Monday, July 4, 2011

Of Paper Boats & Dragon Flies

For the past two hours, I have been brainstorming on a paper boat. Twice I came up with an airplane, thrice an envelope & once: God knows what! I scrunched all the failed attempts & dumped them into the bin. I asked my butler to give it a try. He too ended up making a b-grade envelope.

“I’ll find out from my kids tomorrow”. He looked demoralized.

“Alright, you may go now”. I said, looking at his masterpiece.

It is indeed astonishing how a seemingly elementary paper boat can sail off to oblivion. Certain nuggets of memory can really have a short shelf-life. I closed my eyes to Google the lost little boat. I could not deduce anything out of the crude darkness. It felt it had voyaged far away, taking along one of the most significant chapters of my life…my childhood.

I felt an impulse to switch on the TV & to watch Cartoon Network. The animated cartoons used to be a part of my staple diet. ‘Scooby Dooby Doo’, ‘the Flintstones’, ‘Popeye’, & ‘the Tom & Jerry show’ regularly featured in the twilight period between class work & homework. It was a pleasant déjà vu watching Tom chasing Jerry. I got glued to the TV set as the ‘catch me if you can’ reached its crescendo. It has been ages since I met them, but the ‘catch me if you can’ is still there. I am chasing my Jerry mouse; my life.

I remember not having to worry about anything as a kid (except homework). Life was such a big carnival of activities. I could run like the wind to catch a vanquished kite or a bluish green dragonfly. I would bruise my knee to save a goal for my team. I will turn the bed sheet into superman’s cape & yell – “Up, up & away”. My toy gun gave me the license to kill. There were always some untiring butterflies in my stomach. A stray pup on the street made me happy. Nowadays, I buy happiness through social networking, short-lived weekends, fancy gadgets, casual leaves & feeding a starved ego.

Childhood was not all fun though. I was told that I would get kidnapped whenever I went out alone at night. My mother cautioned me not to mix with the girls in the class; otherwise my future would be doomed. I considered all the smokers & drinkers to be bad people. If I hit my head against someone else’s I feared that I would grow horns. The Solar eclipse was caused due to the gulping of the sun by the moon. And when I accidentally swallowed a pumpkin seed I believed that it would grow into a plant inside my alimentary canal. But on the brighter side: I was a Complan boy & - ‘My daddy was the strongest’. Life has changed. Now I admit the fact – ‘My boss is the strongest’.

I have lost my drawing book somewhere. It contained pictures of green flowers, orange leaves, red mountains, blue faces, a bright pink sun & some anonymous yellow rivers. I still search those missing crayons that effortlessly sketched a child’s imagination. Life was so full of colours. It was hard to choose Gems over Poppins, as both offered a packaged rainbow. I can not recall the last time I drew a sunrise. I have also forgotten the trick of drawing animals with numbers. The only thing I draw now is…my salary.

Back then books were judged not by its cover, but by the number of pictures it contained. The Mathematics school text was the worst one of the lot. The English grammar book was a close second. The smell of a newly minted book used to compel me to do grueling pranayam with it. It was such an incredible aroma! When it came to comic strips, Tintin was undoubtedly the childhood Bible. Our very own IQ-uncle Chacha Chowdhury was India’s answer to the young Belgian reporter. The bibliophile in me continues to be a voracious reader. But I have got a new Bible - the scrapbook.

Nobody really cared much about sportsmanship, pitch reports or the ‘dew factor’. Batting first was the sole objective of playing the game of cricket. The toss was redundant. The deciding factor was – “This is my bat” (It was like – mere paas ma hai). I still have the bat with me. But the squad is missing. Everyone is just too busy chasing Jerry mouse.

When I was a child life was a five letter word – ‘D-R-E-A-M’. I was curious about almost everything I came across. There was no end to my curiosity & my naïve assumptions. My room was the Neverland where carefully I hid my treasures. It had bubble gum wrappers, small pebbles, a piggy bank, greetings cards, a magnifying glass, fancy pencils, marbles, stickers, a Rubik cube & lots of adrenalin. Life, now, has become a four letter word – ‘B-U-S-Y’.

