The Last Banyan Tree

There used to be a Banyan Tree here and a few old men sitting under it. Now what remains is an emptiness staring into the open sky through the gap created by the uprooted tree and the missing conversations of a few all-weather friends. Sipping half-tea, sitting under the lone surviving Banyan tree in this lively part of Bangalore they had been discussing many a passionate topics over the last 10 years… By “they” I mean Iyengar, Krishnan, Sharma, Mani and a few other irregular members who comprised that informal sabha (or a group) of old men. Most of them, in their sweet seventies, did not have any major expectations out of their simple yet satisfying life. Each one of them eagerly looked forward to the daily late evening meetings when the make-shift chaat shops on push carts retrofitted with cycle tyres crowded the narrow lanes near the park below the Banyan Tree. Men and Women in all sizes and shapes assembled there to savour the spicy chaats (chaats – common name for snack items from North India). People from all walks of life, from the humble peon to the BMW riding real estate trader frequented this chaat-joint sharing the same rainbow coloured plastic plates. Eager kids, enthusiastic parents, cigarette smoking bunch of young men and women, newly married couples and many a hoi polloi visited here. Amidst this cacophony, these antique souls used to gather to discuss what they have heard through the grapevine. Crispy and spicy stories were shared with enthusiasm. But often mundane and boring issues used to surface in the sabha that needed to be debated nevertheless. However, every evening, invariably, the changing face of Bangalore and the invasion of the young brigade would feature in their lively discussions.

Sitting on the rectangle shaped boundary laid with granite slabs around the Banyan Tree, they would try to ingest the changing life before them. Iyengar’s newspaper stall used the north side as a ledge; the seniors used to occupy the west side facing the road; the south was unoccupied and East remained inaccessible. The Banyan Tree would optimistically stretch its aerial roots from the branches in an attempt to reach and root to the ground, for increasing its spread and stability. Tar roads were impenetrable and would never let it in. The roots which hovered over the shops and tea-stalls were hacked to facilitate hassle free trading. The great old tree stood trembling with failing age on the heavy main stem filled with the girth of experience, in many ways synonymous with the gaffers who sat underneath making it a regular member of the sabha!
I distinctly remember that day – the one before the Independence Day when the balloon-wala was selling our national flags and tricoloured balloons under the Banyan Tree setting his shop on the South side of the granite boundary.
Krishnan brooded, “Iyengar, monsoon has been weak till now. Government has already stated that there will be scheduled power cuts. Water supply too is going to be scarce. Did you ask your son to build the underground sump and get the inverter? What happened to that plan of rainwater harvesting that you have been talking about? Otherwise, it will be difficult for you this summer.” Iyengar, an L.I.C agent, a newspaper agent, a railway ticket-booking agent, the owner of the Xerox machine and many more small businesses, had his share of struggles as a young man before he could settle down in Bangalore. His son works with an IT company and his daughter is happily married off to an MBA graduate working with a foreign bank in M. G. Road.

“Krishnan, the other day I was walking by the Scientific Research Organization. Suddenly, I recalled that the building is standing on a lakebed. Do you all remember the huge lake that used to be there? Those buggers are filling all the water bodies and building huge IT parks on top of those. Tell me, how will it rain in Bangalore? Anyway, what is the point talking about that? Leave it. To answer you Krishnan, I have asked Ramesh to take care of the water problem and buy an inverter. He said that he would do it. Rainwater harvesting requires investment of almost a lakh. Ramesh says he will plan it for the next year. Seems he is short of funds. These days I continuously have to remind him of all the homely affairs. He is so busy with his work that I still have to handle everything at home. I hardly get to see him. I think that after recession his work pressure has doubled”, Iyengar sighed. Krishnan, a retired college professor, he was the eldest of the group. He was the most learned man of the group and an active participant in the local area affairs. He always used to take stock of what was happening in the households of his friends and keeps himself informed. He would give his sincere opinions and suggestions to the problems faced by his friends. Both his sons are settled in the US but he never yearned to join them. He was at peace with Bangalore.

Mani changed the topic abruptly, “Look at that girl having Pani-puri and the guy she is with. See where his hands are! These people do not seem to have any social manners. God knows whether their parents are aware of their conducts! Being so far from their homes and with nobody to keep a close watch on their activities, today’s kids are getting spoilt day by day.” The ever-critical Mani, a former employee with H.A.L. is always judgmental about the way his city has metamorphosed to.

