Sunday, April 30, 2017

Don't Ask That Question, Again

The young bank manager was greatly influenced by his previous branch manager, who was his mentor. He had learnt from him about the theory of Hunting and Farming as tools for business development. He believed that building long term relationships was the key for his success as a branch manager. He had seen his mentor giving top priority for mixing with and talking to customers. He would make frequent rounds of the banking hall and satisfy himself that all the customers are being attended to promptly by his staff. He would keep aside all internal work and issues whenever he saw a customer or prospect walking into his branch. He would exchange pleasantries with them and enquire about the purpose of their visit to the branch. There would be some small talk about the happenings around, on some thing that would be of interest to the customer. The topic would differ with the age, gender and background of the customer. It was sports with some, literature with some others and politics with someone else. Music and price rise would also figure with some oneelse. If the customer appeared to have some extra time, he would invite him or her for a cup of tea in his cabin. His shrewd brain was always analyzing what the customer said and attempted to spot some business opportunity all the time.

The branch was located in an upcoming extension of the city and there were some educational institutions around. Many teachers and non-teaching staff had their accounts with the branch. Branch manager was particularly interested in this segment of customers as a good share of his branch's business came from these people. Their requirements were limited and often uncomplicated. They would recognize good service quickly and were also sensitive to delays and uncourteous behavior. Staff members were aware of this and attended to them promptly and efficiently.

The two lady teachers of a nearby school would always come to the branch together. It was so even if only one of them had some work at the bank. The other would just provide company to the one with some requirement. Their accounts were well maintained and transactions were also simple. Branch manager would greet them during their visits and they would reciprocate the gesture. 

One day both the teachers walked into the branch manager's cabin and took their seats before him. The elderly teacher took out two checks from her purse and handed them over to the branch manager. They were for substantial amounts and she told him that they were the fruits of her long service at the school, being retirement benefits. She wanted to deposit them in her account and desired to invest a part of them in fixed deposits in the branch. She said she would decide about investing the other part later on. Branch manager called out the dealing staff member and gave appropriate instructions. Tea was ordered and the teacher duo waited for preparation and handing over of the fixed deposit receipts. 

The branch manager had to keep them engaged during this period. "What are your children doing?" he asked. She replied that the elder one, a daughter, was working in a private company. The younger, a son, was pursuing his post graduation. "What is your husband doing?" was the next question that was asked as tea was brought in and placed before them.

The teacher got up from her chair abruptly and told him in a stern voice, "Don't ask that question, again". As she was walking out of the cabin, manager requested her to have tea and wait for the fixed deposit receipts. "I do not want tea and I will collect the fixed deposits later", she said and walked out of the cabin. The other teacher also followed her dutifully.

The manager was perplexed with the happenings and tried to gather his thoughts. The assistant manager who saw this from outside the manager's cabin was also flabbergast. There was nothing wrong with the question. It was a normal and usual question that is asked to many around us. There was no need for such response, he thought. What should be done next, he wondered. He decided to keep quiet for the time being.

The other teacher came to the branch alone after a couple of days. Manager tried to raise the issue with her. "It is not proper for me to say anything on this. She is not coming to the school as she has retired. She has also not spoken to me since. She may come to you to collect the fixed deposit receipts. Let us see", she said and left after her work was done.

The elderly teacher came to the branch after a few days. She seated herself before the manager. Manager was wondering how he should start the conversation. Before he could say something she herself started talking. "I am sorry about my behavior during my last visit. Your question is something that is often asked to me by many others. Unfortunately, that is one question I don't want to be asked. That is one question for which I have no answer", she said. The manager waited for a moment thinking as to what he should say. "I was young and beautiful and he was very handsome. He was a physical trainer in the same school. We fell in love and got married. We lived for five years together and they were the best days of my life. The daughter and son were born in that period and ours was a model family. But misfortune struck me suddenly. He left with his athletics team for participating in an event in a nearby city. He did not return from there. What happened to him is not known. All efforts were made to trace him. Nothing succeeded. Police closed the missing person case after sometime. I do not know whether he is alive or not. I have been living with this question since then. When you asked me that question, it touched a raw nerve in me and I walked off in a huff", she said and wiped the tears in her eye with her kerchief. 

She collected her deposit receipts and left. Her subsequent visits were rare, but as usual. 

There could be such instances when a seemingly innocuous question may bring a surprise response. But these are indeed rare and should not put us off. Talking to customers and looking for business opportunities should continue as always. Such instances provide an insight into the vagaries of life and its many dimensions. They help us to understand human nature and appreciate the joys and sufferings of people around us.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Pancharatram" and "Uttara Kaanda"

That was the 13th year after Yudhishtira lost his kingdom and all wealth, for the second time, in the game of dice due to the cunningness of Shakuni. They were banished to the forests to live there for 12 years. Having completed that part of the commitment, they were now untraceable during the year of living incognito. There was no trace of the five brothers and their one wife. How such mighty warriors and their beautiful wife vanished into thin air was indeed a question for which nobody had an answer. Duryodhana and Shakuni were very keen that they be traced so that they can be compelled to repeat the cycle of 12 plus one year all over again. All their efforts were in vain and they were totally disappointed.

Duryodhana was always jealous of the "Rajasuya Yaaga" performed by his cousin Yudhishtira. He wanted to do something similar or better and earn some good name for himself. He embarked on performing "Vaishnava Yagna" and succeeded in completing it. Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna and Subhadra represented Krishna and others in the Vaishnava Yagna. Abhimanyu and Subhadra had stayed with Krishna during the thirteen year period. Even though all kings were present during Duryodhana's yagna, Matsya King Virata was not present. At the end of the Yagna, it was customary to make an offering to an elderly and respected person as the last part of the ritual. Duryodhana decided that Guru Drona was the right person for this distinction. He requested Guru Drona to ask for anything he wants as Dakshina (sacred offering) to complete the rituals. Drona asks Duryodhana to return the kingdom and wealth to Pandavas. This is my Dakshina, he says. 

