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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nayakgiri; Fiction: Game Set and Match

A Fictional story about Strange Interpersonal Equations in Life
Author runs blog
Game Set Match
My father called me very late in a winter evening. He stays merely a 10 minutes’ drive away from my house where I live with my wife and kid. I had just completed another long day at the office. As I freshened up and was heading towards dining table, I received the call.
He said: “Rajabhau is no more. He passed away in hospital today at 7 30 pm. Cremation is at Vaikunth at around 10”
I told him that I will pick him up in around half an hour from then.
Rajabhau was very ill and hospitalized. Last week his son and daughter flew from US which indicated the gravity of the situation. My father also did some hospital duties being close to him since their schooldays.

We reached at Vaikunth crematorium where a large gathering was waiting for the mortal remains to reach. He was a popular man across the segments of society: professional, social and personal. He was a social worker to feature in the credit rolls off many marriages that happened in Pune and nearby for almost three decades after the emergency.  He was initially a sales guy turned businessman who later undergone transformation as an IT guy. Yours truly can make it to the credit rolls in that upgradation if you can call it as one. Many IT professionals though will disagree looking at the work they do despite the terminology of words they use to describe their profession and use extensively while they carry out their profession.  Coming from an established family he had plenty of branches of relatives and due his people first attitude had wide range of friends. Many of them had gathered at the crematorium.
The scenes at any Indian crematorium are strange. Especially late in the night it has an aura of surrealism coupled with unsubstantiated fear of wandering souls of the dead, the silent river, the whispering trees, insufficient lighting, emotional and physical toll associated with death. Depending upon the cause and nature of death, the emotions and reactions vary. If the death is sudden, there is shock value added to the grief. If there is long hospitalization, there is sense of relief and the preparedness of facing the grief. The common question in either case is uncertainty of future for the dear ones in different ways. Human behavior varies according to the proximity in relation to the deceased. For those outside the close circle there is sense of formality to attend the event to confirm the social norms. For those within core of close circle, there are strong memories of past, sense of loss in present and worry of future. Some cry openly, some just shed silent tears, some are stoic, some pretend to be grieved, some still occupied by own world wonder when the rituals will end, some are there for the sake of social norms, some are simply exhausted and tired.  And amidst the silent crowd there was an old man in the crowd who physically passed wind accompanied by loud and familiar sound resulting out of dysfunctional gastroenteritis system. That shattered the silence while surprising all and sundry   in the near vicinity. Normally this human body function is accompanied by laughs, humor, embarrassment, disgust, anger for unknown reason. But this very normal act was totally unexpected for crowd. I could see great efforts from all to suppress any reaction to ensure the continuity of the semblance of seriousness expected out of this situation.  As I saw Rajabhau’s son who is a good friend, carrying out rituals, I realized the sense of loss resulting in the chains of memories involving some serious turn of events where I actively associated with Rajabhau.  I can symbolize my relationship with Rajabhau as a Tennis match which had now ended with only one winner: The Destiny. The ultimate power that controls all the lives those breathe in this universe. He is the only winner as you remain mere a spectator viewing your own match. You play this match daily against all the people, situations, organizations, events you without any break. It stops only at places like where I was that night: a crematorium. That’s the game, set and match.
The time machine in my mind takes me back many years not very far from place where I was. Ultimately everyone has to come here one day. But that was the place you never know about when you are a child. 
Every family has a King Uncle. In our case King Uncle had a name which meant king literally in many languages in India:  Rajabhau. He lived live his life king size. Though he was not super rich he had sufficient means to make a kid like me jealous.  I think envy comes in naturally in childhood than any other stages in human life. The difference is that when you are a child there is no justification to your own status in life when you compare that with others. A child you have no worries and no responsibilities. You don’t face vagaries of destiny. You don’t know Karma. You hardly care about your own strengths or weaknesses. In short as a child you lack solid reasoning which limits your potential as adult. As an adult you add to your worries and removes simple pleasures of life as a child. And this makes childhood best part of life. But you expect a lot from life thus as a child, thus when you see someone getting what you don’t, you are simply jealous. Though with affable personality like Rajabhau, I cannot say I was jealous but definitely I wanted to have a life like his. He used to dine in five stars hotels in city. He used to have air travel very rare those days and travelled first class in the prestigious Deccan Queen Train to Mumbai. He used to own a car with a driver. His house had a phone line. He was owner of big old wada (walled community of small houses) and had a very modern well decorated house with the charm of British era stone architecture  He travelled to Singapore, Europe and US which was out of bounds during pre IT revolution days. He took a ship to Singapore. He used to vacation every summer with his Kids. He had one son and daughter who used to tell all those travel stories like staying in Hotel stays, food, places visited. For us the vacation meant only taking second class unreserved train to Mumbai to meet maternal grandparents and have fun with cousins. He was an out and out sales guy who managed his own business. Having business in those days was very rare in our community dominated by middle class accounting professionals or teachers. Even working at industrial units in newly formed MIDC region was glamorous. He was combination of industrial entrepreneur with manufacturing base. He networked lot. He helped families with marital match making. Those who needed jobs went to him for help without being disappointed.  He was on board of educational trusts and religious /cultural festivals/temples. He was a good friend of my father and visited our house every other day. It was very common those days to visit someone unannounced for chai pe charcha. Life was so uncomplicated then. He sat in his favorite seat on the sofa and we all in our joint family gathered around him like is courtesans. He used to tell all the stories with a great sense of humor and unique style of swearing during the conversation. It was quite taboo to do that in family surroundings. Our impressionable minds were totally bowled over.  The stories were of business, politics, cricket, cinema, drama, society, people and everything under the sun. His normal visited lasted few rounds of tea (repeats served only to the male adults around). And I am sure he must have made at least visited five or six close families in our locality when he was in the city. He was out of city at least a week per month travelling all over the country. He was the only adult who had vices of drinking and eating non vegetarian in our community. This part was something we came to know in our early teens overhearing some hush-hush kitchen conversations between ladies of the house. Every family close to him looked up to him for advice during difficult times or needed some sort of help. And he delivered every time acting Godfather to that family living up to his name of king Uncle. In India I am sure every family has one King Uncle.
