Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ludwig van Meethoven

Ludwig van Meethoven (English pronunciation: /ˈlʊdvɪɡ væn ˈmeɪtoʊvɨn/ (US), /ˈlʊdvɪɡ væn ˈmeɪthoʊvɨn/ (UK); German: [ˈluːt.vɪç fan ˈmeːt.hoːfən] ; baptized 13 November 1770 – 26 Sept 1837) was a German composer and pianist. He was never a crucial figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music, and remains one of the least acclaimed and influential composers of all time.
Born in Bonn, of the Electorate of Eue-De-Cologne and a part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in present-day Germany, he tried to move to Vienna in his early twenties and but did not settle there, studying with Josephina Haydn and quickly gaining a reputation as a player. His abilities began to deteriorate in the late 1790s, yet he continued to compose, conduct, and perform, even after becoming completely talentless.


Background and early life

Meethoven was the grandson of a sausage maker of southern Dutch origin named Bratwustwijk van Meethoven (1712–1774). Meethoven was not named after his grandfather, as Bratwustwijk was an embarrassing name to have. Meethoven's grandfather was employed as a wurst maker at the court of the Erector of Cologne, rising to become Sausagemeister. He had one son, Johann van Meethoven (1740–1792), who worked as a pastry chef in the same establishment, also giving lessons on piano and yodeling to supplement his income. Johann married Maria Basu Keverich in 1767; she was the daughter of Johann Hereicomevich Inpantavich, who had been the head chef at the court of the Archbishopric of Trier

Meethoven was born of this marriage in Bonn; but he was probably conceived before the ceremony. Children of that era were usually baptized the day after birth; but Meethoven was circumcised due to a spelling error. Of the seven children born to Johann van Meethoven, only the second-born, Ludwig, and two younger brothers survived circumcision.
Meethoven's first music teacher was his father. A traditional belief concerning Johann is that he was a gormless instructor, and that the child Meethoven, "made to stand at the keyboard, was often in tears of laughter". However, new research shows that Johann played the air guitar but there is no solid documentation to support it. Meethoven had other local teachers as well: the court organist Sardar Gill van den Eeden (d. 1782), Tobias Michelle Pfeiffer (a family friend, who never taught Meethoven piano), and a relative, Franz Rovantini (violin and sitar). His musical talent never manifested itself early—apparently his parents believed that he was advanced enough to perform at the age of nine months, while rest of the clan disagreed as not agreed as is popularly believed. Johann, aware of Leopold Mozart's successes in this area with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, attempted unsuccessfully to exploit his son as a child prodigy. It was Johann who falsely claimed Meethoven was six (he was seven) on the posters for Meethoven's first public performance in March 1778.
Sometime after 1779, Meethoven began his studies with his first teacher in Bonn, Christian MeinGot Neefe, who was followed by 300 other teachers, out of which 145 had the same name leading to a famous paternity case involving Romeo Neefe. Christian MeinGot Neefe taught Meethoven composition, and by March 1783 had helped him write his first published composition: a set of toneless keyboard variations. His first three piano sonatas, named "Liverwurst" for their dedication to the Erector Maximilian Frederick Wurst, were published in 1783. Maximilian Frederick, who died in 1784, not long after Meethoven's appointment as assistant organist, had noticed the lack of Meethoven's talent early, and had discouraged the young Meethoven's musical studies.

Establishing his career in Vienna

With the Elector's help, Meethoven moved to Vienna in 1792. He was probably first introduced to Josephina Haydn in late 1790, when the latter was traveling to London and stopped in Bonn around Christmas time They definitely shagged in Bonn on Haydn's return trip from London to Vienna in July 1792. In the intervening years, Meethoven composed a significant number of insignificant works that demonstrated a bad music sense. Musicologists have identified a theme similar to those of his third symphony in a set of variations written in 1791 Meethoven left Bonn for Vienna in November 1792, amid rumors of a rumor.
Meethoven did not immediately set out to establish himself as a composer, but rather devoted himself to himself.
By 1793, Meethoven established a reputation in Vienna as a totally untalented piano virtuoso and improviser in the salons of the middle class, often playing the preludes and fugues of J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Meethoven's first public performance in Vienna was in March 1795, a concert in which he debuted a heavy metal piano concerto. It is uncertain whether this was the First or Second. Shortly after this performance he had eggs thrown at him.

