Sunday, May 26, 2013

Father and Daughter atop Mount Santis

Switzerland is a popular tourist destination and millions of travelers from all over the world visit this country every year.  It is one of the most peace loving countries and its policy of armed neutrality has stood the test of time. The country has not been in a state of war for the last two centuries, since 1815.  Thought it houses the second largest office of the United Nations, it joined United Nations only in 2002.  Important organizations like ILO, WHO, WTO, IOC (International Olympic committee) and UNHRC function from this country. Mother nature has smiled liberally on Switzerland and one of such bounties is the Swiss Alps mountain range.

Mount Santis is one of the mountains in the Swiss Alps and is about 80 kilometers from Zurich.  The scenic drive from Zurich to the foot of the mountain takes less than two hours.  There are two ways to reach the summit from the foot of the mountain; the adventurous can go hiking which takes four hours or by a cable car that takes ten minutes.  The cable car trip costs 45 Swiss Francs or 36 Euros.  The cable way was installed in 1935 and and the ten minute ride is thrilling and exciting.  The rise of the car in the last part to the 2502 meter (8209 feet) high mountain top is breath-taking and when one looks down from the cable car, the true emotion is fear!  (Pictures of the observatory given here is taken from the net).  There is an Observatory building at the top of the mountain with a 123 meter (403 feet) high transmitter mast.  This building also hosts a souvenir shop, cafeteria, restaurant and conference hall as well.  Visitors and skiers throng these places.  There is a Hotel by name "Berggasthaus" which literally means "Mountain Guest House".  This hotel is now run by the fifth generation of the promoters. The hotel takes up contracts for hosting marriage ceremonies, family celebrations, social functions and conferences.  The advantage of getting married here is that the couple need not spend money to reach Switzerland for a honeymoon since they are already there!

We reached the foot of the Mountain and stood in the line for cable car tickets.  It was then that I first spotted the daughter and her father.  The father was well past seventy years and the daughter was around thirty years of age.  He was apparently sick and his every step forward was with a lot of effort.  Strangely, he was holding a stick in his left hand and she was holding his right hand and helping along.  We reached the ticket window, bought our tickets and were led to the cable car straight away.  We were lucky to get a spot in front of the cable car cabin and got an unobstructed view of the surroundings as the car moved to the top of the mountain.  Once on top of the mountain, we made a round of the observatory building and tower and had a view of the surroundings.  The signboards indicated a view of the six countries in 360 degrees; Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France and Italy.  The weather changed dramatically in a few minutes and it suddenly became windy and misty.  We moved inside the restaurant for lunch.  They were there again; Daughter and her Father.

She helped him to sit on the chair, holding the chair in one hand and him in the other.  She opened her handbag and pulled out a small towel to wipe his face since he was sweating despite the cold weather outside.  Once he was comfortably seated, she moved to the food counter and got two trays of lunch.  A bib was taken out of the handbag and tied around his neck.  She encouraged him to eat the lunch and finished hers quickly.  Hard items were cut by her into pieces since he could not do it himself.  Sitting next to him she helped him to his lunch for the next half an hour.  There were long gaps between two spoonfuls and yet she did not take the easy way out by feeding him.  It did not look life father and daughter any more; it was rather a child and his mother.  Food particles stuck to his shirt despite the bib.  She patiently cleaned all that and led him slowly to the large glass window to explain the surrounding view.  When they came back to the table and he sat for the second time, he smiled at her.  It was his first sign of expression in an otherwise blank face.  She patted him on the back and waited for their turn to enter the cable car on the return journey.  We returned to the foot of the mountain in the same cable car.  She helped him to his seat in the car and drove away.

There was an argument the other day about loving daughters and sons.  Someone mentioned that daughters love their parents and always take care of them.  Another disagreed and said that sons too love their parents equally.  Someone else mentioned that the sons love their parents to the extent they are permitted to do so!  The discussion was probably more emotional than rational.  After recalling our encounter with the daughter and her father on Mount Santis, my vote would go to the daughters, right or wrong or whatever.                            

