Life People Personal

The Bully Pulpit

A Short Story / Illustrations by Jayashree Krishnan

Ashokar was a tall, lanky student in Venu’s school. He was too tall for his shorts, but that didn’t stop him from occasionally sporting the jock look. Ashokar was a few classes senior to Venu, and the two seemed to enjoy a cordial relationship. Beneath it however, Venu often felt tense and afraid. He couldn’t put a finger on why that was. Perhaps it was how Ashokar looked at him, greeted him, or played cricket with others in the school courtyard. Venu would frequently notice Ashokar intently staring at him, while in conversation with his protégé, Sundar, who happened to be Venu’s classmate. It was widely known that Sundar and Venu did not get along. Venu couldn’t put a finger on that as well.  

Sad Venu

“What’s the matter, Venu?”, enquired his aunt Jhansi as she saw him skulking in his study room. “Nothing. I’m just tired”, he said, attempting to deflect her attention. But he couldn’t control his sniffles. “Aiyayo, Vasantha, come here”, Jhansi exclaimed. “Venu is crying and doesn’t seem well. Something is wrong”, she emoted. 

Venu’s mother, Vasantha, and his aunt tried to get to the bottom of the matter, but they gave up after a while and started to walk away. “Ashokar pushed me and hit me”, Venu mumbled. 

“What did you say?”, exclaimed Venu’s mother. Venu could no longer control his tears. Between breaths, he recounted what Ashokar had done to him as he left school. 

“Where do you think you are going?”teased Ashokar as he cut into Venu’s path. Venu was heading home from school later than normal one day, as he took some special classes. “I’m going home Ashokar. I had some special classes today.”, replied Venu. “Oh, special classes, eh? Just for you?”, said Ashokar with sarcasm dripping from every syllable. “No, there were a few other students”, Venu replied in a muted voice, as the tall, gangly Ashokar leaned into Venu’s face. Venu quickly looked around and saw that there were very few people around. He made a mental note that this was a premeditated move from Ashokar. Venu swallowed in fear. “Leave me alone”, pleaded Venu as he looked at the gate watchman, hoping he would notice. The watchman averted Venu’s gaze and conveniently pretended to be busy with something else. Venu had observed the watchman and Ashokar in frequent friendly conversations.

“I have been meaning to teach you a lesson for a while now. I don’t like how you treat Sundar”, Ashokar threatened, as his hands moved closer to Venu’s chest. “That rat“, Venu thought to himself, as he pictured the cowardly and envious Sundar call in the school thug to teach him a lesson.  

Venu crashed into a brick planter as Ashokar shoved his chest. Thankfully, his backpack cushioned the fall. Ashokar menacingly approached Venu as he struggled to get up. In an instant, Venu decided to run as fast as he could out of the school. Having achieved his objective, Ashokar did not chase after Venu. 

“Oh my god”, exclaimed Venu’s aunt Jhansi, as Venu finished recounting his experience. She vowed to visit his school and talk to the principal. Venu’s mother agreed with her and they planned to make a trip to his school. Venu didn’t want to stop them, as he couldn’t fathom a way to deal with Ashokar by himself.

Ashokar was a man of few words. Venu thought Ashokar compensated for it by surrounding himself with cronies. Ashokar contested the school election, but lost as his campaign was quite silent. Venu thought that Ashokar didn’t take the loss too well and led to the incident a few days ago. 

The daily School Assembly was in progress. Miss Kannamal paced up and down as she led the students in the final song of the day. She was a master teacher of the Bhagavad Gita slokas and her signature sing-song style made her popular with the students. Before Miss Kannamal dismissed the students, the Headmistress came on stage and made an announcement.

“It gives me no pleasure to do this”, she said sternly, as she gazed around the assembly. “Kamakoti is no place for bullies, it’s not a place where you play rough with each other instead of using words to solve your problems”, she declared. Venu trembled with excitement. Was she going to name names?, he thought to himself.  

The Principal called Ashokar to the stage and told him to apologize to Venu. The assembly was abuzz. Ashokar shamefully mumbled a few words, and ran as fast as possible back to his line. Venu was pleased at how his mother and aunt had advocated for him. In the back of his mind, he wished he had done so himself. For now, it was time to celebrate.

Venu in Celebration

Little did he realize that the story was just about to begin.

Life Personal Thinking

Catch while small

When our washing machine left some dirt in my white clothes, I thought it was that “specific” load problem.

