Monday, May 31, 2010

HOW TO BE HAPPY - HAPPINESS MANTRA - a philosophical approach

Dog Wisdom

I have a pet dog. Her name is Sherry. She is very lively agile sprightly – always full of beans – and she is always cheerful, jolly and happy. 

Sherry is my true friend, philosopher and guide – she has taught me the art of living one’s life to the fullest.

As I said, Sherry is always happy. I think she has mastered the art of happiness. This is what I have learnt from Sherry on how to be happy. Here is her Happiness Mantra.

If you want to be happy do these four things: 

1. Try to be in the company of people who make you happy

2. Be in places which make you happy

3. Do things that make you happy

4. Live your life in such a way that your happiness in dependent on things within your own control to the maximum extent possible. 

Long back, sometime in the 1960’s, when I was a small boy, my father took me to visit Belur Math, and there I acquired a tiny pocket book called “Thus Spake Vivekananda”.

Whenever the chips were down, or I felt dejected, I referred to the inspiring gems of wisdom, distilled from the complete works of Swami Vivekanada, for instant motivation and strength.

Here’s one of those gems of wisdom, a phrase from the sayings of Swami Vivekananda :-

Anything that makes you weak physically, intellectually, and spiritually, reject as poison

I feel that the word “weak” is all encompassing and embraces anything that creates in you a stressful situation like all negative emotions and feelings including anger, irritation, infuriation, frustration, despondency, depression, demoralization, unhappiness – anything that disturbs your inner tranquility and equanimity, drains you emotionally and intellectually, besides literal physical weakness.

Oh yes,
unhappiness is weakness, unhappiness is Poison... 
Now sit down in a quiet tranquil place, close your eyes, introspect, and try to think of all the things that make you feel negative – all your unhappiness-creators and unhappy situations.

These can be anything – toxic or incompatible persons, who irritate, annoy and hassle you, foods and beverages which don’t suit you and are physically detrimental, activities, which may appear pleasurable, but actually drain you out, technology and gadgets, like your cell-phone, which disturb your peace of mind, and strained relationships, which are a source of unhappiness

Make an exhaustive list of all the things that make you “weak” and try to reject them as “poison”.  
At first you may be a bit sceptical about this approach, but when you start implementing, you’ll be surprised how much it is in your own control to prevent unhappiness

While you reject the things that make you "weak" and unhappy, you must also reinforce the things that make you feel "strong" and happy.

Yes, if unhappiness is "weakness", happiness is "strength".

So simultaneously, reflect and contemplate, and make a list of things which give you strength and joy, make you happy and productive – all the things and people that create positive feelings in you – and try to devote as much time and energy to doing these positive things that give you strength and make you feel good and happy.   

This unhappiness prevention technique (Happiness Mantra) works for me, and I’m sure it will work for you too, and is so effective, probably because it is so breathtaking in its simplicity.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Human Resource Management - MANAGERIAL ETHICS - a primer - MORAL DEVELOPMENT and ETHICS


Honesty and Loyalty may be often deeply ingrained in the make-up of simple and humble people than in men of high position. A man who was taking bribes when he was a constable does not turn honest when he becomes the Chief of Police. The only thing that changes is the size of the bribe. Weakness of character and inability to withstand temptation remain with the man no matter how high he climbs.


It is often stated that the most important resource of any organization is the Human Resource. This article addresses the relevance of ethics in Human Resource Management and discusses various ethical and motivational aspects, including ethical values and ethical decision-making.

Ethics is an integral and vital aspect of Human Resource Management since most of our actions and decisions have ethical manifestations with consequential ramifications in the HR domain.

There is a general belief that ethics is concerned only with financial propriety.
Whilst this aspect certainly involves ethics, ethical management is all encompassing concerning each and every facet of your professional and personal life.

There is a story, probably apocryphal, which illustrates this aspect.

