We are all human

We are all human

Allahﷻ said:

Hujuraat 49: 13. O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has the most At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.

Allahﷻ told us that he created diversity of color and race so that we may recognize His Khudrat and appreciate the care and love with which He created us. He created diversity of color and race so that we can praise Him by honoring each other. It is the perversity of our cultures that we invented discrimination which comes out of arrogance (Kibr) by which we look down on others which is the surest way to reach Jahannam. Allahﷻ told us that the most honored is the one who is the most pious – has the most Taqwa – is most concerned about the pleasure of Allahﷻ. The one who lives by the single criterion for all decision making – ‘Does it please Allahﷻ?’

Rasoolullah declared in a Khutba he delivered during the days of Hajj:

“O People! Certainly, your Rabb is one, your father is one. An Arab has no superiority over a Non-Arab, nor does a Non-Arab have superiority over an Arab, a red skinned person (white) is not superior to a dark skinned person nor is a dark skinned person superior to a red skinned person except through Taqwa.” (Musnad Ahmad, vol. 5 pg. 411)

In 1978, I read a book by Alex Haley, called ‘Roots’. It was made into a TV miniseries which won practically every award in the book.

The story is set in 1750 about the saga of Kunta Kinte from the Gambia, West Africa. Kunta Kinte was born to Omoro Kinte, a Mandinka warrior, and his wife, Binta. He was Muslim. It is a story of pain and suffering, of being treated worse than an animal (because slave owners in America treated their dogs and horses far better), of being assaulted not only physically, but mentally and emotionally and spared death only because it is financially unwise to destroy your own property. But above all, it is a story of dignity, of faith and of courage that has remained with me and illuminated my life in its darkest moments of loss and grief with the message of hope and faith. Yes, this is a novel. But it is based on real lives of those who didn’t stand in lines before the gates of US Embassies in their countries to get visas, but who were torn out of their world, lives ripped apart, hearts shattered and hope murdered, to be transported in conditions that beggar the imagination, to be brought to these shores, to work in the farms and homes of those who considered themselves to be their ‘owners’. To raise their children, to build their cities and monuments, their sweat, tears, and blood, poured into the foundations, to be buried and forgotten. Forgotten that is, by everyone except the One who created them and remembered by anyone with the intelligence to reflect that the more magnificent the superstructure, the deeper and stronger its foundation. The America that we see today is not defined by names on billboards but by names of those who stood down in its foundations so that others could stand on their shoulders.

I saw a short video clip yesterday. A mother made it about her tiny perhaps two-year-old girl who had clandestinely eaten some cakes and is being questioned by her mother. https://youtu.be/3WZhW1FTH8w

Listen to her last sentence. ‘It was a black man,’ she says without any prompting. Ask, where did she get that from? That is how early and where, racism starts. That attitude is what killed George Floyd. That is what prompts every action of brutality against people different from ourselves. That is the real cancer, the real virus; far more lethal than Covid. That is what we must combat and eradicate. It kills. It has killed for centuries. And it will continue to kill as long as we allow it to survive. Remember that in this warped, twisted and perverted situation, it is only those who die, that we even hear about. We never hear about those who walk away, their souls scarred forever, their confidence shattered, and their hearts filled with rage at what they must endure because their skins have more color. Children listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do. Good parenting is the first line of defence against racism. Racism is not restricted to the false idea of White Supremacy or to America. Hausa/Fulani conflict in Nigeria is racism. White/Black/Indian conflict in South Africa is racism. Uighur oppression in China is racism. Rohinga oppression in Myanmar is racism. All religious oppression and discrimination anywhere is racism. Indian/Pakistani mothers looking for ‘fair’ brides for their sons, is racism. The huge revenue that cosmetics companies make from ‘Fairness Creams’, in the Indian subcontinent and in Africa is racism. That ‘fairness’ has nothing to do with a sense of justice. It has everything to do with self-hatred and ingratitude to Allahﷻ by trying to become something that you can never, ever become.

In my nursery school in India, we learned a nursery rhyme which was:

“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, Catch a ‘tiger’ by the toe, If he hollers let him go, Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.”  

However, the word ‘tiger’ in the second line, was not what we were taught. We were taught another word, the genesis of which I did not understand until decades later when I had lived in Guyana and here in America among African American people. The rhyme was not taught to us by White Supremacists, but by our own South Indian teachers; not to teach us to be racist but because we were being taught English. I love English. I use English. I write and speak in English with total fluency and enjoy it very much. And so, I recognize English.

If you Google this nursery rhyme, it says, ‘The second line definitely comes from America.’ That is when I understood the reason for the word in the rhyme that we were taught and why it was replaced by the word ‘tiger’. Little did those who replaced the word realize how true to the nature of the African American is the word ‘tiger’. The fact that you are the survivors of a history that has no parallel in brutality, is evidence that you are the descendants of tigers and tigresses, whose bodies slave owners could abuse but whose hearts and souls were and remain their own. Sustained and supported and strengthened by the One who created you and gave you a spirit that has no parallel.

English is a racist language. Not surprising because it is the language of the greatest Empire of bandits the world has ever seen, the British Empire. Where one corporate organization, the East India Company, waged war, annexed countries (India was a collection of countries ruled by their own kings), created famines, enslaved and so thoroughly looted my nation that India, which accounted for 25% of Global GDP when the British graced our shores, went down to 2% when they decided to stop gracing them.

All this was done with the full permission and sanction of the British government of the day. British Clubs in India had signs at the gate which read, “Dogs and Indians not allowed”. That did not apply to the Indians who cooked and cleaned and served them in the Clubs. Only to Indians who may have dared to aspire to equality with their white masters.

White supremacy is therefore intrinsic in the English language. That is why in the time of my parents and grandparents, even though they were fluent in English, they never spoke it at home. And if we spoke to them in English, we were considered disrespectful and were reprimanded either directly or by the fact that they never replied to us in English. English, to them, was the language of the British colonial rulers, which we learned because we had to, but which was never accepted as ours. I do not agree with that philosophy as all languages are the signs of Allahﷻ and are a means of communication. They are tools which are value neutral, to be used to convey meaning. They are neither good nor bad. It is their use, which makes them one or the other.

Let me give you some examples of how English is loaded with discriminatory meanings. Jesus is white, as are all the disciples in the Last Supper; though we know that they were all Palestinian. Black is bad in English by default unless you qualify that by saying: Some of my best friends are black…which is a racist statement if ever there was one. The member of the family who brings disrepute to it is the ‘Black sheep’. A dream that makes you wake up screaming with fear, bathed in sweat is a ‘nightmare’. Someone who is mysterious in a negative, distrustful sort of way is a ‘dark horse’. A lie, which is not really bad is a ‘White lie’. Evil magic that is designed to make you suffer and die is ‘Black magic’. And finally, income that will land you in jail is ‘black money’ (in this we are not racists. We love black money.) Dark Africa…as if the sun never shines there. Yet a vast chunk of tourism revenue comes from people who spend hours upon hours, lying in the sun on its beaches, trying to become dark. The term “American dream” therefore, does not mean the same to all Americans. That is what this struggle is all about – to make the “American dream” equally attractive for all who live in this land.

I can give you more examples, but this is sufficient for now. I am mentioning this to show how insidious and hidden, yet more powerful for that reason, racism is. You literally imbibe it with your mother’s milk. And that is why we must recognize it and detox ourselves from its lethal poison which otherwise will destroy our souls. Racism is not about others. It is about us. About me and you. Like all poisons, it kills the one who eats it.

It is not my intention merely to narrate for you a litany of grief to weep over, but to present to you a solution that is as applicable today in the 21st century World, as it was in 7th century Arabia. A solution not only preached but practiced in a society which was as racist as any in today’s world, yet which was transformed into an example of racial harmony and mutual respect that is an example for all time.

He was Muhammadﷺ. Raised as an orphan. His father died before he was born, his mother, when he was five. His nurse, Barakah bint Tha’alaba, raised him and he called her, Ummi – my mother. She was the only person who knew him and was with him from the day he was born to the day he died. Baraka bint Tha’alaba (RA) was black. He preached a religion that grew so powerfully that today one out of four human beings follow it; Al-Islam. But when he started preaching it, his followers were rejected, maligned, boycotted, tortured, and murdered, for believing in One God – Allahﷻ. Its first martyr was Sumaiyya bint Khayyat (RA), another black woman. Speared to death because she said, ‘La ilaha illAllah’. Then there was a black man, Bilal bin Rabah (RA), who became the first person to call the people to prayer and he called the Adhaan from the top of the Ka’aba. His elevation to that position was because he had paid his ‘dues’ and was the beloved of Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ. What were the dues he paid? It was to lie on the burning sand of the Arabian desert, his arms and legs spread-eagled, tied to stakes with a huge rock on his chest, tortured by his slave-owner, Umaiyya bin Khalf, for saying that God is One and He is Allahﷻ. Decades later, someone asked Sayyidina Bilal to tell him about the best memory of his life. He said, ‘It was when I used to be tortured by being forced to lie on the burning sand with a rock on my chest and my slave-owner used to say, ‘Give up this religion and I will free you.’ And I would say, ‘Ahadun Ahad’, because that made him insane with rage.’ Umaiyya bin Khalf could try to subjugate and dominate the body of Bilal bin Rabah (RA) but his heart and soul belonged to Allahﷻ and were filled with love for Him. And so, when the time came after Fatah Makkah, who did Rasoolullahﷺ choose, when he had everyone including himself, to raise the first call to prayer? He chose Bilal bin Rabah (RA). That he was African and an ex-slave in a highly racist culture also served to emphasize the fundamental principle in Islam – that all of us are equally human, equally valuable, and equally precious in the sight of Allahﷻ. That our race, color, shape or form do not make us superior to anyone else. That the most honorable in the sight of Allahﷻ is the one who is most concerned about pleasing Him.

