7

Its All About Sammy

A few years ago I first visited the land of the Star Spangled banner. I had re-connected with a close school friend, Buddy, after a gap of a mere half century. She was class topper in every subject and extra curricular activity. After graduation, she went to the US for further qualifications, and settled there. My holiday plans were excitedly discussed, and we both looked forward to spending quality time together.

Rather an irritating fly, in our present ointment, which sadly couldn’t be swatted away, was Sammy, Buddy’s husband. They had met while both were students in the U.S, and married soon after. Sammy was the original grass-roots scholar, from the wilds of obscure erstwhile Uttar Pradesh. Buddy’s father had been a ‘Boxwallah’ of yore, working for a Multinational company. The couple was as alike as dhal and rogan josh.

Sammy, if you blinked while crossing him on the street, you might not register his passing. This little person, eyes, small and beady, glinting behind rimless glasses. He was the self-proclaimed Fount of all Wisdom, firmly ending every discussion with, “I know because, ‘They Say’!” This, “They Say,” I eventually learnt, alluded to Uncle Sam. He seemed as ashamed of his bucolic Indian roots, as much as he struggled with assimilating mainstream Yankeehood, down to his painstakingly nurtured, execrable Yankee twang. This slipped ever so often, to straw-sucking, original bucolic Hinglish!

Sammy had two favourite pastimes. Increasing his wealth and guarding his health. His parsimonious nature may have been from a frugal childhood. But caring about his health was his special passion. I oft wondered how Buddy married him, he was such a self-opiniated bore. Within a few months of getting back from my U.S holiday…tragedy struck. Buddy passed away, losing an overnight battle, with a hitherto undetected malignant tumour. I had kept in sporadic touch with Sammy. So, when he came to India a few months later, he wanted to visit Bangalore. Remembering Buddy’s affectionate hospitality, I instantly agreed. That is the rest of my story.

My frail, elderly mother had been dragged willy-nilly into Sammy’s proposed entertainment. I threw her way, various proposed topics of discussion with him—Indian politics, classical Indian music, and his remaining connections to India. Sammy had decided that our city was not his scene.It was polluted, the sky shrouded in a grey haze, garbage heaped all over the roads, traffic a killer, and more of the same. His opinions about Bangalore were amazingly out of line. Considering his Indian home base Gurgaon, was an arid, unsafe, moonscape, lurking with hirsute, testosterone-overloaded examples of Indian male-hood, strutting on potholed roads leading to glass-encased office blocks. I decided that I might do better to take him out to nearby coffee growing country. Then on to Mysore, a classic heritage city. Concluding with a climb up to the Blue Hills of Ootacamund, where he might still be able to snatch some glimpses of the erstwhile British Raj.

Hotel bookings needed Sammy’s Passport information. He was aghast that I had asked for such high security details online. How was I to know that the world, their wife, and their pet parrot, were waiting for a chance to hack this information from the Web? “Now you even know my actual age!” he joked. I wasn’t able to read his humour, “You don’t look a day older than eighty” I wrote back! Sammy arrived. Getting down from the cab, smiling widely at me, he said, “Cummon, give me a hggg!” Duh? Stood I, deciphering his Americanese a few seconds later, to mean “Hug.”

The day after Sammy’s arrival, I ticked off the first item on his tourism agenda, taking him to our local club, having also invited some friends to make up the Sammy entertainment committee. Dress code was jacket and trousers, shoes and socks too, I had warned him. Sammy emerged from his room, looking dulcet, in a deep rose-pink, hand-knitted , woollen waistcoat. I surreptitiously looked down to his shoes, hoping that I wouldn’t be in for a further shock, in finding his feet in socks to match his pullover. They weren’t! He looked expectantly at me, I tried ignoring that pullover! ‘Rose pink,’ when on the shady side of sixty? He also had, slung snugly across his chest, a bag of ‘briefcase’ proportions, that most tourists to Third World countries consider a necessary accessory. As he rather lacked in inches, this accessory flapped knee length, rather than trendily hip high. “Why phor that?” I asked. My Hinglish was immediately understood. “Oh! My bag? I always carry my passport on me when I travel, plus a few medicines, a hand towel and a change of clothes. It isn’t safe to leave an Amrikan passport in my room in India. Since his present room was in my house, chemists were a dime a dozen all over Bangalore, we were going in my car, and no rain, nor a flood forecast for the next few hours, the bag was wholly unnecessary to complete his charming ensemble! I let his implied insult wash over me. I pithily informed him that there was nobody at home who was desperate to nick his passport. Adding in my inimitable, best diplomatic style, that with that bag slung over his shoulder which announced, ‘tourist’ ripe for rich pickings, he might as well have slapped a label on his forehead written ‘U.S.A Citizen,’ ! He pretended not to hear me! We ordered our drinks. What needs must Sammy do? On a cold January evening, he asks for it on the rocks. This addition to his drink had an unfortunate effect on Sammy’s delicate constitution. The next morning he awoke with a tickle in his throat, and no amount of ginger infused beverages or, rinsing his throat with saline gargles, helped. A day after, he woke up saying that he might need to consult a doctor before his tickling pharynx turned worse, or the bug decided to emigrate to his lungs!

