“Kelifonia”

November 13, 1999

I am in a 2 week training in San Jose, CA. Rohan and  Teju joined me yesterday. When Teju took him to the Delta airline office in  Dallas, there was a model plane (about 10 ft long)  in  their office. He thought that that plane could fly  and  would take him to ‘Kelifonia’. 

Whole morning on the day of the flight Rohan would  open the garage door every 5 minutes and ask Teju to  come along – ‘Kelifonia javu che – Daddy pas’e’.  Teju  would tell him – ‘be (2) vage javanu che – baranu > bandh kar’. After about an hour of Rohan rushing out  of the garage door and packing things up, Teju’s  voice  was getting more and more shrill. Finally, Teju had  to  time out him for a while to calm him down. 

When the SuperShuttle came to pick them up from our  Dallas home and drop them to the airport he told the  driver – ‘Kelifonia javu che – Daddy pas’e, jaldi  jaldi’. When he got down from the shuttle – he  thought  he was in ‘Kelifonia’. 

For a while he thought that the airport was California.  Rohan fell asleep before the plane took off – so  when  he woke up and looked outside the window, he could  not  see any cars, people, outside. He the asked Teju  ‘momma, badhi cars kon layi gayu’? 

He is still confused about what California is. First  he thought that the airport was California. Then now  he thinks that the apartment complex that we are  staying in here is called ‘Kelifonia’.  When we ask him – ‘California Kem javay’, he answers  –  ‘airplance ma and navi car ma’ – he calls the rental  car – navi carr. 

We will take him to see some interesting attractions  in San Fransisco and around so that he will  associate  them with ‘Kelifonia’.  So – that’s how a 2 1/2 year old’s mind workss… No  wonder we long to go home to these creatures.

© Himanshu Bhatt … 1998

A Birthday Celebration …

February 26, 2000

 It was past noon on a Saturday in early spring. There was a buzz around the Bhatt household.  It was Rohan’s 3rd birthday and we had invited some friends that evening. Finally, Rohan was old enough to understand what a birthday party is and had been looking forward to the evening.  Decorations seemed to get him in to the mood for the evening. My parents were visiting from India and like most grand parents, spared no efforts to make it a special day for him. I had been running around all morning. Tasks were many, I had to get the balloons and the cake and the drinks and finally pick up the food.

Everything seemed set – but for the yard work. Our lawn care person, Pedro, who is normally ever so reliable, had not shown up for two weeks.  Our yard needed work! I decided to cut the lawn in the evening.  Soon enough, I heard a lawnmower humming in my front yard. I rushed to the door. I saw a truck and a trailer parked outside. Finally!  – I declared. With all the impetuousness, I ran out of the door and located Pedro mowing our lawn. Pedro is probably in his mid forties and looks his age. I went up to him. Pedro stopped his lawnmower and smiled at me.  His smile disarmed me. After remembering that I was to be upset at him – I asked him: “Where have you been for last two weeks? I must have called you a zillion times!”

Pedro smiled at me again.  He said: “I am sorry Senor”. Then, pointing to his truck he said:  “My truck was stolen.”

“Oh my god!” I said. I asked him how this happened.

Pedro told me his story: His truck was stolen two weeks ago on a Monday night. Pedro keeps all his lawn care equipment on a trailer attached to his truck. The truck, I found out, was the only mode of transportation for his family. Also, since all his tools were on the trailer, for the two weeks, said Pedro, he could not go to work. Finally, it seems that he got a call from the Police past Thursday.  They had located his truck and trailer. Unfortunately, all his equipment was stolen. On top of that, the insane laws of the Dallas city, required him to pay a $50 a day fine for the time his truck was sitting at a garage. His truck, it seems was found abandoned last Friday, however, nobody got around to calling him up until the following Thursday.

I could not help but feel sorry for him.

Trying to analyze the financial impact of this ordeal on him, I asked him how much his equipment cost.

“$2,500. I had to buy everything – the mower, the blower, the edger, the trimmer, …”

“Did you have any insurance?” I asked. Soon after asking that, I felt like the queen of France who had advised peasants to eat cake if they could not find bread.

Pedro, works 20 lawns on a Saturday. At $25 per lawn – he will end up working six weekends to recover the money for the new equipment and the parking fees. Still, during our entire conversation, Pedro never once appeared sullen. I admired him for that.

After talking to him I went inside to grab my wallet. On my way back, I noticed a small boy – around 6/7 years old sitting in Pedro’s truck.

Out of curiosity I asked Pedro who he was. 

“He is my younger son” said Pedro.  “It is chico’s birthday today, senor, and he wanted to spend the day with me”. Pedro said with a smile. 

I wished chico a very happy birthday.

