Monday, August 25, 2008

The Invisible Roommate

My friend Satbir tries to be funny at times. The jokes are predominantly lame. But at other times, he has produced quite memorable tales. Because he has a peculiar tendency to skip the most relevant chunks of information. And unwittingly, it becomes quite an anecdote.

One day we were talking about wedding food dishes, when he gave his views "You know I always eat a lot at weddings. Except for one where I was coming by bus. You know the bus had an accident. So my lip was deeply cut and swollen. So I couldn't eat much. The uncle kept saying beta kuch khaa nahi rahe. But I just politely smiled. Thankfully under my beard the red blood wasn't visible."

Of course we were waiting for the nearest pause to scream out, "Stop! What happened on the bus??"

Close to a month ago I met him and other friends at Mumbai. Eventually the discussion meandered to the hassles of accommodation in the city. Satbir said, "I hoping to move out into the 2BHK apartment real soon. I know this 1BHK arrangement is temporary. But sometimes it gets a bit cramped."

"Apartment dirty ho jaata hoga?", I asked considering two MBA grads were living in this peculiar situation.

"No that's not an issue.", Satbir said, "Manvendra is a really methodical and organized guy. And anyway, the landlord cleans the place after we have left for work."

"Your landlord cleans your apartment?", Prerna asked.

"Yes. Just before he has a bath there."

"Your landlord has a bath in your apartment? Why?"

"Oh. He's a taxi driver."


Turns out the landlord was living in a chawl which was demolished to construct this apartment complex. The 1BHKs were given to the previous residents. He smoothly rented it out, choosing to live inexpensively in the slums. But he was not too happy with facilities available there. So on a daily basis he makes a visit to this home. And throws in some cleaning activities for free.

"Doesn't this whole arrangement bother you?" I asked with a straight face. Prerna had already turned pink muffling her giggles.

"No. At least not on weekdays. But on weekends he sometimes turns up too early in the morning. Aur kapde dhote hue bahut aawaaz karta hai..."

"He washes his clothes too?" This was turning surreal with each revealed fact.

"Yes. And you know he wears really large underwears. So when he hangs it on the clothes-line it occupies half the span."

(Note to myself: Maybe this should be a criteria for choosing future roommates - underwear span).

We couldn't hold it any longer and burst out laughing for a long while. Now Satbir got a hint that this was turning out to be quite humourous. He then decided to make the rest of the tale funny. And that's where the joke ended.

p.s : Satbir later revealed that the taxi driver had offered to share the apartment in exchange for halving the rent. This offer was politely turned down.

p.p.s - Satbir has moved out into a normal 2BHK apartment. I am not aware of the taxi driver's current hygienic preferences. And I choose not to find out either.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

I Knew Something Was Wrong...

As we all sat waiting for our turn, the activity didn't look relaxing at all. All the previous colleagues (read victims) squealed and made visibly ugly faces as the attendants crunched their toes and poked at their feet. But free ka massage kaun jaane dega!

Foot massage is supposed to be a great relaxation treatment. Which is why there were two massage stations set up exclusively for the P&G team that had come down to the resort. Yes, I was lucky to be whisked away to a lovely team building outing just a week after I had joined. Apart from refreshing you, an expert massage can also reveal anomalies in your body. A spike in pain at specific points means something isn't right about your liver, your bladder, your intestine etc.

Of course I didn't believe that at first.

Somehow, my super-boss (my boss's boss) and I got our turn at the same time. My attendant was an old man clearly pained by the unending line of managers. He silently began his job, showing no traces of job satisfaction. Alongside sat my super-boss with her attendant. As a contrast he was young, cheerful and talkative. He chose to give a constant feedback to my super-boss along with the massage.

"Intestine, not good. not good."

"Speen, not good"
"Speen? You mean Spine?"
"No, Speen.", he said.
I offered advice, "I think he means spleen."
"Yes that is true" she said, probably impressed by his accuracy.He offered a reflexology book to her and continued resolving medical mysteries.

Five minutes had passed by and my guy hadn't said a word. He just consistently remained morose. As he pressed by big toe, I squealed. Ah! An insight!

"So which body part is not working well?", I asked curiously.

The Old man grunted, "Brain."

My super-boss guffawed. "Brain kharaab hai!", she repeated and laughed for a while. I hoped the moment would end soon. But just within a minute, the old man pressed some other toe and I squealed again. And without any indication from my side, he said, "Eyes."

She laughed again, "Wah, aankh bhi kharaab hai". "Brain, eyes not good for him", she translated for her attendant. The cheerful moron started rambling - "Yes yes. You look at pretty girls, and think too much. You keep looking, keep thinking. Brain has stress", he commented. I should whacked him back with some ace sarcasm for spiking my embarrassment. But when one grumpy old man is squishing your foot and your super-boss is giggling, the brain doesn't come up with quality acerbic retorts. The 'He stares at pretty girls' discussion went on for a while without any contribution from my side. I managed a weak smile through it all.

The massage eventually ended and I limped to the nearest chair. My feet felt good, but I wasn't that pleased. After all, I was branded as a tharki new recruit with problems in his brain and eyes. The future sure looks blurry to me.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Source of Atheism

"Yaar, I think extending the holiday to Monday will be an issue. I have a saawan ending fast that day. Where will I get fresh fruits?"
"Why don't you just postpone the fast? Works out for all us", I suggested.
She gave an astounding dirty look - the kind I receive for saying really dumb things, not the usual banter like the comment above.
"I guess you are not religious", she said....

I'd like to state at the onset that we have received a balanced perspective at home when it comes to religion. Mom has been neutral about it, believing in some rituals but letting us decide what we want to pursue. But its my dad's disposition which appealed more to me. And I would not merely call it atheism. It went a step beyond that.