Keeping in mind the dire possibility of cancelling our entire trip, scheduled departure for the next morning, my fingers went into over drive. I fixed an appointment with a reputed GP. Sammy heard the doctor was female, and immediately announced that she wouldn’t suit him. I asked him if his throat and lungs felt shy of being examined by a lady doctor. After a bit of humming and hawing, it was revealed that his plumbing too was playing up. Not to worry, said I matter-of-factly, to a by now very squirmy Sammy. A common complaint for men not exactly on the threshold of youth! He paled, as if I’d dealt him a blow to his solar plexus. Verdict? No biopsy, no throat swab for culture, in fact, no life threatening drama. We returned home, and a shattered Sammy retired to his room, without eating even a morsel of the khichdi that my mother had made. He said that he was quite exhausted after the morning doctors’ visits, and needed to recuperate. Considering that it was I who had done all the running around at various doctor’s clinics. I stared. He ignored. Sammy awoke from his recuperative siesta, and after drinking a cup of restorative ginger infused tea, wondered if we could think of postponing our departure by a day, as he hadn’t been able to sleep very well the previous night. I took the reins firmly in my hands then. No, we couldn’t postpone our departure, not least because I had planned for the house painting to begin when we left, that our hotel rooms were all booked and paid for, and, but left unsaid, that my mother had by now run out of topics of conversation.

Departure day dawned. The hired car arrived, the baggage loaded. The foot wells in steerage were packed to the gunwales–with bottled water, home-made sandwiches, hygienically packed and branded Indian snacks, et al. I had made a bit of the back seat my nook, leaving the best seat in the house, the front one, for an honoured guest. Sammy reached the car, had one look at the seating arrangements, and threw a fit. Now what, I thought.
“Why am I being seated in the front?” whined Sammy.
“Because, it’s the best seat in the house,” I said.
“But I want to sit in the back with you, so we can chit-chat, and I can do some reading.”
“Well, there’s no leg room in the back, neither space on the seat, as you may have noticed. You can read equally comfortably in front. Besides, I’m not really a ‘chitty-chatty’ traveller.” And saying so firmly, our travels, and my travails, commenced.

Sammy sulked, and sat in the front seat, I relaxed and lounged in the back. We had barely traversed the city when, travelling through a seedy locality, Sammy told the driver to stop at any Restroom. Ah! Sammy’s plumbing again, I guessed! Sammy returned, I didn’t ask him about the condition of the Restroom…some things are better left unasked in my country! We continued, till we stopped for a coffee break, and drove on to coffee country. He approved, and how, about the verdant and hilly district.
“I’m looking at blue skies, breathing in rich, fresh air, for the first time since reaching India!”
I shrugged, looking relieved, that Sammy approved of my motherland.
“Now my lungs will clear up, and I’m sure I should soon feel better.” So, it was all about his health, and nothing more!

In hospitable Indian style, my friends and relatives invited Sammy to visit and share meals as well. They said that they would also show him the local sights. But my hopes of handing him over to friends, for entertainment, were dashed. Sammy didn’t want to do any ‘sight seeing!’
“I like people, I like interacting with people, what’s with looking at scenery and views?”

In translation this meant, that he wanted to continue his verbal diarrhoea with my friends, relatives and countrymen, and which ailment he didn’t want treated. His was not a bubbling personality, nor was he famous. So what prolonged interaction could he expect from my friends, all them strangers to him. I had envisaged this trip to also be a culinary experience for him, along scenic drives. His opening lines at eateries would invariably be, “I hope the food wont be spicy, or have too much oil?” “Do they make it fresh for customers here, after we place our orders?” This last query, after he had ordered for a portion of lip-smacking biryani, a dish that normally takes some prolonged cooking.
I hastily informed the hovering waiter, in the local lingo, “This customer is an Indian, but believes that he has attained Nirvana as he left our country, and now is as American as his bag announces. Do please get him his order, as you normally cook it in your kitchen.”
Before Sammy could ask me, I translated my dialogue with the waiter, explaining to him that I had passed on, his specific dietary restrictions in minute detail, to the Chef! I did not expect to go to Heaven anyway.

Mysore was next. Worse was to follow, after reaching our modest, but squeaky clean hotel, late in the evening. I desperately needed to hit the sack. I was exhausted with our travels within coffee country, and preempting Sammy and his high NRI, critical expectations. The hotel where I had booked us our rooms, did not measure up. He came to meet me in the lobby for dinner, looking decidedly unhappy, a frown pinned on his face.
“I don’t like this hotel. My bathroom has naphthalene balls in the wash basin and shower areas. Can you call ‘Housekeeping,” and have them immediately remove the poisonous balls?”
“Hmmm! ‘Moth balls.’…So?” I distractedly responded. I failed to understand that I was treading on dangerous ground. Of Sammy’s blind faith and belief in the ‘they say’ horror, of breathing in potentially fatal naphtha fumes.

I, casually, “The moth balls are placed, just to prevent cockroaches from climbing out of the drainage. If you don’t like having these in the bathroom, just flush them down the toilet.”

Sammy, ominously, “Must I do so myself? And then how do these get disposed off after flushing?”

