Friday, 25 May 2012

Fare Thee Well

Taking a farewell had always been child’s play. Accustomed as one was to transfers at the drop of a hat, one had got fairly used to the drill: solemn faces- marigold garlands (even if it did, on occasion, feel like a departure to the netherworld)-speeches-tea-modest gift, in that order. One usually made a crisp speech, consumed the biscuits (casting only a wistful look at the gulab jamun), and left with a cheery wave, the entire exercise spanning not more than thirty minutes. The senders-off, probably then relaxed with a relieved sigh and settled down to leisurely enjoyment of the snacks, interspersed with sage comments about the next incumbent being a jolly good type.

But the last farewell, after spending five years in Transport Bhavan, was a different cup of tea altogether. Initially, one had entered the bustling building with trepidation, imagining that the GOI deputation would be a tough grind. Reality belied expectations; it was rigorous incarceration, no less. After getting everything wrong initially, one cleverly resorted to asking complicated questions on each file. Needless to add, one’s unintelligible scrawl made the confusion worse confounded. But the team was unfazed and their never say die spirit ultimately prevailed, transforming what had seemed a hard labour camp, into a closely knit organization where interpersonal relations made all the difference. Net result—in five years, the battle/transfer hardened veteran, always ready with a packed suitcase, had softened into a sentimental soul.

Before you knew it, the time had come to leave. D-day dawned and the morning gently, albeit reluctantly, yielded to 5pm—in effect, farewell hour. The conference hall where one had attended innumerable meetings, even nodding off on occasion, was now the farewell venue. The hall was full but smiles were few. One tried to summon up the business like air which had hitherto been at one’s command but it turned out to be a surprisingly difficult task. The fault was entirely of one’s colleagues, soon to become erstwhile. They spoke so feelingly, it touched a chord in a heart that should have been its usual practical, unemotional self.

Put fair and square, one’s defences were singularly down. Prior planning of the farewell speech had not been done, on the lofty assumption that for a garrulous type like yours truly, this would be a cakewalk. Having delivered addresses and presentations galore, one was smugly sure of sailing through with a glib ‘We meet to create memories and part to preserve them.’ But alas! The throat closed up and the words struggled to come out. Everyone looked up expectantly, but instead of gregarious me, they found a red-faced tongue-tied individual. Mumbled thanks for the co-operation rendered and the speech was over even before it had begun. All the philosophical quotes expounding on one’s world vision were forgotten and one literally fumbled for words.

But all that is in the past. The old order changeth, so one became part of a new order and the months went by. Now the time has come for the referee to say game’s over—off the field! What is certain though is that one has lived unseen and unknown here and will definitely be unlamented after departure. For sure, this time round, both parties will have a song on the lips and nary a tear in the eye….    

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Of writers blocked

I must confess to being consumed by jealousy, the green-eyed monster, and the target of my envy is none other than Chetan Bhagat. No, not because he got into IIT and I didn’t. Well actually, ‘couldn’t’ would be a more appropriate word, because I cleverly opted for Humanities after passing school, thereby putting paid to all fond parental and sibling hopes that I’d become an engineer or doctor. But I have digressed as usual from the main point, so I come back to this vexing problem of why a sunny disposition like mine should harbour a grudge against Mr. Bhagat, when I did not compete unsuccessfully against him either for an IIT/IIM seat, or for the love of his life. Well, the answer is simple— I consider myself a rival for the affections of the Times of India. Sadly, TOI treats the articles that I enthusiastically churn out and coyly mail to them, in a true Mr. India manner, in that they simply vanish and are neither acknowledged, published, nor returned, whereas Chetan’s views are always (sniff) on the edit page.

And so it has come to pass, that inspired by the Priyanka- Kareena loving exchange of pleasantries, I, too, have been making catty comments about the one I envy. In fact, I came perilously close to penning an open letter to Chetan, asking for some useful tips on ‘How to write the right stuff.’ It is quite the fashion these days, for well-known individuals to write purple prose to each other, but since they are busy and absent-mindedly misplace the recipient’s address, the letters are dispatched to the media, which then very helpfully does the needful. But the catch here is, both must be prominent personalities and thereby hangs a tale, bringing me back to the original lament of being an unseen and unknown yours truly.

