Wednesday, 30 January, 2008

Kick the butt

Everybody seems to be at the fag end of smoking or at least that’s the impression they want to give. I mean everybody who has taken in by the habit wants to quit. There’s a whole lot of hue and cry that is made of this dirty habit. Ask a smoker and he’ll tell you how dearly he loves his puffs. Yet there are a lot out there who are chain smokers and want to quit. Again you have to ask a chain smoker to understand how difficult it is to quit. Mark Twain’s saying goes well here: “Giving up smoking is easy. I have done it hundreds of times”. It’s often easy said than done. But surprisingly bollywood star Aamir Khan has finally done it. He was one among many stars who have been wanting to kick the butt.

Our Health Minister shot off his mouth recently by publicly insisting Sharukh Khan to quit smoking on screen. It’s an appeal he could have made in private. But his appeal, as the health minister, is valid. According to him public figures like Sharukh and Amitabh smoking on screen can have a negative impression on teenage minds. There’s no second thought on how and what youngsters emulate from their bollywood celebrities or even other celebrities for that matter. So was Sharukh right in refusing to comply by the minister’s appeal? Of course not, he has every right to smoke on screen and probably doesn’t have rights to smoke in public, like all of us (if the implementation of ‘no smoking’ laws are complete in public). He smoking in a hindi blockbuster is creative licence but not lighting up a fag in a cricket stadium, in full public glare. He has to be treated as another Indian citizen, nothing more nothing less. He set a wrong example by smoking in a cricket stadium during a match. It is these appearances where he comes in contact with aam janata and how he behaves and what he does matter here. But it is an entirely different matter if we were to talk movies. No doubt they have a lasting effect, leave alone young minds on mature minds too. When you and I agree that it is fiction in its entirety no one should have a problem in suspending our belief systems for 3 odd hours and let our emotions take over us. That’s after all is the purpose of movies and its entertainment.

Mr Minister, you know how dangerous cigarettes are. But you also know that the tobacco lobby is always influencing you. Will your government stay out of the temptation to earn more and more revenue from tobacco products?

Tuesday, 22 January, 2008

Yama kills a man

‘Next,’ yells out Chitragupta. Yama, sitting on his throne, is tired after the day’s job and wants to see no more of the useless earthlings. A young man with a suitcase walks in and prostrates in front of Yama.

‘So Ravikanth, lets hear a few words about yourself,’ says Chitragupta. The young man gets up and before uttering a word hands out the suitcase to Chitragupta.

‘What is this?’ asks a surprised Chitragupta.

‘A small gift from Mr. Ravikanth,’ says the young man.

‘Wait a minute, this Ravikanth fellow is supposed to be 84 years old according to my records and you seem to be hardly 30,’ exclaims Chitragupta.

‘My boss, Mr. Ravikanth, is a very good man with a very large heart. Please accept this token of gratitude from him’.

‘What are you doing around here with that suitcase? Where’s Ravikanth?,’ thunders Yama.

‘This man, whatever his name is, is not in our records. He doesn’t have your permission to die and come here. It is his boss who is supposed to die and be present here in front of you to be able to decide whether he deserves heaven or hell,’ says Chitragupta to Yama. The young man, tight lipped about his boss up till now, starts growing nervous as both Yama and Chitragupta are staring at him, looking for an answer. The young man musters courage and opens his mouth, ‘My boss is a very good man your Highness, very well respected for his deeds and service to humanity. He has worked tirelessly, throughout his life, for the upliftment of the downtrodden. He has built industries to give employment to the needy, hospitals to care for the sick, temples, churches and mosques to instill the belief of God in people. He lives for the people. Every breath he takes means good for humankind. So it is a humble request that I am making to his Highness. Please accept this gift and grant him a couple of more years in the service of mankind’.

Yama is very agitated. He roars at the young man, ‘How dare you question my authority? Who are you to decide who dies or when he dies? You have violated all parameters of decency for a mere earthling. Don’t you realise that at this very moment I can read out your death sentence for this ignominy?’

