Friday, May 1, 2020

Three dates

16th August 2010.

Sarvesh had insisted that we choose a KFC outlet nearby the Borivilli railway station. It would be casual place to meet a girl without any pressure to forge a relationship. This was my first time in Mumbai and I was totally dependent on him to finalize the nitty gritty details of this not so secret meeting with Lavanya-a girl whom I had officially seen at her home two days ago as a marriage prospect. Thanks to those online marriage websites, I was finally able to score an official date-I say official because the date had met the acceptance criteria of both our parents. Without these websites I do not think shy people like me would get any chance to score an actual date. The official date was a standard procedure without any special mention worthy moments except when we were given five minutes to talk one on one. I was bit nervous as the only one on one I ever had with any woman was with the HR of my company during the interview. She had smiled and just said one sentence-Can we meet outside. I was looking at her face and before I could think anything I said yes. She said thanks I have your number and will coordinate with Sarvesh. Apparently she understood my handicap on dealing with a problem which was the size of Mumbai. So two days later, Sarvesh and I were sitting in a KFC outlet waiting for her as per the time and place they both agreed. As Sarvesh was hogging on a chicken drumstick (his third), I heard a feminine voice from behind my back, as if universe itself spoke-Guillotine the glutton!!! . I turned my head and there stood Rashmi, Sarvesh’s girlfriend and arch nemesis if I may say. They were an odd couple and observing their behavior with one another I suspected they might be unofficially married. Sarvesh thought bringing one more lady would not only help me in getting an interesting perspective but it would also appear less threatening. She came about half hour delay and after a round of introductions, she really started grilling me-about my job, future plans and current liabilities. Sensing the intensity of the situation Rashmi and Sarvesh just dashed out on the pretext of doing some roadside shopping. I asked Lavanya what she would like to eat and she said the special burger. I got the complete meal and we started eating. To our right side there was a TV. She looked at the TV and said-Do you follow this show?
I turned my head and saw some kind of mockumentary being shown. I said no, I own a basic cable connection as we (me and my room mates) still use our PC to watch TV (which we seldom do). It’s used mostly to play games. In those beautiful kohled eyes, I could see clouds of disappointment. She said you know in this episode they introduce Timothy Olyphant. He is damn handsome and charming. I kind of have crush on him. I looked at the screen. Yeah they guy no doubt had some handsome features but I had never seen him before. She hurriedly finished her burger and said she needed to dash out as she had not informed about this meeting and it was late. It was hardly an hour since she arrived and I felt she was really disappointed in me- I did not have a very high paying job, I did not have my own apartment and most of all I did not know about the Office and Timothy Olyphant. I said ok can I walk you to the station. Reluctantly she said yes. The walk to the station was in complete silence as neither of us spoke. At the station entrance she said-I can manage from here on. I gathered all the courage I had and said- I know you are great in managing. That’s why I need you. I know the stuff you talked about is really important and I do not have any of those now. But of you are with me, I think I can get them within two or three years. The fact is I like you a lot and would like to settle down with you.
22nd Sept, 2014.

Hey look its Tim on TV. Looks like he landed a leading role in a TV series, Lavanya exclaimed with the enthusiasm of a fifteen year old.
Tim who? I said.
You don’t remember Timothy Olyphant? I specifically remember discussing with you on our first date. I told you I had a crush on him since the days of the Office.
Women have the bargaining chip when it comes to situations involving anniversaries or any special occasion. They remember it all. And problem is after some point you stop probing because you are already in guilt of not remembering that special date or event. After four years of marriage I had learnt not to debate on things like that. And not specifically on our 4th wedding anniversary
I meekly said, Oh yeah. So this guy’s last name is Elephant?
OLYPHANT. She stressed each alphabet in that word.
I gave a mocking smile and said, it’s just the French way of saying elephant.
Do you even understand what you are saying?
I assumed a Mr. Know-it-all expression on my face and said-In olden days what did you use to send letters.
Yeah and you should know the actual pronunciation is Onvelope. It’s a French thing. They always write things differently than they speak. I guess it gives them an alibi in times of trouble.
I could easily read the hopeless expression in her eyes. Marriage changes you as a person. I was an average nobody in school that anybody could make fun of and in office I was the average resource on whom anybody could walk over. But no more after marriage. Within a couple of years into marriage I had transformed from docile to belligerent. I always had at least three layers of arguments ready with me to handle any situation. In fact my yearly ratings soared after marriage as I was always two steps ahead of my manager.
June 16th 2017.

