Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Aditi's Kochi

Aditi's Kochi
An open short story

Aditi hails from a beautiful village called Dayalpur, which is in the Jalandhar district of Punjab. When she was studying for her first year under graduation in the Government College Tehang, her family had moved to Kochi in Kerala as her father Ranjit Singh wanted to takeover a wholesale store for electronic equipment spare-parts run by his eldest bother Teja Singh consequent on his death. Teja Singh was unmarried. During that time Ranjit Singh was a high school teacher in Dayalpur. Since Ranjit's elder brother was settled in Canada, it became Ranjit's sole discretion to decide on the future of Teja's business establishment, which was well known in north Kerala. Family and friends advised Ranjit against the closure of that very successful and profitable business. Thus after much deliberations, Ranjit decided to resign his teacher's job to takeover the business which was run with much passion by Teja. Another reason for Ranjit's decision was the strong bondage between them.

Her father's decision brought about the first major change in the life of Aditi, who was otherwise a very routine girl. She was a little bit introvert and very shy as well. Till then she had not much friends. Her mother Arati was her only intimate friend. Everyday, after returning from college, she used to help her mother Arati in cooking. She loved it very much, in fact. Cooking time in the evening was the occasion she shared the happenings on the day with her mother. The things happened in the college, things known about classmates, the observations she made in the class as well as during her to and fro travel for study etc.

During the railway journey from Jalandhar to New Delhi and New Delhi to **Kochi, the discomfort of an unexpected leaving of their own village, friends and relatives was very much evident on the faces of Ranjit Singh, Arati and Aditi. Among them the cooler person was Arati, because she did not have any anxiety about the new place to where they were traveling. For her, the world was limited to her husband and daughter. Therefore, she would be comfortable at any place as long as Ranjit and Aditi were with her. But the cases of Ranjit Singh and Aditi were different. The major reason for Ranjit's worry was his anxiety over the continued study of Aditi. Though he tried for a college admission through one of the friends of his deceased brother, it did not come out successful. For Aditi the case was further complicated one. She could not imagine a life out of Dayalpur, even though it was with her parents. Throughout their journey to Kochi she was anxiously thinking about the new people and things that she would have to face at Kochi.

In Kerala it was rainy season. After the train entered Kerala in Palakkad, the remaining three hours journey to Kochi was through torrential rain. When they reached Kochi, the downpour became further heavy and the railway yard looked like a river. However they saw the real river when they got out of the railway station. Teja's chief accountant Sukumara Pillai was waiting for them at the station. They started from Kochi South Railway Station in his car. The parking yard of the station was seen like a large pool. Sukumara Pillai's driver adventurously drove the vehicle to the portico where they were standing. When they opened the door, water rushed into the car. Some how they hurled themselves into the vehicle. When the car entered the main road, it was exactly like an overflowing river. The situation was further complicated by the bumper to bumper traffic. Their vehicle began to move like a snail.

It took three and half hours for them to travel ten kilometers to reach the old apartment that Teja Singh purchased fifteen years back. The place was a little bit away from the rushes of the city. Though it was only 6 pm, thick darkness had already spread allover because of the heavy rain. Therefore they could not watch the surroundings of their new home. However, once they entered the home, Aditi felt very comfortable. Contrary to her anxieties about the new place while they decided to move to Kochi, Aditi began to love the new home from that very first day onwards.

On the second day of their arrival, while looking around through the window of her bedroom, Aditi noticed a public library next door. She could see the long rows of book shelves in the library. It attracted her very much. The more she looked at the bookshelves, the more she got fascinated. Subsequently a wish budded in her mind to visit the library. In a couple of days she got admission in the grand old Maharaja's college in the city, which was five kilometers away from where they lived. Her new college had a very good library. But she never ventured to go into it. She never had the kind of fascination about the college library that she felt for the library near her home. One day while returning from college, she visited the library and obtained a membership form. On the very next day she submitted the filled in form and remitted the membership fee.

She felt an unexplainable tranquility of mind while entering into the members' area of the library for the first time. Some unseen forces within her guided her to the travelogue section of the library. From  there she pulled out two books, almost absentmindedly. One was a Switzerland Traveler's account of her Kochi tour and the other one was an Indian writer's travelogue on his maiden visit to Switzerland; an amazing coincidence!

