Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Who would have thought?

Churchgate Station then...
That Churchgate Station in South Bombay (now Mumbai) looked like this over a hundred years ago. In fact, it hardly looked like a railway station; it looked more like the entrance to a market where you could buy fish and vegetables.

The station, which got its name from Church Gate Street (now Veer Nariman Road), extended up to Colaba until 1931, the year it was terminated at Churchgate, as it is today. It was part of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway which is now called Western Railway and which I have been using for the past thirty-five years.


...and now.
When I saw the vintage picture, the first thing I noticed were the men in white shirts and pants—the sleeves rolled up above the elbow and the pants rolled up in a single pleat, a distinctive fashion in those days. My father wore these in 1950s & 1960s. Then, I think, it went out of fashion to be replaced by gaudy shirts and flares and bellbottoms with absurdly wide hems that you could sweep the floor with. I didn't have my father’s dress sense for I wore them for a brief while.

Today, the new Churchgate Station building is an eyesore, a metal and glass monstrosity that I refuse to look at whenever I enter and exit the terminal. Even its previous avatar, a yellow-painted concrete building, looked more inviting.


It feels nice to be able to identify with the generation that belonged to my parents and their parents. They suffered more hardships than we do now and yet they led simple and happy lives. Sometimes it feels like I have been there. I think of their era as a generation bridge rather than as a generation gap.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Good things of life

Colette (to Linguini): “How do you tell how good bread is without tasting it? Not the smell, not the look, but the ‘sound’ of the crust. Listen (she presses the bread between her hands).

Colette: “Oh, symphony of crackle. Only great bread sound this way.”

— From ‘Ratatouille,’ 2007


© Prashant C. Trikannad
This morning, the trains and streets in South Mumbai were relatively empty, maybe because of a crucial world cup cricket match between Australia and India where cricket is like religion. Fortunately, I have no interest in the game. As you can see, I had the footpath all to myself. I made my way from Marine Lines station to an Irani restaurant at Dhobi Talao close to my office and had Brun Pav-Maska and tea laced with cream I hadn’t asked for.

‘Brun Pav’ or ‘Kadak Pav’ is hard bread, a cousin of the French baguette, and ‘Maska’ is butter in Hindi. It is usually had with a morning cup of 
Chai or tea.

© Prashant C. Trikannad
The Brun Pav was a tease; it was no bigger than a saucer. It was squarish rather than round and not very crusty. Not like the ones I ate in my childhood, in the home of my maternal grandparents. Those were the size of cheese plates, and scrumptious and filling. Yes, even bread can be tasty, especially Kadak Pav, provided it is crusty, dripping with melted butter, and had with tea.

Brun Pav-Maska, as the term goes, is a popular morning delicacy in Mumbai and one of the few good things of life that’s still around.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

‘Chess is life’

The Chess Game by Sofonisba Anguissola.
© Wikimedia Commons
American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, who wrested the world championship crown from Boris Spassky of Russia in 1972, famously said, “Chess is life.” I couldn't agree more. Chess is the greatest game or sport ever invented. It’s beautiful and brilliant, and very addictive. It has everything—action, mystery, and adventure, strategy and intelligence, conspiracy and murder, courage and cowardice, and loyalty and betrayal. A game of chess is both entertaining and educating; you can have fun on the board even as you learn tactics in management. All it requires is oodles of patience, nerves of steel, and a real passion for the game.

I have been playing chess for more than forty years and I have never been bored. If anything, I have only derived more pleasure from the game and grown wiser to its infinite possibilities. It is unfortunate that so few people play this extraordinary game today. One-on-one physical chess is almost unheard of. I don’t know what I’d have done if it hadn't been for computer and online chess. Playing the game with a complete stranger in some remote corner of the world is the next best thing to a face-to-face encounter.

Over the years I have discovered something else—chess is a terrific stress reliever; an excellent remedy for a tired mind and body.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Two sides of the same coin

Ardent followers of one spiritual teacher often face a guilt-ridden dilemma when they follow or listen to the teachings of another teacher. They feel they’re doing great disservice to their own spiritual preceptor.

One such anguished spiritual aspirant went up to his master and cried, “I have accepted you as my guide and teacher and while I chant the holy name you have given me, I also worship another who is considered a divine incarnation. Am I doing wrong?”

The spiritual teacher smiled at him and said soothingly, “Why do you think I and he are different? Look upon us as two sides of the same coin. To worship one is to worship the other. Take it that the name you have been given is also included in other names. All you need is purity of heart and strength of faith.” His doubt cleared, the young man went away happily.

