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Being a better human – Two stories – Part 2

Keep Walking!

That smile… it’s tantalizing.. you can’t tell for sure if it’s there or not. But you could feel it in his eyes, the crinkle around the edges, the sparkle in them. It could light up a room, instant therapy for the blues. He could listen for hours, to your happiness, to your sorrow, to your rants, and would never patronize, never advice… but would empathize better than anyone I knew. He would make you feel like he could instantly share in anything you felt, and make it his own.

We called him Walker, and he was one of the nicest guys I knew. Intensely emotional, he was very passionate about family, love and work – in that order. I knew him as a charming colleague I met at a tough job, when both of us were going through a tough time at work. He had a disarming way of dealing with difficult people and situations, and was super-calm when walking through fire, always smiling. Four colleagues who exited one company when it folded up due to management sucking it dry and leaving it’s employees in the lurch, bonded over that tragedy in such a way that we ended up friends for life. Four colleagues who I nicknamed FEW KIDS, an anagram formed from our initials, four colleagues who got together again at what looked like a dream reboot to our careers, but one that also went downhill quite quickly, for the second time. Four friends, 3 of whom had our anniversaries on successive days, not the same year though. Happy or sad, we drank together, nearly every night… always ending up singing the same songs, and sometimes with people from other tables in the pubs and bars we crawled out of. That was his magic, he could get into an argument with somebody, and before the night was out, you would catch them drunk, hugging each other like lifelong friends without even exchanging names. But you would remember him… he was that kind of person. His stories about his father, his mother, his love for his wife and his children, ranged from hilarious to tear-jerking, but there was no drama, no exaggeration in them. Just the sincere truth… the truth of a man for whom family meant everything… absolutely everything. I remember thinking more than once, that when I had kids, I wanted to be “this” kind of father, and I have no shame in admitting I am that kind of parent today. I learnt from him how to be your wife’s lover and friend forever, how to be your kid’s superhero – the picture-perfect family guy – not the movie-hero kind, but the one you want to be in real life. I remember a guy stopping his vehicle in the middle of the road late at night in Pune so he could walk up to him, and ask him if he could touch his feet. This, because he refused to accept fees from the guy for his airline flight crew training course months ago, due to his difficult financial situation. And when he could afford to pay back the fees, Walker asked him to pay it forward and help anybody else he felt like helping. I was amazed, this dude was a rockstar! I didn’t think this kind of thing happened to normal people. We used to teasingly use the slogan “Keep Walking” with him, because he believed in it, and lived up to his name, always smiling!

That same smile, on this balmy May afternoon almost exactly 7 years ago. I still couldn’t guess if that smile was there or not… I wanted to find out from the sparkle in his eyes, but his eyes were closed. His face was beatific, even with all those gory scars, lying in his casket, dead. Those eyes would never open again, I would never know about that smile again. The feeling of immense sadness that was threatening to envelop me since the moment several hours and several hundred kilometres ago, when I first heard about his passing, now took over completely. But somehow I still wasn’t crying, not until I walked past him to the two smaller caskets beside him, holding what was most precious to him, his two children, also dead. Then, when I saw those faces – and there is nothing more painful than to see death in a child’s face – I needed something to hold on to, to stay on my feet. The next few hours went by in a blur, with most of us wondering how something like this had come to pass, as we watched the most devoted father, husband and son we knew, and one of our most treasured friends, being buried along with his two lovely children. I remember not even being able to face his widowed wife that evening, running away from that scene like running would wake me up, but this wasn’t a nightmare. It was real life, at its cruelest, in its most horrifying manifestation -violent death. A reality that was caused by one man… a man called Shyam Ugale.

A “normal” evening

On their way back to Pune from Kolhapur after attending an event, the Walker family of four, and four other relatives – a cousin, her father-in-law and two daughters had stopped at a well known highway restaurant for dinner. One of those classic highway restaurants with a smallish wall separating a garden from the road. Waiting outside the restaurant, most members of the family were standing in and around the garden, when an out of control truck crashed right through the wall into the garden and mowed them all down. Five of them were run over, and most of them died instantly of fatal external and internal injuries. The vehicle did not stop until it hit the building, the driver was grabbed by the crowd, and despite the inescapable smell and obvious influence of alcohol, managed to escape when the crowd moved in to handle the five bloodied bodies lying around. Somehow, with the help of the owner of the restaurant and other nearby establishments, they managed to get them to hospital, where five of them were declared dead and one comatose. The wife and mother, who was a few metres away when all this happened, could do nothing but watch everything and everybody that mattered to her crumble and die before her eyes.

