Age is just a number they say!

Thank you everyone for your warm birthday wishes and blessings as I turned 41 yesterday ♥

In my late 30s, I was a bit apprehensive about turning 40 in a few years. This decade between 30-40 years probably flies down the fastest since most of us are in the peak of our professional careers during this time. It was nothing different for me. Hence, in a way, I was not prepared to turn 40 😛

You always feel like a 20 year old even when you are in your late 30s. It is only when you see your friends do you realize that you ‘might’ have aged like them. You see their grey hair, their fitness goes for a toss and they start talking about spirituality 🙂

After I crossed the 40 year mark last year, I feel I have accepted the fact that I have actually been around for these many years on this earth. The body has got its own mind now but the spirit is still has nifty as ever. In fact, I feel like a much younger guy trapped in the body of a 40 year old J Yes, the metabolism is not the same but I have started hitting the gym more than before. I feel much more at ease with where I am right now. I don’t need to say stuff to please people now (didn’t do much of that earlier anyways). I don’t care about loyalty so long as I am being a trustworthy friend to my friends and a responsible family member to my family. I still ‘make’ time for things that I love to do and I plan to continue doing that for the years to come.

Each year that I put behind me has made me wiser by helping me learn from my mistakes. Mistakes where I lost money trusting people, mistakes where I lost people I thought were my friends and mistakes where I put things before my own health and peace of mind. I am proud of all these mistakes that have been instrumental in shaping my character and strengthening my spirit. I am already excited about this decade and I will probably welcome 50 much more positively than when I turned 40.

This decade is going to be about continuing to explore things outside my comfort zone, having fun at every given opportunity and giving back to the society at large in some purposeful way.

I will continue to stay the eternal optimist that I am but I will just have less tolerance for BS going forward. So if you don’t like what I dished out to you, you probably asked for it!

Where is the beer now!

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Of Fathers and their Sons……

There have been stories, poetry, movies and even advertisements galore about the special bond between a mother and her son, a mother and her daughter, a father and his daughter. There is however, very little said and talked about a relationship between a father and his son (at least not to the scale of the first three relationships).

Yesterday, 1st of June 2017, would have been the 70th birthday of my dad – Shankar Shetty. I used the word “would’ because he passed away in 2013. We have been celebrating his birthday and his life for the last 4 years without him actually being there with us. I thought I would pen down a few thoughts running in my mind for all these years after dad passed away. It would probably resonate with most sons out there when they try to think of their fathers and probably strengthen this bond for those who are still lucky enough to have their dads around them.

Dad owned a small bakery on Tilak road in Pune for more than 40 years. He had a promising job with the Indian Railways which he had to give-up considering grandma’s insistence on setting up a business and marrying off his sister. Grandma’s logic was that a salaried person would have limited financial means to address the task of getting his sister married whereas with a business there would be much better cash flow to deal with the expenses that come with an Indian wedding. Grandfather had passed away long ago and grandma was the matriarch of the house who had brought up the 2 kids on her own. Hence, dad had to comply with her wishes to let go of his job and start a business.

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Pic 1: An old pic of dad’s bakery on Tilak Road (apologies for the spotty pic)

Dad had barely completed his 12th standard, hence he did not have the luxury of formally completing his college education. However, he was a voracious reader who couldn’t do without reading the morning newspaper from the first page to the last page.  The bakery itself was on Tilak Road, diagonally opposite the famous Tilak Smarak Mandir and was named Regal Bakery. Now this area of Tilak Road is known for its highly educated residents who were mostly well to do and even their brand of Marathi (local language of the state of Maharashtra) was considered the most polished version of Marathi. Even though we belonged to a South Indian family, dad quickly picked up the lingo of the local residents and it was difficult for most people to believe that dad did not live in the same area due to his mastery of the language. From the very beginning, he had a flair for engaging with people – whether it was his customers at the bakery or friends who dropped in to check on him.

When he was about 12 years old, he was physically very weak and used to fall sick at the drop of the hat. It during that time that grandma asked dad to take up exercise seriously to lead a fitter life in the future. Dad started loving working out at the traditional gymnasiums in the old parts of the city. There wasn’t too much equipment there in those gyms, mostly a range of dumb-bells and weights. Very soon he picked up the tricks of the trade at the gym and by the time he was 18 years old, he had a well-built muscular body frame which was not just beefed up but also flexible at the same time due to dad’s love of kabaddi (traditional Indian sport). Dad in fact got so good at kabaddi that he played professionally for a couple of kabaddi clubs back in the day.

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Pic 2: Dad’s kabaddi team. He is in the centre (no surprises there 🙂 ) This pic is from 1978.

So here was this well-built, well-spoken and decently employed guy who had to throw it all away to fulfill the wishes of his mom and run a business. The bakery’s schedule was taxing – 7 AM to 1 PM and 4 PM to 11.30 PM. He just had a lunch break when grandma used to manage the bakery during those lean business hours. This continued all through the year without any weekly offs or vacations.

Pics 3,4 : Some random pics captured by dad’s friend who was a photographer. These are from early 1980s.

As years went by, dad could manage to marry off his sister and bear the expenses of the wedding with support from grandma who had some of her savings too. As time passed by, something extraordinary started happening at the bakery. Dad’s knack of connecting with people put them immediately at ease and many people who initially dropped in as customers eventually walked up to him just to have a casual word with him. There were a lot of schools and colleges in the neighborhood of the bakery. School and college kids who dropped in to have a quick snack at the bakery immediately fell in love with dad’s warm and amiable character. These kids shared their problems with dad who would give them his words of wisdom when they were stuck with something. This could either be a conflict with their parents, difficulty in coping up with the studies or typical heart-aches related to love affairsJ Dad always made these kids look beyond their current problem and enabled them to look at life in a larger perspective. There were numerous cases where kids who were contemplating suicide as a last resort to their woes, changed their outlook after speaking to dad and many years down the line came back to the bakery with their spouse and kids to seek dad’s blessings. Dad always told us that seeing a troubled life getting a second chance was one of the biggest rewards of his own life. Several other kids who didn’t have as many problems but loved talking to dad went on to become respected artists, actors, cops, politicians and businessmen but they never forgot to pay a visit to dad whenever they were around Tilak road. The most surprising element to me was when a lot of strong men from different parts of the city and were on the other side of law started dropping in to visit dad. I have personally witnessed on many occasions luxury cars stopping in front of our bakery and well-built men stepping out of such cars with heavy gold chains around their neck and the moment they climbed up the single step of our bakery, they would embrace dad with complete humility and love. The younger ones of the lot also bent down to touch his feet to seek his blessings – such was the respect that they had for this man who was not even a graduate, lower middle class in stature, had no political standing or an influential family behind him.