“Obviously!” As always, Sharma wanted to have the last say in any topic. After all, he worked at the highest of the positions compared to all the others in the gang. He was the personal manager to the former director at B.E.L. His only son an electrical engineer runs a lucrative electrical parts supply business. “Did you hear about the murder in Ganga Nagar?” “These IT people are immature and do not have any values. Money has screwed up their heads. The love marriages that we often hear are mostly due to infatuation than true love. Educated and so-called sensible people are committing these brutal murders. I think Bangalore before IT was a lot better.” Consensus meant a long silence, and a sigh.

“Krishnan, day after tomorrow is Avani Avittam. Vadiyar (priest) came to give the hymn booklet, Darba (special grass) and the Poonal (holy thread), didn’t he?” Mani wanted to make sure that the Darba and Poonal are ready for the upcoming occasion. (Avani Avittam or Yajur Upakarma is an annual ceremony when Brahmins change their holy thread, chant vedas and pay homage to one’s ancestors) “Good that you reminded me Mani. I have to get a few extra sets of Poonal. My relatives will be there this time.” “Next week my pension will get deposited. After that, I am planning to book a trip to Kasi and Haridwar, then take a break and go to Rameswaram. I have never been to any of these places. Vivekananda Travels is organizing a tour to these places. I am planning to block my seat tomorrow. Who all are joining me?” Krishnan’s face brightened as it looked quizzically at others for an answer.

Each of them wanted to join him but then they all came up with some excuse. Besides, none of them trusted their health fully to embark upon such a long and tedious pilgrimage. Krishnan had the tough job of convincing each one of them. With much difficulty, he managed to coax everyone into the trip. The toughest part was not about convincing his friends, but them getting permission from their kids. Come to think of it, a few decades back their kids used to beg for consent from them to play in the fields, to go for an excursion, to buy a new property and what not. It was all the reverse. Getting a few thousand rupees for personal endeavours was becoming tough. Nevertheless, they all decided to give it a shot. As expected, Iyengar initially backed out since he had a shop and a business to care of. However, Sharma suggested his driver; a trustworthy fellow could be assigned the job of handling the shop in his absence. “After all, there is mobile phone to contact him in case of any issues,” Krishnan reassured Iyengar. They were all excited. Their excitement could only be compared to that of school kids planning their first outing. They decided to meet the next day evening to discuss the status, schedule and further details after getting their “freedom” back from their kids. Though none spoke about it, at the back of their mind they all realized that this might be their first and last trip together.

Mani had no one to convince except for his wife. Once he informed her about the trip, she argued that either she would accompany him or he had to drop the plan. He felt it unsafe to leave her alone in the duplex house. He decided to take his wife along with him if only he could arrange for some money. Sharma’s son wouldn’t care about his father’s friends or their emotions. He rejected the whole idea and told his dad that if he wanted to visit the places then he would take him by flight but would not let him travel in the train. God forbid – but what if anything happens to him? After much thought, Iyengar too decided to drop the trip due to some religious reasons. All throughout the night, the three of them thought about how to convey their decision and problems to Krishnan without hurting him. Everyone respected him so much. They considered him as their elder brother. To say NO to him was simply unthinkable.

It poured that night. Rains continued unabated all throughout the night. Gale winds knocked many a trees down. Chilly winds crept into their houses through half closed windows and crevices never seen earlier. The city slept uncomfortable and disturbed but sleep deserted Iyengar, Mani and Sharma.

It was nearing six in the evening. After their usual evening walks, one by one, they reached the banyan tree only to find the great old Banyan tree lying on the ground, half uprooted and the granite slabs where they used to hold the meeting completely dislodged. Corporation workers were using an earth mover to sever the tree off completely off the ground. However, the deep roots refused to come off. Three of them found a low wall of a clinic nearby and sat there waiting for Krishnan. They felt distressed when the fallen tree fought the machines trying to uproot it completely from the ground.

An hour and a half passed by without any sign of Krishnan. Concerned, they decided to visit him at his house. After a five-minute walk, they reached his house only to find the gate locked from outside. On enquiring with the neighbours, they came to know that their friend Krishnan was admitted last night into the Ramaiyah Hospital with some respiratory sickness. The previous night he had suddenly developed some breathing problem and had to be hospitalized. The three looked among themselves. Old age and respiratory infection did not augur good news. They immediately called up their acquaintance in the hospital and enquired about Krishnan. They heard “Sorry” on the other side and a long, painful pause. His body was already on its way back from the hospital. He breathed his last in the ICU an hour back, they were informed. They all recalled his smiling and beaming face from yesterday evening, his eyes were gleaming with the expectation of a trip with his beloved friends. He had left them with an incomplete dream. A vacant seat remained. One down from the group. There was an hour before his body arrived. They returned to the low wall never wanting to believe the news.

