Thursday, February 25, 2016


 The other day, while waiting in the platform for the arrival of my train, I was talking to the porter (we call them coolies) whom I had hired for carrying my two piece luggage. I asked him how much does he earn per day. Immediately he started pouring out his tale of woes.

“These strollies which every passenger is using these days have  killed our business Sar. In the old days, I used to earn on an average Rs. 600 to Rs. 700 per day. These days I am lucky if  I earn Rs 300 to Rs 400. With high costs how can I manage my family sar?”

`Is that why you demand unreasonable amounts even for light luggages” I asked.

With a weak smile he said, “ What to do sar. We would like to get the maximum amount from any client who hires our services.”

As a practice   I always  hire a coolie even to carry my strolley and the hand bags as  I find it a strain to walk long distances in the platforms with them. It certainly is a nightmare to climb up and down stairs in stations with the luggages.  These days , with aching limbs  & creaky joints , I also find it difficult to lift the bags and  put them on the  luggage racks inside the compartments.

I have a simple system of dealing with coolies. If they demand exorbitant amounts  I just walk away  ignoring the guys. I don`t believe in negotiations or to have fights with them. If a coolie demands a reasonable amount, I  hire him and invariably tip him some extra amount without his asking. The happiness I see on his face when he gets the unexpected bonus, makes my day.

If you have travelled abroad, especially to Western Countries you will realise that the concept of porters or coolies at the stations do not exist there. You have to carry your own bags, however unwieldy they are. And since most of the stations are located below ground level, it becomes a challenge carrying your baggages

It is  a nightmare when your travel involves changing trains! Once at Hamburg station, though I was given clear instructions by the station master about the platform number on which .the train would  arrive and the precise location of my compartment,- I decided to  recheck the platform number  with another  Indian on the platform who  misled me and  I found myself on the wrong platform when the train was streaming into  the station.

How I ran up the steps with the heavy baggages in hand and reached my  compartment just in time is a story by itself! As soon as I dumped my bags inside and got into the train, the doors closed behind me and the train started. I literally fell on top of my suitcase and was panting for the next ten minutes. I could clearly hear my heartbeat and was sure I was going to die of a heart attack that day.

That was the day I realized  the value of the services provided by the coolies  back home. And I am continuing to avail of their services however light I travel.

 ( This article appeared in Adyar Times issue dt. 7-14th February, 2016 under my column `Rajan`s Random Reflections`)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A `two-in one` school for homeless children

 A very interesting experiment is going on at the Chennai Middle School in Damodarapuram,  Besant Nagar, Chennai . An experiment  which is proving to be  a solution to the twin problems faced by the corporation ;  getting  students for the many corporation schools where  enrolment is dwindling alarmingly. And to take some action pertaining to an order of the Supreme Court which has made it  the duty of the civic body to provide shelter and care for the  homeless children.
To help them deal with this challenge , the Chennai Corporation decided to rope in the services of `Montfort Siragugal` a unit of the well known NGO, Montfort Trust, run by the Montfort Brothers with its headquarters in Rome. Under this scheme the NGO not only helps the Corporation identify deserving  homeless children  but also look after them in a hostel located within the school premises.
Most of the  students currently on the roll are rag pickers, who are footloose  orphans or whose parents are leading wayward lives, not being able to look after their children. Some of these parents also use the children for earning additional source of income for the family. Many of these kids who get a taste of money early in life are  drug addicts and are prone to becoming criminals. While some girls are forced into prostitution at a young age, even the boys are not spared from sexual abuse.
The unique feature of this  experiment is that the students are made to stay in the school; providing them with comfortable and dignified living conditions.  Conceptualised as the Chennai Corporation`s Care and Protection Centre for children, the shelter home is located inside the school, in a  couple of unused class rooms converted  into dormitory type living quarters- with separate arrangements  for boys and girls. The children are given free dresses and other daily necessities including three  meals  a  day. Each child is provided a separate cot with the accompanying bed spreads etc. While the Corporation pays for all the expenses, the NGO manages the scheme with the help of its team of volunteers.
According to Mrs Victoria, a teacher in the school, the experiment was started on August,8, 2013 with just 11 students. Today there are 63 students , both boys & girls, aged between 5 and 16  living  in the hostel and attending classes from 1st to 8th standard in the school  located inside the complex and  run by the Corporation. The children passing out of 8th standard are sent to other schools nearby or to schools run by the Montfort Trust.
The children are encouraged to participate in a whole lot of individual and group activities. Extra Curricular activities include exposure to arts & crafts, computers and other skills. Group activities include participation in sports,  dance  & drama programmes, elocution competitions, debates, poetry sessions, English speaking classes etc.
Though the children, in the initial stages  find it difficult to adjust to the new environment where they have less freedom, they soon settle down to the routine and realize that the school  is opening up a whole new world for them.
 While the children are being taken care of,  the parents of such children are also counseled and explained the importance of education in their children`s lives. Regular parent/teacher inter action takes place where the parents see for themselves ,  progress made by their  children. Many wayward parents also change their own lifestyle to give a new life to their children. The constant effort of the NGO is to try and reintegrate the children with their family so that they continue to grow under parental care. The orphans among the children are taken care of by the Trust and sent to other Homes run by them  where grown up children are given shelter and their educational needs taken care of.  If  some  children show lack of interest in pursuing higher studies, then they are sent to Vocational Training Centres where they learn skills with which they can start a life of their own.
According to Mr.Kesavan  , the  Sanitary Officer  in the Corporation who is associated with  the `Shelter  Home` project, the  Damodharapuram school experiment was rated,  as one of the best `Shelter Homes  for Children`  run in any State in the country  by a team of officials from the Department of  National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM), who visited Chennai recently. Encouraged by the success of the  Damodarapuram  school, the corporation has plans to start 31 more such Centres  in  Chennai.  For better control each centre will have only 30 students and may be run by  a team of dedicated Corporation staff.
It is heartening to see the children, many of them very bright, pulled into a system which offers them hopes of a brighter future.
Individuals or institutions wanting to extend help can do so by sponsoring  extra  curricular activities in the school or even offering special meals for children on special occasions.  Any one interested  in making the lives of the children happier can contact Kesavan  on 7200013144, or Victoria 86082 68780.
This article has  appeared in the 1st-15th February,2016 issue of Madras Musings.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reckless Youth- short story

