A ticket to freedom

For all the stories in this series visit Diaries of a confused graduate

Finally, my life was looking up. After months of jobless despair, loneliness and near depression, there was light at the end of the tunnel. It was my first day at Extentia, and seated at the reception I looked outside pensively. On one side, rose the imposing facade of the CST railway terminus, and at the other end of my panoramic view was Mumbai`s grandest ornament – the Queen`s necklace .That December morning, the skies were clear, with a slight nip in the air, and I nervously checked my watch yet again. The stars of good fortune had shone down on me. A few more weeks of unemployment, and I would have had no choice but to pack my bags and head back to my native town.

Just then, the door to the HR cabin jerked open and a smart, busty girl in her mid twenties walked towards me.
“Hi! This is Shivani. We have spoken over phone before”, she said with a smile
I gathered my bearings and offered my best handshake. Wow, I thought to myself. A good pay package, a joining bonus , an office at Nariman Point and add to that, a busty HR. This was the dream. I was like a homeless destitute two weeks back looking for crumbs to feed on, and here I was being served a full meal with dessert.
Over the next one hour, Shivani explained the firm`s policies in excruciating detail. I sat stiff, barely stirring, looking straight at her face, and not daring to lower my eyes.
“Put yourself at ease. You know, you have joined at the perfect time. Not only do you get a joining bonus, but also our usual year end bonus. You owe me treat.”, she said grinning.
“So, that was a briefing on the company`s policies. Any questions “, she asked. I nodded a no.
“Let me introduce you to your team lead ” she said while leading me out of her cabin.

As I walked through the lobby, I got my first look at the workplace. The decor was bright and colorful, and the people seemed genial.
Predominantly male, I noted. But I did spot a few chicks who having put on just the right amount of winter weight, seemed to be at the pinnacle of their youthful beauty. Before I realized it, we had reached my team lead`s cabin.
“Hi! Meet Akash – who will be your team lead and manager”, introduced Shivani.
“Akash is an IITian, who was previously based out of our US office”, she continued.
Impressive, I thought. What a contrast to Basu.
As Shivani walked away, I saw Akash`s eyes flick and linger. He recovered swiftly, but it was too late. Being a veteran myself, I knew all about that. My new team lead had just checked out Shivani`s ass as she walked out. And he knew that I knew. I gave him a half smile, telling him telepathically that I was totally cool with this. No words were exchanged, but the ice had broken and a perfect rapport had been established.
“So, lets talk about you…”, began Akash.

Over the next couple of weeks, I slowly settled down. Being December, work was light. Those days “CSR” or, Corporate Social Responsibility was a fad in the IT industry. Extentia too did a fair share of CSR. The firm had a special programme , ‘Udaan’, to help under-privileged children.
“As you all know, we take CSR very seriously, here”, said Shivani.
It was Christmas Eve and the entire office had gathered at the cafeteria for a special announcement. Behind Shivani , was a poster of a young school girl running with a kite against the backdrop of a blue sky, with a punchline – Udaan: A ticket to freedom
“Let us brighten the lives of those less fortunate than us. We are planning to visit an old age home today evening and spend some time with the people there. So, who is up for it ?”
A whole load of hands shot up. Half of them , I suspect were for more for Shivani than the old age home visit.

The residents of the old age home were delighted to see us. It was a welcome change from their routine lives, spent in the lonely memories of days gone by and with little to look forward to in the future. These happy moments were the things they lived for. For next four hours, we brought the place to life. We decorated the home and set up an X`mas tree in the common verandah. We lit small lamps in every nook and corner. We distributed blankets, hearing aids and served them a special meal. Post dinner, we proceeded to entertain the inmates with whatever we could. Some of us could sing well, one played the guitar, and one of my colleagues was an excellent mimic and stand up comedian. In a fitting finale, Shivani madam herself decided to get into the act. She showed a few salsa steps, and the old farts came back from the dead. Forces were unleashed, gates were opened. Ok, I guess those were more of my own feelings.

It was 10 pm, when we left the old age home. I found myself walking down a dark, narrow lane to get the nearest rail station from where I would catch a local to Andheri.
“O saab”, boomed a voice in the darkness
I whirled around to see a poor man with matted hair and torn clothes, looking at me pleadingly. I remembered my teacher once again – give them food, not money.
“Would you like to eat something ?” , I asked.
“Nahi saab. I had a sumptuous dinner” he said, burping to emphasize his point.
I extended a ten ruppee towards him. He appeared hesitant.
“What happened ?”, I asked
“Could please buy me a ticket ?”
“What ticket ?”
He pointed to my right, quite amazed that I had missed such an important landmark.
Then I saw it – crammed into the lane, almost invisible, stood proudly a theater for adult movies.
The poster announced a movie “Ek raat ki chandni” with an appetising image of a couple wrapped in a blanket, daring us to imagine our wildest fantasies. I awoke to the situation I found myself in : a beggar had just asked me to buy him a ticket for a porn movie.
It was then that I had one of those special conversations with my deeper, spiritual self.
“What the hell”, I said
“No big deal. Just buy him the ticket”, said my inner voice.
“Are you kidding me.. buying a porn ticket for a beggar ?”
I turned to the beggar and said
“Hey, I can give you food, clothes…”
“No, the ticket will be just fine.” he said impatiently
My inner voice piled on the pressure.
“That`s his ticket to freedom. Go ahead and buy him one. Let him celebrate Xmas with an Xmovie.”
Eloquently put. Ticket to freedom. Wasn`t that what the day was all about.
I stepped up to the dimly lit ticket counter, and bought a ticket. The beggar accepted it gleefully. I rushed out without waiting to hear his kind words of gratitude at my act of charity


A full recovery

For all the stories in this series visit Diaries of a confused graduate

Heavy fog clouded my vision. I was dimly aware of lush greenery all around and a sharp bend in the terrain ahead.My car seemed stuck in a vice like wedge between two boulders.
“Use your left brain”, shrieked the gal next to me.
I turned to her in shock. Hell, she was the new chick – Joshi`s most recent tenant. She was a psychiatrist by profession, and I found her as crazy as the people she supposedly treated. But how did she get in here ?
I looked at my rear view mirror in astonishment, to see Joshi`s angry face.
He was holding a piece of paper in his hands, gesticulating wildly. Ah, that was the rent cheque I had given him last month. The bank turned it down citing a signature mismatch. Joshi had then threatened to throw me out if it ever happened again. Apparently, the bank had a problem with the way I had curved the ‘h’. My mind began to race … heck, where the hell was I and what are these people doing in my car ? And since when did I have a car in the first place. The ground seemed to shake all of a sudden, and there was an irritating buzz in the air. The buzz got louder and louder until I could bear it no longer. My eyes flickered open, and still unsure, I reached for my cell phone by the side of my pillow.
“Vish calling”. I made out the words in a trance, as the fog began to lift
“What a bad dream”, I thought, as I picked the call with a sleepy ‘hello’.
“Hey, time to wake up bro”, said Vish.
“Damn you Vish.. this better be good”
To bachelors, 8 am on a Saturday is as unholy as 3 am is for the rest of the world. Vish and I go back a long way, right to the early days of childhood in my little town. We were inseperable bench mates in school, and even joined the same college in Pondicherry. That was when Vish`s life changed. He got a girlfriend. And a dude with a girlfriend turns into a chick himself.Where we earlier used to scavenge the whole of Pondicherry for hot French women, he now preferred to sit on a rock in the beach along with his new found love and play “ask-me-anything”. Thus we drifted apart. Every now and then, we would call to catch up.
“Yes, it`s real good – Papaji is dead”, he said gravely.
My mind took some time to digest the news. Papaji dead.
And with his death, an important part of our childhood memories too had died.

It was one of the hottest summers in my town – the summer of 1997, and I was in sixth grade. Dry winds blew all day long kicking up a truckload of dust.The country was in a state of upheavel. H D Deve Gowda had become our PM.
Those days, people blamed him for everything.
No electricity ? – Deve Gowda.
Stock market crashed ? – Deve Gowda.
Everything too expensive ? – why, Deve Gowda of course.

That day, as I tip toed into my dad`s room with my report card, I hoped Gowda would come to my rescue. I had passed alright, with a grand total of 210 out of 500 – a little over forty percent. Father looked at my report with disdain.
“Why ? Don`t you study at all ?”, he asked.
“It`s Deve Gowda. He`s a real ass”, I said.
I vaguely remembered my dad leaning back to raise his hand. And then, my ears rang like the bells of a temple.

My face still sore, I made my way to the street behind my house. The searing noon heat made my face burn all the more, but there were far more important matters on my mind. I walked briskly until I reached a pretty red house.
“Viiissshuuu”, I yelled.
Vishwanath Vaitheswaran Iyer – my best friend. He was a short lad with a long name and a head full of ideas.
Vish poked his head out of the window, and a few seconds later joined me at the gate.
“All set ? “, I asked nervously.
Vish responded with a curt nod. We walked silently past familiar streets, houses and shops. Gradually, leaving behind the familiar, we found ourselves walking through the older parts of the town. It was that part of the town we were often warned not to venture into.
“You sure they won`t be back ?”, I asked.
“My parents are never back until 6:30 and the maid is off today. No worries”
“How much longer to walk ?”
“Ten minutes more”
“I am scared”.
The plan was hatched a couple of months back. We were nearing the end of sixth grade and at the threshold of adolescence – the age where you first find a teacher hot, or look at the girl next door with new eyes. Some of my classmates were already a raging mass of hormones. The first copies of raunchy magazines began to surface in the classroom. Hidden below benches, tucked inside shirts, we stole a few moments each day to go over the stuff, and boy, it seemed pretty awesome. Even in those days, Vish was a man of adventure. He asked around, and got wind of the fact that there exist movies for this kind of stuff. That ought to be better we thought. Some more asking around, and he got the name of the most popular movie doing the rounds those days – a movie called Wild Orchid. And thus we vowed that we have to, just have to ,watch that movie. Vish had a VCR, or what was more popularly known as a ‘deck’, and it was decided that we would sneak in the cassette and watch it at his home when his parents were out for work.

And it was finally D-day, our tryst with destiny when we would watch our first blue film to initiate our rites of passage to puberty. There was a video parlor at the far end of the town, and we were on our way to it.
“I am scared”, I repeated.
“Ssh..”, said Vish stopping dead in his tracks.
A few feet ahead was a black cat about to cross the street.
We watch with bated breath. A black cat cutting your path was the worst omen, and as kids we believed in every possible superstition. More so, when we were on such an important mission.
The cat meanwhile had stopped too and looked at us intently. Then quite inexplicably it just turned around and disappeared where it came from, without crossing our path.
“Whew..”, i said with a sigh of relief.
Vish saw much deeper meaning than that
“You see.. even God is with us.” he said in a respectful voice.
The enormous significance of what had just happened then dawned on me.
“Yes.. “, i said thrilled. “God is with us. He wants us to go ahead and do this”.
We silently thanked Lord Muruga whose temple we frequented every Thursday.
Infused with faith, confidence and courage we now walked like lions. Passing the bazaar, the vegetable market, numerous blacksmiths and the bridge, we finally reached our destination.

