28 March 2009

The Meaning of Cheapness

"Which movie do we watch? Dark Knight or Hancock?"

"I love Will Smith!"

"Well, I hear this Joker guy's really good..."

"Fine then," Thomas said, "let's watch both of them."

"What! That's 70 Riyals! I'm not wasting that much money on movies!" Akash cried (you could make that out from the exclamation marks...)

I put my hand on my head, as in, just the palm part of it, like they do in the movies, and then shook - my head only, you know, not my whole body. Anyways, I did that, because I knew what would follow.

"God, you're such a cheapo!" Thomas declared. Here we go again, I thought....

I always had a predefined conception of a Cheapo. In the beginning, I thought a cheapo was someone who wore an over sized, stained shirt, with uncombed hair, grizzled beard, a toe sticking out of their left or right (maybe both) shoes. Then I went to school and learnt about Beggars.

After that, I thought a Cheapo was someone who'd walk into a shop, and exclaim when he sees the price tag of a Dolce & Gabbana jacket. Till date, that's been my view on the topic. Until I thought of Akash and Thomas.

These two buddies of mine are great to hang out with. But only if you knew how each of them behaved. Most of the time, I'd go with the two of them to the Mall, hoping to either enjoy Ice Skating, or catch a Movie. Akash would spend about half an hour wondering whether he'd spend his money on the skating, or the movie. Soon after that, Thomas, who'd have just finished watching a movie, would accompany Akash to the Ice Skating ring.

It's understandable ofcourse. Akash isnt the kind of guy who gets a thick wallet everytime he goes to the mall. Thomas, on the other hand, would never be able to guess how much money his wallet has.

The most painful example of Akash's money mindedness (or Cheapness, depending on how you look at it) came when we had to catch Transformers at the Multiplex. After getting out tickets, we reached the Snack Bar. "Three 7Ups'" Thomas said.

"12 Riyals," the lady replied.

Akash froze. He wasnt too bad at maths, so he figured out the cost of his 7Up Can. "Er, you know what, I think I'll buy my drink from the Supermarket downstairs."

Thomas, who wasnt too bright himself, asked incredulously. "The movie's going to start now. Why on earth would you want to buy your drink from the Supermarket. You can buy it from here right?"

"No, I cant, because, because I need Diet Coke."

Even the lady behind the counter raised her eyebrows, when Akash, a 5 foot 8 inch tall guy who weighed 61 kilos, said that. Thomas was too confused to ask anything more. I merely smiled. A can of soft drink from the Supermarket cost just 1 riyal.

I reached home, and wondered what the meaning of Cheapness was. Could Akash be called cheap? The lady behind the counter certainly would say so. Then something happened, which confused me even more.

Two weeks ago, we were at the theatre again. This time, Thomas's wallet felt considerably lighter. The reasons were clear to me ofcourse. His dad just had a huge pay cut, and the expenses at home were a little on the higher side. "Would you like something to drink?" The lady behind the Snack Bar counter asked.

"Yes, one 7Up," Thomas said, opening his wallet. There were just five riyals left. "Actually, I wont be needing the drink, thank you."

Akash looked around in surprise. So did I.

"Hey, why dont we walk down to the supermarket and get something to drink?" Thomas asked.

"Why?" Akash asked, looking surprised.

"I dont know. I'm in the mood for walking a little. Now, are we going or not?"

We got our drinks, and watched the movie. Still, my question wasnt solved. What is the Meaning of Cheapness? Was Thomas being Cheap, or just saving money? Then what's the limit for saving money and when does it turn into cheapness? Is there a standard for such stuff?

I dont know the answer. Why dont you tell me what you think?

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25 March 2009

He Came, He Taught, He Inspired

I still remember the first time he came into my class. The bell had just rung, and we were practicing our customary stretching, when the door swung open. Before I could see who had entered, a figure passed through the side of the class, reached the front, threw his pink purse onto the table, and pulled off the cap from his marker pen.

