Thursday, December 27, 2012

When I Was A King

I was a king for six months.
Now, on deforested land, there must be banks, restaurants and roads in Beluru. Then, it was less than a village deep in the jungles of Borneo. It had a store, I think. I do remember the locals giving us plenty, rice, sweets, prawns, fruits and vegetables. I can’t remember a mosque or a church. The tribal lot had their voodoo gods in the jungle. Mine was in a spare room with a single lamp with space for dreams, fears and prayers. 
In that village that was not even a village my father took me to my first school, a single building with a moat of mud at the entrance. I was the fairest, tallest and biggest. The teacher gave me sweets and a special seat in front. She used to ask me if she was right. I used to nod wisely, thinking about how to reach the back benches. She helped me cross the moat, leading the way, stepping lightly on the planks laid across that muddy route. In the second week, my father built a bridge for me before I learned how to skip over those planks like the other kids.
They played with me. But when it came to the main contest, they left me out. Every boy, even the snotty forgotten ones, got paired up with a girl. I was too young to know that I was king but I was old enough to know that I wanted my own woman. I was keen about at least two girls who sat two benches behind me, grinning, giggling imps with mischief in their eyes to raise a flutter in my chest. I would have made them mine if I knew I was king but I was a fool instead and tried hard to be like them. I went with the roughest bunch, exploring the secrets of the thick jungle, running across new plantations and paddy fields, slipping happily into the mud rising equally brown, going home stinking worse than a dung pit. My parents stripped me naked in the front yard and hosed me down. I shook myself dry like a mongrel and screamed little tarzan cries. I prayed to my god, to be included at the next pairing.
When I left my kingdom, the girls were still not mine. I went to lands where I was darker, shorter and smaller. I live in places with temples, mosques, churches, all too grand for my voodoo god. The priests refuse to touch me, the judges waste my life and the ministers and their officials make me feel worse. I meet kind girls with kind excuses. Now, I know how to be a king but in this place called home, I have no imps or prayers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Did You Miss Me?

‘Did you miss me?’ He continued with his soft whisper, ‘I missed you so much.’
I have one square meter of office space. There is a partition two feet high between me and him. His prematurely grey mop of hair keeps bobbing above the partition. If it was some spiky top that kind of adolescent talk would have fitted better. A week or two after that overheard call (when was it - last December?), I saw them in a pub downtown. Both are young, late twenties or early thirties. He was looking bookish (maybe that is a well-cultivated look) and she was dressed to impress (a sleeveless top with plunging neckline, trendy bangles, rings poked everywhere, makeup to rival ghetto art). By some quirk of fate, they sat in the booth next to mine and across the partition I heard the same old,
‘Did you miss me? I missed you so much.’ If it wasn’t for my pint, I would have stood up, gone across and given him a rough tap, just to get the record moving.
I heard her much-lisped reply, ‘I misshhhed you shhoo shhhoooo muchh muchhh muchhhh.’ I finished my pint quickly and left the pub.
Their phone-talk (or rather his talk only since I never saw them together again) did not really follow the seasons though that would have given it a poetic touch. To say that they were hot and passionate in winter, warm and cuddly in summer, morose and demanding in spring, lethargic and relaxed in autumn or something like that. But that is just the poet in me.
‘Where were you this weekend? I waited for you.’ He listened to her lengthy explanation. That was in May. I remember that because I waited at the airport for my mom-in-law that weekend, a wait five hours long but with a silver lining. She had canceled her trip (there is a God in heaven, of course).
‘Did you call? Oh, my mobile must have been on silent mode. But I didn’t see any missed calls.’ That was a few days later.
Around then, there was a call which he took in the conference room. He seemed cool after, till he started attacking his keyboard.
‘How are you? Yeah, year-end rush, you know. Boss is really keeping us busy.’
That was news to me because I am that Boss. But he kept himself busy and the calls got rarer though still regular. They talked about the weather, even politics and current affairs. Reminded me of talk during family parties (with the weather for starters, then tucking into corruption or sports as main course and going back to the weather for dessert, checking once in a while if the other party is there or not and if it is the same or not). Then there were calls with long silences. Maybe, the other side was doing the talking. They never do.
A few days back, as Yogi Berra once said, it was déjà vu all over again, ‘Did you miss me? I missed you so much.’

ps. Wish you all a Happy 2013.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Behind Scenes

The Peace Summit organized here saw considerable headway made on contentious issues while a new ground was broken with the creation of a forum to promote regular interaction between the two leaders and eminent personalities of both countries. The agreement for setting up the forum with adequate funds was signed by both leaders in the presence of the peace negotiator who played a significant role in the proceedings.
The signing of the deal was done at an undisclosed meeting place away from public scrutiny. Well-informed sources who wish to remain anonymous reveal that there were last minute glitches and much bickering but the complications were quickly sorted out before it blew out of proportion. The two leaders and the negotiator later appeared in a public ceremony to announce the deal.
The public ceremony nearly ended before it began. Anonymous sources once again revealed that one of the leaders known to be a gourmet or gourmand had insisted on having the feast before the speeches contrary to protocol. The catering agency had been caught unprepared for such an emergency. The situation was quickly defused by a special peace platter offered by thoughtful officials present at the ceremony.
The two leaders initially stood far apart on the stage. Both sported the unsmiling bull-dog expressions for which they have become famous. International commentators there noted that the two men, once colleagues in the same Ivy League college in the West, now represent the new confident, independent and defiant face of the East. Both are charismatic and undisputed leaders of their societies polarized along religious, class and caste lines. They have galloped ahead in domestic popularity ratings gaining substantial approval with public posturing, rhetoric and subversive actions against each other.
The capable negotiator took the leaders by hand and brought them close together on stage. The two leaders with expressionless faces stood stiffly together behind the negotiator while she announced the details of the agreements. Five minutes into her speech, the two men were seen leaning towards each other whispering harshly behind cupped hands leading to much speculation amongst those gathered there. Sources close to the situation revealed that both leaders had jointly agreed, ‘What an ass!’

