At 9 in the morning, the door of A13 Vrindavan Park opened, and a happy man in his mid-forties stepped out. “Good morning,” he said to the familiar traffic constable at the crossing. The policeman acknowledged the greeting. He continued using his whistle with skill to guide the traffic. “Move fast,” the traffic constable shouted at the driver of the Honda City. The driver was listening to the radio in the comfortable confines of his vehicle. With a business newspaper in one hand and a mobile phone in another, the portly gentleman from the flourishing Gujarati community of Ghatembur smiled at the familiar face in the Honda City and started walking past the honking traffic. “It’s bright and sunny,” he remarked to the pedestrian on his side. The pedestrian gave him a smirk and continued walking to the nearest bus stop. The beggar trying to evoke sympathy in drivers waiting at the red signal shared his optimism. “Haven’t had food for 2 days Sir,” he got on to his job on seeing Jigneshbhai. He gave the beggar a generous 20 rupee note from his wallet further fueling the beggar’s optimism.
Jigneshbhai Patel had been following this happy routine for over the past 10 years. His was a life free from worries. His was a head full of ideas. His was a day full of freedom.
Ranchoddas Patel and his wife, who then lived a few blocks away from today’s Vrindavan Park, had a son over four and a half decades back. “Let’s call him Jignesh, my grandfather was called that,” Ranchoddas told his wife who readily agreed. In time, Jignesh went to the local convent school though he did not grasp English till he went to college to study commerce. “We should speak in English at home,” he insisted but to no avail.
As far as can be ascertained from school and college records, he did not succeed a great lot in studies. His family didn’t mind that. “I didn’t take my boards seriously and the boards also didn’t take me seriously,” he told me over his uproarious laughter after his results. But he was extremely successful in running a textbook business in school, and a clothing business in college. For both of them, his school and college mates were his primary customers, and both of them he closed later. “The returns on investment weren’t great,” he told his family and returned the capital.
His grades and articulation may have belied it, but Jignesh was an extremely intelligent boy with a rare breed of sagacious wisdom. “Where will I use calculus later in life?” He once asked his maths teacher. His penchant for logical but seemingly out of place questions was well-known. “I would rather invest my time in learning English than studying Calculus. It is more useful,” he had mentioned, when he initiated his friendship with Swami many years back, but we will come to that. There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, and Jignesh had the ability to gain knowledge in any area he chose, but his forte was in grasping the wisdom with ease. Not many have this ability. I have seen a lot of knowledgeable unwise experts in lots of areas. “The sign of true expertise is to understand the limitations of your knowledge,” Jignesh the kid once told me.
As the years passed by, this wisdom turned Jignesh to Jigneshbhai. I heard a lot of friends ask him “Jigneshbhai can you advise me what I should do here?” in various situations. He realised that, his degree in commerce wasn’t particularly useful in getting a job, plus he did not particularly like working for anyone else. “It’s too painful to keep following instructions when there’s no logic, plus there’s no freedom,” he once told me. He also realized that, with his intelligence, acumen and smart money management, he could run a business of his own profitably, only if he could take some calculated risks and show some patience – both of which he had in plenty. After a few experiments, he found that, for his relatively introvert personality and strengths around wisdom and clarity of thinking, investing advisory and brokerage were his best bet. “It’s a nice mix of analysis, risk taking and making money work for me,” he had explained once to me. He has been engaged in that since then. That is the reason he stepped out at 9 am from A13 Vrindavan Park to walk to his small office around 500 metres away.
The other part of this story has its origins a few blocks away. A serious, studious man in his early forties stepped out in a hurry walking fast to his car. “I need to get there on time for a meeting,” he said. He had a laptop bag and a lunch box in his hand. One of his neighbours said “Good morning” on his way to the car, but he hardly noticed it. As his Honda City made way through the traffic, he checked his mobile to see if his driver could find a shorter route. “I hope this policeman knows what he is doing,” he said to his driver when he heard the whistle. “I will be late. But it’s another nonsensical meeting with another useless boss,” he muttered to himself. He waved and smiled at the familiar face of Jigneshbhai walking to his office. As he stopped at the signal, the beggar came to his window. He felt sorry for the beggar. He opened the window and gave him a generous 20 rupee note. “What’s the use of earning if I can’t use it to do good deeds,” he said to himself.
