Sunday, August 24, 2008

I opened my latest bank statement and found enclosed the leaflet that usually tags along. It was a four page thing, some kind of marketing/mail order thing by the looks of it. I turned to the last page and read the Terms and Conditions. What I read stumped me. Not the terms nor the conditions, but the language used. There were about 20 points in all, each point as bewildering as the next. The first point went thus:

The facility (hereinafter referred to as “Facility”) is open to all residents of India holding a valid and existing *** Bank (hereinafter referred to as “Bank”) Credit Card (hereinafter referred to as “Card”) in good standing (hereinafter referred to as “Customer”)………

After five minutes I advanced to the second point:

The facility offers the customer the opportunity to purchase products offered solely by so-and-so-scheme (hereinafter referred to as “Products” and “So-and-so-scheme” respectively) listed in the Website (hereinafter referred to as “Website) annexed herewith for a price as set-out therein and the customer shall be required to make payments from their respective Card for the Products in the manner as provided therein.

Ten minutes and two points later:

Under the Facility, the Customer may place and order for any number of Products (hereinafter “Order”) from the Website. The payments by the Customer would be charged on their respective Card(s).

A quarter of an hour later:

In case of replacement of the Product, all the cost of the courier or any other charges in relation, thereto, would be borne by the Customer.

Hours later:

Octroi charges (as applicable)…..

I didn’t know what Octroi meant, so I looked it up and was informed “it is a local tax collected on various articles brought into a district for consumption.” And I had thought it had something to do with the number eight.

Much later:

The Facility shall be subject to usual force majeure events and on occurrence of any such event….

Majeure? I looked it up again.

"Force majeure (French for "greater force") is a common clause in contracts which essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as war, strike, riot, crime, act of God (e.g., flooding, earthquake) prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract."

What I understood from it all was, I could go to a certain website and buy the products listed there with my credit card at discounted prices (which I have no intention of doing so). Local taxes extra.

Well, my point is, why do banks and other financial institutions enjoy confusing us so much? Life is hard enough as it is without having our brains muddled by such mumbo-jumbo. The average man on the street will never understand that kind of flowery language. Give me clean simple language I can read and immediately understand, language that doesn’t require having to put an unnecessary strain on the gray cells.

I hereinafter rest my case.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

come to me

before my bones get old and feeble

before my eyes die out and shut me in

come while the sun is high in the sky

before darkness swallows me

before night comes to claim me

come while the candle is still burning

before it dies and hope fades

run to me while you still have strength in you

before your knees give out and

you have no one to run to

here I am waiting for you

standing here looking for you

won't you come to me, my love?

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Mechanics of Moving

Moving is such an unforgettable experience. You have to leave a house which you have grown to like, and move to someplace new, some new locality, sometimes with people you hardly know. Some people are lucky enough to have lived their whole lives in one house, while some move from town to town, sometimes to other countries, and there are people like me who move around a lot in one city.

Over the last four years I have lived in 10 different houses, and moved 11 times. That’s an average of four point eight months at one house. The shortest stay was two months at one house, and the longest was one and a half years. I have been kicked out because of unruly behavior (mostly loud music and too many people coming and going), parted ways with people due to irreconcilable differences, moved during the monsoon, rode in the back of a police truck, lived in a supposedly haunted house, and even swapped roommates at one point of time.

I never planned or wanted to be so nomadic, it just happened. I particularly remember one apartment into which we moved on the 30th of December. The next day being the New Year’s Eve, we invited some friends over, and at around midnight things get a little bit out of hand, what with some people singing, some shouting, and some just being weird. The neighbours couldn’t stand it anymore and pounded on our door, and a shouting match soon followed of which I was an active participant. (Same neighbor complained our cooking was too “smelly”) The party broke up shortly; and a couple of months later we moved.

I remember one year when we moved during the monsoon. All our stuff got wet, my books were curled, our mattresses got soaked and heavy, and clothes turned multicoloured. We had nothing to wear for a few days.