Yama suddenly realises that his threatening is of no use since the young man has already died and replaced Ravikanth. ‘In the first place how the hell did you get in here without my permission?’

Chitragupta looks at the clock and indicates to Yama that it’s time to wind up for the day. Yama being tired postpones the hearing to the next day.

That night, lying down in bed, Yama ponders over the events of the day. Ravikanth’s case keeps his mind occupied and perplexed. Up to now he was the last word when it came to the death of an earthling. He realises that this is the first time that his authority has been breached. The more he thinks about it the more he wonders at the situation. He just cannot believe what has happened and doesn’t want to accept that he is not infallible. Yama finally decides that he has to go to the root of the matter to find out how this has happened.

In the middle of the night, leaving his heavenly powers behind and dressed as a poor urbanite, Yama appears on earth. Having arrived in the middle of the night with no place to go, he takes shelter on a road side parapet under the open sky. Beautiful young apsaras, dressed in white silk and dazzling jewellery flock around him and start singing and dancing. One of them seems to take to him. He extends his hand as she comes closer. Suddenly he receives a kick on his back side. He’s startled and opens his eyes. There’s a man yelling at him to clear the place for him to hawk cigarettes and pan masala. Yama rubs his eyes in confusion and sits up. It’s six in the morning. The hawker demands Rs. 20 as Yama looks up aghast. He wonders when he bought cigarettes or pan masala from the hawker.

‘What for?’ Yama asks.

‘You have used my space to sleep through the night.’

Yama is agitated and wonders if these are the ways of the earth.

‘I don’t have any money with me,’ responds Yama.

‘Then you’ll have to work under me for a day to repay it.’ Yama tries hard to convince the hawker that he has an important job to attend to. But the hawker dosen’t want to listen. He leaves his tray behind with Yama.

‘I’ll be back in the evening, and you better have my Rs. 20 ready.’ Yama finds himself helpless and starts to hawk the cigarettes and pan masala.

People throng Yama for cigarettes, beedis, pan masala, supari and toffees. Being close to a court complex, a lot of advocates in black coats come around to have a cigarette and sip tea at the nearby tea stall. They discuss litigation, cases of theft, encroachment and so on. And where there are advocates, policemen are bound to be present. Sometime during the early evening a policeman comes by and demands his hafta. Yama cannot make much of why the policeman is beating his stick around him. He tries hard to decipher the policeman’s demands. A bystander nudges him and gestures. Yama still fails to understand. So the bystander comes close to his ear and murmurs what the policeman is asking for.

Yama bursts out, ‘Why! What for!’ The bystander again murmurs in Yama’s ear.

‘But what I have made has to go to the hawker who made me stand here and sell these things in the first place. I can’t give you money’, Yama tells the policeman.

This enrages the policeman. ‘How dare you refuse to pay my hafta! I can throw you in jail for this.’

Yama is stubborn and not one to care for the policeman’s threatening. After all, a policeman is no different from any other lowly mortal for Yama. The policeman, in a fit of rage, gives Yama’s tray a flying kick. Yama looks in disbelief at the contents of the tray strewn on the ground. People gather around to watch the scene and the policeman has a good laugh at Yama, who scrambles around on his knees to pick the scattered things.

‘Out with it,’ yells the policeman.

Yama with folded hands pleads with the policeman to let him go.

The tormentor persists. ‘I am asking you one last time. Give me Rs.30 or get ready to count bars’.

Yama seems helpless faced with the ways of life on earth. Though he might be the one who brings death, it doesn’t seem to help him here. He falls at the policeman’s feet and pleads with him. The policeman lifts Yama up by his collars.

‘Scoundrels like you should rot in jail,’ he declares and drags him to the nearest police station.

‘Look at this new character. It seems he’s entering jail for the first time. What’s your name I say,’ asks a jail mate.