But what do you think; I have had a change of heart. Yes, jealousy the green-eyed monster has been conquered and only because I recently finished reading Chetan Bhagat’s latest novel, ‘Two States’. The book is a heart-warming narration of a simple problem and its complex solution. The deft style of writing and lightness of touch where it could easily have degenerated into heavy-handed melodrama are the reasons why it is a best-seller. I particularly like the bit where he talks of states dividing us all and since I belong to neither of the two concerned states, I thoroughly enjoyed all the jokes at their expense—which proves his point really. 

Chetan knows his numericals; whether it is ‘One night...’,’Two states’, ‘Three big mistakes...’ or ‘Five point someone’, and is sure to go laughing all the way to the bank this time round too, because this book is certain to become yet another Bollywood blockbuster!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

It's your call

The staff assigned to attend the telephone in government offices appear to have been trained in the same school of (mis)communication. You call up an officer; the peon receives the telephone and in a singularly bored tone, asks you your name, on receipt of which information he apparently goes into a state of mild shock since his voice disappears only to be replaced with another equally disinterested one. You bark out smartly ‘good morning sir’ to find that the legitimate owner of the second disembodied voice is the officer’s personal assistant, who, in highly suspicious tones, asks your business.

Being a veteran, he then proceeds to get your vital stats pronouncing himself duly satisfied only when you have divulged your passport details, PAN number, age, weight and extra marital liaisons if any. By now you’re feeling quite shifty-eyed, wondering when Interpol issued the red-corner alert. A series of classical melodies entertain you as you hang on to the receiver with clammy hands. The officer comes on the line; you stumble and stutter into fumbling speech and the discussion is over.

When an officer wishes to converse with his colleague, the ensuing conversation between their highly devoted personal staff is quite illuminating. First they coyly skirt round the issue, engaging in a guessing game about the relative urgency of the call. Then the velvet gloves are off; the first dutiful PS asks the seniority of the other’s officer. The latter may take offence and they will then wrestle around on the telephone ring, waiting to see who will blink. Till one of them turns decisive. Sorry, he shrugs, next time please call up from before to find out when you can call up again.

In the district, the style of receiving calls is perfected to a fine art. The telephone duty is generally a peon whose shift keeps changing. End result, he does not know whether he is coming or going. Even if fully alert and fancy free, he finds it too mundane to just press the buzzer and transfer the call. So the DM’s PA now enters the scene and proceeds to get his kicks out of third-degree interrogation. After establishing your credentials, he airily informs the caller that the DM is having a meal/ conducting a meeting/ busy with sundry tasks of earth-shaking importance …there are innumerable permutations and combinations and always a method in the madness. The DM, basks in a state of blissful ignorance about the tangled webs woven around him, till some candid soul tells him that he is about as accessible as a remote mountain peak.

At the end of it all, a hapless soul has two choices; either hang yourself by the selfsame phone cord or grit your teeth and go back to the awesome task of establishing communication. Good luck.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Uplifting experiences

My office is on the tenth floor and I have not been inspired enough by the fitness freaks to use the stairs, thanks to the pull of gravity on a lost battle of bulge which rules out walking up, and creaking knees that stoutly warn against attempting the reverse. I have therefore opted for the elevators, though I have to jostle for space with numerous women who get into the one going up even if they had to descend or vice versa, because this gives them the chance to catch up with the world and their aunt on the way. 

There are four elevators in this building and I have named them Speedy, Snappy, Grumpy, and Slow-coach. It stands to reason that I would opt for Speedy every day. Speedy does its job briskly and efficiently and even its doors clang shut with an air of professionalism. Alas, Speedy has proved to be devious by nature and cleverly given my floor a go-by. I would have had to chuck my ego aside and take the lift to and fro the ninth floor, if I wanted to make the nodding acquaintance blossom into a permanent relationship.