Swaminathan Ramakrishnan had been following this hurried routine for over the past 10 years. His was a life full of worries. His was a head full of thoughts. His was a day full of activities.
Close to four decades back, just a few years after the Patel family, a South Indian cosmopolitan family was blessed with a son. Swami went to the same local convent school, albeit a few years junior and, unlike Jigneshbhai’s family, Swami’s expected him to do well in studies. “Focus on skills, science and engineering will have good scope,” his father and, often, members of the extended family advised him. His command over Science ensured that he got the grades to get into engineering, and his eloquence in English helped him survive in the hustle and bustle of corporate life. “My science teacher liked my English, and my English teacher liked my knowledge of science,” he often told me. “Honestly, I knew both just about enough to impress the other.”
He was not particularly interested in engineering but took it up because “intelligent kids did it” and that it was “a safe option” that would get him “a decent job”. “We have to earn a living and an AC office is comfortable, plus salary isn’t bad and they send you places sometimes for work,” he explained his four-point logic to me and Jigneshbhai then. There was no deep logic as such, it was basically what he felt more secure and comfortable with. But that was Swami’s way of taking decisions going with what felt good, unlike Jigneshbhai’s more dispassionate, logical and rational way going with what made sense.
Most people in his family and social circle thought Swami was very intelligent, very ambitious and very accomplished. “Look at Swami Anna. How brainy he is and what marks he gets,” was an oft repeated line at family functions. But deep within Swami always had doubts whether it was truly the case. Jigneshbhai was sure that Swami didn’t have much of what he called ‘life intelligence’ but he knew that Swami had a heart of gold. “He is the kind of guy, who you can give a loan blindly without any documentation. He will be more worried about repaying it than you,” Jigneshbhai once told me.
Over time, Swami survived the corporate life, but he constantly complained about the problems with it. “Another useless meeting, more politics” was a frequent one. But it did give him a decent life, so he kept on with it. “Now I have seen America, I think I will take a job that lets me see other places,” he used to say. Most of his decisions were driven by what Jigneshbhai called ‘short term feel goodness’ and social, family and similar considerations. “AVP is a decent title plus the office is close to my house, so no stress. I can easily attend all family functions and take care of my health. Good work life balance,” I once heard him say during a job change. Jigneshbhai always felt Swami’s work-life balance was imbalanced and was always more in favour of life than work. But such considerations of how to choose a job were in plenty in Swami’s ‘logic feeling basket’ as Jigneshbhai often called it. At the end of the day those drove him enough and that’s what mattered. “Be that as it may,” Jigneshbhai often said.
I have known the two of them for close to 25 years now. I think the origins of their friendship lie in that English elocution competition that Swami won in school. Jigneshbhai was so impressed and so interested in learning English that though he was a few years senior, he approached Swami to ask if he could teach him English. Swami, proud that he was, had then wondered and asked me “what kind of weird guy can go to a junior asking to learn English! Why doesn’t he learn science and maths?” He added, “you better help me teach him English,” because I was the one who had written the speech which he had simply learnt by rote. That’s when their association started, in a local convent school.
Swami’s yearning for security matched up to Jigneshbhai’s penchant for risk taking and freedom. Swami’s impulsiveness matched up to Jigneshbhai’s composure. Swami’s heart matched up to Jigneshbhai’s head. Different strokes, like chalk and cheese they were since then, and still are. But all of this is just to let you know the origins of a story that started many years back. Experience brings with it some wisdom and it also brings with it some regrets. It brings superficial modifications, but very few changes in core personality. At the core, nothing much has changed in Swami and Jigneshbhai. Swami’s tendencies to get into trouble due to the machinations of his fickle mind remain. Jigneshbhai’s abilities to overcome situations due to his wisdom and temperament stay intact. I have been an audience in many such instances, and I should know. So, I will not take you back into history. While the origins might be over two decades old, this is a story well entrenched in today’s Ghatembur.
In their neighbourhood of Ghatembur today, slick cafes have replaced the small tea shops of yore. That is what we frequent now to have our regular cup of coffee, and, sometimes, the chocolate muffins with it. “The sweetness of our life” Swami calls the double chocolate muffin that the cafe is famous for. While Jigneshbhai calls it “the meaning in our meaninglessness.”
