Thursday, December 17, 2009

High Waters

The view of the evening sky from the sea side restaurant was spectacular. The Sun making its way down the horizon, cast awe-inspiring hues across the sky. With the warm august breeze of the Tyrrhenian Sea blowing mildly across the Genoa coast, the setting was perfect for a romantic dinner. Seated in that open air restaurant and soaked in the air of romance were Anushka and Dhiraj. She held his hand and said, “Thank you for the wonderful 10 months that we had here, DJ. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every moment of it. This break has been so refreshing and nourishing for me. I failed to realize how time flew. These 10 months are going to be etched in my memory forever. I’m going to miss all this and you, when I get back to India. I knew my return date since a long time but now that its tomorrow, my heart is filled with weird emotions and I’m getting so restless. I know you will be back as well, in another month, but somehow I’m loathe to think about life without you, even if it is just for 30 days.”
DJ suddenly got out of his deep slumber. It had been 4 weeks since Anushka had left. He checked his watch. It was 1:10 AM. He got up and went to the living room. “Cabin, Check in & Laptop bag, all packed and OK. 6 more hours for the flight and tonight I will be in your arms, honey” he thought. He had been waiting for this day, the last day of his in Genoa, with much anxiety. He placed his waist pouch containing his passport, flight ticket print, Indian & Euro currency notes and the Longines watch that he was going to gift Anushka on the laptop bag and thought, “Wake up at 5, take bath, call the taxi and leave.” He got back to the bedroom, eased himself on the bed, placed his mobile phone next to him and tried to get back to sleep so that he could relive that evening and continue that dream. As hard as he tried to sleep and dream that moment, his mind kept thinking about the days ahead and the amount of fun that he would have with his loved and dear ones. It took more than an hour before he fell asleep again.
An abrupt thunderous sound of the front door wakened DJ. He tried to check the time but couldn’t find his mobile phone. He turned around to see the clock on the table. It was 3:30 AM but more glaring were the drawers of the table which were flung open. He ran towards the front door and to his horror, he found the front door open. He immediately reached the living room to check his baggage and by what he saw, he felt a lightening strike his heart ripping it into pieces. The cabin bag, laptop bag and the waist pouch were missing and it looked as if the whole room was scanned. Out of sharp instinct, he ran out of the house, out of the apartment, turned to his right and kept running. Few blocks away, he could see two men walking away with his belongings. “Passport. My passport. Leave my passport”, shouted DJ. The burglars heard his shouts and galloped across the street onto their left and by the time DJ could reach that point and turn left, they were out of sight. He ran further and scanned all the adjoining streets but all he saw was empty roads, sopor buildings and shut doors. Gathering his breath, he started to trudge back with zillions of thoughts shooting across his head.
“What do I do now? Can I still travel back today? How am I going to contact anyone? Is this just a bad dream? Do I have to stay here till I get another passport? How will I get another passport? How do I locate the nearest embassy from here? Is there any other document which could double up as a passport? How do I contact the police now? Hell, I don’t even know if there is a station nearby. How do I manage everything without speaking Italian? They also stole the laptop damn it, it had the scanned copies of all my documents. I don’t even have money to do anything and I have closed the bank account and my lease agreement expires today. Will they agree to let me stay here till I can go back? Where do I stay otherwise? How did those rogues get inside and why did they choose my house? Why me, god, why me? Why do I always have to endure tough times? Who was that idiot who said – A man makes his own luck? Ok, ok, don’t get psyched up DJ. Think, think.” As hard as DJ tried to think about what needs to be done, his mind kept feeding those whys, hows and what ifs to him. He kept thinking about how he could have avoided this situation, the right/wrong things that led to this. It’s amazing how human brains have this cultured instinct of dissecting the past into bits and bytes soon after an incident like this.
Back in his apartment, DJ felt as if he was locked in a huge dark chamber with no way out. He started to feel uneasy and claustrophobic. He got up and thought of trying his luck locating a police station nearby and that’s when he realized that he had ran across the streets of Genoa in his boxers! He sighed and put on his pants and to his pleasant surprise, he found his USB stick which had another copy of the documents, in the pocket. “May be I can go to the Srilankan Grocery & Internet store. The Lankans stay in an apartment adjacent to the store. May be they will be of some help. At least I can communicate with my broken Tamil” he thought. 15 minutes and he was in front of the apartment but he didn’t know their flat number. He pressed all the 16 numbers on the intercom apartment door entrance. Few seconds and 7 of them answered back in a sleepy tone “Pronto”. One soft voice with a slight Tamil accent was unmistakable. “Akka, naa akka, Dhiraj. En passport poyidchi akka. Robbery aayidchi akka. Innike en travel date. Enna saivum onnu teriyaadi. Help akka”. Few minutes later, DJ was pouring his heart out to them. DJ & Anushka were regulars at the store and they had developed a warm relationship with the Lankans. As Lakshmi akka consoled DJ, Sri her husband, dialed 113, the emergency number and spoke to the cops. “Let’s take prints of your documents and go to your apartment. The cops would be there in 20 minutes. If you want to make a call or two to India, you can use my mobile”, Sri said.
After freshening up, DJ called up Anushka. The moment he heard her voice, he felt a lump in his throat. Fighting his emotions, he told her the entire story in brief. “Stop crying Anu. Things can only improve from now on. Listen, I don’t remember my Manager’s or the Global HR’s number. Its 8:30 AM in India right? I need you to call them up and explain my situation to them. Ask them to call me on this number immediately. You can reach their extensions through the receptionist. I will talk to them and hopefully something can be worked out. Don’t worry” and he hung up. It was 5:15 AM when Sri and DJ got back to the apartment. The cops had been waiting for them. Sri spoke to them in Italian and narrated the whole story. The cops then inspected the house thoroughly and said, “Sembra che i ladri sono entrati in casa rompendo aprire la porta del bagno. noi non pensi di aver notato che. Comunque, dovete venire alla Questura e registro una denuncia formale.” “Dhiraj, they think the thieves might have entered through the bathroom door and that you need to go to Questura (police station) and register a complaint. You go with them and I will follow you in my car” Sri interrupted. “Ok, but will I be able to travel today without my passport?” DJ asked Sri. “No, no passaporto, no fly Indiano” one of the cops interrupted. On hearing that, DJ felt a bit deflated. Days of anticipation and anxiety was turning anticlimactic. With a heavy head, he got inside the polizia car.
