Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Bomb

Saurav Daalnani was not a happy man. Perched uncomfortably on the edge of his bed, he twisted his lanky frame to an almost impossible angle, trying to peer myopically outside the open door. “Where the hell is he?!” he thought irritably, looking at the black leather strapped ladies watch on his wrist for the third time in the last one minute. “Its 36 seconds past the scheduled rendezvous time of 12:00 midnight…he should have been here by now!”
Ayush looked down at his watch and gulped. He had overshot his appointment time by a good one minute…Saurav would surely kill him today! Despite the seemingly sinister consequences of him being late registering in his brain, he stood rooted at his spot, unable to zero-in on the best course of action to be taken given the precarious position in which he was. He clasped the document with his white knuckled hands, staring at it, almost as though willing it to decide on his behest…Should he continue on his quest with the now partially destroyed document? Or should he head back to his hangout and grab the other copy which he had so meticulously hidden inside the drawer in his desk?
By now, Daalnani has started pacing up and down his room, much like a hyena in its pen at the Delhi Zoo, fidgeting vigorously with the pen in his hand. His otherwise immaculate room was littered with sheaves of paper, flitting around in the blast of cooled air blowing in from the air cooler. Despite the balmy evening, the cooler was set to maximum speed, and yet Daalnani continued to sweat like an Alaskan huskie having been made to run a marathon in Chennai in May. He looked at his watch again – it was 12:03 AM! He couldn’t wait any longer. With two smart claps and a slightly drawn out “Next!” he settled down, making himself comfortable on the bed’s edge again.
Ayush had finally made up his mind. He could not afford to delay things any further – he had to take a decision and stick with it! After all, wasn’t this exactly the kind of situation that he was being trained for? Even in the future, he would come face-to-face with such monumental moments in life…and he would have to learn to live with the consequences of the decisions he took. He decided to rush back and get the second sheet. As he started running back, he cursed himself for not having carried the duplicate along to begin with. Reaching his building, he ran up, three stairs at a time, till he had reached the top floor. Gasping for breath, he burst in through the door, and was surprised to see that his girlfriend, Pooja, still seated there. She was equally baffled to see him back so soon and had just started uttering a “Weren’t you supposed to…” when Ayush articulated a Bollywood heroinesque gasp and shouted “It’s gone!”
A floating head appeared in the doorway and uttered a barely audible “May I come in, sir”. Daalnani looked up and nodded his approval. “Oh good. It’s Smelly Smriti! She’s now going to face the full brunt of Ayush not being here on time” he thought vindictively. The floating head was followed by the body that it was attached to as Smriti demurely entered the room, closing the door behind her. She opened the folder, onto which she had been clutching dearly, and extracted the sheet of paper and handed it over to Daalnani. Without even asking her to sit, Daalnani proceeded to wreak havoc on the sheet of paper, scratching off and correcting almost every other word that Smriti had written, reprimanding her continuously, while she stood there with her head hung low. Just as Daalnani was about to admonish Smriti for having put a full stop at the end of the sentence, the door flew open, and silhouetted against the floodlights, stood Ayush!
“What’s gone?” she inquired patiently.
“The sheet…the thing…the document…I had kept it right here…the drawer…two copies…it was here…” Ayush started.
“Is this what you are looking for?” she asked, dangling the sheet of paper that she had been reading when he entered, in front of him
“Yes! What were you…?” Ayush grabbed it with both hands, his confusion beginning to turn into anger.
“Oh well! I just thought I could do with some bed time reading…” she chuckled.
Not in a position to argue, Ayush turned around, and sprinted back, leaping five steps at a time on his way down. People stopped in their tracks and stared as he tore past them. He ran like his life depended on it…he ran like Forrest Gump and Usain Bolt had decided to mate and produced him as their offspring…he ran like there was no tomorrow. And finally, he had reached the building that housed the dreaded Daalnani. Clutching a stitch in his side, Ayush climbed up the stairs as fast as his unwilling legs could, and burst into the room without even knocking.
“Where the hell have you been? Do you know what time it is? Is this what I taught you regarding the sanctity of deadlines? No, you’re not late, you are rude and selfish…” Ayush was met with a barrage of tirades as he stepped into the room. Daalnani stood up, the pad that had been resting on lap went crashing onto the floor. Smelly Smriti backed up against the wall as Daalnani advanced menacingly towards Ayush, who found himself rooted to a spot for the second time that evening. When they were finally face-to-face (or rather face to chest in this case), Daalnani looked up at Ayush through his oversized glasses, which seemed to magnify his eyes close to a zillion times, further enhancing his owlish appearance, and whispered, “Explain yourself!”
It had started off like just any other day for Ayush. He had woken up in his own bed, next to her. As it was a Saturday, they’d lazed around a while longer, eventually getting ready and heading for lunch. The afternoon was spent catching up on the latest episodes of Breaking Bad, with them having a long discussion on whether they would have done such things had life presented them with a similar situation. However, the meeting at 12 had been playing the back on Ayush’s head since the evening. He had finalized the document the day before itself and had taken two copies of the same from the printer on the 2nd floor. Ayush had managed to gulp down some dinner, but as the clock wound closer to midnight, he had become increasingly nervous. At 11:45, he carefully folded one copy of the document into half, rolled it up like a piece of parchment and headed out of the door. It was a good 10 minute walk to the meeting room and he would arrive with a good five minutes to spare. The path was lined with trees and well lit, but Ayush kept looking back apprehensively as he couldn’t get over this unnerving feeling that he was being followed. He reached the building entrance at 11:55. There was no one else in sight. Ayush sighed loudly, trying to compose himself, and unrolled the document to have one final look at it before he headed upstairs. And then, it happened…
“What happened?!” asked Daalnani exasperatedly.
“I was bombed” replied Ayush sheepishly. It was Smriti’s turn to gasp.
Daalnani continued to stare at him, perhaps perplexed to this extent for the first time in his life.
Slowly, Ayush took out the first copy of his resume and showed it to his Placecom rep Daalnani. There was a huge splotch on the paper that Ayush held out, where the bird poop had now started drying up.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Amdavadi Auto Rides...

