Sunday, February 28, 2010


ACADEMIC DUEL  -  Scientist versus Philosopher

A cerebral game of wits



A learned foreign scientist said he wanted to challenge the wits of the most knowledgeable person in the city.

The townsfolk called for Mulla Nasrudin, the wise philosopher.

When Mulla Nasrudin arrived, the foreigner drew a circle in the sand with a stick.

Nasrudin frowned, took the stick, and divided the circle in two.

The foreigner then drew another line through the circle that divided it into four equal parts.

Nasrudin pretended to gather three parts toward himself and to push the remaining part toward the foreigner.

The foreigner then raised his arm above his head, and wiggling his extended fingers, he slowly lowered his hand to the ground.

Nasrudin did exactly the same thing but in the opposite direction – he moved his hand from the ground to a height above his head.

And, that completed the foreigner's tests, who bowed his head in deference before Mulla Nasrudin who smiled cannily at having won the academic duel and then walked away.

Later the renowned foreign scientist explained his game of wits privately to the city council..."Your Mulla Nasruddin is a very clever man," he began, "I showed him that the world is round – and your Mulla Nasrudin confirmed it but indicated that 'it also has an equator'.

Then when I divided the world into 4 parts, he indicated that it is '3 parts water and 1 part land', which I can't deny.

Finally, I asked him ‘what is the origin of rain’ and Nasrudin answered quite rightly that 'water rises as steam to the sky, makes cloud, and later returns to earth as rain.'"

When they got him alone, the ordinary townsfolk asked Mulla Nasrudin what the challenge was all about? 

Nasrudin said, "Well, that other fellow first asked me, 'suppose we have this round tray of halwa’?

So, I said, 'You can't eat it all by yourself, you know. So, I'll take half.'

Then that haughty foreigner chap got a little rude, saying, 'What will you do if I cut the halwa into 4 parts?'

That upset me, so I said, 'In that case, I'll take three of the parts and only leave you one!'

That softened the impertinent foreigner scientist a bit, I think, because then, with the motion of his hand, he said, 'Well, I suppose I could add some walnuts and pistachio nuts on top of the halwa.’

I cooled down too and said, 'That's fine with me, but you'll need to cook it under full flame, because an ash fire just won't be hot enough'.

When I said that, the scientist knew I was right, so he gave up the game, and conceded defeat..."

Thus Mulla Nasrudin, the Philosopher, defeated the Scientist, in the battle of wits... intuitive right brain creative thinking always prevails over logical left brain analysis, isn't it...?


Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Art of Debate

Battle of Wits
A Teaching Story

Some students asked me the meaning of the term COGNITION.
As I was in no mood to pontificate, I told them this story:

Once upon a time only two monks were permitted to stay in a Zen Temple.

If any other wandering monk wanted to stay in the temple he had to engage in a battle of wits and defeat a resident monk in debate.

If the new monk won the argument he took the place of the defeated resident monk who then had to leave the temple and move on. If the resident monk won he continued to stay in the temple and the wandering monk had to go away.

In a temple in the northern part of Japan two brother monks were dwelling together.
The elder one was learned, but the younger one was stupid and had just one eye. 

A wandering monk came and asked for lodging, properly challenging them to a debate about spirituality. 

The elder brother, tired that day from much studying, told the younger one to take up the challenge.

“I am tired and want to sleep,” the elder learned monk told his stupid one-eyed younger brother, “so you go and request the dialogue in silence.”

So the young stupid one-eyed monk and the stranger went to the shrine and sat down to debate in silence.

Shortly afterwards the traveller rose and went in to the elder brother, bowed his head in reverence, and said: “Your young brother is a brilliant scholar. He thoroughly defeated me.”

“Relate the dialogue to me,” the astonished elder monk said to the visitor.

“Well,” explained the traveller, “first I held up one finger, representing Buddha, the enlightened one. So he held up two fingers, signifying Buddha and his Teaching. I held up three fingers, representing Buddha, his Teaching, and his Followers, living the harmonious life. In reply he shook his clenched fist in my face, indicating that all three come from one realization. Thus he won and so I have no right to remain here.”

With this, the traveller bowed and left.

“Where is that fellow?” asked the younger monk, running up to his elder brother.

“I understand you won the debate,” the older learned monk said.