Today as we protest against racism in America, let us remember that we are against all racism. Let us remember that our stance is noble. Our stand is life giving and life confirming. In America today, all people of all races are standing together to give the message loud and clear that enough is enough. We reject arrogance. We reject racism. We reject discrimination irrespective of its basis, because we believe in the equality of all humankind. We believe in the right to dignity and respect that every human being is entitled to.

As I watched the visuals of police chiefs with their fellow officers, kneeling to seek forgiveness for what some of their numbers had done; as I watched visuals of ordinary white folks, kneeling to seek forgiveness for violence done to people of color in America, I said to myself, “This can only be in America. This is what makes America great.” It is not your money or military power or technological superiority. It is your people. Black people, White people, Hispanic people, Native Americans, Indian Subcontinentals, Asians, all standing together against racism. Standing together to support and enforce justice. Standing together to protect the weak, the minorities. It is your laws which allow protest. Which allow you to stand for justice, even if that is against the government of the day. It is your society that recognizes that patriotism is love for the nation, not for the political party in power. For justice can never be done until those who are not affected by injustice, are prepared to stand up against it. That is what I am seeing here and in that there is hope. Enormous hope that you will succeed and that we, all oppressed people everywhere, will succeed. Your fight against racism, discrimination and injustice is a fight for its victims, everywhere in the world. I take solace from this and I see hope for all oppressed people everywhere.

It is also for the very same reason that I am very dismayed, alarmed, taken aback and heartbroken when I see the visuals of looting and vandalism from city after city. I plead with you all, please do not destroy your own cause. Please do not destroy the cause of all of us who stand with you. Please do not allow a few vandals whose greed overcomes their discretion to loot and burn. Looting and vandalizing strengthens the hands of those who oppose us, and justify the brutality and injustice meted out to us claiming that we are dangerous and must be kept enslaved for the safety of others. Do not act in ways that they will use as ‘evidence’ that they were right. Remember that if the looting continues, then the smoke from the fires will obliterate the justice of our cause. We must protest against the looting because that too is injustice. We cannot allow injustice in the name of fighting against injustice. All injustice must stop, and justice must prevail.

In the life of Rasoolullahﷺ we have the best role model to follow. Let us stand together for justice and show the world, the real reason why America is great.

Those were the days

Those were the days

His Majesty King Saud bin Abdul Aziz A’al As-Saud and
HEH Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, Nizam of Hyderabad

A dear friend of mine sent me two historical photos of King Saud bin Abdul Aziz A’al As-Saud and HEH Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, Nizam of Hyderabad. The photos came with this caption note: King Saud bin Abdul Aziz A’al As-Saud who ruled Saudi Arabia from 1953 till 1964 visited Hyderabad India in 1954 only to meet Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Osman Ali Khan to thank him for the great monetary help given by Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan for the maintenance of Harmain Sharifayn (Makkah Mukarramah and Madinah Munawarrah) from 1911 till 1954. The Nizam built  more than thirty grand  buildings around Masjid al-Haraam in Makkah Mukarramah and Masjid un-Nabi in Madinah Munawarrah for the pilgrims visiting these sacred places for Haj and Umrah. The Nizam of Hyderabad was the largest donor for the maintenance of Harmain Sharifayn till 1954 until the Saudis got Petro-dollars.

I thought I would add something to these memorabilia. The Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII was responsible for the electrification of the Haramain Shareefain. The first electric lights in the Haramain were installed by Hyderabad State. My grandfather, Mohammed Asadullah, was the Nazim, Umoor-e-Mazhabi (Director, Ministry of Religious Affairs). On two occasions he was deputed by the Nizam to lead a delegation of pilgrims for Haj. In Saudi Arabia he was treated as a guest of the State and was granted audience with His Majesty King Abdul Aziz Ibn As-Saud. His Majesty invested him with a robe of honor (Khillat), invited him to participate in the Ghusl (Ritual Washing) of the Ka’aba and was given a piece of the Kiswa (ornate fabric cover) of the Ka’aba as a relic and memento of his trip. We have that in our home, Aziz Bagh, in Hyderabad. Sadly, the Nizam himself never did Haj and to the best of my knowledge, neither did any of the major nobles of Hyderabad. The sole exception (and I will be very happy if someone can correct me) was Nawab Wali ud Dowla Bahadur, who went for Haj and died there and is buried in Al Baqi in Madina.

Mohammad Asadullah (my grandfather) and the Kiswa of the Ka’aba that he received

A sequel to this story is my own which I want to share with you. It was 2008. I was on the treadmill in the gym in Hyderabad when my Nokia phone rang. I answered the call and it was the Visa Officer from the Saudi Embassy in Delhi. I couldn’t hear him thanks to the deafening music in the gym, so I got off the treadmill and went out to talk to him. He said to me, “Shaikh we want to invite you to speak at the International Haj Conference in Makkah which is held just before Haj. Would you be able to accept our invitation?”

I pinched myself to ensure that I was alive and not asleep. I was and wasn’t. The International Haj Conference is a calendar event, to be invited to speak at which, is not something that I would have even dared to dream of. I hastily agreed before the man changed his mind. I asked him what I needed to do about getting a visa. For the uninitiated, getting a visa to Saudi Arabia is one of the most time consuming and complicated processes you can imagine. He replied, “Shaikh, we are inviting you. You don’t have to do anything. Just send me your passport and we will issue the visa.”

One more pinch. Yes, this was happening to me. “Will I be able to do Haj also? And what about my wife? Can she accompany me on this trip?”

“Shaikh, you are embarrassing me. We are inviting you with your wife. And you will be a guest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for Haj. Please send your passports to me at the Saudi Embassy in Delhi and we will take care of everything.”

But I had a problem. I was traveling for a lecture tour to Malaysia in two days. Even if I express couriered the passports to him in Delhi, there was no way I could get them back to travel as scheduled. I said this to him and he said to me, “Shaikh, please do me a favor. Please get on a plane to Delhi tomorrow morning and come to the Embassy. I will meet you and we will have a cup of tea and you can return the same day with your visas. How’s that?” That was perfect and that is what I did. I arrived at the Saudi Embassy the next day. I was met and escorted to the office of the Visa Officer, who I had been speaking to. He welcomed me, sat me down, plied me (had me plied by his bearer) with Arabic Ghava and dates and called his assistant. He asked our passports and said to the man in Arabic, “Shaikh has been invited by the Ministry of Haj to speak at the Haj Conference. Please issue visas for him and his wife as our guests and make all arrangements for their travel and hospitality with full protocol.”

The man disappeared with the passports. Meanwhile the Visa Officer and I chatted about my stay in Saudi Arabia in 2003. I started to tell him about my consulting and leadership training work. He said to me, “Shaikh, don’t bother to tell me. We probably know more about you than you do. Your name was suggested to us as a potential speaker last year. As this is a very high-level conference, we have to do a full investigation of all invitees. If you had not come out clear in that, you would not have been invited. But Alhamdulillah you are totally cleared to the highest level.” It was several weeks later that I realized what ‘highest level’ meant. But let me not get ahead of myself. I laughed at his statement and said, “I am certainly very relieved to hear this.” A few minutes later, the assistant returned with our passports and instructions to Saudi Arabian Airlines to issue our tickets.

In due course we boarded the plane and the ‘dream trip’ began. We were welcomed on board and treated with great courtesy and hospitality. We landed in Jeddah and when the door opened there was the ubiquitous Saudi youth holding a placard with my name in Arabic and English. His name was Hani. I say ‘ubiquitous’ because there seems to be an endless supply of them. They all look alike wearing a white thobe and ghutra, talk non-stop in Arabic only, don’t know a word of any other language, are very good natured, extremely aggressive when they need to be, one hand holding their mobile phone and the other, a cigarette. In this case he didn’t have a cigarette as smoking is not permitted inside the airport in Jeddah. Hani escorted us into a lounge, pointed to the ever-present Ghava and dates and took our passports. He disappeared and reappeared before I could decide if I wanted to drink the Ghava or not. He returned the passports to us, duly stamped, and took us to the luggage carousel. There our bags were the first out. Hani gestured to a porter who took our bags while he took charge of my cabin bag. And off we went out of the terminal to find a brand-new GMC awaiting us. He opened the rear door and welcomed my wife and me to board the vehicle. We did. Hani got in with the driver and off we went to Makkah.

All Saudis are born with a car key in their hands and drive as if they are being chased by the Spirits of Hades. But maybe it was the official plates or something else, we were never stopped for speeding. We reached Makkah in record time and arrived at our hotel, Le Meridien, having been waved through the many roadblocks which are a feature on Saudi cities, especially Makkah at the time of Haj and Ramadan, to regulate the huge peak in traffic. But with our escort we had special status and so no delays. Hani told us to check in, freshen up and come down to the lobby.  The Front Office Manager escorted us to our suite; bedroom, living/dining room, two bathrooms; luxurious to say the least with all the frills that come with such accommodation. We freshened ourselves and went down to the lobby and there was Hani, with his big smile and said to me, “Are you ready to go for Umrah?” Yes, indeed we were. And off we went. Once again, the special status helped no end to beat the crowds. After completing Umrah, we agreed to meet at the McDonalds in the apron of the Hilton. From there our friend took us back to our hotel. The distance between the two hotels is not much but the crowds make the going very slow. But when you are ensconced in a GMC with a local driver and escort, all you do is sit back and thank Allahﷻ for His Mercy.

The next two days I was busy with the conference. All very formal and enjoyable, if you like conferences. I don’t. But I was there for Haj and the conference was the means. That night, Hani said to me, “Tomorrow morning after breakfast we will leave for Mina.” Since we had done Haj before this time, we were aware of how things work i.e. when you leave for Mina, you put all your luggage in storage in the hotel and vacate your room as you would be gone for 4-5 days. Then when you returned to Makkah, you would be given usually a different room. So, I asked Hani, “Where should we leave our luggage?” Hani looked surprised. He said to me, “Shaikh, you are our guest. That suite is for you. Leave everything as it is. You can return to the hotel any time you want to shower or change or whatever. The car and driver and I will be with you.” I was delighted and astonished. I was not used to such treatment. But then when had I been a royal guest?