The owner of the shop was an old Sikh. He had fled from Delhi during the 1984 riots and found the safety and peace he sought in our little town. Everyone called him Papaji. We walked up to him.
“Wild Orchid”, I said keeping a straight face.
Papaji looked at us, scrutinising, then disappeared inside his shop. He came back with a cassette.
We paid him the rent in advance and quickly left the place. Our hearts thumped with excitement. Even the cover of the video cassette was smoking hot. We let our minds roam in fantasy of what the actual movie would hold.
We almost ran the last mile to Vishu`s house. Bolting the door, and quivering in anticipation we switched on the TV, the deck and stretched on the leathery couch. As the movie began we shot each other a triumphant look, and then settled down for what we thought would be the most incredible experience of our life

And incredible, it was. A little too incredible. The movie was unlike anything we thought.It did send our pulse racing, hearts pounding, not out of lust but of the most extreme trepidation. We thought it would send our blood rushing, but instead it chilled our blood to the bones. Our lofty expectations of burning loins was replaced with shaking fear. Halfway, we thought something was amiss, but decided to watch on hoping that it would come sooner or later. But it never ever came. The hot woman on the cover never appeared. We were instead tormented by a little girl who looked like a ghost and turned her head 360 degrees.
An hour later, drenched with sweat we reached Papaji`s shop. Quickly thrusting the cassette in his hands, we ran for our lives.

I was terrified of the dark all through that summer. We never even dreamt of watching porn again. We turned a blind eye to what others in the class discussed. It was only two full years later that we realized what had happened. The movie Papaji had given us was not Wild Orchid, but The Exorcist. Only the cover alluded to the Wild Orchid. Vish and I did a whole host of things in the summers to come, but never again did we plan another attempt. We were scarred for life.

As we recollected the incident over phone, Vish and I laughed at the rich memories of our childhood. Papaji was a genius I must say. May his soul rest in peace. And I`m sure that he is there somewhere on the other side guarding the gates of puberty

It was finally in my eleventh grade, that I broke the shackles and watched the real stuff. I saw, I came and I conquered.
To my credit, I only went from strength to strength after that. I went on to amass a staggering 50 GB collection that Cassanova would have been proud of . It`s been a great run. Fighting the seeds of fear sown in your childhood is not easy, but I did it and made a grand comeback. Or, as the shrink next door would say – a full recovery. 😉

Down the rabbit hole

For all the stories in this series visit Diaries of a confused graduate

She was outrageously pretty, neat and dignified at the same time. With her shades pushed up to the top of her head, she nonchalantly gazed out at the equally pretty ghats of Khandala. Every once in a while she checked her recently polished crimson red nails, and admired her own handiwork.

Opposite her was a total contrast.He looked like a cyclone hit refugee. Battered in his second class bogey and in the last leg of his journey that had begun almost three days back, and traumatized by the weather that swung worse than a woman`s moods : from roasting hot, to windy, to rainy, to chilly, as the train cut through South India, he cut a sorry figure. It was just a couple of hours from Mumbai. For him, it was the kind of fantasy every guy has as a kid – of travelling with a chick and your parents out of the way. Well, the fantasy had finally happened, but unfortunately, he looked like a cyclone hit refugee, and even more unfortunately – that refugee was none other than me.

For a while, I amused myself by studying her without appearing to do so. The art of subtle staring. And then, I decided to take a leap of faith, and speak to her. I could sense the Gods above putting away whatever they were in the middle of, to watch the conquest -a cyclone hit refugee who hadn`t bathed for three days, having a heavy Tamil accent was about to flirt with a classy, uber chick. I ruminated on my opening line. “Are you from Mumbai ? I`m on my way there too – for the first time.” , “What is the city like ?” , “What`s your name” ..or maybe get straight to the point, “You`re lookng great. Where are you heading ?” . Just then, she stood up with a start, looked at her watch and rushed out. I assumed I had some pretty company till Mumbai. Apparently not.

With the chick gone, I relapsed once again into a swirl of nostalgic sentiments. I thought of my family : a merry band of elders, uncles, aunts and kids, who had all come to see me off at the bus stop. You might have thought that I was flying away to some far off land never to return.
In a way it was a momentous occassion. Nobody really left my town. It was this hypnotic little place, where you grow up climbing trees, playing by the canal at your backyard, study a bit, marry a local girl named Lakshmi, find a job in a factory or a bank, settle down and live forever. The town had a nice bazaar, shady roads,lush paddy fields, a traditional Main Street and a picturesque bridge overlooking a calmly flowing stream. It was the kind of place that an adventurous tourist would discover and want to stay in for the rest of his life. We all have romantic notions of the “perfect little town”. To all those who say it doesn`t exist – well, it does. And I have a home there. 

“… and of course, no drinking here. If you want to booze do it elsewhere and don`t return until you are back to your senses. “, Joshi said.
I knew there would be rules. Every landlord has them. On reaching Mumbai, I was received by a distant friend of a distant relative (that was my closest contact in the city) who did part time real estate brokering. He had already spoken to Mr Joshi about a PG accomodation for me. It was a charming, old fashioned apartment, also known as a “waada”in those parts. Joshi and his wife stayed on the ground floor, while I was given a room on the first floor. Joshi spelled out three rules for me to observe : no getting a girl to my room, no playing music that can be heard outside the room and no drinking. The “waada”, as I said, was very charming – it had wooden staircases, big courtyards, and even a well. Every month Joshi would tramp up the wodden staircase to pay me a courtesy visit. Both of us knew that it was much more than that : a gentle reminder that the rent was due in a week and a scrutiny of how well I maintained the room. My room was the perfect bachelor`s pad : an inviting cot, a small wardrobe and a chair by the window facing the street. I kicked off my shoes, got on my cot and slept straight for tweleve hours until the next morning. And thus began my first day in Mumbai.

I joined work two days later. And it was my first ride on the infamous Mumbai local trains. Ok, I get the inevitable eyeroll from you. “How cliched”, you would say. Cliched, yes. But cliched because it is so damn true all the time ! The crush of people at the rail platform, the collective nervous breakdowns while boarding or getting off the trains, moving as if their lives depended on it, gave me a good picture of what must have happened at the lifeboat stations on the Titanic. I was intrigued, horrified and disgusted by it at once. If there was ever any doubt that we evolved from beasts, here was the proof. That first day, I lost the battle. I couldn`t push past the crowd and get down at my stop. I got down at the next, after being concussed with half a dozen blows, and took a taxi back to my office : Passion Infotech.

“Meet Mr Basu, your manager.”
A firm handshake, and then Basu went back to his cabin.On graduating, the first question I asked myself was : Is there life after college. Basu answered it in style. I didnt know it then, but this man would play a pivotal role in the adventures that ensued in the first year of my working life. As pivotal a role as T-Rex played in Jurassic Park. Passion Infotech was a small unit – about forty employees in all. About which perhaps thirty nine were male. There was just one girl I could spot in the entire office – Prianca, and more often than not, she got all the privileges and attention of being the only saving grace in what was otherwise a total man cave. Passion Infotech offered me a measely stipend which was barely enough to cover my expenses in Mumbai. But the deal was that in three months time, my probation would be over and I would be upgraded to a much better pay scale.

If by now you are turned off by the lack of characters and dialogues in this story, then sorry, but that was exactly how my life during those first few days in Mumbai. I didnt understand Marathi, and nobody understood my Hindi . I talked so little those days, that I thought I would forget how to speak. The food was alien. And I had no friends. I kept wondering how I would fit into this incredible city. I got acquainted with some of my fellow tenants in Joshi`s waada. There were two other apartments : one occupied by a trio of boys and one by a trio of gals. They were college going students and kept each other at arm`s length. The two groups were totally different – a world apart. If a guy stayed out late, his roomies would be excited for him, happy that he is having a night of drinks, dance and other forbidden pleasures. But for gals the story was different. If a gal doesn`t return home in time for Kyun ki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi… her roomies would seriously consider calling the cops. I didn`t understand a word of what they spoke, but watching them go about their lives was my only source of recreation. It felt like watching a documentary in some mystery language without the subtitles.

“Can I get your bike for a day ?” I asked.
The broker cum distant friend of a distant relative hesitated before dropping a cautious “yes”.
My life was restricted to : office, local train, home. And repeat. Tired of my routine, I resolved to break the shackles and see the city from a new perspective. I had been in Mumbai for two weeks now, and was still struggling to come to terms with it. It seemed a mammoth monster : tough, unforgiving and cruel. A city that in many respects was more of a jungle, where only the fittest survived, defying everything that I thought I knew and at times driving me to the brink of helplessness. And yet, Mumbai is an acquired taste, and in the months and years to come, I saw the softer, kinder side of this city. That Saturday evening, I decided to cast off my laziness and explore the “sexier” parts of the city : Colaba, Cuffe Parade and Nariman Point.

With a free spirit, I drove down the Western Express Highway, drenched in the sounds, sights and humidity of the city. It was nearing dusk, when I reached the Worli seaface. I settled down on the parapet to have a rare bystander`s view of the city : teeming masses rushing to get home, buses plying, filled shops. Even to this day, that remains my foremost memory of the great city : a city on drugs – hyperactive, ever on the move, never stopping or resting. Mumbai is a city caught between extremes: unthinkable riches and debilitating poverty, fabulous mansions and slums, the greatest tribute to the power of man and at the same time, the darkest blot on humanity. I then turned my back to the city and towards the sea. At a far away rock, I could sight the Haji Ali dargah, floating in the waters, like the island city itself. The magnificient Bandra Worli sea link spread majestically, sandwiched between the sky and the waters, running farther than my eyes could see. The orange sun dabbled playfully on the waters before sinking out of sight.
“O bhaiyya..” a raspy voice said, shaking me out of my trance.
A young boy of about 15 stood next to me, dressed in worn out clothes and asking for alms. A school teacher of mine had once said that rather than give them money, buy them food.
“I`ll get you food “, I said to which he nodded gleefully.
“Wada pav ? “ – the most popular, ubiquituous snack in the city.
“I`ll prefer Bhel puri “ , he said shyly.
I looked at him amused, before walking with him to the nearest chaat stall and buying him Bhel puri along with chai
Mumbai, the maximum city. Where beggars get to be choosers.