School was fun. Epic skirmishes used to take place to conquer the first bench. A ‘very good’ from Miss Julia made more sense than Wordsworth. My friends meant the world to me. Together we played & soiled our pristine uniforms. I strictly monitored their Tiffin boxes. During the history class, my mind would fly out of the window of the class room & follow the tambourine man walking on the street. I seldom found anything interesting in Byzantine civilization.

I know a lot more people now. We work, we chat, we party and we hang out together. But they, for some unknown reason, are better known as ‘colleagues’.

The sun was about to set. A fleet of birds were chirping back home. I looked outside the window. I found my dog playing around with a tennis ball, totally unmindful of the world around it. A slideshow of my childhood memories was slowly lighting up the dusk. I stared at the setting sun & wondered why people grow up. The answer, I guess, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.

(Dedicated to the curious case of Benjamin Button)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Welcome To The Hotel Keralafornia !!!

I got down hurriedly from the bus at the Kozhikode terminus, balancing two bags on both sides & an umbrella overhead. It was raining all evening & into the night. I lost my way amid a maze of rain drops. I wished my glasses had wipers. It was around 11pm & the incessant rain had already drenched me thoroughly. A cocktail of hunger & fatigue was slowly getting blended with the droplets. I hastened down the main street. A visibly disheveled street hawker was packing up his wares.

“Is there any hotel around?” I asked in Malayalam.

“You’ll get one on the other side of the street.”

‘Thank You’, I said, rushing onto the other side. The vehicular cacophony started pounding my eardrums as hard as it could. It was like one big carnival of honks. The heavy metal music was bouncing around inside my head. All I wanted was a pigeon hole for a night.

I was nearing the façade of a four storied building. A signboard which read - 'Crystal House Tourist Home’ lulled my disarrayed worries. A middle aged mustached Malayalee, in a maroon shirt, was napping at the desk. Handling so many customers can be quite demanding, I thought.

“Excuse me; I need a room for one night?” I asked.

He opened his eyes with a jerk & gave a “where am I?”-look.

“I need a room for tonight”, I reiterated.

Nodding his head nonchalantly, the man opened a voluminous register lying on the desk. Room No. 302, top floor. “Rs 300 per day” he said.

Rs 300 a day! I wondered how the hotel owner is managing with such a low rate during these recessionary blues. “Here’s the advance” I immediately paid the whole amount. The Kautilya in me had already started rejoicing. I scribbled down my name & contact information on the register & collected the key. The small key was not at all commensurate with the heavy brass key chain & it kept on dangling like a pendulum.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

In an almost inaudible voice came the yawning reply – “Saleem”.

Before I could ask anything else, Mr. Saleem went into ‘sleep mode’. I looked around vainly for a waiter to carry my luggage to the room. The status quo indicated that I have to help myself. I took the stairs, disgruntled by the flaccid reception.

The stairway to the top floor seemed to be an endless trek for my fagged out feet. I could clearly listen to my heart beats - “Room No 302-Room No 302-Room number 302”. Finally I reached the elusive Room No 302, gasping like a chronic asthmatic. Unlike the Key chain, the tiny, rusted door lock looked perfectly commensurate with the key. Both seemed to have passed their expiry dates years back. It took me nearly 5 annoying minutes to unlock the door & all of a sudden it almost came off the door frame. A known odour hit my olfactory system. It brought back the memories of my glorious hostel days. The odour used to be a copyright of damp blankets, smelly armpits, unwashed inner wares & dusty cobwebs. After somehow wedging the door temporarily in position I sat down on the bed to offset the dizziness caused by the nostalgic smell.

I turned on the lights after a while & found that the room was almost devoid of hard furnishings. The room inventory consisted of a small bed, a broken tea table, a mirror, two glasses, an empty jug & a superannuated chair. The bed sheet & pillow covers were as tidy as my vagabond socks. It seemed that the yucky bed sheet had been a witness to myriad one night stands. I had to dial up Room service immediately.

“Hello” A drowsy Saleem picked up the phone.