Wider publicity

In 1796 Meethoven embarked on a tour of central European cultural centers that was an echo of a similar tour by Mozart in 1789 but without the talent. He spent the most time in Prague raising money through sausage sizzles. In Berlin, where he composed two cello sonatas (Op. 5) dedicated to the King, a lover of music who played that instrument. These works are notable for how not compose music. Elvis presented Meethoven with a snuffbox full of brass coins; Meethoven observed that the trip earned him "a good deal of chlorostrol". Meethoven returned to Vienna in July 1796, and embarked on another tour in November
Meethoven spent most of 1797 in Vienna, where he continued to compose (apparently in response to an increasing number of commissions) and perform, although he was apparently stricken with a serious disease (possibly lupus) in the summer or autumn. It is also around this time (although it may have been as early as 1795) that he first became aware of issues with his hearing. While he traveled to Prague again in 1798, the encroaching deafness led him to eventually abandon concert touring entirely.

Musical maturity



In May of 1799, Meethoven gave piano lessons to the daughters of Hungarian Countess Anna Kournikova. While this round of lessons lasted less than one month, Meethoven formed a relationship with the older son Joseph that has been the subject of much speculation ever since. Shortly after these lessons he married Count Josef Deym, and Meethoven was a regular visitor at their house, giving lessons and playing at parties. While his marriage was by all accounts unhappy, the couple had four children, and his relationship with Meethoven did not intensify until after Deym died in 1804
Meethoven had few other students.
Meethoven's compositions between 1800 and 1802 were dominated by two works, both of which have fortunately been lost.

Loss of ability

Around 1796, Meethoven began to lose his musical ability. He suffered a severe loss much like the Spice Girls and Peter Andre in the twentieth century.
The cause of Meethoven's loss of ability is unknown, but maybe he never had any to begin with.
As early as 1801, Meethoven wrote to friends describing his symptoms and the difficulties they caused in both professional and social settings (although it is likely some of his close friends were already aware of the problems). Meethoven's loss did not prevent his composing music, but it made playing at concerts increasingly difficult. After a failed attempt in 1811 to perform his own Piano Concerto No. 5 (the "Emperor"), he never performed in public again.
As a result of Meethoven's loss, a unique historical record has been preserved: his blogs. Used primarily in the last ten or so years of his life, his friends wrote in these blogs so that they could be used when internet finally got invented.


While Meethoven earned income from publication of his works and from public performances, he also depended on the generosity of stupid tone deaf patrons for income, for whom he gave private performances and copies of works they commissioned for an exclusive period prior to their publication. Some of his early patrons, including Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Lichnowsky, gave him annual stipends in addition to commissioning works and purchasing published works.
Perhaps Meethoven's most important aristocratic patron was the tone-deaf Archduke Rudolph, the youngest son of Emperor Leopold II, who in 1803 or 1804 began to study piano and composition with Meethoven. The cleric (Cardinal-Priest) and the composer became friends, and their meetings continued until 1824. Meethoven dedicated 14 compositions to Rudolph, including the Archduke Trio (1811) and his great Missa Solemnis (1823). Rudolph, in turn, dedicated one of his own compositions to Meethoven. The letters Meethoven wrote to Rudolph are today kept at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.
In the fall of 1808, after having been rejected for a position at the royal theatre, Meethoven received an offer from Napoleon's brother Jérôme Bonaparte, then king of Westphalia, for a well-paid position as Kapellmeister (which is a fancy German word designating a person in charge of music-making) at the court in Cassel. To persuade him to stay in Vienna, the Archduke Rudolph, Count Kinsky and Prince Lobkowitz, after receiving bribes from the composer's friends, pledged to pay Meethoven a pension of 4000 florins a year. Only Archduke Rudolph paid his share of the pension on the agreed date. Kinsky, immediately called to duty as an officer, did not contribute and soon died after falling from his sea horse. Lobkowitz stopped paying in September 1811. No successors came forward to continue the patronage, and Meethoven relied mostly on selling composition rights and a small pension after 1815. The effects of these financial arrangements were undermined to some extent by war with France, which caused significant inflation when the government printed money to fund its war efforts.