And there was this very big old house where we stayed for almost a year. In the beginning things were hunky dory, the landlord was very nice (as all landlords are). As time wore on, we discovered the plumbing was fitted before Tipu Sultan. The electricity meter was equally ancient and our bills were astronomical. Added to that was an eternal debate between us and the other tenants as to who will pay the water bill (it had been unpaid for a loooong time before we came into the picture) and nobody wanted to pay for something which they didn’t use. The landlord was completely useless, he would tell us to settle it between ourselves and make himself scarce. Finally we also left the house with the water bill still pending.

I remember one time me and my three girlfriends moved. Our new house was just a kilometer away, and we being cheapskates that we were didn’t want to spend money on auto and decided to walk. We loaded our stuff into an auto carrier, but the driver needed guidance. So what we did, I and the other older girl, we made the two younger girls sit on either side of the auto driver and sent them off. We had a dog then, and one of the girls carried it. Since they were younger than us they were in no position to argue, and so they drove off, all the while cursing us. They had never forgotten that episode, and still mentions it every time the subject of moving comes up in our conversations, and they had never forgiven us.

Moving day usually finds me waking up earlier than usual, and since stuff had to be packed would usually trot over to the nearest store to get some empty cartons. Sometimes somebody else would be sent . I would spend the whole day with a pair of scissors and a marker in my pockets and a roll of brown tape worn on my arm. The packing itself is another activity that requires much specialization and expertise. You cannot just grab whatever is within sight and stuff it inside a box. Breakables at one box, with a large “Breakables” written outside. I have so many books I usually label the boxes as per the shelf from which the books were removed (“Right Side Top”, “Middle-smaller ones” etc). And we usually have lots of stuff which we never use but didn’t have the heart to throw out, like the revolving lamp that we got at Christmas Gift Exchange, the statuette with the broken head that somebody had unsuccessfully glued back on, the picture frame that never held a picture in its lifetime, the magazines that were opened once and then stacked a foot high, etc etc. Clothes and personal stuff usually occupied a couple of suitcases, and there would be lots and lots of boxes, every box coming with its own label. “Plates & Glasses”, “Etc” “Stationery”, “Cassettes & CD’s”, etc. Mirrors are never packed; they are always carried in person. Kitchen utensils go inside buckets. Some boxes have moved so many times you have to wonder which is the right label, you would find “Textbooks” crossed out, and then “Shoes” written on a corner, yet another corner would be labeled “Etc”, and there you’d be, packing “Bibles & Albums” in it.

And then there was that time we moved to a nearby house, just a stone’s throw away. We moved in the evening, and before moving had cooked and eaten lunch. Some of the food was left over and since we didn’t want to or throw it away, carried the utensils in hand and walked to the new house. Stingy we were, or should I say practical?

On moving day we usually make lots of phone calls. The owner had to be called and notified, the broker summoned, friends called over to help. Arguments always happen, almost always with the auto drivers. The new house had to be cleaned, and unpacking takes forever. At the end of the day we would fell into bed, exhausted and drained. And a couple of months later we would do it all over again.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Story of Birth

It was a hot day in May. The sun shone fiercely, blinding the Pearly Gates and all the inhabitants within with its dazzling brilliance. The angels and archangels and all the other sundry heavenly messengers flapped themselves with their wings to cool themselves. God was bored. He had answered all the prayers, performed all the necessary miracles, saved all the lost souls and was looking for ways to beat the heat. He looked down at the world, scanned it west to east, and found nothing peculiarly interesting or extraordinarily unordinary. Suddenly His attention was caught by a small family of four. The father was posted in a remote village and had taken his wife and two children with him. The wife was young and homesick, having travelled so far away from her mother and siblings, whose welfare she constantly worried about. The children, aged four and two, were too young and too preoccupied with making friends and discovering the place to worry about anything else. Looking at the mother, God understood her loneliness and the empty days she tried to fill with housework and other trivial stuff. He decided to give her another child."This is the perfect way to spend the summer, a project I always enjoy."

To the archangel Michael He said: You are my most trusted deputy, so you will protect this baby and see to it that no harm comes to it or its mother. You will bestow upon it all the powers that it can possibly possess, be it mental or physical or emotional powers.

To Gabriel He said: You will give this baby the ability to love, teach it tolerance and gratitude.

To Jophiel He said: Illuminate this little one with wisdom and perception.

To Raphael He said: Teach this child how to heal itself, how to be truthful, devoted to the right things and most importantly, how to be peaceful.