The driver, Shyam Ugale, after sleeping his alcohol off, “surrendered” two days later. With some help, a story of falling asleep at the wheel was agreed upon and spun together, and eventually hardly even warming a prison bench, Mr. Ugale went home to live happily with his family, where he hopefully still wakes up in a cold sweat every once in a while, thinking about the lives he destroyed. How many such Shyams continue to prowl the roads today, would you know? I don’t… what I do know is there are hundreds of hit-and-run killings every month, and all those killers are still behind the wheels driving all around us. Feel safe now? Yes, I know… and that is why I have an opinion about it.

It still hurts to have a friend snatched away like that, but I can’t even imagine what that woman went through every day since that night after her entire family was taken from her, right before her eyes. Can you?

So in our anger at all the unpunished murderers driving happily around, let’s all come together and crucify Salman Khan, shall we? Oh, you’ve moved on to Maggi, you say, I must be slowing down… my apologies. Must be age catching up on me…

What would you do?

A friend asked me a couple of weeks ago…

“What would you do if you had to go to court accused of drunk driving and negligence behind the wheel, adding up to culpable homicide not amounting to murder? What would you do in this country, where the ordinary citizen may spend years waiting for the case to go to trial, and then decades to reach judgement… when you could hire an “accused” and some “witnesses” for a few lakhs, who would happily stand in for you and go through the motions, since nobody will go to prison anyway… when you could pay off the police to “settle the matter”?”

What would you do? Really…

I personally know at least two people who have been in this situation and will never see the inside of a courtroom… Is that fair? I don’t know, but it shakes my faith in my pre-conceived notions around natural justice. And this is why my opinion and my judgement on the American Express bakery accident case is not, and will never be black and white.

Life isn’t black and white. Life is, and is always going to be a shade of grey. So, although it’s nice to jump on the “desktop activist” bandwagon and take a side in the online shaming process, until the next cause comes along, I will desist, thank you. Because like I said in the beginning, I will continue to strive towards being a better human being. And one of the ways I intend to do this, is by not judging a fellow human absolutely or impulsively, irrespective of the hurt, or the sadness that comes along with it. But I will never forget…

As a dear friend would say, drive carefully, and keep walking!

Life is… a few moments to live for, with years in between…

I am used to travel; lots of it, actually! I guess being in the profession that I am in, as a SAP and Learning Expert, and for as long as I have been in it, I should expect that… Last week was the second unscheduled week away from home and family, and I couldn’t see a company sponsored fly-back coming any time soon(first signs of recession?!). So I decided, after days of retrospection, to buy myself a weekend home… and started crawling around the familiar travel websites, looking for the cheapest option to fly back home on Friday night… this time on somebody’s recommendation, I looked at ezeego1.co.in. If you ask me, all these travel websites feel the same to me, but there was one thing about this website that I liked, that they displayed the total fare for a flight instead of telling me that a flight cost Rs.1000 only, and only when I clicked on one of the obscure links around it, I would find out that the added taxes(?!) would total up to quadruple the original cost! Seeing the total fare accelerated my selection time…

I quickly found a flight that suited my schedule and paid for it, only to be told after the transaction concluded, that “E-Ticket cannot be printed”… I called the airline and was told that they had not received payment from the travel website and as such, my booking was unconfirmed. The woman on the line politely indicated, that I might have to pay for my ticket (again?!) at the airport in case the payment was not received in the few hours before the flight… ok, long story short, Ezeego1 assured me that I would receive a confirmed e-ticket on email and I did, after which I thought it prudent to check with the airline… so I called Air-India to check, and I found a female voice on the other side who was extremely uncomfortable speaking either Hindi or English… I managed to extract the information I needed, and after an uncomfortable silence, the lady said “OK, what do you want?”, and I realized why we’re still a third world country and hung up… I thought there would have been a selection process for airline staff who need to answer calls from international travellers, maybe I was wrong, or perhaps our national carrier has set the bar too low!