With that I started on my way again, heading south towards the Siddhivinayak temple. I`ve never been a man of faith, and went there more as a tourist than a devotee.
“This is not just a temple. It is the guardian, protector and custodian of the whole city. Even after repeated bomb blasts, riots, floods and a countless problems, the city still stands, serving the dreams of millions and giving them livelihood”, a man there told me. Something moved within me as I contemplated those words. I recalled those words on numerous occassions in the coming times and for the first time felt that perhaps there is a Higher Force governing the affairs of men below. That day and those words were the starting point of my journey from an indifferent agnost to a man of faith.

For the rest of the evening, I drove around Colaba, Nariman Point and Malabar Hill gaping at the lovely legacy structures of the British Raj. Finally, having had my heart`s fill of the city, I turned towards Andheri. Looking forward to a pleasurable ride and my warm bed, I stepped on the gas and zoomed down the street. But as it so often happens , just when you think you are in for a smooth ride, life throws you a curveball. I found myself on a quiet, shady road, when I decided to exercise my foremost fundamental right as an Indian – to pee in the open. I parked by the side of the road and made my way through the shrubbery to what looked like the compound wall of a bungalow. I undid my fly and let it rip. Much relieved and happy, I trudged back to my bike to find a policeman standing there.
“What the hell do you think you are doing ?”, he growled angrily.
“Just taking a leak,” , I said playfully
“Are you out of your mind.”
For a second I wondered if I was in America. Nopes. This was Mumbai – where people pee, crap and bathe in the open. And as a proud Indian it is my duty to pee in the open, especially on a pleaseant, star lit evening.
“Since when did public urination become a crime “
“I`ll tell you since when… drive to the police station.” , he said sitting on the pillion.
“Drive !”, he yelled.

There was a small police chowkey at the end of the road.
“Since when did public urination become a crime.” , I repeated my question. There were two other policemen. The constable who caught me walked up to them and whispered something in their ears. They cracked up at that.
“That was the Raj Bhavan, you chutiya” , they said and laughed hard.
That was when it dawned. The quiet road. Malabar Hill. An elegant compund wall. It was the first time I had ever peed in pubic, and out of all places, I had picked the Raj Bhavan. I had honored the Honorable Governor of Maharashtra in my own unique way. A chorus of laughter resonated the police chowkey.
“In my twenty years of service, this is the most original crime I have ever seen”, said one, and they laughed harder. At the end of it all though, they were reluctant to squander an opportunity to fleece me. I paid them 300/- and continued on my way.

That night, lying on my bed and at the edge of consciousness, I sleepily recollected the events of the day – the freshness of the Worli seaface, a surge of faith at the Siddhivinayak temple, the impressive buildings of Nariman Point, the chicks on Marine Drive and finally, signing off by peeing on the Governor`s bungalow.That day, at last, I felt one with the city . The twenties are the most incredible years of your life, spent in the worthy pursuit of just two things : trying to get laid and trying not to get laid off. Mumbai became the stage for my escapades. As I spiralled further into sleep, I thought of Joshi`s three rules and smiled. I did pretty well to follow them for one whole year until one night of debauchery where I broke each of them and ended up being thrown out of my apartment. That, I`ll save for another tale 😉

Ek tha Tiwari


The other day, on an idle Saturday afternoon, as I sat flipping through the channels, a hyper-excited news reporter suddenly appeared. “The DNA test report is out. N D Tiwari has been found to be the father…”

Yep, the 90 year old Narayan Dutt Tiwari. A legend. Look at this guy. Just look at him. A couple of years back a racy CD surfaced – it showed an 85 year old man rocking the bed with three women. At an age where most people are either dead or are unable to even wear their own pants, this dude had dropped his to enjoy a foursome. This is legendary, historic and epic. He is what Muhammad Ali is to boxing, Maradona to football, Sachin to cricket and Micheal Jordan to basketball – a total game changer. And boy, was it a slam dunk or what !  As a proud Indian citizen who has helplessly watched our politicians screw, ravage and plunder the country, here is one stud who can screw and ravage in the one arena where it truly counts. I propose that we confer upon him the prestigious title of “Father of the Nation”. It never really suited the Mahatma – a hardcore celibate. It belongs to Tiwari-ji, who will pull it off with aplomb. My sources tell me that India TV and their enthusiastic producer are scouring the country for faces resembling Tiwari – they are searching the villages and cities, mountains and plains, deserts and coasts. Just how vast is Tiwari-ji`s family tree is a raging national debate.

In this season of Olympics and achievement, Tiwari has struck gold. The news is out – Tiwari-ji is the proud father of a healthy baby boy. Badhai ho ji. And sorry, I am 32 years late in congratulating you.

Below is a true story of Tiwari`s fictional nephew – Bhajan Tiwari. Please read it. If not for me, then atleast in honor of the great man.

An old Ambassador, rusted at the sides, strutted to a halt outside a modest looking office. Bhajan Tiwari alighted and walked in rapidly, past the cluster of waiting, expectant faces. He headed to the inner most room and parked himself comfortably in the cushioned chair behind his desk.
“Manu, agarbatti la re”, he yelled, incensed, that Manu had as usual forgotten to place the pack of incense sticks at his table.
Manu flitted in with nervous, nimble steps and respectfully placed the sticks on the table.
“Good Morning , sir”, he said.
“Morning”, Tiwari replied.

Tiwari-ji liked English. Not that he knew much of it. He had spent most of his school and college days loafing in the streets of Meerut. Disturbed by his idle lifestyle, his uncle, the great Narayan Dutt Tiwari drafted him into the Congress Party. And that was a momentous change in his life. Gone were the days where Bhajan would sleep till noon. He was up at 7:30 these days. After a quick bath, he would start for “office” – the Congree Pradesh office. Gone were the days when Bhajan spoke only chaste Hindi. He had picked up a few good English phrases and practised them with Manu, his office boy. Manu was always puzzled by the “Good Morning” routine – Tiwari-ji replied “Morning” , leaving out the “good” part. Gone were the days of Bhajan`s coarse sing-song way of speech – now replaced by a brisk, incisive style of speaking which befitted a man in close touch with the great ones of his political party.

But Tiwari knew his roots too. He religiously chanted the Hanuman Chalisa every morning and lit incense sticks next to the frame of Hanuman in the room before starting with his work.

“Some villagers are waiting outside ji. They have a water problem in their village”.
“Hmm…” Tiwari nodded.
“A group of folks from another village have come to meet you regarding a road”
“Some people from the chawls in Meerut have come too – they haven`t had electricity for a month now. One of them says he is your school friend”
“Huh..” Tiwari said, dismissing it with a irreverent wave of his hand. That was a dark chapter in his life – his wasted childhood. He was now the leader of the Congress Pradesh Committe in Meerut. He wanted a fresh start to his life. The future looked promising. MLA. MP. Minister. Who knew how far he could go !. He wanted nothing to do with his past or the sorry characters in it.
“A corporator wants to speak to you…”
“A young girl has come to ask for donation for her school..”
At that Tiwari hand shot up. Not in the form of an irreverent wave, but a firm signal for Manu to stop.
“Send the girl in.”, he said.
Manu looked surprised.
“Schools are the future of the country. Most important.”, said Tiwari.

As the girl walked in, Tiwari rose to greet her. He enthusiastically shook her hand.
“Good morning”, he said.
“Morning”, she replied.
Manu watched curiously from the sides.
“Manu, go and get some chai for madam”, ordered Tiwari and motioned for madam to be seated.
She wore an orange dress that complimented her fair skin. A bluish white dupatta hung awkwardly and the slightly low neck teased Tiwari`s eyes.
“What is your name madam”,
“Wow, I remember an actress with the same name.” replied Tiwari . She was pretty. No doubt.
“So, Urmila ji. How can I help you ?”
“I am planning to start a school in a small village outside Meerut..”
“What a noble thought !”, Tiwari said. Pouncing on the opportunity to praise her.
She smiled coyly before continuing.
“I`ve got a small building for the school. Spoken to a few teachers too. But we are running short of funds. We are planning to open the primary section of the school in two months and I need the money urgently.”
“Hmm…” said Tiwari thoughtfully.
“So, I thought I could maybe request you for a donation…”
“Yes, yes, Urmila-ji. You have come to the right place” said Tiwari nodding.

“Well, what do I get” , thought Tiwari in his mind

It was almost as if Urmila could read his thoughts.

“Sir, we are also planning to call you for the foundation day as our Chief Guest. You will cut the ribbon and give a speech. We shall have a special stone in the school with your honorable name mentioned on it. And yes, we are also planning to give free school bags to the children with your photograph printed on it”.
Bhajan was floored. This was a chance like no other to be noticed. He will call in the media too who will put up his photograph in their newspapers. Maybe he would get an interview. And above all, he thought, looking at Urmila, maybe there could be something happening more between them. All the netas at his level, he had observed, had a fling with someone or the other. Some even maintained about half a dozen mistresses. His uncle`s tales too were narrated in hushed whispers. At first, Bhajan did not believe it. Then slowly he did. Now, he had a grudging respect for his uncle. The old man was quite a cassanova. Bhajan was unlucky so far in that respect. But here was a window of opportunity that could possibly lead him to the doors of her bedroom, thought Bhajan.

“I am honored Urmila-ji” , he said, faking his modesty.
“I knew you would not refuse Sir” , said Urmila sincerely and crouched forward in her chair. That made the dupatta slip down and Bhajan had a moment of thrill , before she re-adjusted it. He was titillated and captivated by her. She had the face of an angel and the body of a model.
Manu came in with tea and biscuits.
As they sat sipping their tea, leaning back relaxed on the chair, their eyes locked for a moment, before Urmila smiled slightly and looked away, embarassed.
“Let us be friends, Urmila-ji. I know a lot of people. Powerful people. I can help you out with anything you may want.”
“That is very kind of you ji”, she said. She was blushing now and that did not escape Tiwari`s attention.
She is mine, thought Tiwari.

“I will arrange for the money tomorrow itself.”
“Could you make it in cash ji ?” said Urmila. “Most of the people I deal with want cash”
“They want black money”, sneered Tiwari in mock disdain. “That is why our country is like this !”
“But don`t you worry, I will arrange for the cash”
“Would you like to come to the school, or come to my home tomorrow for dinner”, said Urmila, extending an open invitation.
“Your house of course ji. Will check out the school later” , said Tiwari with a smile that barely hid his lust.
He looked on contentedly, as she left his room and walked down the narrow corridor, his eyes never budging even for a second.
As she disappeared, he called for Manu.
“Manu ! Come here !”
“Cancel all my appointments. We have to arrange 25 lakhs in cash. And quick.”
“My great grandfather used to say that you could buy the whole of Meerut for 25 lakhs in 1900”.
“Oh ! Shut up. Times have changed. Arrange for the money, you fool”, barked Tiwari.
“That builder… ?”
“Yes, that son of a bitch owes us forty. Get a couple of gundas and wring his neck today until he pays !”
Manu went scurrying out. Tiwari too left his office to go shopping for new clothes.