This happened repeatedly and I kept ignoring it, but every time I washed white dhotis I would get annoyed because there was some small gunk that would stick.

Today, 3 months from first notice, I am in the process of removing the pulsator cap to see if there’s any gunk underneath the wash plate assembly. Meanwhile a bleach cycle is in process to break the gunk down. I’m waiting on a tool box that magically disappeared from home a few days ago when a close one visited. I’m considering instituting a customs area.

Most of us tend to ignore small problems as they occur either because we don’t have the time to pay close attention or don’t feel impacted enough to try to fix it immediately. This may apply to machines, relationships, own behaviors, health, politics and what not.

It’s not that we need to have an always on alert antenna out for life’s problems. But if we find ourselves attacking big problems that could have been better dealt with when it was much smaller, time to make a serious note of it and re calibrate.

Have a good weekend. And maybe use it to work on some of the small problems that you paid attention to.

People Personal

Something of Meaning

We started banging pots and pans at 7 PM daily in early March to express support to the frontline and healthcare workers. Healthcare workers faced an enormous challenge during the early days of the pandemic with limited personal protective equipment and worked long hours. They became the rallying cry for the rest of society. It was an emotional time for all of us.

Having just come off a huge art project for the Chicago Temple, Jayashree had earned some well deserved rest and relaxation. Her “art” project for the temple consisted of painting about 40 works of the various deities and structures in the temple. These paintings were planned to be stored in a special room with the actual deities, while renovation (Samprokshanam) was in progress. The interesting aspect to this is that these paintings would actually host the deities (“avahanam”) during this time. Imagine that responsibility for the painting and its artist. As of this writing, the renovation work is still on pause due to COVID.

We celebrated her 50th birthday and then within a few days everything got shut down hard in Seattle. A few weeks after that, she casually painted her doctor cousins covered with PPE, caring for COVID patients.

In a way, Jayashree got immersed at a very deep level and heard many poignant stories from her subjects. I was grateful to hear many of those stories too that gave me a more meaningful perspective than just CFR/R0 and other data. We heard a heroic story from a friend. Her uncle, after treating dozens of COVID patients, finally succumbed. While being treated himself, he enquired and provided support to his patients. What a hero!

A Hero from Andhra Pradesh

Throughout, she got support from so many people. A Gofundme project to support making of over 30 portraits raised $1500 in a week. That was quite heartwarming. Art supply stores provided product at discount. Cheers and statements of support was so critical for her to keep going, significantly from fellow participants in the workshop. Her studio mate Rick Fichter and I made a lightbox to take pictures of all the paintings. Harish displayed his photography skills by taking pictures. Akshara, Samarjit and Malolan provided the finishing touches by mounting over 50 pictures on frames. As a finale, I was happy to install the portraits in Virginia Mason. Many more folks helped that I am certainly glossing over.

It’s glad to see her taking a well deserved break. Who knows what the next sprint is going to be?

Heroes from Jefferson Health in Philadelphia
Virginia Mason Heroes Exhibit

You can also visit her site where she has chronicled this entire project of significant meaning.

Thanks for reading.

Life Personal Technology

A Zoom Wedding

Two weeks ago, my niece got married. Congrats to the new couple. The wedding was in Bangalore. The audience was limited and lots of safety precautions was in place.

Due to the pandemic, we could not attend the wedding. Many of our family could not attend as well.

While there was a live stream connected to a private YouTube channel, I quickly recognized that it would not be interactive. I envisioned friends and family gathered in the online world, chatting with each other or providing a running commentary.

Zoom to the rescue. My wife had a Pro subscription that we have put to good use over last six months. Zoom deserves all the kudos it can get for providing a usable, resilient service.

We had the professional livestream one one browser tab. On Zoom, I shared this tab via screen sharing so all attendees could watch the same stream in the same space. Each one didn’t need to watch the livestream all by themselves.

Then, the social dynamics took over. Lots of comments were exchanged. The Zoomers could also follow every detail of the Wedding.

On the wedding event, we used the waiting room and when a guest was admitted, the welcoming party greeted them with garlands and scented water. Just like on the ground.

The other cool thing was that due to a few phones in the wedding hall, they could join into Zoom and provide their unique perspective as well catch up. When the producer spotlighted a video (attendee) everyone would watch that by default.

We recorded the entire event on Zoom cloud so the raw recording was instantly available.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.