“Debate? What debate? There was no debate and I won nothing. I am going to beat him up and thrash the hell out of him,” the young monk shouted in anger.

“Beat him up?” the perplexed elder monk said, “tell me what happened.”

This is how the stupid one-eyed younger brother described his version of the silent debate:
“The minute he saw me he held up one finger, insulting me by insinuating that I have only one eye. Since he was a stranger I thought I would be polite to him, so I held up two fingers, congratulating him that he has two eyes. Then the impolite scoundrel held up three fingers, suggesting that between us we only have three eyes. So I got mad and started to punch him, but he ran out and that ended the debate.”

Dear Reader, I am sure you are now enlightened about the concept of cognition. If not, I’ll have to tell you another story!




Short Fiction - A Story for children, young adults on the verge of choosing their careers and parents



Here is one my earliest stories, once more, since it is one of may favorites too...

“And what are we doing tomorrow...?” I asked my uncle.

“Let’s catch some monkeys,” he said.

“Monkeys...?” I asked excitedly.

“Yes,” my uncle said and smiled,” And if you catch one you can take him home as a pet.”

“A monkey...! As a pet...?” I asked in astonishment.

“Why not...?” my uncle said.

“But monkeys...? Aren’t they dangerous...?” I asked.

“The monkeys here are quite small and very cute. And once you train them, they become very friendly and obedient – ideal pets.”

And so, next morning, at the crack of dawn we sailed off from Haddo Wharf in Port Blair in a large motorboat. Soon we were crossing the Duncan Passage, moving due south; the densely forested Little Andaman Island to our right, the sea calm like a mirror.

I began to feel seasick, so I stood on the foc’sle deck, right at the front end sea-sick, enjoying the refreshing sea-spray, occasionally tasting my salty lips.

I looked in admiration, almost in awe, at uncle who stood rock-steady on the bridge, truly a majestic figure. He signaled to me and I rushed up to the bridge.

“Vijay, it’s time to prepare the Monkey Traps,” he said.

“Monkey-Traps...?” I asked confused.

“Tito will show you,” he said. “You must learn to make them yourself.”

Tito, my uncle’s odd-job-man, was sitting on the deck, seaman’s knife in hand, amidst a heap of green coconuts. He punctured a coconut, put it to his lips, drank the coconut water, and then began scooping out a small hollow. I took out my seaman’s knife and joined in enthusiastically with the other coconuts. The coconut water tasted sweet.

“Keep the hole small,” my uncle shouted over my shoulder, “and hollow the coconut well.”

“But how will we catch monkeys with this...?” I asked.

“You will see in the evening,” he said. “Now get on with the job.”

We reached a densely forested island at five in the evening.

It was almost dark. The sun sets early in these eastern longitudes.

And soon we set up our monkey-traps.

Each hollowed-out coconut was filled with a mixture of boiled rice and jaggery (gur) through the small hole. Then the coconut was chained to a stake, which was driven firmly into the ground.

And then we hid in the bushes in pin-drop silence.

Suddenly there was rattling sound. My uncle switched on his torch.

A monkey was struggling, one hand trapped inside the coconut. In an instant, Tito threw a gunny-bag over the monkey and within minutes we had the monkey nicely secured inside.

By the time we lit the campfire on the cool soft sands of the beach, we had captured three monkeys.

My uncle put his arm around my shoulder and, “Vijay, you know why the monkey gets trapped...? The monkey gets trapped because of its greed.”

He picked up a hollowed-out coconut and said, “Look at this hole. It is just big enough so that the monkey’s hand can go in, but too small for full fist filled with rice to come out. Because his greed won’t allow him to let go of the rice and take out his hand, the monkey remains trapped, a victim of his own greed, until he is captured; forever a captive of his greed.”

“The monkey cannot see that freedom without rice is more valuable that capture with it...!” he said.

My uncle looked at Tito and commanded, “Free the monkeys.” And, one by one, the monkeys jumped out of their gunny bags and started running, with one hand still stuck in a coconut. It was a really funny sight.

“There is a lesson for us to learn from this,” my uncle said. “That’s why I brought you here to show you all this.”

I looked at my uncle. His name was Ranjit Singh. And true to his name he was indeed a magnificent man...!

Over six feet tall, well-built, redoubtable; a truly striking personality...!