There was a cyclonic storm and millions of fish were washed ashore and were struggling for life on the beach. A man came to the beach and patiently began to pick up the fish, one by one, and throw them back into the sea. An amused passerby asked him what difference it would make, to which the man pointed to the fish in his hand and said, “Ask this fish?”

Thus, we see that seemingly routine decisions, which at the organizational level do not appear to have major ethical magnitude, have large ethical significance at the individual level.

The purpose of this article is to give you a basic understanding of the fundamental concept of ethics, to have you reflect upon the relationship between your ethical values and your behaviour as an HR Manager and to show you how to develop a personalized approach to deal with ethical dilemmas.

Even though only a very small fraction of the employees may indulge in unethical behaviour, it has serious ramifications on the organization as a whole and affects a large number of people who are stakeholders.

Many of us do not even know whether certain of our actions and decisions have ethical implications or not and the consequences thereof.


What is ethics and what does it deal with?

(a) Ethics is that set of behavioural standards that relate to a set of principles, values and ideals for human conduct. Ethics may be defined as ‘the standards of conduct which indicate how one should behave on moral duties and obligations’.

(b) Ethics deals with two aspects: the first involves one’s ability to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil and propriety from impropriety; the second involves the commitment to do what is good, right and proper.


Values are core beliefs, which guide or motivate attitudes and behaviour. They are the established ideals of life that members of a given society regard as desirable.

Ethical Values are directly related to our beliefs concerning what is right, good and proper. They impose moral obligations and are concerned with our sense of moral duty. The 10 core ethical values are:-

        (i) Honesty
        (ii) Integrity
        (iii) Promise keeping
        (iv) Loyalty
        (v) Fairness
        (vi) Concern and Caring for others
        (vii) Respect for others
        (viii) Responsible Citizenship
        (ix) Pursuit of excellence
        (x) Accountability

What are your care ethical values?

With how many of the above do they coincide?

Or, do you have other unique ethical values?

Before you can develop an approach to ethical decision making, you should invest some time and effort and attain a solid understanding of your own core ethical values.



There is an ethical dimension to every decision that can be evaluated in terms of its adherence to the previously discussed core ethical values. Thus any of your decisions, which affect other persons, have ethical implications, and virtually all of your important decisions reflect your sensitivity and commitment to ethics.

In summary, as you perform your job in your workplace, what are the ethical dimensions as you deal with your superiors, peers, subordinates and others connected with your work?

Different stakeholders have different ethical perspectives.

Take the case of organizational romance

Whereas, some organizations feel that there is nothing ethically wrong and may even encourage organizational romance and marriage among colleagues by giving various perks and incentives like dating allowance, some other organizations may prohibit or discourage organizational romance. Of course, sexual harassment would be universally considered unethical.


Ethical decision-making involves the process by which a person evaluates and chooses among alternatives in a manner consistent with his or her core ethical values or principles. Thus when you make an ethical personal or professional decision you: 

(a) Perceive and eliminate unethical options, and then,

(b) Select the best from several competing ethical alternatives by using soft skill management tools like the CATWOE model.

Ethical decision-making requires more than a belief in the importance of ethics. 

It also requires sensitivity to perceive the ethical implications of your decisions; the ability to evaluate complex ambiguous and incomplete facts and the skill to implement ethical decision making without jeopardizing your career.

Ethical decision-making requires three things; ethical commitment, ethical consciousness and ethical competence.


Ethical Commitment is the strong desire to act ethically, to do the right thing, especially when ethics imposes financial, social or psychological costs. 

Regardless of profession, nearly all people believe they are and should be ethical. While most are not satisfied with the ethical quality of the society as a whole, they believe their profession is more ethical than others and they are at least as ethical as those in their profession.

Unfortunately our behaviours do not consistently conform to our self-images and moral ambitions. As a result, a large number of decent people who are committed to ethical values regularly compromise these values, often because they lack the strength to follow their conscience. Both in your professional and personal life, you will be confronted with a continuous stream of stream of situations in which your ethical commitment will be constantly tested.