Instead, I toyed with the idea of showering my affections on Snappy, because it is the newest kid on the block, visits only the even-numbered floors and does so stylishly, to the tune of a peppy jingle. But being too smart by half, Snappy, has a spat with the lift operator ever so often, and then sulks all day in the basement. If brought back into the fray, Snappy insists on making a whooshing sound up and down, a sort of cheeky ‘My bad’ statement. How can you win allies if you persist in being irreverent is something no one has taught this brat.

That leaves me with the difficult choice between Grumpy and Slow coach. You might, at this point, stop to ponder about the similarity between Snappy and Grumpy, given the fact that their names are so similar. I must hasten to clarify that Grumpy is not given to fits of temper. It is always in a bad mood. For the life of me I have never been able to read the digit on the panel that indicates whether Grumpy is coming or going, and if so, which floor exactly it is gracing with its presence. Perhaps its sensitive nature has been offended due to muttered epithets uttered in its confines, but that can only be expected. If you do happen to favour Grumpy even one day, it thumbs its nose at you and stops at every floor, regardless of whether that floor has any takers. The tune belted out is melancholy and Grumpy draws a deep, shuddering breath every now and then, giving you the sinking feeling that you are about to join the netherworld shortly thereafter.

Ideally, Slow-coach should win the contest hands down with its consistent style of operation. It doesn’t have any moods, being stoic by temperament. The fan is slow and you are not subjected to gusts of cold or hot air that leave you shivering and sweating in the wrong season. There are sonorous announcements at every floor and the doors swing open courteously for every latecomer; our good friend frowns upon all expression of unbecoming haste. But the flip side to this abundance of dignity is that too much gravitas makes Slow-coach a dull boy.

At the end of it, nail-biting decisions stare me in the face every time I face the elevator doors. Whichever lift I opt for, I’m agonized by the thought that I could have been zipping up or down, had I but chosen any of the others as my friend, philosopher and guide. After stepping out finally, I invariably stop, swivel around and stare at their individual panels to find out the status, discover that as usual I had made the wrong choice, and then proceed to wallow in my own misery. The daily stress has become quite nerve-wracking. I think the solution to mastering these ten floors, is to enroll for a crash course in wall climbing with Spiderman. Either the course will take care of the daily problem or the crash will solve the issue for all times. 

Friday, 16 December 2011

Birds of a feather

Whoever coined the phrase ‘bird-brained’ ought to have his head examined. It goes without saying that the person must be the male of the species Homo sapiens; women would never have dismissed the opposition so summarily, lulling us into a false sense of complacency as it were, about our superiority vis-à-vis the inhabitants of the sky. This last is written with considerable passion after having waged a futile war with the romantic pair of pigeons that came home to roost---only their idea of home and mine clashed horribly. My open and transparent admission of my feelings did not deter them one bit from cooing in tandem, all the while gazing unblinkingly at me with ruby-red eyes.

I always knew I was popular; friends are forever flocking to my home to enjoy evenings of merriment. But how magnetic a personality I am was, alas, never fully revealed till very recently. Every morning there were tell-tale signs of our nocturnal visitors who left their calling cards in the balcony. Initially, I airily referred to them as shy denizens of the neighbourhood who hesitate to strike a conversation in the bright light of day. It became less and less a laughing matter when the volume and frequency of their unannounced visits began to take a toll on the general upkeep of their favourite pecking place. Light laughter gave way to clenched jaw, till finally the lady of the house progressed from a frazzled bundle of nerves into a hard-eyed foe of the romancing pigeons.

My first strategy was the use of shock tactics. Without warning, I’d spring into the balcony, letting loose blood-curdling yells. But every such action had the same reaction. Emitting squawks of disapproval, my feathered unfriends would rise high and settle down in the near vicinity, to glare reproachfully at me from a respectful distance. Needless to add, they inevitably winged their way back the moment Enemy Number One was out of the picture. Scream I, II and III thus fell completely flat; in any case, the family was always more startled by these piercing screeches and the birds only warbled in appreciation of the shrill pitch of voice.