Then, just as half of us realized that a teacher had entered, he wrote down the subject title on the board. Turning around to survey us, he uttered, "Yes, Sit Down."

And that was it. For the next thirty four minutes, he taught us Geography. And then he left. This was the same teacher, who three years later, had the best farewell any teacher could ask for. Every student in senior school, as well as the parents of those children, knew who he was. And he was my - no, our - Geography Sir. Technically at least. But to most of us, he was a role model, an inspiration.

This Sir of mine, was an imposing figure, even physically. With a height of at least 6 feet 1 inch, and a hefty build, Sir could easily get the attention of a class. But it was not his physique that commanded so much respect. It was his personality. He was a someone whom you'd call, 'A Man of Principles'. As one of the other teachers once told me, "His Dad was in the Air Force, so he had a strict upbringing. He's got none of the vices: Drinking or Smoking."

Once he entered the class, we'd fall silent. No more cross talk, no more stretching. It was his class after all. And his way of teaching was smooth. He'd prepare notes for every day, research the topic thoroughly, and go about it in a systematic manner. In between the class, one of the smarter chaps would raise a doubt. Sir would pause, give a small smile, and then look towards another student. "Yes, Mohammed Musthafa, what do you think is the solution to the problem?"

He had a style of addressing students by the full name. Even those students whose full names we ourselves didn't know.

He was a magnificent House Teacher. For those of you who know Football well, he was like Jose Murinho or Sir Alex Ferguson. Cool, calm, and calculating. There's a story of how he engineered the victory of 2007 Athletic Meet. His House was trailing in the points tally, and everyone was worried. He simply shook his head, and told his relay teams. "Dont worry, if we win the relays, the Cup is ours".

And the Cup was theirs.

How can a teacher make such an impact on students? What does he have to do? Did Sir give us groundbreaking philosophies? Or change our minds in a revolutionary manner? No. He simply stood by his principles.

You could never flatter Sir, even if you had the most buttery tounge in school. You could never influence him either. He was one of the few teachers who never showed partiality, who never corrected papers based on the students who wrote them, who never insulted students and scarred their minds.

When it was announced that Sir would leave our school, the impact was amazing. The talks we had were long and filled with a sense of loss. Every grade, from the senior 10th, down to 7th, felt disappointed. Many of us, for the first time, thought of buying him farewell gifts. We even had a party for him. A students organized party, mind you.

I still remember how he addressed us for the last time from the school podium. Fortunately, I was standing behind the podium, facing the entire school. And after he spoke, I could see the expression on the faces of the students. Their applause was thunderous.

Parents talked about his departure, and about how sad they felt.

What did he leave behind?

A legacy perhaps.

A legacy, that declared him as the best teacher our school ever had. A legacy, that graced his House with two Athletic Meet Trophies. A legacy, that left behind an impression on all the students he ever taught.

People now ask me what I want to become, and most of the time I reply, "An Economist". It all started in Geography classes, when Sir would ask me if I had any new Economic theory to discuss. True, most of what I thought, was impractical and futile. Yet he listened. And he made me think.

This post, is not about how he made me feel. It's about how he made us feel. I'm sure there are dozens more who'd want to express themselves about their favorite teacher. Over to them now...

Please leave your comments, especially if you were a student of Sir as well. However, please don't mention the name. Addressing him as Sir itself will be enough. This is so that there wont be any problems later on. Hope you understand.

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16 March 2009

The Second Most Asked Question

Here's a trivia question. What do you think is the second most asked question to kids? The most asked question, is ofcourse, "What's your name?"

The second, according to me, is : What do you want to become when you grow up?

Think about it. Almost all of us have been asked this question as we grew up from childhood to teenage life, and beyond. Whether its an aunt, or a neighbour, or even a passerby admiring us for our cuteness. And sadly, this was the same question which my mother wanted an answer to.

"What are you going to become?" she demanded to know.