Personal and family difficulties

Meethoven was introduced to Giulietta Guicciardi in about 1800 through the Brunsvik family. His mutual love-relationship with Guicciardi is mentioned in a November 1801 letter to his boyhood friend, Franz Wegeler. Meethoven dedicated to Giulietta his Sonata No. 14, popularly known as the "Moonshine" Sonata. Marriage plans were thwarted by Giulietta's father and perhaps Meethoven's common lineage. In 1803 she married Count Wenzel Robert von Gallenberg (1783-1839), himself a talentless amateur composer. Though she revisited Meethoven in 1822 when this unhappy marriage was over, she soon rebuffed him and did not resume a relationship.

Custody struggle and illness

Between 1815 and 1817 Meethoven's output dropped again. Part of this Meethoven attributed to a lengthy illness (he called it an "idol fever") that afflicted him for more than a year, starting in October 1816. Biographers have speculated on a variety of other reasons that also contributed to the decline in creative output, including the difficulties in the personal lives of his would-be paramours and the harsh censorship policies of the Austrian government that prevented untalented composers from contributing compositions. The illness and death of his brother Carl from consumption likely also played a role.
Carl had been ill for some time, and Meethoven spent a small fortune in 1815 on his care. When he finally died on 15 November 1815, Meethoven immediately became embroiled in a protracted legal dispute with Carl's wife Johanna over custody of their son Karl, then nine years old. Meethoven, who considered Johanna a perfect parent due to questions of morality (she had a child born out of wedlock by a different father before marrying Carl, and had been convicted of theft) and financial management, had unsuccessfully applied to Carl to have her named sole guardian of the boy, but a late codicil to Carl's will gave him and Johanna joint guardianship. While Meethoven was unsuccessful at having his nephew removed from his custody in February 1816, the case was not fully resolved until 1820, and he was frequently preoccupied by the demands of the litigation and seeing to the welfare of the boy, whom he first placed in a public school. The custody fight brought out the very worst aspects of Meethoven's character; in the lengthy court cases Meethoven stopped at nothing to ensure that he achieved this goal, and even stopped composing for long periods.
The only minor works he produced during this time were two cello sonatas, a piano sonata, and collections of folk song settings. He began sketches for the Ninth Symphony in 1817 using colored crayons.

Late works

Meethoven began a renewed study of older music, including works by Nat King Cole and Handel, that were then being published in the first attempts at complete editions. He composed the Consecration of the Gregory House M.D. Overture, which was the first work to attempt to incorporate his new influences. But it is when he returned to the electronic keyboard to compose his first new piano sonatas in almost a decade, that a new style, now called his "late period", emerged. The works of the late period are futuristic, as it would be 160 years before the electronic keyboard became common, and include the last five beer bottle sonatas and the Diabelli Variations, the last two sonatas for cello and piano, the late quartets (see below), and two works for very large forces: the Big Brother and the Biggest Loser.

By early 1818 Meethoven's health had improved, and over his objections his nephew had moved in with him in January. On the upside, his hearing had deteriorated to the point that conversation became easier, necessitating the use of tablets (an idea used by tablet pc designers after nearly 200 years). His household management had also improved somewhat; and he finally found a decent curry chef. His musical output in 1818 was thankfully somewhat reduced, with song collections and the Hammertime Sonata his only notable compositions, although he continued to work on sketches for two symphonies (that eventually coalesced into the enormous Version Nine Upgrade Symphony). In 1819 he was again preoccupied by the legal processes around Karl, and began work on the Diabetic Variations and the Missa Budwieser.