I, silkily, “This being a small hotel, the housekeeping staff would have long since gone. As for the route taken of the usual contents of toilet bowls, I will have to enquire from the local sewerage board about their city’s underground sewer maps.”

Saying so, and Sammy not noticing the last but one straw on this camel’s back, I marched with him to his room, yanking his room key from his nerveless fingers, my fast vanishing cool, already at boiling point. I strode into the bathroom, picked up the moth balls, and threw them down the toilet bowl.
“Now, Sammy if you wish, you can search for another hotel. I don’t want dinner. I am off to my room. I need to sleep!”

The next morning, he appeared at breakfast. Very much in residence, I disappointedly noted. The moth balls had not done their job! He didn’t move hotel. I added, that if he wished he could move, but I would not. Later, he accompanied a cousin and I, on our tour of a select few museums and monuments. He was not impressed. He did not evince more than a passing glance at the beautifully sculpted Italian marble statues, of the erstwhile Mysore Royals, that dotted the City Squares and heritage buildings. I soon gave up, and decided that we may as well move up and on, to the Blue Hills of the Nilgiris.

Sammy’s day, come rain or shine, couldn’t commence before noon. You see he had this set routine which he strictly adhered to, including a few visits to the toilet. I humoured him, even if I felt that half my own day was over by noon. The car was loaded and awaiting our arrival. There was another valiant attempt at an announcement by Sammy, to nobody in general, but to me in particular, at the commencement of our journey to Ooty.
“I don’t know why you insist that I sit up front, in the most dangerous seat in a vehicle. When Buddy and I used hired cars during our India visits, we always sat together in the safe back seat.”
I quashed this feeble try, with a “Well, I am not Buddy, and we could switch seats, I will move up front, to the dangerous seat. Lest you begin to think that I have evil plans of your speedy disposal under mysterious circumstances!” I had actually, had a few fleeting dreams of just something like that happening, to cut short a trip with this trying man. But Sammy wasn’t to know that. Our Bangalore house painting was not over, so I had to carry on.

We reached the Ooty Club…..a beautiful Englishy island in the haphazard town that now constituted Ootacamund. In the delightful garden and flower beds, werecplanted vibrantly blooming flowers, trailing climbers of white wisteria, yellow rambling rose and the pale, sweetly perfumed, mauve of lavender. The skies were blue, the evening crisply chilly. Finally, the food in the Club’s dining room, served by impeccably uniformed, and well-trained waiters, met with even Sammy’s reluctant approval. I looked to just vegetate in these surroundings, book in hand, lolling in front of a blazing log fire. But fate intervened. As we were about to retire for the night, I had a call. My mother had fallen and suffered a fracture. Surgery was scheduled by noon of the following day. It was a six-hour journey to Bangalore. So I explained the situation to Sammy about wanting to reach her bedside before she was wheeled into surgery. We had to leave before daybreak…about five in the morning. Or else, he could always stay back in the Club, and return later to Bangalore, as scheduled?
Sammy said that he would like to be in Bangalore to help me out. He could rush though his routine and be ready by ten the next morning
I told him I was leaving by five in the morning, and arranging for a Club approved cab for him to travel later, at a time suiting his convenience. Sammy blanched, he gulped, but agreed finally to my suggestion. Next morning as I was leaving, Sammy called from his room.
“Are you ready to leave already? I was thinking. How can I let you travel alone to Bangalore, under such circumstances? Also, is it safe for me to later travel alone, in a strange cab?”
That straw had finally broken this camel’s back! Hanging on tenuously to my temper, I hissed.

“The cab company is guaranteed by the Club. Whether the driver might have this fatal attraction for your charms, Sammy, he has to guard his reputation. So, all things considered, I guess you will be alright. He might just make a few passes at you!”
Sammy was ready and packed in ten minutes. We set out for Bangalore, and home together!
The trip had been thankfully, cut short. I helped Sammy pack and moved him to a hotel for the night. We parted friends, since he wasn’t aware of how close to nearly getting strangled he often was, during our travels. Sammy returned home, not necessarily to his roots, soon after that trip.

Sammy’s Utopian adopted country isn’t as rosy anymore without sheet-anchor Buddy, but he’s back there, living his lonely nuclear life.
I recently had a call from him.
“Hey! Guess what? A college friend of Buddy’s, now settled and retired in Australia, has asked me to join her and her husband over Christmas, on a road trip through Oz and New Zealand?   ”
The poor, unsuspecting souls……..

3

His Last Hurrah

As the Bard might have said, he entered this world, a mewling, puking infant…but he hasn’t stopped since. He has a perpetual scowl, his eyebrows seem never to get enough of each other, they are always meeting above the bridge of his nose. As for his lips, they emote, and out of his mouth pop his latest grouse against, and these are myriad, the world. “What did my father leave for me, for my future? Neither land, nor legacy, nor lucre! Just education!” Yes, he was educationally qualified, but found no suitable employment. I refer to Full Stop, my grandfather’s Last Hurrah, his sixth and final child.

