Monday, January 25, 2010


It was almost 7pm and we were still playing in the dusk. Hours of play made the shuttle cock look bigger.
Growing up in the steel township of Bhilai has given many memories.

We lived on street 33 then. The triple storey building had 18 units. Usually the light at the stairs was not working and a huge tree grew to envelop the dim lamp post which sent down a small beam of light.

“Babli, come home, Datta aunty called out and bring babloo too”
“Coming, ma”, Babli called out. We hurried to wrap the game.
“Babloo, Babloo”, Babli called out.
“You go. I’ll come later.” He was keeping wicket for the match.
“Oh! It’ll be dark soon, There is no light on the stairs. You’ll be afraid”.
Babloo was about 10 and younger to Babli.
“ Oh No. Iam brave. Iam not afraid of the dark,” he piped up.
“OK. Then just cycle down stree 17 and come back by street 19”, said I.
That did it. He went upstairs with his sister.

Everyone was scared of street 17. Even the elders avoided it. I had cycled down it once in broad daylight and it scared me. Street 17 was long and winding. After the first two blocks, there was an open ground on one side and the street took a blind curve after the ground. At night the street light threw down a golden ring of light. But the huge trees with thick foliage almost blocked it. After the blind turn the street again had rows of blocks on either sides. A large banyan tree stood right in middle of the road. Hindu belief and reverence had let it be there. Someone had started pooja at the small hanuman idol placed under the tree. A small lamp burnt there. It also had a chabootara(platform). This tree was the most ominous, for in the nights, a solitary Baba wrapped in a blanket used to sit and sleep here. He looked almost like Rabindranath Tagore. He towered over six feet and had greying long beard and a huge bump on his forehead which gave him a sinister look. I had never seen him speak. He used to be seen around the market are in the evenings. At the paanwaala, he will just stand there. The paanbhai Kashi gave him a benarasi after some time and he will accept it and move away. I was always intrigued by this person but never had any courage to speak to him. My dad’s friend for some reason, used to called him guruji.

When I was fourteen, I went to friend’s place in the nearby sector and it was almost 6 when I returned. A storm was brewing in the horizon. As I did not have a raincoat, I decided to the short cut through street 17 and take a diagonal cut through the ground to reach street 32. A solitary girl on a cycle had given ideas to some rogue and he started following me on the cycle. I regretted my decision. There was no one on the road to call for help. I cycled as fast as I could. It was now dark and large droplets started to fall. I took the blind curve and the banyan tree in front of me looked real scary with the branches whistling in the wind. With prayers on my lips, I cycled past the small mandir. As soon as I sped by, Baba came out and stood right on the road. The rogue was scared and retreated. I went home and related the incident.
“He knows you right from the days you were a small child”, Dad said
“Who is he?”, I asked
“ He was a Professor at the University. You might have heard Chaubey uncle refer to him as Guruji”
“Then….Why is he like this?”
“His family broke up. He could not take it”, replied Dad in a final voice.
I wanted to ask more but kept restraint.

There are still things I never knew.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mission 22

Mission: Shopping for a badminton racquet and partywear for the family
Time: to reach the shopping district by 7p.m
Hurdle: choc-a-bloc traffic at Christmas time
Distance to be covered: 8 kms
Vehicle: Verna
Team: Whole family- Parents, hubby, two kids and self
Weapons: Speed, Debit card

Unexpected problem: At 6.00p.m. No one is dressed. Kids have gone out to play. Father has gone for bhajan. Mother is complaining and no sign of Hubby.

Booom. The short temper is let loose. Lessons for mother to get the boys ready in time are dished out. Have a shower, change, go searching for boys. One found in the park nearby, another in the ground about 250 m away. Send them home back on the cycle, ask them to shower and dress as quickly as possible. I walk back to find elder wait for the lemonade to refresh him. Grandma is making it for him.
“You shameless fool. Didn’t I ask you to be ready at Do you want to go?”
“But… lemonade. Have to rest after play”
“How long did you play - half an hour? Scoot and take a shower”
“Now, where’s your dad?”
“Upstairs, getting ready’, volunteers mum.
“And my dad? Why did he have to go for the bhajan today?”
“ It’s OK. He will join us in the town”
“ OK . Call him”
“ I don’t know the number.”
“ You find yourself. It’s a shame you don’t know his number after all these years”

Mum puts on her specs and searches in the phonebook and she is unable to locate it for full 10 minutes. My last ounce of patience is disappearing fast.

We set out on Mission 22. Hubby dear sets the traffic laws. Overtake from left, almost kill the pedestrian, set rocket scientist to shame with precision driving ( read missing the buses and trucks by a micro millimeter). Thank goodness many buses have Gods images plastered on the rear side. So we sent our silent prayers to St. Antony, Jesus Christ, Lord Shiva, Ganesha, Sree Krishna, Virgin Mary and Allah as represented in the words from Quran. And some of them were in office and doing their jobs properly. We reached town in one piece with no dents.

Target 1: Sports goods store
Difficulty: On Main Road. No Parking space

Another rule made. Park in No Parking zone. Reason. No cops seen.
Enter shop. Elder son, boozy, starts selecting.
“Rush,” I say
“Yonex, is the preferred one,” says shop assistant
“OK . Buy Yonex. ”
“Ashwin has Ashway. His mom is a State player”
“Do you have Ashway? ”
“Yes. Two qualities – lower end and highest end. ”
“Show lower end”
A not so inspiring piece is shown
“Buy Yonex”
“Be fast. The clothes shop will close. ”
He inspects both.
“Take yonex”
“OK”, he agrees with a face that’s already changing.

