary geniuses of our times. If he has dished out narratives rooted in such human emotions as greed, revenge, jealousy and love, so has Plum. Many of their characters are as quirky as they come. Both have contributed in so small measure to the enrichment of English. To the current generation, both sound a trifle outdated and, by and large, incomprehensible.  Nothing against the sterling fellow, though.

The Incomprehensibility Quotient

Perhaps, the reason I find The Bard’s works relatively unfit for human consumption can be traced back to their high level of Incomprehensibility Quotient.

Is there really any fun in picking up a book where, after each sentence, one has to consult a dictionary? The whole experience becomes very stiff-upper-lip-ish, if you know what I mean. Serious tomes which need super-intelligent persons to pop up in public spaces like libraries where they may enjoy their solitude, dig deeper into the contents and try and fathom the depths of the language are best avoided, I would say. Leaves the nerves a bit overburdened, don’t you think?

On the other hand, gliding through the works of Plum is sheer delight. The contrast is that reading Plum’s books in buses, trains and parks is fraught with risks. These are best devoured in private spaces, so those around, seeing one guffawing and shaking with uncontrollable mirth , do not start searching for the contact details of a loony doctor in the same class as Sir Roderick Glossop.

But what all this comes to is a deeper reality. The tendency of Homo sapiens to value seriousness and tragedy over humour and laughter. Anything humorous is treated by us as being frivolous and fit to be scoffed at. At management seminars and conclaves, serious talks get appreciated, but a speaker conveying the same message quoted in humour is blamed for playing to the gallery. In companies, at board meetings, detailed power point presentations of a serious kind get appreciated, whereas anything said in a lighter vein is greeted by scorn.

A premium on intellect and seriousness

Martin Amis, in his new novel Inside Story, blames our tendency to put serious tomes and tragedies on “the intellectual glamour of gloom… the idea that sullen pessimism is a mark of high seriousness”.

Brainy coves are invariably in awe of intellectual gravitas, even if the narratives are pale, dark and authoritative. What appeals to them better is a stiff upper lip approach. This segment of the population is apt to cast a supercilious glance at lesser mortals who thrive on reading fluffy stuff which makes them keep falling off beds and sofas, making their insurers uneasy.

Award winning works are an output of as much as intelligence as is essential to dishing out juicier works which mask equally serious messages about handling life’s harsh slings and arrows.

If the spectrum of human emotions were to be examined in some detail, seriousness may form one of its ends and humour the other one. This might give an impression that the two are opposites of each other. Not necessarily. My own knowledge of literature is very shallow, but I am sure there are authors out there who strike a balance between the two. Perhaps, therein lies the origin of satire.

In one of her scintillating posts, Honoria Glossop of Plumtopia fame speaks of the book ‘Bestsellers’ by Clive Bloom. To quote her:

‘Bloom tracks the development of ‘the bestseller’ alongside increasing literacy levels in Britain, showing how new literature classifications emerged (high-brow and low-brow) to keep class distinctions alive in literature, once the lower classes were no longer illiterate. He exposes ‘literary fiction’ as little more than snobbery, suggesting that serious literature is made purposefully unfathomable and dire to ensure it remains the province of an expensively-educated elite.’

Plum’s messages couched in delectable humour

When it comes to Plum, a master wordsmith in his own right, we often miss the underlying messages of a spiritual, economic and managerial kind. Simply because these are hidden beneath layers of what sound like inane and repetitive narratives.

Whosoever deals with goofy kids like Thos, Seabury, Edwin the Scout and others experiences a spiritual enlightenment of sorts. When Bertie Wooster tries to solve a problem single handedly, he messes things up and starts practicing detachment. He lets go of his favourite piece of apparel. He abandons his ego and decides to give up his initial resistance to a proposal made by Jeeves to go off on a cruise, thereby escaping the wrath of Aunt Agatha. Many other characters elsewhere tackle their defeats with a healthy attitude of surrender, much like Roderick Spode when confronted with the Eulalie affair.

Take the example of ‘Something Fresh.’  It covers a wide span of issues – health and fitness, perils of ageing, gender parity, economic disparities, class distinctions, the spirit of enterprise, the subtle art of delegation, importance of comforter friends in one’s life, to name just a few.

Consider the character of Reginald Jeeves. Notice the way he manages to keep his career prospects intact by using tact and resource. He maintains that bosses are like horses. They need to be managed. His methods may be rough at times, but the neat results obtained do provide satisfaction to all concerned. He believes that one needs to break a few eggs to make an omelette. He registers dissent in a diplomatic manner. He is a respectful and dignified listener, speaking only when necessary. He leads others while appearing to be a devout follower.