Thereafter began Full Stop’s quest for that perfect job, commisurate with his status in society, as also one which had to be tailor made for him. Nearing seventy today, he’s a trier, he is, he sporaidically keeps hunting for that job. He never really felt any need to find work. He’s all his life been in the enviable position of being a ‘kept man.’ Kept in clover, kept with a suitable roof over his head, kept with clothes and more on his back, and kept with three full and square meals daily. He has large hearted and generous siblings, all of whom contribute to this existence. From his dual SIM Card cell phone, his idiosyncratic ways, his irresponsible responsibilities, and his crass disloyalty to them, collectively. They do, only because he is the cross that their beloved eldest sister has to bear, by her own self-inflicted guilty admission! He is there, because she is, the mantle protecting his moving shadow. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this fact hasn’t even remotely struck him, he doesn’t have deducing powers. From cradle to grave, he thinks that it is his god given right to have his family take care of him. The cherry on the cake was, when very recently this very sister underwent a life threatening surgery. Full Stop was told that while pre-op tests were being run, he had to do the hospital patient’s night shift for two days prior to surgery. All he had to do was watch television in her room, and ring the bell for Nurses if required. The day of surgery dawned, and Full Stop was in a very delicately shattered situation. All of us were in various stages of nervous anxiety, while he tottered out of his sister’s room, saying that he hadn’t been able to sleep a wink the previous two nights by his sister’s bedside. He was on the brink of a total collapse. The diagnosis? He had irresponsibi-litis, and was summararily told to take himself home. He lived, and laughed himself to his next layabout day! I wouldn’t be human if I say that I would like to be that fly on the wall for his rude awakening in the not too distant future, when this gravy train dries up! Even angels are human, and have a shelf life.

Barely a few years after his umbilicus was cut, than he became an uncle, to his oldest sister’s daughter. So, as the youngest of six siblings, this new entrant, quite stole his thunder, by being the first grandchild to his father. Full Stop barely had three or four years to bask in the limelight, before the arrival of this, his first niece. No sooner had she arrived, barely a year on, came his other sister’s daughter. Never mind that there is photographic evidence, in Kodak Black and White, of a boy aged about four or five years, lying on a bed, working his furious way through a half litre of milk,fingers wrapped firmly around the bottle in contented bliss. In the same frame is a little girl, his toddler niece, looking on in amazement, it seems, to see this hulk, drinking milk out of a bottle, and slurping it too. Full Stop was indulged at every turn, is what I am getting at, never deprived. Well, Full Stop never quite succeeded in whatever he turned his hand to, and every failure of his was usually laid at the door of his mother, who he was convinced, neglected him entirely, because his older sisters had chosen to get married and steal his thunder, by presenting his parents with their first grandchildren. As for his father, that kind and and loving man, who never turned anyone away from his hearth and board, even if this good nature left the old man with very little to leave as legacy to the Gen Next, nobody minded. Barring Full Stop. Later in life, he usually graced the home of his oldest sister, or one of her long sufferring progeny. He expected all this as his right from each of his siblings, solely because this was how it was meant to be. He was living on their charity, only because of the love and gratitude that they harboured towards their parents. Sadly he never thought so, he didn’t have that much intelligence, just native cunning.

In Full Stop’s early years, his first passion was cricket, close upon this game’s heels was his second, whining. By the time Full Stop plodded through school, scraped into university, and eventually graduated, even if not quite suma cum laude, to his passion for cricket and whining, was added his obsession for body building and Marxism. His scowl rarely slipped, nor his grousing. Many a time did he land a job. It was no secret that it wasn’t his qualifications that got him this, but the earnest behind-the-scene pleadings of a kind relative or family friend, calling in a favour. At his job interview, he would lay down his terms and conditions. Among others, these were that he should be permitted to play cricket matches whenever he was called upon to do so by his team. Also that he be permitted to attend those body-building classes where he was honing his eight packs to dethrone the Mr.India of the day. If the lazy layabouts at work muttered and grumbled to him about having to earn their minimum wage and pull their weight, he would be Karl Marx himself, fighting for their laggardly Cause. Small wonder then, that within some weeks, he would call it quits, and announce to the family that he could not take any more of his employers whims and expectations. Rarely was he sacked, he would throw his resignation in their faces, or so we were told. It was at one time his burning desire to find himself a pretty heiress to marry, so he too could add to the gene pool of the future generations of his illustrious family line. This scheme of his, was thankfully nipped by the family, unanimously and smartly, in the bud.