Back at home she completed the first book on Switzerland in that night itself. She read the second book on the next night as well. Now she had two conflicting pictures. The Indian writer provided her a picturesque narration of the beauty of Switzerland, discipline and courtesy of its people. Whereas the Swiss writer made her highly confused with a complex mixture of observations. It narrated the common issues of the city including the traffic chaos. Whereas it also told readers about the friendly nature of the local people along with some habitual issues and the beauty of its backwater.

While completing the Swiss author's book in the second day late night, with her short familiarization with Kochi, she knew that all the things the Swiss traveler wrote was not correct. But she also knew that a lot of things had to improve. 'Anyway Kochi is going to become my permanent home. Therefore I should make it a better home' – Aditi decided. That thought inflamed in her. She kept on thinking about it till early morning and then she fell asleep.

As it was a college holiday she woke up only around nine in the morning. When she entered the kitchen, her mother had already completed the cooking of breakfast.

“This is injustice Aditi” - her mother told her with a smile. She was reminding her that on holidays she had to help her in the kitchen.

“Sorry Maa yesterday I slept only very late” - she kissed Arati.

While taking breakfast Aditi thought about her decisions in the previous night. Her thoughts even amazed her. 'My God! whatever things I am thinking about?...' - she asked herself. Still she decided to stick on to her decision to make Kochi a better place for her.

On her third visit to the library to return the books, she stood confused amidst the bookshelves for some time and then moved between the current affairs and travelogue sections. Finally she decided to read more travelogues on Kochi to get a clear understanding on how others looked at Kochi. On the subsequent days she shifted her attention to the historic, political and developmental aspects of Kochi. Thus, within a few days she became thorough about the Kochi related catalogue of the library. The library staff also became very friendly to her. It helped Aditi to spend long hours in the library. On some holidays, she spent the entire day time in the library. At times she read books by standing by the book shelves, some times at the reading room and some other times at the reference area. In short, she read more books while at library than at her home.

Now she knew that pollution, encroachment of open spaces by concrete jungles, criminal gangs, shabby businesses etc were the weeds that grow along with the growth of cities. “Kochi is growing very fast, if I can prevent the growth of weeds along with it, I can make it a better place...a city with much difference...” - She thought.

Her passion to know more about Kochi to serve it better, helped her to defeat her introvert and shy natures. She wanted to interact with more local people to know about their observations and anticipations about Kochi. She also wanted to cross-verify the findings of foreign travelogue authors. Perhaps, the first local person with whom she became more friendly was her classmate Riyas. She discussed with him what she learned about Kochi and requested his support to learn more about Kochi.

“It seems you have already read about Kochi more than me. Now it's time to experience Kochi by traveling and interacting with people” - Aditi received the suggestion of Riyas with much excitement.

“Exactly! I want to travel the length and breadth of Kochi to experience its traffic chaos in the first place” Hearing it Riyas laughed aloud and replied:

“We Kochi people seek ways to escape from the traffic chaos...here a Punjabi lioness wants to experience it...what should I say?”

“Riyas, I am not joking. I am serious.”

It was the beginning of her Kochi expeditions with a purpose. She planned travels using every chances she got.

Ranjit Singh and Arati viewed their only daughter's changes with much anxiety. After all, Kochi was a new place for them irrespective of the Kochi's Sikh community connections they had. However the genuine nature and clean characters of Riyas was a relief for them. Ranjit secretly advised Riyas to take particular care on Aditi as she was not used to that kinds of travels and interactions with public. Riyas consoled him by saying that “don't worry uncle, Aditi is a very intelligent and strong girl”. However on Sundays Ranjith did not allow her to roam-round. Instead he and Arati used to take her to the Gurudwara in Thevara wherein all the Sikh families in Kochi assembled on Sundays. Prayers and wonderful communion; Aditi also began to like it very much.