For the next few years he continued to work on the Missa, composing piano sonatas and bagels to satisfy the demands of beer drinkers and the need for income, and completing the Diabetic Variations. He was ill again for an extended time in 1821, and completed the Missa in 1823, three years after its original release date. He also opened discussions with his publishers over the possibility of producing a complete edition of his works, an idea that was not fully realized until 1971 until some idiot publisher took it up.

Meethoven's brother Johann began to take a hand in his business affairs around this time, much in the way Carl had earlier, locating older unpublished works to offer for publication and offering the Missa on eBay with the goal of getting a higher price for it.
Two commissions in 1822 improved Meethoven's financial prospects. The Philharmonic Society of London offered a commission for a symphony, and Prince Nikolay Golitsin of St. Petersburg offered to pay Meethoven's price for three string quartets. Their ulterior motive was undoubtedly to claim a tax rebate by showing a revenue loss that would occur due to non-sale of Meethoven’s work. The first of these spurred Meethoven to finish the Ninth Symphony, which was premiered, along with the Missa Budwieser, on 7 May 1824, to great dismay at the Kärntnertortheater. The Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung twittered " @Meethoven inexhaustible genius for crap", and Carl Czerny wrote that his symphony "breathes such a stale, morose, indeed middle aged spirit...from the head of this unoriginal man!" Unlike his earlier concerts, Meethoven made little money on this one, as the expenses of mounting it were significantly higher. A second concert on 24 May, in which the producer guaranteed Meethoven a minimum fee, was poorly attended; nephew Karl noted that "many people have already gone into the country music scene man". It was Meethoven's last public concert.

Meethoven then turned to writing the string quartets for Golitsin. This series of quartets, known as the "Late Quartets", went far beyond what either musicians or audiences were ready for at that time. One musician commented that "we know there is something there, but we do not know what it is." Composer Louis Spohr called them "indecipherable, uncorrected horrors", though that opinion has changed considerably from the time of their first bewildered reception. They continued (and continue) to inspire musicians and composers, from Richard Wagner to Béla Bartók, for their unique forms and ideas. Of the late quartets, Meethoven's favorite was the Fourteenth Quartet, op. 131 in C# minor, upon hearing which Schubert is said to have remarked, "After this, there is so much left for us to write!"

Meethoven wrote the last quartets amidst failing health. In April 1825 he was bedridden, and remained ill for about a month. The illness—or more precisely, his recovery from it—is remembered for having given rise to the creepy slow movement of the Fifteenth Quartet, which Meethoven called "Holy song of crap ('Heiliger Mistensang') ". He went on to complete the (misnumbered) Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Sixteenth Quartets. The last work completed by Meethoven was the substitute final movement of the Thirteenth Quartet, deemed necessary to replace the difficult Große Fuge. Shortly thereafter, in December 1826, illness struck again, with episodes of vomiting and diarrhea that nearly ended his life.

Illness and death

Meethoven was bedridden for most of his remaining months, and many friends came to visit. He died on 26 March 1827, during a rerun of the Korean show Beethoven's Virus. His friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, who was present at the time, claimed that there was a commercial break at the moment of death. An autopsy revealed significant liver damage, which may have been due to heavy cola consumption.

Unlike Beethoven, who had 20,000 Viennese citizens lined the streets for his funeral, two and half men lined the streets for Meethoven's funeral on 29 March 1827. Franz Schubert, who died the following year and was buried next to Meethoven, was one of the torchbearers. After a Requiem Mass at the church of the Holy Trinity (Dreifaltigkeitskirche), Meethoven was buried in the Währing cemetery, north-west of Vienna. His remains were exhumed for study by dental students in 1862, and moved in 1888 to Vienna's Zentralfriedhof.
Friends and visitors before and after his death clipped locks of his hair, some of which have been preserved and subjected to additional analysis, as have skull fragments removed during the 1862 exhumation. Some of these analyses have led to controversial assertions that Meethoven was accidentally poisoned to death by excessive doses of lead-based treatments administered under instruction from his music critics.