Enough of the past. Now let me come back to the present. That is more valuable. That’s why the present is called a gift, or something akin to that. I heard Deja say that sometime. Let me come to that.
“It’s a nice afternoon to go out for a coffee,” Swami called Jigneshbhai that day a few weeks back.
“Yes it is, but every day is,” Jigneshbhai retorted.
Swami’s definition of nice afternoons changed every afternoon. While for Jigneshbhai, afternoons were more or less nice unless something drastic happened.
“See you there at 4.30,” he decided the program. Not that I or Jigneshbhai had any objections. It was a good time for coffee and a muffin.
“Alright,” both of us said in unison, and turned up at the cafe for a nice cup of hot coffee as usual.
We had been meeting at this cafe for the past many years. It was like every other coffee conversation. But it was not the same.
There was some topic that we started a discussion on. I don’t want to get into the details of the discussion now because something much more important and astonishing happened that evening.
The wealthy old man was sitting at the table next to ours. He had come much earlier today.
The wealthy old man lives in a sprawling bungalow in Ghatembur’s posh locality, not too far from Jigneshbhai’s and Swami’s homes. He hasn’t told us much about himself. Swami often says, “What he says goes over my head, unless I ponder over it.” I must admit that I agree with Swami on this count. Jigneshbhai seems to get him though. He told us once to be kind and polite to the wealthy old man. “Now he has retired, but he is very wealthy with the right connections and still quite influential. He has been there and done that all in the world of business during his youth.”
“Who is speaking?” Swami asked Jigneshbhai out of the blue.
Jigneshbhai had not uttered a word. Swami looked at me. I was also silent.
“What is this new prank you guys are upto?”
Jigneshbhai and I looked at each other in a bemused manner.
“Don’t pull my leg. Why are you telling me to shut up and listen when you aren’t speaking?” Swami continued. He was so used to being made fun of that he felt it was more of the same, and as usual, we were the prime suspects.
But we really hadn’t spoken. Jigneshbhai and I started wondering whether Swami was hallucinating.
Swami looked at the wealthy old man who was sitting at the next table. He had his normal cryptic expression. He was silent too.
But next to him today was a small cute dog. The dog was sitting next to the old man. He was staring at Swami.
What happened thereafter none of you will believe. But believe me, it is true. Swami asked for a pen and paper in a hurry.
“He is asking me to fetch a pen and paper,” he declared, pointing at the dog.
Jigneshbhai and I thought Swami had gone crazy. What happened shocked us beyond words. “A dog asking you to get pen and paper? What’s next? A dog reciting poetry? What did you have for lunch?” Jigneshbhai asked. But Swami neglected us and called the waiter to get a paper. After about ten minutes, Swami gave us the paper which had this written on it.
“I am a dog but pay attention to what I say, I used to be a yoga and spiritual teacher in an earlier life
I died and my soul got this dog’s body, Now I see the world of humans from this body
It has given me a new perspective, I can understand humans and dogs, though dogs are easier
Swami, you are the only one who can hear me, your friends can’t
That’s because you were my favourite student in an earlier life
Next time order some bread for me with your coffee. You can call me Deja”
“What the hell is going on?” Jigneshbhai asked. “Don’t make up stuff. This doesn’t make sense to me.”
Swami had his eyebrows raised. His palms and forehead had sweat. “I don’t know what’s happen……wait a sec,” he said. “He is saying something.” And Swami started writing. He showed it to us.
“Tell Jigneshbhai to believe you, this doesn’t happen often, but it has happened before and will not make sense
But it is true, my name is Deja Vu, I am a spiritual dog and, I repeat, you can call me Deja”
I don’t know when was the last time I saw Jigneshbhai and Swami with their hair standing vertical. But that day, I did. I also saw their mouths gaping open, hands on their heads, eyes almost round.
“Ok. We will call you Deja,” both of them said in unison.
That is how Deja the spiritual dog came into the world of Jigneshbhai and Swami. And not to forget the wealthy old man.
Excerpted from the book “The Good, The Bad and The Silly” by Ranjit Kulkarni. Available on Amazon Kindle Store worldwide and as a PDF eBook on ranjitkulkarni.com. Paperback available on Pothi.com (in India) and on Amazon.com (only outside India).
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