Things: Spring

Truth be told, India does not have much of a spring.

The Northern parts of the country, or those areas located at higher altitudes experience it but not the sun-battered-rain-soaked Gangetic plains, the dry north-west, the Deccan traps and certainly not the coastal regions. In fact, Spring is a short visitor to the major part of the subcontinent.

As a kid growing up in a city where humidity dominates the climatic chart for most part of the year, Spring meant a sudden end to pleasant weather of the last few months and two major festivals before the heat started going up again. Holi or the Festival of Colours is the bigger of the two festivals and falls usually in March. Sadly, my annual examinations would be around the same time so most Holi celebrations were jubilant study breaks. The next day at school would be quite a scene. Students sitting and looking around the examination hall, their anxiety for the test masked by badges of honour worn proudly on their faces and hands. The brighter the residue of colour, the better.

Spring in Calcutta was Holi and Koel, the latter being the official harbinger of the season in India. The male Asian Koel can be heard trying to serenade its mate relentlessly from March until the lack of water in peak summer forces it to shut up. Similar was the case in Bhuvaneswar, where I happened to be attending college. Both cities shared a similar climatic profile with Bhuavaneswar being closer to the coast. The weather used to be detestable during the day throughout the year but in the evenings, especially in Spring, a light breeze would blow and the surroundings would cool down drastically.

It was a strange breeze. I remember standing at the balcony of the library at night, watching the barn owls fly across the tennis courts to the rock garden near my department. That breeze made me feel very nostalgic, I still do not know why. It made me think of things that were, and things that would be. It made me want to call up  home or old friends in different cities leading different lives. It made me want to call them up and hear their voices. The breeze was a premonition as if, an indication of things to change. It was therefore, fitting, it would be associated with nostalgia.

The next place I went to was markedly different from the two cities I inhabited earlier. Called the Scotland of the East, Shillong is a beautiful little town with splendid weather. Our campus used to be the summer palace of the Mayurbhanj Kings from Orissa. The last King who stayed there was a fan of Bentleys, birds, tennis and model airplanes. Even today, just outside the boundary wall near the Admin Block, where the rolling slopes with luxurious grass cover skirts the pine trees and goes down to meet the baskbetball court, there is a lone bird feeder, the only one remaining of the Maharaja’s many bird houses.

By middle of February, Shillong becomes very windy at night. The grounds of the campus would be littered with pine cones during the day. At night, you could hear the wind sing in the tall pines. Shillong was also the place where my interest in astronomy peaked, primarily because of clear skies and less light pollution than anywhere else. Spring meant the descent of Orion along the arc and the ascent of the most recognisable constellation for this Equinox- the Ursa Minor. There is many a fond memory of stargazing on those cold windy nights to the song of pine trees and to the visual poetry of the stars. Needless to say, it was enthralling.

A professor, who loved the February breezes as well, told us that the snows in the Himalayas start to melt around this time, just as the plains start heating up. It sets up a powerful convection current from the mountains to the plains. That, he said, explained the chill factor in the wind. The day before I was about to leave for my Summer Internship, I was standing at the ramp near the Old Boys’ Hostel when the wind was blowing in full force, rattling windows and shaking up branches and having leaves fly all across the badminton court down to the entrance to the Mess. Later that night I was walking around the campus with a friend and I remember wanting to keep walking. That was a strange night too, of stories and magic.

Spring this year has been less glamorous. It brought in chicken pox and crashed my plans of going for a trek. As I lay in bed, I got a mail inviting me to an alumni meet, drafted by the same professor I earlier talked about. He was writing about winds again, essentially the winds of change that have been blowing strong over our campus.

I have always believed time-travel is overrated, at least the physical part of it. It takes only a whiff of familiar scent once held dear, or the prelude of a song long since forgotten or a similar such sensory stimulus to open the floodgates of memories. Emotionally, a stray breeze coming in through the window could take me to Shillong. I might be lying on the bed with boils on my body and struggling in a weather fidgeting constantly between hot and cold, but the breeze has already carried me miles and months  away to evenings of happy heartbeats, long walks, good music and great hope.

I do not know what change this Spring holds for me, what news of newness the breezes will bring, but this much I know. Spring for me will always be associated with dance of the pine cones, the twinkling of lights of the houses in the distance, a strong strong breeze that ruffled hair and held people close, rustled leaves and rattled panes and hearts. Summer, you might be the realist that Life needs, what with your foul-temper-inducing humidity and your pragmatism as fierce as the sun rays you bring, but I will never hate Spring for beginning stories that will eventually disappear like the evening breezes that stifle in the May heat.

Goodbye, Spring. Palash and Shimul may have taken over the city, painting the trees in shades of bright red. Coppersmith Barbets and Lesser Flamebacks are everywhere. The Purple Sunbird has eluded visibility so far this year but I am sure it is here too. Forgive me this is all very pretty, but my heart is inclined more towards overhanging blossoms of white over wooden fences and windy nights with clear skies.

But I need not miss Shillong a lot. There, a breeze blows again.

Coffee Chronicles Episode 8: ‘Dumb Charades’

Some wise man had once remarked, “Balloons may come and balloons may go, but celebrations go on forever.” After a general mandate ousted the balloons as a means of celebrating any milestone, things have been different on the floor. It might also have to do with the transfer of the proponent of balloons as a means of celebration- the lady from the marketing team of the Projects department whose laughter was like that of a hyena in high ecstasy. Balloons left, but milestones followed their predecessors and necessitated some method of celebration that did not involve giant rubber balls falling on people. Also, around this time, the ‘engagement initiatives’ kicked off, that promised to turn the floor and the ambience from like that of a hospital ward shown in a B-grade zombie apocalypse film into something maybe more lively.