“Turn left here and turn right at the intersection”, instructed Tiwari.
Manu obeyed and they entered a dusty road. A suitcase full on cash sat at the backseat. They were on the outskirts of Meerut, and before long, Urmila-ji came to view. She was waiting outside the gates of an old house. Tiwari`s heart skipped a beat. She was dressed in white today – looking like an ethereal fairy against the backdrop of the twilit sky.Manu pulled over.
“Manu, you leave the car here and get going”, said Tiwari.
“How will I go sir”
“Take a bus, you ass !” , retorted Tiwari.
Tiwari entered the house clutching the suitcase, led by Urmila. He was slightly disappointed to see her parents too.
“Be patient Bhajan. This is just the first day”, he soothed his disappointment.
With a big grin, he handed over the suitcase to her mother and touched her feet. She blessed him immediately. Dinner was served and boy, was it delicious ! For a brief moment, Bhajan thought of his wife back home – badly, clumsily dressed and a total contrast to Urmila in every way. Where Urmila served him food with utmost respect, his wife would nag him incessantly and her taunts were spicier than the food. Bhajan thought he had reached paradise that night.
Later, relaxing in the sit-out after dinner, their hands met. Urmila held his palm in a firm grasp, and they gently kissed. Bhajan could feel her full, luscious lips on his as he slipped his hand around her waist. A little later, she broke off abruptly.
“Mother may not like it. Why don`t you come tomorrow night again for dinner. They are leaving in the afternoon itself”, she said in his ear, her voice sinking down to a seductive whisper.

Bhajan`s car raced through the night. And his heart raced faster. He couldn`t wait for time to pass. As he reached home, his wife dished out the usual taunts, but nothing touched him today. The next day, Tiwari went shopping again.

Tiwari reached her house by twilight once again – all set to unleash the vampires within him.
This time she wasn`t there at the gates.
“Ah, she is getting ready”, thought Tiwari playfully.
The door was open and Tiwari entered confidently. He was shocked at the sight that greeted him. The house was empty. Echo empty. The dining table, the furniture, the bed, all gone.
“Am I in the wrong house ?” , mused Tiwari. Houses here all looked the same: independent houses, unmaintained, badly in need of paint, and a lot of them lay empty. Tiwari cross checked. This was the house. No doubt. In a state of total chaos, he ran down the street until he saw a light in a house. He knocked impatiently.
“Anybody there ?”, he asked gruffly.
An old man opened the door cautiously.
“What do you want ?”
“That house there… who stays there”, he said pointing down the street.
“It has been empty for a decade ji. An old army general used to live there. After his death it has remained vacant.”
“Are you sure ? Did you see anyone there in the last few days..”
“Haan ji. I`m sure. I have lived in this street all my life. My eye sight is a bit weak these days. But I think I saw a big truck taking away lots of stuff down this street today afternoon.”

“So, the house was empty !”
They were seated in the Congress Pradesh office, the next morning dissecting the events of the day before.
“Yes, Manu, I am stunned. I had dinner there just yesterday.”
“How is that possible , sir !”
“The bitch was a fraud. Very clever. It was all a set-up.”
“And the school.. ? She had given you the address, rite ?”
“It turned out to be a cow shed”
“Oh, my God”, gasped Manu.
“She is gone with the money”
“Should we hunt her down ji”
“No forget it. If the word ever gets out that I was tricked, it would be humiliating.”
“So, we should let it go.. ?”
“Yes, let it go. Forget it. And don`t tell a soul”.
“As you say sir.”
“Thank You”
Manu scratched his head for the appropriate English response. Tiwari-ji had taught him just last week. Ah, yes, he finally got it
“You are welcome ji”
A hundred years can make a lot of difference, I guess. You could buy the whole town for 25 lakhs then. But all Tiwari got was a dinner and a kiss. On that note, guys, lets call it night 😉

N.D Tiwari has humbly denied all his heroics, calling it a “conspiracy to malign his reputation”. Yeah, right. Some genius stole his DNA and created new life out of it. Tiwari-ji, did you watch Jurassic Park last weekend ?

Life, destiny and magic

For all the stories in this series visit Diaries of a confused graduate

Nothing tells the tale of a man`s life better than the photo frames in his room. Frozen within them are slices of the biggest, happiest and most memorable moments of his life . Fleeting moments, impossible to reproduce , which changed him forever, and usually there are three of them – graduation, marriage and kids.

It was October 2009, and sitting curled up beside the window, my attention drifted to my graduation photograph that stood proudly on an old, rustic table. I was perfectly dressed for the occasion in a flowing black robe and a hat perched delicately on my head . I clutched a rolled up chart paper tied with an attractive red ribbon and the backdrop showed an airplane gently lifting for take off. It was all rented of course, from a photo studio outside the gates of my university. But amid all the pretentious paraphernalia , the grin I wore was absolutely genuine, expressing a thousand unspoken words and emotions. It was now two years since that momentous day of graduation, and I found myself in a reminiscent mood. Haps and mishaps of the past two years, flashed before me like the speeding bogies of a local train – my first day in office, Basu, my first hike, Priance, Mac, the firing, my last day in office and finally Basu`s last day in office.

Mumbai is an interesting place to watch from your window. My PG accommodation was in one of the quiet by lanes of Andheri in a building grandly designated as “Dev Niwas”, or the House of Gods. But from the looks of those inhabiting it, I`m quite sure a lot of ungodly activities took place within its walls each day.
“Watch out you, drunkard”, screamed a taxi driver at a careless commuter in the street below. The commuter turned around and gave him the finger before rushing away. I smiled in amusement, before falling back once again into the despair and anguish I was trying so hard to get away from.

They call the twenties the age of crossroads and at 23, here I was at my first – jobless in Mumbai two years after graduation, I rued. Prianca and Mac too were on the same boat as me. But theirs wasn`t sinking as quickly as mine. Prianca was to tie the knot in two months time, after which she would be off with her NRI hubby to Canada. She was on the verge of quitting the job anyways. Mac had no such luck obviously. But he had one other thing – a single solution to all his problems : the bottle.Even as I sat reflecting, my mind in chaos and confusion, Mac in all probability was drunk as hell and fast asleep in his room. I felt clueless and lonely.

And then, I remembered my grandma`s words. In my younger days she would say it in a strong, authoritative voice. As the years went by her voice wavered but never her conviction. “Your destiny will always find a way to reach you”. That lifted me.
“I will start my job hunt tomorrow”, I resolved. “And in no time, I will find another one.” , I shouted at the bare walls of my room. I went to bed that day all enthusiastic and pumped up. But even as I slept peacefully, in far away America, the famous Lehmann Brothers collapsed and the world officially slipped into recession.

Two months down the line, I was once again curled up by my window sill and I cut a sorry figure. My spirit was crushed and defeated.I had all of three interview calls. I cleared the first. They offered me way less than my current salary. I proudly rejected it. I didn`t clear the next two. Job opportunities had dried up . My last interview was over a month back. It was almost as if every company had turned bankrupt overnight. I could never understand these stock markets. Mac had decided to do his MBA. Between his drinking bouts he studied a little for his entrance exams. Prianca was married and had updated her facebook status to “Life long vacation in Canada”. That left only me. I was seized by anxiety and panic. In utter desperation, I rummaged through the mess in my room until I located what I was looking for – a crumpled receipt of my GATE form.

“If nothing works out, I will do MTech”, I said. I had filled up the GATE form at the eleventh hour. It was to be my “Plan B”. There was only one flaw – Plan B was tougher than Plan A. GATE is one of the most intensely competed exams in the country.

My super intelligent cousin rubbed that in when I called him up to seek advise.
“I`m planning to appear for GATE.”
There was a pause at the other end. At a much later time, he revealed that the phone had dropped from his hand on hearing this and he had regained his wits just in time to catch it in mid air.
“You`re doing GATE ?” he asked, confirming
“Yes. There seems to be no other option left.”
“And this is what you chose as your last option ?”
“Hmm”, I said.
“Ok, just remember one thing – better get into one of the IITs. You do it anywhere else, you will only end up frustrated and back to the same place – jobless”.

I had to throw the kitchen sink at it. Else I had no chance. I stopped shaving. At some later stage. I even stopped bathing. I slowly began to look like a runaway convict – my room in a mess and me in a bigger mess. Studying was hard. Damn hard. My only salvation was the porn I watched at the end of a lengthy study session. I would switch off the lights of my room and watch it by the pale blue glow of my computer. After which, I would sleep for a few hours and be up again to study. And thus the cycle continued, without ever faltering – study, porn , sleep. Finally, it was exam day. If you are looking for a fairy tale finish, then sorry. I did ok. Just ok. I somehow felt that I hadn`t done well enough to get into a good college and that I shouldn`t wait for the results. My prophesy proved true after two months when the results were declared. In cricketing parlance, you would call it an innings defeat. There was no way I could compete with over a lakh minds for a few thousand seats . So, it was back to Plan A again. But the markets hadn`t improved. I was getting desperate – jobless for six months now.

And then, one day, my phone rang
“Hello, this is regarding a job opening in Noida. Would you be interested ?”
Of course. At that stage I was willing to take up a job in Afghanistan.
After a telephonic round, they called me to Noida for a face to face.

I was greeted by a dark, bespectacled man who rose to shake hands with me.
“I am Vishwanath Buddhiraja – the project manager”, he said. His mustache trembled as he spoke. I mentally nicknamed him as Buddhi. I gathered that he would interview me.
“Just to tell you a bit about myself – I am an IITian and later passed out from IIM Lucknow.”, began Buddhi. “I have worked here for nearly five years now..”. He spoke in a clear, monotonous voice, that showed no signs of stopping for breath or a pause. The pitch neither rose nor fell. He spoke about his education, his family, the company and various projects. Soon my attention drifted to the intricate design of the paper weight on his desk.
“.. My family moved here to Noida…”
“… I want a person who is smart and proactive …”
“… my son loves computers …”
“…the work will involve a lot of client interaction …”
I tuned in from time to time. I discreetly checked my watch and was shocked to find that Buddhi had been rambling on for half an hour now. Perhaps he caught me checking the time.
“So, now we will begin the interview”, he said suddenly.
The interview was a disaster. To cut a long story short, when Buddhi concluded the interview, I had a sinking feeling. It felt like GATE Part 2.