While weakness of will explains a great deal of improper conduct, a much greater problem arises from our failure to perceive the ethical implications of our conduct. Many of us simply fall to apply our moral convictions to our daily behaviour.

Some of us do not always see ethical issues that are likely to trouble others. Sometimes perfectly legal conduct often appears to be ethically improper or inappropriate.


Being ethically conscious and being committed to act ethically is not always enough. In complex situations, which are frequently faced by most of us involved in Human Resource Management, the following reasoning and problem solving skills are also necessary:

Evaluation – The ability to collect and evaluate relevant facts and to know when to stop and how to make prudent decisions based on incomplete and ambiguous facts.

Creativity – The capacity to develop alternative means of accomplishing goals in ways which avoid or minimize ethical problems.

Prediction – The ability to foresee potential consequences of conduct and assess the likelihood or risk that person will be helped or harmed by an act.


A person concerned with being ethical has a moral obligation to consider the ethical implications of all of his or her decision upon others.

Each entity, person, group, institution or constituency that is likely to be affected by the decision is a “stakeholder” with a moral claim on the decision maker. The stakeholder concept provides a systematic way of perceiving and sorting out the various interests involved in our ethical decision making.

The stakeholder concept reinforces our obligation to make all reasonable efforts to foresee possible consequences and take reasonable steps to avoid unjustified harm to innocent stakeholders – an ethical decision maker would never inadvertently cause harm.


There is a need to develop a model of ethical decision making that avoids the shortcomings of the traditional approaches such as the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) and categorical ethical imperatives (higher truths impose absolute moral obligations which must be obeyed regardless of the consequences).

This model can be practically applied to common problems found in competitive and stressful management situations. The three steps to the ethical decision making model includes:-

(a) All decisions must take into account and reflect a concern for the interest and well-being of all stakeholders.

(b) Ethical values and principles always take precedence over non-ethical values and principles.

(c)  It is ethically proper to violate on ethical principle only when it is clearly necessary to advance another true ethical principle which according to the decision make’s conscience, will produce the greatest balance of good in the long run.


The extent to which we use the this approach to ethical decision making to guide our behaviours in management situations will very from person to person. Kohlberg offers a handy framework for delineating the stage each of us has reached with respect to personal moral development.

Stage 1.  Physical consequences determine moral behaviour.    At this stage of personal moral development, the individual’s ethical behaviour is driven by the decision to avoid punishment or by deference to power. Punishment is an automatic response of physical retaliation. The immediate physical consequences of an action determine its goodness or badness. Such moral behaviour is seen in cadets at service training academics where physics punishment techniques are prevalent with a view to inculcate the attributes of obedience and deference to power.

Stage 2.   Individual needs dictate moral behaviour.  At this stage, a person’s needs are the person’s primary concern. The right action consists of what instrumentally satisfies your own needs. People are valued in terms of their utility. Example: “I will help him because he may help me in return – you scratch my back, I will scratch yours.”

Stage 3.  Approval of others determines moral behaviour. This stage is characterized by decision where the approval of others determines the person’s behaviour. Good behaviour is that which pleases or helps others within the group. The good person satisfies family, friends and associates. “Everybody is doing it, so it must be okay.” One earns approval by being conventionally “respectable” and “nice.” Sin is a breach of the expectations of the social order – “log kya kahenge?” 

Stage 4.  Compliance with authority and upholding social order are a person’s primary ethical concerns.  “Doing one’s duty” is the primary concern. Consistency and precedence must be maintained. Example: “I comply with my superior’s instructions because it is wrong to disobey a senior officer,” Authority is seldom questioned. “Even if I feel that something may be unethical, I will unquestioningly obey all orders and comply with everything my boss says because I believe that the boss is always right.”

