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07 August 2013

The unlucky duo..

(In the period 1987-95, I used to work as an engineer at Durgapur Steel Plant at West Bengal. I used to maintain a dairy and update it infrequently. Recently I came across the same and thought that I will move to the blog all the entries in the dairy. This is one of the articles that I wrote after a particularly disastrous day)

At 6.00 AM in the morning, I had no inkling of the disaster that was to follow that day

Every person in this world is sometimes unlucky. When they reach the market, they realize that it is market closing day. When the reach the theatre, they find that the tickets are sold out or the movie started trifle earlier. People don't usually have a spate of these unfortunate occurrences. But of course, there has to be an exception to the rule...

And that's us.

It is a Sunday. Me and my friend Gopal decide to go shopping. I have to buy a shoe and certain miscellaneous stuff and Gopal to buy detergent and stuff...

One problem in going out with Gopal is that it is difficult to identify who is unluckier. Who is the master of misfortune, the harbinger of hard luck, the purveyor of pileup , the dealer of distress, the source of setback...

Enough RS, enough...

Is it Gopal or is it me? Gopal keeps mumbling about expecting this and more when starting on a saunter with me, while I point out that this never happens to me when I am alone.

Before proceeding further, let me give you our plans for the day. First, have a breakfast at Prantika (a restaurant in the market), then go down the market street collecting my shoe, Gopal's detergents etc.... Then we plan to go to Public Call Office (PCO, from where you can make STD and ISD calls, this was long before the availability of ubiquitous mobile phones) to make a call to Delhi, then come back at 11.00 and reach the theatre at 11.30 or so, see the movie, come back and sleep.

As far as plans go, this was a great one. But problem with plans is that they have other (plans). At least ours had.

Going to restaurant for breakfast is a big deal. You don't want to do a half hearted job. So we had very early dinner the previous day (in some parts of the world they call it 'Lunch') and were rapacious in the morning. In the place we stay, there is only one hotel, which is about two miles from the place we stay. We were intent on building our hunger and hence decided to walk the whole hog. By the time we reached the restaurant, we were ravenous, only to find....

The restaurant closed !

What to do? Gopal remembered one shop which sells delicious poories (fried pancakes). The shop was about half a mile from the restaurant. Having walked this distance, there was no point in taking an automobile for just half a mile, said Gopal. So we trudged to the shop, weary and almost worn out.

The shop owner politely and courteously informed us that he did not open the shop today. "Power cut", ses he. We should have guessed.

Any other hotel nearby which sells vegetarian food? No, but up there (he points to somewhere far, far away), there is a restaurant that serves both veg and non-veg, you could try there, he says helpfully.

So off we walk to the restaurant 'up there'. "Anything veg available for breakfast?", we enquire. No sir, we don't prepare veg food for breakfast. Can you prepare some for us?. Sorry, no vegetables.

What kind of answer is that? No Vegetables !!! Grrrr....

By now, it looks to me that the stars are not in favour of us this day. At this point we should've shelved the project and pushed off for home. But we are made of sterner stuff. We persevere.

The semblance of pride and amour-propre prevented us from raiding the 'Dhaba' till now. Dhaba is the place where hoi-polloi comes for tucking into their daily ration. We are above hoi-polloi and hence Dhaba was out of our plan. But these were tough times which called for tough response. We decided to throw caution to the winds and try the Dhaba. We hoped that none of our acquaintances acquaint themselves with us at the Dhaba.

Luckily this Dhaba is open and the food he served is delicious. 

Next is Bata for my shoes. Fortunately, the shop is nearby and hence we walk to Bata and you guessed it, the shop is closed !!.

"Blast it", I say, "The bloody shop should have opened at 9.30 in the morn. It is now 10 and the shop is closed mean that it is not going to open today"

Now I am as angry as a cat with a twisted nail. Add to that is Gopal's mumblings and his criticizing stare, as if it is all somehow my fault.

