No country for shy people
Ram Kumar and Shyam Singh were colleagues, Punjabis, professionals, batch mates and friends in a large corporation, posted in different towns of Punjab as Branch heads. The names are obviously fictional, so reader, please do not draw conclusions about their identity, as these are common, almost generic names of the North Indian male species.
Both were middle aged, middle ranking, middle income, middle class people, but differed totally in tastes and temperaments. Whereas Ram was a shy, diffident, law abiding, god fearing soul, popularly known as “gau admi” or as harmless as a cow; Shyam was the very opposite.
Extroverted, man of the world, street smart, boisterous, fond of the good things in life, rules to him being impediments to be avoided without detection; Shyam enjoyed his life with few pangs of conscience.
Both of them were visiting the training facility of their organisation, situated in the outskirts of the metro city which housed their corporate headquarters.
Despite their disparate natures, being from the same part of the country, and having graduated from the same engineering college, they hung out together. In the evening after the boring lectures the participants unwind. Ram wanted to play carom in the common room, but Shyam had other ideas. He persuaded his friend to accompany him in visiting a pub a few miles away. Ram, being too polite to refuse, and a little excited about living on the wild side with his colourful friend, reluctantly agreed.
They therefore went over to a seedy bar in a nearby township, and ordered their drinks, Shyam with nonchalance and Ram with guilty nervous excitement.
Now this bar, as Shyam well knew, was a pick up joint frequented by the local inexpensive call girls. So that soon as they settled down, they were joined by two highly painted and garishly if scantily dressed young ladies of negotiable virtue, who chatted them up quite flirtatiously. Shyam was in his element, exchanging scurrilous repartees, buying them drinks, to the shock and titillation of Ram.
Having quickly finished his drink and negotiations with one of the ladies, Shyam disappeared with her to some back rooms, winking at Ram and requesting the other lady to take care of his friend.
Impatiently urging the tongue tied and by now alarmed Ram to finish his drink, the young lady put her arms around him and firmly led Ram to a back room. Both mesmerised and panicked, he meekly allowed himself to be led in.
But when the lady quickly disrobed, and started disrobing the frozen Ram, he regained enough composure to yell,
“Don’t touch me. I don’t want any of this, let me go!”
The lady shrugged and said,
“It’s okay by me, just pay up and go”
An indignant Ram bristled and screamed,
“I didn’t touch you! Why should I pay?”
The lady patiently explained that his impotence is not an excuse to welsh on the deal fixed, and she was willing to oblige if he was able to perform, but able or not, once in you have to pay as agreed.
Ram tried to bluster and flaunt his exalted status as a senior government employee in distant Punjab, perhaps fuelled by the unaccustomed alcohol in his veins.
But it cut no ice with the experienced young lady, who just put two fingers in her mouth and let out a shrill whistle.
At the signal two bulky bouncers bounded in and proceeded to teach poor Ram the etiquette of the bawdy house.
A bruised and battered Ram relived of not only his money, his wallet, his watch, but even his clothes, was unceremoniously dumped on the road outside.
Clad in his underwear, penniless, dazed and mortified, poor Ram dared not enter the bar again to seek his friend or approach the police or anyone for help. He was deeply ashamed and wanted no one to know of his plight.
Helpless, he slowly began to limp back towards the hostel in the pitch dark, unable to hire a rickshaw.
It was a long walk, and by the time he reached, it was well past midnight, and the gates to the institute were firmly shut.
Not wanting to draw attention to his unclothed and unsavoury appearance, and unwilling to provide tedious and embarrassing explanations, he decided to scale the walls.
Now, this may be in a days or rather night’s work for cat burglars, but was well beyond the scope of a middle aged official. The resultant ruckus raised the guards, who raised the alarm, switched on the lights, apprehended the intruder and proceeded to thrash him. His feeble attempts to explain that he was a legal resident brought no respite.
In the meanwhile the hullaballoo woke up the residents and even the director who came down to investigate.