Accordingly, it was decided to have ‘activities’ in the second half of every Friday. We, those on the floor, who had not yet succumbed to the deadly touch of age and decay that had inflicted most here, were entrusted with the responsibility to think of something that could spike interest in work. For the first activity, we came up with a movie quiz. It was purely based on audio snippets- dialogues and tunes. The movies were mostly from Bollywood, a fact that would draw great resentment from the losing teams later, who turned their greasy noses up and said they do not venture beyond Hollywood. We got a little late putting everything into place and more importantly, getting people to come attend it. People were alarmed that they had to get up from their workstations, newspapers, a game of solitaire and sleep to attend a game. Never in my life, had I seen such overwhelming reluctance to have fun. The quiz, however, was a success. People cheated, no doubt, and called out each other and demanded they be given more points. What was good was that the event worked, and it set up the stage for the second event. We asked the opinion of the ‘associates’ for the second event and they were surprised at having been asked to think about a game. They looked at us with open mouthed wonder. We thanked them for their help and decided on dumb charades.

Meanwhile they put up a giant ‘10’ on the floor near the gate, to mark the ten million tonnes sold of a product. It was a great thing, the 10, and had plastic boxes on which congratulatory messages were to be written. When the plastic boxes were put in place, they turned on the lights and the figure glowed in many colours through the many messages. It was rather a pretty sight.

Friday approached, and we brainstormed on the movies we could possibly ask the people to act out. We decided against making it difficult. The time came and we assembled the people. They were divided in two teams, for looking at their hapless faces, we guessed not many had played dumb charades before and that strength lay in numbers. We explained the rules and got started. The acting was terrible, and the guesses even better. When one new officer named Mr. J got ‘Conjuring’, he did the most amazing act of it imaginable. He stood there, having indicated it to be a Hollywood movie of a single word. Then he brought his arms to his waists and started rotating his wrists, while looking towards the ceiling. His team-mates asked him if he was talking about feelings, something he could not express, emotions and so on. To us, he looked like more as if he was experiencing the curios struggle of wanting to vomit but not being able to.

However, the star act of the evening came from none other than Mr. B.  Mr. B got ‘Baby’s Day Out’-a simple movie to act out, by any standard. Having indicated clearly it was a three word Hollywood movie, Mr. B proceeded to indicate the first word. Now, there are a thousand ways in which someone can show a baby. Mr. B, however, being of a different breed, sat down on his hunches, curled his fingers in and began to hop across the floor.

Needless to say, people were puzzled. Someone whispered something about it being a gorilla. Then Mr. P.G, another luminous soul on the floor, assumed the expression of ‘eureka’ and with a jubilant smile that suggested he had got the movie right, screamed, ‘Old Man Walking’.

We still do not know if this was a sly slight at Mr. B, who disliked being called old, or a genuine mistake of Mr. P.G who replaced ‘Dead’ with ‘Old’. Mr.B was not very amused. He stood up and held his knees and waist. Meanwhile, a self-confessed Hollywood buff shouted his guess for the three word movie- ‘ No Country for Old Men’. Mr.B had a dark cloud hovering between his giant bushy eyebrows now.

Then a lady guessed it right and put Mr. B out of further misery. The performance must have caused Mr. B much trouble, at his age.  But why he chose to be a chimpanzee with a limp when he could have shown a baby was beyond anybody’s wildest guess.

The next Friday was karaoke night- which I missed- but the reception was encouraging. All in all, a lot of things were changing in the workplace and it felt good.

Now the night in nigh and I am tired and like an episode with an uncertain end, I must end this abruptly too.

P.S:

I was standing in the mini kitchen with my usual cup of sugarless nectar, when I realised something. All of us are  always trying to convey things, trying to act out people and places and ideas, and trying to reach out to an always puzzled audience over the barriers of language, time and distance. Sometimes people get us and sometimes they do not. But we still rumble through life, taking turns to act, expressing through symbols, made of situations and by us, wishing to be understood.

Shamu walked into the kitchen with a mop and broke my reverie. He looked here and there, cleaned the top of the refrigerator and a bit of the sink, then looked down, gave a smirk to the floor and left as suddenly as he had appeared.

Charades, I sighed. We are all locked in a game of charades. I threw my cup away and went back to my seat.

**End of Episode 8**

Coffee Chronicles Episode 7: ‘Usha Di’

It has been quite some time at the floor and on my blog. The coffee machine broke twice and was restored to working order soon enough. The soups fell out of favour with people who went back to coffee and lemon tea. People raised concerns that the quantity of coffee in the cappuccino had gone down. Then they sighed heavily and moved on, quietly accepting it, as if it was only time before the decadence of the age caught up with the coffee machine. New people have arrived here while some old ones are about to leave. The floor was voted by a poll both informal and spurious to be rather dull and demotivating for its employees. When the result of the poll was communicated at a meeting to the people gathered at large, the audience, majority of which belong to the age at which it is advisable to live on salads and green tea, appeared to take offence. However, the youth on the floor, though outnumbered outright by the senior brigade, demanded something be done to at least make the floor not look like the drab piece of hell it was. There followed, upon this decision, a sudden spurt of activity on the floor. But all that is reserved for another day and another post. This one will be dedicated to a person who occupies a very important position on the floor. It is a continuation of the series on attendants and associates.