You know what is the problem with this world today? No self-evaluation, no introspection. Here was Gopal giving me the look that a dying aunt will give her nephew of ill repute, all the while ignoring the fact that the misfortune that we seemed to have been struck with may very well be his share. 

Unfortunately for me, he gets his detergents at the first shop that we go. The 'stares' have become unbearable.

Unreasonable, don't you think? After all there is only one Shoe Shop, while you can pick and choose your detergent shop. They are dime a dozen.

That is life.

As per our plan we should have been at PCO by now. However, we are about half a mile FROM the PCO. By now it doesn't even strike us that we could take a Public Transport if we wanted to. Half a mile is a kind of 'Trishanku' distance. It is either far enough to take a PT nor close enough to walk. We decide to walk to PCO. 

We reach PCO by 10.40, Gopal places a call to Delhi at 10.45 and finishes his call at 10.50. I place a call to Kerala at 10.55 and I get connected at 11.15.

Due to the disastrous telephone network that took 20 minutes to connect me to my destination, I have been held entirely responsible for all the ill luck that we have been having so far and that we will be having the entire day. 

We get out of PCO at 11.23. We can still make to the movie theatre if we try. But no rikshawwallas are on the road. We suddenly remember that today being Sunday there are a few popular TV Serials going on at this time of the day. To top it, there is also a Cricket Match between India and some god-forsaken African Country. "Blast all those cricket crazy rikshawwallas", Gopal's valve goes phut, "Who do they think they are? Donald Bradman? Gavaskar? Idiots, nincompoops. Someone should kick their butts with a 'Power' Shoe" ('Power' was the sponsor of the Indian Team)

Little unkind to the poor chaps, I think

Suddenly we espy a Rikshaw in the horizon, both of us sprint towards it. Just as we reach the Rick, another chap, who was hiding behind the bushes, jumps in and the rick takes off..

Gopal gives me one of those long, critical, meaningful stares. I stare back.

We find another Rick and we latch on to it for dear life. It is one of those ricks that has seen better days. The past was its prime. We goad the Rick driver to go at breakneck speed, which for the rick is the speed of a particularly slow somnambulist. To give you a measure of the speed of the Rick, let me just say that we managed to cover in 60 seconds, a distance that we would have walked in a minute. 

We managed to reach the theatre at 12.15. The guard tells us that the movie started at 11.45. 

No point in watching 2.5 hours of a 3 hour movie. Gopal, the ever prudent financier tells me that we would be losing 1/6th, almost 12% of the movie. It doesn't make sense.

Gopal mumbles something about 'Cost-Benefit'. I let it go.

We decide that we will see the movie that day, come what may.

To get a strategic advantage for the next show, we decide to go and have lunch in a very nearby restaurant. The objective is to get a jump-start on ticket procurement for the next show. We order parathas.

Just as I am about to tuck into some of the most delicious parathas that I have ever smelled, Gopal ruins it for me by asking whether I think the butter is rancid.

It wasn't. But it spoiled it for me.

Somehow we manage to finish the lunch (in total silence, if I may. I am mad at Gopal for that 'Rancid' question). By the time we come out of the restaurant and goes to the theatre, line for the next show is about half a mile long.

Fortunately (that was the only fortunate thing the whole day), we espy a friend with his wife waiting for the tickets. The ladies line is very short. The lady stands in line and procures tickets for us.

The movie turned out to be utter flop !!

05 August 2013

Some awesome PGW comparisons...

P G Wodehouse is the master of comparisons. Here are a few ones that I had noted down during my years of reading the great author.