Shakuni is not for it. He wants to avoid this at any cost. He suggests to Duryodhana that he would do so if the whereabouts of Pandavas is found within five days. This is Pancharatram, meaning five days (nights). Just then a messenger comes and informs that King Virata could not come to the Yagna because someone killed the 100 Upakeechakas, brothers of his brother-in-law and chief of army, Keechaka. Bheeshma is now certain that this was done by none other than Bheema, one of the Pandava brothers. He urges Drona to accept the condition of "Pancharatram". Drona does so and Duryodhana agrees to return the Kingdom of Pandavas and all their wealth if their whereabouts are known in five days.

Kauravas decide to wage a war on Matsya desha, King Virata's country. They feel that it has now become weak due to the death of Keechaka and Upakeechakas. Abhimanyu who is present with them joins them in the fight and becomes a part of Kauravas army. Kauravas are defeated by Arjuna. In the meanwhile Kauravas come to know that a single man without weapons but bare hands lifts Abhimanyu from the battle field and takes him away. Bheeshma and Drona are now certain that such a warrior could be none other than Bheema.

King Virata offers his daughter Uttara in marriage to Arjuna. Arjuna says that she is like his daughter and hence can accept her as a bride for his son Abhimanyu. Kauravas also get invitation to attend the marriage function. 

The identify of Pandavas is now known within five days. Duryodhana honors his words given to his Guru Drona. He returns the kingdom and all wealth of the Pandavas. Mahabharata war is averted and Kauravas and Pandavas live happily thereafter! 

Rama has defeated Raavana in the epic war. Vibheeshana was crowned as king of Lanka. Sita was freed from her captivity. Rama does not want to accept her. She decides to immolate herself in the fire before the entire gathering. At that time Lakshmana intervenes and makes Rama accept her. Rama and Sita return to Ayodhya together, but life is never the same.

Rama once again decides to renounce Sita who is now in advanced state of pregnancy. Lakshmana was forced to take her to the forest on the pretext of visiting the Rishis there. He does his duty by taking her there and returns to Ayodhya alone. Sita finds refuge in Maharshi's Valmeeki's hermitage. Lava and Kusha are born. The son's take custody of the father's Ashwamedha horse. Rama does not want to fight the sons. Valmeeki tries to bring the family together. The sons join the father, but the wife does not. She insists that once renounced, the relation of husband and wife is done for ever. 

Rama becomes even weaker after returning to Ayodhya and cannot manage the affairs of the state satisfactorily. Lakshmana deserts him and goes away to live separately. Rama comes out as a very weak personality and extremely indecisive. He wants to retire from active life as he is no longer in control of things. The "Ramarajya" is nowhere to be seen. He goes to take bath in the river Sarayu one day and does not return. His body is later found stuck to a rock, downstream in the river. Whether it was an accidental death, suicide or natural drowning is not known. 

Those in charge of affairs want Sita to come to Ayodhya and lead the life of a widow. She does not want to that but does not show the will of living on on her own. She gets fully dressed up with all ornaments on and ends up in a deep pit in her farm land. Valmeeki checks and confirms the death. She has left the body on her own volition, he says.

Neither Rama not Sita find a satisfactory end. Nor do others for that matter. Other characters are very hazy and weak. Rama is weak and does not survive. Sita is strong and yet does not survive.

The first part above is a short summary of a play titled "Pancharatram" by the famous Sanskrit poet Bhasa. Many people are not aware of the existence of such a play with a very innovative idea. Bhasa lived much before Kalidasa and reference to his plays can be seen in Kalidasa's "Malavikagnimitra". Bhasa has taken the liberty of totally changing the plot created by Maharshi Veda Vyasa. His disruptive thinking has succeeded in averting an epic war and concluding with peace prevailing everywhere. Whatever may be the history or folktale, the idea is refreshing and brought out in a very novel fashion. We have to remember that this was probably as old as two thousand years ago!

The second part above is a short summary of a Kannada novel titled "Uttara Kaanda", published recentlyIts author is a highly respected and prolific writer Shri S L Bhyrappa. Shri Bhyrappa is known for his qualitative and quantitative contribution to Kannada Literature. He has been conferred upon the prestigious "Saraswati Sanman" as well. He is known for extensive and painstaking research before writing his novels. 

Uttara Kaanda is his latest novel, but disappoints many readers. Nearly forty years ago, he came up with a similar novel on Mahabharata, titled "Parva". The main idea behind both Parva and Uttara Kaanda is to look at the epics by removing all supernatural things and view them from what could be from common life as we see it. The idea itself is refreshing and indeed appreciable. Nevertheless, execution falters and the language used in some parts is of poor taste. It is true that adultery is indeed a part of life; but that does not mean that it should be glorified. Life does have use of words that are not proper. They are better left there and need not be brought out in print. 
When Parva was published nearly forty years ago, a review by well known critic T P Ashoka appeared in a kannada daily "Prajavani".  When I was reading it, a well known author who had just finished reading it was sitting near me. He asked me what I thought of the review. I said the review was good. He asked me to read the last line again. Its rough translation was "Parva as a novel is a success even in its failure". When I read it again loudly I understood its import fully. It is no surprise if someone else now writes that "Uttara Kaanda is a failure even in its failure".

I have no qualms if you do not agree with the above analysis. You are, after all, as much entitled to your opinion as I am to mine!