Aditi used the Sunday community gatherings to know the impressions of the Sikh community members about their Kochi life. She was gradually penetrating deep into the Kochi life. She began to see herself in varying roles of a proactive student, social worker, thinker, change agent and reformer. She and Riyas met and studied almost all kinds of people during their travels, the diversity of it was so amazing as it ranged from completely marginalized poor people to big business men. Those engagements quite naturally related her with student politics in the campus. By the time she completed her post graduation in Maharaja's college, her social involvements had grown out of student politics. During those days she felt as if being pulled towards some novel destination by unknown forces within her. However, as an individual who always maintained the simplicity of a Dayalpur girl, she could not believe that she really had the capabilities for the kind of social and political engagements she was making.

A thunderbolt awoke her from the daydream. She looked outside through the window. It was raining heavily outside similar to the day on which she arrived Kochi along with her parents. Ten years passed since then. Now Aditi became the Mayor of Kochi Municipal Corporation and Riyas worked as Secretary for the Corporation under her. Kochi had begun to change as she dreamed after reading the first two library books she had taken. Now she was very confident that she could make Kochi a better place, a different place than the regular cities. The same forces within her that made her a different girl during her studies in Maharaja's college still guided her forward.

During the nomination time for her candidature to the Municipal Corporation council, the district leader of her political party asked his state leader why should they project a Punjabi lady as Mayor candidate. To that question the state leader answered “Kochi is a Municipal Corporation in India and Aditi is a passionate Indian who has been working for the welfare of the Kochi people for long. This reason is more than enough, I hope”. The state leader also warned the district leader not to raise such stupid concerns again. Accidentally Aditi overheard the above conversation occurred in their party office. Immediately on hearing the state leader's comments, Aditi thought 'earlier I believed Dayalpur is three thousand kilometers away from Kochi. Now I feel that either Kochi is in Dayalpur or Dayalpur is in Kochi with no measurable distance'. That thought dramatically strengthened her determination to live for Kochi.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Transit Passenger

Picture attribution : commons.wikidedia.org
The Transit Passenger
An Open Short Story

I am a transit passenger. I landed at the terminal three of this airport just twenty minutes ago and I have to go to terminal five for my connection flight. I ensured I got my passport back from the emigration counter. At times people forget it at the counters. Many times I have witnessed the plight of such people. I have more than enough time in this airport, because the connection flight has been delayed for six hours. I have a twelve hours transit visa stamped in my passport, using that I can roam round the city. But the climate is too cold. Therefore I do not like to go out. I will roam round inside this very large airport. There is nothing in my hand bag other than a set of dress and a tab. Therefore I can freely walk. Moreover it will save me from the boredom of waiting long hours at the departure gate. Common, let us walk.

My mobile seems to be ringing. After the security check in the earlier airport I did not take it out of my handbag. I forgot to switch it off during the previous take off and landing as well. One minute, please, let me attend the call.

“Hello Risha, bolo, yes...yes...I landed here...but the next flight is got delayed for six hours….no problem, I wall walk around here…you naughty...I do not see much beautiful ladies around me...how is your fever? Are you okay now?...yea...yea...take rest. I will call you later”

It was my wife. Whenever I set out on a journey, she would request me to call her frequently. But most often I forget my promises to her and she calls me in time without any complaints and ego issues. Now also she calculated my flying time to this airport and called me in time, even though it was mid-night there. I feel sorry for her...more over I feel guilty as well. She was down with fever when I started from home. I should have cancelled this trip, but I always give preference to the commitments being given to others than my responsibilities to her. Every time I take decision that next time I would give top priority to the promises being given to Risha, just to breach it. I am really a bad husband! Let us move on.

This is a very busy airport, but we will not feel the rush. That spacious is this airport! Excellent design! The portraits fixed to these pillars are really amazing. Perhaps this is the peculiarity of this airport. Similarly the patterns of the floor tiles also very interesting. Now a days, in most of the airports, they use plane tiles. The plane tiles provide you the impression that the area is larger than its real size. But here the pattern tiles give a very different experience.

In the airports, I seldom spent time at the shops and cafeterias, instead I will sit or walk around watching and interacting with jovial and energetic people. In this middle age, enjoying their funny comments and watching their power boosted movements retain me in better energy levels than hiding myself in a book or leaning over my tab or smart phone. Yet another group which makes me refreshed is the small children who usually play around. Sorry, I am not forcing my interests upon you. You may have different interests.