The first table, on entering the floor, belongs to a lady. She is by no means inconspicuous. Although short, she occupies substantial space and wears an expression which seems to be the reason the word ‘pugnacious’ was coined for. Said lady goes by the name ‘Usha Di’. In the hierarchy of attendants, she is above everyone else. Even Shamu the Enigmatic reports to Usha Di, husky of voice and imposing of size.

Usha Di rules the floor with an iron hand. She hoards envelopes, pens, post-it notes, diaries and notebooks but does not make these vital resources available to people easily. One must be in her good graces to harbour any hope of getting anything from her. Then there is the photocopier-cum-scanner in the mini-kitchen. Anyone touching it without having consulted its keeper will be alerted by a shriek that sounds like the amplifier feedback of a jarring note from a broken string of a guitar. With a gust of wind and the howl of dingo, Usha Di will appear in the scene, arms flailing, nearly knocking the coffee and head of any unfortunate employee who happens to be in her way, and then will severely admonish the poor soul who had touched the machine. She will make a mental note of how to best starve the offender for the next few days- by refusing him a morsel of a birthday cake, ripping off the letters from his name-plate or just looking him coldly in the eye whenever he has to pass her. The last is, as has been guessed by now, the most cruel and is administered to the gravest of offenders. There have been reports of men losing their voice for days when subjected to this treatment.

On one eventful day, I was caught up in a situation in which Usha Di was involved as well, for a brief period of time. During that time, she told me her story, which was sad. Her husband had met an untimely demise and from what I could gather, it was due to the negligence of the doctor. She brought up her daughter, then all of three, by herself. My heart warmed up to her after this story, and I admired her feisty spirit.

Then, one day, I was waiting for the elevator when I saw Usha Di come and wait nearby. Her head was bent down and she was wearing an expression woven of such delicate strands of forlornness as had never graced any countenance. I became sad too, and started walking towards her to initiate a conversation. I had heard from other attendants that her nephew lived off her earnings and was an ungrateful prick. She would cry at times, when she was not busy ragging other attendants or denying officers stationery. I had made up my mind to make some small talk to cheer her up. When I was about three feet from her, the expressions on her face intensified to resemble a cloud that would burst immediately. Then, with a further exaggeration of her already complex expression she opened her mouth and let out a monster of a burp. It echoed along the passage and I imagined the glass panes shook a little.  Then the clouds cleared on her face and she gave me a tired and painful smile.

I think I gave her a half confused and half terrified nod and went up in the elevator, having been relieved of the need to have a conversation by the timely arrival of the elevator.

Usha Di recently won the carrom competition held for women. She came to the floor with the cup, and was cheered lustily by those expectant of a ‘treat’. When the subject was brought up, she snarled and demanded a treat of those who congratulated her and for some she reminded they had such ‘treats’ due too. The matter ended then and there and Usha Di resumed her victory lap on the floor, now to the sound of muffled claps and disappointed murmurs.

Usha Di is respected by the attendants and held in awe by most of them. She is regarded with caution by the officers and the associates have no choice but to keep her happy, for they are the ones to gain the most from their association with her. At a time and age when women leaders are making the headlines as heads of States, Usha Di continues her unchallenged rule on the floor, suppressing both dissent and unnecessary demands under her enormous weight, both metaphorical and literal.

P.S. : We were hanging out in the mini-kitchen, waiting for someone to fill up the milk for the coffee machine and wondering if we should do it, when in came Usha Di. Then, as she got herself busy pouring the milk into the bottle that stood inside the container for the milk, one guy suggested we could have chocolate in cold milk. Usha Di turned around and said, “Of course you can” and then emptied the entire packet of milk onto the complicated arrangement of apparatus. We stood there for some time, unsure what to make of her statement when she, carrying two cups on a plate and an air of having won a crushing victory, asked us to give way. We moved, and out went she, with a victorious toss of her head. And we, clueless souls lost in time and her wake, took our respective cups of coffee and went back to our seats.

*End of Episode 7*

Things: A Brief Autobiography of a Burger

I am a burger.

It is difficult for me to ascertain the precise moment when my identity rose above that of the many objects that constitute me to become that of a burger. Some might say, that in this peculiar mode of origin, I am like a nation. Made by bringing together smaller entities of economics values just as small, to form a composite being that inspires and commands both a higher economic value and emotional respect. I have been told by learned peers that men have gone on hunger strike for being bestowed with Statehood. I also hear of children who do not wish to take food except for burgers. I have seen, in the formative years of my being, a little boy swinging from his mother’s arm on the floor and howling abominably with the intent to embarrass her  in public to get himself a burger. So even in bringing men gastronomic satisfaction, burgers and nations go together.

Like nations, we too have our own problems. Many of my component elements, especially those blasted lettuce leaves, have secessionist tendencies. They plan to fall out at the sides with the first bite and walk to freedom. In vain do we try to make them realise their freedom is but delusional, a lonely cabbage leaf is only likely to get trampled over or go straight to the dustbin, to be nibbled at by cockroaches or maybe the occasional rat, doomed to a future far removed from the glory of bracing the end at the mouth of a hungry human. The best case for these fledglings is to be eaten by pets, though I have heard cases when some people have picked up lettuce, tomato and onion pieces from the floor, looked around and put them in their mouths. Such extraordinary luck is rare.

