Monday, 6 November 2017

Unchahar, Rise And Shine

Neat, pristine, illuminated with countless dazzling lights all round the clock, long unwinding byroads rendered so clean that they give back a mirror reflection, a waft of pure air, no traffic rules yet civilian norms that better all set standards and a close knit territory of affection between people, who we proudly call the NTPC family. This is not a utopia I am talking about. This is my first home in NTPC, my love, Unchahar.

The place where a timid girl in early twenties landed with her one year old baby to join the much prestigious unit of the country’s biggest power conglomerate, NTPC Limited, as a newly recruited officer. Away from the rustling humdrum of city life, at a location sparsely explainable to common man, I made my little first nest of love here. The inhibitions of being a stranger in township, hesitation of embarking a new journey and turmoil of how would I be able to bring up my baby (and connect my husband, Priyank) in this bizarre place was just brewing up when the people in township pitched in to adopt our small family of three.

Within days, I was surrounded with so much of love, affection and a hand of support that I smirked at my pettiness of judging the place even before I stayed there. While my year-old baby girl fondly lapped from one arm to another in her newly founded neighbourhood, Unchahar flung its hearts open to espouse Priyank, like a son-in-law. Meanwhile, corporate stalwarts of the Company, posted in the station, mentored me with utter prowess leading my way to learn the finesse of my profession.

If there was anything more heartening than my new work and home, it was the strange indescribable bond of affection floating effortlessly in the township’s air. It was just meant to be! A culture I had neither seen nor heard about anywhere else, even in the texts of hundreds of literature I had read.

The memories of the next five years I spent in the township remain fresh and crisp like dried maple leaves. A grand stadium where I took my baby for a stroll, the swimming pool exclusively for township residents, the clubs where thousands of us gathered to celebrate Holi together breaking all barriers of gender, class or corporate levels, Dussera that ran for a fortnight under tight CISF security, cultural evenings on any random occasion, fun-fares every quarter, housie, quizzes, competitions, dramatics, musical evenings, live concerts and to top it all, splendid new year’s eve ending in incessant dancing, without least pandemonium, that lasted up till new sun’s break. Apart from this, our weekends got booked for personal birthday parties, which is pretty obvious when your number of acquaintances run in hundreds within a periphery of five kilometers. 

I would have remained deluded forever in the warm memories of Unchahar until the ill-fated evening of 01st November, 2017 when one loud thud from an industrial accident in the newly commissioned sixth unit of the power plant jolted us all. The tragedy had claimed innocent lives and many got severely injured. Sitting in the regional headquarters at Lucknow, the  heartrending news over a phone call changed the entire gambit of emotions.  

In less than a second, there was no time to stop, think over, talk, discuss or even cry over. It was time to act! And act at a lightning speed!

The real story begins here.

The story of last five days when I saw NTPC, my Company, rise like Phoenix from ashes.

I was right there at the Control Room at Lucknow witnessing what goes into handling the aftermaths of tragedy forsaken people. Media was flashing news of haphazard, piece meal stories of an incident that had not even completely gotten over, across all channels. Within minutes, my PR section ran desperately from one pillar to post to prevent false information doing rounds while the top bosses of the Company immediately flew down to take stock of the situation. They cared two hoots about how anyone around would blame, accuse or react. If there was anything in mind, it was quick relief work and rescuing of lives.

Within next couple of hours, three Control Rooms were set up parallel at Unchahar plant, NRHQ-Luckow and Corporate Centre-New Delhi. Volunteers stepped in to take charge of various post duties at Unchahar, Raebareli, several hospitals in Luckow and Delhi. The duties extended beyond 18-24 hours and yet none, not even one volunteer, gave a whimper. In last five days, I have seen, junior engineers to senior most officials of the Company skip their meals, night sleeps, priorities, familial obligations and even regular medicines to be able to give their complete being into fixing the situation.

Some would have toddler kids suffering with fever back home, spouses staying alone in remote locations or dependents in hospitals yet there wasn’t anyone who wanted to back off. Provision of medical aid, disbursement of compensation, entire fraternity of executives pledging one day’s salary, one volunteer with each patient taking care right from arrival to his dignified return to hometown are just couple of relief measures. But what goes behind healing of Unchahar is a much deeper sense of love and belongingness.

There remains moments which can neither be documented, nor be spoken in words. Moments that shake us from inside and change the person we are. In times to come, there might be many stories going around on the Unchahar tragedy or the heroism with which it was dealt with but no one will ever tell you what it feels to be a part of the tragedy.

There would be stories citing certain number of people died but I bet, no one will tell you how much it pains to hand over body of a young boy to his old, dependent, helpless and tearful father. Stories telling how injured people were medically treated in the hospital but no one will tell you what it is to hold the hand of a patient writhing in bed and yelping in pain. Stories telling you about dignified farewell to the deceased but no will tell you how a mortuary smells! Stories telling how stupendously the Control Rooms executed the relief work but no one will tell how the heartbeat sinks every time you hear the injury toll increase.  Only our NTPC family would know who are healing the wound with their love potion!