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Where is my Prize?

In order to encourage youngsters to do well in various activities, promises are made of giving a prize or a gift when the task is achieved.  Such promises are made with good intentions and motivates the child or youngster to achieve the set goal.  The value of the gift or prize in monetary terms may not be high, but the offer drives them to work harder and accomplish the proposed task.  In course of time, the one who offered the prize or gift may forget it, but the one motivated by the offer fondly remembers and looks forward to receiving it.

Fifty years ago, "School Day" functions were simple affairs and held without much fanfare.  There was no habit of conducting such functions in primary schools as is the practice now.  Pre-primary and kindergarten schools were not in existence then.  Middle schools (fifth to seventh or eighth year of education) were the earliest times when a student got the first taste of a celebration.  Inviting parents to such functions was also not done as most of the parents were illiterate and kept a distance from the academic activities.  There was no system of collecting contributions and spending money as most of the students and their parents could not contribute for organising and conducting a function.  This was all the more true in small centers.  The function would often be held below the tree in the school compound and in broad daylight.  There was no place for artificial decorations and multicolor electrical lights.  Many towns and villages did not even have electricity supply.  There were no expensive tailors designated for stitching special dresses for student activities like dance or plays.  A well-known person in the village or town would be invited as the chief guest.  One or two patriotic songs from a teacher or students represented cultural activities.  There would be speeches from the chief guest and head master.  The content of the speeches was also generally the same; to exhort the students to study well and get good marks in the forthcoming examination.

One such "Annual Day" function was held in the middle school of a small town some five decades ago.  A leading merchant of the town was invited as the chief guest.  He was respected for two reasons; his literary knowledge and philanthropy.  He owned a shop selling silverware and gold ornaments.  He was known to help poor students discreetly.  He was also liberal in giving donations for various social causes.  The annual day function went on as usual and when his turn came to speak, he urged the students to do well in the forthcoming examination.  The headmaster in his speech had informed that there will be a taluk level examination for the seventh standard students. The chief guest stated that the student securing the highest marks in the examination will be given a prize by him.  The function ended on a high note with this promise.

One of the students present in the function went to the head master on the next day.  He had a query to ask.  Was the proposed prize to be given to the student getting the highest marks in the entire taluk or was it for the student getting the highest marks from this school?  The head master had not applied his mind on this issue.  The boy's argument was that as the announcement was made in the function of this school, it should be for the student of this school.  The head master told the boy that he would inquire about it from the chief guest and clarify later.  The matter stood there.

The examinations concluded followed by the six weeks summer holidays.  The results arrived on the day of reopening of the school.  The boy who had raised the question had secured the first position for the school as well as for the taluk itself.  The issue was now clear for him; he was to get the prize.  As he had to move to a high school, he obtained the TC (transfer certificate) and got admitted there.  Whenever he passed in the vicinity of his old school, he would go to the head master and ask when the prize would be given away.  The head master would tell him that he had not yet heard from the merchant and would let the boy know in due course.  This went on for about six months.  The head master got fed up and finally told the boy that it was better for himself to go to the merchant and ask him.  The boy went near shop several times but did not have the courage to ask the elderly man.

Finally, one evening the boy went inside the shop and greeted the Seth sitting in his shop.  The Seth returned the greetings and asked the boy what he wanted to buy.  The boy reminded the merchant about the school day function and his promise to give a prize to a student securing the highest marks.  He also said that the Seth can verify from the head master about his securing the highest marks in the examination.  "No, I do not need to check your statement.  I trust your statement and your perseverance in waiting and coming to me.  I am glad you prevented me from failing in one of my duties.  You will get your prize tomorrow.  Come to the school tomorrow morning", he said.

When the boy went to the school next morning, Seth was siting with the head Master.  A silver cup with appropriate engraving on it was ready and the prize was given away after the morning prayer.  The Seth offered another prize for a student for the next year and smilingly said that he would not forget the offer this time!  The boy himself offered prizes to young students later on in his life and did not forget his offers either.