The most important question that confronts us burgers is, as succinctly put by a man while biting on one of my ancestors, that of suicide. To paraphrase it, as the said man did in an essay, existential crisis stares at us in the face from the moment we are born. Add to it the crisis of identity that haunts us as much if not more, and you have the subject matter of a Zack Snyder movie. But being born of and with these two crises makes us similar not only to the glorious idea of State that is so dear to man, but to man himself.

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You think I am, therefore I am. – Macques Donaldus

I knew a rebel of a lettuce leaf. He was here just sometime back, though. When entreating him not to fall off, he asked me what the use of the entire exercise was. We were all going to end up the same anyway, some probably in ways perceived less glorious. The top loaf quipped, “But you will go knowing you were part of an ABC burger! We are famous!” “And pray tell me,” said the lettuce leaf, before a man came in and flicked him to the floor, “what good would that-”

His sentence was left unfinished. While the dissenting voices inside me were all waiting to be quelled by time, I, their collective conscience, could not help but wonder about the lettuce leaf’s point. I have seen my cousins across the cardboard cut-outs on the floor. In fact, I heard my would-be-consumer talk about a relative of mine whose picture he had seen on a bill-board. But I wondered, that was not me. To this consumer and even to that man who puts together my constituents to create me, I am just another burger. No different from the ones put on advertisements or the one last consumed. Just another burger, marketed to be exceptional than others, but actually very similar, in use and by birth.

I may scream and shuffle my loaves in hurt pride at the thought to being told I was same, and go to great pains to show how the lettuce inside me is of a different shade of green, how specially has the chicken or beef patty been prepared, the subtle touch of spices to render the precise characteristic taste but in the end, when you look at it, I am not that special.

I am just another entity formed entirely of things that might be same across other burgers or sandwiches or even salads, given a name for consumption and made to feel different by the powers that be for economic gains. And suddenly, the patty and lettuce inside of me, or even the loaves,  seem to have a bigger claim to an identity that I ever did.

But my time has come. I have been served hot on a plate, a curved piece of paper lying next to me on top of paper tissues, with two sachets of ketchup for company. I go to embrace the most defining moment of my life. It should seem ironical, that my destiny is fulfilled in consumption. But it does not, suddenly. My identity starts and stops at the plate. Before that I was nothing, beyond this I would be nothing. All the human being would have consumed would be  just an idea. An idea of a being that I am sold as, something he should know very well.

And with these words, I depart, leaving you to chew on what I hope would be more than food.

Goodbye.

Coffee Chronicles Episode 6: ‘Shamu’

I still remember the first time when I  heard of Shamu.

I had, as a child, read about a star orca called Shamu, with a distinct curved dorsal fin in SeaWorld, San Diego. Shamu was the first orca captured intentionally to be trained for shows. She also became a study on how captivity can affect the behaviour of  orcas, after she attacked a trainer, some four months before her death. The draw of Shamu is still so great that SeaWorld has named its show for performing orcas as the ‘Shamu Show’.

I had hence, never thought, that I would find namesake of this celebrated cetacean in India, and more so, on the office floor.

I was in the washroom, at the basin. I was splashing water onto my face, trying to rid myself of sleep when all other fluids designed to keep men awake had failed.

Suddenly there came upon the scene a gentleman whose countenance always bore an expression that can only be described as most singular. It was a very disagreeable mixture of confusion and anxiety. It gave him an air of an acute helplessness, along with his baggy trousers, squeaky sports shoes and round spectacles that seemed to be too uncomfortable being where they were.  Eyes wide, clouds of distress hovering on his forehead, I have before and since seen said gentleman walking around the floor, infecting every chair he passes with the same astounded perplexity as that nests between his brows.

I, whilst valiantly fighting off sleep and water, looked up from the basin into the mirror, seeing there the gentleman waiting at the door of the washroom, looking into the mirror as well. He then stepped forward, exclaimed, “Shamu!” and looked around. It was difficult to classify his utterance as an exclamation, for it had a distinct air of interrogation hanging over it. His striking cameo thus being exhausted, the gentleman left as suddenly as he had appeared, still calling out “Shamu, Shamu” in a tone reminiscent of the plaintive cries of the hungry hatchling of a crow on a hot afternoon. The door closed behind him, and cries of ‘Shamu’ still rang in the air in the wake of the exit of our hero, diminishing in intensity, but never in its degree of despair.

Needless to say, I was left stunned. My mind was still occupied in a struggle with a very determined slumber which threatened to overpower me in spite of the water. This incident that had happened took some time to be processed by my mind, but once done, it proved too strong a reinforcement against the wily enemy. Suddenly, I was wide awake.

I followed the dying echo of ‘Shamu’ out from the washroom and there I found the perennially surprised gentleman moving around rather unsteadily, still looking for the apparition named Shamu he had so summoned.

True to the reputation that preceded the existence of his name in my universe of awareness, Shamu remained an enigma to me for quite some time. I would sometimes hear his name being shouted here and there, never without alarm, but I would never be able to catch a glimpse of the man himself. I figured, from conversations with various people that he was an attendant, eccentric in ways and sharp of mind. However, an encounter with the man always eluded me, until that fateful day.

It had to happen in the mini-kitchen. I had gone in for a cup of cappuccino when I found that there was no milk. A man walked in, whom I had not seen on the floor before. He was short, rather unimpressive looking and had a walrus-esque moustache. He wore glasses and his mouth was curved into a permanent smirk. He had quick movements, and was very thin.

