Sunday, January 18, 2015

WHEN I REST, I AM NO MORE


February 10th 2012

The early morning cool breeze was caressing my hair and face due to my proximity to the window. The NEKRTC bus was whirring its way to Hyderabad and I found myself lucky enough to have secured a window seat. For the first time since joining my workplace I had applied leave for reasons other than family work and health issues. The Hyderabad ‘Sulekha’ bloggers meet was the only thing playing on my mind that morning. I was excited and nervous at the same time.
The senior bloggers, especially Mr. Raghava Reddy also known as the Pitamaha of Sulekha, had organized the meet at the prestigious Nizam club with the intention of interacting with fellow bloggers in flesh and blood and discussing ways for hassle free blogging. Mr. Reddy was an 84 year old retired IPS officer with several impressive medals and honors to his credit. President’s medals for meritorious service and distinguished service in the police department were the hall marks of his career.
The fact that he was ailing from deadly cancer was well known in the Sulekha blogging community. The image of a frail body moving with external support, a sadistic face staring at the harsh inevitable reality of life and a low on confidence mind, finding out ways to keep itself busy appeared before my eyes whenever I thought of Mr. Reddy. I had confirmed my participation via phone.
Aged 26, I was one of the youngest bloggers of the popular portal who scribbled stories on teenage life. Never once did I bother to cross check the grammar, punctuation or spellings in my blogs nor was I interested in learning the language skills necessary for an excellent write up. But I was passionate towards writing and I genuinely felt that there was a literary spark in me waiting for the appropriate fuel and ammunition to transform into a volcano of creativity.
The esteemed and versatile writers, most of them grey haired, encouraged me despite my mediocre writing skills, at times even going to the extent of comparing my writings with that of Wodehouse and Jeffrey Archer. Mr. Reddy had also posted encouraging remarks on few of my posts. The fact that I was going to meet most of the blogging stalwarts in reality, after years of interaction through blog comments and messenger services, was naturally making me nervous. Would anyone even recognize me? Even if they did identify, would I be treated like one among them or would I feel inferior in the elite company? Should I skip the meet by making an excuse? What if nobody gives a damn to my presence? Several such uncontrolled thoughts and boiling doubts made my mind their haven during the journey which took nearly 3 hours. I closed my eyes, hoping for a revival of my thought process.
The hustle and bustle of the plying vehicles, especially the disturbing sound of intense honking woke up me. Hyderabad city’s traffic appeared to be the same since my early childhood. Only that the atmosphere was more polluted now and the vehicles had received a facelift with several high end models plying the flyovers and the crowded city roads. Making way through the chaotic traffic, the heavy weight vehicle finally reached the popular club in the center of the city. I stepped out of it in a hurry. There, in front of me, stood one of the age old monuments of Hyderabad in its full glory. I had been there occasionally with my family for dinner, thanks to my uncle who was a life member of the club. This was the first occasion when I was alone, visiting the place for a completely different reason. Slowly, I began walking towards the large main entrance of the white building. Very few vehicles were seen in the parking lot since it was a weekday. As I reached the main arch of the club, a board placed outside indicated that a bloggers meet was being held in one of the conference rooms. The security personnel guided me inside the ancient monument. Only the elite and reputed people of the city could afford to be a member of the prestigious club of the Nizam era.
I walked up the gigantic wooden stairs; an open arch led me inside the conference room which was buzzing with activity. A number of fellow bloggers had already arrived and the stage was being set for the memorable meet. Experienced blogger Mr. Subbu introduced me to some of the fellow bloggers present there. Many more were still expected. A number of them rarely visited my profile or read my blogs but knew about my presence on the blogging portal were surprised to find that I was much younger than they had anticipated.
A popular blogger Dr. Shantala from Bangalore was a fellow Kannadiga and she appeared excited on finding me at the event. I was privileged to meet the esteemed blogger who was also a gynecologist and made frequent appearances on pregnancy related discussions on Udaya and other popular Kannada channels. The warmth with which she greeted me ensured that my nervousness went for a toss. Whatever little remained was sure to evaporate in the mean time as I would be introduced to other distinguished dignitaries.
I was honored to meet another fellow Kannadiga in Mr. S N Shivshanker, a rare intellectual and well informed personality with impeccable English. He had worked for Intelligence Bureau but came across as a simple person. His humble and friendly nature further boosted my confidence as I felt at ease with myself. There were several accomplished personalities from across the globe. An Indian ship designer and a wonderful poet based in China. A specialist doctor based in a foreign country who blogged using the handle Lollipop man. There were also two young girls who were planning to release their debut books in the coming days. The only person who was occupied in discussions with others was Mr. Reddy. I decided to meet him once the session ended.
The next one hour was spent in discussing the issues drafted by the esteemed bloggers. The list consisted of several points affecting the blogging experience on the portal. Mr. Shivshanker read it out with elegance and I remained a mute spectator oblivious to most of the burning issues affecting the lives of my fellow bloggers, even though I logged in almost regularly. The authority and finesse with which he read out each point only reminded me how poor my command was over the language.  
A delicious lunch awaited us soon after the session. I satisfied my palates with a delicious vegetarian meal during which I also grabbed the opportunity to get acquainted with many others who joined late. Soon after that the bloggers began leaving one by one, thanking Mr Reddy for those special memories he had provided to each one of us and for choosing the palatial venue for the rare meet. He appeared healthy and sported a huge smile on his face. His steady and confident voice reflected his state of mind. I failed to notice even the facial creases associated with old age. I started comparing myself with him and wondered if I could ever match his aliveness. I presumed that his shining white hair made all the difference to his attitude towards life!
I swiftly headed towards him and introduced myself, wondering if he would recognize me. But his enthusiastic response made me feel like a celebrity.
“Young friend, I want to tell you that you write wonderfully,” he remarked, seated on a chair.
“Thank you sir,” I replied humbly.
“Your writing has a spark, don’t ever let it die.” He boosted my morale.
I couldn’t help smiling.
“I was once deputed to Bidar. It has rich culture and is world famous for its art,” he said jovially. Bidar, my native is at a distance of 140 KM from Hyderabad. It’s also called the crown of Karnataka.
I nodded my head in excitement.
“Young man, if you ever need any help then don’t hesitate to call me on my number. I am available 24/7,” he next said and added that he knew a lot of influential people in Bidar.
I was literally amazed at the audacity of this grand old man. The week and helpless image of a retired person created in my mind was in complete contrast to reality. I wished if I could be only half as motivated and agile as he was. The firmness with which he shook hands and patted my back showcased the strength of the man.
“Sure sir.” I said half heartedly not knowing how to respond.
“You won’t believe I have undergone two open heart surgeries and currently suffering from cancer of the stomach. I also underwent a major cataract operation on the right eye, whose vision is now reduced to only 5 percent,” he declared enthusiastically as if he was referring to the prestigious medals and accomplishments of his illustrious career. For me, a deadly disease meant only a step closer to death and it was simply not something worth mentioning when you are spending a jovial time with people you acquainted over the net. I had only seen and met people who weren’t comfortable discussing their ailments as it gave them a sense of insecurity and distressed their mind. I wondered if I should sympathize with him or praise his courageous nature.  
“Sir, you are a true inspirational figure. An idol in every sense,” I managed in the end. The expression he gave indicated that he was a born fighter. The charged atmosphere lifted my spirits. Another popular blogger joined us by then and the topic of discussion took a different turn. I spent the next couple of hours with other bloggers; some of them were published authors. After spending a memorable time, it was time to pack up.
The chaotic traffic and the noisy bus engine were resulting in a headache. I began reading a short story collection personally gifted to me during our conversation by the author of the book. The return journey was in complete contrast to my onward journey. I was carrying two cups gifted by Mr. Reddy; a similar pair was gifted to every participating blogger as a token of appreciation. I was also in possession of a sheet consisting of the autographs and details of the participating bloggers. And yes some unforgettable memories too.