Bangalore has incredible (and unpredictable) weather. And quite frankly, Ahmedabad is no Bangalore. So on the handful of occasions that Nature does decide to endow Ahmedabad with such exquisite weather, you would need to be as obstinate as quite a few Indian politicians to not want to step out and maybe even go skinny-dippy in Vastrapur Lake. Now – the story that I shall thus recount, unfolded on a similarly balmy evening in the former capital city of Gujarat.

Ahmedabad is as well known for its chai-wallas as it is for some of its architectural heritage and for being the home to Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram. And if your friends come calling on the pretext of wanting to explore ‘true Gujarat’, you have to begrudgingly accompany them while they indulge in their touristy hankerings. Thankfully, the weather was at least on my side as we made our way from CG Road to Alpha Mall to Law Garden.

By the time the day had turned to dusk, a cool and pleasant wind had started blowing, and after a long day of strenuous shopping and Gujarati Thali gorging, it came as a welcome respite. And when I finally managed to drop off my friends at their hotel I, with vehement politeness, refused their proposal of spending the night at the hotel and decided to head back. As I stepped out of the hotel, I could felt the first drops of the light rain which had just started – things couldn’t have gotten any better!

Walking down the dimly lit, foliage festooned street, I spotted a gang of three men in the distance who appeared to be either auto drivers or bus conductors in their khaki uniforms. They were huddled over in a crude circle and seemed to be squabbling over not getting an equal share of whatever that there was in between them. As I approached them, one of them looked up questioningly while the other two surreptitiously slithered the shady something that was there in between them, out of sight. Inferring from the lack of buses in the near vicinity that these couldn’t be conductors, I asked the questioning one if he would take me to my campus.