Pics 5,6,7 – Random pics of dad at the bakery with some of the college kids and mom by his side in one of the pics.

In my younger years until I was about 10, I never noticed all of this but as I started growing older, I noticed that my dad was not like the typical dad of most of my friends He didn’t just belong to us but to a larger community of people around him. Can you imagine what all his friends called him? He was lovingly known as “daddy” – nobody knows who called him by this name for the first time but it was not something that dad himself came up with. In fact, he told us that initially he hated it since it felt odd for men older than him calling him “daddy”J It was only later when the trend caught on and everyone around started calling him that, did he realize that this was a salutation born out of the love that these people had for him. It was not that easy for my siblings and me to understand this though. Imagine the dilemma running through 10-12 year olds when everyone around calls their father “daddy”. When we asked this question to mom, she said that we would understand in due course of time why he was known by that title.

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Pic 8 – One of the rare occasions where dad could attend a wedding of one of his friends’. He was the light and heart of every social gathering that he attended.

Regal Bakery over the years was almost like a landmark by itself around the Tilak Smarak area. People passing along Tilak Road on their cars, bikes or even the Pune Municipal Corporation buses shouted out “daddy” or simply “dad” and dad on his part simply raised his arm and waved to them as an acknowledgement to their callout. As we grew older, we understood what mom meant and we grew in awe of dad. My college (like my other two siblings) was S. P. College on Tilak road and we used to drop in at the bakery to catch-up with dad when we had the time. He was hardly seen at home considering that he had to leave the house at 6.30 AM and arrived home post-midnight when we were all asleep. During his afternoon break we were either at school or college. Hence, we looked forward to catching up with him at the bakery since that his was kingdom, that was his playground and as you would say in Hindi – that was his “karma-bhoomi”. He was in his element at the bakery – switching from chatting to long time customers to cracking jokes with the kids at college to providing serious advice to seasoned strongmen, cops, politicians alike. Due to his fitness that continued for many decades even after he stopped going to the gym, he had a very solid handshake. He always said that a handshake should display the character of a person – assertive and confident. He also learned a few tricks over the years to keep his customers/friends entertained. For example whenever someone came to the bakery to buy eggs, he would have the paper bag for the eggs in his left hand and throw the eggs from his right hand almost slamming the eggs in the paper bag but none of the eggs were damaged in the process – every single time! Then there was another favorite trick which the school and college kids simply loved. After paying for the stuff purchased at the bakery, when it was dad’s turn to return the loose change back to the kids – dad would flick the coins from his right hand to the ceiling of the shop and do this about 2-3 times when he would suddenly flip the coin from the right hand to the left hand and the kids would be left looking at the ceiling wondering where the coins disappearedJ He also had a guessing game with the kids and adults alike with the loose change. He would place the coins in either one of his hands and then hold both the hands in front of the kids/adults to have them guess which hand would have the coins. More than 99% of the times these kids/adults would choose wrongly and dad showed the coins in the hand other than the one chosen by these people. Dad later told me that he would use his guesstimate based on his understanding of each person, predict which hand they would go for and then place the coins in the other hand ahead of time. I am sure dad would have dealt some solid hands at the casino with such a sharp brain J but he always believed in sweating it out and earning the bread on the table through legitimate means. In fact, grandma used to tell us over the years that it’s a miracle that “your dad did not fall prey to negative side of being in the company of politicians, cops and strongmen” who visited him frequently. Small kids were entertained by his bulging biceps which he was able to wiggle at his command, much to the glee of the small kidsJ

This was our dad to the world.

Pics 9, 10 – Dad at some wedding functions in the family. Mom can also be seen in the pics. The child with mom was my younger brother Sameer.

How was he to his family? Even though we would get only limited face time with him due to his hectic work schedule, he was a very devoted father who wanted his kids to do well and an extremely supportive husband. As the eldest son in the family, dad had higher expectations from me as was the case with him being the elder sibling in the house. I got decent marks in school and he wanted me to do well at academics to not only be well-off myself but to also motivate my siblings (a sister and a brother).  Even though he did not have the opportunity to complete his formal education he wanted all his kids to complete their education and also pursue higher studies if we were interested. He never expected us to support him in managing the bakery even as age was catching up with him but he told us that devoting some time to the shop will not only teach us humility but make us street-smart in this dog-eat-dog world. So on Friday evenings, I would handle the bakery even when I had a day job and my work week would end by downing the shutters of the bakery at 11.30 PM. I felt good that my dad could enjoy at least those few hours in the comforts of the home watching his favorite game of cricket on TV or go on a walk with mom by his side. My younger brother also pitched in by handling the Sunday afternoon shift when he was old enough. After grandma could no longer manage the bakery due to her age, mom filled up the duty in the afternoon. So for several years as kids, we could either see either mom at home or dad. The only occasion when we could see both of them together was when there was a shutdown/curfew in the city due to some political unrest or some social disturbance. We cherished seeing mom and dad together at home but dad always fretted the loss in business during such days because the bakery was the only source of income for the family.

Dad’s only vice was that he was a chain-smoker. At different points in time, we tried weaning him off this habit but he said a puff of the cigarette was a stress reliever of sorts for him, having to run the bakery from morning to midnight. No amount of cajoling could get him off this habit. When either one of us at home were upset about something or dad had to scold us for something that we messed up, he would wrap his huge hardy hands around our face and tell us to not worry and force us to break into a smile. I still have very clear memory of his large, hardy, warm and smoky hands cupping my face whenever I broke down on such occasions only to see myself melting my own sorrow in his deep intense eyes. There was no chance in hell that anyone could stay rigid with this gesture of his or not feel moved by his powerful yet caring embrace.