Iyengar felt his prosthetic leg. He shuddered imagining an engine horn from a distant past – a Railway crossing, forty plus years ago, the accident where he had lost one of his legs but had found 3 new pairs – brave Krishnan who had pulled him away from the speeding train risking his own life, Sharma’s Rs. 10,000, Mani’s A+ blood and a priceless friendship of more than forty years. He turned around and looked at Mani and Sharma. He saw the same scenes rolling in the moisture laden eyes of his friends.

“Krishnan never took a ‘No’ for an answer. He didn’t let us disappoint him. He didn’t wait for our No.”, Iyengar suspired. There, they vowed, come what may happen they would go for this pilgrimage as homage to Krishnan. His soul will now accompany them. The Banyan tree finally gave away completely and kissed the longing earth. An ambulance siren echoed in the distance and the friends started walking towards Krishnan’s house to pay their last respects.

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The Quest for Truth

– From the archives –

I had written this article as a confused teenager approximately 7 years back. There are a few edits here and there. But more or less the article remains the same.

——–

Life is a journey. It is a journey to the rich heritage of the thoughts that is the inherence of the soul. It is the quest for the truth. It is something that has a value, a high esteem and has its own sustenance in the world. Mine is also such a trek through the winding roads of life to the cradle of truth. Like exiguous rain is the truth in the midst of vast Sargasso of imposture. Even though scarce, its ember shines in the whole of the universe. The beat of life lies in its existence. The unwashed of today who are immune to the divinity of truth are themselves being immure unknowingly.

One who waits for his tryst with destiny to find the hidden meaning is often pulled into the whirlwind of knowledge. The ocean of wisdom that one has to cross to understand the untold often is tiring. In a similar expedition a few years back I ran into a very successful Scientist. So, there I got this old wise man to spell out his beliefs and views on life. He told me, “According to me it is truth that created the universe and what makes it tick. In every atom it is there. According to the Big Bang theory, universe was formed due to the explosion of a super dense material and is said to be expanding continuously. I believe truth itself got created due to the concentration of evilness in the whole world. The explosion of these thoughts caused truth to manifest in this world every second expanding. I consider “Satya” to be a  pure while light ray traversing the universe and vanquishing the darkness in the depths of this universe.” “What is Black Hole then ?”, the confused explorer in me quizzed him. With a smile the scientist answered, “I was like you a few years back, constantly searching for answers to the basic questions of life, trying to link science with God. I was in search of the one single truth that buds the world when black holes caught my attention. It failed to fit into my theory of truth. Later, I came to realize that the Black holes are those balancing acts played by truth. If forces of nature or the fight between one matter with another, one hue with another goes to proportions that can’t be controlled then it is time to end those dangerous force by pulling them into a black hole. Imagine black hole as a self-destruct switch built into every light carrying source. It is obviously for the good of the universe. With every work of mine I try to be closer to the light source that I seek.” I thanked the devotee of science for sharing his beliefs and ideas with me. I walked further ahead.

Hospitals, temples, cemetery all passed by before I met a Saint who was told to be a great scholar and preacher of Hindu religion. He happened to be giving a lecture on Moksha. I asked him about his belief in truth and Nirvana. “Son, Universe came into being a long time back. We, a small group people inhabit the world — our green planet as living beings with soul. At first we were loyal to God. We could then be called the sons of God. But as time passed we stepped into a path of darkness and ignorance. The devil in our mind arouse. We forgot the path to righteousness. We became so valorous as to run down the very God who gave us a life in here, on earth. We threw away our cloaks of purity and wore darker shades. To me all this is occurring because of one main reason. We have been sent to this world with an individual aim. By achieving and fulfilling one’s destiny we will enter the world of enduring happiness or Nirvana. A state of contentment where we can then live forever. But the path to achieving this is not so easy. It is strenuous and tiring. But one is hardwired to search for shorter and easier paths to success. This induces evilness in his character. Another reason for this behavior is that our mind as a whole is divided into two halves — one having the disposition of God and the other that of the devil. When a thought about our course to heaven stimulates our brain, the impulses cause both these halves to act. The quick but shot lived devilish ideas vanquishes the slow but steady true actions. This momentary joy ends in sorrow and not in enduring zest. Thus we lose track of truth and righteousness, and forget Nirvana.”