Stage Two of the war of nerves commenced. I now attempted to run them off my property by brandishing a pelmet rod above my head every time I declared war. And I did it silently, sans the warning battle cry. The result was the same to a‘t’. Except that I almost gave a nasty gash with the rear end of the aluminum rod to hubby dear and he had rather a lot to say on the matter in his habitually forceful tone. It made me quail while the undivided objects of my affection smirked from their perch on the window sill, to which they had fluttered away in deliberate slow motion.

By now the grey matter was fully occupied with the task of out-witting and out-maneuvering. One concerted attempt was made to get the maintenance guys to install a grill but they were unmoved. Finally I decided that warm winter afternoons and pleasant summer evenings must perforce be relegated to the past. Using the best innovative skills at my command, I got hold of a gaudy bedcover and blocked the entire balcony entrance with it, doing a veritable song and dance a la Anarkali in the bargain. Sadly, the audience didn't comprise an adoring Salim. Suffice to say, at the end of the exercise, I could empathise with her walled-in feelings.

The one thing I could now be smugly certain of, was victory; the birds were sure to die of embarrassment when spotted haunting a home which displayed such garish colours. But there’s no accounting for taste. My morale was shattered when I spotted a familiar figure trying to sidle in through the brick-high space between two horizontal slabs of the balcony wall. I have personally found the space neither an architectural marvel nor the answer to a housewife’s prayer, but obviously the contractor was a closet ornithologist and it was of great use to some living beings who I-do-not-wish-to-name-but- whose-identities-can-be-guessed.

Tiredly I told my chappie to block the space with bricks, so he stole down in the dead of night to do the needful. A fleeting thought crossed my mind that I’d probably end up behind bars for appropriating public goods, but I was past caring by now. There was heavenly respite at last—and a halt to unwanted fly-by-night operations. I heaved a sigh of relief and since the thought didn’t seem to have struck anyone else, was lavish in praising myself for never giving up. The next morning I sailed into the balcony with a smile on the lips and cheer in the eye, to be greeted by a slumbering bird which flapped its wings in annoyance at this thoughtless intrusion. The selfsame creature then went unerringly to the edge of the violently pink bedcover and pulled it aside with its beak, finally exiting into the great blue yonder with a backward triumphant glance at me. In complete silence, I re-assessed my options and then put a brick on the edge of the bed-cover to fix it tight against the wall. I didn't bother to flash the Victory sign this time round.

Next thing I know is the patter of little feet on the false ceiling of my office chamber. I’m absolutely certain it’s the same dratted duo. After all, if they can carry Salman Khan’s love messages across hundreds of miles; why not fly a quarter of the distance to persecute the one who has hard-heartedly disrupted their lovey-dovey plans? I fancy I espied one of them yesterday, staring balefully at me from the office balcony, and am now waiting for the next close encounter with the featherweight champions. They will, undoubtedly, coo the last laugh!          

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Bijli chali gayi

This is neither an epitaph nor a tribute, as words can never hope to capture the effervescence and sheer liveliness that characterized Nupur—my chirpy and sparkling cousin, who, with her ready repartee and infectious laughter, brightened up any gathering, and succeeded in bringing a reluctant smile to the face of even the most serious souls.

But why say ‘bijli chali gayi’? Nupur’s dazzling complexion made her the cynosure of all eyes, and simultaneously, the envy of all the numerous cousins in our larger-than-life family. (In fact, it was during one such family wedding, that she earned this befitting sobriquet.) Coupled with a bubbling personality and an irrepressible zest for life, it led to her being compared to ‘bijli’ in more ways than one. During any family wedding, she would flit around the wedding arena, dressed in a bright pink or dark purple lehenga, laughing, joking, and pulling the leg of many a hapless individual. No sooner would the wedding procession led by the bashful groom arrive, than she—with the rest of us hovering around like coy companions—would greet them with the lively folk songs that characterize a typical marriage in Bihar.

The word ‘Nupur’ means the tiny bells on an anklet. And the gracefulness, with which she did the bamboo dance for Sports day in College, proved that Nupur had not been wrongly named. Her nimble footwork and agile steps enthralled all—so much so, that our Principal sought her out and specially congratulated her on her performance. This singular honour would have gone to anyone’s head, but Nupur, with her characteristic simplicity, just took it in her stride.