Dad taught us the importance of humility when as a kid he had to face taunts from richer kids his age when they saw him dropping out of college to manage the bakery. Similarly, when I managed the bakery while in college and for a few years during my initial professional career, I was initially embarrassed at having to cater to customers who were my classmates in college or my colleagues at office who happened to drop in at the bakery by chance. That initial embarrassment turned into a sense pride when I started peeling off the fake sense of self-worth that I had not earned myself. Even before managing duties at the bakery dad asked me to help him with the samosas and wadas (fried Indian snacks) that my mom made at home to be delivered at the bakery early in the morning before I went off to school. So when other kids my age got up just to be in time for school, I had already delivered a consignment of samosas and wadas from our home to our bakery delivered on a cycle taken up on rent from a local bicycle shop. This dignity in labor and humility at work also helped me during the first two years after college when I went all over town on my office motor-bike to repair desktops and printers in dusty offices or homes, be it rain or shine. While most of my school and college friends were lucky to pursue higher studies or get a good job, I was out in the sun and rain toiling away as a computer hardware engineer with barely any salary to come by. But I held strong during those years with dad’s words of “this will also come to pass” ringing in my ears.

 

Dad was a great story-teller and used anecdotes and analogies to great effect to explain a point that he was making. He always told us to stand with the truth and do things the right way else even before others picked on our wrong-doings, he would take us to task for indulging in any sort of wrong-doings. He often told us that the only thing that he had earned in my life was a little bit of respect and he expected us kids to keep it that way and build on it to make it even better during the course of our respective lives as his kids. He always used to introduce me as the ‘smart, witty’ one from his lot of kids. This always made me feel a sense of pride but at the same time I had a deep sense of obligation towards fulfilling his expectations.

When we were kids, he always told us that the world as we knew it was changing and the traditional Indian concept of family was also changing. He told us that when we would grow up to be adults, he expected us to be independent and have our own place so that we would be able to chart out our own destiny without a sense of dependence on the family. Just like baby sparrows are required to leave their parents’ nest to find their own homes. So when I got married in 2005, he told me that it was time for me to be independent and even if we would be staying in a different place, the sense of family that we had would keep us together rather than staying together and running into the usual issues that every family faces when kids get married and have their own kids. In hindsight, it was a very difficult message for him to convey to me because the day when my wife and I moved out to our own flat, I got to know that dad had tears in his eyes for many hours looking at the room in the house that we had just vacated. This was the same man who wanted his son to be independent but at the end of the day, I was HIS son, HIS blood and skin even if my house was less than a kilometer from his house.

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Pic 11 – A random moment of dad captured by one of his friends

As my professional career started looking up, I wanted dad to take it easy with the bakery and enjoy the golden years of his life but dad would not have it that way. He said he didn’t want to be at home and stare at the TV the whole day, neither did he want to be part of a ‘senior citizen’s group’ and think of himself as old because he was always young in spirit (people that have met him will know exactly what I am talking about). He had a very clear prophecy for himself. He used to tell us “I don’t want to die an old, ragged man who has to struggle from the bed to the bathroom. I want to die while I am firm and done with all the responsibilities towards my families and seeing all my grand-kids. Death should be instant and not a saga of pain and suffering for myself or more importantly my family members” He repeated these lines to mom and us kids several times in later years.

It was a task by itself to have him join us for lunch or dinner at a restaurant. The first challenge was to have him stay away from the bakery for the time of the lunch or dinner and the second challenge was to not make him look at the prices of items on the menu. Most parents of his generation were of the same character. They had seen a life of hardships and they sacrificed their own pleasures of life for the betterment of their kids. The money spent over dining out could instead well be spent for the kids’ tuition fees. This is a big difference in attitude for the parents of dad’s generation and for the parents of our generation. As parents, we love our kids too but we don’t mind splurging on things that make ‘us’ happy as well. Not the same with our parents who always put their family/kids on the priority list all the time at the cost of their own happiness.

Around 2010, dad was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which is a type of cancer. Even with the earth shattering news of this diagnosis, he was not shaken. In fact, as his family members, we were more in shock than the man himself. Even when it came to his multiple chemo sessions, he didn’t want to trouble his kids because he thought we would be busy with our work and went ahead with the chemo sessions on his own. I chased him several times to be with him for his chemo sessions but he kept saying all the time that he would let us know only if he would not be able to deal with those sessions on his own. As a result of the chemo, he lost the hair on his head but his spirit was intact. He continued going to the bakery even during those days. He responded to chemo very well and the doctors at the hospital where he was being treated were pleasantly surprised by his upbeat attitude. Dad was clean of the cancer after about 7-8 rounds of chemo and the doctors at the hospital maintained his medical file as a case study for other cancer patients to motivate them to recover faster from this dreaded disease. Dad was back at the bakery which he loved and the company of his friends which acted like oxygen for him.

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Pic 12 – Dad with my son Shuban during his cancer treatment days. That tattoo of the flying Hanuman was got by him when he was about 8 years old at a fun fair just for fun. Grandma had thrashed him nicely when she saw the tattoo on his forearm 🙂

Dad’s smoking came down after the cancer episode but even then he wasn’t ready to give up on the habit entirely. In November 2012, dad had a major lung infection due to his continued smoking habit. He tried to rub-off his labored breathing around that time as regular flu and was not willing to visit the doctor. Mom finally called me up to say that dad was not in a good condition and his breathing was extremely labored. I immediately dropped in at dad’s house and requested him to accompany me to the hospital. He was adamant that it was nothing serious and that he would be fine after a good night’s sleep. However, I was not going to give up so easy because I knew dad’s habit to not bring up any expenses to the family by visiting the doctor. After he was clean of the cancer he was supposed to do a screening for the cancer every six months to ensure that there was no relapse of the cancer. He tried to avoid even those screenings and I had to literally scold him like I would scold my kid to not take these screenings lightly. Eventually, he went to all these screenings with much reluctance and thankfully the relapse did not happen. So during this episode in November 2012 when he was acting stubborn, I had to tell him in no uncertain terms (of course out of love for him) that I would not move out of the house unless he would accompany me to the doctor. After sensing that I would not budge, he grudgingly accompanied me to the Sahyadri Hospital, Bibwewadi. I knew the doctors there and after conducting some tests on dad, they told me that if we had been late even by a few hours, dad would have lost his life. The oxygen levels in his lungs had dropped dramatically and very soon he would have lost his consciousness and fade away in that state. He was admitted to the ICU of the hospital and even there dad was grudgingly telling me that these were all tactics of the hospital to rip money from people. I couldn’t imagine what kind of metal people like my dad were made of. Imagine being admitted to the ICU would have scared the living daylights of the patient but here is this man who was not worried about his condition at all and was worried about burning a hole for his family. After a week at the hospital dad was discharged and he resumed his duties at the bakery in December.