The Haj was like a dream. We, there were thirty-five of us, scholars from many different lands, all invitees to the Haj Conference, boarded two luxury buses and went from Makkah to Mina and the next day to Arafah. Both journeys took us minutes where others take hours. We had special traffic arrangements and police escort outriders and breezed along. There were special accommodation arrangements for us in Mina and Arafah; luxurious air-conditioned tents with carpets, sofas, a buffet on which I counted over a dozen desserts. Tea, coffee, soft drinks, snacks were on, throughout the day and night. And then the main meals, each one a study in hospitality. Delicious food beautifully presented and served with great love and respect.

The highlight was in Arafah. It was late morning when one of the scholars suggested that we all make dua. We were all sitting in a circle in the main tent and one of them started to make dua aloud. Arabic is the language of dua. Arabs constantly make dua in their normal speech. ‘May Allahﷻ grant you a long life’, ‘May Allahﷻ protect you’, ‘May Allahﷻ be pleased with you’ and so on, are all part of polite Arab conversation. So, when a scholar starts to make dua in Arabic, it is something special. When he is joined by thirty-four more, it is out of this world. I was hugely privileged that I was a beneficiary of this spiritual bounty. Another personal highlight for me was a call from my dear friend Ebrahim bhai Gangat (May Allahﷻ have mercy on him) from Cii Radio asking me to tell the listeners about the scenes that I was witness to, where Muslims were connected to their Rabb (Creator, Sustainer and Protector), begging Him for His Mercy and Forgiveness and for His Bounty. A scene that our Prophet Muhammadﷺ told us, Allahﷻ shows those around His Glorious Throne, with pride and love. I can still hear Ebrahim bhai’s booming voice, full of energy and love. At the end of all that I had to say, he said as he always used to do, “Yawar bhai, please recite some Qur’an for us.” He always used to end my interviews with this. May Allahﷻ bless him and forgive him and enter him into Jannatul Firdous without reckoning.

My invitation to the Royal Banquet and Audience with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, 2008

After Arafah, we returned to Mina by way of Muzdalifa. There as I was resting in my bedroom, I was paged. It was an official from the Royal Palace in Mina. He had a register in which he requested me to sign, in token of having received the invitation which he brought. It was an invitation in the name of His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz A’al As-Saud (May Allahﷻ have mercy on him), the noble son of the King who received my grandfather, inviting me to a banquet at the Royal Palace in Mina. This was totally unexpected. I didn’t expect to be invited to a Royal Banquet, but there it was. The man then advised me about the protocol with respect to meeting the King. It was far simpler than I would have imagined. We were to board our bus the next morning minus our mobile phones to be driven to the palace where the King receives visitors. There we would be ushered into the Audience Hall. Once everyone was there, the King would enter. Then we would be invited to file past him and he would shake hands with each guest. From there we would go into the banquet hall where we would have lunch and then return to our accommodation.

The next day at about midday we boarded our bus and drove the short distance to the Palace. For those used to the ornate palaces in India with domes and minarets and arches, this palace was very utilitarian. Straight lines, more like a hotel. We drove up a winding driveway bordered by date palms and a grass verge. Some fountains playing as the bus turned into the porch. There we were received by the Protocol Officer and ushered into the lobby. The lobby was huge; well, it is a palace lobby after all. The center piece was two scale models of the Haramain Shareefain; Masjid Al-Haraam on one side and Masjid An-Nabawi Ash-Shareef on the other. Both were very beautifully done. From there we were led into the masjid where we prayed Dhuhr (the midday prayer) and then into the Audience Hall.

The Audience Hall was a large rectangular room that could seat perhaps five hundred people with chairs placed in rows facing the wall at the end of the hall. On the center of the wall was the Saudi coat of arms. Along the wall were chairs, exactly like the ones in the rest of the hall; facing us No throne: not even a chair that was more ornate or grand than the others. We sat. Bearers came along with cups of Zamzam water and Ghawa and dates. In total there were about three hundred invitees. That is what I estimated from a rough calculation based on the number of chairs in each row and the number of rows. We didn’t need to wait too long.

About five minutes later, the door on the side at the end of the hall opened and seven people walked in. If I had not known the King by sight, there was no way to say who was the king and who was a subject. Everyone was dressed exactly alike. The King came to the chair under the coat of arms and said, “As salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu. Marhaba bikum.” And then he made a short speech, welcoming us who he called, Dhuyoofullah – Guests of Allahﷻ. The Protocol Officer signaled to us to move forward. As each person came up to the King, he shook his hand and said a word or two to him. He remained standing through this entire time, which given the number of people, was long and tedious, to say the least. He was 83 years old at that time, but when he shook my hand, his grip was powerful, and his hand felt like the hand of a working man. He passed away in 2015 at the age of 90. I said to him, “As salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.” He replied, “Wa alaikumus salaamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu. Hayyakallah. Taqabbal-Allah Ibadaatukum.” He held my hand in his strong grip as long as he spoke and then he invited me to go into the banquet hall and have lunch.

While all this was happening, the dominant thought in my mind was that if only I had a way of photographing this meeting, I could show it to my mother in Hyderabad when I returned. After all I don’t meet kings every day. But there was no way to do that as not only did I not have a camera, but my phone was also in my room at the camp. There was Saudi TV onsite of course but what good was that to me? Anyway, I followed those before me into the banquet hall. There I discovered Shaikh Jibreel from Cape Town, an old friend and we sat together at one of the tables. The center piece on each table was a full roasted sheep done in the traditional style, Lahm Mandi. Meat so tender that if you glared at it, it would separate itself from the bone. Resting peacefully in a bed of yellow aromatic Basmati rice laced with saffron, dotted with boiled eggs. Surrounded by different condiments and vegetables. Then there were salads, and Humus, Mutabbal, and all kinds of bread. After we ate, came the desserts, starting from the traditional Kunafa and Ummali to different kinds of Baclava, pastries, cheesecakes and so forth. Then came the tea and coffee accompanied by fresh fruit of every kind. It was a delicious, sumptuous meal. Part of the protocol was that you remained seated until the King got up and then you followed him out to the reception lobby and waited for him to leave before you left. During all this you maintained a respectful distance. To my Indian perception, used to political minions and even minor bureaucrats in my country being escorted everywhere by guards brandishing submachineguns, it was strange indeed to see a king, without a single bodyguard or weapon in sight. No bowing and scraping. No ostentatious display of wealth or officiousness in demeanor. Just good manners as he easily moved among his guests, talking to this one or that as he moved towards the doors. I managed to keep to the front as I wanted to see him leave, imagining great pomp and splendor with maybe bands playing and mounted lancers. Instead a black Mercedes 500 SL drove up. The driver remained seated behind the wheel. Someone opened the front passenger door and to my great astonishment, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz got into the car, sitting next to the driver. The driver was uniformed with the palace headgear and so, it was not his son, driving dad to work. This was one very simple and down-to-earth king.

Once the King had left, we boarded our bus and returned to our camp. There I had an amazing surprise. To begin with there were four missed calls on my phone from my mother in Hyderabad. My father had passed away the previous year and my mother was recovering from that bereavement. My sister was with her, but four calls had me seriously worried. What had me even more worried was because my mother never called anyone. We would call her everyday and talk to her, but she was a very undemonstrative and unemotional person. I called her immediately and asked her if all was well. She said, “Main achchi hoon. Tum Badshah say haath milarahay thay. Main dekhi.” (I am well. I saw you shaking hands with the King.) I thought that she had seen me in her dream. “Aap kaisa dekhay?” (How did you see?) I asked.  I was astonished to say the least, because for one thing, my mother didn’t even know that I was going to a banquet at the palace or that I would be presented to the king and be able to meet him. What is more, she was in India with a time difference of 2 hours and 30 minutes. She said that she got up from her afternoon nap and went into the sitting room and turned on the TV and there I was, shaking hands with the King of Saudi Arabia. She said to me, “Your grandfather (her father) had met his father and now you met him.”

What can I say? I only had tears of gratitude in my eyes, thanking Allahﷻ for granting my wish, unasked. After all what is the probability of the TV turning on to the Saudi channel, which nobody watched in our home, because nobody speaks Arabic, at the exact time that I was shaking hands with the King? The whole meeting took less than two minutes at the very most. Yet my mother caught it, totally without even knowing what it was that she was going to see. To this day, I marvel at the mercy of Allahﷻ.

BC to AC

BC to AC

What does the world After Corona look like?

We are living in defining times. Never in living memory has the world seen something like the Covid-19 virus and the disruption that it has caused all over the world. Not in living memory or history. There are those who claim that it is a hoax. But dead bodies don’t lie. The world has come to a halt. Literally speaking. Never again will the word ‘disruption or disruptive’ have the same meaning. Never again will ‘Vision 2020’, be something to trumpet about. Never in my life would I have thought that every country in the world would have the same tale to tell, lockdown. True, the implementation of that lockdown differs from place to place, but the policy and intention is the same i.e. that you stay inside your house. Across national boundaries and geographies, it is the same story, lockdown. There have been many pandemics in the world, but they didn’t get the same uniform global reaction as Covid-19. That is why I titled my essay, BC to AC. I am sure you can guess what that means.

Many people are talking about, ‘Getting back to normal’. But someone said very wisely, “Decide what part of that normal you don’t want to get back to.” Wise, because to put it politely, it was our ‘normal’, that got us here. So, we must think very carefully about what the new ‘normal’ will be. Or I should say, ‘What we want the new normal to be.’ This is my Thoughtshare about the major challenges that I believe we will face in the coming days.

