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Thursday, January 07, 2010

The decade ends; remembering poppy flowers, ghats, rock pythons and friends

In past few days, I had a sudden consciousness about losing or going past another decade, the third one in my life.

When you think voluntarily, the recollections become vivid, unpredictable and leave you with sighs and mild laughter depending on what situation has appeared from memory lane like calling up a rare video from YouTube.

It comes up in your mind all the time. While preparing a cup of pepper-mint special tea for yourself on a Sunday morning, while jogging inside the small park in your locality, while travelling in a jam-packed Mumbai suburban train or even while chewing a Kalkattia mitha paan from the local cigarette and paan vendor in posh south Mumbai after office hours are over.

The first memory I had was of the undergraduate university days in eastern Uttar Pradesh. My university consisted of large colonial academic structures, a whitewashed small Chapel and vast stretches of green farm land and Orchards spread over 600-acres on the banks of mighty Yamuna River.

The 100 year-old campus was secluded from the crowded Allahabad city, separated by an old dilapidated Naini bridge that officially expired in 1970, but was able to support five-million-strong city populace, hundreds of passenger trains and every logistics carrier on its way from the north down Madhya Pradesh.

The winter months of December 1999 and January 2000 were full of hope and hesitation thanks to the the next century will be India's optimism, world will end fear, Y2K buzz etc. Those were also the months of floriculture practical classes for us. We were given small plots to grow and identify flowers. There was faint love affair with the delicate flowers in an otherwise boring and secluded campus. Three flower patches -- gladiolus, carnation and poppy – were in my kitty.

I loved of all, the bulbous red and pink poppy flowers which belonged to the Papaver genera popularly known as the Oriental or Opium poppy . When I remember how I welcomed this decade and millennium, tossing poppy flowers on windy wintry evenings instantly appear on my mind.

The early years of the decade also remind me of the morning and evening Yoga classes in another University in neighouring city of Benares, the mindless but spiritual wanderings on hundreds of ghats of the 3000-year-old settlement, the occasional association with bhang and regular listening to BBC Radio to improve English pronunciation and soft old Bollywood songs on Vividh Bharti to get a nice sleep.

The long hours spent in the huge lighted central library of the university, where I was the only one reading The Economist, Times and The New Yorker always taunt my present day painful reading adventures on a bean bag in my small sub-urban apartment balcony in Mumbai.

The memory lane also took me to my early days with the Indian Express newspaper in Delhi. The support from the Police, the threat from a builder and the protection from another bigger builder while doing a particular story was interesting.

A year in solitude, when I dared to craft a dream livelihood intervention project in southern Jaharkhand districts, and failed against the system touches me till date. I still remember the early morning trips to impassable villages crossing torrential rivers and rock pythons with a passion to connect with village women and build self-help groups for them.

The passion that forced me to try for cheaper innovations for the villagers.... How aggressively I fought with the local bank employee, when he passed lewd comments against my clients a 27 year-old Oraon tribal woman, whom I called didi, and her 14 year old daughter Chini, when they had approached the bank for a loan to buy a goat to sustain their six member family. There were many haunting moments that come to the memory but I have no words or intention to shock myself or readers.

The later half of the decade showed me journalism of different shades. Investigative, page 3, human, colourful and business. I travelled across many parts of India, exposed to its diversity and unique blending propositions.

Living in two megacities -- Delhi, followed by Mumbai – has been less than fun but an immersing affair. Witnessing the mindless terror acts and being a victim of one left me a changed person, almost like a new born.

The greatest discovery of the decade for me, were friends, who stood by me at all costs involved. That was the most permanent and satisfying discovery precious than hitting crude oil blocks or gold mines or even being nominated for a Nobel.

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