It also produced Shyam, who had long since concluded his romp and whizzed home in a rickshaw, no doubt passing the hapless Ram trudging along in the dark somewhere on route, and was happily and safely in bed.
He identified poor Ram, who was speechless in shame by now, and asked,
“What happened, Ram? Did you get mugged somewhere?”
This easy explanation revived Ram, who readily agreed.
Thus the matters were laid to rest for the night. But Ram’s reluctance to file an FIR the next day raised suspicion, and close interrogation revealed his whereabouts of the night before; as he being an innocent, had little practice of lying. The understanding authorities agreed to let things be, in deference to Rams family, but issued a stern warning to him never to indulge in such peccadilloes again. Shyam’s role in the episode remained hidden.
Till years, people talked about Ram,
“No one could have guessed about this man; what an animal! And he acts so respectable too!”
A bitter Ram is no longer on speaking terms with his old friend, who doesn’t quite understand why.
This really is no country for the innocent.
Tag Archives: fiction
No country for shy people
Being absentminded is the privilege of the genius. We hear stories of the ridiculous stupidity and feeble mindedness in everyday matters by such greats as Einstein and Newton and chuckle appreciatively.
However, if we of acknowledged mediocre intellect should occasionally let things slip our mind, we are subjected to severe ridicule and harsh name calling.
I unfortunately have suffered from this since childhood, and it shows no signs of improving when I am reaching the age where such senior moments can be attributed to early onset of senility or Alzheimer’s.
This has led to various problems ranging from mild inconvenience to brushes with the long arm of the law.
For instance, I can never remember my vehicle registration number, and in the days of manual security at public parking lots, I had often to peer inside all the cars to identify mine, raising suspicion, which became worse when on questioning I could not recollect the number. I was often subjected to rigorous questioning before being permitted to drive away my own car. Nowadays the remote lock has made the job of identifying my car easier.
It is worse when I am driving someone else’s car. I usually have no recollection of the make or model either. Once when driving a colleagues car while mine was at the workshop, I panicked on reaching a parking lot with a sea of vehicles. Finally I realised that as a recent arrival from another state, his plates will bear that states number. The rest was simple.
What is worse, in those days, most cars of the same make could be opened by the same key, if the vehicle was old. Once, when visiting my parents, I had borrowed my dad’s car and taken my kids to the market. Returning laden with packets and child in tow, I opened the door of what I thought was my dad’s Maruti and proceeded to load the shopping. A gentleman came over and asked if there is a problem. I thanked him and asked him to mind my child while I arranged the packets. This done I thanked him, sat my daughter in the back seat and got in myself. The stunned gentleman protested,
“But this is my car!”
Profuse apologies later, and the clinching argument
that I would hardly be committing grand theft auto with shopping and a child in tow, and finally on discovering the right car parked nearby, I convinced him that I was not a criminal. But he may have been harbouring a doubt that I was criminally insane.
The other issue is I always drive on autopilot. Once the route has been uploaded on what passes for my mind, I don’t have to consciously plan the drive. Thus, as I used to drop my wife off on my way to work, that’s how I went, irrespective of whether she was in the car or not. I usually realised that she’s not there after I had parked by her office and waited for her to get off. I may have been suspected of being a stalker by some of her colleagues.
Ditto when dropping my daughter off to school. I think the authorities had a lookout for the potential paedophile that stops his car outside the school, sheepishly looks around and drives off.
On the pervert front my reputation takes a beating by another nasty betrayal of my mind. Being an incurable multi tasker, I am usually on my computer when I have called someone on the phone and waiting for them to pick up. So that by the time the response comes, I have completely forgotten whom I have called or why. As I desperately try to identify the voice and remember what it was I needed, the person at the other end shouts
“Hello hello!”whilst listening to my heavy breathing.
When I call my secretary for some work, I may be involved with something else by the time she arrives, and I stare at her asking why I called her. I think till she knew me better she may have been convinced I was the stereotyped evil boss looking her over. I am glad I didn’t face harassment charges.
