Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mussoorie and The Sad Verses of The Monsoon ( Borshar Bishonno Ponctimala ).......

I found Mussoorie by chance. And it stayed with me .

I was in high school , and two of my cousins and I hatched up a plan to approach our parents for a supposed pilgrimage to a holy site in India ( it got us financed in less time than saving for the trip !) . When we reached Delhi , we learned that the train lines to Jaipur ( called India's Pink City ) were flooded out . As the leader of the group - I had to come up with an alternative . So, I decided on Mussoorie , and from there to Laksman Jhola and Harduwar ( so instead of going to the muslim holy places , we decided to dip in the Ganges at Harduwar and visit the holy hindu shrines at Rishikesh ) ! Regardless to say , our parents were horrified when they learned about this , and there were endless debates and urgent family gatherings the next few weeks trying to gauge what mishaps await the three of us due to our actions . I was quick to point out that we can undertake another "financed trip" to go to the original places and lift this supposed "wrath" hanging on us and I would be willing to put the plans together in the shortest possible time - which was met with a resounding no as soon as it was put forward !

But, Mussorie stayed with me , and I went back and back to it five more times all the way while I was in Med School.

Mussoorie is known as the " Queen of the hill stations " and is in Northern India - about 7,000 ft. above sea level - developed during the British rule of India as an escape from the scorching heat of the plains . With its picturesque setting in the mountains , misty clouds and tantalizing sunsets - Mussoorie is harder to forget than the first kiss with your childhood sweetheart. I remember how the first time I was there , we met two other students and went hiking up a hill and shared three bottles of rum ( my very first dig into alcohol ) and my cousin started crying because he was too drunk and afraid to come down the hill. It was getting dark and we had to talk and convince him for two hours that it was do-able ! Other times , I went on my own . Except once . My father had asked me to drop off some stuff he sent for his friend in Kolkata on my way to Mussoorie . After I had delivered my errand , the family invited me to dinner and gave me some things for their daughter who was in a school in Simla . Although it meant a detour , I couldn't refuse ( the picture of their daughter in the living room did not in any way influence my decision ). So from Delhi , I went to Simla for a day - and there I met B . She was a whirlwind and molten lava moulded in one . After delivering my packages , she asked me where I am heading to - and I said Mussoorie - she just jumped up and said ," I am going with you !" Within an hour , she had everything planned up , and while her parents were thinking she was going to Delhi to attend her classmates sister's wedding , B and I were in a luxury tourist bus on our way to Mussoorie just two hours after we first met ! I distinctly remember the bus rolling on at night with a sound asleep B's head on my shoulders - when the thought occurred to me that B's father is a high ranking police official in Kolkata and that the news of this trieste might one day leak out - these distinct facts and possibility combined might have a direct impact on my future well-being ! And the reality that every time I visit India , I have to go through Kolkata was also bearing down on my mind ! When I told that to B , she just looked at me and said , " You cannot live like a lamb Raj ! " . Somehow , it wasn't very reassuring , and from that day on I developed a deep sense of respect for dads who either keep guns within arms reach or are NRA card holders ! But B and I didn't turn back , and spend the next five days in Mussoorie - watching sunrise and sunsets , strolling down camelback road , hiking up and down the hill paths and enjoying the eateries in the sprawling hill town . My friends referred this to Honeymoon without the marriage deal . Something like this just happens to be in one of my stories , but again, art never imitates life - right ? Art just develops from the essence of the experiences in life .

I was in Med School when I escaped to find refuge in the heavens of Mussoorie again . The people in Mussoorie believe they live close to the heavens , and they maybe right. The most enticing thing that used to captivate me about Mussoorie was the daily sunrise stroll to the mountain cliffs . I used to trek up the hill and sit down watching the sun clear the distant Himalayan peaks and extend its rays down the Dehradun valley with clear crisp clouds staged together like welcome carpet to its shines ! I would take my seat on this bench , and the chants from the temples would bounce back from the hills - it was amazing - I could never see the temple on the other side of the mountain , but would be captivated by its sounds for hours until I would decide to get up and hike downhill .

There was a time of about nine months that I had to go through some tough times in my life . I went to Mussoorie twice in those nine months. Each time stayed there for a week , gathered my thoughts , spend some time alone , and wrote . The story that got me Med School attention and got me published in different magazines for the first time , was written here . And I wrote these series of twenty-three poems that I named " Borshar Bishonno Ponctimala" roughly translated means : " Sad verses of the Monsoon " - that I would like to collectively publish one day ( some of them have been published in different magazines ) .