Dishing out comical stuff

Above all, one is left awestruck with the kind of complicated plots Plum comes up with. He handles tiffs between many couples at the same time, while bringing in obdurate aunts, sulking uncles, temperamental chefs, American millionaires and their sisters and daughters, moody creatures of a canine and feline kind, and even horses and pigs. Painting a narrative on such a wide canvas obviously needs hard work – a fertile imagination, lateral thinking, a thorough knowledge of such diverse subjects as scarabs, scriptures, literature, psychology, French resorts, movie making, et al, besides and what not. Characters often get swept in a swirl of madness and mayhem, forcing a lay reader to at least chuckle and suppress a smile. When it comes to either pulling off a gag or unleashing a comical situation, the author is always a step ahead of the reader.

In other words, humour, even though appearing to be farcical and classified as escapist, is serious business indeed!

We would do well to consciously cultivate our capacity to take a lighter view of things and learn to laugh at ourselves. Many more awards along the lines of Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize deserve to be instituted.

 

(Related post:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/wodehouse-misremembered

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/the-perils-of-not-suffering-from-shakespearitis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My dear Heart…..

ashokbhatia

heart care

Seven years back, when you protested, the plumbing had to be set right;
I became aware that you existed, now you continue working with all your might.

I feel your throb throughout my body, in my feet, in my arms, in my ears;
I hear the pulse even in my head, realize you have been there all these years.

Never have you asked for a vacation, relentlessly you go on thumping;
Supplying blood to all corners of the body, you always keep pumping.

A skip on your part and I go crazy, a flutter and things around me go hazy;
You may label me a couch potato, I always try not to be too lazy.

The soothing music of your pulse, sometime slow, sometime fast;
Like the strains of a vibrant drum filling up my being´s theater vast.

I walk and I exercise, keeping both of us fit with positive…

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ashokbhatia

Music has great power. It touches the innermost recesses of our being. It invigorates. When we attend a concert and soak in music which is uplifting and rich, there are moments when we can hardly bear the sheer bliss. Mellifluous notes surround us. We float in an ocean of musical waves, enjoying its depth and grandeur. We just wish for the time to stop its relentless onward march. We wish to forever live in that frozen moment of inward happiness. We crave to be left alone in space and time.

We live in exciting times. We have geniuses who enthrall us with music of diverse genres. Scintillating dance performances, mesmerizing concerts and rapturous vocals keep us spellbound. Right from the snow-clad Swiss Alps to the lush green plains of India, one is fortunate to have heard and seen maestros who have perfected the art of touching our souls and made…

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Among the fans of P G Wodehouse, many kids happen to be rather popular. Digging deeper, one is apt to find that they are popular because of the kind of imagination, inventiveness, goofiness and roguishness they bring in to whatever they set out to accomplish. Their cunningness and resource entertains, enthuses and educates adults of all hues, sizes and shapes.

Wooster Sauce, the quarterly journal of The P G Wodehouse Society (UK), has captured a shorter and crisper version of one of the earlier blog posts on the subject by yours truly.

Rogue Kids WS Dec 2020 issue

 

(The original blog post can be accessed here.)

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The year that is coming to an end is twenty twenty,
The problems we all had to face were a plenty;
Thank the Lord for small mercies and please no whines,
You are alive and kicking and can read these lines.

What would Bertie have done had he been around?
It is definite that in the Drones he would not have been found;
For all clubs and social gatherings in the lock down would have been forbidden;
What was allowed was drinking whiskies, getting a hangover and being bedridden.

Where then could the poor lad go,
He was not some one to shun a meal or a pleasure forgo;
Yes to his favourite Aunt Dahlia’s place which would substitute for a waterhole,
And on the side enjoy the sublime dishes of the master Chef Anatole.

In this pandemic what did the brainy Jeeves do,
Definitely he did not mop cry or over this predicament rue;
He curled up in a corner with the philosophers of yore,
Frankly such reading to you and me would have been a big bore.

Once in a while he got a call from a gentleman spurned,
The advice he gave was so useful that the romance cold once again brightly burned;
In one such case the advice was good and sent in a sealed envelope,
On receiving it the gentleman applied it and very soon with his love did elope.

Poor old Lord Emsworth would have been worried about his prize pig,
Hoping and praying that the Empress should not catch COVID or something big;
Not that he cared much for his secretary Baxter, not even a hoot,
Whom he thought was mad with his eyes glittering like that of a coot.

All that his Lordship desired and wished fervently,
That Baxter would disturb him less frequently;
And that the Empress would in the Agricultural show win medal after medal,
And show the world that true nobility is not always about being regal.

How would the time in London be passed by our beautiful Sue Brown ?
Away from her Ronnie all alone and forlorn;
The musical halls would be closed and empty,
No shows or theatricals with chorus girls a plenty.

Imagine Galahad in the midst of all this dread and isolation,
‘No sir, no sir, not for me’ says Galahad ‘this dread and deprivation;
I shall be in the company of a barmaid this winter,
I shall cheer her up with gentle chaff and hear her gentle simper.’