“Hello, Room No 302. I just checked in & found that the bed sheet & the pillow covers have not been changed.”

“You know...drying sheets & covers is really hard during monsoon.”

“What do you mean by that? I want you to change it immediately.” The lucid & logical reply was enough to drive me insane.

“We don’t have spares; you have to manage with that”.

“@#%$#@” I banged the receiver down in ire.

The honest confession of an impassive zombie was still registering in my head. I wanted to refund the advance I paid a while ago. The stains on the bed sheet were forcing me to do so. But the sight of the heavy downpour through the window panes made me control my urges. I began to hallucinate about the snug bed with a snowy blanket which I have in my bungalow bedroom. But the divine aroma emanating out of the dingy bed spoilt the moment. I sat up in the bed and rubbed my eyes.

As I entered the washroom for a much needed ablution, my breath was taken away by what I saw. If the bedroom was a trailer, the entire movie was waiting for me inside along with two cockroaches. Initially I felt as if I had paid a bit too much (Rs 300 precisely) for a public lavatory. The amber luminance of ammonia stains illuminated the stuffy room. The commode flange was missing. The red bucket lying on the floor was about to kick the bucket. I almost spewed at the sight & rushed out of the Nazi execution chamber.

It was ten past twelve & I was feeling sleepy. Suddenly the power went off. I opened the window & a diesel breeze wafted through it. The road was jammed with insomniac cars driven by equally insomniac people. A nocturnal mayhem had already engulfed the city. The circling fan added to it by making some unusual, gothic sounds. My senses were busy deciphering the enigmatic night at 'Crystal House Tourist Home'. I dreamed about Saleem dancing around a coconut tree clad in a vest & a maroon lungi, singing – “You can check out any time you like but you can never la la la la”. He kept on dancing as the legendary Don Felder & Joe Walsh performed the haunting guitar duet.

The jarring ring of the telephone woke me up in the morning.

“Good morning, do you want to order anything for breakfast.”

“Hmmm, well, a cup of coffee & a sandwich”. I groaned, slowly pulling myself out of bed.

“Ok”. Saleem kept the phone down.

It was just 5 o’ clock in the morning & my adorable host could not find a better time to take orders for breakfast. I lay numb on the bed for about an hour with two sleep starved eyes. Finally I thought that I needed to go. I got up, put a mint inside my mouth, packed my bags & headed off towards the desk for the checking out formalities. I discovered an elevator at the end of the corridor. It appeared to be out of order for ages. The epitaph of the elevator read - ‘Lift in use".

Mr. Saleem was found sitting at the desk, engrossed in a local Malayalam daily.

“Saleem, where’s my breakfast?” I asked inquisitively.

“Oh…I forgot.”

The golden words of the airhead echoed inside my mind -“Good morning, do you want to order anything for breakfast.”

The ringing telephone, the bed sheet, the cockroaches, the urea stains, the pesky fan, the defunct elevator – all mustered around me. I badly wanted to bang the telephone receiver on his empty head. I wanted to strangle him with the stained bed sheet. I wanted to unleash the cockroaches in his morning tea. I wanted to lock him up in that stinking bathroom. I wanted to make him listen to the Himesh Reshamiyan fan till eternity & last but not the least; I wanted that lift to uplift him to the zenith of hysteria. Once again I had to control my bestial urges.

“Saleem, make the bill fast” that's all I said.

“Rs 382” Saleem handed over the bill to me.

“What’s the extra Rs 82 for?” I asked curiously.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Charlie Gave Me His Number

“Take my number down,” said the pantomime. I followed suit in a jiffy. “Call me if you ever throw birthday parties like this”.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Charlie” responded the pseudo-Chaplin twirling his butterfly-moustache. A speaking pantomime, an oxymoron of sorts, I said to myself.

I was expecting a commonplace Bengali name. But the very name ‘Charlie’ made me realize the devotion he has for his craft. I have seen the bloke before, in several birthday parties; dressed as Charlie Chaplin, strolling around with a cane in hand. He earns his livelihood by tickling others’ funny bones with his antics.