Got to the airport after a 2 hour drive through Friday-night-madness-traffic in Bangalore… and had an uneventful trip home, finally arriving at my in-laws’ doorstep at 12:15 AM, to see my wife and daughter waiting for me downstairs…

Throughout my 14 month old stint as a father, I have never been away from my daughter for more than a few days, and the insecurity that I might return from a trip to see my daughter wonder, even for a second, who I was… kept me from accepting longer tours of duty…  I must admit, that the same paranoid thoughts were going through my mind when I saw her that night, but her beaming smile told me everything I needed to know… Mau was thrilled that Pa was back…

Minutes later, I saw my firstborn walk on her own, for the first time…

…and suddenly, I didn’t know why I even had second thoughts about coming back, I would never have forgiven myself for missing this. But thankfully that was not how it was meant to be, and I guess that’s what the essence of life is, a few glorious moments that make life worth living, even if there is absolute frustration and boredom surrounding those moments… I would have flown around the world twice over… hell, I would have walked all the way, if I knew I was going to watch my beautiful sunbeam take her few tentative steps into my arms on her own little two feet…

One of the worst bosses I have ever worked for… once said, “Family is everything”. He’d be glad to know that I agree…

Time Flies when you’re having fun…

That should read: MY time flies when YOU‘re having fun… I’m back to the other side of the country after an ultra-eventful weekend back home. I wrote before I left about how pleased I was about this happening… On my return here, however, I don’t really know if it was really worth it… I hardly found enough time to do anything I wanted. This morning I woke up really really early at home wondering where I was… and for the first time in my life, praying that I didn’t have to go. It’s strange because I’m the kind of person who’d happily hop onto any kind of transport to travel anywhere as long as I got to be on my own… That was a few months ago…

Now, after 12 flights in one month, across the length and the breadth of the subcontinent, and this coming in a year that has seen me travel over 30 times to as many as 6 countries. That should keep any wanderer satisfied, shouldn’t it? Well, among the million things I’m feeling right now, satisfied is not one of the adjectives I would use to describe any one of them. Better words are tired, drawn, burnt-out, irritable, irritating, confused, exhausted… HOMESICK etc. etc…

I hate that I had to add HOMESICK to the list above… at one stage in my life, I would have thought it extremely insulting for anyone to have asked me if I was homesick… I pride myself on my fierce independence and my insatiable wanderlust. I still think of myself as a nomad, traveling always excites me… but today, after a 2 hour 30 minute flight across the country on Business Class, I feel deprived.

It’s not that when I’m back home or close to home, life is always perfect. Well it’s anything but. Still, for some strange reason, sometimes, I
feel good about traveling only for the high that I associate with coming back, something like the after-effects of abstinence…

Maybe it’s got something to do with how work has taken over most parts of my life, maybe it’s got something to do with repetition, monotony, but I still find my work fun… it’s a passion for me, and I think it doesn’t look like that’s going to change very soon…

It almost makes me cry when I think about things I haven’t done in a long time… hosting a party at home with friends in whose company you
tend to forget the artificiality of real life, walk through the clouds watching the raindrops forming around you and falling so gently that you get wet without even feeling it, take my bike out and ride at 125kmph with the wind blowing in my hair and the adrenaline pumping in my veins… watch a movie that makes me laugh… or cry with somebody I want to laugh or cry with… wake up at 12 in the afternoon only to go back to sleep for another hour and not end up feeling guilty about it… the list is endless…

No, I’m not depressed… although I know this post makes it difficult to believe… No I’m not depressed, I know, trust me, I’ve been depressed before and I know how it feels…

I’m determined… to dream about things I love doing, and things I would love to do… I’m even more determined to chase those dreams till they become real.

And I think one of the many things that will help me is to decide to do what I want to do more often than those things that I have to do…

Till then, back to work…

[Disclaimer: This is one of the posts from my first ever blog, that is now defunct. Though amateur, and in some cases silly, I did want to retain an archive of everything I have ever written in the blogosphere. Thank you for your patience]