Musoorie will always be special to me . Its serene air , lush green and steep hills has always been there for me . I found not only my thoughts bouncing back from its hillsides , but my longing for life and love as well. It not only gave me memories of boyhood , and the blazing warmth of a warm soul and a picturesque landscape - it also took my pains , my anguish - and gave me a new lease on life .

Here is one of the poems from " Borshar Bishonno Ponctimala " :

Yet , how strange it is

You are in the same town as me .

The same breeze -

that gives me my dreaded breath of life

without you -

Winds up the dust on your path ,

Makes its way through the ruffles of your hair ,

Waves the trains of your saree in the wind .

I can still see you in my eyes , my love ,

Locking your hair in your fingers

And looking at me ,

Opening the wooden door

Standing at the frame and falling in my arms ,

Running into the rain

And giggling happy in the afternoon .

How big is this town -

that hides you from me ?

Why its winding pitched streets ,

does not lead me to your door ,

Its deeming lights

does not reveal the outlines

of your form that I desparately

long to see.

Do you see the same sky , my love ?

Does the same patch of clouds

brings shade and sun

in your world ,

Do the same birds fly past your

longings to a destined lagoon ,

And the same rain brings nothing

But days of thirst ?

The nights does not bring

sleep anymore for me ,

The days are without dreams ,

My eyes are wide open

But blinded by my longing for you.

When the shining sun

will hang on the ledges of my window

And hectic life will engulf the streets ,

I will open my eyes just like you,

to live another listless day of a listless life ,

see the same sky, feel the same breeze ,

drench in the same rain that clutter on your roof ,

Without seeing you or your smile ,

Without touching your lips or your warmth -

Yet, how strange it is -

You are in the same town as me.

pictures of Mussoorie courtesy of : steven caudill at

and :

more info and pics of Mussoorie at:

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Rape of Nanking, the Denials of Genocide and the memory of a Bold-Spirit.......

'No massacre in Nanking,' Japanese lawmakers say

Reuters, The Associated Press
Published: June 19, 2007

TOKYO: About 100 Japanese governing party lawmakers denounced the Nanjing Massacre as a fabrication on Tuesday, contesting Chinese claims that Japanese soldiers killed hundreds of thousands of people after seizing the Chinese city in 1937.
The members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party said there was no evidence to prove mass killings by Japanese soldiers in the captured Nationalist capital, then known as Nanking. ...... China says that as many as 300,000 people were killed. Nanjing suffered a rampage of murder, rape and looting by Japanese troops that became known as "The Rape of Nanking."

As I was browsing through the newspapers online , I came across this piece carried by Reuters and I had to stop . Again, the right-wing lawmakers of the ruling party in Japan instead of freeing the current generation from its past shame, decided to bring more shame on themselves by denying historical facts .

As I read the news-clip , my memory raced to an evening in 2000, when I was managing The Durant in Berkeley , when I met this serenely pretty doe-eyed woman in her early thirties named Iris Chang prior to her speaking engagement in Berkeley - and distinctly remember her smiling and asking me , " Are you Indian ?" I politely replied , " My mother is from Bangladesh." She immediately lighted up and said , " You went through a brutal civil war , didn't you ?" I could see she had so much compassion in her eyes and voice - and it stayed with me for a long time because it sounded so genuine. This was Iris Chang - only the second chinese american writer to have a book in the New York Times best-seller list , and that book " The Rape of Nanking" - stayed on the list for 3 consecutive months and was reprinted 15 times !

By August of 1937 , the Japanese Imperial Army had just entered Shanghai and marched towards the Chinese capital Nanjing. On August 2, Emperor Hirohito personally ratified the law removing all constraints of International Rules on the Army regarding its treatment towards chinese prisoners. This acted as a catalyst to the events that followed. On December 2nd, Prince Asaka - an uncle of emperor Showa - was named the commander of the invasion - thus, this massacre has a clear and undeniable direct link to the royal family of Japan. On December 9 the Japanese Imperial Army were at the gates of Nanjing and issued an ultimatum to surrender. When there was no response , for 2 days a fierce artillery and aerial attack was unleashed and the Chinese soldiers retreated and later abandoned the fight in chaos.