"I ate with all the enthusiasm of a tiger in a jungle tucking into its ration of coolie"

"Like a camel arriving at an Oasis after a long journey through the desert"

"He couldn't have been more emotional if he had been a big shot in the foreign office and I a heavily veiled woman diffusing a strange exotic scent whom he had caught getting away with the naval treaty"

"Blasted slimey creeping crawling serpent"

"He looked like a small time gangster with a painful gumboil"

"She uttered a sound rather like an elephant taking its foot out of a mud hole in the Burmese teak forest"

"Legged it like a nymph surprised while bathing"

"His air was who, if he had said 'Hello, girls' would have said it like someone in Russian Drama announcing that Grandpa had hanged himself in the barn"

"The general effect is that of an angel that eats a lot of yeast"

"There are six types of hangovers. The broken compass, the sewing machine, the comet, the atomic, the cement mixer and the gremlin boogie"

"Cry so little stifled that it rang through the room like the death rattle of a hundred expiring hyenas"

"Set expression on my tense face, rather like a starving wolf giving the russian peasant a once-over"

"Madder than bullpup entangled in a flypaper"

"Fish faced trailing Arbutus"

"Gurgling like a leaky radiator"

"Being occupied for the nonce making voices like wounded buffalo"

Ode to my unknown friend...

Oh, my unknown friend,
At times like this I hope
You were by my side
Oh, my unknown friend

I long for thy company
For the fun and frolic
Be out of the dreary present
Oh, my unknown friend

You know me inside and out
Give me solace when needed
Lift me up when I am down
Oh, my unknown friend

I remember,
Mornings when we plucked flowers
Noon, when we ate the stolen fruits
The evenings at the park
Oh, my unknown friend

How I wish you were here
With your wisdom and wit
Sit with me and share the stories
Relieve me of boredom and ennui

Oh, my unknown friend

(This is a poem that I wrote in 1987, one year after graduation. I was bored in Durgapur when I wrote this)

04 August 2013

Rajeev goes 'Sanyas'

Rajeev is my neighbour in our hostel. He is an accountant and works in the Finance department of our company. Only thing that he does better than creating debits and credits is flirting.

He has good reason to (flirt). He is only 25, tall, dark and quite handsome with good sense of humour. Girls simply cannot resist his charm, and he doesn't want them to. He is an Aries and I am  a Sagittarius. According to Western Astrology, both these signs fight for numero uno position in zodiac for flirting. We both try to live up to that (we can't have astrology proven wrong, can we?) and this common passion makes us friends.

Not that I can hold a candle to Rajeev. When it comes to flirting, he is in a league of his own.

Rajeev had a field day during the recent Pujas. I couldn't go with him much since I was on duty all days. I managed to go with him only one day and I could not but marvel at the felicity with which Rajeev flirted. His approach never fails to impress me.

Durga Puja is a 4 day festival that Bengalis celebrate year after year. There is not much 'Puja' as such. A pundit steeped in liquor doing puja with old men and women watching with holy light in their eyes. And young male Bengalis (with a few exceptions like Rajeev and me) chasing beautiful Bengali girls decked in dazzling dresses.

Rajeev's method is simple. There we will be, Rajeev and me, watching with holy light in our eyes,  the pundit thinking that he is doing pujas. And after about 4 minutes we would have had our lifetime full of watching the pujas. Now we let our eyes wander. Our eyes always seem to stop at the female section of the crowd. Then we spot this beautiful girl looking at us (I mean looking at Rajeev. I am nothing much to look at). 

Now that our tired eyes have found a resting place, they decide to rest on that sight for a while. It suits us fine.

I look at Rajeev. He is shamelessly ogling this girl. She is also responding. I feel like a guy in a lesbian get together. (that one is from the series 'Friends')

Suddenly Rajeev pulls my arm. "Come", he says.

I look at him quizzically. He silently points ahead. 

I see that the girl and her friend have started walking. Frequently they look back. Rajeev is walking focused like a bloodhound after its prey. Finally he catches up with the girls and I hear that familiar jingle

"Hi, I am Rajeev Pandey"

That is his style. Rajeev's.

One day I came back from the plant a bit early only to see Rajeev sitting with a faraway look in his eyes. It is not often that one sees that kind of look. I was curious. I knew that he was supposed to meet ABC at that time.

"Hi, why are you still here?" I asked a bit ebulliently, "Shouldn't you be meeting ABC now?"