I noticed from his uniform that he was an attendant, and asked him to refill the milk. I also told him that we had run out of stirrers. A reserve stock of stirrers and cups was normally kept in the cabinet beneath the microwave oven but it was locked.

He did not say a word in reply. He first tried the cabinet, then finding it locked went out and came back again. Then he opened the top cabinets, murmuring to himself and dropping things. Then he opened the refrigerator. No doubt for the milk, I thought.

He fumbled around the shelves, and then, to my surprise and disbelief, took out a bunch of keys.

He then proceeded to open the bottom cabinet and after rummaging through all that there was, closed it. He then opened the refrigerator again, took out a packet of milk and then picked up the scissors. He had considerable difficulty making the scissors work as per his will but once his nimble fingers had tamed the beast, he cut the top of the packet and poured its contents into a bottle. Then he took the bottle and placed it inside the milk container for the coffee machine.

I realised my brain had never been conditioned to react to such rapid and varied stimuli so I just stood there observing the spectacle unfold itself before my very eyes.

Someone called out, ‘Shamu’ and the man left immediately to the call. As he left he turned around and said something which I assumed was the negative to the question writ large over my face- where on earth are the stirrers?

Thus concluded my first encounter with Shamu. I have seen him rarely since then. Whenever I have, he is always moving about. He seems to keep himself busy.

But all I could think of that day, while I was pouring the coffee from one cup to another to stir it, that Shamu lived up to the reputation that echoed ahead of him. And like his namesake, he too, is every bit the performer.

P.S.: I  walked to the washroom the other day, a problem heavy on my mind, and found Shamu there, doing his thing, standing with his back to me, his face turned sideways and buried in his  raised arm, his eyes closed in peace.

Needless to say, I hurried out.

**End of Episode 6**

It’s been a year, it seems.

I received this notification from WordPress tonight:

 

Anniversary

It has been a year and I hardly noticed. My first post came quite some time after I created the account, so it did not cross my mind it might have been one year since this page came into being.

Why am I excited about this? Well, I never had a blog before, and to have posts-such posts as I thought would go unnoticed- read by people matters a lot to me. I thank all the incredibly sweet people who took the time to read the posts, and sometimes even like them. Thank you, for appreciation helps.

I have gone beyond posting in the three initial broad categories I had thought I would be doing, and there have come along the way new things like Faux Post and Coffee Chronicles. I do not intend to keep much more of  Faux Post, but Coffee Chronicles will continue.

Also up in the offing are old things I had made- doodles and essays- that will be published under ‘All Things Old’. Yes, it is late and I cannot think of a better title.

I also want to put up the photographs I have taken and will take, and a travel journal of sorts that has been a long time coming. I had shelved the inaugural post of the travel series  because it had turned out to be longer than I had wanted it to be.  I will also like to put up a comic strip but I have substantial doubts as to how regularly I will be able to update it.

So, here you have my blogging resolution for the second year of this page.

Keep reading and let me know!

On the Loss of Earphones

I lost my earphones today. I lost them to the unrelenting laws of physics and attrition. Electronic components, I have been told, have shelf lives. They die with use. It is a very natural death, they told me. That did nothing to console me. My earphones, or the lack of a working pair, left me devastated. I loved those earphones. They had a clear sound and were better than those used by my friends. I was secretly proud of them and considered myself lucky. Today, bereft of my priceless pair of music accessories, I try to document, within these pages, the effect the passing away of my earphones had on me.

Immediately following the discovery of the fact that one of the earpieces was not working, I went into shock. I could not believe it. It seemed impossible. So I tried twisting the cord, to see if I could somehow make the other earpiece start working. Not only did my amateurish endeavour not reap the result desired, but it also ended up putting the working earpiece out of order.

The shock was terrible. My mind went numb as the music stopped playing. I lay on my bed, hoping for a miracle to restore sound to my earphones. But nothing happened. Slowly, the realisation sunk in that I had lost my earphones. It was a hard moment indeed.

I could not move. I lay there thinking. The earphones were lying on the bed, the earpieces scattered and facing the bed sheet while the jack was limp, as if probing the air for the earpieces to reproduce any sound. Out of habit, I thought. That jack must be longing for the warmth of the port of the music player. It made me sad, the dead earphones lying there. They became a memento mori. I thought about the earphones. Then I tried to think some more, and my generally idle brain, unaccustomed to thinking of any kind and pleasantly surprised at this spurt of activity, went all out to provide me with unforeseen philosophical insights.

I thought about the inevitability of death and how each thing, natural or artificial, is doomed to end. It was cruel, the realisation that death was nigh. I looked around myself, at the objects in my room and contemplated how superficial their existence was. The walls, I told myself, would fall one day. The bed would turn to rubble. And my mind, this amazing entity pondering so beautifully on death, would one day cease to exist. This thought made me miserable. I was torn between the desire to weep at my fate and to admire my deep thinking that made me feel that way. I decided on the former. I realised that such admiration for my thoughts would be better reserved for the public, who years after I had left the good earth, would shed many a tear in my memory and recall how I had taught them about life and death. I saw them, through the eye of my mind, erecting statues of me that spread my word and telling their children about the great man who preached the truth about life. Their affection touched me. So deeply moved was I by their persistence to remember me centuries after I had died that my eyes became moist.