“I heard there is a derailment ahead”
“No ! It is just a signal”
The babble of voices grew louder and louder. I was on my way back to Mumbai in a train. Presently, the train stood still in the middle of nowhere. It had been that way for an hour now. The sky was a brilliant crimson and dusk was rapidly setting in. There were no lights in the train, and the twilight was just enough to see what was happening outside. Some of the men had alighted for a breath of fresh air..and a good smoke of course. A little later, some more men got down, and soon over half the train had got down. It was all happening there – men talking agitatedly, women gossiping, babies wailing and the kids inventing new games out of the only object aplenty there – granite stones. I preferred to watch the circus from inside the train.
“Yes, a train has derailed somewhere ahead”, declared my co-passenger who had just stepped in.
“It is going to delay us” he added somberly.
Shortly, the train moved, and slowly inched ahead to a small railway station. All passengers were asked to get down and soon the deserted platform was bustling with people. It was dark now and I struggled to read the name of the junction, “Andher gaon” , I finally figured out.

“Wow.! A perfect name, isin`t it ! Dark, no electricity and here we are stranded in Andher Gaon” I said to the person next to me.
I had settled down in one of the benches at the platform. Beside me was a middle aged man with a sophisticated face and demeanor. He wore rimless glasses and was preoccupied with his own thoughts. He briefly lifted his head and nodded curtly at my remark before lapsing into his own world again. A businessman, I guessed. In spite of the crowd in the platform, there was a strange sense of silence and solitude. And it is at such times that you turn within to face your inner most feelings and thoughts. The past six months had been torturous for me, and all of a sudden I remembered a life I was so out of touch with – the happy go lucky lad who had come to Mumbai after his graduation, worked there and became one with the city. I thought of my parents back home in their small town in south India. I thought of the the carefree days that I yearned for – friends, fun, peace. I thought of my home – the tall trees I was a champion at climbing, playing cricket at the backyard and the fields my father and grandfather worked in. That was life. Real life. I wondered if I should just give up on everything and head back home. My aspirations, like this desolated little station, lay in ruins – dark, deserted and without any hope of redemption. It all caught up with me – the anxiety of the past six months, the mental anguish, and a slow tear trickled down my cheek. I could feel myself choking up inside.
To make matters worse, a cold wind came whistling down the platform and it began to rain. I huddled closer to the man beside me to avoid the spray of the rain.

“Where are you from ?” , asked the stranger all of a sudden.
“You working or studying ?”
Well, there was no easy answer to that. I poured out my story, every bit of it and what a relief that was. There was lengthy silence at the end of my narrative. I wondered if I had put him to sleep.
“Don`t worry”, he said. “It`s just a passing phase”
“What`s your number. Let us stay in touch” , he said.
A little later, we were all asked to board the train and the journey proceeded. A day later, I was back in Mumbai and back to square one. I decided to give myself a break and head to the beach that evening. It was then that I got a call from an unknown number, and that call turned my life around.

“Hi ! This is Shivani from Extentia” , said the melodious voice at the other end.
Yes, I was right about the stranger in the platform – he was a businessman. Mr Naik was a venture capitalist to be precise. Extentia was one of the startups he had invested in, and what I thought was a casual exchange of phone numbers, had actually culminated in a job interview. I cleared the interview, got the job, and never looked back after that. The dainty, plush office was located at Nariman Point, just a small walk away from Marine Drive, where a couple of years later, my left knee hit the ground for one of my pretty colleagues. She later on went ahead to be my wife and become the most important photo frame in my living room. And perhaps, old granny was right after all. Your destiny has a way of seeking you out. Even on a dark night, while sitting beside a stranger in a deserted railway platform.

Revenge of the Musketeers

For all the stories in this series visit Diaries of a confused graduate

The dim light from the street lamp cast funny shadows on my wall. I tossed around uneasily in my bed, reached out for my watch and checked the time. 2:40 am, it glowed. Following the turbulent events of the day, where my team and me got fired from our jobs, thanks to Basu`s cheap treachery, my mind refused to settle down for a good night`s sleep. Like a stuck record, I kept playing the events over and over again in my head.
“Don`t blame yourself boss” was the last thing Prianca said
“We cannot let Basu get away. Lets meet at my room tomorrow”, said Mac.
Nodding our heads with silent determination we parted. The rest of the day was nebulous in my memory. It felt like a dream almost – my thoughts elsewhere all the time. Finally, in the dead of night, as I lay awake, the outline of a plan began to take shape in my mind. I grappled with it for God knows how long, trying to answer my own questions and filling it with as much detail as possible. At long last, as I lay exhausted, almost symbolically, dawn broke, as if it were some kind of light at the end of a dark tunnel. As the city rose to its feet to get ready for another day, me a jobless graduate who had just been fired, finally closed my eyes and went to sleep.

It was the following afternoon and we were at Mac`s room. After the initial bout of cursing and abusing Basu, we thought of every possible route. The company`s owner was in US and Basu was the head of its sole office in India. There was absolutely no way, we could get our jobs back by proving Basu guilty. Basu was all powerful in that respect. But the idea of letting Basu go scot free and lead a peaceful existence was too much to bear.
“What are we going to do ?”, asked Mac in dismay.
“We are going to offer him a job”, I said quietly.
Over the next few minutes, as I told them what exactly I had in mind, they listened with rapt attention. When I finished, there was pin drop silence. I could hear the ceiling fan spinning furiously to keep the room cool.
“Brilliant” Mac said, almost in a whisper.
And from the look on Prianca`s face, she too seemed all for it.
“Hold on..”, I said, for I did not think it was all that brilliant
“It is not foolproof, alright. It`s a 50-50 plan.”
“Yes, but Basu`s IQ level tilts it to maybe 60-40 in our favour.” , said Mac with a guffaw
“..and morevoer, what do we have to lose.” , Prianca stated.
That was it then. It wasn`t a great plan, but we had nothing to lose. Game on.

“We need to pick our city carefully – a city that Basu won`t mind relocating to, and which at the same time he doesn`t know too well. Certainly not Mumbai. We need a different city”
“Basu hates Mumbai, he will be glad to move out. I think most of Basu`s relatives are around Delhi. He is keen to get back that side”
“So, Noida should be a pretty good choice ?”
“I`ll arrange for the Noida SIM cards. I know a guy who deals with stolen phones”, offered Mac.
“And I`ll get my sister here tomorrow. She will be the perfect choice for the HR”, said Prianca. .
“No.. lets not make it tomorrow. Let us give it a week atleast to pass after our firing. Basu might connect the dots. And plus, we have a lot of groundwork to do before we contact him” I said.
The others reluctantly agreed. Perfect. The plan was in motion.

“Hello. Is it Mr Basu ?” , she asked in a pleaseant voice.
A week had sped by. We had made most of our arrangements. I realized that Mac was as good as a criminal himself . He knew a way to find anyone and anything – from used SIM cards, to fake papers, hotel reservations, it was all top notch stuff.
Prianca had got her sister to play the role of the HR. Sameera was doing her second year BCom and was super excited to be a part of this. She was totally psyched that she was doing something other than her “boring academics”. Apparently, hotness ran in the family, and Sameera matched her sister to the last degree.
“Yes”, said Basu.
We were glued to the speaker, not moving an inch.
“Good afternoon sir, this is Ritu from Astro Technologies. Do you have some time ? “
We had scoured the web, contacted friends, and had finally come up with this company. It was exaclty what we wanted – it existed, it wasn`t too famous, it was listed in the stock exchange, and it had a good website.
“Yes”, said Basu again.
“Sir, I wanted to speak to you about a job opening.”
“From where did you get my number”, asked Basu puzzled.
“Astro is a competitor to Passion Infotech sir. We knew about you already”
As instructed, Sameera aka Ritu added an extra tinge of sweetness to that last sentence.
Basu was palpably flattered.
“Ohh.. is it.”
“Yes sir. We have a similar role in our company and would like you to join us”
“Well.. I am not sure..” began Basu.
“It`s a good opportunity sir. The company is growing and is based in Noida”.
That must have got Basu interested.
“I will have to see”, Basu teetered.
I flinched as I heard what Sameera said next
“We will make you an offer you cannot refuse”, she said putting in every bit of her sweetness and mildly flirting too.
That wasn`t in the script. It was the classic line from Godfather and I have no idea why she said that. But it seemed to have worked.
“Ok, fine.” agreed Basu.
Sameera then went on to quote a staggering pay package and also offered generous stock options to go with it. Basu was a major share market player. In fact, that was all he did in office. I think Basu was floored – Noida, stock options and a 50% hike.
“You will have a small telephonic interview and a face to face” said Sameera.
“Will I be coming to Noida for the face to face.”
“No sir, our recruiting team will come down to Mumbai.”
With a final string of pleaseantries, Sameera disconnected.
We clapped as she turned around and bowed gently. It was an Oscar performance.

We chose Mac for our telephonic interview. Basu would know my voice even in his sleep. Mac had hardly interacted with him, and was a better fit. At the end of the half hour telephonic interview, I was convinced that no company on earth would hire him. But we said yes. That was the plan.

“It`s pretty neat”, I said.
We were in a hotel suite in Thane. Again, thanks to Mac, we found this place. It wasn`t a five star, but was pretty posh and slick. This was our Kurukshetra – the venue of Basu`s face to face and the final battle between good and evil, as the pundits would say. The interview was to happen the next day. So far, things had been absolutely smooth. But the final step was the most crucial. I had picked one of my college friends to play the role of the manager. He was hefty and looked 35 although he was just 25. Perfect. And accompanying him would be Sameera – the young HR. We had the hard copy of the offer letter with us. Housed in an impressive envelope and with carefully forged logos of Astro on each page, it looked the part. Again, Mac`s handiwork. If Basu expected a soft copy we would be in trouble. We were in no position to spoof an Astro mail address and send it to him. This was the only chink in our plan, and with crossed fingers, I prayed it would come off.

The big day dawned and the three of us waited anxiously in my room. In Thane, Sameera and my friend were executing the final step of our plan. My friend was to ask Basu some rudimentary questions, tell him about a non-existent project and finally say, “We would like to make you an offer.”
Sameera would then print the offer letter and hand it to Basu with a smile. After two agonizing hours, my phone rang.
“He fell for it !” , said Sameera, almost screaming. And a mini celebration broke out in my room.
Sameera and my friend were to keep the 2 phones with the Noida SIM card through the next month. Basu will want to be in touch for sure. And finally, on Basu`s last day in Passion Infotech, they were to dump the SIM cards somewhere and continue with their lives.