The cops led DJ inside the Questura, stopped in front of the night shift officer’s room and knocked a couple of times. “Cazzo. ciò che è adesso? Non riesco nemmeno a fare un tranquillo pisolino qui” an annoyed voice behind the door said. One of the cops bent forward and replied, “Ci dispiace signore, ma noi abbiamo una situazione di emergenza qui.” The door opened 10 minutes later and behind it was a man who looked like he hadn’t slept for days. The cops and the officer spoke for a few minutes. The officer then turned towards DJ and said, “Venire dentro e di compilare il modulo di reclamo.” Sensing DJ’s ignorance, the officer said, “Capisci l'italiano? Non capisco Inglese! Bellissimo!” and signaled him to come inside his office. DJ understood basic Italian words which were just about enough to understand what his client said but he could never manage a conversation. Outside office it was more actions and guesses that worked. Just when he was wondering where Sri was, Sri entered inside, “You’ve got a call from India”, he said and handed over his mobile. It was from the Global HR head. DJ detailed him about everything. “Oh! That’s so unfortunate Dhiraj. I’m really sorry. But there is no need to panic. Listen to me carefully. The first thing you need to do is to lodge a complaint in the police station for passport theft and obtain the complaint copy. Then you go to the nearest Indian consulate/embassy which is in Milan and request for an Emergency Certificate. The consulate should provide you one, after you have filled out a form attaching a copy of the complaint. If there is any problem at the consulate, don’t hesitate to call me or ask them to talk to me. You can reach me on this number anytime. Once you obtain the certificate, inform us and we will arrange for an air ticket immediately. With this certificate, you can come back to India from any country, transiting through any country” the HR head said.
DJ felt like he had found a life boat in deep sea. The HR head continued, “I spoke to Sri too. He mentioned that they also own a money transfer office. I will arrange for some amount to be transferred right away. Just keep all the bills so that you can claim it later on. Let us not worry about that now. You just get the complaint copy and the certificate and we will take care of the rest. Remember to buzz me when you need anything.” The conversation felt like a warm hug to DJ. It pricked him for a moment for being too critical on his company sometimes. Back into the office, he acquainted Sri about his conversation. “La vostra firma qui per favore. Avrò la tua copia in un minuto e si può avere la vostra conversazione fuori” ranted the officer. “Scusiamo. Dhiraj, please sign here and we will wait outside. He will get the copy ready” Sri said. Few minutes later they were driving back home with the complaint copy. “Let us locate Milan Indian consulate on the map sooner we reach home. You take prints of whatever is required and I will arrange for the money. There are trains every hour from Genoa to Milan. Its better you leave early. I hope you can manage things alone in Milan” Sri asked. DJ didn’t respond. He kept staring outside the window.
It was 11:20 AM when DJ reached the Indian Consulate in Milan and to his dismay, he saw a long queue in front of the consulate door. “Is this queue for a specific thing or would everyone, even those with emergencies, need to follow?” he thought. He moved ahead to enquire with a person in the queue. “Pichhe jaa oye” came the reply. DJ walked and stood at the end of queue. “Gosh! Is this an Indian consulate? These guys look so different. Their language and their build is so very different. No wonder India is so diverse” he thought. The Indian consulate was located on the 5th floor of the building. It had a separate entrance which housed the staircase and a couple of lifts. There was no security or any person who could help or direct things at the entrance. Just a board on the wall beside the entrance door which displayed the timings: “Consulate timings: 9AM to 12 Noon. Documents collection time: 4PM -5PM”! Even after several minutes, the queue showed no sign of movement and DJ let out a frustrated sigh. The guy standing in front of DJ asked, “Ki Kaam hai?”. “Passport chori hogayi hai. Emergency certificate lene aaya hoon” DJ replied. “Yaar, phir toh bahut din lagenge! Ye dekh, main do hafte se yahan ghoom raha hoon, passport ke liye, aur yeh saale roz ek nayi cheez maang kar vapas bhejte hai. Aur phir yeh timings. Barah ko band karte hai. Chaar baje ke baad, sirf documents vapas dene ke liye kholte hai. Agar barah baje se pehle andar nahi ghuse na, toh vapas aana padega. Aur kal toh chutti hai. Saala, barah se char tak kya karte hai pata nahi” he said.
DJ just smiled and ignored him. He didn’t want his equanimity to be disturbed by some frustrated stranger. He believed he could get the certificate today, if not now then in the evening. At 12:15PM, the consulate entrance door was closed. Everyone in the queue abused the consulate men and started to leave. DJ stood there wondering what to do. He decided he would grab a quick bite at a restaurant nearby. Three junctions ahead he spotted an Indian restaurant and walked in. He was greeted by the typical aroma and flavor of Indian food and that’s when he realized how hungry he was. Just when he was thinking of what to order, a popular but sad Hindi movie song “Koi humdum na raha, koi sahara na raha” started to play in the background. He quickly ordered a couple of Veg rolls – take away! 10 minutes later, DJ was sitting in the park next to the restaurant with a whirlpool of thoughts in his head and the rolls in his hand. He just wanted to get through with all this soon and head back home to be in the arms of Anushka. An hour later, when DJ returned to the consulate, he was shocked to see the same long queue! He quietly walked past everyone and stood at the end of it.
