Saturday, September 23, 2006

Sandwiched between past and present

At Colaba, Mumbai, right opposite Café Leopold, Sandeep Sandwichwala (as he calls himself) remains standing whenever I see him behind his makeshift stall selling- you guessed it right- sandwiches. In that 1.5*1.5 sq foot space, Sandeep sells something like a zillion sandwiches per day. His clientele includes famished passerby’s, corporate bunnies looking for a working lunch, health conscious women (who till yesterday I used to refer as aunties, but day by day as I begin to understand the significance of calories, my respect for them, just like my waistline, grows),and of course, me. But amongst his most revered repeat customers are little kindergarten kids who have just about adequate molar capacity to gnaw away at his bread.

These fellows present themselves on the dot at 2:05 pm exactly 5 minutes after their final bell has sounded. They rush out of their school gate clutching a ten rupee note and present themselves before Sandeep Sandwichwala thrusting the note towards him eager to see ownership of the ten rupee note transferring soon.

Today as I partook of my miserly lunch of toast sandwiches, chaos, in the form of three children descended upon the shop. One to my left, one to my right and one almost went through between my legs. As they bartered ten rupee notes for sandwiches I tried in vain to recollect what the highest denomination was that I had ever carried to class 2 or 3. I still remember the errand of carrying a plate of Aloo puri worth Rs 2 back from the canteen for our teacher. I confess to the hideous crime of dipping my finger into the thick aloo gravy and tasting the rewards of being the class monitor.

Oblivious to my existence these three kids- lets call them C1, C2, C3, had been given a slice of cucumber each with salt sprinkled over it by Sandeep. C2 attacked it like a lion on its prey. C3 needed some persuasion by Sandeep and some egging by his ayya to devour his sample. No doubt he was the obedient boy following parental instruction that anything offered by strangers was bound to be some drug or the other. C1 spread his little fingers over the top layer of the cucumber slice and licked his fingers clean. After the top layer was cleaned, he dutifully searched if there was a middle layer or not as he spread his fingers over it again. This time as he licked his fingers I introspected on the mode of entry of my share of meal into the recesses of my stomach. With a napkin separating my fingers from the sandwich it was more refined no doubt but certainly less enjoyable. If only I could forget that my fingers carried billions of invisible germs that could jeopardize my already sensitive digestive system, then I could also take a leaf out of C1’s book and lick away at my fingers to glory.

After the cucumber slices came the much awaited sandwiches. C1 deplored Sandeep to spread more ketchup on his share. C2 and C3 did not request any such thing. I imagined that C2 just did not care. He was more interested in the sandwich. And C3 was too shy to ask. As soon as the sandwiches were presented to the famished lot they wasted no time in the Lords Prayer. C2 started on it like a man on a mission. Sides first; out of the way; one dig at the centre and a pause to blow air into the hot part; biting around the potato in the middle; till he was sure it had cooled enough; and then…the potato is no more! C3 moved back with his sandwich and sought the help of his ayya in tackling it. And as for C1, all the ketchup in Bombay wouldn’t have been enough for him. He licked around it, he licked on it, he licked even when the kechup was no more. He made me wonder if he really wanted any sandwich at all. And here I was, his age and size just barely yesterday, but just about 3 times his age and size today, and refusing Sandeep his offer of ‘Sauce?’ everytime he asked it before giving me my low calory nutritional input I call lunch these days.

As I fiddled with my wallet searching for change to pay for my sandwich I began running the afternoon schedule through my mind- a customer to visit, a dealer to call up an electrician to fix up for the ceiling fan back home. Looking at C1 taking a last respectful lick at the sandwich before devouring it, I began wondering what must be going through his mind. What schedule would he be running on? Lunch followed by a cricket session followed by snacks and TV; and then maybe a laborious hour in front of books wondering when all the education could end?! Hah…if he only knew what was coming!