How shall Beach the butler pass his time?
Sipping his port, hot toddy and lime;
Reminiscing of the time he stole his masters pig,
How lucky he was to get away with a caper so big.

Even today when poor Beach thinks of that caper,
A shudder goes through his frame and he sets aside the betting paper;
For all his toils Ronnie had shared with him the horse that would win the Goodwood Cup,
The mare that would by many a length had the peculiar name Buttercup.

Win she did by many a furlong and made Beach win many a pound and earn some benediction,
Oh Yes Oh Yes as far as horses were concerned Ronnie was always correct in his prediction.

And so my friends in this delightful group,
I thank you one and all for helping me to pull off this coup;
The first of keeping my chin up during this trying time,
The second of posting cheer here with prose and rhyme.

May the miasma be behind us in the year twenty twenty one,
Let all of us be healthy happy fit and on the run;
Let the Drones be full of the young gentlemanly brood,
Sozzled, betting, throwing bread crumbs and food.

With this let me wish you good cheer for the festive season and new year in advance,
Hoping that we never ever give twenty twenty another glance.

(Pradeep Swaminathan has done his professional course in Accounting both from India and London. He has been a Director and a CFO of listed companies in India. After retirement he has joined an NGO supporting poor farmers . From reading, his passion has now evolved into dishing out juicy posts and even juicier books. He has written two books ‘Enter Mrs Bertie’ and ‘Who killed the boss?’

His permission to reproduce this composition here is gratefully acknowledged.)

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Day 1

It is widely believed that Jeeves was fed a lot of fish in his childhood, thereby making him a brainy cove, with his head bulging at the back. However, all bloggers may not have had the same fortune. Their grey cells often register a protest, refusing to budge, much like Balaam’s Ass.

But there are indeed times when the creative juices are in full flow and an idea pops up!

Day 2

The idea simmers within. Many sub-ideas spring up and fall into the creative cauldron. The blogger often behaves like Angus McAllister, nurturing the Achilleas, the Bignonia Radicans and the Yucca in the Blandings garden, eventually creating a bouquet of exotic ideas, cleverly brought together.

The outcome is a juicy idea which often gives a sleepless night to the blogger who twiddles her thumbs to figure out words and phrases so the key idea gets draped appropriately.

Day 3

Thanks to one of Jeeves’ pick-me-ups, the idea takes the shape of words which flow on to the writing instrument preferred by the blogger. A working draft emerges. Many refinements take place over meals comprising soluble vitamins recommended by Laura Pyke. Putting different kinds of tissue restoratives down the hatch aids the creative process.

Day 4

The blogger sleeps over the draft. On the following day, when the sun is shining bright, birds are twittering and butterflies are hopping around taking in as much nourishment as they can muster, she gets back to her work station.

Much like Florence Craye, she makes several refinements. A chipping here, a cut there, and the stone of the core idea takes a well-hewn shape. Some cross references get traced. Spellings and grammar get checked.

Day 5

The D day arrives. After a final review, the blogger has a nice feeling about the way the post has shaped up. She has by now started developing a sense of detachment to the post, wanting it to have an independent existence of its own. Like Gwladys Pandlebury, she casts a final look at the portrait of Bertie Wooster, takes a deep breath and punches the ‘publish’ button!

Prompt steps are taken through proper channels to circulate the post over different social media platforms. She finally experiences the inner bliss of having conveyed her idea to the universe at large.

Day 6

A blogger does not necessarily court praise. Many scriptures also recommend that the adulation of the multitude should mean very little to a person. But when one has taken the trouble of whipping up what, in her opinion, is a highly juicy piece which would benefit a deep-in-the-soup society in many ways, her soul anticipates some nurturing by means of a meaningful interaction with a wider audience.

Absence of any feedback, or getting trolled for the same, upsets her deeply. It leads to a V-shaped depression getting experienced.

Some likes and fewer comments make her heave a sigh of relief, much like Rosie M Banks discovering that Bingo Little had indeed deposited the tenner entrusted to his care in the kid’s bank account.

The Law of Bloggers’ Happiness kicks in. The more the number of likes, the happier the blogger feels. Answering meaningful comments raises her Happiness Quotient even higher.

Day 7

Whether in moments of heart-bowed-gloominess or of the nectar of happiness brimming over the cup of life, there is nothing that calms the soul like a good go at one’s beauty snooze – a creative one, tuning the mental antenna to the creative forces of the universe, keenly searching for the next idea to pop up!

 

(Illustrations courtesy Ms Shalini Bhatia)

(Related posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/of-writers-and-their-blocks

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/a-plummy-way-to-banish-the-cruelty-that-authors-face

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/some-blogging-lessons-from-the-bhagavad-gita

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/bertie-social-media-and-blogging-blues)

 

 

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