The long wait had seemed like an eternity to DJ. Exactly at 4PM, the consulate door opened and a chaos ensued with everyone rushing inside like raging bulls. Most of them took the stairs as the lifts were jammed. The consulate was just 3 medium sized rooms in a serial order. The first room was the waiting room, the second was occupied by the consulate officers and the third was where all the documents were stored with access strictly for the consulate employees. 3 men who worked at the consulate sat behind a thick transparent glass wall with small openings at their desk’s height which was big enough to exchange the documents. DJ struggled to enter inside the packed waiting room where everyone was screaming and shouting coarse. Though entry inside the consulate with consumption of alcohol was strictly prohibited, the air inside the waiting room was heavy with body odor and alcohol smell. DJ felt like throwing up. Inspite of this bedlam, the 3 men behind the glass walls maintained their decorum and went about issuing the passports to the squalling crowd at their own pace. Most of them had issues with the spelling/date/place entered in their passports and they stood there demanding the correction. Few of them had come over to collect the passports of their relatives/friends and with the consulate officer strictly denying to issue the passports without a letter of authorization, an uproar ensued. Not even in his wildest of dreams had DJ imagined something like this.
When it was 5 minutes to 5PM, DJ decided he had enough of it and pushed forward towards the glass wall. Ignoring the stares, DJ pushed ahead, reached the counter and shouted, “What is happening here? Is this really a consulate? Why is everyone here acting like an uncultured and uneducated idiot? If you have received your passports and there are issues with it then come back again and fill out a form for the correction or if you are here filling in for someone else, go get an authorization letter or get the actual person here because that is what the rule book says. Stop shouting and being vulgar to our fellow Indians inside who are just trying to do their jobs. Learn to respect and follow the rules. These officers won’t get an orgasm out of giving you guys a hard time.” There was momentary silence in the room. DJ then turned towards the officer and said, “Sir, I have an emergency. I had to travel back to India today but my passport was stolen early morning, from inside the house while I was sleeping. My visa validity expires in 2 days. I have been asked by my company to collect an emergency certificate from here so that I can go back to India immediately. I have a copy of the police complaint too. Could you please help?” The officer looked at DJ for a few seconds, took out a form and said, “Fill this out and attach copies of the police complaint and your passport. Also include 2 of your passport sized photographs.”
DJ took the form and settled in a corner of the waiting room ignoring the stares. He took a few minutes to fill the form but wondered from where he would get his photos. Meanwhile the crowd that had gone silent and had started to disperse. DJ got up, walked towards the glass wall to the officer and said, “Sir, I have filled the form and here are the photocopies you requested but I don’t have my photos right now”. “Well Sir, you can go out and turn left, few meters away you would find a studio. We need to attach the photos with the request, you see” he said. DJ didn’t want to go out as he feared that the consulate office might close for the day. He opened his wallet and took out the 2 photos he had of Anushka and himself together, handed it to the officer and said, “You can cut this out to have mine but do return the other half. I hope this is ok?”. The officer answered in the affirmative and asked DJ to wait for a few minutes while he completes the formalities. Few minutes later the officer came out and asked DJ, “What would be your flight itinerary Sir? Where would you transit?” “Genoa-Paris-Bangalore, Sir” DJ replied. The officer disappeared inside the documents room and emerged after a few minutes. He walked out to the waiting room and said, “Here is your Emergency certificate Sir. Note that you need to go through Paris only.” DJ thanked the officer and was about to leave with the certificate when the officer said, “These are the kind of people we deal with everyday. Most of them don’t understand rules and changes the national governments bring in quite often. They think we change things according to our whims. We don’t know how they enter inside this country but later most of them loose their way and end up with some problem or the other. Anyway, it was a welcome change to have you here. Have a safe trip back home.” DJ smiled and took his leave.In the train station before leaving to Genoa, DJ made 2 phone calls from the booth, to Anushka and to the Global HR. “Great Dhiraj! As per your previous itinerary, I had requested the travel guys to hold on to a ticket for tomorrow. I was just waiting for your call to confirm the same. I hope you have no problems traveling tomorrow?” the HR asked. “No, Of course no” DJ blurted out. The last thing he wanted was to stay back for another day doing nothing but rolling over the same thoughts. “Ok. Check your mail for the e-ticket after a couple of hours. I will also call you to provide the ticket number just in case” and the HR hung up. DJ took a deep breath and walked towards the platform. It had been an incredible day for all the wrong reasons. But he felt the high waters receding. Though his mind was blank, he couldn’t sleep the whole night. Early next day, before he checked in at the airport, he hugged Sri and thanked him & Lakshmi for everything. They had come over to see him off. As he boarded the flight, he felt a drop of tear rolling down his cheek. He knew he would have been in real soup if not for them. He did a silent prayer, made a wish for them and bid good bye to them and to Genoa.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Poisson d'Avril

12:30 AM and it was totally crowded at the Bangalore airport when Paddy came out of the security area with his luggage. He had just returned from a 3 month business trip from Paris. He was supposed to come back next week but Paddy had slogged real hard to land on this day so that he could surprise his wife Sunaina. Pushing the luggage trolley, he came out to find a taxi guy with his Company placard. He had been waiting for Paddy. Due to the company’s cost cutting measures, he had to share the cab with 2 other colleagues. “My personal space! Wonder how they plan out this share funda with different flights and time” he thought. The 2 other colleagues of his were already there inside the cab and after he had thrust his luggage in the rear, he made his way to the door. Though he did request to seat himself next to the driver, the driver promptly said no and signaled him to sit behind. “Weird company rules and people follow it! Logic and common sense have just vapoured out” he thought. The 2 other colleagues didn’t want to give away the window seat and so Paddy had to squeeze in between them. He sat there cramped and vexed.
5 minutes into the journey, Paddy could feel his mobile ring in his pant pocket. So compact was his fit between his colleagues that he could hardly move his shoulder. He thought about who would have tried to call on his office phone. “It definitely isn’t from home or from friends as none of them know I would be in Bangalore today. Should be someone from office, who could it be? It shouldn’t be an emergency call. I can call back later. Wonder which department these fatsos are from. Creatures!” he thought, striking a glance on his sides. Few more minutes and Paddy could see Sunaina running towards him in slow motion. It was broad day light though it was early morning. She was wearing plain yellow saree with the same colored blouse, earrings, bangles and nail color. “Fortunately the lip stick is pink” he thought. He could hear Udit sing “Tum paas aaye, yun muskurayein, tum ne najane kya sapne dikhaye” from somewhere far behind! Suddenly the cab came to a screeching halt and Paddy came out of his slumber. Before he could realize what had happened, one of the supposed colleague of his, planted a tight slap on his left cheek! Paddy was furious and biting his teeth hard looked at the colleague on his left who had planted a sparkling stroke on his cheek. “What the…” and before Paddy could even complete, the driver thumped his fist hard on his jaw. “Ouch!” that pained. The colleague on his right pulled out a knife, held it under Paddy’s neck and said “One wrong move and you will smell your blood.”
