Monthly Archives: October 2010

Rickshawshank Redemption

Gurgaon educates, entertains and eradicates. Eradicates what, you ask? Disc.

Not silly little things like flying discs nor the discus throw disc (Can you say that 15 times quickly? Discus throw disc. Feel free to practice.)

Of course I am talking about the disc in your spine. One among the several that holds the entire setup together and allows you to be a vertebrate.

Yes, these discs would be systematically eradicated when you live in Gurgaon for extended periods, and the event shall be characterized by a precision matched only by the Kalmadic method of eradicating public money. Unfortunately though, Suresh Kalmadi is not the culprit behind this abominable phenomenon that characterizes Gurgaon.

Let me try to explain it in a different manner. Gurgaon has three seasons. They are not Summer, Rainy and Winter like is the case in the rest of the country. Instead, they are the following –

Season of the Roads – This is also known in some quarters as the Season of the Money. During the four months of this season, the money that we the Public pay as tax is diverted from the public exchequer’s account in State Bank of India to the Savings Account of the Tar company owner in Dena Bank. But if you assume this to be a simple one-way transaction, I must dash your hopes with a shrug and a pitiful shake of the head. You are being naive, dear friend.

See the following diagram –

The Food Chain

See how complicated it is? See?? Aam Aadmi’s money travels in something resembling Brownian Motion, with a shadowy presence in the middle consuming most of it. The contractor’s model in this figure has been the subject of much midnight-oil-burning by those who study such things, as the method by which he gets back the salary he pays out to his Tar-men is commendable. He merely starts a contract business for booze. Ingenious.

Anyhow, with whatever little money they get, the Tar-men construct beautiful roads which adorn the Millennium City during the Season of the Roads. The remaining money travels in Brownian fashion and necessitates the next two seasons of Gurgaon.

Season of the Lakes – This follows immediately, when Delhi and it’s satellite towns get submerged in downpours so bad that some offices actually shift their times from 9-6 to 11-8. This of course has no effect on when you leave your house in the morning. There have been several instances during the recently concluded Season of the Lakes, when one took 2.5 hours to travel the 5 kms or so from one’s home to the office, only to be beaten to the morning Samosas by one’s colleague who lives in Noida 40 kms away. One’s face turned red with anger.

Season of the Lakes is when the beautifully constructed roads from the previous season gets neatly removed and lakes of varying shapes and sizes get formed. This of course is merely Gurgaon’s way of answering it’s critics that the city has no tourist attraction. Lakes, for heaven’s sake! What more do you want? During this season, several Delhiites reportedly congregate on the NH-8 without fail, to snap pictures of these wonderful lakes in the DLF premises down below, confusing it to be part of the Kingdom of Dreams setup.

This is also the time when the Marketing folks at Surf Excel roll up their sleeves and start shooting the “Dhaag accha hai” ads. The HUL officials merely walk down the stairs of their corporate building in Gurgaon and push their kids on to the roads. And then the ads are shot.

Season of the Rollers – Finally arrives the Season of the Rollers. This one is straight out of an H.P. Lovecraft novel. I mean, visually the description would be something like –

“Gigantic road rollers occupied two lanes of the road at all possible times during the Season of the Rollers. The remaining two lanes are used by all traffic, navigating their way carefully around the stationary cows (Lovecraft would instead have Cowthulhu or some such beast), which remain the only beings unaffected by the seasonal changes.”

Kindly glance at the following visual for clarity. The ‘C’s in the picture are cars, the ‘R’s are cycle rickshaws, the ‘R-R’ is one of those gigantic Road-Rollers.

Please don't say that's a bull and not a cow

If you did not carefully note the arrows in the picture, kindly proceed to do so now. They indicate the direction of motion. Of course the cow has no direction of mootion, and for the cars it’s pretty straightforward, but the arrows near the rickshaws give a very heavy hint on what the best and most reliable form of transportation in Gurgaon is.

Well, Indian cows do have the right of way over every other creature. There was this hilarious comic recently by flyyoufools, which gives an accurate idea of how Cows really rule the roads in the Northern part of our country. But you can’t exactly travel on them, can you?

So, mooving on from the cud-chewing curmudgeons, the most reliable form of transportation is undoubtedly the rickety rickshaws. Trust me. You must NOT be misled by the rickshaw’s appearance. Nor the rickshawala’s.