And as I walked back to the cheerless confines of my cubicle thinking how much I wanted to rush through to my twenties, I understood why God made kids so innocent; because if they were half as smart they’d just refuse to grow up.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dummy’s Guide to the epic tale

Dummy’s Guide to the epic tale

Here's what I'm talking about

Flashback to the summer of ’99. Creative mind from class XI Section B, rotting in the chemistry lab pippeting some obnoxious fluid into a test tube while a long time crush is graduating from the neighboring girls school after ISC examinations. But help is around the corner- look-alike girl to the crush springs up outside the school gate. Creative Mind is in love again. Pent up creative juices yearn for release- Creative Mind begins to write his first love letter. Assumes a pseudonym- ABI he calls himself. Ropes in everything he has learnt thus far from the Darwinian theory of evolution, to electromagnetism to halogeneting ions to C++, to write a series of letters. The services of Indian Postal Service not utilized; instead a boy from class IV assigned the important task of shoving the letters through the open window of the school bus of the subject. The letters keep coming; the objective has changed. Every letter read out to the class before posting. Creative mind has fallen prey to public adulation.

Class XII, and equations have changed a bit. Creative Mind is now School Captain. His actions now attract more attention, both within school and beyond. Subject, now aware of Creative Mind’s identity, reads out letters in school assembly. Creative mind becomes the Audacious One. Writes more letters till the Subject begins to tire and refuses to accept any more. So the Audacious One plots with his coterie of friends and plans more mischief. Promises subject that the identity of the author to be revealed in the annual school fest. The Audacious One was to sneeze out loud before the Subject to reveal identity. Plan was to make the ugliest chap available to do the sneezing but the Subject plays spoilsport; she does not turn up for the fest.

Audacious One begins to feel bad. Creative juices piling up and exerting much force on the emotional reserves in the vicinity of the heart. The Audacious One is convinced- he is well and truly in love. Mankind witnesses the rebirth of the Creative Mind. He begins to write the biggest rhyming love tale ever. Amongst the academic inputs in this epic, Great Expectations (Estella) and Hamlet are the most over utilized. Creative mind builds up the epic while he prepares for ISC; quite conflicting interests both, but he manages well. But by the time he finishes writing the tale of love, he feels the strong currents have ebbed away. Creative Mind becomes the Wise One; he doesn’t post this last creation. Serves as a good work for friends to copy paste parts of, wherever it can be utilized. The Subjects whereabouts are unknown. Wise One still has a good laugh when he reads the last line of the epic.

Friday, April 14, 2006

As luck would have it

Many spend a lifetime walking with their shoulders protruded beyond biological obligatory limits in hope that they get to ‘rub shoulders’ with the girl of their dreams in some busy by lane of the metropolitan. And why not? Besides forwarding the not so convincing argument that such occurrences are anything but rare on celluloid, the probability of such an event happening is not at all scientifically implausible. After all if the male to female ratio is something like 1000:960 and with India’s booming economy being attributed to the huge pool of young earners in the country, it should then automatically follow that out of every 49 people you bump into on a busy street, 24 should biologically be females. And if India is really booming then for most of these 24 females, their biological clock should not have started to tick a day before thirty years back from now. That is of course if I make the ruthless cutoff of thirty as threshold of being classified ‘young’. This cutoff is obviously subject to periodic revision, with the next expected to be in some 7 years from now.

The long and short of it though, is that with despite the assurance of scientific plausibility, the ground reality is that you can batter your shoulders all day long bruising it beyond recognition; all you can hope to gain is an extended vocabulary listing under the heading of ‘profanities’. Not just here. Reflect. When was the last time you had a vacant seat next to yours in a public transport and wished dearly that a good looking female graced it. What would come out of it? Maybe nothing at all! But what the hell. Why can’t a decent looking female take it upon herself to occupy that seat next to yours?!!! And how many times has that seat gone a begging to either an aunty with a beastly kid on her lap or to a smelly, pot bellied, bald male dripping in sweat?!

Well I don’t know about you, but my track record in such disappointments has been an unenviable 100 percent. I met with no small pleasures in buses, trams, rickshaws, metros and if India were to have flying carts as a public transport system soon, then I’m sure that would be included here as well. I did, however, for a brief period believe that the law of averages had caught up with me when I was traveling alone on the Kolkata bound Rajdhani from New Delhi.

I had just finished my MBA and was returning back home after the convocation. In all the two years that I traveled back and forth between the two cities, my belief in the complete unrighteousness of lady luck when it came to arranging for companionship in public transport systems had been unwavering. So when I saw this good-looking chick (GLC) on platform number 5 of New Delhi Railway Station, I was unsurprisingly indifferent. There were two platforms that she could board the train from- platform number 4 or platform number 5. Even assuming that my guardian angel of romantic-liaisons-in-public-transport-systems finally woke up from his deep slumber; there was some 15-17 coaches to chose from. Although she was hanging about the same place that coach AS1 would come to a halt… no it was just too much to expect! Well I had booked seat number 56 that was the side upper berth in the coach, and if you’re looking to strike up a one-on-one conversation, it was the seat to be in.

