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.