The world AC (After Corona) will be the beginning of an Age of Entrepreneurship. A world where working from home and being self-employed will become more and more popular. Large corporations have learnt the lesson from the Covid lockdowns that people need not come to a central place to work. They can work well at equal or more efficiency from home. That means huge potential savings for the corporation in overheads, capital investment in buildings and infrastructure, taxes, insurance and many other ways. All this will have huge repercussions in the real estate, capital and insurance markets. Corporations have learnt the joy of outsourcing as we have seen in the case of Amazon Prime delivery. Intelligent corporation managements will invest in local entrepreneurs by providing training in setting up businesses and running them efficiently, quality assurance, cheap funding and buy-back agreements. They will realize that their own margins will benefit by developing entrepreneurship and strengthening local societies. We will see major changes in how work is done, supervised, and paid for. We will see an age of greater collaboration and genuine partnership across national boundaries. We will see a world of greater trust and collaboration and mutual learning and sharing of resources and well-being.

Employees have realized that long commutes, being away from the family, living out of suitcases in airports and grabbing a donut and coffee while driving fifty miles to work, are all unnecessary. Work can be done from home, at your own convenience (well, almost), while freeing up time for family, hobbies, and savings in all sorts of ways. I believe therefore that small and medium enterprises will come into their own. A world of small businesses, invested in their local society, creating strong rural and urban economies. Intelligent governments will support and encourage this by providing capital and top-class infrastructure (utilities, power, public transport, health care, roads, schools, especially trade schools, and ports), tax exemption and cutting out bureaucracy to make doing business easy and smooth. Governments will recognize how the entrepreneur does the work of the government by providing support, sustenance and employment for citizens and so must not be gouged for taxes but must be compensated for helping the government take care of its people. SMEs will drive better local health care, schools, leisure activities, services, shopping, entertainment and build for closer, more locally invested communities.

Another major change will be in the way we communicate, and technology will dominate to shrink the world even more. Two weeks ago, I hosted a webinar on the topic: “Staying focused while the world seems to be falling apart.” We had 300 participants from 22 countries. Imagine doing that as an international conference which people must travel to the United States to attend. Just do the math and you will see what has become clear to all corporations; that remote conferencing makes brilliant economic sense. What will this mean for the travel and hotel industry needs little imagination. What new communication skills will people need to develop if they want to remain effective communicators when most of the power of gestures and body language in communication will be lost for them? What opportunities will that create for those in the business of teaching communication skills? I can extend that to all kinds of technical and behavioral skills training that entrepreneurs will need to succeed. There will be challenges of delivering a lot, if not all, of that training remotely.

Travel and holidays will be totally different. In the AC world you’ll see much more local surface travel and much less air travel. Cruises will become more popular. All about space and freedom to move while keeping safe. Sitting in a plane seat for 15 hours with a mask on, is distinctly unpleasant. People will do it only if there’s no other alternative. Technology will give them alternatives.

Air travel by it’s very nature will become far more expensive and so even less reason to use for people. However cargo will see growth and airlines will have more cargo than passenger planes. Even now airlines are flying cargo in passenger planes, in the passenger cabin as well as the hold. Planes will be redesigned with more cargo space and less but more luxurious passenger cabins. The days of the middle seat are over and I for one, am not complaining.

Business travel and conferencing likewise…only if essential. Which means that hotels will take a knock. Though not as much as airlines because people still need a hotel once they get to a place, no matter how they got there. I’d say smaller hotels with fewer frills will be the most profitable option. Good food, clean rooms and bathrooms, great service. No huge lobbies and multicuisine restaurants. Instead special offering of choice local cuisine but limited menus. If you want Hyderabadi biryani in Calicut, you’ll be offered chemmeen curry and aapams and told to go to their hotel in Hyderabad for the biryani. “You can still get it from us, but not here.” Food delivery services will see huge growth. If you can’t go to a restaurant then bring the restaurant home.

AC will be the age of remote everything. Remote shopping, meeting, teaching and learning, sharing ideas and work, open source data, collaborative research across geographies, you name it. If it can be done without physical meeting, it will. But what will that mean in terms of people’s psychological need to meet each other, see and touch and speak to one another? What will the term ‘human touch’ mean in this new world? What will the loss of human touch do to us human beings? We are very touchy, feely creatures. We like to sit close to those we love. We lend each other shoulders to cry on, then hug to comfort. We see eye to eye and speak heart to heart. We lend our ears to others and have changes of heart. We shake hands to seal agreements or make up after disagreeing. We turn cold shoulders to those we don’t like and stand shoulder to shoulder with those we support. Try doing all this while maintaining social distance of two meters between us. Try doing that wearing gloves and masks. Try doing that with the sneaky doubt about whether someone is likely to infect you with a deadly disease. This is also a face of the new world that we will have to deal with. The question at the end of all this is, “How will we be able to benefit from technology that makes distant communication easy while not allowing that to create distance between us?”

Mechanization, automation, machines doing the work of people will rapidly increase. Machines can’t get sick and so no loss of production and profit. If it can be automated, it will be. But what do you do with people? Robotic and drone delivery of products, self-driving taxis and trucks, all look very neat and sexy but remember that every drone, robot, car or truck means someone is out of work. But they still need food, housing, health care, schools and everything else which they paid for until the drone and robot took their job. And remember they still vote. This may result in more crime, enhanced security and surveillance and less privacy. So, finding means to keep people gainfully employed is urgent and critical.

Another thing which will and must change is the way we educate. Currently, barring exceptions, we teach theory and grade colleges based on the salary that our graduates are hired at. In the AC world, we don’t need ‘employees’ so much as we will need potential employers i.e. entrepreneurs and business creators. Education must therefore focus on two critical areas: skill training and entrepreneurial development. We need to teach people, skills to solve problems (each is a business opportunity) and convert each solution into a viable business. How to identify business opportunities, test marketing, how to make a business plan, budgeting, hiring, communication skills, conflict resolution skills, meeting facilitation skills, how to pitch to VCs for funding, must all be taught in schools. Schools must focus very strongly on teaching ethics and values and on contributing to society. Entrepreneurs must not be little exploiters but genuine partners who contribute to the well-being of the society that they operate in. Without sound values and ethics, business can’t succeed. Profit alone is not a suitable basis for decision making. Business must make profit, but business can’t exist for the sole purpose of making profit. They have a much wider and more vital role to play.

Schools must have a clear curriculum to inculcate these ethics and values. Values can’t be legislated or enforced. They must be inculcated. Children must be raised who take pride in integrity and uprightness and hate and look down on sharp practice and lies. Today our society is the opposite of this. Deception is the norm. Wheeling and dealing, corruption, fooling others are all aspirational goals. It doesn’t matter how anyone makes money as long as he makes it. We applaud and look up to that. High Net Worth means having a lot of money. Imagine a world where high net worth means more kindness, compassion, generosity and not merely fast cars, luxury mansions and fancy holidays. This becomes even more important in the light of how working from home will change the dynamics of the employer-employee relationship. When people work from home there can be potential issues of confidentiality. For example, how effective is a Non-disclosure Agreement when the employee is working from home, unsupervised, his conversations can be overheard, his work is not secure as it would have been if he had come to the office. What are potential issues of privacy: Monitoring employees’ work without infringing on their privacy? What are safety measures?

For employees (individuals) what does this new world look like? There will be opportunities and challenges. Working from home means flextime, bonding with family, more meaningful communication and relationships, no commute. This can mean the possibility of earning in more than one way and better use of time. More time for reading, learning, physical and spiritual development, eating home cooked food every day, but you get to cook it too. This would mean a change in pattern of domestic costs.  Will they be higher or lower? There will be potential challenges in relating with spouse and children and changed power dynamics? Will you end up with a better marriage or in divorce?

The challenges for individuals will include more distraction, greater need for discipline, learning to work in a more structured way to remain productive. Technology will be the game changer which means that people will need to learn to use it. In addition, they will need to learn new skills of communicating, influencing and relating. The opportunity to become an entrepreneur sounds very good and believe me, it is. I have been an entrepreneur since 1994 (2020 at the time of this writing) and I love it. But entrepreneurship, like anything else, needs a certain temperament, skills and above all, the ability to stay in the game long enough to start seeing success. Many times you succeed not because you were the fastest, but because you ran the longest. The question to ask is, ‘What skills do I need to succeed as an entrepreneur? How can I learn those skills? By when?’

Before I conclude let me share some thoughts about what I believe each of us must do. I am making a numbered list of them. Each needs more elaboration, but I am writing an article and not a book, so this will have to do for now. I believe there are 7 – key areas of competence to develop.