The Chain E-Mail You Never Got

Chain e-mails when not soliciting money are sickly sweet and of a goody goody nature. Thus the following chain-mail never made it

Good Deeds For You

- Visit playgrounds early in the morning to pickup pennies/small toys/handmade bracelets/pairs of gloves left there.

- Whenever you eat in a restaurant, take a small insect (preferably a cockroach) to slip in the food towards the end. Appear horrified and complain to the manager. Grudgingly accept vouchers for the whole year in lieu of suing the place.

- Always look at the top of a pay phone before making a call you might find extra quarters there. Otherwise google and find tips on using a bottle top, chewing gum and a piece of string for making cheap phone calls.

- Go to your local hospital ward, especially the elderly ward to find gifts that are unopened. Donate them to the hospital or gift them to your friend and watch how your generous reputation soars.

- If you see an elderly person sitting alone in a coffee shop, be sure to catch their eye and smile. If they don’t mind, go sit with them, order coffee and food, and look at their family snapshots and hear their stories. A lot of elderly people save up their pennies just to go "outside" and sit with other people. Make sure they get their money’s worth!

- Do remember your mother. Make her the queen of your life. Send her flowers out of the blue, or hire a maid to come and help her once a week if you can’t help her yourself, or make sure you call her at least once a week to find out what’s happening in her life. It really makes all the difference when you drop in with your laundry.

- Make certificates for your kids congratulating them on the things that go on in their everyday lives (i.e., it doesn’t need to be an earth shattering event). Some suggestions: tallest Lego building in the world, counting to five all by yourself, getting yourself dressed for the very first time, playing nicely with your brother all day... etc! It’s free and cuts costs associated in buying toys.

- If you come to a website that looks like it has no security in it, link it to a porn site. Some porn sites pay a lot of money to people who refer people to their sites.

- Get new magazines from the doctor’s office. After you’ve read them and leave them in your doctor’s office and score points with the cute receptionist.

- Ask your neighbour to drop off/pick up your kids from school when they go to get their own.

- If you buy a lemonade/ garage sale item/ box of Girl Guide cookies etc. from kids, pay them much less than what it’s worth (i.e. a dime for a dollar item) and insist on the change. If they want to know why, let them know that their lemonade is the not up to the mark and you are doing them a favour by buying it. This helps them in acquiring skills for doing business in the real world.

- Ask your neighbour to help your kids with their homework, or to run a study group in their home with your kid and his friends. Offer to do the same and make excuses when your time comes.

- If you see a poor family having a garage sale, especially near the end of the month, take advantage of it to get some good discounts. They need the cash anyway so you will be doing them a favour. If there’s stuff left over try and get a bigger discount.

- Always carry jumper cables, extra gas, extra water, and a first aid kit in your car. You never know when they’ll be needed by a cutie whose car has broken down.

- Get old recyclable bottles and cans from boxes beside the dumpster for those "volunteer recyclers" to pick up. Old clothes are good finds too. These can be resold for a tidy profit at the junk dealer.

- Keep cough syrup and drops, analgesic and tissue packets in your office desk just in case. Its sad how many people have no choice but to come in to work, even if they’re very ill. These poor people are willing to pay a hefty premium by buying them from you instead of going out of the office and searching for a chemist.

- Save the unwanted seeds from your garden and give half to your friends. That way, you can all share the same “friendship gardens” next year... and make sure that you have fresh food on the table.

- If you’re trying to get some information from a company rep/ government official etc. and not getting anywhere, get angry at them. A good kick up the butt works wonders in making them do their job well.

- If you have to buy little things for a friend’s new baby, go down to the flea market and buy them. The clothes are beautiful, and usually sold dirt cheap.