Considering the fact that I was a Commerce student, who hated anything to do with Science, as well as Maths, I thought my options were quite limited. Yet even I was wondering. What would I become?

"A CA?"

I hate it when casual onlookers try to throw in their advice. They almost never know what they're talking about, do they?

One day, I was so frustrated that I went for a game of Pool. Sadly, it looked like God wanted to me to fix my career options as soon as possible. My pool partner couldnt stop talking about his plans for Chemical Engineering after 12th. Sometimes it seems like life's conspiring against you, doesnt it?

But then something happened which changed everything. A young man, in his late 20's, asked us if he could join in for a game of Pool. He wasnt the best in the business, but since we werent aiming for the Championships ourselves, we let him join.

Soon the topic came to that of future planning. "Ah, this reminds me of a friend of my grand dad. Used to be a really good guy. Funny thing is, this guy's father wanted him to be an IAS officer. In fact, that was kind of like his dying wish. Well, the fellow didnt make it though. Instead, he had to join some scientific research organisation -"

"Too bad," my friend cut in. "That's what happens when you dont plan out things properly, right? Just imagine if that guy could've made it through the IAS exams..."

The young man merely smiled. "You sound like my friend's dad. He said the same thing to his son as well."

"What happened to his son?" I asked.

"Oh, the same sad story. Except this time, the dad wanted the son to be a doctor. Actually forced the poor chap to appear for the Medical Entrance Examination. And, what do you think would've happened? He failed. Finally the guy decided to leave to Mumbai to follow his own interests, rather than listen to his dad -"

"Pity, real pity. Today's generation, all are the same. Think they know what they're doing. All this following your dream business doesnt work out in actual life."

The young man fell silent, yet had a grin on his face. We began concentrating on the pool game. Surprisingly, it turned into a stiff competition between my friend and the young man. Towards the end though, my friend was in a comfortable lead. Just as the young man took aim to hit his cue ball, he continued the story.

"By the way, I forgot to tell you the names of the two people I was talking about. The first person's name is A.P. J. Abdul Kalam."

The cue ball hit a stripped yellow ball, and it rolled into a pocket.

Seeing the stunned look on our faces, he continued. "And the other person. Well, his name is Resul Pookutty." A sharp hit, and another ball went into the pocket.

"Is this...all true?" I asked, half amused and half suspicious.

"Yes, it's all true. Sure, both of them had plans for the future. Both of them grew up thinking of their careers. But it didnt work out the way they wanted it to, did it? And see where it took them. One became the Rocket Man of India, not to mention one of the best presidents ever. The other, well, he became the third Indian to win an Oscar. Not something their fathers had planned for them, surely."

I looked at the pool table. There was just the 8 ball left. The young man took his aim. It was an impossible shot.

"So why did I tell you this story? Simple. You can plan all you want, about your life ahead. But know that it's not you who decides the future, it's the person above. That doesn't mean you shouldn't bother learning you're lessons. All it means is, believe in fate."

He hit the cue ball hard. It spun, hitting the 8 ball at angle. The ball rolled, hit the side of the pocket, spun for a moment, and then fell into it.

"And who knows," the young man remarked, "sometimes, even the impossible might happen for you."

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10 March 2009

"Where Do Hamsters Come From?"

This post is partly rewritten from my previous post: The Bucket List. Dont mind if some of the themes discussed seem repetitive.

It was 1: 45 P.M., and all of us had just trudged back to the bus. Not surprisingly, it's wasnt an exceptionally good day at school. Too much homework in Physics and Chemistry. Tests in the other subjects. Most of us spent our time complaining about it all.

Slowly we turned towards the topic of farewell. Within a year, we would all be parting ways. Everything would change.

"What would you miss the most?" was the question we asked each other. "The bus journey to school." "Friends..." The list carried on for a while. And soon we fell silent, thinking about the future. The song Shadow of the Day by Linkin Park was playing on the mobile. A perfect nostalgic setting.

Suddenly I snapped out of it. "Guys, we need to do more fun stuff before we leave this place. Things like...like the Bucket List!"