But what almost brought about a crisis in our marriage was when I was giving a lift back from work to a colleague and the LOH was in the backseat. When I stopped to drop the colleague, she had got off to come over to the front. Blissfully unaware, I drove off home, leaving her stranded midway, without money as her purse was in the backseat. I realised this only when she came home in a cab, and she icily asked me for money to pay off the taxi.
Fortunately, my marriage survives to this day, no doubt as I forget the many hints dropped about reconsideration of options from my long suffering LOH.
He was an eager young rookie, in his early twenties, barely out of college, finding his way around the maze of the public sector corporate world.
He was attending his debut budget meeting, where performances are analysed, targets set, and strategy debated, postings decided; at least that is what he thought.
A new branch office had been recently opened in the heart of the capital, and our young hero was sent to man it till a suitable head is decided upon.
Full of enthusiasm, our greenhorn had bustled about and won a number of new accounts; the crowning glory of which came when he reached an agreement with an equally young and enthusiastic IAS officer and acquired a new business of what was a princely sum in those days. It was a big breakthrough for the region. He therefore was brimming with confidence and excited over his virgin evaluation by the exalted regional head, a veteran Sikh gentleman.
The meeting seemed to be carried out entirely in Punjabi, which was the language most of his colleagues spoke. The other Branch heads were all battle scarred veteran salespeople, more than twice our hero’s age. The venue was the company guesthouse, a spacious bungalow in a posh neighbourhood. No business was discussed, but whiskey and jokes flowed unchecked, and a good time was being had by all, including our rookie. Undaunted by the occasion, he too imbibed merrily, and shared witticisms in his pidgin Punjabi.
Finally, the big boss summoned him. But to his puzzlement, he was led out into the backyard with a friendly arm around his shoulder, glass in hand.
There, the venerable regional chief proceeded to give the young hero the best advice he could get, much like Lord Krishna’s discourse to the nervous Partha.
Although this Geeta saar was delivered in Punjabiised Hindi, I shall translate it into English for the uninitiated reader. Those savvy can retranslate in their mind for the full flavour.
“Listen son, I want to tell you something important. I am speaking with a whisky glass in hand, so I am speaking the truth.
We made you a Branch in charge, but you did not show any gratitude. We therefore had decided to remove you after this meeting. You however, managed to pull this coup, and even the corporate office is impressed. Thus, you are safe. If you continue to perform like this, we can’t touch a hair of your head, despite your arrogance and lack of proper deference and gratitude.
Remember this, to survive in the company; you can do one of two things. Be of service to your superiors, do Seva, or you can perform. If you do both, no one can match you, you too even become a General Manager, or even Chairman. But you have to do at least one. Out of the two, serving your superiors, or seva, is the best. Then, multitudes of faults are overlooked and mistakes excused. In performance, you may survive with your impudence as long as you keep up a super track record, but we will be watching you. The first mistake and you are toast.”
The young man ruminated over these gems of wisdom. It has stood the test of time. He has seen many colleagues practice the first and prosper. He has seen a few try the second and be ruined. He has seen even fewer try the golden combo and blossom. He himself, thanks to his contrary nature, stuck to the second, at a great cost, suffered some serious setbacks, but undaunted, continued to strive bull headedly, continued to reach new milestones, and marked out a niche for himself. He was fortunate later in his career to encounter professional bosses who appreciated his work ethic and style, He ultimately did almost reach the dizzying ranks promised by his first boss as a reward for achieving the golden double, but did so on his own terms.
He continues to appreciate the truth in the valuable lesson learnt from this initial guru.
A Broken Man, a Review
Akash Verma, the bestselling author of two previous novels appears to have done it again with A Broken Man, published by Shristi.
This is a love story, but not just another love story. It is a story about politics, caste, student movements, the vernacular versus English divide, culture shock and the creative process.
The protagonist is a dalit boy from the backwaters of India’s hinterland who comes to a city to try and escape poverty through education. Here he gets involved in the ugly underbelly of student politics in order to survive. He also encounters the idealistic version of student politics, but as an adversary.