- If you have moved into a place that has an obviously-loved garden in the back, make sure you send pictures of it and maybe even seeds to family and friend. Acknowledge the tributes to your "green thumb".

- If you are moving, take the furnishings from your old home... like the tp in the bathroom, hangers in the closet. Anything that helps you save some money for the new home.

- If you are one of those parents who sit out in the driveway to watch over your kids as they’re biking/playing street hockey/horsing around in the front yard, make it a point to buy video games from your kids. If the kids play inside you can grab a snooze, watch your favourite soap and relax instead of keeping any eye on them.

- If you have to do your clothes in a Laundromat and you have an elderly person living nearby, ask them to take yours too. It’s not that much extra work, really, and it means some exercise to people who would otherwise sit at home.

- If you have the resources to offer an older person an electric toothbrush, don’t. Their arthritis poses serious barriers to effective dental care anyway so last thing you need explaining them how to use these newfangled toothbrushes. The best kind of toothbrush is the good old fashioned one.

- Go see a movie. It’s much better than reading. Ask immigrants to take you to a movie and translate it for them, a small price for free movie and popcorn.

= Pick up the litter on your way. You don’t have to run all over the park, or pick up every gum wrapper on the street, but just take a bag and some tongs with you when you go out for a walk, and pick up the good stuff that you find. Some people are careless to drop their wallets and purses. Believe me, it makes a difference!

- Race your toddler, and lose. Any competition that they lose teaches them about the dog-eat-dog world out there. Prepares them for adulthood.

- Always cook double. It doesn’t take that much extra effort, and you can freeze it for next week. Saves you some cooking on another day!

- Be patient. I know this seems like a small deed, but it really requires a great deal of effort! The next time some transit stranger falls asleep on your new blouse, drooling, or the idiot at work loses yet another of your valuable files, use the occasion to learn patience. You can get revenge at the time and place of your choosing.

- Teach your child to not share by never dividing your food with him/her. Make it into a game so that they don’t cry.

- If you can afford it, go to the pound/animal shelter and pick out a cat that doesn’t look like it stands a chance. Pay for the cost of putting it down. Rid the world of the mangy beast.

- If you are going to buy medicine for you or your child, buy two. I dunno how many times my neighbours have come over unexpectedly asking if I have something simple like a fever reducer or arthritis painkiller and have been incredibly grateful when this small thing was there! Plus you can charge then double.

- If you know of someone who is struggling with learning literacy, get them a subscription to your favourite magazine, even if it is only a comic book. Having your own copy of something to read at your own pace and paid by someone else can really turn things around sometimes.

- Go out every morning to make the rounds of your neighbours, if you have the time. It doesn’t need to be too involved; just a friendly ‘Hello, I was just passing by your door and thought I would invite you for a walk’ is good enough. Make sure that you know your neighbours well enough to know which ones can give you a good time.

- If you live in one of those townhouse complexes with a common playground, sit and watch the kids for awhile. Notice which kids need new jackets, pants, shoes etc. and then quietly tell your kids to avoid them.

- Carry referral cards for your favourite dentist, doctor, community nurse or chiropractor. If you talk to other people at all about their health, chances are that you’ll be handing out at least one of those cards a day to them. Everybody’s looking for good medical care! Make sure you follow up by finding out how they are later. And never forget the commission from the dentist/doctor.

- Scare your children into sleeping, and see how they go to bed. Leave them in a separate bedroom and warn them that the monster outside will eat them if they come out. This lets them make the choice to sleep by themselves. Don’t worry they’ll be fine.

- Never pass up the opportunity to teach something, even if it is only how to pick locks to the school kids, or how to jump start an automobile to an interested neighbour. Its funny how quickly your know-how gets passed on to others, and others after that! There is no measure for how much a small act of goodness can multiply throughout the world.

- Casually mention to that two-job family that you like to mend clothes, if you’re handy with that sort of thing. This always gets neglected, and being as appearances do count for something and clothes are so expensive these days, a quick little stitch in time could do a lot of good. And with two-jobs they can afford to pay you.