So here I was, in mid April heat, with excess baggage adorning both my shoulders and waiting patiently for the Sealdah bound Rajdhani train to arrive at the station from the yard. It was already 4:30 pm, fifteen minutes past the time it was to have arrived. Pat came the announcement at 4:45 pm- the time it was slated to depart- that due to some technical difficulties, its maintenance check was taking longer than planned but it would arrive soon.

In the meanwhile though, I had kept myself sufficiently busy shooting casual glimpses towards the GLC, completely aware that I was unnecessarily bringing unhappiness upon myself, as another uneventful trip in a public transport system was inevitable. To compound the problem though, the GLC was shooting some furtive glances back to me as well. Every look of hers though acted dually upon me; first was to send ripples through my nervous system and the second was to cut into my heart as I remembered my unenviable history. Fortunately though I did not have to bear with the shooting business for too long as my train arrived on platform number 4. Almost at the same time the Howrah bound Rajdhani arrived at platform number 5. So without even turning back I boarded AS1 and seated myself on seat number 56. Soon the hustling and bustling for seats and spaces for luggage started and I carried the same indifferent, pensive, brooding posture looking out of the window that I had become so familiar with over the past two years on board the Rajdhani. That was until, like manna from the heavens, there filtered into my eardrums, “Excuse me. Is this bag yours?!”

Here was the GLC looking straight at me and here was I looking at her as if I had won a State lottery. Afraid of betraying too much emotion, I hurriedly placed my kit bag on the berth above, still unable to comprehend if it were happening for real. She had quite some stuff on her, luggages I mean. So I offered her my help with them like a chivalrous general as if I had been doing it for ages for the old and young alike. So she half pushed the bag inside and I half pushed it as well. That was when my hands brushed against hers and I politely said, “I’m sorry”. She looked deep into my eyes and replied, in a hushed undertone,” That’s quite all right. Thank You!” Right after that I did what I did not do for the past two years of traveling. I looked around the compartment if I could help out with the luggages in any way. Thankfully there was an old lady. So even though the luggage was light, I leapt up and offered her my services. The lady was so moved by alertness to the needs of the needy, that she almost pinched my cheeks in exclaiming, “What a good boy!” I saw through the corner of my eyes that my good deed did not go unnoticed.

Returning to my seat, my ego soared above the stratosphere as I half detected a little smile finding its way out through her pursed lips. She was looking quite Bong-ish to me, so I decided to make a quick strategic move. I flashed out my cell phone and dialed my mom’s number and started in crisp Bong. “ Ya ma… I have safely boarded the train and I…” The rest I wanted to leave to the GLC’s imagination so I moved swiftly to the exit. Having got down from the train and having finished the conversation, I moved towards the entrance of the coach where the confirmed listing of the passengers was displayed. The objective, obviously, was to check whether my brilliant move was justified. Sifting through the names I found that yes, number 55 was indeed a D. Basu, F 22. I wondered what that D could stand for- Dolly maybe?! Whatever the name maybe, that F 22 beside it, definitely gelled well with it. What’s more, I observed that right below her was number 56 K. Mazumdar F 26. I had almost started dancing for joy when I realized that seat number 56 was the one I was occupying. In disbelief I looked up the name again. There was no mistaking it. It was coach AS1, seat 56 and the name read K. Mazumdar F26. Now in obvious desperation, I rummaged through my wallet to find the ticket I carried. It read AS1 Sealdah Rajdhani seat number 56. The only problem was that the date was 13/04/2006 and the date my watched showed then was 12/04/2006.

So in a matter of seconds, the proverbial heavens came crashing down. All the witty one-liners that I had been practicing mentally disappeared to the recesses of my memory stack. Almost emotionlessly, I rushed back to the coach caught hold of my belongings and dashed out. I imagined I heard the old lady inquiring to the GLC as I just turned to make a quick exit, “Why is he leaving?” I couldn’t bear to stop and explain why.

I did catch the same train the next evening. I had for company in seat number 55, A Kaur F 42- and her two delightfully energetic children. Lady luck, it seems, has its own brand of twisted humor.