What followed in the next six weeks can only be termed as a massacre of genocidal proportions. Thousands of soldiers who changed into civilian clothes to flee the city were rounded up by the Japanese and taken to the banks of the Yangtze river and machine gunned so their bodies would be carried down river to Shanghai , others were used for live bayonet practice , yet others hanged by their tongue or nailed to the tree or buried alive . Decapitation was also a popular method of choice . Look closely at the photographs below - this hapens to be a picture carried with a report on Ashai Shimbun from its correspondent telling everyone of a contest between 2 Japanese officers to see who can decapitate 100 people first !

Two Japanese officers, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda competing to see who could kill (with a sword) one hundred people first. The bold headline reads, "'Incredible Record' (in the Contest to) Cut Down 100 People—Mukai 106 – 105 Noda—Both 2nd Lieutenants Go Into Extra Innings"

But the rapes in those six weeks and the sheer brutality and methodical nature of it is what stands out of this massacre. Japanese soldiers would go house to house searches and round up the women and systematically rape and mutilate and then kill them .Even pregnant women were not spared. Eyewitness accounts reveal how pregnant women were raped and bayoneted , their fetus taken out and then thrown up in the air and caught by bayonets by the soldiers. Forced incest and monks forced to participate in acts for the amusement of soldiers was a past time for troops. This entire macabre went on and on. A telegram written by Manchester Guardian reporter H.J.Timperley to Japanese Foreign Minister Koki Hirota puts it very bluntly : "Since return (to) Shanghai (a) few days ago I investigated reported atrocities committed by Japanese Army in Nanking and elsewhere. Verbal accounts (of) reliable eye-witnesses and letters from individuals whose credibility (is) beyond question afford convincing proof (that) Japanese Army behaved and (is) continuing (to) behave in (a) fashion reminiscent (of) Attila (and) his Huns. (Not) less than three hundred thousand Chinese civilians slaughtered, many cases (in) cold blood."

The most surprising fact of all is for 60 years , no comprehensive book was published on this dark episode , and a concerted effort of the Japanese right wing kept a steady barrage of disinformation and denial it ever happened . In 1994 , while on a conference in Cupertino , California - the idea of writing a book on this massacre came to Iris Chang . Her grandfather was a newspaper editor of a chinese daily in Nanjing during the time of the Japanese brutality , and she grew up hearing stories of these dark days . Iris Chang took up the cause . She went to China , interviewed survivors personally, went to the archives in China and the U.S. and talked to scholars on both sides . It is during her searches in the Yale Library she stumbled upon the diaries of a German named John Rabe and Minnie Vautrin . She also located Rabe's surviving daughter Ursula Reinhardt .

These diaries and daily logs opened a wealth of day-to-day information on the goings-on in the besieged city during that time. John Rabe , a German and a devout member of the Nazi Party , is the paradoxical hero and often referred to as Nanjing's Oscar Schindler . Rabe and about 20 other europeans comprising of doctors, diplomats , missionaries and businessmen worked tirelessly to save the chinese civilians specially women from rape and created a "Safety Zone " . In a strange twist , Rabe was begging Hitler to intervene to stop the massacre ! These diaries became the basis of the book "Rape of Nanking" - written not as a hard account with stats only , but a free flowing lyrical style writing which makes it a more palatable book that touches your heart and imagination. Here is a part of a documentary on Nanjing

As soon as the book was published in 1997 , the Japanese right-wingers started a distortion campaign. The Japanese ambassador in the U.S. held a press conference denouncing the book and again stated that the Nanking massacre is just a myth ! Iris Chang also faced constant harassment from these people and had to change her phone number frequently due to threats. But , as a compassionate soul , the stories of brutality and massacre took an undeniable toll on her . She frequently broke down during interviews with the victims and their families but still carried on her work . She even condemned the treatment and profiling of muslims after 9/11 equating it to the "exclusion of the chinese" early part of the century.

On November 10, 2004 police found a car on the rural roads of Los Gatos with a 36 year chinese-american woman inside with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Iris Chang , while fighting for the cause and the truth , could not deal with the depression that engulfed her from inside and had taken her own life (according to police reports ). A movie, Iris Chang , is slated for release later this year on her life.

Iris Chang with her tireless efforts had brought a piece of forgotten history to the forefront of the world and demanded justice. To this day , the Japanese government has refused to apologise for the atrocities and distorted historical facts to reflect their own version in school text books. I salute the people within Japan who has raised their voice against the right-wing lobby and demanded that Japan own up to its past . Although General Iwane Matsui was judged guilty of war crimes and sentenced to die after WWII , none of the Japanese royal family were prosecuted according to the terms of surrender to the Allies , not even Prince Asaka who despite being the ranking officer in Nanjing during the height of the atrocities completely pleaded ignorance of any such wrongdoings by his troops because nobody brought any complaints to him.

