The Watchmaker

This is a short story about one of those strangers who gradually turned into an acquaintance and eventually become one of my inspirations. I dedicate this to the one who I had accidentally discovered, when my family and I had shifted from Nerul to Kharghar (both in Navi Mumbai), way back in the year 2008. My relationship with him has only blossomed over a period of time. Until recently, it never occurred to me that he could be the subject of one of my blogs. The reason which prompts me to write about him is already becoming the reason for me to see him less frequently, and this thought is making me a bit sad and emotional.

Although I distinctly remember that we shifted to Kharghar, in the rainy month of July 2008, I don’t recollect exactly when I bumped into this stranger. I do recall although that it was not for my own watch, but for getting the cells of my wife’s multiple watches replaced, that forced me to go out on a sleepy afternoon of a rainy weekend, looking for an efficient watchmaker. I must have passed through at least two or three watchmakers in the same crowded market of Sector 12 (one sector in the town which was and still is considered as one stop destination for all the daily needs), before reaching him and selecting him, based on my strong instinct, to be the right one.

He was busy, carefully cleaning a watch, before deftly placing a new cell in it. Then he took out an expensive looking sharp black marker, wrote the date on the inside of the cap, before signing it. Next, he placed the watch on a handkerchief to save the glass on its dial from getting any scratch and finally press-tightened the cap. At the end of this neat exercise, he handed over the watch with a sense of satisfaction on his face to the impatiently waiting customer. “Seventy rupees please,” he said politely. The look on the customer’s face was self-expressing. He clearly felt it was a little too much for a cell for his third or fourth watch! Before he could protest, the watchmaker politely said, “don’t worry sahib, zyaada nahin to ek saal to chalega hi (don’t worry sir, it would last for at least a year, if not more).  Koi problem ho to hum hain na (if there is any problem, I’m here).” The customer smiled, took out a hundred rupee note and promptly got the change back. The whole episode helped me get a sense of feeling that I was at the right place.

He looked at me and welcomed me with a slight smile. When he saw three watches in my hand, he removed some cardboard boxes from the top of a stool and offered it to me to sit-on. “Bathiye (please sit),” he politely mentioned. I said, “thoda jaldi mein hoon (I’m in a bit of a hurry).” He said, “jaldi mein to nahin ho paayega (can’t do in a hurry).” I was least expecting this statement. If I were in Delhi, from where I originally come from, where everyone at least shows they can do everything in a jiffy, this dialogue would have surely put me off. By that time, our stay in Nerul for the last two years, had prepared me patient enough to quietly sit on the stool and wait, while he started to open the first watch.

“Yahan naye hain (are you new here)?”, he asked me. I said, yes, we have shifted a few weeks ago from Nerul, stressing on Nerul a bit more than normal, just to make him feel that I am more like a local, and he shouldn’t try to take me for a ride. I don’t know whether he read my mind or what that he stated with a smile, “humara rate fixed hai (our rate is fixed).” I couldn’t say anything further. In the next half an hour, he opened one watch to the other, wore the eye-microscope, moved the tiny part of the watch, took out the cell, applied his saliva on it to test it for its energy retention, before throwing it into a box which was already having many discarded cells, followed by repeating the process which I had already seen. In between, he appreciated the maintenance of the watches, to which I promptly promised to pass on his compliments to my wife. In the meanwhile, it had started to rain again, and he asked me if I would like to have a cup of tea. I politely declined, took out two-hundred and ten rupees, when he said, “two hundred and fifty please.” I was about to protest, when he said, “sahib, aapki do watches special hain, mehnga wala cell daala hain, lamba chalega, guarantee meri hai (sir, your two of the watches are little special, have put expensive cell, will last long, it’s my guarantee).” His mannerism reflected a calm sense of surety, prompting me to pay without negotiating. I left the place with a sense of achievement, since my wife was surely going to be happier, thereby almost ensuring that the leftover part of the weekend was going to be quite pleasant.
The weekend did go wonderfully well, and the life went on. Thanks to the variety of watches in our collection, I visited the watchmaker a couple of more times in the next one year. It was easy to realize that he is not only very hardworking but quite sincere too. At each cell replacement, he would carry out a minor service of the watch, free of charge, which added longevity not only to the cell but also to the watch. And every time he would remind me to keep using the watch rather than leaving it ideal, which was quite difficult, since each of us have higher taste for one particular watch. He would try his best to change the cell then & thereon itself, unless a particular cell would be running out of stock. In one of these visits he complained that people tend to leave their watch with him, which puts a huge responsibility on him, since some watches are quite expensive. Despite his repeated reminders and protests, a few of his customers never bother to collect the watch in time, thereby making him quite nervous. The severity of the problem is so high that he has to think twice before even taking a bio-break and whenever he is forced to take one, quite quickly he needs to be back in his seat! 