My cousin, a rude creature not given to such bouts of enlightenment, interrupted my lovely reverie and asked me for a pen-drive. Instead of being angry, I, in my state of illumination, sat up on my bed and started to share with him my idea. It struck me that it was only just, that my first disciple would be a member of my family. My cousin looked at me in a strange manner. I gathered that he was frightened by this terrible revelation, as all mortal men are wont to be.  I smiled benevolently at him, thinking that only a few are born with reserves of mental strength like mine that could remain courageous in the face of such horrible truth. My cousin’s reaction was somewhat unexpected. He called me names and told me to sod off, an expression I did not approve of. Next, I tried to enlighten my mother regarding the issue. She took offence and said I would be in for a rough time if I did not do well at the interview scheduled a week later. I was hurt. It pained me deeply to see that people were so averse to help. It was a lesson for life. It made my resolve stronger. I decided to strive hard to spread my morbid message to everyone.

I came back to my room. The dark interior of the room stimulated my brain, which hitherto being inexperienced to exercise of any kind, released a plethora of hormones. Several feelings washed though me. It culminated in a long drawn yawn but I thought that surely there must be more to the upheaval in my mind than the mere message of sleep to my body. So I lay down and urged my brain to think. It responded eagerly, opening up new vistas of thought.

I began to feel mistrustful of life and the living. I also lost all faith in artificial things. The sudden loss of the earphones had created a trust deficit- I could not put my mind to trust anything. Any relationship could fall apart; any object could just stop working. The world seemed to me at the edge of a mishap. I cast disturbing glances at the fan overhead. It seemed like it could fall any moment. I thought of the complexity of the biological systems inside my body. It seemed a miracle that all of the organs were working. I found my faith shifting from life towards God and thanked Him for keeping me alive. It was amazing. I felt a strange oneness with God. This must be the moment of realisation Saints talk about, I thought. It almost made me cry.

I still felt sick. The divine oneness had lasted but for a moment. I realised I needed some music. I reached out for my earphones. Then it struck me they were out of order. A chill ran down my spine. The sense of loss that overcame me was indescribable. I could not move, I could not think. I could scarcely hear my heartbeat but a nasty horn from a passing vehicle outside assured me my hearing faculty was still intact. I needed music all the more. And the more I needed music, the sharper the pain of loss of my beloved earphones became. It was a cycle too vicious for human feelings. A lesser man would have gone mad.

I, being I, tried to move on, taking inspiration from Robert Frost, who once said something to somewhat similar effect. I decided to buy a new pair of headphones. The music, I reflected, had to keep playing. My mental fortitude continued to surprise me. I never thought I had that in me.

I checked an online retailer for a pair I had my eyes on for a long time. As soon as I was going to buy it, I noticed the minimum order amount had been increased to a sum which I regarded as ridiculous. It meant that I had to pay a lot more than the actual price of the earphones. I sat looking at the computer screen. It was as if the entire universe had conspired against me. I plummeted into depression. The cussedness of the world was too much. They were situations like these, I thought, that drove men to insanity.

I crawled back to my bed, using the last vestige of strength I had left in me. I felt as good as dead. Then, suddenly it appeared to me, as if in a vision. I realised I could use my mother’s earphones, hardly used and having sound quality comparable to the ones now deceased. I wasted no time. I rushed to my mother’s room, took those earphones and plugged them into my music player.

It felt like manna from heaven. My ears flooded with sweet, sweet music. I felt rejuvenated, reborn. My mind felt at ease and my brain shut up. Lying down, I slipped into a blissful sleep.

                                                                                                                                               15thMarch, 2013

Coffee Chronicles Episode 5: Mr.B and Mr.D

It has been two months into the new year. Balloons have come and gone, with the neigbouring department celebrating its ‘best ever sales’ again this month, by putting a troika of balloons in colours of white, blue and sea green all around the floor.

There a lot of ‘attendants’ in the floor. They are mostly males, with the exception  of one lady who sits and eats a lot and sometimes ferries celebratory snacks around. The lone lady attendant also has a gruff and husky voice which she uses to express great discomfort when someone so much as touches the scanner and photocopier. These attendants are unoccupied for the greater part of the day. In the morning, they wheel a tray around and put water bottles on all the desks, and in the course of the day they take care of such urgent needs as shortage of milk in the coffee machine, stock-out of tea-bags, people wanting tea made by hand et cetera. In the pecking order of the honour roll, attendants come after associates, who follow officers. The category ‘officers’ comprises people who work the most, and also drink the most amount of beverages. So the work load of the officers has a resultant strong correlation with the work load of the attendants. The associates work under the protection of an invisible and powerful body called the ‘Union’ and might be shielded from fluctuations in workload of the officers.

Officers are mostly dull- most of them being people who look at dry numbers and tasteless mails throughout the day. As you can understand, I happen to belong to this group. But it is the creed of attendants and  that of the associates which make the floor an interesting place.

There sits, two cubicles from mine, an unusually loud associate named Mr. B. We will call him Mr. B for the rest of the article, to protect his privacy and also because his surname does start with the letter ‘b’. Now, Mr. B is loud in every possible way someone can be. His loudness comes in a complete package of sensory assaults. He often dresses, despite his age, in bright colours like canary yellow and blood red. He has a softness for floral prints. I am no one to talk about fashion, or what colour suits what skin tone, but Mr. B, nearing retirement, wrinkled in face and throat and hands and whatever little of him can be seen behind the horrendous curtain of clothes, does not seem to be able to carry off whatever he wears. Visitors to the floor, who have been a little weak of heart, have been unable to conceal the cringe that would show up on their faces. We, on the floor, have become used to this and tend to pass him off as an aberration in the colour scheme of the Universe.