Rickshaw Bandhan

The Great Indian Rickshaw is a supremely engineered contraption which can carry close to 10 people under the right conditions. Refer picture below (image courtesy)

Gurgaon Rickshawala furiously cycling away from the Family Planning babu.

And the Great Indian Rickshawala is an equally supremely engineered fellow, who might look like an unfed street urchin, but secretly has the strength of a 100 Great Khalis. Will he beat the Great Khali in the ring? Maybe not. But will he carry the Great Khali in his rickshaw like King Kong carrying that dainty little woman? HELL, YEAH!

Public dependence on these Khali-carriers and their steeds is especially strong in Gurgaon, due to paucity of other forms of transportation. And more importantly, they represent the city in so many other ways. As can be seen from that picture with arrows and Cows, Gurgaon rickshaws can commute freely on the right side of the road. That makes them the true symbol of this city of capitalists and ardent followers of the western model of development.

Hence, imagine the chaos when the rickshawalas suddenly decided to strike (undoubtedly a Mallu infiltration happened in their brotherhood) one fine day last month! Unofficially termed ‘Rickshaw Bandhan’, this day saw a peak in the number of absences in Gurgaon offices, which directly caused the financial markets to crash (Sorry Mumbai) and a number of MBA-type traders to briefly consider early retirement in Goa instead of the Caribbean. And therefore dear MBA-types, ignore the rickshawala at your own peril. When a rickshawala’s heart-rate flutters in one corner of Gurgaon, it sets loose a random chain of….OK, too much.

That was a brief summary of the various seasons of Gurgaon and the city’s major form of transportation. Now go back to your work.

How Bobby Lost his Tooth and other Tall Tales

Almost a year ago, when sitting bored with absolutely nothing to do, I had a wager with my then-girlfriend-now-fiancée @Neelima_J on the quality of our 5-minute stories. The intention was to spur on a spate of writing which would eventually result in a couple of Booker nominations in a year or so. Fortunately for the elderly Mr. Howard Jacobson, that did not happen.

We chose topics by taking turns. Each person yelled out a random phrase and in the next 5 minutes, both of us wrote little tales on that topic. And thus was born the first edition of the Chathiyan Chanthu Memorial Short-story Competition. For all games must have a name.

Anyhow, I was mindlessly going through the old files in my laptop when I ran into these 5-minute stories. They are not good, but they must see the light of the day. (My stories. I’m not endangering my marital prospects by publishing her stories without permission).

Why?

Because the world must know how Bobby lost his tooth. Because the world must know the melodrama lurking in the dark recesses of a Malayali Coconut-tree climber’s mind. Because the world must know that such lame-ass stories like ‘Green Water’ can be written.

[If you are thinking now that the world is not exactly sitting on a rocking chair, breathlessly reading these lines while furiously sipping a Pina Colada, you must know dear readers, that you are the world to me. (Bazinga!)]

And because when I get that Man Booker, I would like to talk about such interesting anecdotes from my early days as a writer and wannabe author. Extremely straight face.

So keep sipping that P.C., and let us start with the insanely pointless ‘Green Water’, move on to the nutty ‘Coconut Bunch’ and wind up with Bobby’s tale.

Green Water

Even though the colour was quite unfathomable from my vantage position in the chair, I could swear that it was a variant of green. Green Water is not unheard of. It’s the norm in the French Riviera (I pretentiously lied), it’s as common as a topless woman in the Costa Branca (I pretentiously wished) – but in Kerala? In Cochin?? In Cherai Beach???

Quite fascinating, I thought. Getting up from the white cane chair in the balcony, I moved into my room. Ekaterina Oglushevich was still asleep, crumpled in a mass of hotel linen that was freshly laundered yesterday. I shifted the bedsheet to cover Ekaterina Oglushevich and then turned to the fruit basket that the room service boy had kept on the teapoy. Grabbing a reddish-brown apple, I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and shuffled out of the room. I made a beeline to the beach, only pausing to check the day’s exchange rates on the maroon velvet board behind the reception. A practice that has been the norm since time immemorial in Indian hotels.

Playing with the apple, I approached the beach. The sun was quite determined today, having succeeded in forcing off the Indians from the beach. The few foreigners who were sunbathing looked orange, a strange mixture of their native white skin and the Indian sunburnt brown. Taking in these sights, I dared to look at the water once more. Yes, it was still green. Green as the greenest coconut trees dotting the landscape as far as I could see. I moved closer and dipped my finger in. The water was neither warm nor cold, and was just as normal as it always was.