Before Paddy could even think of doing anything, the three men forced his face onto his knees and pulled out his wallet, mobile phones, ring and his gold chain. The Driver turned around and started to drive the cab with Paddy’s face still on his knees. After about half an hour or so, the cab came to a halt again. “Ok Sir, here is your bank’s ATM machine. Now be a good boy and tell us your debit card PIN number” said the Driver. Paddy didn’t think twice and gave his PIN. The driver went inside the ATM counter and came back with 25K cash and said, “Let’s shove him somewhere ahead. We still have loads of cash to play around with.” Half an hour later, Paddy was thrown out of the cab beside the curb. “Rascals, Idiots, this will be your last. I will have you guys arrested, you rogues” shouted Paddy at the speeding cab. “God, what do I do now? I don’t even know where I am. My baggage, foreign currency and gifts inside it, everything gone. No money, no phone err wait a minute” talking aloud, Paddy pulled out a 100 rupee note from his pant secret pocket. “I can’t call Sunaina. I’ll check with Sri or Sunil when I find a booth or something. I don’t even have coins. Let’s see. For starters, I’ll start walking south as that’s where I think we came from. Hopefully there is police station on the way” he thought.
10 minutes and he hit the highway. He kept signaling for a drop to all passing vehicles but none stopped. This return journey of Paddy had turned into a nightmare. He was in pain and was extremely tired and angry. Few more minutes of walking and he saw light at the end of the road. “It must be a dhaba or something. At last, something to cheer” he thought and increased his pace. 15 minutes and he was inside the Coffee Day bar. “Wow, this place is open even at this time! Let’s check if I can make a call from here. A cup of hot coffee would do no harm too” he thought. Locating the cashier of the bar, he tried to explain his horror story in brief and asked him if he could make a couple of calls. “Sure Sir. You can use this landline. The police had been here just an hour ago to collect their usual. Now they must be asleep somewhere. The nearest police station is 10 Km away. You can catch them for an FIR only after 10 AM” replied the beamish cashier. “Thanks, I’d like a Latte please” Paddy said and turned around to dial Sri’s number. “Such a chatty cashier. It seemed like he was waiting for me! Anyway, why isn’t Sri answering the call? May be he left it on Silent mode” Paddy thought and he dialed Sunil’s number, “Pick up, pick up. What the heck?! Why are these 2 idiots sleeping like logs today?!”
Cursing his luck, he hustled to his right only to find the waiter right behind him with the Café Latte he had ordered, in the tray. And before both of them realized, the coffee was all over Paddy’s dress. “Rotten luck of mine. Idiot, couldn’t you stay a bit behind”, Paddy blurted out. The waiter shaken by the whole thing murmured, “I was behind you only, Sir”. “Oh! Come on. Righto, it’s just not been my day. Anyway, will you please show me the restroom door?” demanded Paddy. The waiter pointed to the direction of the door. Paddy walked 10 paces and turned to his right to find the men’s door. Couple of minutes later, he came out and just when he was thinking what he needs to do now, he tripped on something and fell flat on his face. Smarting, he turned back to see what it was, only to find a young lady struggling below the table. “What the hell are you trying to do?” shouted Paddy. “Shh! Please don’t shout. Those men. Do you see 2 rogues searching for me? I need help. I’m in serious danger. I can explain everything to you in detail later on. Please take me out of this place. Please, I beg you” pleaded the panic stricken lady. Paddy didn’t know how to react. He looked at her. She was young, cute and she was shivering with fear. He slowly tried to glance on top of table. He could see 2 roughnecks on the other side of the room talking to somebody. The inner voice of his, told him to help her.
“How do we get out of here?” Paddy asked her. She told him that those 2 rowdies had parked the car just behind the rear exit in front of the table and they had stopped here for some coffee. Seeing that they had not locked the car, she untied herself and hopped out of it and hid here. Suddenly Paddy stood up as if nothing had happened and in a quick motion, he stormed out of the rear exit. He saw a Sumo parked there with the keys on. In a few minutes, they both were in the Sumo and driving on the highway. 10 minutes later, Paddy turned towards her and asked “Could you care to explain something?”. “Sorry Sir. I was just caught in my thoughts. Thanks for helping me and getting me out of there. My name is Gayathri. I came to Bangalore with my uncle 2 months back in search of a job. But that rascal uncle of mine sold me to these guys. I have somehow managed to stay a virgin till now despite all the torture that I went through. Finally when they sensed that they couldn’t push me anymore, they got my father here yesterday and blackmailed me to go to bed with some idiot. They said that they will kill my father if I don’t agree and shoved me inside this car. They were taking me to Silver Oaks resort where that idiot was waiting. I somehow managed to escape and I met you in the coffee bar. Thanks a lot once again. You are a god sent angel to me” she said and started to break into tears. “Ok, ok, don’t cry. So what do we do now?” asked Paddy. “Sorry. Please drop me at Hotel Honeymoon. My father has been locked there. I will free him and then go to a police station or may be back to my village” she said.
An hour later, they were in front of Hotel Honeymoon. That hotel was on the outskirts of east Bangalore and that place smelled of rotten shit and urine. “Shucks, what a shady place” Paddy thought. There was no one at the reception. “Lets get your father out of here and I’ll drop you at a safe place” suggested Paddy. Gayathri took him inside the hotel to room# 9. The door was locked from outside. She knocked it gently and said, “Appa, Appa, You there?”. There was no reply. After numerous futile attempts of hers, Paddy decided to break open the window. He took a stone and thudded the window with great force. To his surprise, not only did the glass window break into pieces but the whole window frame too came down and fell inside the room. Paddy looked around to see if there was anyone inside the room. It was pitch dark inside. On instinct he reached his pant pocket to pull out his mobile to switch on the torch for some light source. He then realized that not only had he lost his mobile to those rogues but that his hand was bleeding from the cut he had sustained from the broken window glass. He rubbed his hand against his pant and jumped inside the room. He switched on the light and then helped Gayathri inside thru the window. To his surprise, it looked more like a 2 bedroom house inside. “You go look for your dad while I break open this door” said Paddy.