Sometimes I have this distinct feeling that even on world stage , common sense is left aside and replaced with utter ignorance . The Japanese denial of the Nanjing Massacre, the Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide to this day, the debate whether Darfur can be termed as genocide ultimately insults the memories of the victims . I am horrified when educated literate people , some within the muslim community which I belong flatly denies The Holocaust . I remember when I was seeing Sarah ( her grandfather was a Rabbi in San Diego ) that I came across pictures of her visit to Auschwitz and saw this picture of thousands of small shoes of children stacked tight to the ceiling of this big warehouse -shoes that were taken from them before they were walked to their deaths - and to this day , I cannot forget the agony I felt for those little souls whose only crime was to belong to a particular religion . Even though I was little , I remember the nine months of methodical extermination carried out by the Pakistani Army against Bengalees just on the pretext that Bengalees are not good muslims and want their own country .

Iris Chang will always be a guiding light. There will always be people who will deny the truth drunk in a false sense of national pride where your country can do no wrong - deny the solace and compassion to the thousands of voiceless people who were cut, maimed,raped and mutilated without dignity and led to thier deaths in silence - but for each one of them , there will come a Iris Chang , who will demand justice and make sure their suffering is neither forgotten nor erased.

Here is a poem-tribute to the deep thouhtful compassionate eyes that will be fresh in my memory forever , Sleep my sweet warrior , sleep in peace ;

An Ode To A Warrior ..........
You spoke for me.
Even when the scorches of the sun
Had dried my wounds,
And I could not show the world ,
How deep the cuts
Have ravaged my dreams ,
How the steel had left a mark
On the inner Sanctums of my bone ,
How the night winds -
had whirled up my pain.
But you still believed in me .
And stood up for me .
When my voice quivered you held my arm ,
When my steps faltered , you steadied my steps,
When the world looked away from my wound ,
You brought me to the brightness of the day.

Sleep, my sweet warrior ,
For I know how tired you must be,
How the days have plagued your conscience,
How my wounds have pained your heart.
As the sun sets in the distance
Let me be your voice now -
Each time the lies
Are revived from the dust,
I will firmly speak the truth,
For each inhumanity on man ,
I will stand firmly with strength.

Sleep, my sweet warrior ,
Sleep in peace .

more information on Iris Chang and Nanjing Massacare can be found at the following websites:

Monday, May 14, 2007

Kiss Me Not On The Eyes ...........

Kiss me not on The Eyes ,
A Kiss on the eyes, tears lovers apart ......

The English title of the movie " Kiss me not on the Eyes " derives from an old song lyric by Abdul Wahaab ,and the Arabic title is " Duniya " - which in Arabic , Hindi, Urdu and Bengali means "The World" - and this movie by director Jocelyne Saab was absolutely tantalizing and riveting at the same time . It is an Egyptian/Lebanese/French production and has been very craftfully put together .

I saw this movie last year at the Arab Film Festival in San Francisco - when I had just met T - and this was one of our very first movies together . And it left me with a lingering feeling of having witnessed something beautiful and thought-provoking at the same time.

The film centers around Duniya , a character deftly played with all its sensousness by the beautiful Hanan Turk , a girl who is just discovering her sensuality and womanhood in a repressed society where girls are supposed to adhere strictly to certain rules and mind certain boundaries. Duniya decides to break the taboos society imposed on her and takes up belly-dancing in dance school and erotic poetry as her study-subject for research at the university. Knowing that her mother was never accepted in her father's family because of her past history as a belly-dancer , she defiantly takes up this form of dancing and discovers the pleasure of her body and movement . Her professor , played by Mohamed Mounir ( a well-known Arabic singer in real life), takes her on a journey of the long history of eroticism in arabic literature - and the world of sensuality in the depths of the words in arabic love poems comes to life for her . Duniya's boyfriend eyes her emancipation with suspicion and tries to bring her back into the molds of the so-called moral society , threatening to end the relationship - and they get married. But now, Duniya is liberated , free from the shackles of age-old Egyptian customs where the desires of a woman is viewed as immoral, her defiance unacceptable. She decides to leave and writes her farewell letter on her wedding dress.