Basically, she was one mischievous kid. The nursery school she attended included, among other examinations, a test on how neatly a child ate his or her food. Nupur, all of six years old, was the first to finish her food, and, angelic smile firmly in place, shyly accepted the teacher’s compliments. With her trademark grin, later she confided that she had gently brushed aside all the remnants with her foot, so that they were found below the table of her unsuspecting neighbour.

As children, our main activity was to do a vanishing act at critical moments, so as to avoid getting caught for the mundane and humdrum household tasks, which are the bane of any summer holiday. This involved quick thinking, and Nupur was a master in that. Mysterious disappearance in the morning, and a silent reappearance in the afternoon, when Chachi was asleep, was the winning formula. Nupur would creep in quietly and smuggle out two large mango pickles before she was noticed and uncomfortable questions asked. If we were caught in some naughty endeavour, her quick-wittedness extricated us from the sticky situation and concomitant ire of a heavy-handed relative.

The mischief did not give way to sobriety even after she became an adolescent. My mind goes back in time and space to one classic occasion when she was traveling on rickshaw with her father, a professor by profession and a strict disciplinarian by nature. The rickshaw almost overturned on one horribly potholed stretch, and Chacha exclaimed angrily that she had almost knocked him off. “Papa, don’t give me ideas!” was the saucy rejoinder, vintage Nupur style.

Nobody could remain angry with her for long or even indifferent. Though during her illness, the sparkle was subdued, traces of the old Nupur surfaced every now and then, and one felt that nothing had changed much. If you were burdened with worry, she was ready with a smile and a joke to lighten up the moment and make you believe that this too shall pass.
It is now more than seven years since Nupur decided to leave us to our earthly pursuits. Her passing, for me, is the passing of an era--of laughter, of childhood pranks, of enduring innocence. Like a bird, she has winged her way to the eternal blue skies, while we grapple with the unvarnished truth—that there will never be another like her.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

You've got to be Dillogical

She had always had an unblemished record of efficiency but over the years, age had taken its toll. She no longer inspired confidence and looked worn out, even imbalanced, as though one shoulder was higher than the other. Worse still, there was a distinct asthmatic wheeze which escalated into a rattling cough, when performing the smallest task. It was all very distressing but everyone glossed over it, not wanting the question to be raised, as to why at all she was still around. 

But sooner or later all hell was bound to break loose. The irritant became a full-blown crisis one day, when she seemed to have had a complete breakdown. What was appalling was that she had even forgotten all the instructions given! ‘A classic case of short term memory loss’ I joked to the spouse as his brows drew close in a familiar frown. The line, which normally never failed to evoke a smile, fell completely flat and he left the room muttering something about not putting up with the situation any longer. I thought this was it—finally. My mind went back over the last several years of our association. The children had been so delighted when she first joined the household. How had the deterioration taken place to this extent that we were now forced to move on?

I decided to try and reach out to her one last time. With infinite patience, though that has never been my forte, I tried to coax some response. My efforts seemed to be stonewalled initially, but I persisted, my confidence growing by infinitesimal bits. There was one faint positive reaction and then the final breakthrough. The problem was nothing more than slight fatigue in coping with additional physical burden, and some amount of memory slippage. I announced triumphantly to the spouse that the secret was to be patient and not start banging your fist on the table, upsetting the fragile balance even more.

That was the only understanding the old lady had craved, but we were too impatient and busy to read the signals correctly. However, empathy had won the day and declared me the winner. It was a Eureka like discovery in terms of diagnosis and treatment, and ridiculous in its sheer simplicity—keep only one sheet of paper in the paper tray and give a command to print only one page at a time. Armed with this sure-shot formula for victory, I printed out the 60 pages of my daughter’s assignment, well in time. The pages came out crisp and without a crease, with every line in sharp focus—a very smart looking document in all.

And thus will our grand old lady, the HP DeskJet printer live on, to teach many an impatient younger generation about being intuitive rather than only analytical—and more importantly, that the old are more than worth their weight in gold.