For a good fifteen seconds he stared back, perplexed, as if I had asked him to calculate the square root of the product of the cube root of 5342 and 25878 factorial. I could almost see the audio waves traveling to his cerebral cortex and lights turning on inside his head before he suddenly stood up. With a sideways glance of “don’t-you-dare-start-without-me” at his comrades, he walked up steadily to the auto parked in front of him. As I had just stepped inside the auto, thankful for some cover from the now heavy drizzle, he stepped out, looking in wondrous astonishment at the auto – almost as if wondering why his posterior no longer fitted into the ass print on the driver’s seat.

Then, with a grunt – which must obviously be the universally sign in auto drivers’ parlance to follow them into the adjacent auto – he went and sat into the next one. This must definitely have been a sign from the heavens above, but I am remarkably thick skinned when it comes to interpreting subtle indications; and I quickly followed suit. With a smart pull of the ignition handle, the auto came to life. After a few seconds of gunning the engine, he suddenly changed gears, and we were off into the night.

The streets seemed deserted, which is quite often the case at 11 o clock in Ahmedabad as the Amdavadis are often busy enjoying their after dinner helpings of butter accompanied with tidbits pav-bhaji at Khao Gali during this time. The drizzle had by now turned into a downpour accompanied by flashes of thunder that illuminated the night sky. (In case you are wondering why people would head out to eat in such belligerent weather, you clearly have never been to Gujarat). I was quite lost in my thoughts about the day that had gone by when I suddenly noticed the auto driver peering quite keenly at the speedometer on the handle, with his greasy nose barely an inch away from the same. Just as I was about to ask him what the issue was, he sat up straight again, now peering at the windscreen, seemingly interested in the rhythmic to and fro motion of the wiper wiping the windscreen.

As I continued to stare at the back of his swarthy neck, I could have sworn that his head was starting to tilt again, unmistakably on its journey towards the speedometer again. And sure enough, three seconds later, he was bearing down on the contraption again, as though urging it to show a higher number. And then he sat up again. This pendulum like motion continued unwaveringly as the auto and its occupants made their way onto the Drive-In Cinema road.

As soon as the auto turned left onto this road, the accompanying motion of the driver also stopped. Quite relieved, I snuggled into the middle of the auto seat, with the heavy rains lashing in from both sides. But now, my vision was completely blocked by the partially bald and piebald head of the driver – and I couldn’t quite see where we were headed. And then quite suddenly, an earthquake struck. Or at least what seemed quite nearly like an earthquake.

The driver’s body was suddenly besieged with a bout of coughing. And with each wheeze that the driver took, his hands quivered violently, sending the auto askew – into multiple directions within a single second. I clung onto the seat for my dear life, my knuckles turning white, not daring to let go, lest I get tossed out of the auto with the next rattle. Then, with a sound like a pig regurgitating a semi-cooked cabbage, he filled up his mouth with phlegm from all corners of his body. He sat there for an entire minute, swiveling the savories within his mouth, before ducking sideways and emptying the contents into one of the now raging roadside drains outside.

This sideways movement momentarily unclouded my restricted vision and I gazed out of the windscreen to realize that we had almost arrived at the final stretch of road, leading to the campus. And then with unabashed confidence, the driver turned the auto onto the wrong side of the road, right into the incoming traffic! This was further accompanied by the aforementioned pendulum like motion. Scared to the end of my wits, I reached out and touched the driver on his shoulder, and announced to him that he had turned onto the wrong side.

Almost as if I had pressed some hidden button, his head started to turn clockwise, almost indiscernibly at first, but as I continued to watch, it was now aligned with his right shoulder. Completely oblivious of the incoming traffic (of which thankfully there wasn’t much) the head continued to rotate, as though almost devoid of all the physical restrictions of it being attached to the rest of his body. Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning, accompanied by a muffled yelp which at first I thought had escaped from my person – had the driver rotated his head by one more degree, the scene would have been reminiscent of the famous scene from The Exorcist.

This was followed by the semblance of an utterance from the driver, which was drowned in the volley of barks that ensued, making me realize that the driver had actually hit a street dog. This, thankfully, made him reorient his head in the correct direction and rev up the engine, leaving the barking dogs behind in a spray of water. He slowed down subsequently as we approached the campus, and this time without turning around, asked me whether I wanted to go left or right.