As a family, we tried telling dad to take it easy with the bakery and also enjoy other family functions like weddings, birthdays in the family which he had missed all these years managing the bakery but he kept deflecting the topic and continued with his bakery duties regardless of the biting cold weather in Pune that year in December (that too without a sweater or a jacket).

My wife delivered our second child, a baby girl on 17th January 2013. Dad was overjoyed at the news and told me how beautiful my daughter was. 10 days later on 27th January 2013, dad passed on away on a Sunday with the same lung infection which he had faced a couple of months earlier. I last spoke to dad on the 25th of January in the evening. It was Muharram that Friday, 25th January and on my way back home from office I was caught up in a major traffic snarl due to the Muharram processions in the city. I reached home at 10 PM after about 2.5 hours of being stuck in traffic. When I reached home, Divya (my wife) informed me that she had called up dad at the bakery to know how many of his friends were coming for the naming ceremony of our daughter and that dad didn’t sound too well. I immediately called up dad and asked him how he was doing. He was sounding very labored in his speech and I told him that I was coming to the bakery to pick him up. Dad being dad said he was OK and he had a friend who would drop him home and he planned not wait until 11.30 PM that day to shut down the shutters of the bakery. He told me that he had learnt from Divya that I was caught up in a traffic jam and hence was late coming home so he didn’t want me to come down all the way again when a friend was offering to drop him home. Grudgingly, I kept the phone down and called him back after 15 mins to check if his friend had arrived and he said that the friend was here and he was downing the shutters of the bakery and he will be back home soon. Little, did we know that it was the last time Regal Bakery shutters would be pulled downL I called up mom to tell her that dad is coming home and he did not take my offer to pick him. Mom told me “you know that he is someone who doesn’t like to hassle his kids so it is OK since he has someone who will drop him home”. Next day, I was busy with some errands related to buying stuff for the new born child. Along the way, I called up mom and asked her how dad was doing. She said he was doing all right and was resting at home. I asked mom to call me back when dad was awake again. She called me in an hour and said that dad is awake now and handed over to phone to him. I asked dad how he felt and he said he was feeling better. I told him that I will come to fetch him and take him to the doctor just to ensure that everything is OK. Dad told me that he was feeling better and a good night’s sleep would do him well so let’s wait for a few more days. He told me not to hassle too much since I had a lot of preparations to do related to the naming ceremony. I insisted that I could manage the time and I just wanted to ensure that everything was OK with him. He said let’s take a call the next day (Sunday) and if he is not feeling well by then, he would come with me to the hospital. That decision to agree to his offer runs through my mind every single day even today. Next day was a Sunday and after I had my breakfast I was planning to visit dad when I got a call from mom who sounded desperate on the phone and asked me to rush to Sahyadri Hospital, Bibwewadi as soon as possible. Dad had lost consciousness and was being revived in the Casualty section. My heart missed a beat and I knew something was not right and I immediately rushed to the hospital. Upon reaching the hospital, I ran to the Casualty section. I saw mom sitting on the bench outside the casualty ward. My younger brother was inside the Casualty section and there I saw dad’s feet lying motionless on the bed while the on-duty doctors were using electric charges to revive him and he had an oxygen mask to his face with his eyes closed. I was still hoping against hope and I did not disturb the doctors who were doing their best. After about 10 mins of these earth shattering visuals, one of the doctors came to me and said that they are conducting the emergency procedures mandated in such situations and his last statement hit me hard. He said “we are trying our best and let’s hope for the best”. My mind kept telling me ‘Lets hope for the best?’ what the hell did he mean there? C’mon it cannot be that bad, you can’t be serious doctor! While all this was happening, I could see dad’s feet jostling with the electric charges that were being administered to him. Every time, I felt his feet moved because he was conscious again but that was not the case. After about 10 more minutes, the doctors came to me and said that dad is not responding and all the vital signs were showing a flat line. Hoping against hope, I asked the doctors once again to try and they said they have surpassed the normal screening time that they usually follow when declaring that the patient had not survived so there was nothing more left to be done.

I felt the roof over my head was pulled off and the sky was breaking upon me when I heard these comments. My brother and I trudged towards mom and broke the news to her. She was in a state of shock asking how this could have happened, that he had a full bowl of soup last night and had slept well through the night. It was only this morning when he had difficulty in breathing did they get him to hospital. At that moment, the grief was profoundly more than the reasoning of who could have done what to prevent this situation. I went back to the Casualty room and saw dad’s feet again reaching almost to the end of the bed. The same hardy feet which used to be usually dusty with all the time that he put on the bakery floor (he hated putting on slippers or shoes when in the bakery). I saw his face lying motionless with the nurse taking off the oxygen mask and pulling out all the sensors from his body. That hardened face which had aged over time, those wrinkles near the eyes which disappeared every time he used to smile at us with his gleaming eyes.

Even though I was 35 years when dad passed away, I felt like a child whose hands were suddenly separated from the warm grip of his dad’s hands. I remembered all my birthdays when I touched his feet and he pulled me up by my shoulders to embrace me in his bear hug as he wished me on my birthday. I was probably a bit taller than him as an adult but to him I was still his first child.

I remember the episode when I was just about a year old and mom was at her mother’s place in Mumbai and dad was missing me so much that he got me back to Pune holding me in his hands all through the train journey.

I remember being thrashed by him when I did some crazy things as a 10 year old kid (like walking on the terrace wall of a building which had 4 floors just because one of our friends had dared me to do it). I had won the bet but I was thrashed by him for doing this. I decided not to talk to him but he didn’t have the same hang-ups. Within an hour of that incident, he came to me and consoled me and explained to me that he had to be a ‘bad’ guy to his son for the love of his son. It took me a few days to understand what he meant there. In most homes, the father has to be the villain to stop the kids from watching too much TV, reprimand them for doing some really naughty things, ensure that they finish the food on the table etc. A father does this for the love of his children and for their betterment even if it means that he has to be the bad guy in the eyes of his kids.