As the time went by, our relationship grew in warmth. He shared with me how his children have grown to study well, why he is happy that they are not following his footsteps as far as choosing a profession is concerned, why it’s so difficult to get a time off during the week since on all days, except Friday, he would work from morning till late evening and on Fridays, he would go to the wholesale market in main city to get the stock. In each of these visits, he warmly asks about my family’s and my welfare. At rare occasions, he briefly broaches a small discussion on a concurrent political or weather-related topic, which lasts only until the work on the watch is ongoing. I quickly disperse the moment his task is completed, and he really appreciates this quality of mine. In all these years, there has not been even a single instance, where either the cell has expired before one year has elapsed, or the watch has suddenly stopped while in use. Over the years I have seen one watchmaker or the other being forced to close the business, because of low volumes, but for this one. In some way, this watchmaker inspires me with his humility, perseverance and hard work.
Very recently, my wife and I visited the watchmaker in a little bit of emergency mode, since my wife’s favourite watch had not been functioning for some time due expiry of the cell, and she wanted to wear it on a special occasion the next day. He welcomed us with his characteristic style. “Arey sir aap bahut dino baad aaye (Sir, you came after many days),” he said. I informed him that it has been the case due to my extensive travels. He patiently mended two watches of another customer, who was already present when we reached, while my wife and I indulged in enjoying sharing a coconut water from a nearby vendor. After he replaced the cell of my wife’s watch, he asked me how my own watch had been doing. As a natural instinct I extended my wrist towards him to confirm that my watch was doing just fine, without realizing that I was wearing my latest Apple watch, which I had very recently bought from Singapore airport duty free. He politely congratulated me for my latest acquisition, however the obvious looks on his face suddenly made me a bit sad and emotional.

PS: After the above incident, I’ve been secretly wishing that my wife continues to have her interest maintained in her analog watches, so that I have a chance to continue to maintain my beautiful relationship with this watchmaker.   

The Mask

While I write this piece, I am conscious that I am writing one after a hiatus of one full year. That is, by any blogging standards, a pretty long time. Well, not so much, particularly when the year gone by was marred by one of the biggest challenges imposed on three or more generations of humans living on this planet earth. Unfortunately, as I write again, while certain parts of the world have started to recover from the havoc, others, including India, are facing much bigger crisis due to the COVID-19 virus. I think, in the given times, the topic chosen by me makes more sense than anytime else.

Last year, same time, as India and many other countries imposed strict lockdown and percolated the sensitivity amongst its citizens to wear ‘The Mask’, certain other countries, including the US, particularly at the leadership level, ignored the fact, that this simple piece of clothing could perhaps be the most empowering thing to save many lives. It was painful to see many leading economies, having best of the technologies, resources and means, losing people to this virus in large numbers. At the same time, it became a matter of pride of certain not so advanced countries having huge population base, to save many souls just by imposing strict protocols. 

A year down the line, the situation on the ground is quite different. With new and more sensitive leadership in place, these leading economies have learnt their lessons and have quickly adopted the ‘The Mask’, apart from rapidly vaccination a large part of their respective population. On the contrary, people in India, in exceptionally large numbers, shunned this very piece of clothing, which had empowered them to avoid a catastrophe for almost a year. There are stories that a particular section of people had started to mock their family and friends, who were still wearing ‘The Mask’. The sad part is that this has led to a very grim situation with many lives lost. Hopefully, people who have been affected, yet saved, have learnt some lessons along the way.

While many of us, including leading doctors and scientists, may not be much knowledgeable about how this virus behaves, as it is completely new for us, one fact which has already been well-established is that its spread can be well controlled by the simple act of wearing ‘The Mask’. Let us take a pledge to have this much of sensitivity that we wear it for our own good, and for the well being of our family members, friends, neighbours, fellow citizens, and people of the world at large. It is also evident that this virus is not going away soon. So, let us break its cycle by wearing ‘The Mask’ and avoid more waves of tragedy possible in the future, by not doing so.

Let us empower ourselves with wearing ‘The Mask’, as Jim Carrey did in the famous 1994 movie, which changed the course of his life!

Morning Walk

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Palm Beach Road

There goes a popular saying “Everything happens for a reason.” I am a firm believer in this so naturally I relate to it quite often. This episode very much fits the bill. Well it so happened that many years back … Continue reading

Flirting with the Swimming Pool !

In a typical Indian scenario, a parent, especially a father, would be wary of certain events when his son his reaching age where he can flirt. In my case it was different. My son taught me flirting. I know that reading this; you all are raising your eye brows. Calm down. He taught me how to flirt with the swimming pool!