He stood erect in his khaki uniform, stroking his handsome beard with his left hand, his right hand gripping a swagger stick, which he gently tapped on his thigh.

As he surveyed the scenic surroundings - the moonlight sea, the swaying Causarina trees, the silver sands of the beach in between - he looked majestic, like a king cherishing his domain. Indeed he was like a king here – after all he was the Chief Forest Officer, in-charge of the entire islands – and this was his domain.

Uncle Ranjit was an exception in our family—the odd-man out. My father always said that he was the most intelligent of all brothers. But whereas all of them were busy earning money in Mumbai and Delhi, uncle Ranjit had chosen to be different.

To the surprise of everybody else, uncle Ranjit had joined the Forest Service when he could have easily become an engineer, doctor or even a business executive, for he had always topped all examinations – first class first in merit, whether it be the school or the university.

“So, Vijay, you like it here...?” he asked.

“It’s lovely, uncle,” I answered. “And thank you so much for the lovely holiday, spending so much time with me. In Mumbai no one has any time for me. I feel so lonely.”

“Why...?” he asked, with curiosity.

“Mummy and Daddy both come late from office. Then there are parties, business dinners, and tours. And on Sundays they sleep, exhausted, unless there is a business-meeting in the club or golf with the boss.”

Uncle Ranjit laughed, “Ha. Ha. The Monkey Trap. They are all caught in monkey traps of their own making. Slaves of their greed! Trapped by their desires,caught in the rat race, wallowing in their golden cages, rattling their jewellery, their golden chains – monkey-trapped, all of them, isn’t it...?”

As I thought over Ranjit uncle’s words I realized how right he was. Most of the people I knew in Mumbai were just like that – trapped by their greed, chasing rainbows, in search of an ever elusive happiness.

“Happiness is to like what you do as well as to do what you like,” uncle Ranjit said, as if he were reading my thoughts. “Happiness is not a station which never arrives, but the manner you travel in life.” He paused, and asked me, “Tell me Vijay, tell me, what do you want to do in life...?”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on, Vijay. You are fifteen now. By next year you have to decide, tell me what your plans are.”

“It depends on my percentage,” I said truthfully.

“I am sure you will get around ninety percent marks in your board exams,” he said. “Assume you top the exams. Secure a place in the merit list. Then what will you do?”

“I’ll go in for Engineering. Computers, Software, IT,” I said.

“Computers...? Software...? IT...? Why...? Why not something more interesting – like Liberal Arts, Literature, Philosophy, History, Humanities...?” he asked.

“Job prospects,” I answered.

“Oh!”  He exclaimed. “And then?”

“Management. Or I may even go abroad for higher studies.”



“And why do you want so many qualifications?”

“To get the best job,” I answered.

“And earn a lot of money...?” uncle Ranjit prompted.

“Of course,” I said, “I want to earn plenty of money so that I can enjoy life.”

Uncle Ranjit laughed, “My dear Vijay. Aren’t you enjoying life right now, at this very moment...? What about me...? Am I am not enjoying life...? Remember - if you do not find happiness as you are, where you are, you will never find it.”

He smiled and asked,” Vijay, you know what Maxim Gorky once said...?


"When work is a pleasure, life is a joy.
  When work is a duty, life is slavery."

“Slavery!” I exclaimed, understanding the message he was trying to give me. “Slavery to one’s elusive desires, one’s greed. Just like the Monkey Trap.”

“The Monkey Trap!” we both said in unison, in chorus.

It was the defining moment in my life – my Minerva Moment...!

And so, I decided to do what I wanted to experience an inner freedom.

And guess what I am today...?

Well, I am a teacher. I teach my favourite subject - philosophy.

And let me tell you I enjoy every moment of it. It is a life of sheer joy and delight – being with my students, their respect and adulation, my innate quest for knowledge and a sense of achievement that I am contributing my bit to society.

I shall never forget uncle Ranjit and that crucial visit to the forests of the Andamans, the turning point, or indeed the defining moment, of my life.

Dear Readers (especially my young friends on the verge choosing a career) – whenever you reach the crossroads of your life, and have to make the crucial decision of how you would like to live your life - decisions like selecting a career, a life-partner, a house, a place to stay, or any life-decision; think, be careful, listen to your inner voice, and be careful not to trapped in a ‘Monkey-Trap’...!