The entire movie is a poetry in motion. Punctuated with lines and lyrics of love poems and a rhythmic soundtrack - Duniya is captivating. Hanan Turk, with her eyes, form, and beauty sizzles subtly throughout the movie - like a gazelle breezing through the landscape of the Serengeti , like a swan rippling through the shimmering waters and taking flight in spreading wings ! It took Jocelyne Saab more than six years to make this movie , and the idea came to her when she was overseeing an University research into sexual tendencies of Egyptian youth and one of her assistants walked out saying the study violates her religious sensitivities.Then the producers bailed out a week after outdoor shooting was over , and then came the protracted battle with Egyptian censors.

Jocelyne Saab started as a documentary filmmaker - she contends that films have too much dialogue and story telling in them . She would rather have shots tell the story. Duniya comes off as a series of collages revolving around the main character Duniya , and the entire movie makes an impresion of an artwork-on-canvas effect. The film also touches the issue of the politically autocratic regime in Egypt ( when the professor is threatened and then picked up by security forces ), the religious fanatism fanned through in the name of morality ( when the professor is attacked and his eyes taken out ) and lastly the practice of female circumcision ( when Duniya's cousin is forcibly circumcised and she tries to rescue her ).

Duniya makes an impression - it makes you reach for your inner senses - and it leaves an undeliable etching on your memory - whether this was the effect of the movie totally or this was partially to be blamed on the fact that I was holding the hands of a vivacious nigerian beauty while watching the movie - now, thats a slightly debatable question.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Berkeley,Garage Sale and the Fuzzifiers........

I was dreading this day since I started to have an inkling it might happen - as I could not talk T out of it and ran out of credible excuses - and so the inevitable Garage Sale finally approached .

T had surgically gone through my wardrobe of seven years and basically reduced it by two-thirds ( yes, I have that ' what if I might need it some day ' syndrome or ratpacking ) and gathered all our electronic gadgets that she declared redundant ( why do we have 3 dvd players ? no answer ) - and piled everything at the center of the living room gearing up for The Garage Sale. Most of her burning inspiration I squarely blame on an Oprah episode on "clutter" - and she was on the warpath ! The pile of stuff became a towering presence (increasing every week) in the living room - and I was compelled to add another chore to my routine , that is - to sift through and find out what else was dumped in that tower that I cannot part with and make a spirited defense to take it back to the bedroom !

I tried everything to put it off - " Babe, its going to rain so hard this weekend ! " ; " I might have to swing by work for a while " ; " Sorry baby, could not get hold of the landlord today " ; " Don't we have to be in Palo Alto this weekend ?" - and finally with all options runing out , I went on the offensive - " has anyone thought through the logistics of this ?" Well, it didn't work - I could put it off for a while , but the day finally came.

And T, was ecstatic ! Lifting the boxes down three flights of stairs , I was cursing the weatherman who had given me a faint ray of hope of postponing this for the fourth time - a 33% chance of rain , he said the previous evening , and we woke up to a gorgeous sunshine ! As we were driving up to the designated place for our garage sale a different kind of fear gripped me - what if nobody comes and nothing sells ? I don't want T to be disappointed after all the trouble she went through - maybe I should have called some of my friends "to pose" as buyers , ahh no, lets see what happens.

We set up at a corner and while lamenting a lost Sunday I kept a stiff upper lip about the whole thing . But T's abundant energy and the slowly trickling-in people was a surprise . You should have seen her - waving at people , explaining each item in unshying detail - she was in her element ! I always thought I had the salesmanship between the two of us. Boy, was I wrong ! We met people of so many different shades , some with astonishing simplicity and some with complexities beyond belief - that it was a new experience all in itself.

As I walked up to the set-up , T introduced me to this frail old man wearing an italian hat - " Look who we have here Raj , this is the distinguished mathematician - Dr. Lofti Zadeh ! You know... The inventor of theFuzzy logic theory ! " Although T is in Aplied Maths , I am not - but in this case I nodded with assumed certainty , " Ahh, yes , yes - nice to meet you !" - making a note to google it when I get home while shaking his hand and hoping I wouldn't be asked to elaborate on my non-existent knowledge of this theory ! The man was frail and very thin ( if the wind speed would have picked up 5 more knots he would have certainly been swept away !) - and a tough bargain hunter , T and him was furiously going back and forth on the price of the items he wanted to buy. When the dust settled , he had a lot of things to take back to the car - and I volunteered to carry them . The woman in the car was not at all amused by the sight of these items being loaded into the car. " Lofti ! I have only one car you know ! This is the fifth garage sale you have stopped since six in the morning ! " What ? Six in the morning on a Sunday ? You got to be crazy ! As there was no room in the trunk , I had to move stuff around on the back seat to make room . And off went a happy Dr. Lotfi Zadeh - by far the best client at our garage sale that day !