Stage 5.  Tolerance for rational dissent and acceptance of rule by the majority becomes the primary ethical concern.  Example: “Although I disagree with her views. I will uphold her right to have them.” The right action tends to be defined in terms of general individual rights, and in terms of standards that have been critically examined and agreed upon by the whole society. The freedom of the individual should be limited by society only when it infringes upon someone else’s freedom.

Stage 6.  What is right is viewed as a matter of individual conscience, free choice and personal responsibility for the consequences.  Example: “There is no external threat that can force me to make a decision that I consider morally wrong.” An individual who reaches this stage acts out of universal ethical principles.

Moral development is in no way correlated with intellectual development or your position in the hierarchy or factors like rank/seniority/status/success. 

 In the words of Alexander Orlov: “Honesty and Loyalty may be often more deeply ingrained in the make-up of simple and humble people than in men of high position. A man who was taking bribes when he was a constable does not turn honest when he becomes the Chief of Police; the only thing that changes in the size of the bribe. Weakness of character and inability to withstand temptation remains with the man no matter how high he climbs.” 

Ethical traits accompany a man to the highest rungs of his career.

If the environment is not conducive, a person can intellectually reach stage 6 but deliberately remain morally at stage 4 as he may find that he has to sacrifice too much to reach stage 6. This can be particularly seen in most hierarchical organizations  where most smart employees make an outward preference of being at stage 3 or 4 (Conformance and Compliance) to avoid jeopardizing their careers even if internally they have achieved higher ethical states. This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde schizophrenic moral approach is at the heart of many ethical dilemmas people encounter in their professional lives and results in stress due to ethical confusion.

Whenever two individuals at different stages of moral development interact with each other both of them try to force/maneuver the other into their own appreciation of the ethical situation, thus leading to conflict. In a formal hierarchical setup the players in the chain may not be at the similar stage of moral development thereby leading to dissonance in the system.

Where the ethical susceptibility is high, morally strong people (less vulnerable) should be appointed and conversely, in such jobs where ethical susceptibility is low, weakness persons can be appointed. 

What is your stage of personal moral development?

Be honest with yourself and recall the decisions you made in recent ethical situations.

The six stages are valuable landmarks as they tell you approximately where you are and what changes you will have to make in your behaviours and decisions to move to a higher level of moral development.

The ultimate goal is to engage in ethical decision making at stage 6. However, the level that you do reach will depend on your ethical commitment, your ethical consciousness and your ethical competence.


The stages of moral development manifest in five types of employees in organizations.  

Sheep are employees who do not play an active role in the organization and are passive followers who simply comply with any order or directive given to them. 

Yes Men are active followers (Sycophants) who readily carry out orders uncritically; they support the bosses’ egos but their extreme obedience can sometimes be dangerous if the orders are unethical or violate laws.  

Alienated followers are the critics of the organization who point out negative aspects but refuse to actively improve the system.  

Effective followers play an active role in the organization but are not Yes Men; they critically assess and respectfully challenge organizational authority and propose constructive alternative. Effective followers can play a vital role in enhancing organizational performance through their wisdom.  

Survivors are followers who get by the work minimal investment and risk exposure in the work environment. With the advent of reengineering, restructuring and downsizing survivors become better at keeping their jobs than doing their jobs well by carefully cultivating multiple images in order to appear to b e the king of follower the current leader wants.

What type of employee are you?

Where do you fit in?

Do you remain one type or change from situation to situation like a chameleon?

What about your colleagues?

It may be interesting to develop linkages between the above types and stages of moral development.


Ethical Susceptibility is the inability to avoid ethical dilemmas. It is environment dependent (on external factors). 

Ethical Vulnerability is your inability to withstand succumbing in the given ethical dilemmas /situations. It is dependent on your internal stage of moral development in the given ethical situation. 

Whereas being in an ethical dilemma is not in your control, to act in a proper and ethical manner in the prevailing situation is certainly in you control. 

