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Uncle Ken's Zigzag Walk

2006-07-14 00:30

  Uncle Ken always maintained that the best way to succeed in life was to zigzag. “If you keep going off in new directions,” he declared “you will meet new career opportunities!”

  Well, opportunities certainly came Uncle Ken's way. But he was not a success in the sense that Dale Carnegie or Napoleon Hill would have defined a successful man ……

  In a long life devoted to “muddling through” with the help of the family, Uncle Ken's many projects has included a chicken farm, (rather like the one operated by Ukridge in Wodehouse's Love Among the Chickens) and a mineral water bottling project.

  For this latter enterprise, he bought a thousand old soda-water bottles and filled them with sulphur water from the springs located five miles away from Dehra. It was good stuff, taken in small quantities, but drunk one bottle at a time, it proved corrosive - “sulphur and brimstone” as one irate customer described it-and angry buyers demonstrated in front of the house, throwing empty bottles over the walls into Grandfather's garden.

  Grandfather was furious-more with Uncle Ken than with the demonstrators - and made him return everyone's money back.

  “You have to be healthy and strong to take sulphur water,” Uncle Ken explained later.

  “I thought it was supposed to make you healthy and strong,” I said.

  Grandfather remarked that it did not compare with plain soda-water, which Grandfather took with his whisky.

  Why don't you just bottle soda-water?“ she said, ”there's a much bigger demand for it.“

  But Uncle Ken believed that he had to be original in all things. “The secret to success is to zigzag”, he said.

  “You certainly zigzagged round the garden when your customers were throwing their bottles back at you,” said Grandfather. Uncle Ken also invented the zigzag walk.

  The only way you could really come to know a place well, was to walk in a truly haphazard way. To make a zigzag walk you take the first turning to the left, then to the right, then again to the left and so on. It could be quite fascinating provided you are in no hurry to reach your destination.

  The trouble was that Uncle Ken used this zigzag method even when he had a train to catch.

  When Grandmother asked him to go to the station to meet Aunt Mabel and her children, who were arriving from Lucknow, he zigzagged through the town, talking in the botanical gardens in the west and the limestone factories to the east, finally reaching the station by way of the goods yard, in order, as he said, “to take it by surprise.”

  Nobody was surprised, least of all, Aunt Mabel, who had taken a tonga and reached the house while Uncle Ken was still sitting on the station platform, waiting for the next train to come in. I was sent to fetch him.

  “Let's zigzag home again,” he said.

  “Only on one condition: we eat chaat every fifteen minutes,” I said.

  So we went home by way of all the most winding bazaars, stopping at numerous chaat and halwa shops, until Uncle Ken had finished his money. We got home very late and were scolded by everyone. But as Uncle Ken told me, we were pioneers and had to expect to be misunderstood and even maligned. Posterity would recognize the true value of zigzagging.

  “The zigzag way,” he said, “is the diagonal between heart and reason”。 In our more troubled times, had he taken to preaching on the subject, he might have acquired a large following of dropouts. But Uncle Ken was the original dropout. He would have not tolerated others.

  Had he been a space traveler he would have gone from star to star, zigzagging across the milky way!

  Uncle Ken would have not succeeded in getting anywhere very fast. But I think he did succeeded in getting anywhere very fast. But I think he did succeed in getting at least one convert (myself) to see his point: “When you zigzag, you are not choosing what to see in this world but you are giving the world a chance to see you!”

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