2 minutes later, Paddy entered one of the rooms to find her. “What are you doing here in front of the wardrobe? I have opened the main door. We need to get out of here fast” said Paddy. “I think they have locked him inside this. I can feel his body resting against the door. But I don’t know why, he doesn’t speak nor does he react!” she said. Signaling her to step aside, Paddy forced the wardrobe door. As Paddy tried to open the door, they both heard some noises outside. “Fast, some one might be coming” she said trembling. And suddenly the wardrobe door opened and both Paddy and the man inside fall hard on the room floor. Gayathri screamed in horror. To Paddy’s shock he found that her father was stabbed with a knife on his back. Before Paddy could get up and think about what to do, four men entered the room. Gayathri turned to one of the men and screamed, “Help me brother. This person wanted to have sex with me and he threatened to kill my father if I dint oblige. He broke the window and entered inside and even after repeated pleadings from me and my father, he was desperate on his intention. My father tried to help me and it ensued in a fight between him and my father and this person, he killed my father” and she broke into a melodramatic cry.
Before the four men could react, Paddy jumped and ran towards the main door. He ran towards the Sumo and to his amazement he saw the front tire flat. He could hear those men storming towards him and shouting at him. He started running as fast as he could. His tiring mind was now a fiery concoction of anger, frustration & pain. The men behind him were not giving up the chase. Worst, the number of men chasing him had doubled. Out of nowhere, a jeep appeared in front of Paddy and his body thudded against it. He cringed in pain and fell on the ground. His body trembling and his eyes moist, Paddy looked up to see who it was. A burly bearded cop came out of the jeep door. The men who were chasing Paddy stopped in front of the cop and a few of them explained the lady’s version of the story to the cop and the rest caught hold of Paddy. The cop hardened his jaw, looked at Paddy and said, “You look like an educated and a well off guy, do you need these things in your life? What sort of world do you live in? Don’t you have any wife or sisters. Do you know what you have done and do you know its consequences? You think you have loads of money and you can get away with anything? Get into the jeep and I’ll show you what the real world is.” He then turned to the men and motioned them to stuff Paddy inside the jeep. “Get that Madam to the station, one of you” he said as he started the engine.
Few minutes into the drive, sensing that it was the right moment, Paddy started to explain the whole story to the cop. It took Paddy more than half an hour to complete his piteous story and then he took a deep breath and said, “Sir, please, I’m innocent. I’m happily married and I have a doting wife. I work in a reputed firm too. Don’t you think I’d be a fool to ruin my happy life?” and before he could complete, the cop turned around and screamed, “Shut up! Do you think I’m a fool? You IT people make loads of easy money and you look down upon poor people and public servants. You think you can cook up some story and I would fall for it? Ok, Sliver Oaks was the resort you mentioned right? Let’s go there then”. “No, Sir. You are getting me wrong. I really doubt if that resort story was for real. That lady might have just used that name” Paddy said. “Stop it or I’ll show you how cops deal with guys of your kind. Not a word more. We are going to the Sliver Oaks resort and that’s final” the cop yelled. That sealed the duologue and with that Paddy gave up hope. He was ready to accept his fate.
20 minutes later, they were inside Silver Oaks. The cop stalled the jeep in front of the reception entrance, locked Paddy’s right hand to the jeep with hand cuffs and said to him, “You stay right here. You will be in deep trouble if you try to escape. I’ll be back in a minute.” Few minutes later, a young guy, possibly a waiter inside the resort came to Paddy, opened the hand cuffs and said, “Sir, you are asked to come inside. Please follow me.” A shaken Paddy followed him into the reception and the foyer which lead them to a huge hall. The waiter stopped there and said, “Please go into the door at the right corner. They are waiting for you inside.” Paddy didn’t know what to do or what to expect. It was 7:00 AM and he had had enough of the nightmarish day. With a silent prayer, he dragged himself ahead and entered inside the room. Suddenly couple of balloons burst, the lights turned on and about 40 people started singing “Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear Paddy, Happy birthday to you”. It took a few minutes for Paddy to realize that everyone inside the party hall were his friends with Sri, Sunil and Sunaina standing right in front of him. Sunaina came forward, kissed Paddy on his cheek, hugged him tightly and said, “Happy Birthday Paddy. I’m sorry sweetheart but that challenge of yours was too hard for me to digest. You considered yourself the Baap of making Bakras out of everyone. So we all bakras owed you a big one. Happy Birthday and Happy Fools day!”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

LUCK by Chance

The weather was perfect for cricket, lush green outfield with the bright sun, out in the clear blue sky. It was the finals of the RV Cup, the annual inter-department college cricket tournament. ‘Mech Baayz’ & ‘Tronics 11’ were the finalists. ‘Mech Baayz’ had breezed through to the finals of the tournament as was the case every year. They had a really strong team led by a smart & inspiring captain Sandeep. Sandy, as was his byname, was the leading wicket taker in the tournament. ‘Tronics 11’ on the other hand had somehow managed it to the final stage but had a commanding crowd support thanks to their batch strength. Electronics department had 4 sections and with 80 in each, had the highest number of engineering students in the college. The striking aspect of the department was not only the boy to girl ratio which was really healthy but also the fact that it had the best looking girls. The cricket ground was totally herded and the atmosphere demanded a tight final match. There was not a single spot that was vacant and 2/3 of the crowd supported the Tronics team. Somehow everyone loved to hate the Mechanical Engineering department. ‘Tronics 11’ won the toss and elected to bat and the crowd roared. Almost everyone had painted their faces or had adorned a funny dress just to add to the festive atmosphere. But at the center of the ground, on the pitch it was a different story.