The journey back home was tough. Relentless sun beat down on the me. For want of food and water, I had to plead to the villagers in a forbidden land across the mountain. The only one who offered to help me was the Prostitute. I quenched my thirst from the earthen pot outside her house. Thanking her I braved to ask, “Why do you do this? What does truth mean for you?”. “I never wanted to end up in this profession. But then it is not always with you the decision as to where your feet would take you once you start walking,” she responded with veiled tears down her cheeks. A bit hesitantly I asked her, “Do you believe in truth, God and divinity ?” She thought for sometime, washed her face and hands, then narrated her life, “I have he courage to admit that I am doing something that this society would never accept. My birth brought joy to my family, and my life gifted them shame. The day I was seven years old I fell into the grips of sin. There was no return. Today, I feel that I am surrounded by an epiphyte feeding on my blood. For me truth is all but harsh, God for me is nothing but a picture, and divinity a dream less dreamt. But then one day I want to come out of all this darkness and seek the light at the end of the tunnel. Till then I am content with the reality of life and the truth about my destiny.”

I realized that the universe began with me and ended with me. Truth may not be uncontaminated but it is finding contentment in the impurity of life that takes you to divinity than chasing unknown gods. God may or may not exist but isn’t it the faith that really matters? Truth is not to be sought outside but it has to be searched inside oneself. If God or a faith drives you, then it lives inside you. Through that power source you will surely get to where you seek, that is where the quest for truth begins and ends.

He who lights my heart is truth,
He who guides my mind is truth,
He who drives my thoughts is truth,
And truth takes me to heaven !

~Trilok~

More Than A Hello !!!

I never told you,
But I thought you knew me more than a hello.
Now the magic’s lost,
Our love’s frost.
Where are you ?
I love you !

I was blind,
When you were kind.
I was dumb,
When you were a cherry plum.
I was numb,
When the time had come.

Let’s rewind to the days of love,
When we knew the heaven’s above.
We were bold,
In a world where hearts were sold, forever.
Life’s was cold,
But we were ready to grow old, together.

~Trilok~

What a toddler can teach, an education can’t !

Each step more cautious than the previous, often going off-balance, regaining his footing, struggling, moving forward, a toddler was learning to walk in the nearby park. His parents had left him to wander on his own under their watchful eyes. As he explored the world around him, he felt the rough stones under his feet, the wind blowing hard on his face, long legs passing in front of his body, craning his neck up to see features similar to his mom’s and dad’s, strange, smiling faces. Then, there were faces at his eye level, much easier to look, curious glances, trying to touch his face, grasping his hand. He did not accept that touch. He was a little apprehensive. But then he knew that they were similar to him than different. Freedom was exciting and independence was everything. Once in a while he glanced back to ensure that his parents were around. Without him realizing his tiny steps were making an arc with his parents at the center. Often he pushed his luck a little farther to make a larger radius as he ventured out. He was then lifted off the ground and put closer to the center. It was his dad. They would again let him walk in another direction. He moved confidently in that direction. New paths showed up. He discovered new friends and frontiers. A few minutes passed, the exhausted tot sat abruptly on the granite pavement. Concerned, his parents picked him up and took him into their arms. His face lit up and happily gulped the orange juice that he was offered.

Later, while at home, an average middle class young man who I have come to assume of myself, was thinking about my priorities, working with my constraints to achieve my personal goals. To be frank, I realized that I was timid. As I sat waiting for an inspiring talk or picking up another self-help book,  the episode of that little kid learning to walk in the park hit my mind like a silver dagger. It put me into a deep thought. What could I possibly learn from him ?

Have it ever crossed your mind as young boys and girls why our teachers and parents kept on throwing at us the question — “What do you want to become when you grow up ?” The question about our ambitions put to us multiple times forcing us to answer, making us think. From a sailor in the rhymes to a political leader inspired from the chapters of inspiring Independence time leaders to the famous rock star holding his guitar, we were never short of role models to look up to. As time progressed, have you thought how those dreams matured. From a batman to IAS officer, fireman to Computer Engineer. Over time our dreams have been more so practical. But, I am not going to start a debate on why that transition happened. Perhaps, a topic to digress in detail at a later point in time. What caught my attention is the fact that why that question was put to us as kids when we had limited knowledge of the world around us. It was to motivate us, to make us think, to make us work towards an aim. This could have been asked only when were still young and not 20 years later for reasons that I am revealing below.

Going back to the tot steps, why did the parents knowingly or unknowingly let him walk ? Did they want him to get lost ? By no means. The only reason for this was the fact that they wanted the toddler to learn to walk. He should learn that himself, self-taught. It’s a basic lesson of life. In turn, he utilized that opportunity to learn, to venture, to see and to understand, take some risks, push himself to the edge to find out what happens, often looking back to ensure that he was keeping the focus right but yet having fun, repeating the above in a loop. Whenever he was hesitant and not progressing any farther than before his father would prompt him to move forward. So a dreamer, an adventurer it’s there in all of us. Consciously or not we were dreamers and had won many a races in life. But, how did we, you and I grow out of our inherent skills ? How did I unlearn that vital learning?  What is that I fear so much ? Are those abilities still latent and will I be able to rekindle that passion ?