Like every father and son, I had my disagreements with my father on several things but there was always this sense of respect and admiration for him which was not openly expressed by me to him. It was almost as if I was too shy to show that love and respect to him. Instead, I chose to be concerned about his visits to the doctor when he was ill, pleading with him to take days off and attend family functions, taking him out for lunch at a nice place and similar gestures which communicated the love and respect that I had for him indirectly. In hindsight, I realized that dad’s needs/expectations from me were really simple – he wanted me to me happy. His patent dialog to me anytime I sought his blessings was ‘Stay fresh and keep smiling’.

After I moved to my flat around 2009, I had arranged a surprise gathering of dad’s closest friends on his wedding anniversary. Only mom was informed of the plan but was requested to keep the plan secret. When dad and mom walked into the flat, dad was shocked to see his friends waiting for him in my flat. The next few hours that he spent with them were filled with laughter and the same old stories about famous people that these friends knew. At the end of this surprise, dad told me that this was the best gift ever that he had received in his life. It suddenly dawned upon me that all the material gifts that I had given him in the past – clothes, wrist-watches, shoes and the like came to naught as compared to the time that he could spend with people he loved. You can’t buy that happiness with money.

During dad’s cremation, many of his friends, customers at the bakery had gathered to pay their last respects to the man who was a landmark by himself on Tilak Road. I broke down in front of dad’s closest friends and I shared how as a son, I wanted him to enjoy his life in retirement but dad wanted to manage the bakery right up to the last day of his life. I felt I should have done more for him. To this one of dad’s friends had some remarkable words. He said “Siddharth, your dad was never born to be retired. He planned his death exactly how he wanted, be at peace that he passed away without being a burden on his family and there was no pain in the final moments. There is nothing that anyone could have done to prevent this so don’t try to go back in time.” The best comment came at the end. This gentleman finally concluded saying “The best tribute that you can pay your dad is to be a good father to your children. It is only when your children realize how lucky they are to have you as their father will they realize the values that their grandfather had instilled in their father. Your actions towards your family and especially your kids are the best tribute to your father” I felt a sense of closure when I heard these words. There is still a way how I can be my father’s son by being a good father to my kids.

A lot of the ex-students at S. P. College shared with our family how dad used to sometimes lend them soft loans to pay for their fees since they came from poor homes. Dad never even shared these things to us. He also offered stuff to eat at the bakery for kids who didn’t have the cash with them, asking them to pay off this debt later. Of course, that ‘later’ never came and even dad never pursued such loans of kindness.

Mom told me during the 13th day ceremony after dad’s passing away, that dad probably would have left us in November 2012 itself when he had the same lung infection and was hospitalized upon my insistence. According to her, probably he wanted to see the last of his grandkids (my daughter) being born before he left this world. Hence, he borrowed a couple of extra months just to be able to see my daughter.

I can go for many more pages but I guess there has to be a hard stop at some point to this personal experience sharing. Hence, I will summarize:

If you are lucky enough as a son to still have your dad around in this world:

  • Try to be close to him wherever possible. He will probably want to act strong and push you away from you to make you feel that he is OK on his own but probably in his heart he is pining for you to tell him “Dad, let me be with you”
  • Don’t lose an opportunity to tell him how much you love him and look up to him
  • Don’t forget to be grateful to him in the company of your friends and his friends for all that he has done for you
  • Rather than material gifts try to think of experiences that will make him happy, like a family reunion, time-out with the grandkids, have him enjoy the food he likes in your company, spending the whole day with him, going on walks with him etc.
  • Keep taking feedback from him. Every father loves it when his son counts on him to give honest feedback about work and life in general

If as a son, you do not have your dad around you:

  • Be the embodiment of all his good values
  • Be the best father that you can for your kids which doesn’t mean just making the kids happy but also being the occasional ‘villain’ that you need to be in the house to reprimand wrong behavior. A spoilt child who misbehaves and disrespects elders is not a sign of a good upbringing however comfortable the life of the child may be
  • Share funny or courageous stories of your father with your kids. Let them have some sort of a memory of the grandfather that they don’t have in their lives

Any amount of disagreement that you may have with your father counts for zilch when you compare it to just having your father around you. It is only when your father is no longer in this world do you realize how much he was worth to you. Don’t leave it for too late!

 

 

My barber and Polytheism

Last month I was at my regular barber shop for a hair-cut to trim the crop on my head. It was around 1.30 PM on a Sunday and I prefer going around that time because of the limited waiting time. I have my hair cut from a particular guy at the shop which has around 7-8 other barbers because he knows how exactly I need my hair done. As my barber saw me stepping into the shop, he smiled and offered me the seat at his barber station since he was not attending to any other customer at that time.

As I smiled back and took the chair, a couple of other barbers shouted out to my barber and asked him if he wants to take a quick break and join them for a snack since it was lunch time. To this my barber responded in Marathi “Customer aale aahet, kaam karun aalo. Tumhi pudha vha” (“My customer is here, I will finish the job and then join you guys”). The other barbers reminded him that it will take him at least 30 mins to attend to me and if he really wanted to wait this long. Nonchalantly, my barber responded “Arre customer aapla dev asto, devala kasa nahi mhanaycha!” (“Customer is God, how do you say No to God?”). While I was amazed at my barber’s commitment, I also felt guilty at the idea of keeping him away from lunch and I told him to finish his lunch and I would wait for him. The bloke steadfastly refused and he said that he had some snacks at 11 AM earlier in the day and was not that hungry and he would not be able to enjoy his food anyways, keeping a regular customer like me waiting for him. It took me a while for this to sink in. As he went about harvesting the crop on my head, it set me thinking about his ‘Customer is God’ statement. Hold onto this thought, I will come back to this later.

Right from the early periods of human civilization as the human race spread to different parts of the world, polytheism was the pre-dominant form of religion as human beings attributed the miracles of the world around them to Gods of different kinds, different characters. Whether it was the Pagans of Europe, Native Americans of North America, Aztecs of South America, Aborigines of Australia or Hindus of India – polytheism was widespread and thriving. It was pretty natural at that time for the Aztecs to worship the Sun as a God or for the Native Americans to worship mountains or Hindus like me to worship rivers, stones, trees, snakes and what not. Unfortunately, sparing Hinduism (relatively speaking), most of these polytheistic religions have been wiped out and instead replaced by organized religion in these places. Even the food that we consume is respected like God in Sanatana Dharma which is crudely referred to as Hinduism in today’s times. In a poetic sense there are 330 million Gods in Hinduism!