  Rakesh was an executive in a private limited company in Delhi.  He came from a middle class background. Immediately after his graduation he  joined a company dealing with auto spare parts, as a trainee.  Impressed by his sincerity and hard work the company had promoted him as an executive which entitled him to occupy a cubicle.  The cubicle had two tables.  The seat next to him was lying vacant for more than a month as the replacement for the colleague who had resigned his job, had not yet joined

It was a Monday morning and   Rakesh as usual reached his office by 9.30 am and was browsing through his papers, when his Manager, accompanied by a young man, came to his desk. He  introduced him to Navin as the new executive who had joined the department and would occupy the table next to Rakesh.

Navin was a tall,  handsome young man with a friendly  disposition.  Being of the same age group Rakesh and Navin hit it off well.  While Rakesh was a married man, Navin was still an eligible bachelor.  Within a few months they had become so close that Rakesh became Navin’s confidante. He would talk about his family, friends and other happenings in life.  Before long  he also  started sharing details of his love life.

Rakesh with middle class values who had married a girl of his parents choice, Navin’s love life seemed  full of fun.  He started envying  Navin.


Navin had several girl friends belonging to different regions. Invariably he would have a date with someone or the other, every other evening and   by 5.30 pm  he would be fidgety and start looking at his watch .Before the boss called him for some last minute job, he would vanish from the office.

One morning Navin walked into the office, a very happy man.  When Rakesh asked him for the reason, he sat  dreamy eyed  in his chair, refusing  to talk.  There was a contented smile on his face.

“Come on Navin, tell me the secret of your happiness”,  Rakesh shook Navin’s shoulder to bring him back to reality.

“Yaar! She was too good! Yesterday I managed to go to bed with Rekha and found out that I was the first person in her life to have had sex with her”

“What, you  had sex with a virgin?” asked Rakesh with curiosity.

“What to do yaar, if girls fall for me, I have no choice but to make them happy.  Am I not doing a social service? Ha.. ha.. ha”- Navin burst out laughing at his own joke.

Rakesh was not sure that he agreed with his friend.

“ But I am very choosy about whom I go to bed with” continued Navin

“What do you mean by being choosy?”

Suddenly Navin got a call from his boss on the intercom.  He left his  table after promising Rakesh to give the details of his fun life another day.


Rakesh was quite keen to know more about  Navin’s sex  life.  It promised to be interesting.  One evening he managed to  buttonhole  Navin and took him for a drink to a nearby restaurant .  Fortunately his wife was away at her mother’s place and he was in no hurry to return home.

They were sitting in a cosy corner in the restaurant.

“Tell me Navin, about your being choosy about the girls you go to bed with”

Navin smiled at his friend and said, “Are you envious Rakesh! Well you decided to marry early and settle down in life.  I decided not to marry but enjoy life to the full.  Why buy the cow when the milk is free? Ha .. Ha .. Ha” -Navin responded with his trade mark  laughter.

Seeing the change in the expression  on Rakesh’s face, Navin realized that he had hurt his friend.

“Okay Baba! since you are so eager to know about my secret, I will reveal it to you”

Rakesh immediately relaxed and was  ready to listen to Navin’s story.

“You know Rakesh, I  seem to be having a lucky mole somewhere that girls fall for my look and sweet talk easily.  I was seduced by a young married woman in our  neighbourhood, when I was only 16 and was still in school.  But she taught me many secrets of sex life which has stood me in good stead in all my escapades with girls”.