In an attempt to rekindle that fearless spirit , to re-ignite those latent abilities, I posted a few questions to my cognizance. What made that little kid do that ? Can I draw a parallel in my life and career at least to an extent ? To get to this answer, I revisited that scene from the park and tried to walk with him and understand from his actions.

Learning to walk

A new career, a business venture, moving to a new house, a new life — perhaps marriage, change in circumstances due to priority shift, transition from college to corporate life. One can draw  as many parallels as one wants about how important is the art of learning to walk is. There will be struggles. You may fall down and then you get up. This is a constant learning process. Would a child who is afraid of falling ever end up walking in his life? How many children have you seen like that ? Perfectly able child who is scared of tripping and falling down. Therefore, he avoided trying to learn to walk and would always sit. I am yet to come across people like that. Whereas I have seen people with disabilities standing tall and running fast. Coming back to the toddler from the park, with every failing step his muscles got stronger and so was his will to walk. He learnt what not to do to be stable. A day later he would try to stand up again on his feet and inch forward. He would then walk, pace, sprint as time progresses. All that forces him to get stronger are the obstacles. Real time translated — a doomed business, financial strains, a strained relationship, a failed marriage.

The kid’s observations
Observations come from the environment you thrive on and what the senses teach you. You will see a lot of people at lot of places – Your superiors, your bosses, market leaders high above you,  your colleagues your friends, your partners, your competitors at your level. In society too you will find your rich neighbor, the salaried class employee, the poor jobless average citizen. The kid saw it all, but did not stay there long enough for he had his goals. He had to move ahead. He did not have all the time to play but then he acknowledged their presence, made relationships. He saw the grown ups and those who are at his eye level. He moved constantly but with an underlying aim. He kept himself curious.

His parents and the radius he was making were his constraints, priorities and his faith. Personal and professional life would often have constraints. It is not that you can fly above your limitations. Remember Icarus, the son of master craftsman Daedalus. Icarus was gifted with a wax wing by his father to escape from the prison. In his curiosity he forgot his father’s warning and flew close to the sun. His wax wings melted and he fell into the deep-sea and drowned to death all in a successful attempt to escape from jail. There is some uncanny resemblance that one can notice between life and this story especially in this context. You will learn the ability to succeed and escape the prison of rat race but then your success comes with the understanding of your limitations. If you forget that your legs are tied and start running, you will eventually fall. This is one lesson that the kid knew by heart. At the end of the day he succeeded, he walked the earth below his feet.

The young little boy took the muddy road as well as the stony pavements. The ability to take the path he liked within that radius is the adventure he had. It helped him meet and see new people. It took him to new places. It was risky . His feet ached. But something took him forward though a little hesitantly. Adventure and risks have to be taken to learn, to challenge oneself, to prosper. It is what makes us look forward to the next day, to reinvent each waking day. It feeds the passion.

All these while he had kept faith, especially in his parents. But he had one more faith — in the people around him. He believed that the world’s always a good place. He might get some bad experiences as the walk progresses.  But he would come to understand that the world view was not made out of a few bad experiences and some failed experiments but the hundreds of cherishing memories and success that were yet to come. In the assurance that someone is watching you, he had got the warmth and the security for self-motivation and removing self-doubt. A mentor, a leader, a philosopher, a beacon of light would often come into the lives of those successful people helping them reach where they are. This may not be god or parents in the literal sense. Those who care about you and who can selflessly guide you when you are lost in the woods or lose in a game are those beacons of light.

Go ahead and analyze each activity of that kid from learning to walk to going to a school to growing up to be a person. I am sure you will get to know all that you have unlearned. One might think that this is just another motivational piece of article. But if you go one layer beneath your mind you will get to know that this behavior of us – the valorous kid in us is alive but trapped inside. We have hidden this behavior deep inside our minds with shells all over it. It would take some serious effort and motivation to break these layers of covering. What that means is for example in corporate life to ensure that talent is recruited and retained at any level mimic a kid’s life. Let him learn, give him challenges, reward him however small that might be and let him grow up. But in this new position let him be a kid and learn. So in every position the employee moves to he will start all over again. I am sure you are much more intelligent than me to read between the lines and extrapolate the rest. This is just one example that I shared with you to illustrate my point. It is up to you whether or where you want to use this philosophy. Just one thing, try applying it for yourself to find your dreams and succeed because it is more about you than him. I know you can go the distance and be where you want to be. So, just go ahead bravely.

Good luck.

~Trilok~