It all began when we shifted from Nerul to Kharghar (both in Navi Mumbai. We had landed in a brand new society which had just been occupied by a few families. Out of all the things which caught my attention the most was the swimming pool; clean, full of water, with brand new blue tiles, reflecting the azure sky. It was almost mesmerizing. Being a water zodiac, I was naturally attracted towards it.

Having born & brought-up in Delhi, somehow I had never got a chance to have the luxury of a decent swimming pool. Also, the weather of Delhi did not allow continuous swimming throughout the year. So when we shifted to Mumbai, swimming was one thing on top of my mind. However it did not materialize immediately. The society in Nerul did not have a swimming pool and nothing decent was available nearby too. So landing-up in Kharghar in a society with its own swimming pool was a boon.

I think by this time you would have formed an impression that I was a swimmer capable of some deft strokes. No, I was not. I was only a person with a great liking for swimming. But I had to still learn it. The only thing now I had between me and swimming was a decision, which did not come easily. But it finally came.

My son had made a couple of friends elder to him in age and they started spending their evenings at the pool. My son’s excitement caught me. I took the first step of buying a pair of swimming costumes, goggles and a cap. And then I entered it for the first time. I remembered my days of having learnt floating and started with it quite enthusiastically. Very soon I got bored of doing only floating, whereas my son was getting better and better at freestyle. He had also joined swimming club in his school and was practicing twice a week there also. And then one day he announced that he would like to join a YMCA sports complex in Belapur (close to Kharghar).

Having practiced well over the weekends, by this time I was able to swim from one corner of our society pool to another but I had not learnt the art of breathing while swimming, so I use to do my lap in one breath. Also the pool was not very deep so I could always manage to stop in between if I lost my breath. One evening I reached YMCA directly from my office where my son was swimming and my wife was enjoying the sight. I had gone there with some preparation and I decided to take a dip in that pool. I did not realize that the pool there was much longer than our society pool and much deeper too. In my natural style, I took a deep breath, held it and started swimming from the shallower portion towards the deeper side. It was dark by that time and although I was swimming under a strongly lit halogen lamp, it was not as comfortable as it is during day time. After reaching certain distance I realized that I couldn’t reach the other corner without taking a breath. Since I did not know how to take the breath, while continuing swimming, I got panicky. Moments later I was almost drowning. Fortunately I realized that somebody was shouting at me asking me to turn left and reach the nearest corner. I mustered whatever courage & strength I could and practically jumped towards it. By the time I could regain control I found myself desperately clutching my hands to the corner of the pool. I was still gasping with the temporary shock. It took me some time to overcome it.

Interesting a cute little girl was watching the whole incident. She approached me with a smile and said “Uncle, I think you do not know how to breathe while swimming and that’s why all this happened”. She told it so casually that I couldn’t help admitting it. And then she acted almost like a school teacher, exhibiting and explaining how I should take a breath before taking a dip, exhale with my nose while inside the water and inhale with my mouth quickly by briefly turning my head up to bring it outside the water. I couldn’t thank the little angel more for explaining it so nicely without embarrassing me.

Next time we were together in our society pool, I asked my son whether he knows the technique of breathing while swimming and very innocently he asked me that how else one can swim! I said I take a breath and complete the length without losing it and asked him if he could actually teach me to master this art of breathing while swimming. And then over the next few weekends, he patiently explained to me the correct technique and made me practice it. This was the beginning of my flirting!

As days passed by, I tried to master the technique. Season changed, it rained heavily for a few months, as it would do in Mumbai and I lost the touch since I couldn’t practice during rainy season. By the time I could start over again, the days were getting colder as winter was setting in, becoming another deterrent to my continuous practice. I was desperate for the days to get warmer again so that I could resume my practice. This time I had decided to be even more dedicated and practice during evenings, after reaching home from office.

I had practiced self determination in my studies, job, etc. and decided to utilize it for swimming too. So it became acceptable if I had to swim during evenings, in two dimly lit tube lights, most of the time alone, as my son was busy in his studies. I used to share my experience with him over the weekends and improve upon, based on his tips. Days passed by and I was getting better & better. In the meantime, my son had learnt different strokes, which encouraged me to master my freestyle. There were times when he & I swam in late afternoons in hot sun to avoid the rush of children who would fill the pool during their vacations.

Today, I am happy that I can complete multiple full rounds of the pool, deftly breathing in & out, while mastering my strokes. I do it regularly, practically every evening, and many times twice over the weekends. It has helped me remain fit, in shape, improve my mood when I am down, eradicate my stress and most important of all keep my spirits high. Today I cannot imagine a day without swimming. I can almost claim to be a late bloomer at the age of 44.

I’m happy to share that it all of it was possible only because my son taught me how to flirt with the swimming pool!