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*

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**

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

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**

Coffee Chronicles Episode 4: Ballooning Woes-I

Part I: Dormancy and Dance

 

Ours is mostly a dull and rather boring floor. If a contest were to be held to judge the liveliest floor in the entire office, our floor would undoubtedly occupy the last place. This is not to say that the floor is lifeless. All sorts of quirkiness in human behaviour are on display in the floor. But ours is hardly a floor where the birthday of an employee would be celebrated with a surprise birthday cake or confetti. No sir, not here. There was, however, an exception. Once, when promotional activities for a marathon were going on, one bearded and highly energetic man came to our floor along with a bevy of girls holding placards. He made all the people, most of whom are well above 40,stand against the long wall that runs along the conference rooms and asked them if they “were ready to rock”. His question was met with a resounding and immediate ‘NO’.

The man was obviously not expecting this answer and looked, with some annoyance, at the Communications personnel who had accompanied them to the floor, in a tone and with an expression that plainly said, “I did not sign up for this”. We were coaxed to stand up against the wall, however, and told that we would be made to dance to two songs, the first of which being ‘I’m sexy and I know it’. Now there is one lady in the floor who shares the habit but not the demeanour of a male lion who is the head of the pride. Meaning, she sleeps for twenty hours a day and works as less as possible. She comes to the office, fiddles with the mouse, talks to a few people- one garrulous and loud old man is her companion on most occasions- and tired from all this activity, goes to sleep in broad daylight in the busy office. She rests her face against her hand and sleeps till lunch. Her feat of sleeping for so long and with such apparent comfort in such a position is , undoubtedly, a result of long practice. After lunch, she may work until she feels she does not need to and then reads herself to sleep. She wakes up suddenly at 5:15, when it is respectable to leave office and wastes no time in doing the same.

That day, however, she changed things. When the music came on, and people against the wall started moving their limbs gingerly and some openly complained about the futility of the exercise, this lady, who seemed to have been conserving her energy for this performance, let it all go. She put youngsters to shame. Her hands flew, she twirled and moved and danced her way to glory, and for the bewildered people standing beside her, to levels of extreme discomfort and awkwardness. The bearded man who had been disappointed with a hostile reception from the floor earlier was now delighted and declared her to be the star of the morning, and saluted her energy. The rest of us exchanged bemused glances. Performance over, while people were still talking about what just happened, the lady crept back to her chair and fell off to sleep.

Contd. in Part II

Coffee Chronicles Episode 3: Elevator Entries

*Mini Prelude*

The elevator is an important part of an office. Apart from its contribution to ruining many a new year resolution of using stairs, its importance also lies in the fact that it is symbolic of the rise and rapid descent of the aspirations and positions of the people who ride in it. It is perhaps because of this reason that people leave their facades at their desks and are unabashedly themselves while they are in the elevator.

Consequently, the elevator becomes an amazing place to observe some queer actions and their owners.

*Episode Begins*

I was not particularly sleepy, and was, in fact, met with a sudden work load I was absolutely not prepared for, when I decided to saunter in to the mini-kitchen and grap a cup. My brain longed for some lemon tea to rouse itself, so that I could ask it to focus on drab Excel sheets for the next three hours.

No sooner had I picked the cup up and pressed my lips to its rim, no sooner had my eyes closed and taste buds become alert in anticipation of the tangy taste to come, than my manager called out to me and asked me to attend a meeting a few floors above. Not one to waste a cup of tea, I left, with the tea.

I went up the elevator. I was on the 7th floor, and my destination lay on the 15th. I reached there right in time to be told the meeting had been cancelled for the day. Cursing softly to myself I walked back to the elevator.

When I got in, I found three other people standing there. All of them seemed very relaxed, leaning against the shiny walls. I found one semi-bald specimen particularly happy. He was standing with his back and head against the wall, near the floor-number panel.

At 14th, the elevator stopped, and a new man walked in. Within seconds, the happy fellow and the newbie had establshed their familarity, and also their intimacy. This new man was standing at the back of the lift. One thing to be noted, both the men had slightly bulging bellies.

About to stop at the 13th floor, happy man smiled and asked new man something. In response, new man reached out and pinched the belly of happy man, answering the question as he did it. Happy man could hardly contain his glee and proceeded to pinch back new man on the belly with another question.

For some reason at once strange and inexplicable, the elevator stopped at every floor until 7th. These curious and cringeworthy exchanges of belly poking and pinching continued throughout. Towards the end of my journey down that somehow seemed to take an incredibly long time, happy and new man had come close. Shuffling their feet, swaying, blushing and poking, they were quite a sight. If I did not have the propensity to be surprised by such things like most people here – no doubt out of practice- I would have followed them down.