‘Do you love me honey’? My wife asked as I was about to board the taxi to the airport.
‘Off course I do’, I said and gave her a tight hug. The feel of her embrace brought a smile to my face. She smiled. I sat in the taxi and the taxi took off for the airport.
It was almost two months and we did not have any fight. I remember some wise guy saying on TV that the most definitive sign of trouble in marriage is when the fighting stops. I am not sure if I should believe that guy but I was missing the fights. Something was off since last two months.
I cleared the immigration and security check at the IGI and looked for one of those chairs where you can spread your legs and lay back, like a swimming pool chair, except that you are not facing a pool but the hangars and instead of seeing scantily clad people walking you see aircrafts taxing. Those seats are most coveted by the weary travelers and remain occupied till your boarding call happens but today in a rarest of rare event the seat in front of me was vacant. I quickly claimed it before anyone else could. I rested my head and closed my eyes. My wandering mind wandered even more.  Something was off between us but I could not sense what it was? Could I joining the college batch mates group be the reason or was the pregnancy failure the reason. We both wanted a child but somehow it was not happening. Or did she spied on mobile and read the messages I sent to a female batch mate of mine. I could definitely feel the stress build up inside me. The strange thing with me is the more I am stressed, my head becomes heavy and I tend to doze off. A familiar voice made my head turn. The voice was coming from a cafe in the opposite direction. I followed the voice to the restaurant. There was a couple sitting in the cafe when I walked in. As the light was low, I didn't know who they were until the woman turned around, and I saw it was my wife.  I ducked behind an artificial bougainvillea plant. She must have seen me because after she said something to the man sitting in front of her by pointing her finger to the location I was hiding, he tilted a bit and looked at my direction. His face, which was previously covered by my wife’s head was clearly visible now. He was none other than Timothy Olyphant. My marriage was actually falling apart before and it had not even crossed the seven year threshold as per the urban legend. I didn’t knew what to do. Should I confront them or should I run away. I was sweating heavily and was in a frozen state. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder-maybe it was a waiter or a manager trying to apprehend me. The unexpected touch of the hand made my body shudder and I woke up.
As I open my opened my eyes in a bewildered state, an old lady said-There is a call for the passengers boarding the Pan Am flight. Are you one of them?
She was the one sitting in the bench beside me. I must have dozed off.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


As soon as the Air India Boeing took off from the Narita Airport Terminal-2, i  looked around for my co-passengers. In-spite of stressing for an aisle seat at the ticket counter, i was given a middle seat. My natural reflex to such a disappointment would have been the rising of the middle finger but i restrained myself from doing that. After all i was in a foreign country. Like all Indians who would not give two seconds before uttering an expletive or spitting while driving when in their home town but would behave like a well groomed school kid when visiting foreign country, i too did the 'Namaste' routine to the person doing his job at the other side of the ticket desk and moved on. Sometimes i feel we act so polite as if the success of diplomacy and external affairs ministry depended on our behavior.

As i was unfastening my seat belt after the take off, i heard a deep drawl in my left ear-
Do you like  Amerikano-asked the gentleman sitting on my left in the flight from Tokyo to New Delhi.
Hearing that accent, the stereotyping bug inside me was tripped and i instantly assumed that the person would be from Italy. But no , he said he was from Turkey.
I was busy putting the earphone jack in its socket, when he repeated the question again-Do you like Americano?
Do i like America?? Off course i do. Most of my countrymen and colleagues want to settle or work there to earn in dollars.
He nodded his head as if this reason for loving America was not enough.
He touched the tip of four fingers of this both hands with the thumb and asked very slowly-Amerikano-Do you liking Amerikano?
I said excuse me..American? you mean like American food? Burger, Onion rings ? Yeah we Indians love to eat them and KFC and MCDonald is practically my residence during weekends.
He nodded his head as if he was disgusted by my love for junk food.
No No. You like Americano..Ameri..kano? This time he was pointing to the display screen in front of his seat.
Aaah..I think you are asking about American movies like Hollywood? Yeah i like Hollywood movies and specifically watch only Hollywood movies while flying. The reason was most Indians i met in air would be watching Hollywood movies and i thought that was the accepted practice. Later one of my frequent flying colleague told me that he does not watch Bollywood or any other regional Indian movie while flying because he does not want to make his co-passengers air sick with those song-and-dance routines that are quintessential part of our movies.

