Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Poem’s Worth

“Poetry won’t feed you! Study hard and get some education. Only that will see you through life” my father scowled at me. I was not of money earning age yet. I might have been about twelve at the time. Still, my father’s remark was justified as I think now, looking back across all these years, notwithstanding the fact that I had proved him wrong, just once.

I was in sixth grade then and my teacher had given me an assignment to write a poem on Chacha Nehru, the first prime minister of India who was said to love children. I had no firsthand experience of his love, of course, and did not know what to write. 14th November, Nehru’s birthday which is also celebrated as children’s day, was round the corner and so were my midterm exams. Sometime earlier that year, my teacher had caught me scribbling something in my notebook that was not even remotely related to whatever was going on in the class.

She was a strict teacher even by the standards prevailing in those days. She confiscated my notebook, made me stand up and dealt seven blows on my upturned palm with the stout wooden ruler. To this day, I have not discovered the logic behind the number of blows, but she religiously stuck to the code. Three for being late, five for being absent, seven for serious crimes like not doing your homework or writing poetry in classroom.

However, I was least bothered with my smarting palm on that particular day. I will never see my notebook again, I thought. What a great loss for the posterity! Along with the notebook, the world had lost about a dozen poems scribbled in it during that term. What fine poems they were! Six of them had been about my dog and the rest were on various subjects like sky, moon and sun. But the one that worried me most was about the girl in my class sitting on third bench on the right side of our classroom. Will the teacher read that poem and make the right connection? How many blows of the wooden ruler are reserved for such heinous crime? I wondered.

The next day, I was called into the staff room. “So you write poems don’t you?” I detected a hint of scorn in her voice. “Sorry Maa’m. Won’t do it again” I replied with a trembling voice. She laughed heartily “that’s okay lad. I want you to write a poem on Chacha Nehru. You will read it at the children’s day function in the school. Just don’t do it in the class. Understood?” Then she handed me my notebook.

That had been the reason for my father’s flair up of anger. For the past three days I had been doing nothing but trying to churn out a poem on a man I knew nothing about except that he wore a rose on his coat. I was never too good at studies and father was worried about my upcoming exams. With a lowly government job and a large family to feed, he was right too. Only education would make something of us six siblings, he often told us.

So I told father of my predicament. That night he gifted me a small book on Nehru. I read the book and finished the poem. I was embarrassed to read my poem at the function but my teacher and the fear of her wooden ruler saw me through the performance. I will never write poetry again, I committed to myself, if it means standing before two thousand schoolmates and reciting what I had written.

A year passed and I almost forgot about the incident. Once again the Children’s day loomed large on horizon. Once again I was called to staffroom and as I stood trembling before the teacher, she told me that this year there was a poetry contest on All India Radio. The subject, to my dismay, was of course Chacha Nehru. No! Not again! I won’t write another Nehru poem! I was about to exclaim when the teacher told me that she had already sent my last year’s poem for the contest and that it had been selected!

So I was going to recite the poem on radio. Millions will be listening to me! I was numb with fear. But my father was overjoyed. In that week, he made me recite the poem zillion times, showing me when to pause and so on. Finally I did it without any hassles. There were just a couple of people in the studio when they recorded my poem and the event passed without major hiccups.

Life returned to normal very quickly for the radio star poet. I was busy with the midterm exam of my seventh grade when the money order came. A whole fifty rupees! I didn’t know All India Radio paid such handsomely for a half-heartedly churned out poem on Chacha Nehru. That night I showed the money to my father and told him triumphantly, “poetry pays!”

Many ages later, my poetry collection was to be published. Father was very ill. I wanted to postpone the event but he insisted that I should go ahead with the already arranged program, even though he would not be able to attend it. He watched the video of the publishing function later that day, lying on his bed. Three days later my father passed away.

Rajendra Pradhan
17th June the Fathers’ Day

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Suleman was busy writing new code for his dream project. He could have delegated the job to any one of the three hundred and fifty software programmers in his company. If he wished, he could have assembled a team of the brightest among his staff and put a project manager over them to supervise the project. But this task he had chosen to do himself. This was the top secret project his company had managed to win from the international competition. He would not trust his employees to keep it secret.