I later rued having got out of the elevator a little too quickly. However, I was not disapointed for long. While coming up after some work at the ground floor, I had with me another queer companion. Soon one gentleman got up. His belly apart, he was quite thin. Now the queer one present on the elevator expressed a cry of delight on seeing him, and began-I kid you not- rubbing the odd belly of the new entrant. The entrant was embarrssed, but that in no way deterred the perpatrator of the action. The rubbed man got off just before I was about to, and while I was getting down, I heard the belly-rub-ber say that he was very fond of the other man.

My delusions that I was immune to such strange ways of greeting were dispelled the very next day. I was waiting downstairs, after a horrible ride in the metro, when I espied a man who had earlier convinced me to donate blood. He gave me a cheerful smile, and evidently feeling there needed to be more cheer between us, came towards me and hit me on my belly with the back of his hand.

Needless to say, I did not return the gesture.

#Footnote

I spotted a new coffee machine downstairs, one that had hot chocolate as well. A dedicated fan of hot chocolate, I picked up the cup, placed it beneath the spout and pressed the button. Some water came out, and then a few drops of milk. I waited there for 5 minutes waiting for the rest of it to come out, but nothing did. I threw it away and returned to my floor, to the familiar coffee machine, which discharged a cup of tea dutifully. I picked it up, and sipping it, went back to my desk.

*The End*

Coffee Chronicles Episode 2: ‘SOMETIME’

It was not even 11:30 and I felt I would drop dead on the desk if I went through that Excel sheet again. The meeting that was scheduled at 11 o’clock was cancelled and I had nothing to do until my guide came and gave me a new set of incomprehensible instructions. I tried reading the news, but there is only so much about the vagaries of stock market that one can take. it went up and down so many times that it seemed even Arvind Kejriwal’s marvellous ‘U-turns’ were easier to follow. There was an interesting article about a Muslim man who got beaten up when he talked to a female Hindu colleague, and I spent some time reading the insightful comments on the piece. Reading routine Bollywood gossip was never much fun, but I attempted to do that today, only to be forced to switch windows again and again when alarmed looking men stopped by my desk. Having no other way, I proceeded to the mini kitchen to keep myself occupied for some time over coffee. I genuinely felt the need for a warm soothing latte.

The office employs people from an organisation for housekeeping services, but they have been associated with this particular office for so long that they have become extended employees. Beyond their routine tasks, they serve tea and more often than not, treat themselves to it. I walked into the kitchen to find three such men standing with the exact same expression. They were holding empty cups and looking, for some strange reason, at the photocopier, as if my entry had interrupted a most interesting conversation with the photocopying machine which had just turned mute.

Seasoned in a few weeks to ignore all such instance of seeming abnormality, I picked up a cup, put sugar in it and pressed the button for latte. As the foaming liquid filled the cup, a wayward drop landed on my hand causing me to react with a meek ‘Oooh’. I turned around to find one of the said weird men looking at me, with an expression that said “You deserved it”. Again, I ignored that- my sagacity was growing in leaps and bounds- and moved on to pick a stirrer.

I was stirring the coffee, and unbeknownst even to myself broke into a hum of ‘Kabhi kabhi mere dil me  khayal aata hai’, an old and very cheesy Bollywood song. I turned to leave and found a man looking at me, a full time employee this time. He hands were frozen forward, and his mouth was open in a very evident expression of surprise. My first thought was that I was singing too loud, but I looked around to see that the photocopier-chatting group did not take any notice of me and concluded against it. Meanwhile, still surprised, the man proceeded to the machine and I made way as soon as I could.

Coming back to my desk, I wondered what the English translation of the song would be. Not very good in things like that, I Googled it, and sure enough, a few seconds later I was reading an elaborate post on the subtleties of translating the song. The explanations were long and tedious, and I skipped most of them to go to the main translation.

Now, I had mentioned that the song was cheesy, but nothing had prepared me for what I read next. The first two lines of the song, which go thus:

“Kabhi kabhi mere dil me khayal aata hai

 Ki jaise tujhko banaya gaya hai mere liye”

had become,

SOMETIME IDEA COMES TO MY HEART,
AS IF YOU ARE MADE FOR ME
”.

I was intrigued. The translation had left me absolutely speechless. I moved on to the next two lines:

Tu abse pehle sitaron me bas rahi thee kahi 

Tujhe zameen pe bulaya gaya hai mere liye

BEFORE THIS YOU WERE LIVING IN STARS SOMEWHERE ,
YOU ARE CALLED ON EARTH/LAND FOR ME

Now, this song was never a favourite. I had always regarded it as somewhat lame, but this translation had changed it forever. It goes on:

SOMETIME IDEA COMES TO MY HEART,
THIS FLESH, THESE EYES ARE MY TREASURES.

