Friday, August 22, 2008

An Unfinished Journey

Me and Poli had been anticipating this moment for atleast 5 days now - the first client meeting in the new project. Poli, who henceforth prefers to be addressed as Rampant Orbit, even spent nights practising and preparing his introduction. One of the practice sessions resulted in a lightning shaped scar as well - no Voldemort and green flash of light at work here, just an old D-mart shelf making lasting contact with Poli's robust forehead as a flash of lightning switched off power.

Finally the day was here. It was raining - just perfect for football, enough to ruin cricket. Continuing on after that totally unncecessary sports reference - we rushed out of the guesthouse to the nearest auto stand. There were a number of empty vehicles there with the drivers all crowded at one location. "Hard working honest men taking a well-deserved break", I thought despite having had colorful interactions with their brethren in other cities. I walked up to one of them. I told him the destination - a place about a couple of km away. The driver stared. I repeated the destination, a little loudly this time. He responded with complicated hand signals. He may have thrown in a couple of dance steps too. I was too stunned to react. I wondered what he meant. Was that the handshake of some 'Make your customers wait in the rain so that they can wipe your vehicle seats clean when they sit on them' secret society? Was he a break dancer who had jumped out of the closet hoping Michael Jackson would jump into it? Was he a retired traffic cop directing traffic that only he could see? Finally he chose to tell me that he was in some sort of queue which started at the other end.

As passing motorists tried painting mud patterns on my clothes, I rushed to the other end avoiding puddles with all the grace of a drunken sumo wrestler. I almost got run down by one woman who clearly had murder on her mind. She had her face covered and sped along unconcernedly on her 'machine to deliver a painful long-drawn death to unsuspecting pedestrians' aka Honda Activa. As I reached the other end of the queue and checked with the driver, he performed a different set of hand gestures. There were no dance steps though. "25 Rs", he said. We could choose to either pay this obviously inflated price and reach the meeting on time or start bargaining and walk in as the client prepared to leave. Being total professionals and committed to the client, we knew what option to take - bargain, of course. After a couple of one-sided debates - we arguing and the drivers responding with grunts and faraway looks - we amicably concluded twenty five bucks should pay for the journey plus the driver's breakfast. We sat in the auto and waited for the driver to deposit us at our destination.

This driver had a peculiar habit of breaking into a song every minute. It was as if he was a human winamp (I don't have an iPod yet *sigh*) who had been set in shuffle mode. Transitioning seamlessly from one Hindi song to another, with the odd Marathi couplet thrown in for good measure, he sped along. The only moments he paused his singing were to spit. Evidently his body generated copious quantities of saliva that needed to be ejected immediately to make space for the next batch. Though he seemed to be a master of the spit generation industry, he seemed to be a novice in the fine art form of spitting it out on neighboring vehicles. Most of the spit landed to his left AND on his own vehicle. Paralyzed with horror, I sat behind him chanting a mild prayer to the Gods asking them not to change the wind direction. Somehow the prospect of getting drenched in the rain AND getting sprayed by fine droplets of pan flavored human saliva did not thrill me too much. For once, the Gods seemed to be busy listening to other prayers. Because whenever they hear mine, they get perverse pleasure by doing the exact opposite of what I ask them. Usually its a case of 'Spanker proposes, God vengefully disposes .. and then shoots the proceedings on some divine camcorder and uploads it on blessYoutube where all the other Gods get to watch the video over and over again'.

In due course of time, we reached the meeting place and ...

This is where this part ends. You see, what I am really trying to do is write a 2 part story. Eventually, I will learn how to stretch a simple story into 500 parts. Then I will meet Ekta Kapoor (or whatever the latest spelling of her name is) and join her pantheon of script writers and write the script for a detective series titled 'The chronicles of Avionic Spanker and Rampant Orbit'

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Whats cooking?

Faithful readers of this blog - currently the 10 split personality manifestations of the author, and counting - will doubtless realise that the previous entry hinted at a sequel through the simple plot device of a missing gas connection. With the gas connection having been obtained, me and Poli finally had the opportunity to eat at the guest house.

During our first visit to the guest house, we had been acquainted with the caretaker and the cook - two individuals as similar as chalk and cheese. The caretaker appeared to be one of those eager to please, helpful chaps. The cook, on the other hand, seemed like the kind of person who, for no fault of yours, would conceal a sharp object in one's palm before vigorously shaking hands with you. Well built, with a stomach to match, unshaven and possessing a fierce countenance, he displayed all the friendliness of a bulldog that has seen its favorite bone being passed to the neighborhood mongrel. Having fixed us with a stern eye and seeming to have concluded that he could whup us any time in a handicap death match, he let us know he was the cook.

D-Day morning arrived and we sat eating a satisfactory breakfast of poha and bread toast. I figured this would be the right time to let him know what our culinary preferences were. Having eaten at the other guest house for three days, I knew what I could ask for. However, assessing that discretion was the better part of valor, I decided to let the caretaker know what I liked so that he could, in turn, pass on the message to the cook. "How about omelette once in a while?" I ventured. The caretaker's face assumed solemn proportions. "The cook is a brahmin", he whispered. "So what, egg is no big deal" .. "Let me check with the cook, sir" .. "Err, on second thoughts, maybe you shouldn't" .. Too late.