His caricatures and humorous illustrations could not shift my focus away from his old torn hat and shabby coat, which reflected abject poverty. Though he failed to match up to the legendary tramp in appearance, Charlie left no stone unturned to ape his idol.

The poor Chap(lin) was having a tough time. The kids were pestering him like anything. His bowler hat was snatched away repeatedly thereby exposing his long mane which was quite un-Chaplin like. The tramp was annoyed but preferred to keep a poker face. Although the invitees liked his antics, they seemed to be more curious about the night’s culinary offerings. (After all, ‘Humour’ is not a basic need.) Charlie did not lose heart. Instead he tried to keep the kids occupied by repeatedly changing his facial geometry. The guy was trying hard to make his presence felt. But as gifts started piling up, the wise little beauties deserted him.

Charlie sat down and looked pensive. I thought I should leave the poor guy alone. I approached the buffet where the super-consumerists were having a ball. They were eating like gluttons. A plump, middle-aged bloke started munching a chicken leg and gave me a ‘Triumphant-over-Bird Flu’ look. All I managed was a wry smile.

Suddenly I saw Charlie driving a human-train. The kids were hopping onto the bandwagon with immense enthusiasm. It grabbed a lot of eye-balls and brought a smile to many a face. The guests applauded and admired. Charlie was elated with the response and sped up his train.

I visualized the train getting past the banquet hall and going up into the sky at a dazzling speed. It exuded radiant beams of gaiety and optimism. The gloomy sky was soon upstaged by the joyride. There was no stopping the train. It was on an eternal voyage to close the Pandora’s box. I stood there agape with amazement.

(Dedicated to the legendary Charles Spencer Chaplin who once said – “I Love walking in the rain because Nobody can see me crying…”)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

RKMRC Narendrapur - The Kingdom of Heaven


All characters appearing in this post are non-fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely intentional.

Founded in 1960 (the year in which Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was released) by the Ramakrishna Mission, RKMRC, Narendrapur is one of the pioneers in the field of education (read entertainment). It was my privilege to spend my formative years in this mysterical kingdom. This blog is just a minor (read futile) attempt to tell the Narendrapur tale in a nutshell.

A to Z of Narendrapur RK Mission...........

A is for Antonda. This bloke is an ex-student of N-pur & owns a restaurant, which is in the close vicinity of the campus. In spite of numerous complaints of stale food & unhygienic conditions, it is still one of the most visited restaurants in the locality.(Now, that's what you call loyal taste buds).

B is for Bhat. It is a Bengali word for idle talk. N-pur chaps have mastered this craft & can effortlessly talk crap forever on any given topic. They truly believe in the adage - “Words speak louder than actions."
(Ps: I'm not sure whether Mr. Mahesh Bhat is an alumnus of this college.)
B is also for Bidis. These small hand-rolled, filter less cigarettes have carved out a respectable niche for themselves in N-pur. Bidis are all in rage among the hostelites.
(Rumour: Inspired by the Omkara hit track ' Bidi Jalaile ', some of the students are dreaming of starting the first ever Bidi Retail chain in the near future.)

C is for Chacha. The popularity of this tea stall owner is a matter of research. Just by paying Rs 1.50 for a cup (Rs 2 including VAT) you can stay inside that stuffy stall for the rest of your life, if you want to.
(Gossip: This phenomenal tea-stall is going to be a part of the IIM case studies.)

D is for Devotion. N-purians are devoted beings. The monks & the students are always busy with their respective spiritual & mundane pursuits. The two seldom go in tune.

E is for Entertainment. In order to ensure that the students get their daily dose of entertainment (read cultural infotainment), the authorities have constructed a common room. There is a TV (which occasionally gets stolen), on which hostelites officially watch sports (making a hell lot of noise) & secretly watch porn (with pin-drop silence).

F is for Food. The students are grossly mislead by the prospectus (read spiritual manifesto) which reads - "The food is tasty & nutritious". The menu is entirely dictated by potatoes. One can not differentiate between two dishes by the naked eyes. Although the dishes are edible, they are visually painful. Inspite of that, N-pur abounds in gluttons who live to eat.
(Fact: The N-pur kitchen is the slaughterhouse of zillions of potatoes.)