I always feel these airport terminals are a different world. One reason for that is the kind of ambiance we are having here. The next important reason is the fact that once entered in the terminal, majority of the people adjust their normal behaviours. The manner in which they walk, talk, sit, drink... everything changes. Some people are different like day and night when they are outside the terminal and once they are inside it. Similarly the things that do not attract your attention while staked in a regular store outside, attract you more when its is displayed in an airport store. Of course, it also cost you much more for that appearance. I do not intend to say the world inside the airport is better than the world outside. The only thing I want to say is that the two environments are different.

Oh! we have already walked more than two kilometres and reached terminal four. Why should we walk straight to terminal five? Let us sit near that youngsters' group for some time. Good! The seats are very comfortable.

Last year also I reached this airport around the same time as a transit passenger. The stay was for exactly twelve hours. Not because the connection flight was late, but it was the regular schedule for it. But I cannot forget that day. You know why?

As on today, last time also I landed in terminal three. But my connection flight was from this terminal four. That time also Risha was down with fever, but she called me in time as she did today. I walked from the terminal three to here and sat near that gate fifteen. You can see fifteen straight in front where the sharp curve starts.

Immediately after sitting on a seat there, I noticed a lady who was sitting on a chair in the row of chairs facing me. Her head was swaying. Initially I thought she was sleepy. But when her eyes fell on me, she seemed to be seeking help. Now a days, it is not that easy to ask some one 'are you fine?' - the chances for you being misunderstood is very high. You know, in our daily life we practice to distrust people. Anyway, my mind demanded me to take the risk. I walked towards her and asked whether she was fine. Then with a painful smile she collapsed towards me and I cried for “Help...”

When the ambulance was moving in lightning speed to some hospital, I sat highly confused in it. I could not believe the series of events that pulled me into that. I was helping the security personnel in the terminal to take her to a stretcher and then move her to the airport healthcare unit. At the healthcare unit one officer asked for my passport and then her passport. The officer seemed to have misunderstood that we were travelling together. I showed my passport first and the officer verified the transit visa and returned it. When he repeatedly asked for her passport, instead of saying I did not know her, I searched her hand bag, which she was still holding tight to her, and found her passport and handed it over to the officer. He examined it and while returning it he told me “She needs immediate medical care at a hospital. We are arranging it. The hospital authorities will let you know further formalities”. Without waiting for my response, the officer instructed the health attenders there : “Take them to the ambulance, quick!”. Now there were only three of us in the ambulance, the driver, the unconscious lady and myself. The ambulance stopped at the emergency area of a large hospital of that unfamiliar city. Immediately the hospital attenders came with a stretcher and moved the lady to it. While I was helping them, the airport ambulance driver came to the rear and locked the door. When the two attenders and I pushed the stretcher into the hospital, at a glance, I saw the airport ambulance moving out of the hospital gate.

While the doctors were examining the lady, the nurse asked me to fill up a form. “Sorry, I don't know her. I am just a fellow passenger...” When I stood confused, the nurse noticed the lady's handbag and asked me to check it for her details. Then I remembered that I put her passport in my pocket after the examination at the airport healthcare unit. When I took it out of my pocket the nurse looked me with suspicion. Without caring it, I filled the form using the details from the passport. Her name was Fathima Sharma, an unusual name and more surprisingly she was from my own city! Then I got the reason why the airport official guessed we were travelling together. When the doctors completed the initial procedures the nurse briefed them about the issue. “She has severe viral fever and has to be admitted and we need a bystander. If he is not willing, how can we...”

“Don't worry doctor, I will be with her till we are able to contact her family” - immediately I said as if a reflex worked.

“We highly appreciate your greatness” - the doctor patted me on my shoulder with a sweet smile. While I paid the initial bills, the hospital attendants moved Fathima to the executive pay ward. The nurse connected IV fluid and asked me to watch Fathima throughout and call her if any difficulty is noticed as Fathima had very high temperature. Along with observing her, I had to do a lot of things.
First of all I contacted her family using the contact details in the passport. Her father Mohammed Ali Khan picked up the call. I briefed him of the situation. Some one from the family had to reach the hospital urgently because I could not stay more than twelve hours in that country with the transit visa. I enquired him whether they had some relatives or acquaintances in that country. Fortunately Fathima's cousin was working there. Her father connected me to him. But he was in the other end of the country and it would take five hours for him to reach the hospital. Still it was a very comfortable situation for me.