To get to the present. Life was good for Full Stop. He got to watch television till the wee hours of the morning, slept, woke up refreshed about noon. A quick shower, then, laid out on the dining table, breakfast at around 1 by the clock. In his trail would be an unmade bed, clothes piled higgeldy-piggeldy around his unswept room, pools of soap suds and water on the bathroom floor, his used plate and dirty dishes in the sink, and the half read newspaper in an untidy heap near the couch. There were some tasks that perforce, he had to perform. One of these being walking the family dog, with strict admonitions never to ‘take it past that garbage heap around the corner.’ This was also the time for his evening smoke, shooting the breeze with passing acquaintances, cribbing to them about his lot in life, slave-driving ex-employers, an uncaring and unhelpul family and the prospects of a likely job. By which time he would have unthinkingly walked past the out of bounds garbage heap. Unluckily for Full Stop, he was once actually jerked out of his nicotine high, by the sounds of agitated canine yelps, interspersed with angry porcine grunts. Before he could blow another smoke ring, he saw trundling at great speed towards him and his canine charge, a very irate mamma pig. The earth shook beneath her cloven hooves, an assortment of rotting fruit and vegetable peels hanging drunkenly from her head and stuck at random over her body, her udders swinging wildly, did not deter her determined charge to save her grunting piglings from sure deccimation. She thundered towards man and dog . Full Stop, jerked into self preservation mode, first yanked up by its collar, the by now hysterical dog, and then shot off his starting blocks at goodly speed. He was unfortunately not fast enough, and felt the thud of a snout at his heels, the tearing of cloth, and the sting of a smart nip at his ankles. Her maternal instinct assuaged, the pig ran out of steam and slowed to a stop. By this time dog and man were a speck on the horizon. Full Stop got home, expecting to be rewarded and praised for his heroics with the irate porcine. Imagine his dismay that he not only got an earful at home, about jeopardising the life of the loved dog, but was actually ticked off at his irresponsible actions. Now, he was angrily chastised, the family had to bear the expenses of getting him medical treatment. That much for gracious and loving relatives.

So, Full Stop, seems to have taken a vow to teach the family a lesson they will not forget. Anytime he’s asked to run an errand or shoulder some family responsibility, his reply is, “I may not be able to help out. You see I have a job interview in the offing…”

One sample was enough, then god threw away the mould. It takes all sorts to make this world, no less than The Lotus Eater, whose name is Full Stop…

0

Exodus

An old Post…in memory of a beloved father!

Coffee Berry Tales

The parents had temporarily migrated to the cooler climes of their country seat. We had made our home together in the city. So, I was on my own till their return, at the end of their mandatory two months.

My father, now a nonagenarian, and a retired Indian Army officer, who had seen action in World War II, was naturally of the Old School, and spent his time between his coffee plantation in a neighbouring coffee growing district and our home in the city. For his two month sojourn, my father packed more files & documents, usually in triplicate, than the Honorable Central or State Government Ministers & their entourage’s combined laptop memories!

The day of my parents’departure was a sight to behold. My father, always carried two large, unwieldy soft-top suitcases, each securely fastened with a railway travel type chain, complete with 9 lever [original] Godrej Navtal lock. Also,approximately…

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12

Dusshera Devi

I was away on a break from my humdrum existence. I was still floating on cloud nine, having recently returned from a long holiday in the Land of Hope and Glory. In that country, as in most of the developed world, everything worked like clockwork. Right from the time when, if you called their police for help, or just by dialling ‘911,’ for any other sort of emergency. It was a given that you received a response within minutes of your call. Government mandatory documents or payments are online. No time-wasting tramps to government offices, begging and beseeching the powers-that-be, to release the requested documents to us as the bonafide applicants. All transactions are lucidly transparent, and the exact amount is expected to be directly paid online into government accounts. Ho! Hum! If such practices were followed in India…then life would be really boring, I am guessing.

I put away my memories of recently visited rose-tinted economies. Sigh! Unfortunately, I was forced to make a visit to one such den of Indian inequity,the Regional Transport Office. This department is second in line in infamy, only to the top-of-the pops-land-deals Department of Revenue. Girding my loins, I resolutely set out that day. A less doughtier soul than I, might have had second thoughts on entering the hallowed portals. Not me. I reached my destination. Before me stood this multi-storied, decrepit building, complete with it’s ubiquitous embellishments of peeling plaster, fungoid paintwork,and broken windows and drunken doors hanging rakishly askew, on their rusty hinges.The building had “government office” writ large upon it, in invisible ink.

I needed to visit a department on the top floor, and not seeing a lift, I trooped up the narrow, winding staircase, with broken and chipped treads.En route I was accosted by dubious looking men, asking me,”Medaam! You want DL renewal, RC book updation, address proof, change of address yaanyting alse, I can do.” These were the “Yaygents”, in the local language, “Agents”, if you like, in the Queen’s English.They were the life blood of such offices. If you wanted any routine endorsement done on your Transport Department documents, these were the Fixers. They completed the job in under the given time-frame…for a hefty commission. Multiple visits were unnecessary, nor rubbing shoulders with the milling millions. Short of changing your country of birth, your ethnicity or your face, everything else was taken care of. Sweeping the dubious aside, I continued my climb. I meandered past grimy walls, pan stained corners, garbage strewn spots, even a locked door, with a sign proclaiming it to be a “Public Toilet.” Fleetingly I wondered why the powers-that-be wasted their time in hanging such a sign.In most instances our noses lead us unerringly to such public conveniences. As to why these toilets, meant for the public, needed to be locked, that was beyond me. By the time I reached the third floor, I was hot, and very nearly, bothered.