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.

Thursday, February 25, 2010



Cognition and Information



Part I – Cognitive Biases

The term cognition refers to a faculty for the processing of information. It is the process of perceiving, thinking, reasoning, analyzing and remembering.
 Information is value or quality of a message or communication between a sender and a receiver.

Data is observation of facts and information is a collection of data from which conclusions may be drawn, decisions taken and knowledge acquired.

Understanding Human Behaviour is sine qua non for the successful design and implementation of Soft Systems [Human Activity Systems], Management Information Systems and, indeed, all Information Processing Systems.

Human behaviour plays an important role in human information processing. It must be remembered that Information Systems are not installed in a vacuum; they are implanted into a living body, an organisation, a Human Activity Systems.

Human beings are being continuously exposed to an enormous number of stimuli. Cognition of all the stimuli is not possible and most stimuli are eliminated by a complex cognitive process. Even those stimuli which are perceived may be subject to cognitive biases.

A better understanding of human information processing enhances the usefulness of information technology and systems.


Here are a few salient cognitive biases which affect information formulation, acquisition, analysis and interpretation:

Adjustment and Anchoring – In situations of information overload there is a tendency to resort to the anchoring and adjustment heuristic and to rely too heavily, or “anchor” on a past reference or on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. For example, you may emphasize too much on the first piece of information you encounter.

Selective Perception – You accept / absorb only that information that is in consonance with, or confirms, your views, beliefs and values.

Wishful Thinking – You interpret information according to what might be pleasing to imagine [as you would like things to be] rather than according to actual evidence or rational logical reality.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy – is the tendency to engage in behaviors that elicit results which will (consciously or not) confirm our beliefs. You seek, acquire and analyze only that information that confirms or lends credibility to your views and values and ignore any information that contradicts your views or values. This is a “Confirmation bias” exemplified by an irrational tendency to search for, interpret or remember information in a way that confirms your preconceptions.

Ease of Recall – Information which can easily be recalled or accessed affects your perception of the likelihood of similar events occurring again. You rely too much on information that is easy to recall from memory.

Conservation – You reach premature conclusions on the basis of too small a sample of information.

Order Effects – The order in which information is presented to you affects information retention in your memory. Typically, the first piece of information presented [primacy effect] and the last piece of information presented [recency effect] assume undue importance in your mind.

Overconfidence – The greater the amount of data the more confident you are about the accuracy of the data.

Availability – you only rely on and use easily available information and ignore significant information that may not be so easily sourced.

Bandwagon Effect – you develop a tendency to believe information because many other people believe the same information. This may be a manifestation of Groupthink and you tend to “jump on the bandwagon”.

Hindsight – you are unable to think objectively if you receive information that a certain outcome has occurred and then told to ignore this information. With hindsight, outcomes that have occurred seem to have been inevitable; sometimes this is called the “I-knew-it-all-along” effect, the inclination to see past events as being predictable. You see relationships more easily in hindsight than in foresight.

Habit – You choose some information because it was previously accepted for a perceived similar purpose [precedence syndrome] or because of superstition.

Illusion of Control – You develop a tendency for to believe you can control or at least influence outcomes that you clearly cannot and hence you will seek, interpret, process and use information accordingly in an irrational manner.

Gambler’s Fallacy – You falsely assume that an unexpected occurrence of a “run” of some events enhances the probability of occurrence of an event that has not occurred. You develop a tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events (when in reality it is not so) and process information accordingly.

Déformation professionnelle – you tend to process information according to the conventions of your own profession, forgetting any broader point of view. You fall victim to the Law of the Hammer – “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” – this may happen owing to overspecialization or too straitjacketed professional training which hampers a liberal broad perspective.

To be continued…


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

PEP TALK - From a Mentor to his Mentees




Long back I learnt a trick from an eminent trainer on how to get the audience to focus. I too use this technique on a few occasions when I want my audience to settle down to receptive vibes.

The moment you take the stage, you tell the audience to close their eyes for one minute and think of the one person who they consider as their most important mentor.

A few days ago, one of my brilliant ex-students, who attended a motivational lecture in her new organization and was subjected to the same exercise, rang me up and told me that it was my face that came to her mind as a mentor. Then she talked about her work, that she was not very happy with her new workplace which apparently did not measure up to her high expectations. I feel privileged that my ex-student considers me a mentor and I write this “pep talk” especially for her and all my dear mentees, protégées and protégés .