Actually I was travelling to facilitate a very important business seminar, which would commence in the next day morning for which only nine hours were remaining. Now there was no way to reach there in time because the only connection flight might had gone already. Therefore I had to contact the organizers to communicate my inability to turn up and request them to make alternative arrangements; a completely improper thing to request in that last hours. When I was about to contact the organizers, I saw her shivering heavily. Immediately I called for the nursing support. Nurse rushed into the room and removed the IV fluid and told me in high fever cases IV fluid may make the patient shivering. It took another thirty minutes for Fathima to return to the normal condition. Thereafter I called the organizers, though they were not at all happy about the development, however, since it was a case of helping a human life, they responded moderately and promised to find out another facilitator.

By the morning Fathima's cousin Shihab Muhammed arrived and he was a very gentle man. He thanked me and said a heartfelt sorry for the difficulties I faced. I told him it was my duty as a human being. He asked me about my next plan. Then I told him that I had to arrange a return ticket for that day. Then he said: “My younger brother is working with an airline company. Hopefully we can arrange a ticket without much issues”. Fortunately in one mobile call he was able to arrange the ticket and in a few minutes I got the e-ticket on my mobile.

During the entire stretch of my six hours return flying, I felt some kind of a discomfort. While stepping down from the flight at the airport in my city, I felt severe giddiness and darkness filled in my eyes. When I opened my eyes again after four hours, I saw Risha leaning over me, with her eyes filled, in a hospital room. I understood that I was also down with the similar kind of viral fever Fathima had. But Risha did not know that story.

“You got fever from me” Risha said in a sorrowful voice
“Don't worry. How are you now”
“Nothing serious. It seems to be a common cold, not the viral fever as we thought”

But I had severe viral fever. My entire body was aching. I had to spend seven days in the hospital. I was able to remain comfortable in the hospital only because Risha was near me with all support and soothing words. More than my body, my mind was aching then. I took little care for her when she was found feverish two days before. Then I thought my seminar was more important. But I was not able to attend it as well. The care I did not give to Risha was given to a strange lady. But Risha thought that I returned half way because of my illness. 'Shall I say her what really happened?' - many times I asked my self while in the hospital bed. But my mind was then so weak to boldly say Risha the things happened amidst my travel.

Am I boring you with my detailed narration of a personal experience? Look, what is happening there at the gate twelve? People gather over there...let us go and check.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On Community Colleges

For the past few months, I have been learning about Community Colleges, since I am mandated to establish community colleges as part of my present project. Community Colleges have different shapes and mandates in different parts of the world. I would like to share the concept of a community college in my mind to trigger some discussions on the topic for getting your invaluable inputs.

By the name itself, community colleges are mandated to place community at the central position. It also means that community participation is highly essential in managing community colleges. It will not work by just running an institution in favour of the community – such institutions will very soon become like any other regular academic institution as it is a passive approach.

How do community colleges differ from other academic institutions? I believe, community colleges should be able to cater to the learning needs of the local community for living in harmony and working for further prosperity. It would chiefly involve:

  1. Imparting knowledge and skills for ensuring a healthy and pleasant living environment in the community.
  2. Producing skilled persons to attend the various kinds of service needs of the community
  3. Promote entrepreneurship in the community (social entrepreneurship and self help groups?)
  4. Promote the functioning of local industries by supplying sufficient trained manpower.
  5. Capacitate the community members to grab the existing as well as emerging job opportunities locally as well as outside (4 and 5 has to be mutually complementary).

The needs of the community should be organically absorbed into the working strategies of the community colleges on real-time though active participation of the community in its management. Similarly, there should be substantial opportunity to use locally available expertise in transacting various courses. It will also help to strengthen the bondages within the community. 

Definitely it is a challenging mission as it is dynamic at every moment of its existence!

Please share your thoughts and pointers to successful models