  1. Assess your skills: What can you do? Please notice that I am not asking, ‘What do you know?’ I am asking, ‘What can you do?’ It is actual skills which are saleable and in a world of entrepreneurship what you can do is the only thing which counts. Learn to take hard decisions. Learn to cut your losses. Learn to change course but not your goal. Learn to be flexible in everything except your principles and quality. Learn to take responsibility and do your own work. No more departments and secretaries. You are your own HR and PA. The sooner you learn that the happier you will be. And learn how to learn on the job, every day.
  2. Where can you use, what you can do? Look for opportunities to solve problems for people. How can you help people with what you know? Remember that your exact skillset may have been acquired for one purpose, but its learnings can be used elsewhere. That is how hoteliers and people with years of experience in managing hotels have proven to be excellent managers in the ITES industry. They are not making beds or pizzas but their skills in customer service and expectation management are a huge asset which someone from a pure IT background lacks. Look for where you can leverage your life experience.
  3. Develop creativity. This is a huge stretch because all traditional schooling very successfully destroys creativity and imagination at a very early age. Traditional schooling is designed to create obedient little slaves, which it does extremely efficiently. The problem with our traditional schooling is not that it has failed but that it is very successful. You will need to resurrect your creativity and learn to break out of the fear of imagining things. In an entrepreneurial world, imagination is your greatest asset. That is what enabled the Haleem makers in Hyderabad to use large laundromat machines to stir the Haleem mix which traditionally took someone stirring it in a pot, all night to prepare.
  4. Develop a structure to your day. Working from home is a double-edged sword as I mentioned earlier. It can be very convenient, time-saving and flexible. But it can also be full of distractions which can lower your productivity and lengthen your day. To prevent that, structure is the key. Develop a routine that works for you and stick to that doggedly. Consistency beats talent, every time.
  5. Focus on Quality. I spelt it with a capital Q because it is so important. As an entrepreneur, you will have plenty of competition because there are many like you out there. What will help you to make your mark is the quality of your output. “Quality is remembered, long after the price is forgotten.” ~  Gucci family slogan. And they are right. Quality will also enable you to leverage yourself out of the competition and charge a premium for your products and services. Quality will help you to differentiate. Differentiation creates Brand. Brand inspires Loyalty. Loyalty enables Influence.  Quality is reflected in everything you say and do. Above all, it is reflected in how you treat people.
  6. And last and most important, learn to deal with and even enjoy, ambiguity. Entrepreneurship is all about risk taking. Risk means you don’t know how it will turn out. You learn to estimate. You learn to do your best. And you learn to develop your spiritual self and to have a philosophy to deal with loss. And you learn to accept the results. It is great fun. It is immensely fascinating and satisfying. And it is sometimes painful.
  7. Ah! I almost forgot. And so, this, and not the earlier one, is the last thing. Learn to enjoy the journey. For an entrepreneur, the journey is the destination. I came out of the corporate world after having worked there for 16 years and have been an entrepreneur for the past 35 years. Believe me, I know what I am talking about.

In short, we are looking at a very different world from the one we were locked out of.

We are like zoo-raised tigers being released in the wild. We will survive only if we acquire the skills to succeed in a world that is as different from the zoo as it can get.

Guests in the Gardens

Guests in the Gardens

Guests were very special in the gardens. There were no guest houses or hotels, so whoever came, stayed with you. Official guests stayed with the General or Group Manager, Manager or Assistant Manager, depending on who they were in terms of their rank or significance for the Company. Your guests stayed with you or sometimes with your friends, depending on what was happening in your life at the time. We played host to a friend’s grandmother, another friend’s heavily pregnant wife as he had to travel urgently and to several others. In the plantations we treated each other as members of our family. We stood behind each other, no question about it. I have written here about a few of the guests. We had many more. Too many to name here. So, if you visited us and are not mentioned in this article, please know that you are remembered though I have not mentioned you here.

Guests were very special firstly, because they were few and far between and because they came from the ‘outside’ world and brought news of what was happening there. Remember I am talking about the period 1983-93. The time before almost everything we know and take for granted today. This was pre-Google, Apple, mobile phones, even TV. Where there was TV, it was Doordarshan. Cable TV didn’t exist in the plantations. In 1985 we saw the first color TV. We had VCRs and VCPs (Video Cassette Recorders and Players) which coupled with the color TV, provided home entertainment to those who were interested in it. Electric typewriters were state-of-the-art and what sat on your lap was not a computer. Cyclostyle was the copying system. Faxes and Xerox machines were still in the distant future. Guests therefore came with real news, even if a few days old; thanks to the time it took for them to get to where we were, high in the mountains and deep in the forest. For those of us in the Anamallais that was close to the truth, because we lived in the middle of the Indira Gandhi National Park on the top of the Anamallai Hills; tea surrounded by thick rainforest, reached after traversing the Aliyar Ghat road with forty hairpin bends. Home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds and reptiles.

My first guests were Mr. Hasanuddin Ahmed and his wife Anees Fatima (Husnara Aunty), my mother’s cousins. I was delighted to receive them. I was living in No. 18 bungalow; the name given to Assistant Manager’s bungalow in Sheikalmudi Estate, Lower Division which was in Field No. 18. They visited me in 1983, less than 6 months after I had joined planting and I was delighted as they were my favorite uncle and aunt and I was honored that they had come to visit. Bastian, my butler and cook, who you have heard about earlier, put on a great culinary show and everyone was very impressed. One afternoon, after a cup of tea, Hasan Uncle and I were strolling down the path from the bungalow to the main road, when Hasan Uncle told me to explain the whole tea manufacturing process to him. I was very enthusiastic about it as I had just learnt it myself a couple of weeks earlier and I promptly launched into my narrative. “We pluck the top shoots, two leaves and the vegetative bud’, I said. “That is taken to the factory and put into Withering Troughs and air is blown over and through the leaf bed in the trough which removes some of the moisture to make the leaf flaccid. Without withering, they would shatter and crumble when rolled. Then the leaves are put into Rollers in which by an action akin to rubbing tobacco between your palms, tea leaves are rolled to break cell walls and express the juice which coats the small rolled pieces that break off in this process. Rolling is where the process of developing flavor starts. After rolling, the leaves are laid out for several hours, allowing oxidation to take place. This is called Fermentation, though it has nothing to do with fermenting as there is no sugar or production of alcohol as happens in a natural fermentation process. Oxidation is the process in which the oxygen in the air interacts with the now-exposed enzymes in the leaf, turning it a reddish-brown color and changing the chemical composition. The duration of this process depends on the style of tea being produced and the ambient conditions at the time. The final step is to stop the oxidation which is done by what is called Firing. This is done by putting the output from the Rollers into perforated trays and heated air is passed over the trough to dry them to below 3% moisture content which stops the oxidation process and makes the tea black. Good, even drying and low residual moisture enables the tea to keep well, which is necessary for shipping. The tea is packed in plywood boxes lined with paper and film and sealed, ready for shipping.” I stopped to take a breath.

Hasan Uncle listened with great seriousness and attention and said, “You seem to have learnt this all very well. Tell me, what happens if you simply boil green tea leaves?” I was stumped. I didn’t know. But what struck me more than the fact that I didn’t know the answer to his question was that the question had not occurred to me. There I was, working in a tea garden, living in a bungalow surrounded by tea fields and didn’t have the imagination to ask myself a simple question like that. This I what formal education does to one, I guess. Of course, we plucked two or three shoots and boiled them to produce a very ‘green’ chlorophyllic decoction that was hardly drinkable. The point of course was not what it tasted like, but whether I’d had the curiosity to ask the question. Big lesson in my life about the importance of asking the unasked and questioning the ‘accepted’ rule. Hasan Uncle and Husnara Aunty spent a few very enjoyable days with me and left behind memories which are fresh to this day. And I ask questions that nobody thinks of.

While I was the Manager of Lower Sheikalmudi Estate, we got a call to say that the Wrigleys were coming to visit. This was William Wrigley III and William Wrigley IV, the owners of Wrigley Company, the largest chewing gum (Wrigley’s gum) company in the world. On April 28, 2008, Mars announced that it would acquire Wrigley for approximately $23 billion. The Wrigleys were staying with the Group Manager of the Sheikalmudi Group, Mr. S. M. Taher. The managers and assistants from the other estates were invited to dinner to Sheikalmudi bungalow. At the dinner, I suggested that the two Wrigleys, father and son, may like to go down to the Parambikulam Dam through our cardamom plantation in Murugalli. There would be a good chance of seeing bison (Indian Gaur), Malabar Squirrel, Great Malabar Hornbill, Barking Deer and who knows what else. Anamallais and Sheikalmudi in particular, especially that part of it which borders the Parambikulam backwaters, is teeming with wildlife. The plan was to go the next day, late in the afternoon for a swim in the lake and then drive back after dark through the cardamom plantation so that we would have a chance to see some Gaur and other wildlife. It was a nice, dry afternoon and so I had no apprehensions taking the jeep, which didn’t have four-wheel drive, down to the lakeside. Taher bhai drove them down and we all met at Murugalli Bazar and went down to the lakeside.

Parambikulam from Murugalli

If you walked down the river for a couple of kilometers you would come to the Parambikulam Dam backwaters into which this river flowed. I had built another pool there at the bottom of a waterfall, thanks to a stream that flowed through Murugalli Estate. We used to keep a boat in the dam to go fishing on the lake. There was a thickly wooded island in the lake about half a kilometer from the shore on which one could go and spend the whole day, swimming and lazing in the shade, a very welcome occupation, free from all stress. The only sounds that you would hear would be the wailing call of the Rufus Backed Hawk Eagle and the Fishing Eagle. In the evenings, the Jungle Fowl called the hour. If you stayed beyond sunset, the only danger was that you could encounter bison (Gaur) as you walked home. That encounter was not something to look forward to as I discovered one day. Mercifully, I was walking softly, and the wind was in my face, so the Gaur was as startled as I was. He snorted, spun on his heel, and vanished, crashing through the undergrowth. I was very fortunate.

Everything went according to plan and we swam, ate sandwiches and drank coffee. Raman took the rowboat and Wrigley Jr. to the island in the middle of the lake but returned rather suddenly and very wisely as they found some feral buffaloes which were lying in the water on the other side of the island. These can be very dangerous, and Raman who went as the guide and boatman, insisted that they return. That was a very wise thing to do because we weren’t planning on explaining how we were one Wrigley short when we got back. We watched the sun extinguish itself in the waters of the lake and then when it got dark, we packed our stuff into the jeep and started back. Suddenly it started to rain. In this part of the world, it doesn’t leave you in any doubt, when it rains. It pours. That day, it did with a vengeance. The road quickly became slush and the jeep started skidding. We decided to wait for a bit to see if the rain would ease off. But though we waited for half an hour, nothing happened. We started off once again but realized that we couldn’t all ride in the jeep as the gradient of the road was steep and it was extremely slippery. We all got off and pushed, while Taher bhai drove. It took us over an hour of pushing and driving, to get back to Murugalli Bazar. As the jeep went skidding up the road, it threw up liquid mud in showers. As a result, all of us including our two illustrious guests, were covered with mud from head to toe. But all that I could see was two sets of the brightest teeth this side of the Atlantic. The Wrigleys were great sports and I guess we, all of us had a very good time. Not the way you usually treat billionaires. But these were two very happy billionaires with a strange story to tell.