Then I told them all about a scene in the movie The Bucket List, where Morgan Freeman is lying on a hospital bed, dying from Cancer. His friend Jack Nicholson is standing next to him. Morgan Freeman, at a time when he's face to face with death, cracks a joke which sends both of them into fits of laughter. They continue laughing hysterically, forgetting all their worries. And then Morgan Freeman asks Jack Nicholson for a pen. He takes out paper from his bag, and strikes out an item in his bucket list.

To Laugh Till I Cry.

Later, when we were a few minutes away from exiting the bus, I turned towards two of my good buddies, and said, "Guys, let's crack some lame jokes. Anyone got one?"

One of my friends had one ready. He took a short breath and asked: Where do Hamsters come from?

"Where do they come from?" The two of us asked.

"Hamsterdam!" It was one of the lamest jokes possible. Yet the three of us laughed. Laughed so hard, that we couldnt even give proper hi-fi's to each other. We laughed until our stomachs pained, and tears filled our eyes. It was one moment when I wished time would never change. But sadly, the day will come, when we'll be dressed in our suits and sarees, posing for our final pictures together. We will all tell how much we'll miss each other. But even on that day, when my friend turns around and asks, "Where do Hamsters come from?",
I'll have a smile on my face...

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08 March 2009

My Mother's Birthday

There I was, with my classmates, chatting away, when someone yelled out to us, "Happy Women's Day!"

The others paid no attention to the yelling. Even I turned my back. But then it struck me. "Shoot!"

"What happened?" some asked.

"Crap! Today's my mother's birthday!"

It's been like this for the past so many years. And almost all the time, I only remember my mother's birthday, because (thankfully) it falls on World Women's Day.

I went back home. And guess what? I forget all about the birthday. Till about 8 in the evening. That's when I looked at my Mom and said. "By the way, it's your birthday right?"

She nodded her head, partly surprised that I remembered after all. That was the end of it.

Then I came online. And checked Facebook. Visited Orkut. Quickly logged in and out of MSN. That's when it struck me. Wasnt something wrong here?

Imagine how you or I would have felt if no one wished us on our birthdays. In fact, most of us subconsiously keep a count of how many people wish us. We check our Walls, Scrapbooks, MSN Offliners, Gmail accounts, Mobile Sms's, Telephone calls...all because some years ago, we were born on that particular day.

What about my Mother? Her birthday, sad to say, was no different from any other day of her life. There's wasnt even anything special for dinner, since I wasnt feeling too well.

Sure, not all of us are as unabashedly shameless as I am. But some of you, atleast a handful, must be knowing what I'm talking about. It doesnt have to be Mom's birthday. It could be your Dad's as well. Or why not, even your Grandparents...

For sixteen years of my existence, never for once had I woken up, with the thought that today was my Mother's birthday. I felt ashamed. I promised myself that next year would be different.

But as I got up from the study table, I realised not everything has to wait. Leaning over, I hugged my mother, and gave her a kiss. Perhaps that would make her day a little more special....
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04 March 2009

One Year Ago...

One Year Ago,
Things were so different.
You were here back then,
And you were my best friend.

One Year Ago,
You'd call me everyday,
And wait till I pick up,
Or else you'd call again.

One Year Ago,
You'd mail me everyday,
Didnt matter if I replied or not,
You'd send them anyway.

One Year Ago,
You'd hear me talk about my school,
Laugh and even pretend,
As though you werent bored at all.

One Year Ago,
You'd cry at the thought,
Of leaving this place behind,
It used to scare you a lot...

One Year Agom
You declared you'd never see,
Anyone in your life again,
Who'd be half as good as me.

One Year Ago,
I really believed,
You meant every word,
That you said to me.

One Year Ago,
Things were so different.
You were here back then,
And you were my best friend...

This poem is inspired from a friend of mine, who's right now working in India. A few months ago, he told me about how he and his best friend turned into complete strangers, over the course of one year. In that one year, they both pursued their careers in different parts of the world, and slowly grew apart.