The cook walked into the dining area with a malevolent look on his face. Pregnant pause. The only sound that could be heard was Poli blissfully munching away on the poha. The cook cleared his throat with a flourish to draw our already well-drawn attention to him. "I am a Rajasthani brahmin", he thundered, " There will be NO eggs in this house as long as I am here. You'll have to eat eggs outside this house". Poli's spoon landed with a bang on the plate. Total silence. The air was crackling with nervous energy. There was potential for war here. There were Kodak moments galore, and the odd Pulitzer moment for the taking. An earnest journalist present at the scene could well head off on vacation for the Bahamas having already mailed his Award acceptance speech to his editor - "Thank you so much, folks .. just reward for having risked my life in the line of duty". A Sergio Leone may well have conceptualized The Good, the Good and the Ugly. An Ekta Kapoor could have gone into paroxysms of orgasmic pleasure with the myriad possibilities. One can imagine her telling her directors and script-writers "Zoom in on cook, then on Spanker, then on Poli .. zoom back, slowly .. zoom in, zoom out .. in, out, in, out .. fast, slow, fast, slow .. gasp". There was potential for one 30 minute episode here. The cook was Megatron and Sauron rolled into one. Me and Poli were two lowly cell-phones without a ring, one way or the other. The cook was Gabbar and we were Thakurs wiping sweat off our brow with our phantom palms .. and I am out of metaphors.

I heard a sharp intake of breath. Poli was gasping. He was no doubt remembering the fact that he had just concluded a project where he had helped a poultry foods company to sell its products - eggs and meat - to all corners of the country. As he carefully planned how he could exit the area without sustaining any lasting damage, I - with all the negotiating skills and assertiveness learnt in college - said "Of course, no eggs. We don't want eggs." Poli pitched in to mention how we were joking all along and were merely testing his brahmin integrity. The cook walked off muttering ominously. Me and Poli exchanged high fives. We were two tough cookies who could handle any situation - as long as there was no brahmin cook involved.

We have finally reached a truce with the cook. We ask him to cook any vegetarian food we want. All requests routed through the caretaker, of course. And he summarily dismisses our requests and cooks whatever he wants.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fully furnished guest house

It was the first day of the new project. "The client guest house is ready," we had been assured the previous day,"you can straight away settle there." I thought I heard muffled laughter in the background, but dismissed it as noise inherent in any given BSNL connection - mine being particularly prone to bouts of noise generation in the middle of any call.

Me and my project partner, who for the sake of anonymity - and my artistic liberty - I shall call Poli, walked into the 'ready' guest house in the evening. We found it in a state of chaos that would put a African country waging civil war for the last decade to shame. There was furniture enough for three rooms - all filled in one room. Each room's quota of bedsheets, blankets and pillow covers were dumped in another room. And all the curtains were piled up in the third. Apparently the rooms had decided to establish a monopoly over their favorite resources and were waiting for one of the others to blink first. After checking with Poli that we were in the right place, and not in the middle of some bad dream, I decided to do what any self-respecting man would do when confronted by such a situation. I, a hard-working consultant, was not going to be treated like this. I would demand my rights - of liberty, equality and clean furnished rooms. I decided to take the matter into my own hands - the first of which was a bedsheet. I moved it to another room which, in exchange, agreed to part with one of the chairs it had stockpiled. Slowly the guest house began to resemble a place where people could live - for about ten minutes at a time. Very soon a new problem presented itself - No gas connection. We headed to another guest house to eat.

After a sumptous dinner, we returned to find that the guest house looked more accomodating and organized. More likely, it may have been the soft lighting and heavy stomach that did the trick. As I walked into my 'fully furnished' room, the caretaker told me that everything was ready including a blanket. My room had a creaky bed, a non-existent bed sheet and a pillow. The blanket smelt like it had been used by a huge rodent colony as temporary accomodation. Luckily, I was in the room that had claimed ownership of all the curtains. I learnt that night that curtains make great blankets

Friday, August 8, 2008

The names consultant, PI consultant!

What do I do? I am a consultant. Oh yes, cue bad consultant jokes. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, consult" or "Hiring consultants to conduct studies can be an excellent means of turning problems into gold, your problems into their gold". Pretty bad, eh? And then theres this one which is a a great source of mirth - A consultant is a man who knows 99 ways to make love, but doesn't know any women. Ha! You are wrong, folks .. there are more than 99 ways and *ahem*. We can take the discussion offline if you are interested and are a single beautiful woman looking for errr .. fruitful conversations.

Anyways, this particular post has nothing to do with the jokes. Its more to do with the response of the people I meet when I tell them I am a consultant. I immediately get this knowing look - the kind of knowing look you give when the person you are talking to has told you he has a degree in plumbing from the International Association of Plumbers, headquartered in Washtington DC no less. And, remembering ur latest misadventure at home, you are thinking, "Aha, this guy works with taps and pipes .. maybe he'll fix my leaking bathroom faucet for free if I show some interest". So embarking on your grand plan, you tell him how you always dreamt about being a plumber and your understanding of dignity of labour et al. In this case, I usually get to hear some gentle encouraging comment about how I'll get a dignified 'permanent' job soon. Yep, thats what the great software, IT, ITES boom has done - they have added the word 'consultant' to everyone's vocabulary. Everyone is sure that a consultant is a guy who has a temporary job or is someone who calls up ppl asking them to switch jobs. Everyone from the old grannies singing bhajans and kirtans in some dingy corner of the house to bored aunties who discuss which is the longest bindi in our prime-time soap operas to punks with weird hairstyles similar to those sported by Aamir Khan in Ghajini. All I can say is "Thank you Infosys, TCS, Satyam, Wipro, CTS etc etc" .. special thanks to TCS for having Consultancy as their middle name. Wonder who came up with that name. The reaction I received recently upon reluctantly mentioning my occupation was the icing on the cake. "Oh, so you help people get jobs? Listen, a friend of mine is looking for a job change .. You think you can help?" Why yes, ma'm .. I certainly can help. You can tell me who this friend is and I'll tell their boss they are looking for a job change. That should speeden up the process.