We had other people also besides him , as I said of all varieties. One guy kept coming back on a bicycle every half hour asking the price of everything and saying ( truthfully as I might add ) - he will be back ! I gathered this must be the local stalker or something , and finally T offered to give him a decorative cushion for free . There was this taxi driver from Yemen ( a place T is greatly infatuated with !) , a school kid bitterly disappointed that we had no X-Box games to sell , two guys and a girl from Israel going through all the electronic items , and this handsome Microbiology student from Berkeley casually walking by and browsing ( T was eagerly conversing with him and I pretended to be busy with other things but kept a sharp eye and ear out ! ) . And then came these two ladies , going through each and every item with a minimum of three questions for each one of them - and when they stumbled upon the hand-free-headsets for the cell phones , they went berserk ! And the conversations went like this :
" Do these work ?"
"Most of them ".
"Why do you have three?"
" I just bought them with each new phone ."
"how many phones did you change ?"
" If they work, why are you selling them ?"
"I got a new one with blutooth ."
"Why did you buy a phone with a blutooth when you could have used these with some other models ?"
"Because I liked the set I bought ."
" Are you sure they work ?"
"As I said, most of them ."
" Most of them ? You mean 1 or 2 that works , or all 3 ?"
" Well, you can take them all and try which one works ."
" How much are they ?"
"Since, I cannot tell which one works , I'll give it to you for free ."
"Why will I take it for free if it doesn't work ?"
"You have to take a chance , but they are free ."
"Why are you giving them for free if it works ?"'
" I guess I have no use for them ."
"Well, if it doesn't work there is no reason for me to take them ."
"How far can I talk on this headset ?"
"As long as it is connected to your cell phone ."
"Can I borrow your cell phone ?"
"Because I want to see if it works ."
"Okay ."
Turning to the other guy browsing : " Can you call him on your cell phone while I walk around the block ?"
As I watched her disappearing around the block I thought to myself that I just had lost my new cell phone. But she came back , smiling .
" All of them work ! "
"Great , its yours then."
"but, what will I do with three sets ?"
"You don't have to take all three if you dont want "
" Why wont I take them if I dont have to pay for them ?"
Inexplicable. Is she married ? This is torture .
"Well, I'll take them . Do you have the instructions manual ?"
I was afraid to answer - a blank stare said it all. She went to T and said how she was there at 7am and didn't see us and came back at noon , and an endless lament of what items she might have missed out on !

It was late afternoon , and as T and I agreed , whatever we didn't sell would have to go straight to the Salvation Army . So we wrapped up, T was extremely happy , most of the items were sold , this was a resounding success for her . And I was happy it came to an end . But more happy , that she enjoyed every minute of it !

But I learnt something in the process - and met some characters I never imagined I share the city with. And added some new words to my vocabulary - fuzzification, fuzzifier , fuzzified - which ranks right up with "projects" ( a term given a new dimension when T's father asked her , So you are living with this boy - are you guys doing some projects together ?) - which had countless spinoff lines which I have to leave to your imagination to wonder .

The foundation of the Fuzzy Logic theory states that there is a third region beyond true and false . I guess the whole experience of this opened my eyes to another set of people -who hunt for bargains waking up at six in the morning on a sunday and drive from one garage sale to another - with zeal , just to find another good deal - whether they need it or not . But mostly, to find , discover and interact with people they would never meet otherwise - and revel in the experience .

The Call on Valentine's Day...........

It was a sunny day, and I was tremendously busy at work. The fact that I came back from an extended weekend worsened my workload - but it was Valentines day - the first one since T and I met. We had gone to San Diego the previous weekend for the Rugby 7 series , and I made plans for us to stay at the beautiful Konakai Resorts ( one of the hotels I helped my previous company acquire ) - and I kind of thought that it will make like a valentines getaway for us. Well, it didnt . All my kenyan friends were in San Diego, and the fact that I have stopped drinking totally , and T is not that much into parties - made for an uncomfortable mix. My friends kept calling , and I kept away from the parties except for the first night. And they equated my presence on that night to having Jesus sitting with them at the table while they are drinking.