But the high point of the song comes in the lines when the songwriter speaks of how, on the wedding night, the groom warms up to the bride in imagery long associated with sensuality in India. This has been translated, in a stroke of genius, to the following lines:

ITS(sic) WEDDING NIGHT I AM REMOVING VEIL,
YOU ARE COMING TO MY ARMS BLUSHINGLY.

Needless to say, rest of the morning, till lunch, passed  like a breeze. I did not even know when it was time for lunch, as I sipped my latte and read the blog, my admiration growing with each stanza. The ending, like the beginning, is in a flourish that encapsulates the spirit of the entire exercise:

AFFECTIONATE GLANCE WILL LOOK UP TO ME LIKE THIS,
I KNOW YOU ARE STRANGER BUT JUST LIKE THIS,
SOMETIME IDEA COMES TO MY HEART.

I drank my latte to the dredges, and closed my laptop. Then, content and still amazed, I passed by the photocopier and one of the weird men who seemed to be looking lovingly at it, towards the elevator for lunch.

#Footnote

I have now discovered a way of justifying any random thing that I do, just like this post. The sincere reader can well ask for the reason for inclusion of this incident and all I have to say is:

“SOMETIME IDEA COMES TO MY HEART”.

*The End*

P.S.: You can read the absolutely awesome translation here.

Coffee Chronicles: Pilot

A friend had complained of the abruptness and apparent incongruity of Episode 1 of  Coffee Chronicles with the rest of the posts. I agree that  the series does require an introduction. Hence this post will be a pilot for the series. 

Offices and workspaces can become mundane. Employees need to stretch their legs once in a while and revitalise themselves with nectar devised especially for that purpose- be it tea or coffee. Such liquids give them the much needed energy to see them through the rest of the day till it is time to go home.

To understand the importance of this, we consider the statement made by a man famous for championing the cause of the working class. Banished from his country due to his revolutionary views about subjects that intoxicate, he had once remarked, while sipping a cup of rich tea in London, “Tea is the opium of the masses.” The statement was later modified by the same great man to “Coffee is the opium of the masses”, so that coffee drinking nations could identify with it as well. Subsequent times have seen the statement being distorted to “RedBull is the opium of the masses” but that did not go down well with the working class.

Most companies, since then, have had ‘break-out areas’ or ‘mini-kitchens’ with coffee-machines installed in them. Such areas see much activity and hear much gossip. More often than not, the rich tapestry of office politics unfolds around the coffee machine. Indeed, it is well known that words that are exchanged in such areas provide taste to the usually drab liquid (for machines lack the nuances of hand-made tea or coffee). The exchanges are as intricate a part of the coffee room as the machine itself.

This series is a testament to the richness of such stories that unfold around the coffee-tea brewing machine. It is not a fictional series; the posts will mostly be based out of my own humble experiences in the mini-kitchens.

Lastly, this series will be a tribute to the concoctions that have sustained generations of working men and women across countries and companies. Be it tea or coffee, we owe our productivity most often to these.

*The End*

Coffee Chronicles Episode 1: Shaken and Stirred

I was trying hard to stay awake.

I had already gulped down a cup of distasteful cardamom tea, that tasted more like cardamom dipped warm water than tea. After having read some 50 articles by The Unreal Times, and about as as many by the real ToI and its compatriots , I was finding it difficult to keep my eyes open.

So I decided to go the kitchen and fix myself another cup of dipped tea.

I was rambling around in the mini kitchen, picking up paper cups and deciding whether I wanted a cup of badly made coffee that looked like tar and tasted like bitter gourd juice, or a cup of Assam flavoured water, cardamom having been exhausted.

I suddenly noticed I had company. Behind me was standing a man who always walked about with a hunch, his flabby belly out a little, eyes drowsy and phone to his ears. This gentleman was waiting at the gate, so I assumed I was blocking his passage to the place where the plastic cups were kept, and moved away.

After I had filled my tea-bag carrying cup with something that seemed like milk and water, I turned around to take some sugar.  The man was still standing there.

I looked up at him to see if I had been blocking the way to the coffee/tea/random milk-water mixture brewing machine as well and glanced upon a most singular thing.

There was the man standing near the microwave oven, his belly out, eyes half closed, mouth twisted in a smile of great contentment beneath his broom like moustache.

In between the fingers of one of his hands, and partly in his ear, was a stirrer cum flat straw that coffee outlets give out. He was using that to clean his ears and obtaining sheer bliss from the activity.

I pretended not to have noticed anything at all, and walked off coolly, with my distasteful mixture in one hand and my heart in the other.

#Footnote

It does not fit in exactly here, but last evening I saw a man change inside a transparent conference room, which is used by most people as an eatery. It was past 6, many people were leaving for home, some were on the phone closing the day, and here was this office help,  a man in his forties by the looks of it, standing in his underwear in a conference room, looking for his trousers. No one else on the floor was as shocked as I was, so since then, I have been introspecting on my accpetance of the ‘open culture’.

* The End*