The Chief and the Sentinel

You would have seen him,the man in khakhi with those little openings on the shirt some sewn up and others left for his body to breathe .The bottom of the pants rolled up carelessly.His gait tilting rightwards, a  twinkle in his  eyes and his left hand perpetually twirling his  salt -pepper mustache.His long strides are sometimes broken by his sentinel, who turns around as if to  ensure his Chief’s well being.Yesterday,I saw them by the temple, the limping dog pacing ahead and the Chief striding along royally.Suddenly, the dog stopped in front of a stranger and looked up at him. The man responded touching the dog on his forehead,caressing gently.Then as if ,waking up from a trance, the sentinel paced ahead,limping a little but with a certain purpose writ large on his face. The Chief in tattered khakhi followed.

They redefined luxury, these two,in the sheer confidence they exuded,oblivious to the interested glances of onlookers.

Chemmeen : A Review

Her eyes shone with a rare radiance. In spite of her rather modern attire,she looked demure.She was working in a bank, she said and was travelling to spend some time with her parents. She added softly that her husband would board the train at Chennai. Lost in her own world she then sat looking out of the window with a smile on her face and I returned to my book. Love that is young,unsullied by the weight of expectations or the thorns of accusations is a beautiful spectacle. I was reading Chemmeen, the incomparable Thakazhi classic.

Chemmeen traces the story of Karuthamma. Karuthamma who grows up with her childhood companion,Pareekutty, the son of a muslim trader on the sea shore and  how their casual flirtations cement into something more concrete and demanding.

Karuthamma’s parents cajole her to marry Palani, a skilled fisherman .Palani learns to love and accept Karuthamma in his life and she too has moved on, eager to prove herself an ideal wife.

Karuthamma’s father, Chembankunju and her mother,Chakki had borrowed  money from Pareekutty, who besotted by Karuthumma had given it to them, perhaps expecting something more in return.

Pareekutty falls into loss and debt soon after while Chembankunju prospers. Using his savings and what he had  borrowed from Pareekutty, Chembankunju manages to buy two Chundan Vallams or boats ,becoming richer and thus improving his social status. It is at this time that, the parents decide to  wed  Karuthamma to Palani. The guilt of her parents actions eats into Karuthamma who prevails upon her mother to return the money to Pareekutty before she is married off to Palani. Though Chakki is keen to do so, Chembankunju is now a changed man and refuses to part with his hard earned money.

Post her marriage, Karuthamma’s mother, falls sick suddenly and Chembankunju requests his daughter to stay back. Caught between the demands of her father and the pleadings of her mother,Karuthamma listens to her mother and accompanies her groom. Angered by Karuthamma’s decision, Chembankunju disowns his daughter, while she gathers herself to start a new life with Palani in a new village.

The fisher folk believe that any immorality among the fisher women would invite the wrath of the sea, the perils of which the fishermen deal with everyday. The story of Karuthamma’s rumored affair haunts the newly married couple bringing trouble to both Karuthamma and Palani.

Karuthamma’s constant assurances and promises eventually win Palani’s confidence and love. In the meanwhile, Chakki passes away and in her deathbed extracts a promise from Pareekutty that he should treat Karuthamma as his own sister and protect her.

Moved by Chakki’s authoritarian love , Pareekutty lands at Karuthamma’s place to inform her of Chakki’s death. Pareekutty’s visit kicks up new rumors and speculations about Karuthamma’s character.

Reversing fortunes,death of his beloved wife and the treachery of his new mistress drive Chembankunju mad. Panchami, his second  daughter deserts her father and comes to stay with Karuthamma.

On a fateful day when , Palani had decided  to venture out into the sea alone, Pareekutty and Karuthamma meet again. Their love is rekindled. Palani who had gone to the sea on his own, following the fisher folks indifference to him finds a huge shark and surges after it.

The next morning sees Pareekutty and Karuthamma  dead on the sea shore and at a distance lie the shark and Palani.

The story ends on a tragic note.

The cinematic version of Chemmeen, widely regarded a classic was  hugely successful. The novel itself has been translated into major languages in India and abroad. The local dialect, beliefs, ethos of the fisher folk is well captured by the novelist who himself had lived by the sea.

Whether it be Moby Dick,Mother Courage and Her Children or any other, the stories of sea and her children always manage to touch a raw nerve.

Are you indispensable? by Seth Godin, Not quite a review!