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Missing Man In Coupe C

Around seven that morning, the passengers of the first-class compartment reported to the Railway Police that the friendly guy in coupe C was missing and that they suspected foul play because the unpleasant man in coupe E was absconding.
The police officer assigned to the case had been waiting to get off the night shift at eight. Though he looked haggard and irritable, he patiently interviewed the passengers. He soon realized that, rather contrary to his expectations, the concerned outnumbered those who preferred to say or know nothing.
A man of about fifty, from coupe B, with graying sideburns and the air of a seasoned civil servant voluntarily, and undemocratically, assumed the role of being the spokesperson for the passengers.
‘When did you notice that he was missing?’ the officer asked.
The spokesperson reported, ‘At half past five, my colleague who got down at Mangalore went to coupe C to bid farewell but found his berth empty. He informed me and we checked around, the toilets too, but couldn’t find him.’ After a pause, the spokesperson admitted the error in their search operation, ‘We should have checked coupe E earlier. We knew there was no one but that man in that coupe…and somehow we missed that coupe till seven, just before Udupi…but, when we saw that he too was not around, we were sure that something nasty had  happened to Arjun.’
‘This Arjun…is that the man in coupe E?’ the officer asked, bleary-eyed and confused with the details.
‘Of course not, how should I know that man’s name?’
‘So, Arjun is the one in coupe C?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘His name is Sree,’ objected the old man from Coupe A. His wife hovered around him and the old lady confirmed her husband’s statement with a nod.
‘That must be his nickname,’ the spokesperson dismissed the intrusion.
‘The name on his ticket is Vishnu,’ the officer muttered, ‘but never mind that. Did you and your colleague know this Arjun – was he also your colleague?’
‘Oh no, we met in the first-class waiting lounge at Trivandrum.’
‘A real nice boy,’ the old man added.
‘Oh yes, a fine chap indeed,’ the spokesperson agreed, ‘he is going to Mumbai to attend a conference.’
‘He is going home, to Nizamuddin,’ the old man interrupted again, his wife nodding vigorously.
‘Yes, he must be going home after the conference, right?’ the spokesperson explained, mildly irritated with the old couple.
‘Ah…’ the old couple reluctantly acquiesced.
‘He is a writer, he told us,’ the young parents in coupe F informed.
‘He does research. He must be a technical writer,’ said the serious middle-aged lady in coupe H before adding wistfully, ‘He lives in Bangalore…near my farmhouse on the Tumkur road…we had planned to keep in touch.’
‘That must be temporary accommodation…his house is near mine in Trivandrum…he gave me the directions,’ the spokesperson said.
‘He works in a bank in Chennai,’ a fat salesman, between frequent calls on his mobile, told the officer without any doubt.
‘How do you know?’ the officer asked.
‘We share coupe C. We talked a lot,’ the salesman proudly claimed superiority. He took another call and gave an earful of expletives to the caller, probably an assistant.
‘Oh…he was such a sweet person,’ the young parents wailed together and then added with much venom, ‘it must be that mean guy…’
‘What mean guy?’ the officer asked.
‘The one in coupe E…’ the passengers said together.
‘He made our baby cry,’ the young parents said.
‘Very rude man…we smiled at him and he just walked past without even a look,’ the old man said and his wife nodded, ‘Sree was not like that, not at all.’
‘That creep told me to switch off my mobile,’ the salesman rejoined, ‘By the way, I saw him outside his coupe at three…I had gone to pee, you see. And, I also saw them arguing at Calicut. Arjun was trying to be nice and the other guy seemed very unpleasant.’ He spat out an expletive and the others mouthed it silently, in total agreement.
 ‘Was Arjun there in your coupe when you went to…pee?’ the officer asked.
‘I don’t think so…’ the salesman said, clearly disappointed that he could not be convincing on that note.
‘Oh God, what happened to him? He showed us the photo of his two lovely kids…twins, you know…our baby loved him,’ the young parents said.
‘He is single…those are his sister’s kids,’ the two American ladies in coupe H corrected, ‘we asked him specifically how a gorgeous man like him, at thirty, is still single…that too in India.’
‘He is married,’ the young parents asserted.
‘He told us that his love died in a car crash…he must have referred to her as his wife,’ the foreign ladies did not give up.
‘She died of cancer,’ the salesman said with conviction putting that issue to rest.
‘Ah…’ they let out a collective sigh of woe. The old couple nodded sadly, the young parents wept openly holding their baby tightly, the spokesperson thought carefully, perhaps about regaining control over the meeting, and the salesman took another call, this time whispering sweetly to a lady and then chatting lovingly to kids, possibly his wife and hopefully their kids.
The officer took down copious notes. He had time to kill, till the next stop at Karwar. He talked to them together and then cross-checked the details with separate interviews too.
At Karwar, the man in Coupe C showed up. They greeted him with a loud cheer.
‘Arjun…Sree…sir, where were you?’ the passengers and the officer asked him.
‘I was with a friend in another compartment.’
The officer closed his book and got off at Karwar to report that the missing person case had been solved.
The passengers escorted their dear companion to coupe C. They shared eatables and stories till he got off at Madgaon, and they parted with tearful farewells, vigorous nodding and many promises to meet again.