Ethical vulnerability is the ease with which a man be ethically compromised, especially in an ethically poor climate. 

Where the ethical susceptibility is high, morally strong people (less vulnerable) should be appointed and conversely, in such jobs where ethical susceptibility is low, weaker persons can be appointed.

In the context of organizations, it would be revealing to reflect on the prevailing HR practices and try to aim to facilitate and encourage all employees to achieve at least stage 4 of the moral development grid in order to enable them to be effective followers. 

HR practices of the Adam Smith style which use fear and a sense of insecurity as motivators are akin to treating employees like slaves and will lead to proliferation of sheep type of employees. Over emphasis on disciplinary action, threats of sacking, firing and transfer are examples of motivators which attempt to cow down an employee into stage 1. 

Over-reliance on Motivation as motivator corresponds to stage 2 and this may become a standard operating practice to motivate and facilitate yes-man as will stage 3 motivation techniques, Unless one has achieved the ultimate stage of moral development (conscience and free will) each of us un in a state of moral flux and workplace environment and personal circumstances may force a man to fluctuate between stages of moral development (conscience and free will) each of us in a state of moral flux and Workplace environment and personal circumstances may force a man to fluctuate between stages of moral development depending on the situation and he may tend to practice what is called situational-ethics like the survivor type of employee.

A proactive, fair and transparent HR System will reduce the need for situational-ethics. 

It is for the top management to decide which type of employee you want for which job and tailor HR practices accordingly. Mismatches can be dangerous. 

In a nutshell, we have to focus on reducing ethical vulnerability in ethically susceptible jobs thereby facilitating ethical conduct and gradually extend ethical HR initiatives throughout the organization with a view to achieving consonance in ethical perspectives of all stakeholders.


Magnitude is the extent the organization will perceive an ethical dilemma.
Significance is the extent the affected individual will perceive on ethical dilemma. Examples of ethical dilemmas in the four ethical dilemma domains are:-

Ø      Domain 1      (Low significance high magnitude) Organizational romance, petty corruption
Ø Domain 2       (How significance high magnitude) Sexual harassment, grand corruption, Firm Shutting Down
Ø      Domain 3       (Low significance low magnitude) Minor infractions like slight deviation from dress code
Ø      Domain 4       (High significance low magnitude) Transfer

Any time one human being intervenes in the life of another human being directly or indirectly, on ethical situation arises. Ethical situations are frequently charged with emotions. Any attempt to apply quantities, systematic, impersonal, objective or logical decision making techniques may not yield desired result and are not advisable.


Ethics is more than a set of rules what to say and what to do, or of what to avoid and what to overlook. It involves judgments that only those facing those decisions can make. Therefore, ethical management has to mean more than simply laws prohibiting certain actions. It must be a spirit, an imbued code of conduct, an ethos. There must be a climate in which everyone understands that some conduct is correct and other conduct is clearly unacceptable. For example, reflect upon the code of conduct (Cadet Honor Code) followed at West Point: A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do”

As a person who is responsible for fulfilling trust and as a person who is fundamentally good and ethical, it is your duty to make your ethical decisions at the highest possible stage of moral development. 

Once the majority of us operate at the highest stage of moral development, the frequency of unethical acts will be close to zero which will result in total mutual trust and confidence which is sine qua non for harmonious Human Resource Management.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Teaching Story

A wise man, a renowned teacher, once publicly vowed that he would eradicate illiteracy and he would teach everyone to read.

Some mischievous boys brought a donkey to the teacher and asked him if he could teach the donkey to read.

The wise teacher stunned the students by taking up the challenge and said, “Give me the donkey for a month and I will teach it to read.”

The teacher went home and began to train his donkey to read.

At first he put the donkey into the stable and gave him no food for some days.

Then he found a thick book and put some food between the pages.

In the beginning the teacher turned the pages and gave the donkey the food between the pages.