Linchpin is a book  for the ambitious, for those who fear getting lost in the crowd. It urges you to shed the safety of mediocrity and embrace the greatness. It asks you to ignore the lizard brain ,angry and afraid,asking you  to seek the comfort of being average. Quoting David Marnet,Godin says”Do not internalize the industrial are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being and if you have something to say, say it and think well of yourself while you are learning to say it better.”

Like scared civilians eager to do whatever a despot tells them,we give up our freedoms and responsibilities in exchange for the certainty that comes from being told what to do. For companies, he says there are only two choices. Win by being more ordinary, more  standard and  cheap.  Or win by being faster, more remarkable and more human.

Average is over, he says ominously. Leaders don’t get a map or a set of rules. Living life without a map requires a different attitude.It requires you to be a linchpin.In today’s world there is no space for those who merely show up. Today there is a lot more riding on bloggers, musicians, writers and others who don’t need anyone’s support or permission to do their thing. So a blogger named Brian Clark makes a fortune launching a new theme for WordPress. Today the only way to get what you’re worth is to stand out, to  exert emotional labor, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organisations and people care about.

I liked this particularly”Great  teachers are wonderful. They change lives. We need them. The problem is that most schools don’t like great teachers. They’re organised to stamp them out, bore them, bureaucratize them and make them average.”The new American Dream is not about being obedient or showing up , its about being remarkable , being generous , creating art , making judgement calls and connecting people and ideas.

I was going to write a review ,but there’s so much to quote that it seems impossible for me to write what I felt about the book. Its easier to just go with the author and try and not distort what he has said so beautifully.

Togetherness at Toastmasters

If you want to go fast, go alone ; if you want to go far, go together is a famous  African proverb. Some nations,in spite of  deep racial differences have been able to bring people together without much prodding,for causes that matter. And you think of India where people have been been divided along the lines of caste and creed for centuries. These barriers so embedded in the psyche of the average Indian prevents him from joining hands with others for a common cause. Yes, there is an occasional sense of unity, of togetherness, a common will like during a cricket match, or when dealing with a wily neighbour but that is mostly superficial. For instance, it would not occur for people in this part of the world to think of cleanliness as a common cause. The average Indian is happy that his house is clean , he has water , his children are going to school and he can afford to help himself out of difficulties. He is in general a family person. To him, himself, his family, then his clan,then those of his caste, then the state and then the country matters in that order.Now, there are exceptions but they are not many. I was wondering why no Indian would ever think of using the power of togetherness in overcoming the fear of public speaking, a rather individual skill.The power of togetherness is so crucial for the success of any movement, the Indian freedom struggle is a grand example. Neither the revival of sanskrit, nor  the success of Swach Bharat  can become a reality with out a sense of belonging.

Ralph C Smedley, started Toastmasters Club, a place that is meant solely for awakening yourself on your own. Yes, its interesting that Toastmasters provides a means to find your own moorings. Its not long since I have been a part of this club, but ever since I have been, I can’t seem to wait till it is the next meeting. Maybe it is a personal thing, maybe its because I rather love speaking on stage. But mostly there are people at toast masters because they want to shed their fear, fear of public speaking.  I do wish I had known about this earlier in my life, but then, all that happens in life, happens in good time. So to toastmasters,many cheers!!!

The Insecure Leader!!!

There he stood benign, kind,a broad smile gracing his face. He looked ready to jump to help you. He joked and shared an anecdote. There was nothing about him that suggested animosity. There was nothing of a villain about him or his manners or speech. It was natural for the other to expect utmost co-operation and support and guidance from him. So the other did just that. Waited for commands, suggestions and advice in good faith. He knew  that his well-wisher was gracious enough to allow him grow, prosper,flourish. This was not to be! He realized with a sudden shock. Unexpected as it was, it left him unprepared to face the consequences. How could he have perceived the fox in the coat of a sheep? How could he have seen that his well -wisher was so entangled in his own insecurities to be able to be his mentor , guide and captain? The situation was precarious. Here was a picture that looked perfect , the ruptures safely hidden,camouflaged,brushed under. But there they were, glaring , unmistakably true. He could not convince his friends or colleagues of what he faced,because it was clear to all that he was lucky to have a cool mentor, a caring and understanding one. Fight or flight??? what does the instinct suggest? Flight!!! It’s also true that this is the very nature of life. To surprise and shock you, to bring to face to face with realities which you would have dismissed as fantasies.

So, he decides to put up a fight. He consoles himself that its not the first time that he has come face to face with deception. He has it in him to face it and accept the verdict , whatever it maybe. So fight he will and win !!!