I look around for hubby. Nowhere to be seen.
I pay by debit card and…
Son to shop assistant, “Can I have a complete cover for the racquet?”
“ This model comes with cover for the top portion only”

Dissatisfied, he walks out of shop with the Yonex racquet.
Don’t make a long face now. Now you have a new racquet, play well and win some championships. ”
“What? With this bat?”
“Why not? Try.”

Find hubby on pavement outside with parents. Dad had walked about 1 km to reach us, looks land smells like just out of a workout. I shake my head. And we rush to the garment store. One saree and one dress for younger fellow, bumbum selected and the elder son still has long face.

“Now what? Why are sitting there with that expression?”
“I want Ashway.”
“OK. Go and change it then. Take your dad along.”
Both leave. Two minutes later, phone rings.

“Is the key there on the chair where I was? ”, asks hubby
“What, Iam now on second floor? You lost the key? Why do you need it? ”
“The racquet is in the boot.”
“Splendid. Let me get to the third floor.”
Just one flight of steps. I huff and puff up. Ask parents to stay on second floor and leave bumbum with them. Phone rings.
“Its Ok. I have it.”
Two minutes later, another call
“Why did you pay with card? They have a problem.”
“Stay there. I’m coming.”

At shop, roly poly manager is noncooperative. Given reason- can’t reverse a card payment. Real Reason- has to return money
“But it’s a debit card, not a credit card.”
“The amount is not yet credited to my account.”
“But its already gone from mine. It will go to yours”
“How can I be sure?”
“Sure? It a debit card. What’ll happen if you never get paid from some credit transaction?”
“I’ll take it up with bank.”

“OK. When will this be credited to your account?”, asks hubby
“In 8 hours”
“Ok give me in writing. I’ll collect it tomorrow.”

Roly poly is shaking in anger. Elder son Boozy’s face is expressionless. He is examining the new racquet. Shop assistant is checking time. He wants to go home.

Roly poly writes and passes it. Long face boozy changes to normal boozy.
“Why don’t you keep some cash in your bag? Using a card for such small payments.”, complains hubby
“Why can’t you be where I am shopping? Just stop playing chauffer. You drive us to town and disappear at shop. Stay with the family. Always interested in phone calls.”

And it goes on….

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cochin a.k.a Kochi a.k.a Ernakulam

Most tourists face the problem. What is the place really called? You fly into Kochi, the airport is called Cochin International Airport. Your Tour operator welcomes you to Cochin and takes you to a hotel in Ernakulam. You arrive by train at Ernakulam Town or Ernakulam Junction when you visit Cochin. The main old quarter of the town is called Fort Kochi. If you take a bus from somewhere to cochin, the destination must read Ernakulam , if you want to reach the city. There are no buses with Cochin as destination. You might get on one to Fort Kochi, though. And if you don’t know the Malayalam alphabet, you’re done for. Few carry English sign boards. And if want the postal address of a friend you made while here, you might get an address like: Mr. xyz, Abc villa, Palarivattom, Ernakulam Dist, Kerala. Pin Kochi- 682032

Well, I have been living in Cochin a.k.a Kochi a.k.a Ernakulam with a postal address similar to above and shopping in Ernakulam town for the last 12 years. I never understood it. When my friends outside the state call, I invite them to Cochin while the relatives in Kerala are invited to Ernakulam.

There is some cross wiring in our heads, somewhere, I am sure. Hope no short circuit happens.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Night Shift

Have you ever observed the big railway stations at night? Sometimes, the train you are traveling on is made to wait in the outer limits and you can notice the bright lights ahead as a glow. The steel rails gleam in the golden light from the sodium vapour lamps. The outer limits usually have goods train parked in the non used bays. There are some dimly lit parcel and goods godowns and warehouses. Rarely do you see people on the platform in front of these warehouses. The open doors of the unloaded goods van wait for someone to latch it back.

That night Tukaram had night duty. The shift started at 8p.m. There had been some work of the electric lines. By the time it was done, it was ten in the night. There was nothing much to do through the night, so he went to the duty room. The engineer saab Mr.Shinde saw him and asked if all was Ok. He said, “Yes”
“Have you put back all the tools you took?”
“Yes, saab”

Mr. Shinde went out to check in the tool room. And soon he called out,” Tukaram”
“Ji, Saab”
“Where is the ladder?”
“I asked Balram and Gupta to bring it back”
“Well, they seem to have forgotten. You bring it here. Find someone to help you.”

Tukaram muttered under his breath. Those two always left work pending. He passed the last lamp post. The ladder lay beyond. It was quite dark there. The cloudy night shut out the moonlight too. There was nobody around. He tried to pull up the ladder, but it was too heavy for him. Suddenly, he noticed that Gupta was walking towards him from the other end. He called out, “Guptaji, just pick the other end of the ladder and help me take it to the tool room.”

Tukaram turned around and started walking. The ladder didn’t weigh now with Gupta holding the other end. On the way he said, “Guptaji, I told you and Balram to keep it back. Shinde saab got angry with me.” Gupta was silent. They almost reached the tool room and suddenly there was a power interruption. Tukaram turned around and said to Gupta.
“Just follow, I know to guide it in”
The overcast cleared and the moon shone down.
The long ladder just hung there perfectly parallel to the ground. There was no one at the other end.

When he came to, he found Gupta and Balram beside him.
“ What happened, buddy? I heard my name called out. We were at the canteen and came rushing to find that you had swooned under weight of that ladder. You should have called us to give a helping hand. No one can lift it alone, really”
Tukaram now wondered. “Was that man at the other end of a bigger build?”