One day a friend called to say, that a friend of his was visiting India, and could she visit us as she wanted to see a tea garden. Of course, we agreed and sent the car to pick her up from the airport in Coimbatore. Along came Elizabeth Sidney. Elizabeth owned a consulting firm in London, called Mantra Consulting (pronounced Man-tra) and was also a member and office bearer of the Liberal Democratic Party. Elizabeth became a lifelong friend until her death at the age of 86, in 2011.

Elizabeth arrived in the evening as the drive up the Aliyar Ghat from Coimbatore and then across the Anamallais to Lower Sheikalmudi was a full-day affair. At that time, we had another dear friend staying with us, Maaji, Manjit Singh’s grandmother. Manjit was the Manager of Pannimedu Estate of Tata Tea and they had a lockout, so he and his wife Devika went to stay at the Coimbatore Club. But his grandmother came to stay with us. We were very fond of her and she called my wife, ‘Puttar’ (my daughter) and we loved having her with us. Such were the times, when our friends were more than just ‘friends’. Maaji spoke only Punjabi and Elizabeth spoke only English, but they got along famously and had conversations in two completely different languages, much to our amazement. Elizabeth was a wonderfully warm person and we became very good friends and stayed with her in her Islington townhouse twice when we were in London.

The next day I took Elizabeth around the estate to show her tea cultivation and manufacture. She was fascinated that the vast majority of workers were women and she had animated conversations with some of the workers, with me translating from Tamil into English and back. That evening, I suggested that my wife and I with Elizabeth, spend the night in my machan on Manjaparai and see what animals would come to the waterhole. Manjaparai is the flat rock which forms a small flat plateau at the top of the hill, and through which flows a small perennial stream. It is called Majaparai (Yellow Rock) thanks to yellow lichens which cling to it and give it that color. In the summer the sparse grass that sprouts in the monsoon, quickly turns yellow and so the name is justified. I’d had a machan (platform) built on a tree at the edge of the forest overlooking the stream, which empties into a small pool and then goes down the slope into the forest. I had cleared a small pathway to get to the machan tree, but without disturbing the area or its animals. The machan was built in a big fork about three-quarters of the way up the tree at a height of about twenty feet from the ground. It was quite substantial and could comfortably seat four people. From my bungalow to the base of the hill on the top of which the machan was, it was about four kilometers over rough estate roads. Therefore, to make it easy for the ladies and not have them walk the entire distance and then climb the hill (assuming that they would have even agreed to do it), I decided to take them up on a Massey-Ferguson tractor to the base of Manjaparai and walk up the rest of the way. The tractor ride was not the most comfortable, but the novelty of it would hopefully override the discomfort. My wife was not very impressed but for Elizabeth, everything we were doing was a ‘first time in my life’, experience. I drove the tractor with the ladies on either side.

Manjaparai view

We reached the top, still in one piece and having taken a breather, started up the track leading to the top of the rock. Given that we had the ladies with us, I had sent out a scout, one of my Ramans, to check the pathway and to clear it of any Stinging Nettles (Anaimarti – One which drives away elephants) bushes leaning across the path. His job was also to ensure that the jungle was elephant free. Elephants in the Anamallais are dangerous as they raid vegetable gardens and get driven off by the garden owners beating drums or setting off firecrackers. Elephants hate loud noises and run away but in a foul temper. Not the best frame of mind if you happen to meet them. You always need to be careful of elephants in the Anamallais, thanks to this human-animal conflict. Once we had the all-clear from Raman, we proceeded upwards. We reached the top in time to see the fabulous sunsets that are the prize of climbing Manjaparai. We had some coffee and omelets rolled into parathas and with a coat of lemon pickle, which Bastian had given us as our dinner and then climbed the tree into the machan. As we settled down…Let me tell you this part of the story as my wife recalls it. “Yawar told Elizabeth and me that we were going with him to his machan on Manjaparai. I asked him if it would be cold. He said, ‘Not too much.’ We left on the tractor with him driving and me hanging on one side for dear life being tossed up and down on the rough field roads. Elizabeth was on the other side in the same predicament but seemed to love it. We reached the top of the road in one piece and got off the tractor and started climbing the hill to the top. The view from Manjaparai, of the sun setting, was spectacular and well worth the trouble of getting there.  

We had a snack and got up into the tree. I am not much of a tree climber, but Raman and his partner had thoughtfully got a ladder which we climbed and scrambled the last few feet to the machan. The ladder was pulled up after us and stashed among the branches above us. Dusk started to fall. Yawar told us to be completely silent and as motionless as possible. He told us that animals see motion before anything else. If you don’t move and your body outline is broken up by our surroundings, you are invisible. Especially as you are sitting high above, you are out of the normal perspective of most animals. The only joker in the pack is the wind. If it blows in your face it means that animals can’t smell you. But it is behind you, then animals will know you are there and will leave. As it started to get dark, a smart wind started coming up the hill in our face. That was good, but it was getting cold. I saw Elizabeth pulling out a sweater from her substantial handbag. Then she pulled out a shawl and wrapped herself in it and sat there, snug as a bug in a rug. Yawar was wearing his waterproof raincoat, which was felt lined and very warm. But there I was in a light sweater because Yawar told me it wouldn’t be so cold. As the night wore on, I got colder and colder and my teeth were chattering so loudly that I am sure that is the reason we didn’t see any animals that night.

Eventually it got so cold that I simply couldn’t sit in the machan and we all got down onto the rock below and Raman lighted a fire and put on the teapot. The fire was a lifesaver and I can’t tell you how good it felt. There was no question of seeing any animals after the fire had been lighted, but who cares? I was finally warm and out of my misery and that is all I cared about. We sat through the rest of the night, drinking black tea, sweetened with jaggery and listening to the sounds of the forest, which by then had also quietened down. There was the occasional Nightjar which buzzed his call from time to time, but not much else. I told you that the sunset from Manjaparai was spectacular. That was because I had not seen the sunrise. Now I can’t decide which was better. Thankfully I don’t have to pick. I had seen both.”

How do you know if it is sunrise or sunset?

Elizabeth came again when we were in New Ambadi Estate. The Manager’s bungalow had been built by a previous manager called Watts Carter who was one of the best planners and executors of civil works that I have known. His work was his signature and legacy and it was truly remarkable. Rainwater collection tanks that ensured a year-long supply of water in a place were the dry season was 7-8 months long. Beautifully graded and banked roads. Contour planted fields with terraces and water conservation works that ensured that the rubber didn’t suffer in the dry season. This time Elizabeth brought her friend, Margaret Tabor, from Braintree, Essex. Margaret was a delightful lady with lots of interesting stories about her own travels. Margaret lived in her family manor house; we stayed with her once; on a two- thousand-acre estate in Essex where she raised Pheasants and had annual Pheasant shoots. She told us that her main clients were Japanese.

We got a call one day from Ms. Brewty, the Secretary to our General Manager, Mr. N. K. Rawlley. She said, “Mr. Baig, Mr. Rawlley asked me to inform you that there are two ladies from London who are company guests and are staying in Iyerpadi at the guest house. They would like to see some forest area. Could you please help with this?” Forest and me? Of course, I was delighted to help. Next day the ladies arrived in the company jeep and my wife and I met them at the Uralikkal checkpost. Of the two ladies, one was rather large and remarkably well-endowed. The other one looked like she was the counterpoint to the first one, rather like being on Social Security.

We left our car and we all went down the short windy road to the Manamboli Dam. That drive is very productive in terms of wildlife sightings and sure enough we saw Malabar squirrels, Lion-tailed Macaques, and a Barking deer which crossed the road exactly at the place I expected it to……I am convinced that it did this for a living. We stopped for a short break at the bottom of the concrete-surfaced road which ended at the Power Generation House. There was some flow over the sluice gates of the dam, and it was very relaxing to listen to the sound of flowing water.  Then we started down the unpaved forest road to Topslip. This road runs along the Manamboli river. As we rounded a bend, I recalled an incident when my dearest friend Berty and I were fishing at the foot of the rapids on the other side of the dam. We would stand in rapidly flowing water in Manamboli below the sluice gates and cast for Mahseer while drinking in the atmosphere of the jungle. Not a sound except from the river or from a bird celebrating its life.

Lion-tailed Macaque

One day we were fishing in our usual spot, when one of the fish we had caught disappeared. “Dai Baig Dorai, you can’t tie a bloody fish properly man!!” yelled my dear friend. We had each caught a good sized mahseer. His was still there. Mine had disappeared. What gave the game away was that the line looked like it had been bitten through. Just then I heard the whistles….two otters talking to one another, no doubt with evil intentions on Berty’s fish. I called out to him in a low voice, “Yedo, noke awaday” and I pointed to the otters. Berty laughed so much that he almost fell into the water. “What the bloody hell, so this is the bugger who stole our fish!!! Man, what do you expect? We go into their home and steal their fish, so they decide to freeload on our effort.” What memories!! But my friend is gone. So would have the otters. Nothing lives that long in the forest. Only I am alive to tell the tale and to remember my friend and to live once again that one magical day, this time on behalf of both of us.

On this road, one thing to watch out for, was elephants. It was a narrow road with very thick, almost impenetrable forest on one side the river on the other. Not the best place to come face to face with elephants. Mercifully, elephants are wiser than we are and when they hear a vehicle coming their way, they move off into the jungle and you won’t even see them. We didn’t meet any until we got to the Forest Department’s elephant camp. This was where they kept their elephants used for logging and other forest related activity. We took a break for coffee and our standard omelet/paratha snack and looked around the camp. The head mahawat (elephant caretaker) met us and explained what they did in the camp. I asked him if he would be kind enough to give a short ride on one of the elephants to our guests. There was a huge, very black bull elephant which was tethered at one end of the line. I asked the mahawat if we could ride him.