No wonder a Hindu feels comfortable visiting a Gurudwara or visiting a dargah of a Muslim saint or in offering prayers at a Church. With 330 million Gods at your disposal, you are not insecure with an additional half a dozen Gods J  Personally speaking, during my upbringing my parents always taught my siblings and I to see the beautiful elements in other religions. For many years we sent money by post to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah and we got pretty yellow and saffron threads from the shrine as a return gift. I remember wearing this thread with great pride in school. My dad wore a kada/kara all his life because he grew up in a neighborhood in Ganesh Peth which had a Gurudwara (place of worship for Sikhs). He even knew many Gurbanis (Sikh religious prayers) by heart since the Gurudwara played them every day and the lovely sound became second nature to my dad ever since he was a kid. My mother came from a sleepy part of Mumbai called Vikhroli (specifically speaking, it was Vikroli village). Vikhroli village has a huge population of Christians and my mom and her siblings grew up hearing more Christmas carols than Hindu prayers. She also studied at a convent school by the name of St. Josephs near Vikhroli railway station. As kids when we went to my maternal grandparents’ house in Vikhroli, I remember standing for mass in front of the many Holy Crosses that dotted Vikhroli village for prayers and at the end of the prayers enjoyed boiled chickpeas with crunchy onions as a post prayer offering to all those assembled there. Even my grandparents, never stopped us from going to other places of worship. In fact, they encouraged us to explore.  As I said, being used to venerating multitude of Gods, it was only natural that it rubbed off in your respect towards other religions too. Now, I don’t want to get into the technical discussion that eventually all the different forms of Gods are manifested from a single form of God even in Sanatana Dharma but the way Polytheistic religions treat the subject of God is what interests me the most.

Coming back to my barber and his statement about the ‘customer being God’, it didn’t mean that my barber would touch my feet, light up a few incense sticks around me or seek my blessings like you would do when offering your respect to God. It simply meant he looked up to me with respect like you would look up to God. To stretch this point further, it’s akin to seeking Godliness in all the things and creatures around us. Wonderful, isn’t it? Wasn’t that supposed to be the whole purpose of religion in the first place – to love and respect everything and everyone around us?

When you are so focused on the ‘one God’ concept, you are suddenly left professing all your loyalty to that invisible force who is supposed to be a superior power while you conveniently choose to ignore all the miracles that are happening right in front of your eyes or around you. In Hinduism, your teacher who makes you capable for life is a form of God, you worship your car/bike on special days to keep you safe and hope for a hassle free ownership, you offer prayers at your place of business which puts the bread on your table, books which impart knowledge are a form of God, your food who provides you nutrition is a form of God and the list is endless. Hell, even if I touch my foot to another person when walking or sitting, I just reach out to this other person in forgiveness for my act.

I am not loathing monotheistic religions here since Hinduism also talks about the One God concept. I am simply saying that if everyone treated their religion from a polytheistic point of view, the world would be a much beautiful place where we would probably treat each other with greater respect, nature’s miracles would really be worth worshipping and we would probably care for nature that much more and plants and animals would probably not be seen from the view of a consumerist attitude but looked upon with respect.

So while some people will go about preaching that ‘their God is the only God’ – I will continue to enjoy the iftaar feasts during Ramadaan, enjoy Sufi music like I always have, look forward to Christmas cheer every December and gorge on that Christmas cake, continue to appreciate beautiful architecture at Churches or enjoy Gospel music, pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem every time I visit there, be a fan-boy of the Khalsa and be awestruck with the enchanting Gurbanis that emanate out of Gurudwaras 🙂

Places Pune kids must see

As parents to two kids (aged 9 and 3), my wife and I are constantly faced with the predicament of how to keep the kids engaged and entertained over weekends and holidays.

Now our idea of ‘quality time’ with kids is not taking them to the movies or the endless mall trawl which is the norm nowadays with city dwellers. Beyond the time that we spend at home it’s also an opportunity to for us to take the kids out in the open and allow them to experience things in the real world.

This conscious effort to find something ‘different, fundamental and inexpensive’ led us to explore the options that Pune has to offer. I thought it would be a good idea to share this list with others who want to take their kids out for a more holistic experience rather than killing time at the malls and the artificial world that it propagates.

This list is created without any assumptions about the awareness level of the readers on this topic. Hence, there will be some usual suspects there along with some which are lesser heard of. Nevertheless, let’s get to it:

  1. Taljai – Taljai is a morning walker’s paradise and a bio-diversity hot spot. It is a government protected green zone which encompasses the hills running from Parvati at one end and Taljai tekdi at the other end. Put on your walking shoes and go for a walk in this oxygen zone. Kids will love seeing the trees everywhere, butterflies, millipedes, birds and peacocks. If you are very lucky, you may see rabbits too. Carry your own water even though they have public water taps in some sections of this park. You can take your vehicle right up to the main gate of this park via a very well laid out curvaceous road. You cannot take vehicles beyond the gate of the park and there is sufficient open parking space there. In the mornings, you will see vegetable and fruit sellers near the park gates and by evening the same place turns into a mini chowpaty. Taljai Mata temple is also to be seen near the gate. There is also the ruins of a dilapidated bungalow called Thube bungalow along side the road leading up to Taljai hill. As kids playing cricket in the open grounds near Taljai, we used to know this place as ‘bhoot bangla’. There is also a small artificial lake there  which has a huge plaster of Paris installation of an elephant and a few ducks enjoying the lake’s water are a pleasant sight. There are other such hillocks around Pune like Vetak Tekdi, Hanuman Tekdi etc. but I love Taljai for the diverse experience that it provides.img_20150718_061854img_20150718_062054-2img_20150718_071223img_20150718_071422-2
  2. Parvati hill – Parvati is synonymous with Pune. Well laid out steps right up to this hill are an exciting challenge for kids of age 5 years and above. At the top of the hill are a few temples and a vantage point from where you can see far into the horizon of Pune city. There is also a museum at the top which is worth a look with items like weapons, coins, clothing from the Shivaji to the Peshwa era.  img_20150412_073022img_20150412_073110-2
  3. Saras Baug – Another landmark of Pune, Saras Baug is in the heart of the city and has wide open lawns surrounding an elevated land mass which houses the Peshwa era Ganapati temple. Other than a visit to the temple itself, the green lawns offer the opportunity for kids to run around and play games like frisbee. The artificial water body around the temple houses some fish life like the colorful Moi fish and some other varieties. There are some turtles too in this water. These can be a pretty sight for kids. There is a Peshwa museum behind the Ganapati temple. For a nominal fee you can see the exhibits inside. The chowpaty alongside Saras Baug offers traditional rides for kids like merry-go-rounds, giant wheels, horse rides to name a few. Then there is paav-bhaji, bhel and other fast food available to snack on after all these activities. This chowpaty used to be a place known for it’s food in the past, not so any more but it will at least not leave you hungry.
  4. Peshwe Park Adventure Centre – This park is behind Saras Baug. It was the first zoo of Pune city and I have many memories of seeing animals like sloth bears, leopards, orangutans and others here. Since the space here was limited, the zoo was shifted to Katraj and this place was converted to a kid’s adventure and scientific park. I would highly recommend this park for kids in the age bracket of 5-15 years. There are a lot of adventure and skill based activities here for kids and these have been designed for different age groups. There is a nominal fee for entry to this park but it is totally worth it. Some of the games and activities have well explained scientific reasoning outlined in the boards put up next  to each activity.   What I like about this park is that there are attendants for each activity and they make sure that the proper safety precautions are in place for the activities and also guide the kids on how to perform the activities. The place is also very well maintained and clean. The Phoolrani toy train offers rides for a fee on a circular mini track. This toy train is a legacy of the Peshwe Park zoo and was an absolute hit with the kids back in the time. Glad to see that it is still chugging along carrying the kids from another generation. The Peshwe Park lake existed since the times of the zoo but the boating activities which were offered here earlier are no longer available. There are also a few buildings which provide an insight for kids into different scientific principles.
  5. Japalouppe Equestrian Centre – This is an interesting place off the old Mumbai-Pune highway near Somatne Phata. It is basically an equestrian center which provides kids and adults horse riding skills through their different residential camps. However, they also have half day and full day activities where you can feed animals and birds. They also have a petting zoo where kids can interact with animals like rabbits, cows, dogs, turtles etc. This is an unbelievable experience for kids of this generation who find it hard to get off the TV and their iPad. Breakfast is covered as part of these day packages. The horse riding at the end of these half day, full day activities comes at an extra cost but is totally worth it. If your kid really takes to horse riding, you can consider enrolling him/her into a formal horse riding course at the center.  10995294_485590928267149_3305092071980897589_n11947547_1049939371685935_2354502122646182512_n
  6. 7 wonders park – This park in situated in Shivdarshan area near Sahakar Nagar and is formally known as Yashwantrao Chavan Park but is known more popularly as 7 wonders park. This green escape has miniature replicas of the 7 wonders of the world. All these replicas are pretty accurate with the level of detailing and make good backdrops for pictures with the kids. There is also a small closed auditorium where you have a sound and light show.
  7. Kelkar museum – I remember my school trips to this museum and how I was fascinated seeing all the pieces of history in this museum which was my first visit to a museum of any kind. Kelkar museum is situated off Bajirao road and has the largest collection of historical art and artifacts in Pune city. There is a section of Mastani Mahal where actual remnants of Mastani Mahal are used to create an imagery of that time.
  8. Shaniwar wada – This Peshwa era construction was the residential palace of the Peshwas. It features prominently as a symbol of Pune city including local government logos. While the external facade of the building is still in place, the internal structure and ornate construction is long gone – mainly due to a fire which engulfed this place during the British rule. Regardless of this, as you enter the main gates of Shaniwar wada, your kids will be transported back in time especially after the movie Bajirao Mastani was released even though the movie itself was not an accurate representation of the Peshwa history. Even then, there are numerous signboards and pointers to the existence of gardens, fountains and residential areas which existed at the time when Shaniwar Wada was in it’s full splendor.
  9. Katraj Snake Park – As mentioned earlier, the Peshwe Park zoo was relocated to Katraj Snake Park since this park is much larger in area and provided more spacious enclosures to the animals as compared to the cramped spaces of Peshwe Park. Katraj Snake Park is called as such because they have a dedicated section for reptiles and more specifically – snakes. They have open air pits for snakes which are enclosed by walls high enough to prevent the snakes from climbing over and low enough for visitors to have a look at them.Children will not only get to see snakes through their own eyes but get to read information about venomous and non-venomous snakes. Since this park is huge, be prepared for walking at least a couple of kilometers. They also have battery operated cars for which you can pay a fee and hitch a ride from one end of the park to another. Other than big herbivores like Neelgai, Indian wild buffalo, Sambar and others – they also have a very good variety of big cats including white tigers. This park also offered boating in the expansive Katraj lake in the past but I guess they have stopped the boating activities in the last couple of years.123
  10. Blades of glory – This is a unique museum dedicated to cricket lovers. If your kids love playing or watching cricket, this is the place you should get them to in Pune. This museum is located in Sahakar Nagar and is surprisingly not known to a lot of Pune citizens. They have personal cricket gear of cricketing legends, signed bats by each of the World Cup winning captains, bats signed by triple centurians etc. They keep adding to the collection and it gets interesting every year. So do head to this place in the heart of town for a special experience with India’s unofficial national game.
  11. Shivaji Maharaj Musuem of Indian history – This is a fairly new museum dedicated to the greatest son of Maharashtra – Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. This museum has been setup by an India-loving foreigner and is a must visit for Shivaji fans. Other than artifacts related to the life and times of Shivaji Maharaj, there is a great deal of information about Indian history in general. It is situated near Pune airport at Lohegaon and will be a treasure trove for kids if they are interested in history and even otherwise.
  12. Sinhagad fort – This is the closest fort for Pune city dwellers and the best part is that you can drive your vehicle right up to the fort which has sufficient parking spots too. This fort is known for the legendary fight put up by Shivaji’s commandar Tanaji Malusare against the Mughal occupation of the fort. The ramparts of the fort are still in place and the water tanks created on the top of this fort still supply fresh water all through the year. Be prepared for a good amount of walking as you explore different parts of the fort. Pitla bhakri, taak, bharlele waangi are some of the delicacies that you can sample when at this place, prepared in a typical rustic fashion by the local villagers. There is also a small museum of sorts at this fort where you can for a fee, read and enjoy artistic renditions of Shivaji’s adventures many centuries ago. It also has some neat inscriptions and designs in brass to add a different twist to the story telling experience. This place is magical in the monsoons and a must visit for every Puneite.
  13. Pu La Deshpande garden – This garden is situated on Sinhagad road and is named after the famed Marathi author, playright and satirist. The unique part about this park is that it is a Japanese themed park and hence is also called Pune-Okayama Friendship garden symbolising the friendship between the two cities. It has beautifully landscaped gardens and is an island of peace in this busy part of town. Kids will love to see the beautiful flowers and landscaping and admire the miracles of nature.There are also artifical water bodies here to add to the excitement.
  14. Joshi’s museum of miniature railways – This attraction is in Kothrud next to Sangam press. It is a personal collection of miniature railway carriages and engines. Other than presenting the history of trains from different parts of the world and more specifically the Indian Railways, the biggest attraction of this place is the miniature city setup in one part of the musuem. This miniature city setup has all the installations that a regular city would have with train stations, hills, business centres, flyovers, people, houses etc. In a pre-programmed routine, a set of trains move around the entire track with all bells and whistles along with the rest of the characters playing their part in this well coordinated act. Kids will be thrilled to see this whole city come to life. The place has run down a bit over the years but is a one time visit for sure with the kids.
  15. Sambhaji garden – Sambhaji garden situated on Jangli Maharaj road is a favorite place for morning joggers and walkers in this part of town. It has expansive lawns and gardens which are pretty well maintained. The unique feature about this garden is that it hosts an aquarium in it’s premises. For a small fee, kids can experience different varieties of fish and sea life. Though this aquarium is not as expansive or varied as the Taraporewala aquarium in Mumbai, it is the best one in Pune city. During Diwali, there is a special attraction at Sambhaji Park. A competition for the best built toy forts takes place during Diwali time. This tradition is unique to Maharashtra and more specifically Pune. You can see miniature replicas of some of the famous forts of Maharashtra.
  16. Lal Mahal – Lal Mahal is close to Shaniwar Wada and is situated in the older part of Pune city. It was built by Shivaji’s father Shahji Raje for his wife and kids. The original Lal Mahal was spread over an expansive piece of land and the current structure which stands there is on a fraction of the original land. It may not be able to stake claim to it’s originality but nevertheless is good experience for kids to imagine how life would be during those times of Shivaji.
  17. National War Memorial Southern Command – This War Memorial near Ghorpadi area of Pune Cantonment is unique in that it was entirely funded by contributions coming from citizens of this country. I still remember ads asking for donations to this War Memorial in the Indian Express and the names of contributors which was published every week. The main memorial itself is huge and awe-inspiring and it is decorated with lamps and special lighting on special days like Kargil Vijay Diwas and other events close to the armed forces history. You can also see a Mig 23 permanently displayed there from the 1999 Kargil War along with a miniature of INS Trishul warship. Children will surely feel a sense of patriotism and pride as they visit this memorial. They will also feel a sense of gratitude for the armed forces and the supreme sacrifices made by them to keep the nation safe and secure.
  18. Indian Tribal Museum – This small museum is situated in Koregaon Park, Lane 8. For a very small fee you can step into the world of our tribal community. There are some simulated scenes of tribal life and the kind of efforts they have to make to survive. There are displays of tribal art in this museum which can make the kids think of art in a radically different tangent. This visit will more importantly instill a sense of diversity in the minds of kids and they will learn to appreciate how this diversity can make for a rich cultural fabric of our country. Though there is not much walking around in this museum since it is small compared to other museums, it will well be worth the visit.