In the next few days, my friends in office told me that Basu had put down his papers. Two weeks later, he cut his farewell cake. Nobody ever saw him again. There was a rumour in office that he wanted to come back, someone said. But seems like the senior management in US was glad when he resigned, and considered it good riddance. Passion Infotech had a new Head of India Operations, and Basu faded away from all our lives forever.

One for all, all for one

For all the stories in this series visit Diaries of a confused graduate

I let my desk phone ring for sometime. It was 9:30 in the morning which as per the standards of the IT industry, was pretty early.At this hour there was only one other person in office. After the sixth ring, rather reluctantly, I had to pick it up.
“Hello. Yes, could you come to my cabin”
It was Basu as I guessed.
You might think that Basu had perhaps mellowed down and come closer to becoming a human being after that scandalous incident at the pub. If so, you are mistaken. Just as I was. Basu in fact was all the more belligerent these days. The way he saw the whole thing was like this – I bailed him out of trouble at the pub. In return, he had given me a good pay hike. And that made us even. So, we were back to the usual verbal duels, at loggerheads and cross-purposes.

“We bagged two important projects” exclaimed Basu, beaming.
“These two projects are extremely crucial for the company. You will be in charge of one of them.” And then he said something quite needless, but altogether expected.
“If you botch this, it`s your head”.
Every single soul at this office had resigned themselves to these snide remarks and stupid threats.
“What about the other project ?”, I asked, out of plain curiousity.
“Oh, don`t worry about that. I`ll take care of it myself” said Basu with a casual wave of his hand.

An hour later, the office began to fill up.

“It`s a mobile application that we need to develop. But before we do that the client wants a detailed design document within a month. And that document will decide whether we will be awarded the project.”
A design document in the software world is the equivalent of a “blueprint” that architects come up with before starting the actual work. It was a detailed plan on paper which is later executed.
I was at one of the conference rooms in my office. One could see the street from where I sat.It was May and the sun was brutal. The rays dazzled the glass wall that faced the street, almost threatening to burst through it. I was glad to be on the other side of the glass in an air conditioned room. Outside, the summer sun scorched everything in its way.
Sitting before me was my two member team. Prianca, as always, looking gorgeous in a sleveless, black top. That night at the pub was a revelation. It was the night when Prianca stepped out of the shadows of mediocrity in which she lay for so long, and showed the world what a babe she indeed was. And since then, she went from strength to strength. She was now at the peak of her youth and physical beauty. Next to her sat a dark, hefty, six footer with a splendid name. McEnroe was a giant of a man. His father, it seems was a great tennis fan and loved to watch John McEnroe. He wasted no time in thinking of any other name when his son popped out. We called him Mac. He was kind hearted and jolly, and loved to drink. But he was a total antithesis to his name. Save for Maria Sharapova`s tanned slender legs he had absolutely no interest in the game.
“Oh, so you will be our boss”, squealed Prianca, saying the word boss teasingly and stretching the last syllable. I almost forgot what I wanted to say next.
“So, within the space of a month we need to come up with the screen designs, make sample prototypes and proof of concept tests – all of which will help us refine our design. The project is named A7.”
Our client had their own naming convention for projects and modules that they outsourced to us. It was usually ‘A’ followed by a number. Ours was A7. The other crucial project that Basu was handling was A9.
I could see straightaway that we were one person short. Three was too less for this work given the timeframe. But it was senseless to explain this to Basu. So, I decided to do the best I can with whatever I have.

With that, we plunged into the project. Mac was pretty bright. Prianca was just pretty. But both of them were very sincere. A week later we started coming to office at 8:30 and left only at 10:00 in the night. It was a lot of work and we threw the kitchen sink at it. After working at this place for nearly two years, perhaps for the first time we had some good work to do. And that fired us up. It was interesting, challenging and fulfilling. We even earned a nickname in office – The Three Musketeers. We were almost always together. After the first fortnight, we were only 25% done. Mac and myself started staying back even past midnight. I came on weekends too. As we entered the last week, we began to realize that it was shaping up really well. Without blowing our own trumpets, we were extrememly proud of the way we had designed this – we had eliminated almost all risks and all unknowns. Implementation would be a piece of cake with all the homework we did at the design phase. Finally, at the very last day, at 10 PM we were all done. It was finished and it looked flawless. We ordered pizza and sat talking till midnight. We put the document on Basu`s network share folder and left for home. A mistake that we did not realize then, but later on paid a very heavy price for. I came home totally spent after the efforts of the past month. I was excited beyond all words. It was my first project as a “lead” and it turned out magnificently. But to be honest, Mac and Prianca were a delight to work with. Our friendship reached new limits in the past one month. As I settled down to sleep, I wondered how Basu was managing his A9 project. If it was anything like ours, he stood no chance in completing it all alone. With that thought I slowly sank into deep sleep.

The next week was quiet and relaxed. And then, one day, Ravi called me to one of the conference rooms. Ravi was our HR. Yes, we had a male HR and that is something I could never forgive our company for. HR, like nurses, nuns and receptionists, was exclusively the female domain. I seriously couldn`t understand why a guy would want to be a HR, and even if so, why we should have taken him. I entered the conference room and found Prianca and Mac already sitting there.

“I have some news guys. And I`m afraid it is not very good”, said Ravi.
This had to be about A7 I guessed, since all three of us were called together. Did we break any office rules in our late night stays, I wondered.
“The client is extremely disappointed with your design proposal. In fact, disappointed is the wrong word. He was furious at the quality of work.”
I gulped.
“It is really unfortunate. Another project from our office , the A7, totally won him over. He went on to say it was one of the best designs he had ever seen. But you guys really ruined A9. I am sorry, but you are fired.” Clear. Simple. Devastating.
My mind blanked out. Then, something struck me as odd
“You say A7 was great, then why are you firing us ?”
“We are the people who did A7, we never worked on A9 !”, Prianca pitched in.
“I knew there would be trouble” said Ravi in a toneless voice.
“Ok, who according to you did A7 ?”, I asked
“Why, it was Mr Basu himself and what a great job he did too.”
“And you think we worked on A9 ?”
“Of course.”
“What bullshit ! It is the other way round, dammit” I exploded.
“Wait a second.. “ said Ravi and turned his laptop towards us.
There was our design document which we had poured out our sweat for. Ravi scrolled to the bottom and there in the author`s table, where we had out our three names, now stood only one name – Basu.
“Look, anybody can edit that document. You can put your own name there for God`s sake !”
“You mean to say Mr Basu is lying ? ” Ravi asked tactfully
“Of course he is ! We worked on A7, he on A9. He should be fired.”
Ravi was not in the least moved.
“Do you have an email of you sending him the document”, he asked.
We did not. We had simply copied it into his network share and informed him. That was the only mistake we made in the past month.
When we couldn`t reply to that question, Ravi broke into a wicked smile. You are just a bunch of jerks. Good for nothing jerks who messed up an important project and now trying to cover up by blaming your manager that smile seemed to say
“We have copies of that same document on our machines. You can check. Now, tell me, if we never worked on A7, why should that document be there on our machine”, I said. Sensible point, I thought. But Ravi wouldn`t believe
“Look, I have no more time to waste on you. The guard will escort you out. Once outside you wait until your drawers are cleared out and you will be handed over all your personal stuff”
With that he turned around and it was all over for us.

We left the office humiliated and in full view. With our heads lowered and an alert guard right behind us to ensure that we do not damage anything, we felt like petty criminals. I was mad with fury – at being such a fool and also for letting down my team. In all fariness, this place was special for me. Having come straight out of college, I had worked here. Despite Basu, I had plenty of great memories but as I walked out none of those came to mind – crushed and beaten as they were under the weight of this terrible exit. I realized for a fleeting instant how good life had been thus far – college, friends, my first job, colleagues. It had been one big party. And now, finally, the party was over.

Hitching a hike

For all the stories in this series visit Diaries of a confused graduate

I opened the door and entered with heavy, noisy steps. For a fleeting moment, Basu looked up from the excel sheet he was working on, and then continued his work. I stood there contemplating what words to use. Asking your boss for a pay hike is a tricky thing. And trickier still, if the boss is Basu.

“Sir, you had promised me a pay hike in April”, I said, hinting at the agenda for our discussion that Monday morning. I must admit here, that i wasn`t too polite. Apart from the “Sir” address, I might as well have been talking to the chai fellow who frequents our office and regularly spills a little on my desk. Basu looked up again, forgetting about the excel sheet. I wondered what trick he would pull on me this time. The last time i asked for a raise, he promised that come April, he would ensure it happens. Soon after, Basu went for a family vacation to Goa. Lounging on the sands there, he apparently seemed to have forgotten all about the promise. April came and went. Here we were now, in the middle of December, and i decided to confront him over that April fool joke

“Ah.. yes, you`ve been asking me for sometime now” he said innocently. A period of uneasy silence followed.
“Well.. the company is not doing too well, you know. We`re just out of recession…”
I smiled inwardly. This was a trick i had anticipated.
“But sir, the profits have been up by 30% this quarter”
Basu looked jolted, quite surprised that the useless dick who only seemed to flirt with the girls in office also had some knowledge about the company`s revenue.
“Yes, thatz true, but….” said Basu, his eyes swimming all over the room, searching for something to complete that sentence.
When, nothing came of that search, the Gandhian in him arose.
“Money is not everything. Look at the experience, you`re gaining here. Just keep working hard, and money will follow.”
“Experience my foot ! You call writing log messages for a five year old software experience ?” I shot back. By now, my anger had spiralled out of control.
“Even the damn BPO people earn more !”
Yeah, i certainly envied the call centre guys who worked in the same complex. They had a better sex ratio, prettier girls, pick n drop service, earned more, partied more and above all every guy seemed to be having a fling with someone.

“So, lets not play games Mr Basu. I need a pay hike. You going to give it or not ?”
“Ok… to be frank – NO” said Basu, his voice too rising.
The shit had hit the fan now and even shot through the roof. In an act of open defiance, I found the courage to storm out of the room with seething but impotent rage.

After our not so cordial meeting, a certain coolness had sprung between Basu and me. Basu is no saint, and I was certain that I stood no chance of getting a hike in the near future, if ever. I had awoken the Gabbar Singh side of his character.It wasn`t until a week, that I had the misfortune of running into him again.
“We`re having a client party this Friday – the first of its kind. A pub has been booked. There`s gonna be dinner and booze. Announce it to the team.” he said before adding with a smirk, “We`ll party like the BPO crowd”
I winced at the sarcasm as he walked away. That was a Basu special.