Nothing he told me has been put into this poem. But he did give me the idea for it. The rest is my own creation. If you're reading this, dude, thank you!

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01 March 2009

You Had A Bad Day?

It was one of those days when life seemed horrible in every possible way. About three months ago, I had a huge fight with a very close friend of mine. And like any other teenager, it affected me a lot. In fact, my entire day at school went bad. For some odd reason, there seemed to be no joy left in the world anymore.

As thought that wasnt enough, I got out of school, only to realise that my bus had left without me. How much more miserable could life get? Deciding that I needed to get home before I broke down and cried about my pitiful life, I walked towards the nearest bus stop.

That's where I met Irfan. He was taller, and more good looking than me. And with his bag slung across his shoulders, he looked like a college kid. We began talking, and soon I found myself ranting about life and all its problems. He was a patient listener. In fact, he was a passive listener. He smiled when he had to, shook his head sympathetically when he had to. For half an hour, that was all he did.

Then the bus arrived, and we both got on board. By now I felt as though I knew him my whole life. It's easier to make a friend when you're feeling horrible, I guess.

Then suddenly, I realised that I never asked him anything about himself.

"So, dude, tell me. How was your day?"

He smiled. The kind of smile that makes you wonder what the person is thinking. And then he told me how his day was.

Irfan was a 12th grader. Not a very studious 12th grader, unfortunately. In fact, the school in which he was studiying, had decided not to allow him to write the Boards. The only way he would be able to write, was if he passed his Physics Pre-Boards. That day was his Physics Pre-Board. Realising that he had just one shot at getting his school life in order, Irfan studied as hard as he could.

Things were looking quite positive that morning. He left his house, boarded the bus, and was revising his lessons. Just as he reached the school, though, things changed. Irfan realised that he had forgotten his Hall Ticket. Without that, he wouldnt be able to write his Preboards. There were just a few minutes left for the exam to begin. And the bus driver refused to take him back to his house.

Irfan ran the fastest he had ever run in his entire life. He ran through the streets, dodging passerbyes and crossing busy roads. With sweat making his shirt stick to his body, he ran all the way to his house, which you can understand is far(why else would he use a bus to get to school, right?).

He got the Hall Ticket, and ran all the way back as well. But well, as they say, all bad things happen together. He was 20 minutes late for the exam. What was more, with all the sudden rush of running across the city, Irfan couldnt seem to remember what he had learnt. That happens to many of us, right? The only difference is, we've never had to run across town for our hall tickets.

Irfan did badly in the exam. That's actually an understatement. He wasnt sure of passing. In fact, within an hour of submitting the paper, he was called to the Principal's office. Seems they had a jolly easy time correcting his paper. There was nothing much in it. And then came the bad news. Irfan wouldnt be given the Admit Card for his Boards. Without an Admit Card, he wouldnt be able to write his Board Exams. Without writing his Board Exams....well, there's nothing much he could do about his further studies.

"So what now?" I asked him after he had finished telling the story. "Well, I'll have to bring my parents to meet the Principal. If he allows, then I'll be able to write the exam. I'll have to wait till January 3rd. Six long days, till January 3rd."

The bus stopped, and Irfan got up. "Anyways dude, take care," he said as he got down. "And I hope everything turns out alright between you and your buddy. Cheer up!"

The bus moved again. I was the only remaining passenger. The bus driver called out, "Where to, young man?"

I couldnt hear him. I was thinking about my bad day. Suddenly, life didnt seem so miserable. Suddenly, I didnt feel as though I was a victim of faith. In fact, I said a silent prayer. A prayer for everything good in my life. And also a prayer for Irfan, who had to wait six days to know whether he could write his Boards, and save his future studies...

Note: This story was actually inspired from a real life incident. Though the name, incident and dialogues have been changed, the effect it had on me was real. Waiting to hear your comments...

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