On an earlier visit to this office, I had handed in a document for renewal. Sweating humanity, all male, milled about me. Various ripe odours assailed my nostrils. Of the great unwashed, of sickeningly overpowering, locally manufactured, “Old Spice,” cologne, or of what somebody might have eaten earlier that day, for breakfast! I stood in the scraggly line, an apology for a queue, to break into which, many of my countrymen take pride upon themselves to frequently do. There is no such thing as “your personal space” in public spaces, in our country. Maybe because our population exceeds a billion, maybe because our’s is a true democracy, and “your space” also belongs to the “publics,” again, as said in local parlance. I had all my supporting documents for the renewal, neatly compiled, pinned together and had gone to the correct department and the exact counter, to hand it over for processing. My turn came, the self important ‘Case Worker’ behind the counter looked up, then beyond me. He saw that I was not accompanied by any likely looking ‘Yaygent,’ and promptly lost interest in me, as I was not a potential contributor to his secret retirement fund. Mr.Self Important leisurely engaged in light-hearted banter with a loitering colleague, answered a call on his mobile, solicitously enquired of his caller, “Thindi aiyata”, which would loosely translate into, “Hello! How are you?” He ignored me. I stood my ground. He eventually decided I had been made to wait a fair amount of time, and curtly asked for my documents. Handing them over, I waited. He read. The next moment my papers were flung back across the table to me. In thunderous tones I was informed that as my documents were not properly pinned together, I was merely wasting his time, apart from preventing him from carrying on with his work. I realized that my mouth had fallen agape at this unexpected tirade, so I hurriedly instructed my jaw to shut it. I gathered the by now scattered pages, to rearrange the sheets. I was trembling at this unwarranted censure, trembling with rage, at a public servant’s shameless greed and frustration at my not being his pigeon for easy plucking. In loud and very clear tones I demanded what Mr.Self Important thought of himself by his outrageous behaviour, considering his pay packet was the fruit of my hard work and taxes. Since by then I had exhausted by meagre command over words in the local language, and yet having many mouthfuls to spew at Mr.Self Important, I continued, in full spate, in English. I informed him that his job was to serve us, the members of the ‘Publics,’ for which he was suitably compensated, and not to bully us in a bid to reduce us to quivering blancmange. So there! You could hear many pens drop in the hushed silence that followed . The motley office staff craned their necks to see which mere woman had dared raise her voice against powerful Mr.Self Important. A man with an air of being the Supervisor, apprehensively emerged from behind the nether regions of a dusty cupboard, a file folder in hand. A lone fellow sufferer from the outer ring of fellow applicants was heard saying, “Yes Saar! Aall these peoples are the same, not satisfied with their pay, they want us to come through Yaygents, yand then they can get their commission.” Heads swivelled, Mr.Self Important turned a visible shade of puce, looked around shiftily, and tried retrieving his earlier blustering self important position by pushing a few pens and papers fussily around his table. On his Supervisor’s advice, he sullenly handed me my receipt. Bout One to Mr.Self Important.

I had waited patiently for a week, extended this to ten working days, and after a wait of three weeks and no document, I had embarked, a second time earlier this morning, upon this fact finding mission.  The extended festival week end, of one of our Indian festivals, Dusshera, had concluded recently. Ironically, this was the festival symbolizing the triumph of Good over Evil. Embodied by the Goddess Durga Devi. On this visit I headed to the top of the food chain, to the office of the head honcho of the Transport Authority. His fluttering minions were largely ignored. I knocked, and walked into a large official, opulently decorated room. I was pleasantly surprised at the courtesy shown me by the government officer. Reading through my letter of complaint, the boss was most apologetic. After hearing me out, he rang for a senior assistant staff, ordering him to escort me back to the concerned department, have the staff there look into my problem, and report back to him without delay. Quite mollified, and inwardly exulting, I set forth to get justice and my work done. The flunky, my letter now in his hand, ushered me solicitiously out towards our new destination. In the corridors of power, many supplicants there were in our path, who upon seeing Big Boss’ flunky, fluttered around him, making breathless, earnest enquiries about their own pending jobs. With a regal dismissive wave of his hand, saying “Later, later. Saar has ordered me to escort this Medam to get her important wurk done first,” the flunky swept them aside. We proceeded to our destination, with a determined section of the die-hards hot on our heels. We reached a room, that looked familiar. It was Mr.Self Important’s department. I was invited into the holy of holies, faintly protesting that I was quite comfortable on the other side of the counter, in the supplicants enclosure, meant for lesser mortals of the helpless public. The flunky wouldn’t hear of it.”Remember Medam, that Saar was very particular that your wurk is satisfactorily completed?” I adjusted my halo, and walked into the den of iniquity. I looked curiously around for Mr.Self Important, and thought we passed a familiar, but cringing figure, now resolutely turning his face away from us. On closer examination the hallowed precincts of this department looked even seedier, if that were possible. Mismatched, ancient wooden office furniture, work tables, complete with baize green table cloths hanging to the floor. How convenient I thought. Maybe the origin of that term, “under the table,” for ill-gotten gains, must have been coined at just such a place. But one would have to be a very brave soul to have the temerity to lift the cloth off such tables, to peek into the treasure troves lying beneath! To get back to unraveling the mystery of the return of my document. I was hurriedly offered a chair, by many of the staff. I had concluded by then that that Mr. Self Important and his cronies had decided to teach, in the first bout, this mere woman, a lesson in harassment. My Self Addressed Envelope, a part of the required supporting ‘documents’ in my original application, with my completed form, was ‘found’ under a pile of papers, and displayed to me with nearly an exultant ‘abracadabra.’ Feigning ignorance of ever having made my acquaintance, Mr Self Important tried explaining to me that the Transport Department had not delayed returning my papers on schedule, by postal delivery. “See Medam,” said he, pointing to my envelope, “Look, look! It is saying here ‘Door Locked’!”  I understood that this legend explained to me, meant that there was nobody at my home address to sign and take delivery of the letter. Since my stamped envelope was merely for ordinary postal delivery, and did not require a signature in acknowledgement, I was stumped for words,at their quick-thinking reply, to absolve themselves of any wrong doing. I asked for my document, and hastily signed a paper saying, “Hand Delivered to Consignee.” With my precious paper safely in my bag, and in silken tones, I fired a parting salvo at the bower, scraper and hand-wringer, now handing my document back. “Sir. My mobile number is written on this envelope, along with my address. So was there any reason that I could not be informed over over the phone about the document being ready?” Bower-Scraper was not fazed at this nugget of obvious information. Not missing a step, and in admiring tones he replied, “Medam you are great!” In wonder, I thought, “Full marks for chutzpah!”
Dusshera Devi triumphed. She had won the Final Bout. The winner’s bell was ringing.