Suleman paused for a break and ordered his secretary to send in some tea. He was tired now. Had been working all day long. As he waited for the cup of tea to arrive, Suleman thought about his childhood days. No one would have believed that Suleman would go ahead and start an IT company. He remembered the days when his father ran a small tea stall by the roadside in Mumbai and Suleman was the only and unpaid employee at the stall.

His uncle who lived in Dubai would visit them once a year and bring new clothes for Suleman. He had to make those clothes last the whole year. Suleman liked his uncle. The uncle would chide Suleman's father for making the boy work at the tea stall. Uncle wanted to take the boy with him to Dubai. But Suleman's mom would not have anything to do with it. "I do not want my child to become a gangster like your brother" she would say to Suleman's father.

Suleman remembered all this as he waited for his tea. "Why is it taking so long, Helen!" he barked into the intercom. "One moment Sir, I am just bringing it in, Sir" his secretary answered sweetly.

Suleman waited for Helen to enter his office. Good girl that, he thought. Nice curves and super efficient. He changed his secretaries twice a year. He believed in variety. A successful man like him has the right to indulge! Helen was his latest acquisition. Shall take her to Lonavala this weekend, he said to himself.

His mind drifted back to the project in hand. No one would guess the code I am thinking up, Suleman thought. Brilliant indeed! I am substituting commonly used words for other commonly used words! Sir means a pig in my code. Boss means dog. Madam means bitch. Yes means screw you... Suleman smiled at his own ingenuity.

"WHERE THE HELL IS THAT TEA I ASKED FOR!" a thunderous voice bellowed from the boss's cabin.

Suleman woke up from his daydream with a start. The big boss's secretary was glowering at him. "Come on you fool! What are you smiling at? Pour that tea into the cup. Boss wants his afternoon tea!" Helen, the secretary woman yelled at Suleman.

"Yes Madam" said Suleman, smiling inwardly as he meekly poured tea from his kettle and handed the cup to the curvy woman. He was still smiling when he reached his father's tea stall across the road.


© Rajendra Pradhan

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Cleansing Souls - on a contract

(this was written for an exercise on Shakespeare and Company Network of Writers. The picture was the clue given.)


Hellooo! Hellooo ! Who is this? array kaun hai bhai? Will you speak up a bit please? I can't hear a thing over this din. Achhaa! So it is you again. Array bhai I told you na, don't call me so often. I am on it, I told you so already. Rest assured old man! This constant nagging affects the business, you see. Yes yes, I know how important it is to you. It is my business too!

What? You want an interim report? What sort of a client you are? Do you think we are one of those market research companies that ask silly questions to a few dozen people and then declare a winner of the election in a constituency of million voters, based on their 'opinionpoll'? We don't give any report shiport. No no no! No means no. Your job will be done and you will know about it when it is finished.

What? You insist? What nerve indeed! Listen old man, you have not paid me any advance yet. If I don't do your job, I don't get paid. Simple as that! What? You know I am smoking a cigarette? So you have put a spy on me, haan? So what if I am doing that? Can't a man enjoy his fag in peace?

No. Smoking certainly does not affect my image. Our clan has always indulged in much more deadly stuff. What is a ciggy compared to ganja and charas, I ask. This is India man! Not some demented country like America, which is taken over by those anti tobacco lobbyists. So put your phone down and let me enjoy my smoke.


Oh, you again? You won't rest until you get your report? So get it then, what the hell! Of course, I can swear, whatever and however I like. Now shut up and listen. I don't have time. I see a bakra coming this way.

So far in this week, I have washed thirty souls. Cleaned them of all sins, and some money too. What is wrong in that? Money is maya. Money is bad. So what if I reduced their burden of maya a bit? I have to buy my king-size Gold Flakes. And pay for this phone too. Consider it as my perk if you will. Okay? Now listen. I have to achieve my target of hundred souls a week. Yes I know that! So don't you waste my time.

But I must tell you this. River Ganga is very polluted nowadays. Almost filthy I would say. I myself have stopped taking dips long back, don't you worry about me. And I carry pure bottled water in my kamandal. But these pilgrims, I have to wash their sins. That is our contract, no?

I perform the pooja for them standing on the bank while they take their holy dip in the filthy water. So be prepared. Better make some extra room up there. Many of these cleaned souls may be already on their way to your abode.

Now you have got your report. Put the phone down and let me go clean some more souls. Ah, that group seems nice. So many ladies! Soon theywill be all wet. Bye. See you later!


(c) Rajendra Pradhan