Bullish on their strategy to unsettle Sandy, the tronics team resorted to verbal duel. Sandy didn’t give a damn to it. He was supremely confident of his skills which made the contest all the more interesting. Ball in hand, he ran in to bowl the first ball. The noise from the crowd was deafening. With a quick arm action, he hurled the ball towards the stumps. The ball pitched just outside off stump, missed the edge of the bat and thudded into the wicket keepers gloves. Sandy ended his follow through right in front of the batsmen, gave him a glare and walked back to his bowling mark. The crowd booed at Sandy. The second ball slightly faster, just kissed the off stump but didn’t dislodge the bail and went to 4 byes. The crowd roared for the first runs on the board. Again, Sandy ended in front of the batsmen and gave him a meaningful stare. This time, the batsmen rather surprisingly used the “F” word. Sandy, taken aback, glared at him and returned the favor. The crowd roared. The Tronics department girls booed Sandy. As he walked back, he could see a huge gang of girls holding placards and shouting against him. “Sandy hai hai” was clearly audible. Amidst the color, noise, crowd and dust, Sandy saw a slim and cute girl enjoying the vibrant atmosphere. On the impulse, he felt different. It was as if, the noise was muted, the crowd blurred and only one girl was clearly visible. Suddenly instead of the crowd noise, Sandy was able to hear only Atif Aslam’s nasal rendition of “Pehli nazar mein kaisa jadoo kar diya”, a song from a Hindi movie. Just when he wondered what it was all about, the ball bumped on his head and he came back to the present.
The match was over in the evening and ‘Mech Baayz’ had won it easily in the end. Sandy had gone wicketless but he had batted well and had hit the winning runs. He cared little for that. All he was now worried about was to find out who the girl was. The bug had bitten him and the sweet poison had spread to every cell in his body. His head felt heavy and the only thing it thought of or could see was that girl. He tried to search for her in the crowd, even when he went on stage to receive the award, he looked around. There was no sign of her. The next few days were tough on him. Though he was quite popular in the college, he hardly found his contacts helpful. The only couple of things that he had figured out were that her name was Deeptha and she was from the Electronics Department. Finally after 10 days, the gods smiled on him.
She was in the canteen and with her friends. Sandy just bumped into them and gave a dumb grin. She looked at him with a soothing smile and said, “Hi Sandeep, wassup?” He didn’t know how to tackle it. “Well, err, hmm, you know, err, Can we meet after college?” That was the start of their rendezvous. They started to meet daily and talk for hours and had no clue as to how time flew when they were together. The evening walks, chats and juices, bus journeys, ice creams, movies and their lives suddenly seemed more beautiful and blissful. They formed a perfect pair. Sandy’s instinctive, smart and proactiveness blended perfectly with Deeptha’s laidback, cautious & planned outlook. Both of them loved being together. Before they could realize, they were through with their graduation. As luck would have it, both were placed in the same company during the placement season. During the course of time, both their parents had gotten aware of their togetherness and had given their consent. Everything was perfect and it was as if the whole universe had conspired everything and laid the road for them to drive on and be together forever. During the graduation ceremony, few common friends decided to have a big farewell party at the Hotel Quadrant.
Hotel Quadrant was one of the top notch quality hotels in the city known for its unique ambience, quality of food and lodging, its ability to attract quite a few foreign nationals and of course its price. A huge party hall was reserved for the day and it was decided that 60 batch mates would be there at around half past 5 in the evening. Deeptha and 4 other friends had decided to meet at the hotel well before the start of the party to decide on the party games that they were going to conduct and to generally check if everything was ok. Sandy had decided to give Deeps, as he fondly called her, a surprise gift and so had decided to go to a nearby shopping mall to check out some watches. Deeps, soon after finishing her lunch went over to the Quadrant and met her friends at the lobby. The party hall was at the third floor and with the help of the receptionist, they found out that the lift was at the end of the corridor. As they moved ahead, they found that the red carpeted corridor opened out to a huge circular wall with a staircase that spiraled upwards on the right and on the left hung some beautiful paintings and as they continued to move ahead, they could hear the clock strike 3 times behind them.
The party hall was a huge one, more than big to accommodate 60 people. The hall was spectacularly modeled into a road side dhaba, with tarmac in the center and on either side of it lay charpoys scattered, on the walls were a few famous movie posters and bonnets of Lorries and with the hotel staff dressed in typical Punjabi attire, the hall was aptly named “Oye Punjabi”. Deeps and her friends sat on a nearby charpoy and started to plan out the event. Meanwhile, Sandy was checking out a few watches in the mall. It was more than an hour and he was yet to find the right one which also fitted into his budget. Sick of the lack of options in the mall, he decided to go to another shop across the road. He jogged across the road and was about to enter into the Titan show room when he heard a huge noise behind him near the mall. Entering inside, he turned across to see what it was through the glass door. Out of nowhere, 3 youths dressed in casuals entered the mall and opened fire at the innocent civilians. Another person, at the entrance started to throw grenades in random direction. Soon, the security at the Titan showroom entered inside and pulled the shutter down, locking everyone inside. Everyone inside the showroom was shocked, speechless and motionless for a while. All they heard was sounds of bullets across the road.
The showroom manager dialed his mobile to talk to the nearby Police station. “Sir, This is Sriram calling from Titan Show..….No, listen…...What?......Here also, we hear…...There is…..What?....Terrorist attack?!.....Do you know…..Where else?....Ok…Ok, Thanks.” He then turned around, looked at everyone and said “I had called the local Police Station and they say that there has been a terrorist attack in the city. Since the last half an hour, there have been bombs and attacks going on at various places in the city and it seems 2 major hotels in the city have been held hostage. The police advised me to stay put and not move or let any of you out of this closed door, until the situation is under control”. Suddenly the room felt hotter, sweat started trickling down everyone’s faces and no one knew what to do. Someone switched on the TV in the room to listen to the local news channel. Under the “Breaking news” footer on the screen, scrolled “Terrorist attack in the city. Hostage drama at Hotel Quadrant & Hotel Windsor. Shootouts at Narayana Hospital, Epsilon Mall & Omega Mall”. Sandy immediately took out his mobile and called Deeps to know where she was. To his horror he found out that Deeps was in the hotel, had little idea of what was happening and apparently someone had locked them all inside! Sandy communicated the situation to her and asked her to lock the hall from inside and stay there till the situation gets better.