As a kid I had no individual interaction with him till that day in my eight standards as I reached my teens. The situation was tricky. I was a very average student at school while his two children were toppers and scholarship holders both in primary and secondary levels. Those exams ruined my peace at home. Everyone wanted me to follow those kids and my sister in class and scholarship exams. I was a miserable failure in both. As I approached near much dreaded Xth standard my parents being tired of giving me piece of mind went to family wizard: Rajabhau to transform me. The session was organized at his home. He asked about my problems at school. The humor which he intended to use to lighten my mood got under my skin. I felt humiliated. I don’t remember exact words but he dwelled on fact that if I did not focus on studies I will be the next clerk in the town. He added a little drama by asking me to take an oath to focus on my studies and prove it in the National Talent exam which was due next in six months. I had no choice
That turned my life miserable. Without any coaching, I tried to study using books donated to me by Rajabhau’s son who had no use for them having secured NTS scholarship. My parents were not ready to spend more on such dead cause involving my academics outside basic schools. They were more concerned about Xth and XIIth. Thanks to NTS, I opted out of school gathering drama where I had been given main role. I was worried about the oath. I used to get nightmares with Rajabhau hitting me with a big cane popular in older generations to mend unruly kids. I was trying to learn exam techniques, new concepts in CBSE syllabus.  Exam itself was so tough that I felt I had no chance. The days after exam were too gloomy since I knew the result but was worried about consequences. 
And the result was broken into our household. I wished Rajabhau was on tour and he would not visit our house. That wish was not granted. He turned out at our place next morning. He started conversation about everything else and I was relieved. At the end of session, he rose and headed towards the exit. I was never happy seeing someone off than on that day.  He then stopped, turned back and asked my father about NTS results. He said to my father: “Friend, I am so sorry for you. Not everyone is lucky to have offspring who can make one proud” . And that stung… He could have scolded me, hit me but the sheer contempt, sympathy to my father relegated me to someone so inconsequential, unimportant, downtrodden in my own eyes. Was I so bad that I was beyond repairs and my parents were so unlucky having me as son? The match had begun. I decided that I would return this complement back. He was one game up….
That was turning point in my career leading me into a leading College in India landing up with cushy job in Mumbai. I was too busy with my progress to think anything about Rajabhau and his insult. One day in my second year of job, I got call my father. He said Rajabhau’s son wants to go into some US institute and he needs money to show as assets as a proof of funding of his education and stay for the US consulate. He is having bit cash flow issue. Can you lend a certain amount? He said he will return.
 I then remembered Rajabhau’s scorn and his face doing so. I realized that life was such a leveler. But then as a youth I did not have maturity and I treated this turn of events as my revenge. Why would someone so accomplished turn to someone he termed as a nincompoop for money? I did not follow him neither he came forthright to return my money and it was not an amount for any middle income family to forget about. Match score: 1-1
The life took sudden turn thanks to a rash decision to jump into business without much preparation. It was more adrenalin than brain cells that were in action at that age. Those were early glory days of IT in the last millennium. People had seen success stories of Indian IT companies and individuals were soon hopping across Europe/America/APAC. Onsite and offshore were key words spoken in Indian families. Those in Old economy with strong experience in Manufacturing, Sales, Accounts etc wanted to shift their career in IT. Some unscrupulous elements from Hyderabad capitalized on this trend to setup shops training ERP packages to these individuals. Some were genuine rest were illegal in terms of software copyrights. We started a training institute investing high amounts while selecting a genuine franchise. We were all out counseling:  read as ‘Con-selling’ , the guys who were lured by ads. We were doing quite well. One weekend when I was visiting Pune, Rajabhau called me and suggested we meet. He chose a popular south Indian food joint as venue. After sharing niceties, Rajabhau came on the point.