Blinding disc lights, DJ music, dance, and above all a free flow of wine and beer rocked the party that night. The party began with a short speech by the client, followed by a rather long, winding one by Basu. For half an hour, we waited with mounting impatience for this formality to end.
“Bolne ka mauka nahi chodta”, said Prianca with a smile.
I looked at her for the nth time, wondering what had hit her that day.
Normally, a plain, simple girl, she had undergone a miraculous transformation for the party. With a short skirt, a touch of make-up and hair neatly straightened she had turned into an overnight babe. She was certainly proving a point or two to the guys, who scarcely noticed her in office.
“You`re looking gorgeous man… fabulous i must say – great hair, great legs, great, great, great !” I wanted to say
When i opened my mouth, all that came out, was a weak , “You`re looking good!” .
“Thanks…” she said accepting the compliment coolly, as if she expected it.
Finally, Basu decided he had spoken enough.
“I won`t keep you guys waiting any longer” he said, having the grace to admit that he had bored the hell out of everyone, and realizing that he would end up ruining the evening if he went on this way.
“Thanks for all the hard work this quarter, and enjoy the party..” .

Having shown exceptional restraint, and etiquette throughout the speech, the guys just let it loose the next minute. They took off like mad bulls in every direction. Some to the bar, some towards the dance floor, and others like me, sick of standing at one place, trying to find a place to sit. The DJ`s voice boomed over the room, inviting the pretty ladies and gentlemen to the dance floor. I took up a stool close to the dance floor, getting ready to watch some crazy dancing. Prianca, enjoying her new found popularity was leading the pack. My eyes wandered to the bar, where i caught Basu having his first peg. It was the first of many…. too many in fact.

“Hey, join in” Prianca shouted at me, over the music.
“No..but you`re doing great”, I said with a wink, as she turned away with a smile and melted into the crowd at the dance floor.
I cursed my DNA make-up, which apparently had no sense of music and dance. God had forgotten to put something in there. His folly often left me standing in the sidelines, envying the guys who could groove naturally to the music, and get up close and personal with the likes of Prianca. I would try and drop her home today, I resolved.

Meanwhile, at the bar, Basu was on a rampage. He seemed to have taken it upon himself to empty every bottle in sight. Drinking like there was no tomorrow, he looked totally sloshed and out of his senses. I turned my attention to the dance floor again. The office jerk, and there is one in every office,was having a gala time with Prianca. After the initial excitement the party was turning out to be a bore for me. Being a non-smoker, non-drinker and a non-dancer left me with nothing to do except gawp at all that was going on around me. My attention switched between Prianca and Basu. Basu`s beer spree showed no signs of abating. He kept the waiters busy…downing glass after glass. The office jerk was trying to get closer to Prianca. I really wanted to drop her home that day. I wondered how exactly i should make the offer, without making it seem that she would be doing me a favor by accepting it. Now, sick of sitting and with nothing to do, I walked around the place speaking briefly to my office colleagues on the way. They wanted me to join them for a drink and then looked at me like i was from a different planet when i told them that i was a teetotaler.

Shaking my head, I moved towards the wash room. I entered amid loud retching. There was only one solitary figure in the sprawling wash room, hunched over the wash basin and puking his heart out. Not an unsual thing in a party where drinks are free.But what made the occassion special was that, it was Basu. As I entered, Basu turned around weakly to take a look at me. He then sat down on the floor cross-legged. Not only was he drunk, but also seemed totally knocked out of his senses. Crazy is the word. Totally crazy.
I stood there, contemplating what should be done. Nothing would have delighted me more than calling out to the entire office crowd outside to witness Basu`s drunken theaterics. But God seemed to be on Basu`s side that day. Something within me moved and urged to do the right thing. Being the only teetotaller in my group of friends, this was no new situation for me. Hauling drunk friends into the back of my car, dropping them home, removing their shoes and getting them into bed was routine work.I decided to do the same for Basu that evening.I walked up to him and stood him on his feet.I slung his left arm around my neck, and wrapped my own arm around his shoulders. I grunted and waited for a moment to allow me get used to this burden. Basu was one beast of a man…with about a 90 kilos packed into his 5`6″ frame. Then, we made our slow journey toward the exit door.As I said earlier, God seemed to be on Basu`s side. Now, i was sure of it. Not a soul chanced to enter the washroom in the midst of this tamasha.

Once out of the washroom, i swept my eyes around the place as best as i could, constrained as my movements were with Basu`s beastly arm around my neck like a noose. The place was a din. People dancing with hysterical excitement, and the others had formed themselves into groups and engrosed in their conversations.Believe it or not, but God had worked out the odds, and Basu and I slipped out without being noticed. With every step my agony grew. I clenched my teeth, clamped my jaw struggling with my stamina. Basu`s breath stinking with alcohol burned my nostrils. I finally reached my car with the joy and relief of a Tour-de France winner. I dumped Basu at the back and wheeled my way to the main road, and in the direction of his house.

Basu`s wife evinced no surprise when she opened the door.
“Oh.. did he drink too much ?” she asked
“Too much ? He cleaned up the whole damn bar..”, I muttered.
With a cool nod, she joined me in supporting him, and we led him to the bedroom. Reaching the bed, Basu collapsed in a heap and sank into deep sleep almost immediately. My drive back home was accompanied by rising, explosive anger. Basu had ruined my evening. The office jerk must have dropped Prianca home. I hadn`t even had my dinner, and at this time of the night there looked no possibility of finding an open restaurant. To top it all, i felt fatigued and irritated. The thought of Basu snoring away on his bed, entirely oblivious to the mess he had created, sent fires raging in my head.

I awoke the next morning to rainy weather. Glancing at the washed roads, I guessed that it must have rained strongly all night, before thinning down to the drizzle that was coming down at the moment. I had a leisurely bath, that quite contrary to the intended effect, made me all the more sleepy. To waste away a Saturday, doing nothing except lazing around and watching TV is a profoundly satisfying experience. Having decided to do exactly that, i prepared some maggi and tea, and settled down cosily at the gallery to watch the rain. The drizzle had picked up again. The clean, fresh air, in conjunction with the magical smell of the earth and the silence all around, stirred up remarkable emotions within me. Everything seemed perfect. And then, my cell buzzed.

“Damn! Basu again…to spoil the moment” I told myself
“Hello..”, I said.
“Hello..” said Basu in his usual strong voice, signalling that he had returned to his senses now.
“I`m really sorry for what happened yesterday…and thanks a lot of dropping me home”, he said.
The embarassment of last night had put some humility into him.
“Thats ok…” I said
“What did the others say ?”
“Luckily for you, nobody even realized”
I could hear a deep sigh of relief at the other end, before he spoke again.
“Please keep this to yourself…” he said, almost pleadingly.
Basu using the words “sorry”, “thank you” and “please” within the space of a minute was music to my ears.
“Sure..”, I said casually.
“Thanks…”. More music
“ok…” I said, impatient to finish the call and go back to my maggi.
Then Basu said something that lit up the dull, cloudy day with bright sunlight.
“Another thing… i realize that your salary hike is long due..I`ll ensure that you get your new compensation letter next week” .
Before he could change his mind, I said a quick bye and disconnected. And with that the deal was closed.

Honor among thieves

An already rotten day was just about to get worse. Vinay looked at his watch, then at the ticket counter, and then back at his watch again.
Crowd at the Empire theater was shockingly thin that Friday. The last three weeks, he had made a killing at the little black market outside the Empire. People thronged to watch “3 Idiots”, and the theater put up its “Housefull” sign more than two hours in advance. And then Vinay would swing into action. Keeping his eye open for young couples, the regular movie buff, or a family with children, he would reap his harvest. They hated to arrive at the theater, and go back disappointed. Vinay often quoted twice the price, and they still bought. The giant sized poster of Kareena Kapoor in an orange sari was just too tempting. Those evenings, he earned much more than what his regular day job at the shoe factory paid him. But his luck today seemed to have run out.
At long last, with 15 minutes to go for the 9:30 show, the much awaited “Housefull” sign board finally came to view. They put it across the counter and shut the little ticket windows. Vinay got off the parapet where he was seated and moved towards the gate. With all senses alert, he waited.
A middle aged couple with their little daughter walked towards the counter, and then turned back.
“Uncle-ji… tickets are available” said Vinay just as they were about to leave. A glow of hope came to the little daughter’s face as she tugged at her father’s shirt.
“No.. not in black”
“Just thirty rupees over the rate, ji… i`m sure your daughter will love the film”, he said smiling at her
Uncle-ji was not convinced.
“It`s because of people like you that the country suffers” he growled.
Vinay decided to play the sympathy card.
“I too have a family ji.. need to support them. Yes, i know it is wrong…par ab ghoda ghaas se dosti karega toh khaayega kya”, said Vinay with a tinge of sadness.
Uncle-ji was coming around. But not fully convinced.
“Chalo ji.. just for your daughter`s joy.. only twenty over the rate for the tickets”
That did it. Mother and daughter now ganged up on Uncle-ji and he was forced to relent.
As the little girl entered the theater skipping with glee, Vinay once again turned his attention to the crowd outside.

With just a couple of minutes to go, he got a big catch. Five college students came barging in. Vinay sold his tickets at fifty over the rate to them, and somewhat reduced his losses. But that was as far as luck would take him that night. As the movie began, he still had four tickets in hand. He caught some poor kids playing in the street outside.
“Aamir Khan ki picture dekhni hai” he asked.
The kids looked up at him bewildered.
“Muft mein..” he said, clarifying
They eagerly grabbed a ticket apiece and rushed to the theater. Vinay tore off the one ticket he still had left, and began his walk back home.

As if to add to his already damp fortunes, a light drizzle had begun. Vinay walked briskly on the pavement,avoiding the slimy road and the little puddles that had begun to form. He had reached the busy corner at the end of the street where a statue of Jawaharlal Nehru stood proudly. An erstwhile relic of the 1950s, it had now lost its sheen, and wore a tired, weary look. Not worshiped in the little town any longer, beggars and dogs rested in the shelter of its towering frame.  Just as he passed the corner, a voice from the darkness behind called out his name.
 The voice seemed vaguely familiar, like a distant echo in some chamber of his mind, but he  couldn’t quite place it.
 A tall figure in an overcoat stepped out of the shadows.

“Guru..!” said Vinay in a mixed tone of surprise and anger.
“I said I want to have nothing to do with you and your gang”, he continued.
“Relax.. we`re not coming back to haunt you.. The Boss doesn’t forget his dues, you know” said Guru
“I don`t want it… goddamn you..! Will you guys ever let me live in peace ? ”
“Look, I have the money with me.. 25K. It`s all yours. The Boss sent me all the way here to give it to you. After this we never meet again, I promise”
Guru reached into his overcoat and pulled out an envelope.
“Take it boy.. you never know when you may need it”
After a moment’s pause, Vinay took it.

“How are you doing these days ? ” asked Vinay, finally showing some courtesy
“Oh..just the usual stuff. It`s much better now, though. You should have been there with us. Would have been living like a king”
“No thanks buddy… i`m quite happy with my life”
And with that, they parted ways.

