We have a lovely thick tree facing the balcony in the rim of Shivaji Park.
Early morning I was sitting in the balcony and was getting ready to scan my emails on my laptop. Just then face of Yaksha appeared on the tree.
Yaksha is the name of a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, who are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth. Yakshas occupy trees, groves, forests and water sources.
Dr Modak, I thought you had decided to change the course of your life. Yaksha spoke to me.
I told Yaksha that yes I really intend to do so, and very seriously, but from tomorrow.
Well, it doesn’t happen that way Yaksha said “You change now and today”
For this, you have to listen to the nature, birds and the animals around you. More importantly, you must understand what they think of you and your life. They will always speak the truth and rather candidly. That will be enough for you to assess yourself, get guided and accordingly change the course
But my dear Yaksha, I smiled and said – do you think I know the language of the birds and animals? To me, they make sometimes interesting and sometimes most irritating sounds. Nothing more.
Yaksha said “You know I can converse not just with birds and animals but also with trees and the insects. I can lend you my powers for a day starting from now till 8 pm of today. Would you like to try this out?”
I thought this proposition for a day was interesting. I agreed.
The Yaksha said “Tathastu” (let it be) and so I was blessed.
Two parrots came flying in and perched on the twig of the tree. They saw me working on the laptop checking my emails.
The male parrot said to his wife “Look at this fool, I see him every day sitting in this balcony looking at these stupid emails. Don’t you think this Man should get out of the house at this time and take a nice walk across the Shivaji-Park? The sun is just about to rise and there is such a lovely breeze out there. Can’t he respond to these stupid emails later?”
I indeed felt like a fool. I got out in my track pants, a smart Tee shirt, wore Reebok shoes (after opening the box) armed with headsets to listen to my favorite Mark Knopfler. The walk was great. I saw few of my old friends who waived at me and some made me stop and asked “how come today? We thought we lost you!” My last round across the Park was perhaps one year before (as I used to read emails every morning and the rush to office). I realized that even after a gap of a year, the “walkers” at the Park were the same. “Shit, these folks seem to be so regular- why can’t I be?” I said to myself.
(Shivaji-Park in Mumbai)
My secretary Kermeene called me on my cell phone and reminded of a meeting with Secretary Environment, Government of Maharashtra at the Sachivalaya, down town. I was an invited member of a Committee for Environmental Clearance of Very Sensitive and Controversial Projects. I thought it was quite prestigious to be part of this Committee.
As I stepped out of my car at the “Garden Gate” of the Sachivalaya for my entry pass, I saw a street dog next to the tree looking at me. “Oh my friend, so I see you continue in the same trap again! The Government invites you on such Committees not just because you have a good professional credence, but simply because they are looking for respectable scape goats like you. You feel great as you can tout about this membership on your CV and get known within professional circles – as someone “important and powerful”. You get quoted in the newspapers sometimes and get invited to speak at Seminars. But is that worth? – as in most cases decisions are political and taken apriori. You simply sign up?”
I thought the dog on the street was right. I decided to abstain from the meeting and instead asked my driver to take me to one of the bye lanes of Fort area. Years ago, when I had the time, I used to visit an old/secondhand book seller on the street and buy strange books like on “face reading” or “Yogi in Himalayas”. I spotted the place I used to visit. The old man who used to be there those days and give all of us good advice was no more. Instead his son was managing. I spoke to the son about my memories about his father (that really touched him) and bought a book on “How to select antique furniture”. The book was a bit yellowed but with golden embossed lettering and was leather bound. I didn’t haggle for the price, so the son gave me a pocket edition of Around the World in Eighty Days, for free. “Keep this Sir, Just for you. It’s a rare one to get”
In the meanwhile, Kermeene, my secretary was chasing me. She sms’ed “Meeting with Overseas Development Corporation (ODC) to start in another 20 minutes at the Taj Chambers”. Oh, how can I forget, I muttered and asked my driver to take me to the Taj. I was to support my client there to secure long term cheap fund. Key was adherence to ODC’s environmental and social management framework.
As I was about get into the Taj Old wing, a horse cart loaded with tourists was waiting there. The horse looked at me and neighed (of course only I could understand what he was trying to say!). The horse said –Do you know the meeting you are getting into? It is to assess the environmental and social performance of the company you are consultant to. You know very well that while the company’s top management is fully committed to the environmental and social matters, the honchos below are least sensitive, bothered or committed. The ODC is going to ask questions and I know you will elaborate and defend elegantly to convince them ensuring that the “system” works. That’s where your expertise is. But you know the truth as much I know. How long will you continue prostituting your professional skills?” The horse stopped neighing. I didn’t quite like the last part of what the horse said, but I realized that he was right – indeed I was selling my soul for a price. I decided to jump the meeting and told Kermeene to say that I am sick and will not able to join.