‘Yama,’ comes a hesitant and soft reply.

They all burst into laughter. ‘You call yourself Yama. Ooooh! The God of death is here, better be scared all of you or else…’

Yama doesn’t know how to react. He settles himself down in a corner of the cell. He shares the cramped cell with four other inmates. The condition of the cell is appalling. He has not even been on earth for a day and he, one who can show hell to one and all, is seeing hell himself. But he has to hold on to his earthly self till he finds out about that Ravikanth fellow. Sitting in a corner he wonders how. A few minutes go by and the jail mate who made fun of him comes forward and introduces himself. ‘I am Dayananda and people call me Daya Dada. Don’t bother much friend, things will be all right very soon. Everybody feels a little down when put behind bars. And don’t take my making fun of you to heart, it was just in jest.’

Daya Dada prods him for the reason his being in jail, but Yama isn’t in a mood to talk. He lies down and broods over his situation. The other four inmates chatter late into the night. The inmates are woken up early in the morning and put to rigourous labour. Yama is left drained and tired. Late in the evening he feels an urge to talk to Daya.

‘I am looking for a fellow called Ravikant,’ Yama starts.

‘Give me more details and we can find out,’ says Daya.

‘He is supposed to be a big man with a lot of clout and I hear he does a lot of good to society around him.’

‘Why, what about him? What did he do to you?’ enquires Daya.

Yama can’t elaborate why he is looking for him. He doesn’t find it appropriate to tell the truth. After all, who would believe him if he revealed his identity? He gives a vague reason and drives the conversation towards finding details of who Ravikant might be and where he might be found. Daya being a clever thief gives equally vague answers to his questions.

Daya declares, ‘Whoever it is we can find out more details once we get out of here. So our main goal should be to see ourselves out of this place. Our Guruji will help us. He is a very large hearted man. One of these days Guruji’s men will pass by around here. I know most of the Guruji’s people, and of course, Guruji himself. I tried so hard to convince this inspector that I am Guruji’s person, but he wouldn’t budge. These people don’t know who I am and they have underestimated Guruji’s power.’ Yama for a moment wonders about the man he is praising and showing so much devotion towards. His eyes light up at the possibility of getting out of jail.

‘Who is this Guruji of yours,’ enquires Yama innocently.

‘You don’t know about Guruji? Arrey he is the most powerful man around here. Everything in our lives revolves around him. If you have his blessings, you can rule like a king. He is the eternal giver and care taker for people like you and me. But one thing you always have to remember is never to antagonise him. It means certain death.’

Yama sits and listens, all ears, to the praises that Daya showers on Guruji. He wants to meet Guruji and expresses his wish to Daya. ‘I am dying to meet Guruji. It will be a great favour if you can take me to his place.’

‘It isn’t that easy to meet him. He is a very busy man and keeps tight schedules,’ declares Daya.

‘However difficult it might be however late into the night it might be, I must meet him. My life would be futile if I don’t get a chance to meet the great Guruji.’

‘We will see. Let us first get out of this place, and then we can plan everything in detail. And that fellow you wanted to know about, we’ll dig out something about him also, don’t worry.’

A few days go by. Yama can’t stem his curiosity about Guruji, and Daya doesn’t tire telling tales and narrating the achievements of Guruji. Daya and Yama soon become good friends. Daya having exhausted all his praises of Guruji, gets down to a more personal level and narrates all his antisocial adventures. Yama nods enthusiastically and laughs to cheer him on.

On the eighth day after Yama’s arrival, two men visit the jail. Daya strains his ears to listen to what they are saying. He deduces that they are Govind and Nagesh, trusted lieutenants of Guruji. Daya at once yells out their names as loudly as he can. The two men rush to Daya, followed by the policemen.

‘Daya Dada’ yells out Govind and clutches Daya’s hands.

‘How can you be behind bars when we are around?’ asks Nagesh.