2

Of Misogynists and Lawyers

For starters, I presume that you all have your sun glasses on while reading this? You see, I am bathing in the reflected glory of reading in a back dated issue of a National Daily, that an old college girl pal of mine, now in the Foreign Service of our country, is swanning around the CPSA ( Chauvinist Paradise of Saudi Ahbria), rubbing shoulders with the rich & powerful, without even the semblance of a top-to-toe burqa! Said classmate has been officially chaperoning the nation’s leading political leader’s wife, who has also, reports this Daily, been accorded a similar rare privilege. In CPSA country, with their ultra repressive regulations for women, these ladies may as well be running around like two Empresses with New Clothes! This, while the economically erudite politician husband was squeaking his way through innumerable, groveling public speeches, shuffling around, wooden faced & sotto voiced, gracing every planned social engagement, in his bid to woo for his Homeland, monetary largesse and benefits from the oil rich CPSA. This rare no burqa ‘honour, ‘ wasn’t even accorded to Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton in earlier times, I continued to read in the National Daily. Hmmm! Now, that set me wondering whether the citizens of our country should be cock-a-hoop about this last mentioned observation! Do you think that the CPSA powers-that-be are implying that while the two white American women might get inappropriately treated on account of their beauty & sexuality, our own dusky skinned female citizens wouldn’t appeal to the oily (pun intended) Sheikhs? I think that that our Fourth Estate should take up this comment and start a Diplomatic Discussion, at the very least, on Twitter!

Talking about certain foreign States and their condescending views about the frailities of the female sex, let us not fool ourselves. Men in certain pockets of our own ancient civilization are not very far behind in supporting the views of the CPSA. A few years ago, I needed to visit my country seat, as I fondly refer to my home town in the hills. I was accompanied by my son, and we had certain matters to discuss with our Advocates regarding a forthcoming court matter, of which I was to be (not self appointed) the Main Protagonist. Son and I walked into our lawyer’s office. He waved us in to the inner chamber of his office, since he was in discussions with another chicken-to-pluck, in the outer chambers. In the Sanctum Sanctorum, sat our noble & respected, Lawyer Senior. Most good Brahmin Hindus worth their salt, especially venerate their fathers. Lawyer Sr.(LS) was busy punching the hell out of a trusty old typewriter. A desk top computer, largely ignored, adorned the table, placed amidst scattered heavy legal tomes. I think it might have actually been doubling up as a paper weight, so little used did it look. In sign language, LS indicated that we should seat ourselves. Thereafter, Muhammed Ali continued his punches & jabs as if we didn’t exist. In the meanwhile our Lawyer Jr., Mr.Eyes Closed, having finished with his meeting, indicated that we should repair to the outer chamber which we did. Did I forget to mention that son of LS, Mr.Eyes Closed (EC), got that handy name because of the manner in which he conducted his conversations with me? Well then, EC sat opposite us, looking expectantly at Son to launch into the reasons for the visit. I, meanwhile, lowered my bulk gingerly, into one of the few old cane chairs opposite him, doubting the said chair’s ability to bear my weight! Son sat next to me, and began his politely worded, previously rehearsed, discussions with EC. And EC very politely answered ALL son’s questions! The very same questions which I had asked him a week previously, to which he declined enlightenment! Instead, EC, frothing down the phone lines, had curtly informed me then, that if I wished for further explanations and answers from him, why then, I could choose to Take My Case Elsewhere! Howzzat? To add insult to injury…when Son tried telling EC that I was understandably nervous about the forthcoming Court Hearing, where I was being thrown to the Opposition’s legal Roman Lions’ den, as in the district’s Civil Court , he all but guffawed (with eyes closed) and asked Son, “Why should your mother be nervous? Tell her that she has to just truthfully answer any questions put to her in the Court. She has given only true facts, so she has nothing to fear.” You might have noticed, in all EC’s conversations, I was referred to in the Third Person–as if I were an insignificant part of the decrepit seating in the room. Why, not even present there! EC’s Phantom Client. To give Son his due, he did try to, a bit feebly, as I protested later to him, draw EC’s hallowed attention to my presence, in order for EC to converse directly with me. But EC would have none of it, he was made of sterner, pure Dravidian Brahmin genes. His eyes remained firmly closed, probably wishing this mere female away from his presence. Anyway, we had been earlier advised, that LS & EC were canny lawyers, and knew their iddlis, and we should stick with them, allowing them their foibles, as long as they were committed. So we left, having done just that, remaining their clients. I tell you, folks, EC was like a purring feline with Son, again naturally, as he was the male of the species. Females be damned!

