Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'm sorry, What's your name?


I admit that we Indians do look alike. I have elaborated about this earlier, and it's a fact I've come to accept. Till recently I also had a strong belief, that once you got to know us Indians, viewed our facebook profiles, talked to us, understood our problems - you would begin to view us as distinct individuals.

All that changed yesterday.

I stood there at 4pm, fretting in front of Bread Talk, waiting for Varun. The poor guy was dragging his holiday suitcase all the way to Novena Bread Talk to pick up my house key. (Varun is the other guy in the picture - the one on the left. Yes we are not twins). Since I couldn't reach him by phone, we both could only rely on gross miscommunication for aligning on the venue and time.

Varun didn't show up for 5min. And I had an equally important chai break to attend. So right then it struck me that a standard movie ticket procedure could also work at Bread Talk.

So I went to the Bread Talk counter and waited. "Welcommmmme", all the ladies screamed in unison. I walked up to the least occupied Bread Talk lady in her funny hat.

Like a typical television copy, I stuffed multiple messages and instructions in a 30 second Voiceover: "Hi. I am waiting for my friend here to give him this key. He was supposed to come here at 4pm but hasn't shown up. I thought I could leave my key here and you could hand it to him when you see him. Can?". I flipped out my phone and the pre-selected Varun facebook picture. "This is what he looks like."

She stared at the phone, and then back at me.
"I'm sorry I don't understand."

So I repeated the exact same message. Now spanning 1 minute and zoomed into the picture so she would make no mistake in recognizing Varun. By now, 3 Bread-Talk ladies had heard the speech and seen the picture.

The lady nodded and handed me a paper strip. I wrote down my name and phone number in BOLD letters; Made a box around it and wrote ME. Then in a bigger font I wrote down VARUN and handed it back to her.

"Thank you", I said and walked away towards the chai shop.

It was an excruciating 10 minutes. The tea tasted good, but I kept worrying about poor Varun, lost and wandering around Bread Talk. What if he stood far away and didn't show his face to the ladies? What if he didn't quote my name and was denied the key?

I decided to walk back to Bread Talk, abruptly ending the chai break. Saurabh, the chai break guy, obliged and came along.

The paper was still stuck on the Bread Talk wall. Clearly the plan had flopped.

I approached the same Bread Talk lady again.
"The key please, I don't think my friend is coming", I said.

She pulled out the paper from the wall. She stared at the paper, and then back at me.
"I'm sorry, What's your name?"

"I gave you the key," I said. "Can I have it back?"

She again stared at the paper and then back at me.
"I'm sorry, What's your name?"

"I am Arvind. I gave you the key. My friend isn't here so I want to take the key back."

She again stared at the paper and then back at me.

Words obviously were having no positive effect. And with Saurabh literally pointing fingers and laughing 2 feet away, I wasn't able to craft any other argument.

So I resorted to what was my last weapon. I stretched out my hand, tilted my head, politely stretched out my palm and smiled. The bread talk lady hesitantly placed the key in my hand, as if I would guffaw like a thug and run off.

When a friend visits Singapore next time, I'm going to get him an extra set of keys. Or at least gift him a fake moustache. You might not believe me, but we Indians do look a bit different.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Escape from Wynberg-Allen

(based on an incredulous true story)

Ankit, Parvesh and Sudeep stared calmly at the boundary wall. It loomed well above their heads, juxtaposed with daunting iron gates with spikes as sharp as ever. They had been planning their escape plan for over 72 hours. It was a crisp, air-tight plan. Their less audacious friends inside the walls had decided to support finances for the endeavour in any way they could. 'Let these three breathe and enjoy the air outside on our behalf', they thought. The pooled in money from their pockets added up to Rs.130, barely enough for survival for 24 hours once they achieved their escape. They had packed lightly too - barely some clothes and toiletries to survive the world outside.

With as much pomp as the system would allow them, the group bid farewell to their three friends. Soon, it was time.

The dinner bell rang sharp at 7pm. This was the moment. As per the plan, while all the others marched towards the dining hall within the prescribed 30 seconds, they alone were supposed to run towards the back gate instead and jump over the gate.

As Ankit, Parvesh and Sudeep ran, it felt like the longest 30 seconds they had experienced in their 7 years of existence. They tried to silently scale the gate; But instead found a sizeable group of batch-mates who had followed them. "C'Mon! C'Mon!", the little voices cheered. "Go! Go! Go!", they screamed. The shrieks became louder and louder.

The guard near the front gate soon became aware of the ruckus being created at the back. And very soon spotted the source - three 7 year old school boys, with toothbrushes and shorts in their bags, Rs130 in the pockets, consumed with homesickness, lurching over the school's back gate. He quickly decided to end the nuisance by informing the headmistress. A jeep headed out from the school within a few minutes.

By this time, the 3 miscreants had found their way over the gate. They ran away from the school as fast as their tiny legs could propel them. They had covered a distance of around 150m from the school, when the headmistress drove down in her jeep, plucked them from the road and took them back their school. A few scoldings, a few tears and some phone calls later, all returned to normal. All three boys went back to the mess soon to resume their dinner.

Though their attempt was foiled, the three boys basked in the glory of their attempted escape from Wynberg-Allen Boarding School School for a long, long time. According to Ankit, the plan was thus - Run away from the school. Use the collected pool of money to buy bus tickets from Mussourie to Dehradun to reach Sudeep's house. Convince his parents to loan the other two money so they could head back home from Dehradun. All this rebellion from 7 year old kids!

As I heard this story, what amazed me was the dynamite of imagination that resided in boarding school kids. Two decades later, the ones that I've encountered have all been fanstastic people. There is something special that sprouts in their hearts that us normal home kids would never develop - an infectious openess to life and experiences, the spunk to defy sacrosanct norms, a sea of friends and strong network of people who'd do a lot for you and absolutely no idiosyncracies about personal space and personal belongings.

Thank you Wynberg-Allen and other boarding schools for producing such awesome people.

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