This happened around a decade ago. As we were passing by a crossing in Delhi, we (my sister and I) habitually sniggered at some signboard. "Kya naam hai jagah ka!" my sister giggled, "Jhandewalan!"

Dad interrupted our funny moment, "Do you know about the famous Jhandelwalan Temple?"


"Really? You don't know the story of Jhande-waali mata?"

"No. What's it about?", I asked.

"Jhande-Wali mata is an avatar of Maa Durga. The lord of all Asuras did penance and tapasya for a long time. Seeing his unwavering faith, the devas came down to earth to talk to him. This king asked for a mega-wish."

"What wish?", I asked

"The king said my death should be caused neither by a weapon nor by bare hands, neither be on ground or in the air, neither caused by man or a woman. After this wish was granted, he was being very evil to the kingdom. To counter this, Maa Durga appeared on earth as Jhandewali mata. She went to the palace with her red flag. The king was lying on the bed snoring. She stuck the flag through his heart. The flag was technically not a weapon. And he was lying on the bed, which is neither ground or sky. So the king died."

"But isn't Jhandewali mata a woman?"

"Yes. But she wasn't attractive."

"But doesn't that still count?"

At this point he laughed out loud and said, "I am just kidding. They all have similar stories. I just made this one up!"

And thus were sown the strong healthy seeds of atheism. I have walked this path successfully for the last ten years - happy, hassle-free and without ever voluntarily having skipped a meal. Its wonderful.

But if you dig deep into these stories (if you consider my shallow googling as any source of research), these mythological tales follow a standard meta-template for driving home moral lessons. Some devilish powerful king/rishi does enough penance to perturb the Devas. These men, bound by the legislative laws of the three worlds are forced to grant a wish to him. The evil man asks for a complicated wish which exudes wickedness. Instead of enjoying these days having fun, he decides to wreck havoc on the kingdom - doing cliche' stuff like oppressing the devas and imposing taxes. The devas are scared of skipping these annual payments. Helpless, they all run to the appropriate god (usually Vishnu) who at that point of time is always found relaxing in his Lazyboy 2000.

the la-z-boy recliner

Somehow these gods are always free of appointments and amiable to desperate requests of half clad wimp devas.. I assumed that if you are the protector of the universe you'd have your platter full. But it turns out Gods are good at time management too.

Then God creates an avatar which intelligently exploits loopholes in the wish granted to the devilish earthling. At the appropriate moment, while the peaceful residents of the kingdom watch in suspense, the villain is slain by god. The evil supporters are stumped at this point - 'How could he? I thought we had the perfect wish! I will you get you next time Scooby Doo'

As blood drips from god's bare hands, he smiles- packing in emotions of peace, righteousness and virtue.

(Camera fades away. God removes fake jewelry from his chest - "Man that was heavy!")

Real mythological stories:
Dashavatar of Lord Vishnu

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Aunty and the Pigs

Life is colourful here at Singapore in the first week. The company has provided accommodation in plush apartments. And guess what! There is complimentary breakfast too. It would have been a pleasure to gobble up those fresh hot buns every morning, had it not been for the aunty.

The Aunty is this old Chinese lady who single handedly manages the breakfast buffet at Park Avenue Suites. She may have been amiable during some brief period of her life. I am not aware about that. But in this era, she isn't in her best moods when she oversees the residents in the morning. It seems she absorbs all the wrath, sadness of the world in one day and chooses to generously radiate it back in those 2 hours of breakfast.

My roommates and I had a brief discussion about this phenomenon. At first we thought she was being racist. Because its such a nice insulting, big and vague phrase to explain it. But we noticed that she was being equally harsh to some Caucasian residents of the apartment too. Then we thought she is universally grumpy. But to an odd selection of people, she would send out loud warm greetings, bursting into a smile "Hello Carrie!", "Hi Daniele !" and then go straight back to frowning and snorting. That would really piss us off. Where did we go wrong ?

I know there is nothing quite pointless like seeking approval and love from an old Chinese woman who hates you. But then, we have been trained well for pointless analysis and insights. This is our life now.

Beyond all the frowning, Aunty and I have had multiple face offs too. For example on Tuesday I found a new item in the buffet. Given a platter of buns, a majority of them containing some suspicious form of meat, a club sandwich is obviously a better choice - sab kuch dikhta hai! I inferred I had an option between choosing cold sandwiches lying on the tray and freshly heated ones peeking out of the oven. Obviously I chose the latter. Before the sandwich reached my plate, a voice squeaked from the back, "Hey, that is mine!" A pretty but pretty offended chinese lady took those sandwiches and walked away.

Aunty stared from the counter, savouring the moment.

On my third day of munching breakfast, I was more at ease. Succumbing to the plush world around me I chose to undertake my next helping in a fresh new plate. After all, why should crumbs of the past bother the freshness of the future ? I plonked my plate in a bin with the used dishes and proceeded towards the counter. Aunty suspiciously eyed me. I eyed her too (and tried to pass off a fake smile). The moment I touched a new plate, she scolded from the back, 'Why you take new plate? I not have many plates. Use your plate."

I weighed my chances. In case there was an argument, who had greater credibility ? Someone who has served the hotel for close to a century or a week long rookie who is living a lifestyle beyond his current means ? The answer was clear. I tiptoed back to the bin and picked up my old plate. In case you are wondering what food was sticking below it, I chose not to peek.

Considering this brief history, I came to the conclusion that she simply does not like pigs - uncouth residents who have multiple helpings of food. Having seen so many generations, she probably has a keen eye to spot our kind of people. But that shouldn't deter us from our mission. It'll be a bloody cold war for these weeks we are staying at this place - We trying to eat plenty of breakfast without crossing the line and her trying to find moments to tick us off.

May the best pig win.