The policemen realise there has been a mistake. One constable pokes his junior with his stick, motioning him to let Daya out of the cell. Before they know it, Daya and Yama are on their way to Daya’s home.

Daya’s home is a mansion in a suburban area. It is a home that is warm and spacious. Yama admires the fine taste and choice of furnishings of a criminal like Daya. Daya’s servants show Yama into the guest room. He, for the first time on earth feels completely relaxed. For once all his thoughts about meeting Ravikant don’t bother him. Yama lies down on the sofa and soon is fast asleep. One of Daya’s servants comes knocking on the door in the evening and wakes Yama from a deep sleep. Over dinner they both discuss the plan for the next day. Yama reiterates his interest in meeting Guruji. Daya calls up Guruji’s secretary, Ganesh, for an appointment. They manage to get an appointment for darshan three days hence. Yama gets a royal treatment for the next two days. Daya’s servants are on their toes to attend to him. After days of bad food and worse conditions of the jail, Daya’s home is a welcome change. He feasts on delicacies and rests without a bother. It almost seems like it is his heavenly abode.

On the day of the appointment, Daya gets behind the wheel, two hours before the time of darshan. The ashram is 21 km away, and Daya doesn’t want to take chances with the heavy traffic. Yama’s excitement knows no bounds in anticipation of meeting the great Guruji. Yama soon discovers that Daya is a very rash driver with little concern for traffic rules. After some driving through small lanes they enter a highway. Daya speeds along the highway negotiating heavy oncoming traffic. At one junction he steps on the throttle just before the signal turns green, and the car takes off at high speed. A bike coming from the left takes a right turn, and they collide. The rider and his bike come under the car wheels and are dragged along for a distance. There is much blood and mangled metal, and a crowd gathers around. People start yelling at the occupants of the car and open the doors to pull out Daya and Yama. The unruly crowd shoves both of them around. They accuse Yama of cold blooded murder and start hitting the two. Yama, like Daya, finds himself helpless and at the mercy of the crowd. Yama is terrified. He had not imagined in his wildest dreams that he would one day be accused of killing a man.

Before long, Yama and Daya are in the nearest police station. The police interrogate them both. Based on a false account by someone in the crowd, the police believe that Yama was driving the car. They lodge an FIR against him. Yama is shattered. How on earth did he get himself into such a situation? His agony is writ large on his face. Daya reveals that he is Guruji’s man and they were on their way for a darshan at his ashram. After much commotion the police decide to take them to Guruji.

They all arrive at the ashram. Yama is terrified and shivering. As they enter the welcome arch of Guruji’s ashram, Yama’s eyes fall on a big name plate to the left of the arch which reads ‘Guruji Sri Ravikant Dayanath Swamyji.’ Could this Guruji be the same Ravikant who defied Yama by trying to bribe and bargain for a few more years of life? To clarify his doubt he asks Daya the age of Guruji. Eighty four or eighty five, says Daya. Yama’s eyes light up. He sees a ray of hope.

On entering the sanctorum of the asharam, Yama sees an old man sitting on an opulent throne. Guruji looks at Daya and says, ‘You are late. And what are the police doing here?’

A policeman narrates the whole incident to Guruji. After being quiet for a moment Guruji points at Yama and says, ‘Take him.’

Yama starts trembling as Daya is freed. Daya tries explaining that Yama is his friend, but nobody listens. Yama begs for a private audience with Guruji. ‘I have something very important to say to Guruji,’ screams Yama.

Guruji’s secretary Ganesh comes close and Yama whispers into his ear.

Ganesh goes close to Guruji and says in a low voice, ‘He says he is Yama from heaven without his heavenly powers. He has come to earth looking for you, after our person represented you in heaven to plead for a few more years of life. Looking at the work you are doing and having heard about all your good deeds on earth he wants to grant 10 more years of life for you. In return he pleads for his life on earth.’

Guruji smiles at Yama and waves his hand, and the police let him go.