This too shall pass! But the solidarity that binds us together to rise through difficult times will remain indelibly imprinted in our lives forever. No one and nothing can tear us apart.

Until things go right, Unchahar, we shall stick together.

May you rise and shine!

Saturday, 28 October 2017

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Stories make up life. From stories that inspire to those that conspire, from stories for kids to tales for the athirst, from stories that can be penned down to those that be dramatically narrated! Essentially a writer, speaker and storyteller, and sometimes a senior Corporate HR facilitator, there could be stories we could share with each other. 

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Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Buddha Is Everywhere, Except Perhaps For Our Hearts

We live in the glorious times of the Buddha.
No, I have not lost my mind. Neither do I have a time machine that can take me to the 6th century BC. I write today because everywhere I look I see representations of the Buddha—tokens and tokenisms. Literally everywhere!
A little while ago I was sitting with a neighbour in her posh apartment and lo and behold, there was the Buddha right behind me! Printed on a silk cushion cover. I complimented her on her aesthetic choice, at which she exclaimed—"The Buddha never goes out of fashion, you see. Look at his eyes, so seductive—you can drown in them!" What a bemusing choice of adjectives for a spiritual great known for his serenity and renunciation of worldly pleasures. I'm sure if he'd been around to witness this exchange, he'd have been beyond appalled. The next moment, she tossed another Buddhism-themed cushion at my lap, saying, "Be comfortable! I have many more in various designs." I nodded politely, curbing the temptation to tell her: "Yes, I know it is fashionable to have Buddha cushion covers, but don't you want him and his teachings in your life as well?"
The Buddha has been one of the most influential spiritual leaders to ever walk this earth. But now our culture seems to have appropriated him in an entirely material sense.
There is no doubt that the Buddha has been one of the most influential philosophical and spiritual leaders to ever walk this earth. But right now, our culture seems to have appropriated him in an entirely material sense. Blame it on the style industry, mystical monasteries or the austere good looks of disciplined monks, but somewhere along the way Gautama Buddha has become a fashion statement, an on-trend motif.
I have lost count of the Buddha figurines I have spotted on assorted terrace gardens, placed appealingly amidst white stone pebbles and small waterfalls. Or, the serene statuettes carved in costly white marble, put in the middle of artificial ponds with floating plastic water lilies. What a serene sight for guests to behold! Light some scented candles around and it is the perfect ornamentation for a party. Who gives two hoots about what he stood for anyway? After the party, maybe.
A friend of mine has displayed a series of paintings of his tranquil face done in various abstract forms, running all across the corridor to her bedroom. Every picture lit under a different lamp shade. Another has got her kitchen window done with a glass painting of Buddhist symbology. And then there is someone who uses blinds printed with thousands of tiny Buddhas.
Ask them about their devotion and they speak of the heavenly aesthetic of the Buddha and Buddhist motifs.
I am yet to see an exhibition, a handicraft mela or a mall's home furniture showroom that doesn't feature multiple Buddhist icons.
I am yet to see an exhibition, a handicraft mela or a mall's home furniture showroom that doesn't feature multiple Buddhist icons. How ironical that this is the same Gautama Buddha, the man who once walked in flesh and blood, who surrendered worldly pleasures to lead a life of utter simplicity.
Long years ago, his disciples travelled across the world to spread his teachings and mark his presence in every possible household. The message has indeed reached and how! Today the Buddha is ubiquitous—you'll see him on handmade-paper bags, expensive T-shirts, bed covers, keychains, earrings, tattoos, mobile cases... the list is endless.
Recently, when I visited Gangtok's crowded M.G. main market, I stood mesmerised along with hundreds of other tourists, lost in the beauty of Buddhist tokens stunningly displayed by the street vendors. Everybody was eager to take back little miniatures as gifts for friends and family. While a Delhi gentleman standing next to me asked for colourful prayer flag for his car's back window, another from Bangalore demanded 50 such pieces for his newly opened Café. A lady thought the collection of flags would make for a good toran on the entrance door while another grabbed a piece for her office work station. Each prayer flag had a long prayer written in Pali, but no one asked what it meant. The aesthetic mattered, not the message.
Some token collectors contend that Buddhist images and artefacts imbue serenity to a space, but how many of them practice his teachings?
Some token collectors contend that Buddhist images and artefacts imbue serenity to a space, but how many of them practice his teachings? They are often people who are governed by anger or enslaved to their repository of wealth, friends, jobs and pleasures.
I've been gifted many, many Buddha keepsakes over the years, but the most precious of all the artefacts I have are books on the life of the great thinker, carefully placed in my library. Sometimes when I feel frayed, I return to its flagged pages, anecdotes, life lessons and quotes.
If for just one day the Buddha found his due place in our lives—beyond tokenism, aesthetics and as a fashion statement—there would be so much more peace, tranquillity and forgiveness all around. Remember what he endorsed, "There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path"!
                                           .     .      .
[This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post on 25/09/2017 8:46 AM IST]

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