Everyone had questions.
Michael: Lord, is it going to be a boy or a girl?
Gabriel: Will it be special, gifted, or just a normal child?
Jophiel: Will it be beautiful, ugly, or ordinary?
Raphael: Will it be loved?

But it is the Lord's prerogative not to let anyone know His plans, so all these questions were answered with: You will know when it is time to know.

May went by in a steamrolling wave of heat and humidity. June was dry and never ending, although by the second half of the month the days had become a bit shorter.

The Lord summoned Michael and asked him, “Michael, how are we progressing with the baby project?”

Michael replied,” Lord, there is famine in Africa, tension between India and China, and America is as hopeless as ever. I just don’t have the time to think about a baby right now.”
So be it, said the Lord.

July heralded the monsoons in some part of the world, and summer had just begun in others, while for some it was the middle of winter. By the time August rolled around, flood and intense heat had already disrupted the normal flow of life. People were homeless, starving, and dying of unmentionable diseases. The angel Gabriel was too preoccupied he couldn’t find time for our family of four. He looked at them, saw that they were fed, clothed and sheltered, and then turned his attention to the less fortunate families.

The Lord was happy with his good work.

September found Jophiel visiting the North Pole to check on Santa Claus, handing him a long list of gifts for every child in the world. The factories had to be inspected, the working conditions of the elves, the quality of gifts manufactured, the health of the reindeers, the mechanics of the sleighs, and a thousand other little things kept Jophiel busy well into October.

It was winter, and our little family had just moved to the city, the father having been transferred there. They were lucky enough to find a house just adjacent to an aunt’s house. Things were fine.

When November announced its arrival with snow and biting cold, it also announced the beginning of the busiest time of the year at the heavenly abode. Raphael was extra busy that year. A huge percentage of the elves had suddenly quit the job and migrated to the South Pole without giving any notice. With Christmas looming near and the workload piling up, replacements had to be found quickly and without delay. The remaining elves had gone on strike, demanding less working hours with an increase in pay. On top of which Santa had decided to retire and a replacement had to be found who would be willing to join as soon as Christmas got over. There were interviews to be conducted, trainings to be arranged, meetings held with the Elves Union, and there was also the farewell party for Santa. Raphael barely got any sleep, having to work around the clock, rushing here and there, while the mail from children kept pouring in, asking for toys and gifts and other things.

By some miracle the angels were able to get through the Christmas season without any major mishaps, disasters or unfortunate incidents. When January made its appearance a huge sigh of relief came from the heavens. Things were back to normal, well, almost normal. The baby project was still pending.

The Lord summoned his four deputies.
“Angels,” He said, “It’s been seven months since we started the baby project, and we haven’t made much progress. In another two months from now it will be time for it to be delivered to its parents, who are eagerly waiting for its arrival. Don’t you think it’s about time we started tightening our wings and devote all our time and energy on making this baby the perfect baby it should be?"

So the angels got to work, with extreme dedication and concern. In a flash, January was over.

February of that year was uncharacteristically dry. There was water shortage everywhere, and our little family suffered greatly. Water had to be fetched from the well which was quite far, and it was only with the help of neighbours and relatives that our family was able to survive. They were grateful to the Lord for His help and support.

On the last week of February, the mother experienced some labour pains. A taxi was summoned, and a mad dash to the hospital was made. Once at the hospital, the pains stopped, the doctors pronounced it as a false alarm, and they were sent home.

The next week was spent in a state of edgy expectation and nervousness. Every upset stomach was examined and closely observed, every abnormal pain scrutinized lest it be another false alarm. On Saturday morning the mother was hit by a fresh wave of pain, and another dash to the hospital was duly executed. The doctor examined her and announced it was the real thing, that the baby was coming any minute. The minutes became hours, and the mother bravely endured every contraction, every jolt of pain, patiently waiting for her baby to arrive.

The next day, on a beautiful Sunday morning, the baby was born.The angels peered down from the heavens and looked at the proud mother with the baby.
Michael said: It’s a girl!!
Gabriel smiled and said: She’s special!!
Jophiel sang: And beautiful!!
Raphael was pleased: She will be greatly loved!!

And so I was born.

The angels crowded around the Lord, awestruck and fascinated, humbled by the knowledge that He works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.