Ou Dieu vous a seme, il faut savoir fleurir


Every person, sooner or later, goes through a moment when it seems that he or she is on the wrong road, that his entire way of life is wrong.

Have you ever experienced this feeling?

Think about it.

Do you find yourself stuck in an incongruous career or in an incompatible relationship or in a redundant place?

And sadly there is nothing you can do about it, owing to compulsions and constraints beyond your control.

You cannot turn around and retrace your steps or change your road of life.

It seems you have crossed the point of no return and you have no choice but to keep on travelling on the “wrong” road of life.

Failure follows failure.

And with repeated failure comes the fear of failure.

It is indeed a terrible vicious cycle which gradually overwhelms you with the chill of despondency.

What can you do in such a situation?

Maybe the answer lies in a saying I read somewhere a few years ago and noted in my diary:

“ Ou Dieu vous a seme, il faut savoir fleurir ”

which roughly translated means

“You must know how to flower where God has sown you” or “wherever God plants you, there you must learn how to bloom”.

How does one learn to flower where God has sown you, bloom wherever God plants you?

One may turn to the Enchiridion of Epictetus for guidance.

Epictetus (A.S.55 – A.D. 135), the great Stoic Philosopher, states that happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not in our control.

This is the basic Stoic truth of subjective consciousness and it is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what is in your power from what is not in your power, and know what you can control and what you cannot control, that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.

On analytical reflection we find that the mind alone can be brought under our control. Everything else, the world of events and people’s behaviour, is beyond the scope of our control.

What disturbs you are not events but your attitude towards them.

Don’t demand or except that events happened as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. And you will be at peace with yourself.

Except for extreme physical abuse, other people cannot hurt you unless you allow them to. Don’t consent to be hurt and you won’t be hurt.

You must learn to approach life as a banquet and not as a buffet. Think of your life as if it were a banquet where you would behave graciously, when dishes are pass to you, extend your hand and help yourself to a moderate portion. If a dish should pass you by, enjoy what is already on your plate. Or is a dish hasn’t being passed to you yet, patiently to your turn. Carry on the same attitude of polite restrain and gratitude to your children, spouse, career and money. There is no need to yearn, envy and grab. You will get your rightful share when it is your time.

It then becomes our paramount duty to control the mind and practice total unconcern to externals. “When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.”

To accept an event is to rise above it, to resent it to be overpowered by it. With acceptance comes happiness, with resentment comes misery.

Acceptance of an event is not to be mistaken for a life of passivity or submission to fatalism characterized by laziness and a sense of helplessness. “Simply doing nothing does not avoid risk, but heightens it.” Epictetus exhorts us, therefore, to brave the storms of life with planned action born of clear thinking. He recognizes, too, the practical necessity of working for worldly gains, but cautions us only against the false belief that happiness depends on the results such endeavours.

Being an integral part of social structure, you cannot live in isolation; social interaction is inescapable.

In your relationship with others at home, at work or in society, no matter how people behave, you have to maintain inner tranquility, with unwavering attention on achieving your own merit and excellence.

People act under their own inner compulsions over which you can exercise no control. Epictetus advises: “Focus not on what he or she does, but on keeping to your higher purpose.” He assures that if you truly live in tune with your will and resolve, and in harmony with your inner self, nobody’s words or actions (barring extreme cases) can disturb your mental equipoise.

Duty of any kind is not to be slighted. A person should not be judged by the nature of his duties, but by the manner in which he performs his duties. In his discourse on Karma Yoga Swami Vivekananda says: “A shoemaker who can turn out a strong, nice pair of shoes in the shortest possible time is a better man, according to his profession and his work, than a professor who talks nonsense every day of his life”.

Fatigue lies in half-heartedness. By doing wholeheartedly, with total sincerety, and with full zest and enthusiasm, whatever work which is in our hands right now at this very moment, we make ourselves happy. The key is to work with freedom and love and without too much expectation. Try to accomplish something wherever you are – do not compare with others. Undue hankering after rewards will render you akin to a slave of your expectations; you must work for your own internal satisfaction – work like a master and not as a slave.