The mahawat didn’t look very happy about this but agreed and went off to get a couple of gunny sacks. He got the elephant to kneel and climbed up on his knee and holding his ear, he pulled himself up on his neck. Then he asked me to climb on. I did the same and settled astride behind him. Not easy at all as elephants have a very prominent backbone with protruding vertebrae. When you sit astride, you are in imminent danger of doing permanent damage to your ability to continue your line of descendants. That is why when you ride elephants in our wildlife reserves, they saddle them with very thick mattresses or have a howda in which you sit much like sitting on a sofa. But we were in a working camp. They didn’t have these luxuries. The mahawat was sitting on the neck, where the vertebrae don’t protrude and he has his gunny sack cushion under him. But the ‘passenger’ was on his own. The mahawat called out his order and the elephant stood up. If you have ever seen an elephant standing up from a kneeling position, you will know what happens. It is as close to being on the bow of a ship in a storm as you are likely to be on dry land. I knew what was coming and braced myself and remained atop the huge animal without mishap. The mahawat took us for a short walk-around in the forest and we returned to the camp.

Next was the turn of our guests. The Social Security one declined the opportunity but the well-endowed one was keen to go. She tried to climb up on the elephant’s knee as if it was a staircase and slipped. The mahawat, spontaneously reached to take her hand to save the British Empire from an ignominious landing in the dirt almost unseating himself in the process. Eventually the lady managed to get astride the neck of the elephant. The expression on her face when she sat there, spoke volumes of what she must have encountered, but some things can’t be spoken aloud and so she suffered in silence. Then the mahawat shouted his order to the elephant and the animal lurched forward to get up. The lady fell forward on top of the mahawat and as the elephant lurched backwards straightening his forelegs, she was thrown back and grabbed the mahawat in a bear hug. The man disappeared into the British Empire, overwhelmed but not without a plaintive cry for help, “Ayyaaaaaa!!” The elephant took them for another short ride in the forest and then returned and we had a repeat performance of lurching, grabbing and plaintive cry. A memory that refuses to go away. The elephant, however, was not amused. It started rumbling and the mahawat told us that he didn’t want to chance another ride. Elephants are very patient and tolerant but are never really domesticated. They have an uneasy relationship of cooperation with humans, which can break if you push their patience beyond their tolerance. I understood the mahawat’s reluctance and agreed. Such was our entertainment in the plantations. Each day was a surprise and welcome.

One day in 1990/91, Mr. Rawlley called me and said, “Yawar, you are getting a visitor, Mr. Mark Bostock from Colombo. He is British and lives between England and Colombo where he used to be the Chairman of John Keells. He is a very interesting person and someone you can learn a lot from.” Before I go on, here is a link to an article about Mark Bostock in ‘The Island’, from Colombo. http://island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=154197

In Ambadi there was no guest house so he stayed with us like all our guests. The question was food, because all the English people we know, eat little or no chillies, while South Indian food tends to be hot. In Ambadi we had an excellent cook, Perumal, who made the best Upma, Dosai and Idlies in the world, but had nothing Western in his repertoire. My wife decided that she would make a classic English Roast Lamb, with mashed potatoes, boiled vegetables and gravy. You can hardly get more British than that. We didn’t want the man to get the runs the day he arrived because the food was too hot. I love Roast Lamb and agreed wholeheartedly. Mark duly arrived, driven in from Trivandrum, looking very red and sweaty, as we didn’t have an air-conditioned car at that time. He told me, “Please call me Mark”, when I welcomed him as Mr. Bostock. So, Mark he was. After he had showered, we sat down to dinner. The Roast Lamb was spectacular, and I loved it. Mark also started with enthusiasm but gradually slowed down. I noticed this and asked, “Mark, is everything alright? Can I get you something?”

He said, “I don’t want to be impolite, but do you have any pickle?”

My eyebrows shot up in astonishment. “There is pickle, but it is very hot”, I said.

“Yes, can I have it please?” The pickle was brought. I was blood red, made of mangoes marinated in fire and was totally delicious if you liked to have the top of your head raising up periodically to let out the steam from your boiling brains. I gingerly slid the bottle towards Mark, debating whether I should get him to sign an Indemnity Declaration absolving me of responsibility for his expiry in flames after consuming the pickle. But to my great astonishment, he took a huge helping of it and ate it with the roast mutton (no injury intended to British sentiments or honor) with great relish. He apologized to my wife and said, “The roast is delicious, but you see, I am from Ceylon. I need chilly in my food.” So, there he would be, at lunch and dinner, eating pickles of various kinds, his face the color of the pickle but thoroughly enjoying himself. He was not ‘from Ceylon’, but had lived there for so long that his palate was totally Sri Lankan.

Next morning, I took Mark on a tour of the estate and factory. As we walked in the rubber drying sheds in which crêpe rubber sheets are dried, Mark said to me, “If there was a way to dry these evenly in controlled conditions, that would give us much better prices.” Having come to Ambadi from tea, I spontaneously said, “I think if we get a couple of withering fans from one of our tea factories and install them at one end of this shed, that will do the trick. He turned and looked at me intently and said, “What the hell! That sounds like a very good idea. I wonder why nobody ever thought of that before?” As soon as we got back to the office, I asked for three withering fans which arrived in due course. These are low RPM fans with large blades that can be used to blow or draw air without causing too much turbulence. You want the air to move over the crêpe rubber sheets without blowing them about. We installed the fans and changed the way rubber is processed.

Mr. Mark Bostock visited us several times between 1990 and 1993 when I was the Manager of New Ambadi Estate. What impressed me very much about him was how inquisitive and open to learning he was. We would go for rides in our boat on the lake that bordered the estate. He would accompany me every day when I went on my rounds of the estate and greatly appreciated the rapport that I had with the workers and unions. He understood Tamil, so he had a good idea of what was happening when he was witness to any interactions. Though he had retired in 1986, having built a conglomerate, John Keells, in Sri Lanka, there was not a grain of arrogance or even formality in him. He was easy going, very friendly, open to all new ideas, full of questions and would listen very carefully to the answers. We would spend the days in the estate and factory and the evenings, talking about anything under the moon, that came to mind. Like Nickoo said, I learnt a lot from Mark, but the best thing out of all that was the value of an open mind and the willingness to learn from anyone. I can safely say that I have never come across anyone as open to learning as Mark Bostock. I wish I had more time with him. I was very sorry to learn that in 2000 he died in Sri Lanka, in a freak accident as the rafters under his chair collapsed and he crashed through to the stone floor below. He didn’t survive the injuries. As the song goes:

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

Horses, rocks and palaces

Horses, rocks and palaces

One of my teachers was Nawab Habib Jung. Nawabsaab had horses and his son Mohammad (we called him MP) and I were good friends and we used to ride together. They lived in Begumpet, where Nawab Habib Jung had built his own house in the grounds of his father Nawab Wali-ud-Dowla’s house called Vilayat Manzil (today the Country Club). Nawab Habib Jung’s house was my all-time favorite for its architecture. It had a large central courtyard open to the sky with a lawn in it, in which there was a swimming pool at one end and a low marble platform with inlay work at the other. Nawabsaab used to pray on this platform under the open sky. All around the courtyard were the bedrooms, the dining room, and the drawing room; all opening onto a wide veranda that ran right around the courtyard. Most of the time we would sit on the veranda and look at the swimming pool and chat because it was so airy and lovely. In the basement was a huge formal drawing room and Nawabsaab’s office. Nawabsaab was the one who wrote my first reference letter when I applied for a job in the tea gardens. I remember the words exactly, ‘He is keenly interested in saddle seat equitation, has an excellent seat, and shows respect where respect is due.’ He typed it himself on his formal letter head with the Paigah crest, on his portable typewriter. I always feel very honored that he did this for me.

Outside the house there was an old well and several huge old trees. At one corner were the stables. MP and I would usually ride near the house in an open area overlooking the Husain Sagar lake. One day I went to see the film ‘The Horseman’ with Omar Sharif as the hero. I was enthralled by the film principally because of the scenes of Buz Kashi and the many sequences of riding on Akhal-Teke horses. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhal-Teke)

The breed standard of the Akhal-Teke reads: ‘The Akhal-Teke has a fine head with a straight or slightly convex profile, and long ears. It also has almond-shaped eyes. The mane and tail are usually sparse. The long back is lightly muscled, and is coupled to a flat croup and long, upright neck. The Akhal-Teke possesses sloping shoulders and thin skin. These horses have strong, tough, but fine limbs. They have a rather slim body and ribcage (like an equine version of the greyhound), with a deep chest. The conformation is typical of horses bred for endurance over distance. The Akhal-Tekes are lively and alert, with a reputation for bonding to only one person. The breed is tough and resilient, having adapted to the harshness of Turkmenistan lands, where horses must live without much food or water. This has also made the horses good for sport. The breed has great endurance, as shown in 1935 when a group of Turkamen riders rode the 2500 miles from Ashgabat to Moscow in 84 days, including a three-day crossing of 235 miles of desert without water.’