For the remainder of the evening, I strived to spend as much time as possible with Rohan. In the final analysis – that was our true celebration.

© Himanshu Bhatt

Simplify!

May 22nd, 2001

It was a quiet Friday evening in the Bhatt household. My wife, Teju was downstairs playing with Ritu (our spirited little toddler), and I was lying on the bed reading stories to Rohan. This was the first time I was reading a “Panchatantra” book (similar to Aesop’s Fables) to Rohan and he was listening to the stories with his normal avid attention. Rohan was just under 4 years of age at the time and not unlike many parents, I too was keen to reinforce the various lessons of life to my children.

The story I was reading that night was about an old snake that moves near a small pond in search of some food. He notices a colony of frogs inhabiting this pond. As this snake is old, he is not agile enough to catch any frogs by himself. So, this wily snake befriends the king of this frog colony.  The snake takes the king frog on his back all through the pond all day and in turn the King lets him devour one of his subjects every evening. So, in short, the King betrays his clan and at the end – becomes a meal for the snake.  After reading the story, eager to teach Rohan the ways of the real world, I asked him – “So beta, what did you learn from this story?” Rohan, without missing a beat said: “Never be a frog!”. I started laughing.

It was clear that the message was too complicated for my little four years old. However, at the same time I could not help but be charmed by his innocence. As we grow older, most of us develop mental filters to analyze our surroundings and situations. Sometime in the process of learning about life’s intricacies, we tend to forget how to enjoy it. Having learnt to read between the lines, sometimes we ignore simplicity of the message.

A child does not need much to be happy – basic necessities of life and loving parents. As we have traveled with our kids, we have found them equally happy and spirited in a small hotel room or in our much larger home. As long as we find them activities, they are not attached to any toys or other material things. No party is too boring for them and no incidence everlasting in their memories. As long as they are healthy, they always wake up spirited and go to bed content. They live in the moment and thus truly live every moment. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for myself.

Sure, learning life’s intricacies is essential to our survival and I will keep on reading Panchatantra and other books to my kids. One day, he will have mastered the nuances of human nature and the ways of the world. Having blessed with Rohan and Ritu, I cannot sometime help but envy their innocent uncomplicated lives.  If there is a heaven, can it be too different from the early years of a child? As I teach Rohan about intricacies of life, I hope that I will relearn some of its simplicities.

Himanshu Bhatt © 2001

Monday Morning Commute

 

November 13, 1999

It was a Monday morning in the month of November and I found myself once again on my way to work. After I got properly situated in the freeway traffic, I started paying attention to the radio, which is generally tuned to the local PBS station. The morning business brief was on and I started analyzing my portfolio. As I was carefully treading the Monday morning commute. I found myself thinking about our newborn – our second child, and the growing needs of my family. Like a true yuppie, I began wondering if it was time for us to buy a Van, or an SUV perhaps. Suddenly I started noticing all the Vans and SUVs in the traffic.

Then suddenly my selective perception failed me and I noticed right in front of me, a rundown pickup truck. There was a Mexican looking man riding in the back of this pickup. My lips suddenly twitched in a condescending grin. My mind immediately declared – ‘what kind of an idiot would ride like this – on a freeway!’. As I was passing the pickup, I noticed four passengers in the cabin of this truck sitting in extremely tight quarters. I passed a glance at the fellow riding in the back. This time however I noticed that the man was obviously cold. I could not notice any expressions on his face. Then again, my yuppie eyes are trained not to notice any feelings in the men who come and mow our lawns or help out with household chores.

I realized that just like me this Mexican fellow was going to his work – in his case, probably a construction site, or someone’s lawn. I found myself wondering – maybe the fellow has a family. Perhaps a son and a daughter, just like me. Perhaps he finds himself wondering and planning about their future, just like I do. With every passing mile I was feeling less and less smug. I started identifying more and more with the fellow. I looked at him again. However, this time, I was not noticing the rundown condition of the pickup or his clothes or his expressionless face.

I started seeing him as a person – with a family, a job, a commute. I wondered if what seemed to be expressionless was really a truly contented face? Just like everyone, often I find myself chasing happiness in my life. If the Mexican fellow were to be given everything in the life that I have at this moment, I wondered, how content and blessed would he feel? However, my yuppie brain is not accustomed to this line of thinking, so I argued – ‘the more I will have, the more I will be able to give to my family. Better house, better cars, better education for the kids, better clothes, …’. Still, I felt something missing.

For the remainder of my commute that day, instead of finding cars around me, I started noticing people. A dad, a husband, a sole wage earner for a family of six living in Mexico…

The pickup veered off to the next exit. It did however, make my commute that morning, a little more humane.

© Himanshu Bhatt