Still uneasy, Sandy sat on the showroom floor and continued to watch the TV. One news channel over the other kept on bombarding the viewers of the horror that was transpiring across the city. The situation was only getting worse. 4 heavily armed terrorists occupied each of the hotels and were on a shooting spree and no one had a clue as to where they were in the hotel. The Security forces had taken over and cross firing had started and it looked as if there was no end to it. Helpless, Sandy watched the whole thing in horror. Couple of hours and still he could hear gunfire exchanged. “Oh! God, why did this happen? Why can’t everyone live and let live peacefully? What will anybody achieve by all these? Are we going to be locked up like this forever? What about Deeps? Why did she volunteer to organize anything?” There was no end for all these in his mind. He called Deeps every 10 minutes to know what was happening and to let her know about the situation as she had no source of any kind of information. He wanted to race across to the Hotel and get her home but deep down he knew he could not. Couple of hours more and the gunfire near the showroom had died down. On the TV it showed that things were under control near the mall but there was no confirmation from a reliable source. Many tried to contact the Police but the whole network was jammed. Still inside, nobody wanted to take any kind of risk. The showroom manager and few others distributed few biscuits and bottles of water. But shaken with affright, nothing much was going down the throat.
Meanwhile, in the party hall in the Quadrant, a friend of Deeps could not take it any longer and wanted to scream for help. She looked around for any window or door through which everyone could escape. She could see that on the far end of the hall were the toilets and behind each bonnet fixed on the wall were couple of windows. Without second thoughts, she pulled up a bonnet, bent forward, thrust open a window and put her head outside. She could see empty balconies of adjoining rooms on the right and as she turned left, she felt a hole in her neck. Deeps screamed from inside, her friend hanging half inside and bleeding around the neck area. Terror rocked their bodies like an electric shock. They could hear footsteps outside the hall. Everyone inside didn’t know what to do. “Do they scream for help? Do they go lock themselves up in the toilet or do they face whoever it is?” were the thoughts running through everyone’s mind.
Deeps took the lead and ran towards the far end of the hall towards the toilet. Her friends followed suit. The hall narrowed to a passage which lead to 3 doors. One was the Men’s Restroom, one was for the Women’s and the third was a service room which had a board “Entry strictly for Employees only”. Couple of her friends locked themselves in the Women’s toilet, the other into the Men’s. Deeps bravely tried to open the Service room door. It was jammed! She screamed and banged the other restroom doors but found no reply. She could hear that someone was trying to open the Party hall door. She had no choice but to push the service room door open. Holding the latch, she pushed it hard. The door didn’t move an inch. She took a deep breath and summoned in all the energy she was left with and hit the door hard with her shoulders. The door swing open and she hit the wall inside.
She could see few old clothes, linen and electric wires on floor. The room was deep and she couldn’t find the light switch. She closed the door from behind and latched it tight. The room now was pitch dark. She took out her mobile and pressed the keypad to lead the way. She realized that she might run out of battery and soon kept it back into her pocket. She walked straight & slow, away from the door in the dingy room like a blind man without a stick. Ten steps and she felt the wall. She moved left with her hands on the wall. Three steps and she found another perpendicular wall. She started to move right, six steps and she felt something woody. She moved her hands hysterically to find the latch. She located the hinge, stood behind it and swing open the door and stayed behind it for a few seconds. Slowly she started to peep out and out of the blue, she heard bullet shots and she slammed the door. It took a while for her to realize that the sound was from her behind and outside the service room. Again slowly she opened the door, waited for a few seconds and peeped out to find another passage which led to another hall. She came out of the room, closed the door and with her back to the wall, she moved forward. She could see another set of toilet rooms again. It had been a while since she had used the restroom and so she leapt across to the Women’s room and to her horror she found 6 women dead on the floor with blood all over the room and with their bodies punctured with countless bullets! She felt like throwing up. She jumped across the bodies and locked herself inside one of the rooms.
She sat inside thinking as to what she needed to do. She tried calling home and Sandy but the network was busy. That was the fifth time she had tried and her battery was flashing red! She text messaged both of them explaining in brief and asked both of them not to call but instead send a message. She opened the door and as soon as she came out, she heard a mobile ring! It was not hers and so she bent over to locate the other mobile. Suddenly she heard footsteps approaching her. She fell on the floor upside down, buried her face on the floor and lay there like a dead body. She heard one person entering the room. Her body froze and she could feel her heart beat in her mouth. The stranger scanned each of the rooms in the toilet, bent over to pick up the mobile and left. “What if he was a cop or one from our armed forces?”, she thought, but was too scared to do anything. Clutching her teeth, suppressing her fear, horror and hunger, she lay there frozen. Meanwhile, Sandy at home spent the whole night awake and watching the LIVE news on TV, shocked, terrorized and angered. Once in a while, he used to get an “OK” message from Deeps and that kept him going.
It was next day noon and still there were isolated exchanges of fire going on at the 2 hotels. The messages from Deeps had stopped and Sandy was uncontrollably hysteric. His eyes swollen, he kept praying to god to get everything back to normal. Every 15 minutes, the news flashed that the situation was under control and the firing had stopped but there was no confirmed news or evidence. The ATS were checking out each floor of the hotel to ensure everything was ok. And finally after 2 hours, in an interview with a news channel, the ATS chief confirmed that the attack was over with one terrorist captured and all others shot dead. He feared that most of them caught in the hotel were dead though there were a few who were alive and they would be shifted to BG Hospital shortly. Sandy jumped out of his house, started his bike and reached BG Hospital in minutes. There was a huge crowd gathered with number of media personnel outside the hospital. He walked inside and waited anxiously. First few ambulances were for the critically injured followed by those with minor injuries and general medical attention. Five ambulances came in and there was no sign of her. In the sixth one, as the stretcher was lowered, he recognized a familiar face. It was the same face that had transfixed him during the college cricket match. He lunged forward to hold her.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Villa Seele, situated in the deserted area of west Bangalore, bore a worn out look. But that didn’t reflect on the moods of Manoj and his son Aru, who were flying kites in the garden. Both were jeering and shouting claiming their kite was flying higher than the other. Ju, was by the tea table, reading a magazine, occasionally catching a glimpse of the father-son duo’s antics.