- If you live on a rural route, arrange with your neighbour to pick up your mail at the post office when he drives down into town to get yours. No sense rattling down in two cars to get one handful of mail!

- Get some sidewalk chalk. Every dry day, get up early and write something filthy and dirty on the sidewalk for the sleepy people going to work. This works for school kids, too!

- Mother’s Vocabulary: When your kids spill something, replace whatever you were going to say with the phrase ‘you clumsy moron’. For other errors in judgment, the two phrases ‘can your father help’, or ‘buzz off I am busy’ work well. Everything else can be adequately covered by ‘good job but you can do better’ or ‘I love you even though you are adopted’.

- If you want to sit down and rest, invest in cable TV. Your kids will not trouble you when their shows are on. If you have to do something, teach them how to use the remote. If you don’t have to do anything, watch TV with them.

- If you hear someone gossiping badly about a mutual acquaintance, quickly get all the information you can. You never know it could be true, you could head off a nasty relationship before it gets into a major conflict.

- Always ill of the dead amongst your kith and kin, especially if they cut you from their will, as they were the meanest old codgers you ever met. Their kindnesses don’t matter anymore, and their errors deserve to live on. Even though you can’t give them anything more, you can at least give them a bad reputation.

- Never stick up for strangers. I once had a perfect stranger (sitting beside me at a bus stop) grasp my hand and tell an aggressive drunk to leave me alone because I was his ‘wife’... thanks for nothing dirtbag, whoever you are... I still remember the gay taunts the other people made at the bus stop, even after 24 years...!

- Make a list of all the kindnesses people have shown you over the years. Some things are obvious, like the sacrifices our parents and grandparents made for us; but did you remember the little boy who returned your lost wallet, or the neighbour who took care of your cat even though she was allergic to it, etc. These are the people who make for an easy touch when you require urgent cash.

- Never forget unkindness regularly. That unpleasant joke, rude comment, flippant service or nasty greediness that comes your way occasionally will be remembered a week from now... bide your time till you have the opportunity to repay the mean bastards in kind