This glorious attitude to life and knowledge of your self makes you free in a world of dependencies and enables you to flower where God has sown you, to bloom wherever God plants you.

" Ou Dieu vous a seme, il faut savoir fleurir "
Wherever God plants you, there you must learn how to bloom.
You must know how to flower where God has sown you.


Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010



Fiction Short Story

The Monkey Trap



This morning while out on my walk in the verdant hills breathing pure fresh air and watching my pet dog Sherry gambol, cavort and play in sheer enjoyment I thought of this story, one of my favourites, The Monkey Trap…so here it is, Dear Reader…

“Come, Vijay,” Captain Naik said, leading me into his study, “I’ll show you something interesting.”

He opened a cupboard, pulled out a strange-looking contraption and laid it on the table.

I looked at it, confused but curious.

The peculiar apparatus consisted of a hollowed-out coconut attached to a solid iron chain, about two feet long, with a large metal stake at the other end.

“You know what this is?” he asked.

“No,” I answered.

“I got this in Penang when I was cadet, almost thirty years ago,” Captain Naik said, picking up the coconut in his left hand, holding the chain in his right.

He looked at me and explained: “This is a monkey trap. The hollowed-out coconut is filled with some cooked rice through this small hole, chained to the stake which is driven firmly into the ground.

Look at this hole. It’s just big enough so that the monkey’s hand to go in, but too small for his fist filled with rice to come out.

The monkey reaches in, grabs the rice and is suddenly trapped. Because his greed won’t allow him to let go of the rice and extricate his hand, the monkey remains trapped, a victim of his greed, until he is captured.

The monkey cannot see that freedom without the rice is more valuable than capture with it.

That’s what happens to most of us. Probably it’s the story of your life too. Think about it.”

I thought about it and said, “Suppose I quit the merchant navy. What will I do?”

“Why don’t you join me?” Captain Naik suggested, “It’s a comfortable job. It’s professionally satisfying, and you will have plenty of time for your family too. Besides, I need people like you. Of course, you won’t get your few thousand dollars, but the pay is quite good by Indian standards.”

Captain Naik was the director of a maritime training institute in Goa, running various courses for merchant navy officers. It was a lovely self-contained campus on the shores of the Arabian Sea.

At first I wondered whether he had a vested interest, but I knew that was not true. Captain Naik had been my mentor and well-wisher; it was he who had groomed me when I had been a cadet on his ship many years ago, and always showered me with his patronage later too, when I was a junior officer. That’s why I had made it a point to visit him the moment my ship touched Murmagao port.

For the next six months, as I sailed on the high seas, I could not forget the ‘monkey trap’ – in fact, it haunted me.

And soon I knew what my decision would be.

But first, I would have to discuss it with my wife.

Truly speaking, that was not really necessary.

My wife would be the happiest person on earth.

For I could clearly recall every word of the vicious argument we had just before I left home about seven months ago.

It was our tenth wedding anniversary and we had thrown a small party.

As I walked towards the kitchen door, I noticed my wife, Anjali, engrossed in a conversation with her childhood friend Meena, their backs toward me.

“Tell me, Anjali,” Meena was saying, “If you could live your life again, what is the one thing you would like to change?”

“My marriage…!” Anjali answered.

I was stunned and stopped in my tracks, dumbstruck, at the kitchen door.

After the party was over, I confronted Anjali, “What were you doing in the kitchen all the time with that Meena friend of yours? You should have circulated amongst the important guests,”

“I feel out of place in your shippie crowd,” Anjali answered.

“My shippie crowd…!” I thundered. “And you regret marrying me, do you?”

I paused for a moment, and then said firmly, “Listen Anjali, you better stop associating with riffraff like Meena. Think of our status.”

“Riffraff…!” Anjali was staring at me incredulously, “I too was also what you call ‘riffraff’ once. And quite happy too! What’s the use of all these material comforts and all this money and so-called status? None of it can compensate for the companionship and security of a husband. This loneliness, it is corrosive; eating into me. Sometimes I feel you just wanted a caretaker to look after your parents, your house, and of course, now your children; a sentry to hold the fort while you gallivant around for months at a time. And that’s why you married a simple middle-class girl like me; or rather you bought me! That’s what you think, isn’t it…?”

I winced when she said, ‘bought’.