G is for Goba. This drowsy eyed legendary monk has featured in thousands of hilarious & bizarre incidents. He is a laughing stock among all the hostelites. If u take this man (read creature) out of the campus, the N-pur sensex will take a huge dip.
(Rumour: This monk is considering of buying a Ferrari with his hard earned black money).

H is for Homosexuals. After Canada, N-pur is the safest place for the homosexuals. Here you will come across a lot of them who are proud to declare - "We're happy & gay".

I is for Intoxicants. Boozing is not that common among the studious lot. But those who do it do it religiously. There are a few infamous rooms which transform into Bars every night.

J is for Jubilation. N-pur chaps always get ample reasons to celebrate (be it India's win or World Barbers Day).The sound of celebration often disturbs the spiritual practices of the monks.

K is for Khandana Bhaba. Khandana Bhaba (breaker of this world's chain) is the prayer song of N-pur. Its lyrics was penned down by Swami Vivekananda himself.
(Gossip: Anu Malik is planning to copy from this devotional track).

L is for Lokesharananda. This name may sound a bit unfamiliar among my peers, but this man laid the foundation of this Kingdom of Heaven.

M is for Mandar. It is the only movie hall in the locality to show (A) movies. It is considered as the common man's Inox. To get a balcony ticket you are required to pay only 13 bucks. Your N-pur experience will never be complete without a visit to this historical theatre.
(Rumour: The theatre owner is thinking about opening the first ever soft-porn multiplex shortly).

N is for Nights. N-purian nights are like Arabian nights minus the belly dancers. The nocturnal animals relish the bucolic beauty of the place.
(Gossip: The Times Magazine has rated N-pur's nightlife above of Vegas's)

O is for Ornithologist (scientific student of birds).Roof-cricket, which is officially banned, is the part & parcel of N-pur life. Whenever the authority rushes to catch the future Dhonis red-handed, the players & the spectators suddenly feign innocence & start counting the birds flying in the sky.

P is for Proxy. This is a tool that enables the students to be simultaneously present at two places, viz. the movie hall & the classroom.

Q is for Quietness. The tranquil ambience at N-pur makes it the next best place to live & work after Sivana.

R is for Raja. This marijuana-addict owns a cigarette stall outside the campus. He gibbers incoherently all the time & is a born entertainer.

S is for Satyada. He is the cool principal who always adheres to principles. Speculations are on regarding his retirement. But he is not in a mood to call it a day.

T is for Table Tennis aka TT. It is the most played sport in the hostel. Even the monks drop in to play a game or two with their weird technique.

U is for Unity. Although there are no unions, there is unity. The N-pur chaps believe in the power of 'US' (not the United States).

V is for Vacant .This adjective is applicable to the so called study-rooms. Though they are meant for studious souls, their fate is like that of a movie-theatre running a super-flop Bhojpuri movie. Many of the hostelites are not even sure where the study-room is.
(Rumour: Hostelites claim that the spider web filled study room is often visited by Spiderman himself).

W is for Wallpapers. Wallpapers are banned in the hostel. But several hostelites dare to break the law. Some of them have even passed Madhuri Dixit (Nene) off as their deceased sister (thanks to the low Bollywood Quotient of the monks).

X is for Xerox. The local Xerox shop provides the students with much needed micro-photocopies during the Exam season. This is the secret recipe of a lot of successful students.
(Dubious News: The students celebrate the birthday of Robert Gundlach, the inventor of Xerox, with much fanfare & enthusiasm).

Y is for Yell. The hostelites yell out frequently without any rhyme or reason. If there is a sudden power cut, you will hear a dozen (at least) of shrill voices cursing the monks for the same.
(Rumour: This mass cacophony was heard by the aliens & reports are coming about a possible shuttle landing at N-pur).

Z is for Zest. The N-purians have a zest for anything & everything under the sun.

My fingers are abusing me & I’m ending the N-pur tale here. But the legacy will continue.


(Dedicated to all those colourful characters who missed this Blog-Bus. Sorry for not being able to accommodate you guys)