Weekends at Seele were always like this. Seele compounded a sprawling area. It had a huge garden in front of the main door which was house to some 20 odd mango trees. The backyard had a small swimming pool and a tennis court. Though it didn’t look like a 40 year old bungalow as it was renovated just before this family moved in about 6 years ago, it could still not camoflouge the burnt look on the rear of the villa. It was a duplex structure which had the main bedroom along with the kitchen, dining, servant room and a drawing room on the ground floor, along with couple of other rooms, a family room & a guest room on the first. Manjula the maid, occupied the servants room. She has been here ever since Manoj moved into Seele. She was a devoted maid who kept to herself and in her room sooner she finished her chores. On weekends she would travel to her native.
Manoj was a very well known surgeon in Bangalore, known for his oral and maxillofacial wizardry, while his wife Ju was a Technical Architect in a leading MNC which specialized on Mobile Applications. Crippled by the demanding work and schedules, they could hardly spend quality time at home during weekdays. But come weekends, both made it a point that they spend as much time as possible at home and with Aru. Manoj and Aru enjoyed being together. The camaraderie between them was great and they loved each other a lot. Weekends was playtime for both of them and Ju also enjoyed being along with them. Both Manoj and Ju were proud parents. They both doted their 10 year old son Aru. Aru was a sprightly young boy who was looked at as an intellect in his school. He was the ‘School Boy’ for the last 3 years, very good in his studies, quite good at sports and was very well mannered.
Meanwhile, through his room window, Arun, kept staring at his dad Manoj and mom Ju who were having a great time with Aru in the garden. Arun was the more silent and introvert kind of a boy. Tears rolled down his soft cheeks but he wasn’t crying. He slowly moved out of his room to the family room. He could see on either walls, quite a few photographs of Aru either cuddling his parents or all smiles with his dad. There were only 3 photos of Arun and all were solo and those were taken in school. He went back to his room and sunk himself between books. Arun hated weekends. During weekdays, his parents hardly used to be there, often coming home late in the night. He would almost always be asleep when they returned home during the week. Manoj or Ju would just drop by the room, give a kiss on his cheeks followed by a soft cuddle. Sometimes, even if Arun was awake, he would pretend to be asleep so that he gets that kiss and touch. That used to be his only moment!
Arun enjoyed being in school. Though he didn’t particularly have any close friends, all his class mates respected and enjoyed being with him. Most of them in the school were awestruck by his wit and intelligence. There was nothing that he was lagging at, be it debate, sports, IQ or studies. The teachers and his friends, kind of gave him a sense of belonging that he yearned for at home. During weekdays, he would spend most of his time in school, playing or reading something, often staying beyond the scheduled closing time. He didn’t hate Aru but couldn’t understand why his parents couldn’t see the obvious. He often turned inside to himself and kept burying his emotions. But it seemed that he was getting into this mode more often than not and slowly he could feel the weight of it increasing. This had to give way sometime. And couple of years later, it started to show.
Slowly, Aru had started to loose the aura that he had at school. Teachers often found him either talking to himself or lost in his thoughts. They could see the dip in his interest and concentration not only in sports and studies but also in other extra curricular activities in which he once was particularly strong. His ranking in the class suffered and even the school principal had taken note of this. Soon he had an appointment fixed with Aru’s parents to talk about this.
“Dr & Mrs Manoj, Arun, had been an outstanding student & made us proud on several occasions. Be it winning inter-school debate, quiz or sport competitions or at his studies, he was always not better but the best. But oflate I have observed that he has started to loose interest in everything. My teachers have even told me that he talks to someone who they cant even see. We know his potential and we don’t want him to go off track or drift away in life. I hope you understand what I’m talking about. Its better you consult a child psychologist, so that Arun is back to what he was.”
Manoj could not fathom what he heard from Aru’s principal. “How can things turn so drastically wrong with his son? How can a once outstanding kid, turn around so much that he needed to be consulting a psychologist?” were the thoughts that were running in his mind. Manoj and Ju could not sleep that night. They both kept wondering as to where & how it had all gone wrong. Ju somehow convinced Manoj that its better they meet a child psychologist so that there is no permanent damage on Aru. They both hugged each other more to reassure themselves that everything would be alright.
It had been more than a week since Arun had started visiting the psychologist. He would visit him daily for about 30 to 45 minutes. Manoj would enquire with the psychologist every other day to know if everything was ok. Manoj felt that things were improving and soon Aru would be back to being himself. Then one day, Manoj got a call from the psychologist asking if he was free to talk for a few minutes. Manoj asked him to continue. “Dr. Manoj, I don’t know if you would believe in this. You may even question my credibility or whatever but you need to believe me that this is my interpretation based solely on my interactions with your son. Arun believes that there is a soul in your house.” There was a deliberate pause. “Dr. Manoj, since how long have you been staying in this villa?”
Manoj couldn’t believe what he had just heard. He was shocked and confused. He didn’t want to continue at the hospital. But an emergency kept him there and he returned home late. He hadn’t discussed his call with the psychologist with Ju. He had thought its better to talk at home than over the phone and moreover he was caught in the hospital. He entered the drawing room silently, placed his suitcase and jacket over the couch and went over to see if Ju was asleep in the bedroom. She was asleep indeed but what shook him was that she was sleeping with another man on the bed. He moved closer slowly to see who he was. He suddenly heard a crackling sound to his right. He hastily turned to see what it was. That woke up Ju too and she put on the room lights and asked, “Gosh! What happened? Do you need to go back to the hospital? Did you get an emergency call?” Manoj turned around to check for that other man. He was gone!

PS: Seele in German means Soul.