Mr. B is a hearty talker. He talks a lot, and makes sure that the person sitting at the farthest end of the rather long floor can hear him clearly. Blessed that he is with a natural sub-woofer and a volume button that refuses to go low, Mr. B can often be found regaling even those who do not want to hear him, with stories. The subjects of his stories are very real, like the difficulties he had to face while boarding a bus, how some technology surprised the living daylights out of him, how the cat in the neigbourhood cried all night long and other interesting things. There is another gentleman who sits beside Mr. B, named Mr. D, the two separated by the wall of the cubicle. As it is Mr. B’s voice refuses to be bound by the physical boundaries of cubicles, departments or even buildings, but Mr. D, who is a fan of Mr. B’s stories, stands up whenever Mr. B starts talking, and resting his arms on the barrier that keeps them apart, listens with animated and great interest  to the tales of Mr. B.

Mr. B recently discovered, to his great delight, sachets of soup and chocolate-shake kept in our mini-kitchen. These are new entrants. Mr. B, who normally drinks coffee, was naturally tempted to try something else. He managed to get hold of a packet with some difficulty, for good resources are always scarce. A spring in his step, gleam in his eyes, he approached the machine, pressed the button for hot water and then placed his cup beneath the spout for milk and coffee. He watched as the water poured down the neigbouring spout while he stood and stared, nose up, eyes looking at the machine with great distrust.

I told him that he should have placed his cup beneath the right spout. M. B reacted to this with a short “Oh!” and seemed rather hurt by the chap trick the machine had pulled on him. Then sipping his soup after he finally had the water in his cup, he went back to his chair.

Mr. D, on the other hand, is hardly there at his desk, when Mr. B is not talking. If Mr. B happens to be occupied with some work and Mr. D is not, the latter invariably gravitates to the one place that holds as much allure for him as Mr. B does- the washroom.

Several people have noticed that no matter when they go to the washroom they find Mr. D there. He is either looking out through the window or into the mirror. Sometimes he is seen fiddling with his phone and smiling to himself. These reported sightings of Mr. D in the washroom are susceptible to changes in weather as well. It has been observed Mr. D is sighted in the washroom more in colder weather. So in winter, if you ever wish to go to the washroom, be assured that you will not find yourself alone. Mr. D will be there, standing, looking, smiling.

Unless, of course, Mr. B is talking, in which case you will be deprived of Mr. D’s companionship in the washroom.

**To be continued in the Episode 6

A Handy Guide to Survival in the Calcutta Metro

Are you new to the city?

Have you been told that the Metro- the oldest in the country- is the best way to travel in Calcutta?

Have you tried commuting on the Metro and been put off by the struggle you have to put up with to reach your destination in one piece?

Fear not.

This article is a handy guide to your survival in the Calcutta Metro. It matters not if you are used to the swanky interiors of the Delhi metro, or are seasoned in the wilderness known as the Mumbai Local and hence are qualified on paper to brave most transports, or you are new to this form of commuting.

Let me assure you at the outset, none of that really matters. Even if you have been using the Calcutta Metro ever since its inception, you are probably unaware of many of the nuances required for efficient commuting on the metro.

Introduction: The Calcutta Metro is, as they take care to remind you, as if by way of justifying the decade old rickety coaches and the numerous rakes still without air-conditioning facility, the oldest such system in the country. Accordingly, the rules of engagement in the Metro are primitive as well.

Metro Station:

The first few points cover your desired behaviour at the Metro station to get the most out of your travel:

  1. Calcutta Metro is brutal. There are long flights of stairs awaiting you at the entrance and at the exit. You can only go up and down the escalator from and to the platform, that too, if you are lucky. At rush hours, you might often find yourself pushed to the wall. Don’t do that. It is advisable to walk in the middle, at a slow pace if possible. Remember, people will be in a hurry and want to move ahead, but you should NEVER give way. If you give way, the ungrateful idiots will push you to the side without even a dry ‘Thank You’ and soon you will feel like Simba caught in the stampede of the wildebeest. To prevent that, it is always better to walk down the middle coolly. In case people start abusing, you can always turn, glare and abuse back. This is Calcutta. It is more about noise, very little about action.  You can rest assured that the verbal assaults will never transform into physical blows. So be cool, and let those in haste find their own way.
  2. If it is summer, and the humidity has got under your skin (literally, in a way), you need to cool it off before you get in for the battle. Locate a pedestal fan, if you think spots beneath the air conditioner ducts are crowded. Make sure you stand SQUARE in front of the fan. If you find someone standing already in front of the fan, and the gap between the fan and that person is sufficient to accommodate yourself, squeeze into that gap. Stand with your sweaty back to that person and pretend he does not exist.

In case there is not gap enough for someone to squeeze in, abuse the man standing in front of the fan and get him to move back. Since he is most likely to be the possessor of skin so thick that it can put a rhinoceros to shame, just like yourself, you must attack him enough for him to budge. Once the man steps back, go and occupy the position now vacant. In doing that, you will be following the same behavioural pattern exhibited by most politicians and civil rights activist-turned politicians in this country, albeit done by them at a different stage and in a broader context.