The rain was pouring down when Vinay reached home an hour later. His young wife opened the door with a look of concern
“I was afraid you got stranded in the rain” she said.
He entered in silence and carefully removed the envelope that he had tucked deep into his jacket, noting with relief that it was dry.
“How did it go today.. ?” asked his wife excitedly. She apparently took a great deal of interest and thrill in his black ticket sales.
She relished the suspense that each day brought with it, and would listen to his account of the day`s happenings with rapt attention.
“Not too good.. but there is something i`ve got for you today”, he said with a smile, handing over the envelope to her.
She looked at it puzzled before unwrapping it with the eagerness of a child opening a present.
Later, at midnight, she sat on the bed and counted the money for the fifth time. Vinay after a sumptuous dinner, sat by her side scanning the newspaper.
“…23, 24, 25”, she said quietly to herself, thumbing through the crisp thousand rupee notes, and finally digesting the good fortune.
“This will last one full year…” she said jubilantly. “But, how ? ”
“A long time back, when i was a stupid youngster… i had no job, no education. I did odd chores for people here and there, eking out a bare living. That was when Guru first met me and asked me if i could deliver a huge consignment of cocaine to a rave party in the suburbs of Delhi. It was New Years eve, and the cops were all over the place. It was risky, but i took the job.”
“Then ? ” prompted his wife
“Then what, i just went ahead and did it..” Vinay said amused. ” I soon became an expert on such chores. Did drug trafficking, smuggled stuff across state borders.. and what not. Once i nearly got caught, and decided to leave this career for good. That was when i moved here, to this little town, found a job at the factory, and married you to enjoy a peaceful life.”
“And this money…?”
“The Boss owed me the “payment” for that last job i did… there`s honor among thieves you know. He searched me out and sent Guru with the money”
“You did all this….?” she gasped in disbelief.
“Yeah, but a long time back…why bother about it now”, said Vinay, slipping his hand around her waist and drawing her close.
“We can buy a saree shop for you with that money..” he said grinning, as he switched off the lights.

Four dates and a wedding : The story of my marriage

We were ushered in respectfully to the living room. There was a hush, and nobody knew what to say. I sat down quietly, avoiding direct eye contact with those around, and waiting for the awkward moment to pass. I looked around the room, looked up at the ceiling fan, stared blankly into space, before finally affixing my eyes on the mosaic floor. The grave, sombre air that hung heavily over the room seemed to suggest that we were mourning somebody’s death. But this was quite different. It felt like a blind date, but with parental guidance.

how about a movie ?

 Thats how boys meet girls for arranged marriages. I stole a quick glance at the people in the room. A couple in their 50s stood there, trying hard to make me feel at ease. They smiled outwardly, scrutinizing every little move i made.

Among all the emotions that rumbled within me, the strongest was curiosity.
“Where is the girl”, I wondered. Probably will make her entry at a later stage.
This was certainly not my idea of a blind date, with inquisitive people of an older generation looking on. But having failed to achieve anything with college dates, there is not much choice left for TamBrahm kids. Either go to the astrologer for a match or die single. When i turned 26, my parents finally decided that my time had arrived.
I entered the market of eligible Iyer bachelors, and soon realized that i was nowhere near the rest of the competition. The Iyer boys, with a few exceptions like me, are a serious lot. While I aspired to watch the next SRK movie from a balcony seat, they aspired for the IITs, IIMs and green cards. And so it happened, that I ended up as the “loser” of my clan, sticking out sorely amongst the group of illustrious uncles and cousins who fled to US and UK, while i strolled MG Rd in search of pretty faces. Now, this was a severe handicap for my poor parents. Such marriages are not made in heaven, but is rather more about sound economics and business. My salary, career path, designation, and onsite opportunities are all carefully weighed before inking the deal.

“So, how is your work and all…” asked my possible father-in-law, cutting into my reverie and opening our conservation with a casual question. But the next dozen queries were not so casual. Father-in-law asked about everything under the sun, sparing the girls i liked in college. Finally, the interrogation ended, and he seemed to have reached his decision. The girl had still not entered. Then, my worst fear came true. The damn thing was wound up without me even getting a glimpse of the girl. Father-in-law said he will get back to us. Ask any HR in the town about what that means, and they will assure you that father-in-law has no intention of getting back. The community grapevine, a week later, conveyed the news that it was my salary that did me in. And thus ended my first date – a girl-less date that didn’t even take off.

“Ok, where do i click now” my Mom asked in a hassled tone.
I patiently pointed out, and with that click, my profile was on the internet. Not trusting me to do this task, my mother insisted on doing it herself.
5ft 7 inches, fair, no bad habits, BE computer, 5 lakhs p.a, blah blah blah…. my resume was now for all to see. 
A week later, my next date was arranged. This one was to be at my home, and my prospective wife was travelling all the way from Chennai.
The in-laws entered with a bang, greeting and hulloing in voices loud enough to be heard in the next street. The girl tagged along obediently behind them. They seemed to be a nice, jolly lot….quite amiable i must say. Dinner was laid out, and as the folks exchanged pleasantries over food, i got the opportunity to take a good look at my possible to-be wife. Not bad, i thought. She had a laidback, relaxed look about her, the kind who will live and let live. Her pop too seemed to be chilled out… the kind you could invite for beer on Friday nights. Dinner passed off like a happy family movie and then at the behest of both families, me and the girl found ourselves taking a little walk around the place.

“So, whatz happening in life…”, I asked with a slight smile, trying to break the ice.
“Nothing much.. ..” she said, searching for something to say.
“It must be a scary thing for you – these arranged marriages”, I said.
That opened her up
“Absolutely…. just imagine the risk. Here you are today, enjoying life like anybody else, and tomorrow getting
married to a stranger you barely know”
It relieved me to know that both of us were on the same plank on this.
“So, tell me about some of the crazies you met before me”
“Only one before this… that guy was dead serious. The old school type. Studied well, did his PG and now wanted to settled down. He asked me if i know to cook and do the household chores…And, i was like – dude you need a maid servant, not a wife.” she said laughing.
Her vivacious, cheerful nature lit up the dull night air, and I enjoyed her company. It was probably such an experience that prompted Einstein to remark,”When you sit with a pretty girl for two hours, it seems like two minutes.”
Our half an hour walk seemed like half a minute, when we finally entered my house. The merriment and cordiality that existed between the elders when we walked out, was now replaced with a stony silence. After a polite thank you and good night, they took leave, leaving me completely baffled.
“Not good family background”, my Mom remarked. 
It seemed that an uncle of hers was serving a term in jail.
I said that i didn’t really give a shit about that… i mean, wtf do i care and what is the poor girl’s fault in this i asked astounded.
“You do not know these things… nothing doing.” , said my mother with a tone of finality. She had worked out by some concocted logic that it would be unwise to proceed with the alliance. The girl was disqualified.

“Whats your goal in life ? ” she asked, her stern eyes almost drilling a hole into mine
This was date number three. I fumbled for words, before finally admitting that i had no clue about my goal.
“What are your hobbies ?”
“Are you going to stay in this job always ?”
” Will you be going to US finally ? “
“Can you sing or dance ? “
I hoped she wouldn’t make me show a few salsa steps. This was the ultimate, practical chick. The real go-getter.
With an unsmiling face, rimless glasses, armed with an MBA Finance degree, and her matter of fact attitude, she was looking for the best possible deal. I felt like a contestant in some talent show. At the end of her SWOT analysis, Miss Finance decided that i would be a long term liability ,and decided not to proceed with the venture. 

The Barista coffee shop being the only speck of light in the otherwise pitch dark street, stood out and beckoned. I checked my watch, and it showed about an hour to midnight. Life was returning to its usual sanity. Either my parents had given up or were taking a breather, but thankfully there were no nerve-wracking appointments with prospective brides for almost a month now. Tired and weary from a long bike ride, i decided to have coffee at this unholy hour. As i walked in, the man at the counter looked up with a touch of disapproval. They were getting ready to shutdown, and here I popped up all of a sudden and placed an order. Anyways, he got to work and soon my Mocha was ready. I settled down cosily on one of the couches facing the street. The shop was empty, save for a girl who sat at the far side. Her ears plugged to an i-Pod, and nodding her head to the music, she seemed to be in a world of her own. As i was half way through my coffee, i heard her asking for the bill, and then when it arrived, exclaim in surprise. She quickly put away her ear phones and rummaged through her purse. 
“I’m sorry … i just don’t have it… i thought i had a couple of hundred rupee notes in here” she said, almost pleadingly.
The guy in charge, whose mood was already soured with my order, was not going to relent that easily.
“I`ll pay you tomorrow”, she said desperately.
“What if every person says the same thing ! You sat there for more than half an hour, and now you say you cannot pay ! ” retorted the Barista guy, almost screaming.
“Ok, let me take one more look….shit! this is so embarrassing” more rummaging and more anxiety for the girl, whom i had noticed by now, was somewhere between pretty and stunning in her looks.
“Do you have a card ? ” asked the Barista guy impatiently… to which she replied in the negative.
By now she had nearly emptied the purse onto the table, and close to tears. All she could manage was a crumpled ten rupee note
It was then that i woke up to the situation. The Mocha had had its effect. I walked up to her, and offered to pay her bill along with mine.
She threw me a grateful smile “I`m so sorry for the trouble. I was shopping in the mall nearby, and i thought i had more cash. All the i-Pod’s fault.”
“No probs at all”, I said chivalrously.
“I`ll repay you.. . whats your number ? “, she asked
“No man, chill, it`s ok” I said, brushing aside the two hundred buck loss like it didn`t mean a thing.
But this was one girl with some serious self esteem. When she insisted for the third time, I had to concede. After all, how often does a girl insist for your cell number outside a coffee shop. It was a first for me. A minute later she was off in her scooty, and i too headed my own way.
But not quite end of story. She actually called a couple of days later.
“Hi! this is Neha… remember, i need to pay you back”
It took some time for me to click, as I hadn’t even asked her name.
“Oh.. yes.. look, its really ok”
“No.. i want to pay … you helped so much ! ” she said, her self-esteem getting to work again.
“Ok.. lets meet at the same Barista, and this time you treat me to coffee… how about that”, I asked
She agreed readily. And thats how the fourth date came about, which finally sealed my marriage.
The date lasted for a good one hour, and the subsequent ones even longer. In due course, i intimated her of my opinion that the two of us were made for each other. On finding that her views upon the subject were identical to my own, we took the plunge. And at last, i realized that dates may begin with sound business and economics, but true love eventually pulls itself together, and takes you to marriages made in heaven.