But I had had enough. I asked him to stop right there and got off quickly. Forty bucks was the call without even glancing at the meter. I fished out a fifty rupee note from my pocket and handed it over. Without even caring to wait for the change, it turned around and walked away quickly, slowly breaking into a run as I neared the main gate. As I was about to enter the campus, I turned around to catch one last glimpse of the auto driver and noticed that he was still standing there, flashing the headlights weirdly – either as a signal to his own kind in outer space or celebrating in ecstasy at having received 10 rupees extra in the land of the Gujaratis…

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Magical Tales of Roy and the Teabag

Well if you've ever lived in Pune, am sure that you'll agree (to varying extents) with what I am about to proclaim - I love the city! And honestly, I really can't put a finger on any particular reason to which I can attribute this aforementioned affection. Well it’s definitely not the huge drain (which they claim to be a river...no wait two rivers) which flows through the heart of the city. Nor is it the abysmal state of the public transport system or the fleecing autowallas (both of which could give Chennai some serious competition). Maybe it has something to do with the old-world charm that the city exudes despite being a bustling metropolis. Or maybe it’s the girls-with-higher-than-the-Indian-average-beauty-but-lower-than-the-South-Bombay-average-beauty who populate Pune courtesy the numerous colleges that dot the city. Hmmm…can't really say. So if you are still skeptical, you should definitely go and check…err Pune out. Or you could take my word for it – I’ve worked there for two years, and despite not living there for the last year or so, I still yearn to go back. And it should suffice when I say that I’ve been to Pune as many times as I’ve been home during the last yearabouts!

This magical experience which I shall duly narrate, and which is now encapsulated and mummified in the annals of my blog for our posterity to read and witness for themselves, happened to me the last time that I had gone to this enchanting city. Pune was home to this famous hangout place known as the German Bakery, housed just next to the more famous Bottoms Up Wines on one side and the ‘O’ Hotel on the other (The O is short for Oh No!). Most of you must have heard about the now infamous German Bakery, which was the target of a terrorist bombing, that resulted in the death of many innocent civilians (and which was duly condoned by our MMS (No no…am not talking about the DPS MMS. I meant our PM yaar, who am sure, has spoken less no. of words during his entire tenure than what was said in the 1 minute and 42 seconds long MMS clip)). Anyways…during the two years that I was in Pune, I had been a silent witness of the bare shell that German Bakery had been reduced to after the heinous crime. And despite several newspaper reports claiming that it would be up and running very soon (as is claimed for all infrastructure projects in India), German Bakery was still not functional the last time that I’d been to Pune in January this year. But this time around I was in for a surprise, and when I landed there at 7 AM on a Saturday morning, and woke up my groggy-from-five-days-in-the-office friend, he suggested that we should go have breakfast at German Bakery.

So the four of us got dressed and headed out for breakfast which, after spending an entire year on campus sleeping at 3:00 AM and barely managing to wake up for an 8:45 AM class, had become a rarity of sorts for me. As we entered the Bakery, I couldn’t help notice the two not-so-heavily-armed security personnel standing at the entrance or the metal detector that they had installed to scan the unsuspecting early morning breakfast goers. The fact that the Bakery had been highly frequented by the Pune dwellers was reflected by the fact that most of the tables were full even at 9 o clock in the morning. We managed to find an empty table and settled down. Menus arrived. And as promised to me, quite an elaborate fare was on offer, ranging from English breakfasts with sunny sides up to something closer home such as Upma and Parathas.