After a while the donkey learnt to turn the pages with his tongue to find and eat the food by itself.

Each time when the donkey finished the book and found no more food between the pages it would bray: “Eee aah... Eee aah...Eee aah...”

Then the teacher would reward the donkey with some food.

Three days before the one month period was over the teacher stopped feeding the donkey.

For three full days he did not feed the donkey.

The poor starved and famished donkey, after fasting for three days without a morsel of food, was voraciously hungry.

On the fateful day when the whole school assembled to see the miracle of the donkey reading.

The wise teacher brought the ravenously hungry donkey onto the stage.

He asked for a big book and put it in front of the donkey.

The hungry donkey turned the first page of the book with its tongue and when it could not find any food the donkey brayed: “Eee aah... Eee aah...”

Then the donkey turned one more page, and again not finding any food, it cried: “Eee aah... Eee aah...”

The famished donkey kept turning the pages of the book one by one with its tongue and when it could not find any food between the pages its braying grew louder and louder and soon the hapless donkey was turning the pages and shrieking in a loud voice: “Eee aah... Eee aah...” till it reached a crescendo.

Proud of his achievement the wise teacher gave a said to the gathering: “You all have seen that the donkey has turned the pages of the book and he read it.”

One of the naughty students asked: “But we could not understand anything.”

The wise teacher replied: “Of course you could not understand what the donkey read because it was donkey language. In order to understand it you have to learn donkey language. Come to me for tuition in the evening. I will teach you donkey language.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Short Fiction – A Romantic Love Story

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway celebrated its Centenary in 2008. Actually it’s the second time they are celebrating the centenary [this second one in 2008 pertains to the Coonoor - Udagamandalam (Ooty) section]; the earlier one of the Mettupalaiyam – Coonoor section was celebrated in 1999.

I cherish fond memories of enjoying travelling by this delightful heritage train – the adventurous journey from Mettupalaiyam speeding to the foothills of the Blue Mountains to Kallar and then on the steep gradient on the rack-and-pinion railway track curving and climbing past stations with lovely quaint names like Adderley, Hill Grove, Runnymede and Kateri, laughing at the witty slogans on the walls, through tunnels, over bridges, all the way to Coonoor, a halt for tea, followed by the breathtakingly picturesque journey onto Lovedale and Ooty. 

Permit me, Dear Reader, for old times’ sake, to pull out from my literary archives one of my earliest fiction short stories written by me long long ago and set on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

Do let me know if you liked it.


Early morning.

Chill in the air.

I stand alone on the metre gauge side of the lonely island platform of Mettupalaiyam Railway Station and stare at the peaks of the Blue Mountains (the Nilgiris) silhouetted in a veil of mist in the distance.

Nothing much has changed here since the last time I came here on my way to Ooty.

It was almost 30 years ago and even now the place, the things, the people – everything looks the same – as if frozen in time.

But for me there is a world of difference.

Then I was a young bride, full of inchoate zest, in the company of my handsome husband, eagerly looking forward to the romantic journey on the mountain train, on my way to our honeymoon at Ooty.  

And now...   The same place which then felt so exciting then, now feels so gloomy.


But true.

What’s outside just doesn’t matter; what’s inside does.

I try not to reminisce.

Remembering good times when I am in misery causes me unimaginable agony.

I look at my watch.

7.30 A.M.

The small blue toy train pushed by its hissing steam engine comes on the platform.

Dot on time.

As it was then.

The same chill in the air. The same February morning - the 14th of February - Valentine's Day.

Then I had the loving warmth of my husband’s arm around me.

Now I feel the bitter cold penetrating within me.

I drag my feet across the platform towards the mountain train – then they called it The Blue Mountain Express – now I don’t know.

Scared, anxious, fear in my stomach, I experience a strange uneasiness, a sense of foreboding, a feeling of ominous helplessness - wondering what my new life would have in store for me.