October 2013…
I read and reread the article several times. It was flawless and written straight from the heart. My heart was filled with joy and a broad smile appeared on my face. That particular review of my book was done by none other than Mr Shivshanker, which was again a dream come true. The journey from being an amateurish blogger to a published author was finally accomplished. I felt really proud of myself and a tinge of arrogance had gotten to my head. Within two years of that inspiring meet, I was a published author myself! Authoring a book was a completely different ball game. My book was written during those moments of my life when I experienced immense peace and joy. The ecstatic state of mind had resulted in some free flowing words culminating in a book. It demanded sitting in front of computer for hours together and mastering the art of keying-in the randomly arranged letters of English.
Soon after the book release, Mr. Shivshanker had confided in me Mr. Reddy’s personal request to him to review my book.
“He was insisting that young writers like you should be encouraged and motivated and he will do his best to publicize your book,” Mr Shivshanker said. He further added, “The old man has a special place for you in his heart.”
 In today’s era when marketing has assumed a different meaning altogether, I arrogantly mocked the thought that Mr. Reddy was planning to market my book and improve its sales. What did he know about publishing and marketing?
“That’s so kind of him,” I said to Mr. Shivshanker. Our conversation then revolved around the publishing intricacies, and then the call was terminated.
Mr. Reddy actively encouraged fellow bloggers on social networking sites to buy the book during that time. Even I failed to match his enthusiasm in recommending my book to friends. After a few days time, I received a message from him saying his health had deteriorated due to severe back pain and he was bedridden. He had to be administered injections almost on a daily basis. I only prayed to the almighty for his well being. The green active icon on his social networking profile appeared to be a thing of the past.

August 2014…
Mr. Reddy recently celebrated his 87th birthday and is active on social networking sites, engaging and inspiring people with his wise quotes and hair raising experiences while he was in the Police Department. He battles severe pain every day but that doesn’t appear to shake his will power. The only regret I have is that he couldn’t read my book due to his ailment and failing eyesight.
The last interaction of ours happened a few days ago when I contacted him for permission to pen down an inspiring story on him. The half an hour telephonic conversation appeared too short to gather everything about the rare personality that he is. During the course of our conversation he revealed something which melted my arrogance and shattered my illusion of being a talented author.
“My autobiography encapsulates all my life experiences; I suggest you read it someday,” he said.
“An Autobiography?”
 He wrote a book!
 “You won’t believe dear friend, I wrote that 285 pages book after having undergone two open heart surgeries, with only five percent vision left in my right eye and a deadly stomach cancer which reduced my appetite considerably. I wrote it after the tragic death of my wife and son-in law and without any typing support, also there was no commercial interest involved,” he said assertively.
My speech went for a toss as I digested the enormity of what I had just heard.
“I will make arrangements to send it across to you,” he next said.
“I am looking forward to it,” I said.
“Dear friend, I am going to the club now. And before I go, let me share with you my inspiration to engage in some productive work even at this age.”
I waited eagerly for him to share it. He then articulated a quote by the popular Urdu Poet Allam Iqbal.
“When I am rolling, I exist; when I rest, I am no more.”
As I disconnected the call, there was no doubt in my mind that he is one of the most inspiring figures I have ever come across in my life. But then, is my writing powerful enough to inspire the readers?
With a chuckle I said to myself, “Only time will tell.”

THE END

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