But, it was our first V-day, kind of. And I wanted her to feel special. So, in between work, reports and meetings , I was deeply wondering what I should do. And when the idea hit me, I sneaked out in my busy schedule - bought two dozen roses (peach and pink) , two gigantic lobsters, some seafood for a home cooked dinner and with the nice bottle of chianti I had at home - I was all set for the evening.Feeling pretty pleased I went back to work.

And thats when the call came.

At first, I was inclined to tell my front desk to pass it on to my voicemail - but when he mentioned it is the second time she is trying to reach you - I decided to take it. It was a call from the San Francisco Coroners office asking me by name ! With a chill running down my spine , I answered yes thats me . She politely identified herself as calling from the investigations office and asked me , Do you know anyone by the name of Kin Wah Chan ? I remember we had a chef named Ken and a maintainence person named Kenny - but no one by that name . I asked her what was it about ,if he is in trouble , and she informed me that Kin Wah Chan had jumped off the Golden Gate bridge at 9:30am that morning and they cannot locate any next of kin . When they pulled him up two hours later , they found my business card in his jacket pocket. They were wondering if I have any information on him. Momentarily stunned, I explained to her that I can look in my guest data base for the hotel and call her back.I shelved all my reports for the day, and started my search. And it did not turn up anything . I called her back and told her that I couldn't find anyone matching that name having stayed at our hotel and asked her what is going to happen if no one can identify his body. She paused, and told me that they will keep trying.

Although I had to go back to my appointments for the day, I could not keep my mind off this at all. When I was discussing an Event with one of my appointments , it suddenly occurred to me that banquet/event information is stored on a different system. I dashed back to my office , and started my search again. And there it was . Kin Wah Chan - had come to the hotel last October to discuss a chinese engagement tea party ceremony with his fiancee - no date selected for the event , no forwarding address , follow-up call on the number given shows number no longer in service. I had come up with nothing at all. When I was in Med School - I formed a pretty good idea as to what happens to unidentified unclaimed bodies. And the thought kept bothering me , and yet I came up with nothing. But, I called the lady again and gave her whatever I gathered and told her I will keep searching and let her know.

My mind was not into work anymore. Why would anyone decide to go out this way ? on valentines day ? I have crossed that bridge so many times and even took pictures of me overlooking that bridge and the sunset so many times and yet never wondered that such a beautiful thing could be the point of a different kind of crossing for others in total despair. I take all my friends and relatives who come to visit San Francisco for a tour of the Golden Gate bridge - and on a sparkling day the beauty of the bridge complimenting the picturesque city in the background is a sight to behold ! I started looking for some answers and it kept amazing and saddening me at the same time.

The total number of people who have jumped off the Golden Gate bridge is well over 1,200 since it was built in May 1937 - on average one suicide every two weeks - and is considered the leading suicide location in the world. When the number was approaching one thousand in 1995 , due to the count-down fever CHP decided to halt its public count at 997 - and that did not stop Eric Atkinson to jump off and become the thousandth person - although like many others, his body was never found but he was seen making the jump. Every year close to about 50 people are persuaded successfully not to jump - apparently Kin Wah Chan was not one of them. Most of the jumpers prefer the fall facing east - the spectacular view of the city of San Francisco and the bay being the reason - than facing west towards the vast Pacific ocean. Researhers conclude that most of the people want to see something beautiful when they decide to end it all - some of the jumpers actually crossed the sister Bay bridge and come to the Vermillion Red painted Pillars of the Golden Gate bridge for the jump. The first recorded jump was just three months after the bridge was officially opened , a World War 1 veteran Harold Wobber walked up to the bridge and turned towards a total stranger and said, This is as far as I go , and jumped. One of the famous people to jump is Roy Raymond - the founder of Victoria's Secret !