Instead, I strolled across to Café Mondegar (fondly called as Mondie) which a great place for a draft beer and egg bhurji (Akuri) on pav with musca. The most interesting part of Mondie are the cartoons done by Mario Miranda on the wall. While I was picking up a table, I spotted an old buddy of mine who had returned from the US after 30 years. That was a great coincidence. We shared the table together and chatted about all the fun we used to do in the past. When I asked him what you are up to now, he said that he has made enough money to do now what he wants. How about you? He asked me. You must be a rich guy as I see you loitering around in the late afternoon of a Working day at the Mondie. He said this as we parted.
(Café Mondegar and Marios wall)
I knew I had to be in office in time to supervise and submit a tender for developing a Green City Action Plan for Nasik. Team in my office had prepared all the documentation and I was to review and sign off. As I reached my office, a pigeon perching on the Air conditioner saw me. He said “Are you sure you want to bid? These bids are generally pre-decided but I know you have a high chance of getting selected as your company has good credentials. But think about this a bit more – you will never be paid in time and you will require to grease the officials to get your money out. Secondly your Action Plan will never be implemented and the reports will be stacked somewhere – God only knows”. I thought the pigeon was right. I told my team that we still have some time to think and let me ponder over a bit.
I got down from my office and my driver started driving towards Taj Lands End in Bandra. I was to deliver a valedictory address at the National Environmental Association. As the car was approaching Taj Lands End, I realized the futility of speaking at this event. First of all, this address was going to be the last piece of the event, with hardly any people present; and most present ready to take their return flights or trains in time. I was to speak on one of the interesting perspectives on sustainability (in specific is recycling worth an effort?) but I thought the audience may not be truly interested in anything serious at this time or not have an appetite. What would happen is usual of welcome flowers, long introduction and at the end President of the Association thanking me profusely saying “thank you for sparing your valuable time despite your busy schedule etc.”
I noticed we were close to one of the quaint lanes of Bandra that I used to frequent years ago to learn piano from Freddie Braganza. Freddie played music for nobody else but for himself and was a teacher par excellence. I told my driver to take me to his old house – I thought I will see him for old time sake. It was already past 7 30 pm
When I rang the bell in the verandah, a woman in mid-forties opened the door. “Cathy, you? I exclaimed” Cathy was Freddie’s daughter who many of us simply adored not just for her fingers on the keyboards but her grace and the looks. I was very fond of her and we used to go for long walks on the Carter road holding hands after Freddie’s piano lessons used be over. So there was Cathy, still looking stunning, but some white and grey in the hair, that in fact added even more grace to her charming personality.
“Oh Prasad, come on in. After such a long time” Cathy said.
I learnt that Freddie passed away last year. Cathy was in Lisbon (her Portuguese family connection) for past 10 years and she returned with her husband after Freddie’s death. Her husband was a Captain on a ship and would be on-shore and off-shore every three months. Right now he was away. Cathy still played the piano.
“Let me get you some wine”, Cathy opened the bar chest. Her kitten (she had named her Dora) jumped around and settled on the cushion of the cane chair, gazing at me.
We chatted and remembered the old times. “You were quite a flirt with me Prasad” Cathy said jokingly. I sure I was – And I said so candidly.
When it was nearly 8 pm, I got up and said “have to go Cathy, why don’t you and I get together one day and play some of the Freddie numbers”. “Sure” said she while reaching me at the gate. Her kitten Dora followed us.
I don’t know why but I paused at the gate for a while and asked “Cathy – after all these years, are you really happy?” Cathy did not expect this kind of question. She took a while, gathered herself and said “of course I am”. There was a stone silence in the air. In the dim light of the streetlight however, I saw her eyes moist with tears. “Oh this air pollution now a days – really makes my eyes watery. I better go in”
I thought of checking with kitten Dora the truth. Dora did mew for me but I couldn’t understand. I then realized that it was already past 8 pm and the magical powers bestowed by the Yaksha were just over! Alas. What a pity.
In just one day, I changed my course of life.
Many of us don’t have options in life so we live the way others want us to. But some of us who have, should live life differently and if required change the course of life.
Sources of images used to create the “setting” all in the order of appearance
Yaksha on the Tree
The street dog
Book seller on the Street
Horse and the cart
Dora the Kitten