This list does not claim to be comprehensive and there may be several other places worth mentioning which I may have missed out or I may have not visited personally. Kindly mention these places in the comments so that the list can be further strengthened.

Even though the original intention of this article was to highlight places of interest for kids, I am sure that each one of these places would be equally interesting to adults too.

All of these places are easily accessible from Pune City and hence I have not made a mention of the other wonderful places in the outskirts of Pune city. These attractions outside Pune City deserve a different blog and hence you will not see them here.

I have intentionally not mentioned commercially operated places here and there are plenty of such places in Pune. I wanted to make a mention of places which don’t cost a lot of money and have some unique attraction for the kids.

I have also not added personal pictures against each one of these places because I didn’t want to add to the length of this article.

Hope this list is helpful to parents and other adults to keep their kids engaged, entertained in a healthy and inexpensive way.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Our daily hypocrisy

How many times have to been on the road and felt cynical about the driving manners of others?

Wait a minute, now was that observation while you were walking along the foot-path or zig-zagging your way on a motor-bike or rolling in your fancy car (with the A/C turned on and some good music playing on the stereo)?

Like most of us, I have been in all the 3 situations mentioned above and I did not feel too good about my fellow travelers on the road in all of the situations.

Now isn’t that a bit weird?

While I am walking along, it is a challenge to cross the road because the bikers make you dance as they sweep past you as you try to make it from one end of the street to another. If not the bikers, the car guys will surely honk the living daylights out of you as if it was a sin to even think about crossing that street.

If you are on the bike, you will feel irritated with the jay walkers who have no sense of when to cross the road or be pushed off the road by the snobbish car guys.

When you are in the comfort of your car, you feel frustrated at the lack of basic courtesy by the bikers who will want to squeeze into every possible place behind your car or in front of your car or alongside your car. The walkers are no good either. They are always the ones to get the sympathy even if it is their fault that they decided to cross the street when the lights turn green for the traffic because car guys are always to be blamed in these situations.

The daily grind in reaching the office and driving back home can be a really frustrating experience if your drive time is more than 30 mins each way. This is especially true if you have to deal with the traffic chaos of developing countries like India.

From my experiences, I could see that I probably did all the things that I held my fellow travelers guilty of whether I was walking along, on my bike or driving my car. I am sure most of you out there can relate to this. But still we like to play the victim and blame everyone around us (expect us).

I have come to the conclusion through my own experiences that losing your cool in such situations causes more damage to us and does nothing to improve the situation around us. Trying to have it our way can at the most save us probably 10-15 mins. I have not seen myself landing earlier than this based on my personal experiences but this does come at a heavy cost of our physical and mental well-being not to mention the risk that it poses to others on the road.

I decided some time ago to not push myself when stuck in such a situation and take it easy. Sometimes giving way to someone else and seeing the smile or the acknowledgement of this person can make your day.

So rather than making a fool of yourself at every given opportunity we can choose to be ‘nice’ and then the office commutes will not be cumbersome.

I have made this switch, when will you?