So, why do they do it ? Every one of us go through the ups and downs of life , and some of us are more vulnerable not to overcome our depression than others . Most of the reasons remain uncovered, swept away in the waters under the bridge like the bodies of the people who attempt the suicide . Some are trivial, some are deeply touching. Sometimes the relatives, even the parents cannot explain why an otherwise healthy productive individual decides to take this deadly decision. When I was shifting through the articles , one was particularly troublesome. One of the jumpers wrote on his suicide note : " I am going to walk to the bridge today. If one person smiles at me on the way , I will not jump." Apparently, no one did. Another 14 year old High School student skipped school and took a $ 150 cab ride to the bridge and wrote on her suicide note :" I love you all , this is not your fault ."She was a straight A student. Kevin Hines, one of the very few that survived the jump recounts how he was on the bridge , utterly distraught with tears down his eyes , waiting for someone to stop him when a tourist approached him - only to ask him to take a picture of her on the bridge completely oblivious of the tears in his face - Hines obliged , accepted the thank you in return and jumped off the bridge. Tracy Lea Heineman - a computer programmer,music director and piano teacher who could converse in six different languages - stopped her VW Cabrio midway on the No.3 lane on the Golden Gate bridge on a January evening , got out with fresh groceries still in the back seat of her car , ran and jumped over the rail. These are all ordinary everyday people , with deep emotional distress they could not cope with. What was Kin Wah Chan's reason ?

In 2005 ,Eric Steel released a documentary named " The Bridge" - a documentary made up of footages from numerous cameras panned on the bridge span 24 hours a day - from January till December of 2004. It captured 23 out of the 24 jumps that year , and created a firestorm. His team actually stopped 6 of the suicides by alerting authorities , and the film also contains interviews with family of the jumpers to find the causes .

How can we prevent this from happening ? How many times have we all experienced pain and a sense of desolation and somehow bounced back and worked our way through it ? Thought, life cannot go on and found out although it limps for a while , it does go on. Doesn't these people need a deterrent to dissaude them from the jump ? And here lies the controversy. The safety railing of this bridge is only 4 ft. tall ( some say because Joseph Strauss , the designer of the bridge was only little over 5 ft and he wanted to look over the railing !) - so anyone with a sudden urge to "just disappear" - has nothing to stop him or her. A lot of the families of the jumpers have taken up the cause to build a safety railing deterrent . But opponents say it will destroy the aesthetic nature of the bridge , there are also wind and stress concerns and of course monetary funding. Despite spending 20 million for a moveable median to prevent head-on collisions on the bridge, and another 5 million to keep bicyclists safe ( even though not a single bicyclist has ever died on the bridge !) - the Bridge Authority could not find 6 ~8 million needed for the safety barrier to this date.

The startling fact remains that the few survivors have said the same thing - they regretted what they did the moment they released their hands from the railing. Ken Baldwin , who jumped in August 1985, tells how he counted to ten and released his hands and while clearing the chords of the bridge realised : "... that everything in my life that I'd thought was unfixable was completely fixable - except for having just jumped". Dr. Richard Sieden followed 515 people who were persuaded to come back from the railing and found 96 per cent went on with their lives and did not attempt again - if this is not the one compelling reason to erect the barrier , then none is. Maybe , some suspect , there is a certain disdain for these desperate souls even in liberal San Francisco. Filmmaker Eric Steel says :""The strange thing about the bridge itself is that when someone dies there, there's this big splash," he said. "And within minutes, it's like nothing ever happened. All the ripples go away. And the traffic keeps moving, and the pedestrians are walking, and the water's going under the bridge. But for the families, that ripple keeps going forever."

It was already dark , approaching 8pm and I had to wind up my day at work. And it was Valentines Day. I hurried back home with the flowers,chocolate and the bags of seafood I was cooking for dinner. And T was there , smiling , we cooked the dinner together - pointing out each others flawed method of cooking seafood - and ate heartily together. And I was thankful to have so many people I can relate my life to in some way or another.

Next day, I went to work again , called the Coroners Office and asked the lady if they had any luck and told her that I wish to be notified if there are any funeral services so T and I can attend. What prompted Kin Wah Chan to take his life we would never know , whether a barrier or just a smile would have made him rethink his decision we wouldn't know either. The fact will forever remain that on a sunny crispy Valentines morning , Kin Wah Chan slowly climbed over the 4 ft. guard-rail , stood on the ledge of an iconic modern marvel overlooking the breathtaking grandeur of the city , then looked down at the icy waters of the pacific and decided there is nothing to hold him back to this earth - and jumped - with my business card in his jacket.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

So, the Journey begins................

Rajons prithvi - means rajons world . This my blog, my thoughts , things I want to write about ,things that I found interesting, matters that mattered to me and above all, a window to my world.

I will write about my feelings, memories and about people I run into my everyday life - at work,at home. Sometimes, about my political views, my childhood, and the country I left behind.

Why Rajon ? Well, the name of the central male character in all my short stories is named Rajon - a mix of my reality and my imagination .

Hope you enjoy the reading ,and glad to have you in this jouney of mine ......