Arun, being a frequent connoisseur of Breakfasts at GB, suggested that I should definitely try their ham-sausage-omlette and went ahead and order one for himself as well. Next up on the menu were beverages. Now, as mentioned earlier, with a schedule that included less than six hours of sleep on a regular basis, I needed certain intoxicants to keep me going through the day and had, much to the delight of my regular-tea-drinking parents, become addicted to the stimulating brew. However, prior to this, I knew only three varieties of tea – Nescafe Tea, Taj Mahal Tea and Rambhai Tea (well technically four if you also count Long Island Ice Tea as one variant). And when I glanced through menu, I was rendered speechless. They had an entire page dedicated to just tea – Darjeeling Tea, Masala Tea, Nilgiri Tea, Earl Grey Tea, Great Britain Tea, Prince Harry Tea and what not…all I’ll say is that the list was practically endless. Faced with this overwhelming list of unheard of beverage varieties to choose from, I ended up ordering a cup of Indian sounding Darjeeling Tea to go with my English breakfast.

As we waited for our breakfasts to arrive, my attention was drawn to this ketchup bottle that was kept on the table. A common household fly seemed to have apparated above it, as though out of thin air, and was now trying desperately to suck out the last remaining drops of tomato sauce that were within its nimble reach. In doing so, the fly had turned almost upside down (vertically 90 degrees!) into the nozzle of the ketchup bottle. One false step and what awaited it was an untimely death by drowning in the reservoir of molten tomato puree that it seemed to love so much, at the depths of Mt. Ketchup! I shuddered at the plight of those unsuspecting patrons who would have unknowingly used the bottle after that.

Anyway, in the meantime, our chow had arrived and we started gorging on it like a pack of hungry hyenas. The ham-sausage-omlette was delicious (my apologies to the PETA activists out there) and I was soon almost finished with my breakfast. Meanwhile, the housefly seemed to have called some of its friends to savor the delectable red puree on offer and they seemed to have started a La Tomatina of sorts by themselves at the mouth of the ketchup bottle.

I, due to the lack of my early morning stimulus, had started to get cranky, and began pestering the waiter to get my morning cuppa. And soon enough he was back, carrying – much to my surprise – an entire tray instead of the single cup that I had ordered. As he set down the tray on the table, I stared at it in open-mouthed disbelief (poor waiter must have thought that I am still hungry). Instead of the muddy brown concoction that I had expected, what the tray contained were four separate items. An empty cup of tea. A kettle, which I later discovered was full of boiling water. A small flask of milk. And one tea bag. He unloaded the contents of the tray and turned around and disappeared back into the kitchen. Gauging by the astounded look on my face as I gazed at the retreating back of the waiter, my friends told me that I would have to prepare the tea myself (apparently that’s how it’s done in up-market restaurants).

Highly inept at activities pertaining to the kitchen, I took a deep breath and set about preparing the do-it-yourself tea (all this while thinking that it should rather have been called IKEA Tea). I placed the tea bag in the empty cup, poured in some of the contents of the kettle and added some milk. Some cubes of sugar to taste. The concoction turned white! My friends then instructed me to shake the tea bag a little, and as I did so, the color of the solution slowly started to the familiar muddy brown that I was used to. I took a sip. Ah! It was perfect. Just the right blend of milkiness and tea-ness. I passed the cup around the table so that my friends too could admire my handiwork. As I sat there savoring my do-it-yourself tea, I started envisioning opening my own tea kiosk and giving Rambhai a run for his money. The cup was soon empty, but my brain was not satisfied. I began contemplating ordering another cup of the highly priced Darjeeling tea when Supriya suggested that I should try making another cup from the teabag and the remaining contents of the tray (clearly showing who was paying for the breakfast). I added some water to the cup, at the bottom of which the teabag lay, and to my surprise, the water started turning brown again! Quickly I added some milk and sugar and took a sip. Perfection! It was as good, if not better than the last cup. I quickly gulped it down and added some more water, milk and sugar and voila! A third cup of tea appeared out of the magical teabag! I seemed to have found an unending source of the exotic elixir. Each time that I kept adding more water and milk to the cup, it seemed to be producing that perfect cup of tea! My dreams of that tea stall seemed even closer to reality now! I could now make a thousand cups, or maybe even more, of tea from this one single teabag! As I raised my cup to drink to my future success – PLOP! The fly had finally found its swimming pool…