I sit alone in the First Class compartment right in front of the train and wait for the train to start – the train which is going to take me to the point to no return.

I wish that all this is just a dream.

But I know it is not.

And suddenly, Avinash enters.

We stare at each other in disbelief.

Time stands still.

There is silence, a grotesque silence, till Avinash speaks, “Roopa! What are you doing here?”

I do not answer.

Because I cannot answer.

I am struck dumb, swept by a wave of melancholic despair.

My vocal cords numbed by emotional pain.

I look ineffectually and forlornly at Avinash and I realize that there is no greater pain than to remember happier times when in distress.  

“You look good when you get emotional,” Avinash says sitting opposite me.

In the vulnerable emotional state that I am in, I know that I will have a breakdown if I continue sitting with Avinash.

I want to get out, run away; but suddenly, the train moves.

I am trapped.

So I decide to put on a brave front, and say to Avinash, “Coming from Chennai?”

“Yes,” he says, “I’d gone for some work there.”

“You stay here? In Ooty?” I ask with a tremor of trepidation for I do not want to run into Avinash again and again; and let him know that I had made a big mistake by not marrying him - that I had made the wrong choice by dumping him, the man I loved, in search of a "better" life.

“I stay near Kotagiri,” Avinash says.

“Kotagiri?” I ask relieved.

“Yes, I own a tea-estate there.”

 “You own a tea estate?”

“Yes. I am a planter.”

Now I really regret my blunder 30 years ago. Indeed I had made the wrong choice.

“Your family – wife, children?” I probe, curious.

“I didn’t marry,” he says curtly. “There’s no family; only me. A confirmed bachelor – just me – I live all by myself.”

“Oh, Avinash. You should have got married. Why didn’t you?”

“It is strange that you should be asking me why I did not marry,” he says.

 “Oh my God! Because of me?”
Avinash changes the subject and says, “I’ll be getting off at Coonoor. My jeep will pick me up.”

He pauses, then asks me, “And you, Roopa? Going to Ooty? At the height of winter! To freeze over there?”

“No,” I say, “I am going to Ketti.”

 “Ketti ?” he asks with derisive surprise.

  “Yes. What’s wrong with going to Ketti?” I protest.

“There are only two places you can go to in Ketti – The boarding school and the old-age home. And the school is closed in December,” Avinash says nonchalantly, looking out of the window.

I say nothing.

Because I cannot say anything.

So I suffer his words in silence.

“Unless of course you own a bungalow there!” he says sarcastically turning towards me and mocking me once again.

The cat is out of the bag.

I cannot describe the sense of humiliation I feel sitting there with Avinash.

The tables seem to have turned.

Or have they?

There are only the two of us in the tiny compartment.

As the train begins to climb up the hills it began to get windy and Avinash closes the windows.

The smallness of the compartment forces us into a strange sort of intimacy.

I remember the lovely moments with Avinash.

A woman’s first love always has an enduring place in her heart.

“I am sorry if I hurt you,” Avinash says, “but the bitterness just came out.”

We talk.

Avinash is easy to talk to and I am astonished how effortlessly my words come tumbling out.

I tell him everything. Yes, I tell him everything – the entire story of my life.

How I had struggled, sacrificed, planned and taken every care.

But still, everything had gone wrong.

Widowed at 28.

Abandoned by my only son at 52.

Banished to an old-age home. So that "they" could sell off our house and emigrate abroad.

"They" - my only son who I doted upon and lived for and that scheming wife of his. 

“I have lost everything,” I cry, unable to control my self. “Avinash, I have lost everything.”

“No, Roopa,” Avinash says. “You haven’t lost everything. You have got me! I’ve got you. We’ve got each other.”

Avinash takes me in his comforting arms and I experience the same feeling, the same zest, the same warmth, the same lovely emotion, the same love that I felt thirty years ago, on my first romantic journey, on this same mountain toy train, on my way to my first honeymoon.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.