  1. Once the Metro arrives, you will be standing shoulder to shoulder with people waiting to get in. You can, of course, forge an unlikely alliance with your would-be co-passengers and charge the wall of resistance you will face in the coach, together. However, true to the principles of a Prisoner’s Dilemma problem, this best case scenario will never happen. As the door opens and the crowd comes out, it is every man/woman for himself/herself. Except for couples in love, of course. They are quite complicated a case to deal with in this guide.

In the Metro:

  1. Assuming you have boarded the Metro successfully, you must now prevent other people from getting in. There was less space in the coach as it was, and you and your co-invaders have depleted it further, so much so that people are now finding it difficult to stand. You, and those with you near the gate, now must act as good Samaritans and protect the coach from further invasion. You should hold your belly out, position your chest outwards and with your friends at the gate, assume a formidable first line of defence. When the gates open, wily invaders will try to come in, but you must hold them back. You will find sufficient support from the back, without even asking for it.
  2. Have you ever felt bad because of your body shape? Have you been called short and fat and made to feel miserable? Well, Metro is the place where you have your revenge on the world. If you are beneath 5.5ft and thin, you are in luck. You should have no difficulty in finding gaps where other people think there are none. If you are short and fat, you have the best chance of breaking the wall at the entrance. All you have to do, as evinced by a boy with a ridiculous hairstyle some days back, is to fling your weight on the people standing at the door. On the other hand, having a large protruding belly also gives you better chance of weathering the onslaught of wannabe passengers.

Contrary to popular expectations, it does not help if you are tall and well-built. You will be roundly abused for trying to force your way in.

  1. If you have earphones, pop them in your ears. It helps that you don’t hear abuses, or the plaintive cry of some poor soul whose feet you happen to have trampled.
  2. If you are short of space to stand, you can bend down at the knees and wriggle your hips. This amazing technique was first demonstrated by a short bald man who was almost pressed to the door. He confessed that he had picked it up during his days on the local train.

Getting down:

  1. The only thing worse than not being able to get up on a Metro is not being able to get down at your stop. No matter where successive unrelenting waves of passengers at stations have carried you to, you must punch, bite, kick and elbow your way out to the door when your stop comes. If you think it is barbaric, we are sorry, the Metro is no place for a gentleman.
  2. Once out of the Metro, make a wild dash towards the escalator. When on the escalator, do not stand. Continue running up. This may appear against common sense, but you have to be ahead in the queue at the gate.

This concludes the broad guide to the tips to ensure a smooth ride for yourself on the Metro.

However, if in the heat of the moment, these rules elude you, like they did the great warrior Karna in the epic Mahabharata, here is a golden rule that will stand you in good stead even in such times.

Be absolutely insensitive to the feelings of others and act like a complete idiot.

That should take care of everything.

*The End*

Coffee Chronicles Episode 4: Ballooning Woes-II

Part II: Celebration and Chaos

 

In the new year, they decorated the floor. This was a pleasant surprise to most of us, but soon turned very unpleasant. They had put balloons and ribbons on top of all the cubicles, on the walls, near the door and on all the tables. It was all fine in the morning. From evening on wards, the balloon started bursting, by themselves. The first one came at a time when a sudden lull had descended on the floor. Apart from waking up the dancer-sleeper, it gave a rude and unnecessary jolt to several people, who being old, are also weak of heart.

Then it started happening quite often, and became a source of annoyance to people. Worse, the ribbons attached with the balloons would fall off and land on people in the midst of their work. I witnessed a ribbon drop on the table of a lady who sits near me. She talks in hushed tones to someone over the phone for most part of the day and laughs in muffled hyena like ways. This lady made a face that had disgust reeking from it, when she beheld the rogue ribbon. Then she picked it up, holding it with two fingers lightly at the edge, as if it were the dirtiest thing she ever saw and dropped it on the floor. She watched it keenly as it made its slow journey down, and seemed rather mistrustful of its ways. Once it landed on the floor and she had satisfied herself with the inspection that it could commit no further nuisance, she went back to working. A few minutes later, I looked up on hearing what seemed to be the laughter of a heavily gagged hyena and saw her back on the phone.

The balloons on the tables had long flown off and were now being kicked all around the floor. Unsuspecting people would often find a balloon kicked by a man passing in great haste float slowly towards him/her. If that person deflected it successfully, the neigbour looked up, startled, as he/she perceived something to have landed on the head. In short, the balloons were a cause of concern.  The department decided to deal with it. Over the weekend, they took down all the balloons, even the ones at the door. The arc of white, blue and red, which people had been passing beneath, since the new year was suddenly gone. The floor was back to being what it was before.

P.S. : I discovered another machine in the floor above mine that said it made tomato soup. On pressing the button for what I believed would be tomato soup, I got some yellow water with little black things floating in it. Needless to say, I threw it out.

My hunt for tomato soup was on, even the next day. I went to the last but one floor, and with the aid of a colleague secured a packet of tomato soup from their mini kitchen. I mixed it in the water and from the first sip knew that this was not what I was expecting. It was a bit too strong to be tomato soup. It tasted more like a soup made of pepper, salt and some turmeric. I reached the end of the paper cup still looking for tomato, and found some  suspicious looking sediments at the bottom. Another colleague who was watching me trying to down the stuff said that I should have stirred it well. I could only nod in response.

P.S.S. :

Among other things, I have learnt to place full faith in the coffee machine in my floor. It’s in bad shape and we tend to disagree often on taste, but at the end of a long day, when my misadventures with tomato soup and what not have failed dismally,  I always come back to it. And it never fails to produce that one cup of coffee or tea, especially at times when I need it the most.

**The End**