This encounter changes him, and ultimately changes the very course of his life. He finds the lodestar of his life, which brings a new focus in his very being. This happens when he saves the life of a Brahmin girl who was a student leader and daughter of a prominent politician during an attempt on her life.
This results in his discovery of a new world and a new kind of people, so far totally outside his experience. He finds love, finds heartbreak, uncovers his creative being and ultimately changes the course of his life to become a celebrity in Mumbai.
I do not wish to disclose much of the twists in the story, which keeps flashing back and forth in time between Mumbai and Lucknow, and is told as a story the protagonist is telling his driver during a long drive to Lucknow in a quest to reunite with his lost love.
The growth of the shy rustic boy who only knew disdain and accepted that as his due to the acclaimed writer in Bollywood is the fairy tale of his life, which his good fairy, his lost love, made possible,is the real story.
It is a story about hope
Until I came to Delhi my interaction with the Rashtrabhasha were limited to 3 types of encounters, as a third language in school between the classes of six and eight , interactions with Rickshaw pullers which was conducted any peculiar pidgin language, and Hindi films.
The third language was a test of memory and was limited to a very rudimentary level of ‘k’ for ‘kaua’ and my spoken Hindi consisted of adding ’hai’ at the end of Bengali sentences.
“Tum kidhar jata hai, kitna bhada leta hai” a language which only the poor labourers from our neighbouring state and fellow Bengalis would understand.
The only Hindi film I had seen before coming to Delhi were ‘ Hathi Mere Sathi ‘and ‘Sholay’. I am sure you remember the iconic dialogues of Sholay. “Kitne aadmi the?” “Kub hai Holi” “suar ke bachhe” . No doubt these would come in handy in certain circumstances but not very useful for day to day conversations.
Although our school had a large proportion of non-Bengali students there was a dictum that only English is to be spoken in school and whenever the rule was broken the vernacular used was street Bengali, which everyone living in Kolkata seems to know.
On my arrival to Delhi things did not improve much as the college I attended was highly Anglicized and students from all over the India attended, making English the only common language. I could practice my broken Hindi only when foraying into the city.
One of the things one needs to know in a new city is how to find public toilets. I learned that in Delhi these were facilities marked DI NA NI in Hindi. Much later I learned that these were the initials of Delhi Nagar Nigam. At that time having no clue I often asked passersby where the nearest DINANI was. Meeting with very puzzled looks I mimed desperate need for relieving myself, something very embarrassing to do in a crowded street, till directions were given.
We usually think in one language and translate in another. Much is lost in translation, and the meaning often changes. Post college, when I joined the productive workforce, it was in the government sector, and the lingua franca was our Rashtrabhasa. Written work was in archaic English, but spoken word remained primarily Hindi, as the staff spoke no other tongue.
I slowly started picking up the lingo, but with many a faux pas. One example strikes the mind. A colleague wanted to borrow my matchbox, those being the unenlightened days when you could smoke at the workplace. I wanted to say that it was lying in my desk drawer, and translated literally as, “ Machis ki dibba drawer ke andar laite hue hai.” I could not understand the uncontrolled amusement that this simple statement evoked, till it was explained that translating back in English it would appear that my matchbox was catching a nap.
I was a faculty member in a training institute in Delhi which catered to our industry, and had to often concede to strident demands that I teach in Hindi. Those classes grew immensely popular not for the content but the language, and caused so much merriment that the institute insisted I switch back to the language of our colonial past.
But the classic double entendre of twisted in translation was done by my roommate, a fellow bong with an even more tenuous hold on the language.
At that time a few of us friends were sharing a flat and had a lady do the cleaning for us, while the more skilled amongst us did the cooking. We wanted to ash the lady, let us call her Kantabai, whether she would cook for us. As most of us left for work early, the job of negotiating the deal fell on Tublu, who left last.