The mystery was later revealed to us, just as I was beginning to wonder, that with EC’s strong apathy to me, where our case would stand. An acquaintance of our’s told us that LS, EC & Sons had a reputation of being known MCPs & misogynists, for reasons best known to themselves. They were unable to deal directly with women, all women, not just this Phantom Client. In Small Towns, in true orthodox tradition, women are worthy only to cook, feed, and housekeep for their menfolk. Not to unusually, think for themselves, leave alone stand up in witness boxes to be cross-examined! If only I had known earlier how dismayed our Advocate’s were to see a mere female representing the case they were handling at court. And that their spotless and well publicized reputation might well be hanging by a thread, resigned to losing their carefully built up image. I might have switched to another member of the Legal Fraternity. Alas! Anyway, I stuck it out, so did they, and we came up trumps. We triumphed. Was it their brains or my feminine chutzpah, I leave that to you to decide……..

21

A Milestone…………..

Yesterday I finally severed the umbilical cord to yet another chapter of my life…I wrote in formally and quit my job. I had been meaning to do this for quite a few months, but it was as, if I did, then I would suddenly become rudderless, and be cast adrift upon alien waters. So I clung on to a life style which had taught me discipline, shown me focus and brought in the wherewithal to care for my children without us being forced to tackle major lifestyle changes. I was not in the first flush of youth when our family had a tragedy to face, but I was grateful that I was given the opportunity of earning a decent living, without it smacking of charity, worse, pity.

Maybe right at the beginning, if I had been able to peep into the future and been privvy to the many pitfalls in my career path, better sense might have prevailed…or maybe not! I clutched at every straw, sought any escape to lend focus to a world suddenly gone topsy-turvy. One moment my life had it all. A wonderful husband rising to dizzy heights in his chosen career, children who never caused us any grief and only made us proud and happy to be their parents, my warm & loving parents & in laws. Then one dark day, in one fell swoop, everything changed. I had to work, I needed to focus and pull myself up and carry on with living. And so began a career, at mid life, which spanned twenty three years

Since I was going to start working in familiar surroundings and not among strangers, my self confidence began seeping back. But it was rather daunting to be aware that I was joining a mostly male-centric working executive community. Also, women were not such a major chunk of the workforce in those years when I started working. It took me a while, but it was enjoyable and satisfying that I was able to pull my weight, put the proverbial clothes on our backs & food on the table, plus add a few frills to our lives, with my new role of Provider. The sun came out from behind the dark clouds of the previous nightmarish months, the children who had suddenly been clinging to me, began to also realize that I would be there for them-always. They had no need for apprehensions, apprehensions of any kind. I was always going to be their rock, there for them, whatever the future might hold.

As you can imagine, working a 9 to 5 corporate job helps shape and sharpen, and redefine your personality. It gives you the discipline of time management, helps you multi task better than the juggling clown at a circus, calms your mind to deal with tricky situations on the job, which adds to life experience, not just work experience. Instinctively I felt worthy and good to be part of the workforce. I went where I wanted, I chose to do and say what I thought & wished. I took decisions for my children and their future, unflinchingly, knowing full well that maybe in hindsight these may not always be the correct ones. But by then, one also had honed the skills to tweak any wrong decision made. All because I was a working woman…I felt this was what had given me poise and self confidence and with it, freedom.

I moved to the city, continued working well into the explosive computer age of the ‘90’s & the dawn of the new century. I learnt on the new job, stuck it out for the comfort factor. Made mistakes, erred in many a judgement, learnt not to trust the world around me without first checking their bona fides. It was as if nothing could faze me. I was made of sterner stuff, and blessed with many good friends and confidantes, so I was able to take such hiccups in my stride, towards eventual grandmotherhood.

Then I began feeling bewildered. The juggling of life’s balls was not smoothly perfect. What I could cope with just a few years ago, tied hands & blindfolded, often seemed beyond me lately. My priorities had shifted. My personal  responsibilities continued & multiplied, but these of course one could not ignore and wish away. Yet I had begun to resent not having sufficient “me” time. I seemed mainly to have to often think of what was expected of me. I thought that I needed to, I had earned it and I yearned for it, and so I took the conscious decision, to have the flexibility to spend my time as I wished. To counting butterflies maybe, in far off & wondrous, yet unexplored lands, before my eyesight faded and my joints audibly creaked. To spoiling my delicious grand children silly, behind their parents’ backs. To enjoying the company of my friends,in giggly gaggles, at lunches or the movies, or at short getaway holidays.

And so, I quit my job.