MP

In one scene in the film they showed a riding competition where the riders would pick up a small piece of cloth from the ground with a dagger while riding at a full gallop. The day after, my friend Anoop (Vicky) Randhawa (used to be an instructor pilot with Jet Airways), MP, and I rode Nawab Habib Jung’s horses to the schooling area. I was thrilled with the display of horsemanship that I had seen in the movie and when we went to ride, I decided to try the maneuver of picking up the napkin from the ground at full gallop. The problem with this intention, which I discovered too late, was that the Akhal-Teke is 14.3 – 15.5 hands tall, whereas the Thoroughbred that I was riding was a full 17 hands. Also, its gait was a hard, pounding run that was very harsh and jolting. MP put the large napkin in the middle of the field and pulled it up a little in the middle to make a slight tent-like shape. I then wheeled my horse, trotted to the end of the field, and the turned around and came straight down at a full gallop. As the horse neared the napkin, I went down over the right shoulder and reached down with my right arm for the napkin. I picked it up alright but realized by then that I was too far down over the side and the pounding gait of the horse was further throwing me lower and lower. And sure enough, in another two or three strides, I fell. I landed on my arm and shoulder and there was a terrible shooting pain. I tried to scramble up and found that my right arm was twisted at an unlikely angle and my shoulder had dislocated. MP and Vicky, came running. I told MP to go and catch the horse, as I didn’t fancy facing his father without his horse. I told Vicky to put his fist in my armpit and pull the arm with a jerk. That put the ball back in the socket. The arm was horribly painful but at least it was back in place. We returned the horses to the stables and then I went home.

When I reached home, I told my mother what happened, expecting her to say, “Allah mera bachcha!”, or something like that and hug and kiss me. Instead she said, “Girtay hain shah sawar hi maidan-e-jang mein. (It is only knights who fall in battle).  Go to the hospital and show it to Pappa and get some medicine for the pain.” My Mom was a very matter of fact lady.

I went to the hospital and my dad looked at the shoulder, which was swollen and red and painful like hell. He said, “This will be painful for about a week. You will never be able to do an overarm movement because there will always be the danger of it coming out again.  So be careful always. The ligaments have been permanently stretched. You could have surgery, but I don’t recommend it. Take a paracetamol and do hot fomentation. Okay. Nurse, next patient please.” My father was also a matter of fact man.

As I was leaving my Dad’s compounder, Qayyum Saab came up to me. He used to wear very strong Atr (perfume) and you could smell him long after he had passed. Qayyum Saab said to me, “Baba, agar aap chahay tho main aap ku Shalibanda ley jataon, Jarrah kay paas. Ek patti mein aap achchay ho jatay. Magar Saab ku nahin bolna nahin tho meri naukri jaati.” (If you want I can take you to the bone setter in Shalibanda and he will tie a bandage which will cure you. But please don’t tell your father or I will lose my job). He wouldn’t have lost his job of course but my father didn’t believe in any native medicine and he would have been chewed out for his pains.

I promised to keep my lips sealed and off we went, Qayyum Saab and I, by bus to Charminar and then rickshaw to Shalibanda. The Jarrah applied copious amounts of creamy, sweet smelling ointment, the ingredients of which only he knew and then tied a bandage. It was like magic. My atrociously painful shoulder stopped paining immediately. And by next morning the pain had gone.

Chiran Palace which today is KBR Park, was the private property of the Nizam and was surrounded by an 8-feet high masonry wall with a huge black wooden gate in the center. There were soldiers from the erstwhile Arab Irregulars (Chaoush) from Barkas, lackadaisically guarding the gate. The paved road ended at the Green Masjid. After that it was an unpaved dirt road, all the way to the gate and beyond it, inside to the Palace. There was no road around Chiran Palace and it was all rock and scrub bush, including a lot of Opuntia cactus, Sitaphal, Neem, Lantana and Datura. There were no buildings or habitation all the way down to what is Sanjeevareddy Nagar on one side and Towli Chowki on the other. The area was alive with Peacocks, Partridge and Quail, and Chowsinga (Four-horned) antelopes, Wild Boar, Jackals and naturally, leopard (which we call Panther). Sometimes I would walk to Chiran Palace from Sanatnagar where I lived, taking a right at Sanjeevareddy Nagar and then walking through these open lands, climbing the hill all the way to the top. I would always have my yellow Labradors, Ben and Poppins, one or both, as my companions both for company and safety. Once we reached the top, I would allow them to run around for a bit and then I would climb up on my favorite rock which overlooked the Palace wall on one side and gazed across the country to the ramparts of Golconda Fort on the other. I always took my dogs up on the rock with me as to leave them below was to invite any leopard in the area for a meal. Dog is item #1 on a leopard’s menu and Labs are simply too friendly even to put up a fight.

Ben, Poppins, Bell-bottom trousers and center parting – 1975

One of my most poignant memories is sitting on top of this rock as the sun was going down, with Ben lying beside me, looking at Bala Hisar, the topmost building on Golconda Fort. I thought to myself, “If this rock had a voice, it would say to me, ‘Hey kid! One day there was a king in that palace (Bala Hisar) who thought he owned the world. Today he has been gone a long time, while you are sitting on top of me thinking that the world runs because of you. But all men die and only rocks are eternal.” The reality is that I am still here, writing this, while that poor rock was blasted and reduced to rubble to go into the foundation of one of the houses that have come up all around Chiran Palace, like mushrooms after rain. One day, like the king in Bala Hisar, I will also die, and the real truth will be established, which is Rahay Naam Allahﷻ Ka (Only Allahﷻ’s name will remain). History is witness to so many who thought that they were powerful and eternal. That is the real irony.

One day, the day after Diwali which was a holiday, MP and I decided to take our horses and go camping. I was riding a black stallion and MP was riding a chestnut gelding. My horse was rather highly strung and as is the way with many stallions, constantly testing his will against mine. We rode from Begumpet all the way to the Green Masjid (Masjid-e-Hussaini) on Road # 3 Banjara Hills intending to go on to the gate of Chiran Palace and then ride along the wall and descend the hill to what we used to call ‘Secret lake’. Seeing it surrounded by buildings today it is clear that it is no longer a secret. This lake connects with the lake on Road # 1 near Taj Banjara hotel which used to be called the Banjara Hotel and was the first hotel on Banjara Hills and the first 5 – star hotel in Hyderabad. As MP and I rode past the masjid and stepped onto the unpaved dirt road, a small boy threw a firecracker under the hoofs of my horse. The firecracker literally exploded under the belly of my horse and he bolted. I let him run because he was scared and to try to stop him would have been fruitless. He galloped full tilt all the way to the gate and then stopped, foaming and blowing. MP caught up and we continued our ride.

As we rounded the wall and were crossing a flat granite rock on which my horse’s shoes rang like bells, a brace of partridge exploded in flight right under his nose. It was clearly not my day. My horse was already in a skittish mood with the firecracker incident. When the partridges did their act, he neighed and reared then slipped and fell on his side. I fell with him with my leg under him. By the grace of AllahY, I was wearing knee high boots with a very thick and stiff sole designed just for such accidents. The sole protected my foot from being crushed and my helmet kept my head from cracking on the rock. I kicked my feet free of the stirrups and rolled clear of the horse as he scrambled up, keeping a hold on the reins because if he had run away there, catching him would have been nearly impossible and would have put paid to our camping trip.

Once the dust settled, I realized that neither of us was any the worse for wear and we decided to go on. We reached the lake a few minutes later. The lake had a dam at one end with a small building at one end of it. The valley floor spread out all around the lake with some Acacia and Tamarind trees dotting it. We unsaddled and hobbled the horses and put on their halters with long ropes so that they could roll in the grass and graze but would not be able to run away. Then we made our camp. It was a brilliant starlit night with a three-quarter moon and not a human in sight. This was pure wilderness, peaceful and quiet with the occasional ‘chirr’ of the nightjar or the flight of an owl on silent wings floating overhead in search of the unwary mouse. We ate our sandwiches and drank the water from the lake and lived to tell the tale. The water was clean enough to drink. On a side note, today when I talk to people about parenting, I think of my parents and the parents of our friends, who didn’t think twice about allowing two teenagers to take their horses and go off camping all night in the bush. I would go off for weeks to the farm of my friend, Mr. V. Rama Reddy in Sethpalli, in the middle of the Adilabad jungles, with no communication to my parents from the minute I left home to the minute I returned, but they never prevented me from doing it. That is what built our character. We were not mollycoddled or over parented by anxious mothers and paranoid fathers. Of course, the world was also a different place.

On my beach – building a bamboo raft

My father was right of course about the overarm movement. I forgot about that at a crucial time. In the Anamallais, when I was Manager of Lower Sheikalmudi Estate, I made a ‘beach’ on the bank of an oxbow that the Sholayar River made at the bottom of our cardamom area. There was a large pool in the bend of the river and then the water flowed away down to the Parambikulam Dam. The pool was about six or seven feet deep. We, my wife and I, my dear friend Berty (Cuthbert Suares) from across the border in Tata Tea’s Malakiparai Estate, another dear friend, Sandy (Sundeep Singh) from another Tata Tea estate called Uralikkal along with whoever else of our planter friends were around, used to gather there on Sunday and spend the day swimming. At lunch time, Bastian, my butler would send down sandwiches and coffee. Selvaraj, the Supervisor for the cardamom area (I reclaimed scrub land and planted it with cardamom) would bring us fresh honey from the honeycombs in the area. I had set up beehives to help in pollination. They paid for their accommodation by giving us cardamom flavored honey. We ate it straight from the comb.

How to spend a Sunday afternoon

One day, Berty, Samina and I were down there. Berty and I were swimming. I was racing Berty and in my excitement forgot about my arm and tried a powerful crawl. Only one stroke and my arm was out. I sank. I thought I was done for. But my feet touched the bottom while the waves were gently lapping at my nostrils. Berty saw that something was amiss and raced back to me and dragged me into shallower water. Then he asked me, “Dey Dorai tell me what to do.” I told him my remedy. Put your fist in the armpit and jerk the arm outwards. He did and it was back in place. This time the pain was not so bad. The value of friends who know how to act in emergencies is immeasurable. Berty didn’t just start something. He asked me what to do. That is the best thing to do because the person who has the problem, usually knows what works. If you try your own remedy, it may cause more harm than good.

For more stories, please read my book: It’s my Life