On the fateful day, our friend was in the shower when the lady arrived. So he came out in a towel and started off….
“Er, you know, I say, Kantabai….” And he was stumped as he couldn’t remember the word for cooking in Hindi.
So he improvised, intending to ask if she could take on additional duties. He however framed it as
“Eh… er… I mean…. Aap yo dusra kaam bhi karte hain?”
Legend has that Kantabai giggled and left.
For the Rastrabhasha challenged let me clarify, worded thus, it was an improper proposition. Clad as he was, we were lucky to get away without a harassment charge.
A walk in the Park
The gentle musical notes of the cell phone sound jarring. This is followed by a poke in the ribs, a minute later, which is even more so. I reluctantly open my bleary eyes. It is still dark in Mumbai, at six am. The lady of the house is insistent, I cannot turn over and go back to sleep. The ritual of the dawn torture is to begin, the morning walk.
Although my heart continues to be a juvenile delinquent, time has broadened not only my vision but my waistline as well, and my corporal body is no longer in tune with my spirit, but is showing annoying signs of aging. These morning exertions were my way of trying to keep the doctor at bay.
Once we enter the park however, the lush green surroundings, the venerable old gnarled trees, the refreshing sea breeze, the soothing sounds of bird-call and invigorating sight of pretty ladies in jogging gear flitting around uplifts the mood and energises the soul.
Suddenly an explosive sound sends the birds flapping in the air. It is the laughing club, violating the copyrights of Ravan and Bollywood villains of yore; they go Ha Ha Ha, belly laughing their way to health, and frightening children, dogs and the weak of heart.
We next pass the yoga freaks, trying to attain three improbable postures before breakfast, the Ta-i-chi nuts fighting in slow motion with invisible opponents, the meditation gang catching up on their morning nap pretending to elevate the soul and perhaps body too, the fitness addicts sweating and grunting superciliously at us podgy huffers and puffers, the bird watchers ogling our poor feathered friends, intruding on their privacy, the dog walking domestic help flirting with each other and the ominous chanters, who are joined by a musically inclined man’s best friend, who joins in the resonant Oms with a tuneful howl.
In short, the usual flora and fauna in any open space in any city in our country, at this time of the day. All of you who participate in this morning ritual are familiar with it.
Another interesting feature I observe is the expression of my fellow walkers. There are those overburdened by the cares of the world early in the morning, and mope as they walk. The angry old men scowl at everyone. The jolly good bhakts yell Jai Sri Ram at everyone they pass. The Casanova leers good morning only at the ladies. Those in love go around with that rapt attention to their neighbours’ spouses while their bitter halves glare at the world, the garrulous pontificate loudly to all within earshot, oblivious of the bored looks of their captive audience, and the serene few walk along with their blissful expressions, living in their own world of inner peace. I am sure you all know and recognise these species.
The unique feature in our bit of green is an old gentleman, who all by himself sings morning ragas, playing the tabla, accompanied by a recorded tanpura for scale, eyes shut, trained voice, and walkers stop by for a while to listen, before moving on. The laughers, talkers, grunters, chanters, nothing disturbs our serene singer. This is the background music to our walk I really look forward to.
But one day a new sound pleasantly intruded. Someone was playing a harmonica with great skill. The tune was a classical devotional. Then a mellifluous voice joined in.
We found a group of senior citizens sitting in a circle where a gentleman was playing the harmonica, while a lady was lending her voice occasionally. They had eyes only for each other. The rest watched in silence.
They had a wide repertoire. The tunes moved to filmy bhajans, classic hits, and then romantic numbers from the fifties. I realised that these would be the songs of their youth.
My imagination whirred. Was this an unrequited love from a bygone era? Neighbours of old, who couldn’t speak of their hearts then, are meeting in their twilight years reliving old memories? Or just fellow walkers who yearn for each other, but age, decorum and societal norms keeping them apart, expressing untold thoughts through music?
Whatever their story, I wished them every happiness. They made this morning even sweeter than the rest.