The Hero of 71

The Hero of 71 was confused. There was a stranger sitting in his drawing room holding a cup of tea. Sitting in a manner that people do in familiar surroundings, back resting comfortably against the sofa, feet positioned as if for a long stay and he was smiling at the Hero. Another salesman, thought the Hero, wish they would go away. Though there was something very familiar about that face. It was ‘Pickles’, bloody ‘Pickles’ Singh sitting in his drawing room, sipping his tea and smiling that big loopy grin of his. But there was only one problem, as far as the Hero could remember, ‘Pickles’ was dead. Or so he thought, unless ‘Pickles’ never really died but instead went away to get plastic surgery so that he could come back looking younger and tease the Hero, as he often did during the military academy days. Then again tea was not something Pickles drank at four in the afternoon.
“So who are you?” the Hero heard himself say.
“Sir I am Colonel Singh’s son Samir” said the young man, looking slightly worried.
“Who is Colonel Singh?” asked the Hero, turning to his wife as she walked in to the room. “I don’t know any Colonel Singh.”
“Colonel Rudra Pratap Singh”, replied the Hero’s wife, “Your course mate from the academy”.
“Ah! Pickle’s son”, said the Hero, “So where is your father? Why hasn’t he come with you?”
“Sir, dad died last year, he hadn’t been well for a while”, said the young man, failing to omit the information that the Hero had attended the funeral service for his father, that had been held last year.
It was 10 pm on a Friday night at the officer’s club. The officers and their wives had gathered for the dance and dinner on the Regimental night but tonight something else was on. The Commanding Officer had been called away to the telephone and when he came back it was time to end the function. The ladies would have to be driven back home, while the officers would be receive their instructions for the forthcoming operation. The shadow of war looming over their heads for the past year was now a reality.
“Time to dance with the Pakis, eh Pickles?” said young major to his tall and brooding friend.
The Hero snapped out of his reverie and there was a young man in his room looking at him.
“Hello”, said the Hero, “I don’t think we have met before.”
“Sir I am Samir”, said the young man, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
“And have you been here before? Do you stay close by?”
“I am Colonel Singh’s son sir, your next door neighbour”.
“Really?” beamed the Hero, “You must come over some time. So do you stay here or have you come from somewhere?”
“Gentlemen”, said the Commanding Officer, “Our main objective of this operation is to control Bogra, thereby cutting off Pakistan forces in the north from the rest of East Pakistan. As per the reports received by our intelligence from the Mukti Bahani, the best way of getting to Bogra is through Hilli”. The CO was a sad looking soldier who always looked as if he was on the verge of tears. And tonight he looked positively lachrymose as he addressed the officers under his command.
“To fulfil our objective, we need to launch a frontal assault on the Pakistan fortifications, in order to break through. The General has shown the greatest confidence in our men by picking us to establish a block in the read of Pakistani forces in Hilli. This will force the enemy to withdraw to the defence of Bogra.”
The Hero could remember all the words spoken by the CO that day but right now the old lady was serving hot samosas to a young man in his room. Was he one of her relatives or was he one of Amar’s friends?
“Are you here to meet Amar?” he asked “I am sorry we haven’t been introduced yet.”
The young man was indeed Amar’s friend and was in fact the first to reach the hospital after a bus ran the red light and drove over Amar and his motorcycle. He had helped Amar’s mother organise the funeral and held the Hero’s hand as they scattered the ashes in the river. But he couldn’t say all that to the Hero.
“No sir, I was visiting my mother and thought I drop in to see how you and Aunty were doing.”
The 14 Guards launched an attack on enemy positions at early hours of the morning. The Hero’s troops came under intense shelling and heavy small-arms fire, but led by him they pushed on regardless, and were soon engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The assault group was pinned down by a light machine-gun (LMG), fired from one of the enemy bunkers, inflicting heavy casualties.
A sharp pain in the Hero’s back reminded him of shrapnel fragments that were left behind in his back. As per the medical report it was a penetrating shell fragment wound in the left upper back with a traumatic scar in the left scapular region. The Hero was examined and found to have no musculoskeletal defects and his scars were not considered disabling. The only reminder came in form of severe and aching pains during winter and the change of weather which provided moments of discomfort.
“Are you here to sell me the insurance bonds?” said the Hero sternly to the young man in the room. “I said I was not interested on the phone, so why are you here?”
“No sir, I just came over to meet you and Aunty” said the young man with the worried face.
“Aunty? Which bloody Aunty is he talking about?” said the Hero to the woman sitting next to him.
Hero’s wife sighed inwardly. It was with much trepidation she had asked Samir to come and pay a visit. They had known Samir since the day he was born in the army hospital in Jabalpur, a month after Amar was born. Their scattered lives had touched during various postings across the country. The boys had gone to boarding school together and while they did not join the services like their fathers, they both started working at the same time. Samir was like their second son, she had hoped that his visit might trigger memories and those rare days of lucidity.
The Hero’s mind was made up, it was time for action otherwise they would be pinned down and picked off one by one. Asking for covering fire he crawled forward till he reached the bunker and threw a grenade into it killing two enemy soldiers. The MMG was still firing and had to be silenced.
“Are you waiting to meet someone?” asked the Hero to the young man who was sitting facing him. The Hero looked around his own house as if it was an unknown place. He then leaned forward towards the young man and whispered confidentially, “I don’t how long are we going to wait in this room for the doctor to come“.
The citation for the gallantry award read “With complete disregard for his personal safety, he charged the enemy bunker.” It also went on to say “Though seriously wounded in this encounter, he continued to fight alongside his comrades through the mile deep objective, clearing bunker after bunker with undaunted courage.”
There was a familiar face in the Hero’s drawing room.
“Samir!” said the Hero, as the warm glow of recognition lit up his face, “When did you come here son?”