He said “Pls don’t tell anybody, I am thinking to shift my career in IT. I know you would be surprised. At my age when I have only last seven eight years of my career, I have seen it all in my life. But I want to experience something new, learning new things, travel. My daughter is married, my son is set on Career in US and i have sufficient money to retire. I have seen many ups and downs.  I have recovered a major downturn in my business and I have sold my business to my partner as I don’t see any new thing happening. Moreover after being sole person in charge, I had to compromise my control over my business to my partner thanks to the downturn. And I like to control everything as you know “
I cannot think of Rajabhau to listen to anyone at office. But then I know in IT one has many bosses.
I said “ But Rajabhau, IT is different ball game. It has its own regulatory constraints, and you will not have any peers of your age. It will be a real adventurous move”
Rajabhau said “I have thought about it and ‘you’ don’t need to educate me. Just tell me about your course. ” He quipped with his style with stress on the word ‘you’ and I knew still he did not take me as one of his equals.
I then started my usual sales pitch on our ERP course and how the higher cost was justified, how well he can manage career shift etc.  Though I was bit matured then but still I felt a need to give him back. And I confess I wanted him to spend the amount and gain nothing as I strongly felt that at his age a career in IT made no sense. It was another thing if he was just in early or mid-thirties.
After few sessions in office, I sold the course and he joined the program.  I felt giant wheel turning and took it as my victory. I was ahead in the game which I felt Rajabhau started and the Score was 2-1 in my favor.
He started the course with enthusiasm and I used to meet him regularly in office. It was an unexpected move from franchise of training, decided to close our center as franchise and setup own branch. It was a great setback. I along with my partners was no more in picture after the financial settlement. That day onwards I lost my touch with Rajabhau though I kept myself informed using my channels to know about his course.  I tried to avoid him socially as well. But being in same circles I bounced across him in a marriage function. He did not say anything about course. I thought he will come to me and ask me explanation of my actions.  I thought he will shout at me for cheating him of money and trust.  But he said nothing. He gave me a look which I felt like he wanted to say: “I knew that you will fail in your venture”. Maybe I felt so due to my own sense of defeat or self-induced guilt of convincing him for something not useful for his cause.  Maybe he did not mean it. But knowing Rajabhau and his impression of mine, I felt I was sure he was looking at me with deride. But he never said anything. Score was leveled at 2-2. But growing older with this experience the intensity of loss was not as I felt after my first loss of game in the match played on the uneven turf of my mind.
He finally succeeded I changing career in IT and found his niche in Software Quality Assurance (SQA). I knew with his sharp mind to observe and tendency to find faults of others that was a great career choice. Within two years he rose to a good post in Good SQA Company. I then refocused my business dreams into being next Infosys of India. I persisted and was on path to build a good sizable IT services company.
I those early sales years I used to approach many companies for subcontracting or consulting. Consulting in IT is euphemism of body shopping though you are not supposed to say that. Even today top notch companies are earned bread and butter through ‘consulting’ but you have to brand yourself as either Digital Transformation Company or Outsourced Product Development Company. There are many such terms. It was destiny that I approached Rajabhau’s employer company for such work. After routing through channels the file came to Rajabhau’s desk and on one fine spring morning I approached his office to pitch our profile and discuss business.
I presented him my card. Gone in his eyes was his usual contempt to be replaced by genuine warmth.
“So tell me why I should hire your company to meet our requirement”
We then discussed the business, terms and the next plan. He was very encouraging of my venture and genuinely helped me secure that contract.  Though I did not feel that way as a matured adult but somewhere deep down I felt he had scored the next  game if someone was keeping score which the  was 2-3 .
I did well after and I grew to a level where I needed senior management guys in my staff. I received a cv shortlisted by my HR team in form of a word file having Rajabhau’s name. I immediate arranged for a meeting. I won’t call it an interview as there was nothing more to know. He said “It will be my last professional assignment as I would turn 63 next month. I want to retire at 65. But I want to end my professional life working with someone in family. I had dreamt one day that my son would take over my business but that was not to be. I was unable to take my business to that level and then I took some decisions which turned into problem. But then I am thankful to god that I recovered and was able to set my son on International career path.  And I owe you something which I would return. I will work honorary basis if my profile suits your objectives “.  Suddenly I reminded of money I had parted with during my early career for him. The lost context was brought forth. He worked for me for next two years. If someone was keeping scores somewhere the match was leveled at 3-3
 Suddenly my father brought me out of my reverie to ask me join him to pay last homage to Rajabhau. As I saw him for the last time, I felt so sad that was bit repentant of thinking the way I thought about my relation with Rajabhau. I was so wrong as a teenager and young adult to think about someone as senior as Rajabhau as a competitor and I still repent that. I have done things I envied about Rajabhau like travel, eating out, and mixing up with the who’s who: all the things I craved as child.   I can still understand myself competing with my peers. Again that so called competition or matchup with peers fueled up by social media, is also immaterial as I now sense as senior adult.  Life is too short and beautiful for that. All the grudges, revenges, jealousy, victory, defeat and any other negative emotions were renders meaningless by the service delivered by almighty that marks the end of human life. In Tennis that’s called an Ace: a service which opponent cannot return. Humans can return services made by human opponent to break the service game and win the game. But when almighty delivers a service there is no point of return. Its game set and match and there is no winner as I found in my self-declared matchup with Rajabhau.

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