“Immediately after school, because my father’s job involved frequent transfers, I was admitted to a college with hostel facility.  It was a co-ed college with separate hostel for girls and boys.  But opportunity  for girls and boys to mix were plenty.  I soon realized that, much to the envy of my friends,  I was the target of many girls who not only sought my company but also were willing to go to any lengths to make me happy.  Since I had already tasted blood, I was ready for the game. It was not difficult for me to go to bed with some of them. And I found out that many of them had already had sex with other boys but a few of them were still virgins.  I discovered to my surprise that the pleasure of deflowering a virgin was much greater”

Rakesh who was listening to Navin intently   asked, “but how do you know that the girt is a virgin?  She may be telling you a lie that you are the first person in her life?”

“Good question Rakesh.  That is where experience counts.  After sleeping with so many girls I can distinguish between an initiated and uninitiated girl”

“Don’t they ask you to marry them? Not all go after you only for sex?”

“Again a good question.  Yes, some of them do talk about long term commitment.  But the moment I realize the victim is serious about marrying me, I ease the person out of my life”

“They can blackmail you buy claiming to be pregnant with your baby.  What do you do?”

“Wow, Rakesh! The way you are asking me questions, you make me feel that you must have also had affairs before your marriage.”

Rakesh recoiled and blurted out, “No, no.  I had no girl friends and no affairs.  In fact I was a virgin when I  married.  My wife was the first person I had sex with.”  replied Rakesh sheepishly.

“Ha.. ha…   you missed all the fun in life Rakesh.  Well,  to answer your question I always ensure that I practice safe sex with the girls I go to bed with”

 “Tell me Navin, how many girls have you slept with?”

“Scores of them Rakesh.  I have lost count.  But these days I specialize  in seducing girls who blackmail me to marry them, because their parents have chosen some other groom for them”

“What do you mean?”

“Without falling into the marriage trap, I persuade them to have their first sex with me”

“Oh my god, Navin!  Is it not a rape?  Is it not a sin?” Asked Rakesh innocently.

“How could it be a sin, Rakesh?  It is consensual sex.  I am not forcing myself on the girl.  I  tell them sob stories  and  somehow convince them to have their first sex experience with me.  Some agree and some don’t.  I take my chance.  But by and large I have been very successful in initiating a number  of to- be married virgin girls into sex”

Navin’s tone was triumphant . He  beamed with pride at his achievements!

Rakesh was shell-shocked listening to Navin.


Navin  left the company within a year  for a better job in Bangalore.  While he continued with his  efforts  to trap innocent girls with his looks and charm, he did not realize that his boss’s not so good looking daughter, who was also working in the same company, had designs on him.  She had fallen madly  in love with Navin and was bent on marrying him at any cost. She had discovered the secrets of Navin`s love life and  threatened him with dire consequences if he refused to marry her.

In the meanwhile Navin had found out  that he was afflicted with an incurable disease which posed a big question mark about his job and his very life. He felt very insecure about his future. When the girl was willing to marry him even after learning about his health condition, he saw  a possible insurance against the uncertain future he faced. He agreed to marry the girl. Within a year he was blessed with a baby girl  bringing  some cheer into his  otherwise gloomy life.

 The rare nervous disease he had  was slowly affecting the different parts of his body making him progressively  immobile.  Thanks to his marrying his  boss’s daughter he continued to have a job and earn a living. 


Within  two years  of Navin  leaving, Rakesh also left the company  for a better job in another company in Mumbai  and in course of time completely lost touch with Navin.

Years rolled by. Rakesh  had risen to the position of  Vice President of the company in which he  was working ,  involving  frequent travels.

One morning when he was at the Mumbai airport seated  at the  departure lounge waiting for the announcement of his  flight to  Bangalore  he saw a man being brought in a wheel chair by an old looking lady.  The person with a grey beard seemed to be  very ill.  But the face looked familiar to Rakesh.

He got up and started discretely walking towards the wheel chair when the person also saw him and their eyes were locked for a few seconds.  Rakesh realized that the person in the wheel chair was his old  friend Navin.  The handsome,  charismatic and romantic young man had been reduced to a cripple moving around in a wheel chair.

Rakesh went close to the wheel chair and said, “Aren`t you Navin?  We worked together more than twenty years ago”

With great difficulty the man  extended his right hand to Rakesh.

“Ya Rakesh, it is me Navin” his voice was feeble and incomprehensive. ‘This is my wife’ he said pointing to the lady standing next to him. There was a look of self pity in his eyes.  Rakesh realized that his friend did not want to talk further. So they exchanged cards and promised to meet later.

Rakesh did not meet Navin. But sitting in a hotel in Bangalore a few days  later when  he was browsing through the newspaper a news item regarding the rape of a 20 year old girl in a taxi by the taxi driver attracted his notice.  The face of the person featured in the photo accompanying the news item looked familiar.  It was his old friend Navin in a wheel chair looking completely shattered . The victim was his daughter.

“Did God punish Navin for his immoral acts in his youth?” wondered Rakesh. He remembered his Guruji telling him once that “in Kaliyuga you reap the consequences of your misdeeds in this very life”.