But when I lifted my submerged finger, I had one green finger and several brown ones.

Coconut Bunch

Kuttappai frowned at the 3 idiots staring at him with their arms outstretched. No, he wasn’t going to go through this routine every time the schools were closed.

Fine, the rich citydwellers could come in their big cars laden with suitcases and little kids during the summer vacation. Fine, the scurrying little idiots could go scurrying around in his coconut grove, playing hide and seek and its umpteen possible variations. But Kuttappai was not going to drop coconuts for them at the drop of a hat, when the perky bastards asked for it without fail every single year.

Kuttappai’s coconuts were among the better ones in the area. They were also the only source of livelihood for his family, which included his complaining wife, two or three malnourished children and a feeble father-in-law barely able to get up from his bed. Each coconut made a difference to the aforementioned children’s position on the Government-drawn line between malnourishment and nourishment (and eventually to the fact whether there were indeed two children or three), and Kuttappai was not going to give them away to these fat, rosy-cheeked city kids, fed on a daily diet of chicken and ice-cream.

The little one in the red Adidas shorts had started crying by now – He wanted a coconut so that he could throw it at the cow tied outside the farmer’s house next to the big Tharavadu. He wanted to observe whether the cow would howl in pain, break its rope and run out of the enclosure, just like the cow did in the recent Dileep movie that he saw with his parents. Crying would probably force Kuttappai to give him the coconut.

But Kuttappai didn’t budge. Maybe he was thinking of his own children crying. For food.

He told the little idiot, “Thengakkola*!”

*Common Malayalam expression, translated as ‘Coconut Bunch’, meant to convey the impossible nature of an event happening. In fact, an almost exact slang translation would be “Yeah, right!”.

How Bobby lost his tooth

Bit by baleful bit, Bobby the bunny bit off bits from his rather prominent incisor. His scorn at Scharffenberger the squirrel knew no bounds.

Scharffenberger was well-known in the Junglee community for being a Casanova and he was displaying every bit of his Casanovitude at the moment. Hanging off the tallest branch of the tallest Sherman in a blatantly arrogant display of acrobatics, jumping from branch to branch only to pause and turn sharply to flash his famed grin, showing off his elegant backside with three sharply contrasting stripes on it.

And Gloria was taking in all this with a twinkle in her eyes. A twinkle which to a simple passerby meant nothing more than a fleeting expression of life from the eyes of a young squirrel. But to Bobby, it meant much more and was a cause of intense heartache which threatened to soon do away with his tooth (which was being bit, remember?)

***

From the days of his adolescence, when a seed landed on his head once from God knew where, Bobby had loved Gloria. That fateful day, he had looked up to see a flash of disappearing squirrel-feet, soon to be followed by that heart-ripping twinkle as Gloria peeked at him from behind a tree branch, wondering whether the big fluffy bunny was miffed at the seed that she had dropped on him.

Those twinkling eyes starred in his dream for many more nights as Bobby developed a neck ailment from spending half his time gazing up at treetops, hoping to catch Gloria in mid-scamper.

It happened one evening, and quite unexpectedly, as Bobby caught his legs in a hunter’s cruel trap while out scurrying for food. He twisted and turned to no avail and his valiant spirit had almost resigned itself to certain death when Gloria, in her full glory, emerged from behind the bushes, and as her sharp teeth dug into the wire mesh of the trap, Bobby knew that she too was in love.

The freed Bobby enjoyed several nights of freedom with Gloria, scampering among tree-roots, smelling freshly-bloomed roses and having ravishing sex by the lakeside.

Alas, they were indeed a pair of star-crossed lovers and those days of hope and joy ended when Gloria’s father learnt of her liaison with a rabbit, which was indeed a shame upon his family. The gentleman was quick to act, cutting a deal with Scharffenberger, the rich and charming squirrel who lived on the other side of the forest, thus saving his family from much ridicule. Who marries a rabbit, for god’s sake! They eat carrots!

“What of Gloria?” you might ask. Well, a squirrel is a squirrel. She has her flings, but eventually she has to settle down.

And that was how Bobby the Bunny went batty and bit off his rather prominent tooth, bit by baleful bit.