Sometimes, the answers to our seemingly difficult questions are right in front of us.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thank god for comic strips!

© Universal Uclick
Paramahansa Yogananda has been quoted as saying, to paraphrase the renowned Indian yogi, the worst thing that we can do as soon as we wake up in the morning is read the newspaper for nothing is more depressing than the front page. My advice: sip your cup of tea, or coffee, and turn to the comics page, or what's left of it, at least in Indian newspapers. The size and typeface of the strips is so small now that you require a magnifying glass to read them, leave alone enjoy them. 

Nonetheless, start your day with a smile, if not laughter, for modern comic strips are seldom funny. They are no patch on old comic strips like Agatha Crumm, Hagar the Horrible, Fred Basset, Andy Capp, Blondie, Peanuts, Mutt & Jeff, B.C., Dennis the Menace, and Beetle Bailey.

I have been reading comic strips out of newspapers since childhood. Now I mostly read them online. In between, I glance at the headlines, which is enough to suck the joy out of your beautiful morning and the rest of your day.

Identity Crisis

I think I'm having an identity crisis. A couple of days ago, I went to the bank to submit my internet banking form. The officer looked at it and frowned. She picked up my proof of identity and compared it with the name on my form.

“They don’t match,” she said.

“What?”

“Who is Laughing Jackass? A friend of yours?

“I have no idea.”

“Then why did you mention it on your form?” She turned the form around so I could see it. “Have you changed your name? In case you have, we’ll require your new proof of ID.”

“But I haven’t changed my name,” I insisted. “I'm perfectly happy with it. In fact, I'm proud of my name.”

“It doesn't seem like it, does it?” She leaned across her desk and peered at me over her glasses. I think she was trying to figure out if I looked like a donkey or a kookaburra. She reminded me of my math teacher. I backed away. She picked up something from a dusty file and slammed it in front of me. “Here’s a new form. When you make up your mind, fill it up and bring it back to me.”

“Okay,” I scowled at her and walked out of the bank. As I made my way back to the office I heard a ping on my smartphone. I looked at the screen and slapped my forehead.

‘Laughing Jackass’ was my eBay login.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Meditation

Every time I sit to meditate, I remember what the mystics say, "Witness the flow of your mind. Let your thoughts come and go." Thoughts come and go, all right, only to be replaced by newer and more robust thoughts. They are a formidable lot, these thoughts of ours. They play musical chairs in our head. This morning, for instance, try as I might, I couldn't remain immune to my thoughts, particularly one nagging thought that just wouldn't go away—"what shall I post on Fb today?" I found myself very eager to answer the question.

I know the mystics mean well but sometimes I think they mystify more than simplify matters of faith and spiritual practice. Becoming a silent spectator to our thoughts, leave alone reaching a state of thoughtlessness, takes years and years of practice and perseverance, but I believe it can be done.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A little piece of light

This morning I read an interesting article titled “A little piece of light” by the late writer and essayist, Thomas Sugrue, in The Reader’s Digest New Pocket Companion. Sugrue, himself the victim of a crippling disease that left him bedridden or bound to a wheelchair for several years, writes about a brave woman he knew when he was a kid.

Married to an inept man and with children prone to accident and disease, she had “more troubles than anyone else in town.” But she never showed it. She told Sugrue that she managed her difficult life with a smile on her face and a spring in her step with the aid of a “secret helper” whom she met through her mother.

Actually, the secret helper is a scene in her kitchen where, as a small girl, she and her mother had a cup of tea together, where for a few moments they forgot all their troubles. It was enough to infuse her with courage and fortitude to see her through the day, one day at a time, every day of her life.


The woman told Sugrue, “That is my secret helper—that scene in the kitchen. Whenever I feel discouraged or very tired, I think of it, and I begin to laugh, and then to cry a little—it’s good to cry now and then—and I sit down and make myself a cup of tea. When it’s finished I’m read to pull my apron tight and get on with what needs to be done.”

I thought it was a beautiful story. We all have a secret helper, even if most of us don’t know who or what it is—a wonderful memory, or a little piece of light, that guides us through life.

I particularly liked the following lines from Sugrue’s article:

“Memory has always been man’s true friend. Yet in our age of psychology, memory is regarded as a hiding place for the hurts of childhood, a jungle in which the psychologist hunts for wolves of fear and snakes of anxiety.”

And, “Actually, most of any man’s memory is a record of his mediocre efforts to be a better and more admirable human being. There are painful incidents he does not want to face; but there are also, if he looks for them, happy memories.”