But in a certain way, I knew it was true, and that is why I lost my temper and shouted, “I don’t gallivant around – It’s hard earned money I have to slog and undergo hardship for! I do it for all of you. And yes indeed! I bought you. Yes I may have bought you…but that is because you were willing to sell yourself. Remember one thing. No one can buy anything unless someone is willing to sell it.”

I instantly regretted my words realizing that they would only worsen the gaps in our relationship. Gaps I had failed to fill all these ten years by expensive gifts and material comforts.

That is what I was always doing – always trying to use money to fill gaps in our relationship.

And now, almost six months later, I was flying home after handing over command – for the last time.

This was my last ship. I had made my decision.

It was probably the meeting with Captain Naik and the ‘monkey trap’ which clinched the issue, but my decision was final.

I had even written to him and would be joining him at his maritime training institute in a month.

But I did not write or tell Anjali. For her I wanted it to be a surprise – the happiest moment of her life! And mine too.

I didn’t hire a luxury air-conditioned taxi from Mumbai airport to take me direct to my house in Pune like I always did. I knew I would have to get used to a bit of thrift and frugality and being less lavish in the future.

So I took a bus to Dadar Station and caught the Deccan Express at seven in the morning.

I was travelling light – no expensive gifts this time, and it being off-season, I was lucky to get a seat in an unreserved second-class compartment.

When I reached home at about lunch time, I was shocked to find my wife Anjali missing.

My old parents were having lunch by themselves; my children were at school.

When Anjali arrived at two in the afternoon, I was stunned by the metamorphosis in her appearance – designer dress, fashionable jewellery, hair done up, fancy make-up – painted like a doll; in short, the works.

“What a surprise!” she exclaimed on seeing me. “Why didn’t you call up and tell us you were coming…?”

“Anjali, I want to talk to you. It is something important,” I said.

“Not now,” she said, almost ignoring me. “I am already late. I just came for a quick change of clothes. Something suitable for the races…”

“Races…?” I could not believe my ears…!

“Don’t you know? Today is the Derby. Mrs. Shah is coming to pick me up. You know her, don’t you…the one whose husband is working in the Gulf. And you better buy me a new car.”

“New car…?” I asked dumbfounded.

“The old one looks cheap. I hate to be seen in it. It doesn’t befit our status at all. We must have something good – the latest luxury limousine. I know we can afford it.”

The next few days passed in a haze of confusion, punctuated by one surprise after another from Anjali. She wanted a deluxe flat in one of those exclusive townships, to send our children to an elite boarding school in Mussoorie of all places, membership to time-share holiday resorts, a farmhouse near Lonavala, and on and on – her demands were endless.

And in between she would ask me, “Vijay, I hope you are happy that I am trying to change myself. It’s all for your sake. You were right. It is money and status that matter. Without a standard of living, there can be no quality of life…!

I did not know whether to laugh or cry.

That she was once a simple domesticated middle-class girl whose concept of utopia was a happy family life was now but a distant memory to her.

Anjali was no longer the simple girl I once knew - she has metamorphosed into a high-society wife.
To ‘belong’ was now the driving force of her life.

I wish I could give this story a happy ending.

But I will tell you what actually happened.

First, I rang up my shipping agent in Mumbai and told him to get me the most lucrative contract to go to sea as soon as possible.

Then I wrote a long letter to Captain Naik regretting my inability to join him immediately.

But I also wrote in that letter asking him to keep his offer of the teaching job open just in case there was a reverse transformation in Anjali – back to her earlier self.

I am an optimist and I think it will happen someday.

And I hope the day comes fast – when both of us, Anjali and I, can free ourselves from the Monkey Traps of our own making.

Dear Reader, close your eyes and ponder a bit.

Have you entangled yourself in monkey traps of your own making…?

Think about it…!


And in your mind’s eye visualize all your very own self-created Monkey Trap in which you have entangled yourself.

What are you waiting for?

The solution is in your hands.

Just let go, and free yourself.

But is it that easy?

Ask yourself – What is more important: Freedom or golden manacles…?

What do you value more: standard of living or quality of life…?

I wonder, Dear Reader, if I shall ever be able to free myself from the manacles of the ‘Monkey Trap’ of my own making and can my high society wife ever become the simple middle-class girl I once knew…?

And do tell me:

Is it true that without a standard of living, there can be no quality of life…!


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.