"To hell with ABC", replies Rajeev with uncharacteristic acerbity, "To hell with XYZ and JKL. To hell with all the girls of Bengal"

Even in his current state of bitterness, Rajeev is able to reel out the names of some of the most sought after girls in our community. One felt jealous of him.

But this is not the time for petty emotions. Rajeev is bitter. One need to get to the root of it

"What happened to you?", I asked, "Are you sick?"

"I was thinking", replied Rajeev with an Aristotelian touch. or something. 

"What exactly were you thinking? How to win a Nobel Prize?", I was satirical, if you see my jest.

"Your attempt at satire doesn't amuse me", Rajeev replied seriously.

I was taken aback. Something has happened. Otherwise he won't be talking like this.

"I am sorry for my amusing tone", replied I, "but tell me what happened?"

"As you know, today was a holiday. I got up at 6.00 AM and was getting ready to got out for meeting LMN. Then suddenly something snapped in me. What is the use of living like this, I asked myself. In the eyes of society I am a successful flirt (his eyes gleamed). None of the girls take me seriously. Some girls avoid my tracks. It is all my image. I have decided to change my image", he paused.

"What are you going to do in that direction? Change your hairstyle?" I could not help my flippancy.

A pained look came to his eyes. Raising his arms, he told earnestly "I beg you to be less sarcastic. This is what I have decided. I have decided to stop flirting.", he informed.

I waited for him to continue. 

"From today onward I am going to stop flirting and boozing. These are the two vices of life and they are inter related. From today onwards the people of society will see a new Rajeev. Whispers will be heard in various corners. 'What happened to Rajeev? I haven't seen him in the bar for some time. He seem to have changed', people will say. People will  look up to Rajeev to hear his opinion on various issues. I am going to do 'Sanyas' from today. You will see me only in the library all the time. 'No boozing, no flirting, only reading' is my motto from today", he announced.

(Good that Pujas are not due for another ten months, I thought to myself. I did not tell him though. Wanted to see how far this will go)

I felt like laughing. But the guy was so serious and earnest that I suppressed it.

From that day onwards, a subtle but definite change was seen in Rajeev. He was always found in the library reading books like 'A Brief History of Time' and magazines like 'India Today'. To his credit, he faithfully and sincerely kept up his rigorous regimen. Those girls with whom he used to flirt, he now avoided. At the most, he wished them 'Good Evening' and vanished into the library like a lemming into its burrow.  Rajeev started talking to me about problems in Gulf, the economical state of the country etc, which had me dumbstruck. This continued for over a month and I came to the conclusion that this guy had indeed undergone a lasting transformation.

One day I came back from the plant to see Rajeev sitting in his room with a depressed look.

"What happened? Are you feeling alright?", I asked, a bit concerned.

He didn't say anything. Simply stared ahead of him, the guy.

"What happened to you?", I persisted, now seriously concerned.

"That blasted Devan", he replied disconsolately

I waited for him to continue.

Rajeev took my arm and asked me fervently, "RS, tell me something. Haven't I stuck to my 'Sanyas' sincerely till now?"

I had to concur.

"Of course, you have. I have been quite impressed with the way in which you were carrying on", I responded

He hardly heard me.

"All these days I went only to the library. I used to read every bit of rot out there to distract my attention from the bar or the gaggle of girls giggling in the club house. I read about Indian' economy and gulf war and all the rot. To show them that I have changed, I used to go and ask them about deficit budget, balance of payment all all those terrible economic concepts (Rajeev winced at the thought..). I felt that I was making good progress." he paused.

"What happens? Today I am sitting in the library reading about the 'Use of computes in the education of primary school children - A study and assessment report from Kohima'. Devan comes in. With all of them setting there, you know what he did? He asked at the top of the voice, 'Rajeev, how is your affair with DEF progressing?'. That idiot. At that moment I saw my image - that carefully crafted new image -crumpling on the library floor. All due to that stupid Devan", he concluded the emotional outburst.

The next day as I entered the club hall, I heard the familiar jingle

"Hi, I am Rajeev Pandey'.