Still there was no change in the annoying look of the Turkish gentleman.
No No..No Hollywood. Bollywood. Americano. Amer..Kano
I was perplexed to the point that i wanted to get up and go to the toilet. It's my natural reflex when i get confused. But the occupied sign on the toilet door kept me fixed in my seat. I looked out of the window trying to find any connection between the Indian movie industry and America.
There were some like the recent Life of Pi or two decades back the guilty pleasures of watching the Amritraj brother's produced B-Grade movies. Where do i start from?
Meanwhile the Japanese lady to my right who was listening intently to this conversation ordered a beer. Maybe she got a headache. Unfortunately she wanted an Asahi but only got a Foster.She smiled back to us as if saying do not disturb me with your ruckus.
I too was thinking to order a beer, but did not do so thinking what might happen if i get drunk. I would set a bad example of an Indian in air. So i ordered a coke instead. The Indian steward smiled as if he could read the thoughts in my mind.
While i was sipping the coke, the Turkish gentleman turned on the display and with very swift moves selected Hindi movies. He scrolled through umpteenth options and as soon as he saw Ishq, his face glowed like the fake glow we see in the get-fairer-skin commercials. He selected it and it started playing. He did not put the headphone on. While i was still figuring out why on earth would a Turkish guy watch a Hindi movie, Aamir Khan made his on-screen entry and the Turkish gentleman almost jumped in his seat and exclaimed-Amerikano..Amerkano...see this Amerikano.

Ok ok cool down. So you were talking about Aamir Khan. I was astonished and humbled at the same time. The Turkish gentleman told me that he has watched every movie of Aamir Khan and he is is favorite actor. He also talked at length about his recent role in Dhoom 3. All this had woken up the Japanese lady and she kept switching her focus between the movie and our discussion. She smiled and said one word-cute.

Our discussion now shifted to Ghajni and Andaz Apna Apna and the comic timing of the actor. He said now they even get the Bollywood movies dubbed in Turkish. He told me he ran a take-away Turkish restaurant in Asakusa, Tokyo and watching Bollywood movies (specially of Aamir Khan) was his favorite past time. We were so engaged in the discussion, that we did not notice that the stewards had started serving food. I was about to open my packed food when the Turkish gentleman offered some of his food. He had specially ordered Turkish food for himself instead of the usual airline food- Doner(compressed chicken meat) filled in Pide bread and some kind of mustard sauce. It looked tempting and a welcoming change-specially after two weeks of eating only Udon. But before i could get my hands to this gastronomical delight, the experiences of travelling in Indian railways stopped me.
 Do not accept food from strangers. They might drug you and take your belongings. But then i reckoned, it will be difficult for this Turkish gentleman to get off the plane mid air, even if he was able to drug me and take my belongings. So i rejected those negative thoughts, took the food and savored every bite of  it.

Oddly enough, for the the rest of the journey all three of us watched Ishq in our respective displays.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

From womb to tomb - The story of an Indian girl

This is a story of a girl who starts her life from the mother’s womb. From there itself her journey begins. She takes birth in this beautiful world where for her own sight it is clean, sober and amazing. But the girl never knows that her life will always be under control by her father, grandfather, elder brother and so on. When she started growing up she faces many challenges in her life since school days to college and higher studies. Whenever and wherever she gets any hurdle to face such challenges her family stands besides her like pillars. A girl is always her parents’ angel and every parent grooms their children with their best efforts.  
Every girl has a different point of view to live their life and settle themselves in its own way. But in an Indian society if a girl thinks beyond her family’s expectations she is always forced to pull down all her aspirations. Every coin has two sides. Here the question raises that if a boy has rights to think about his career and desires independently then why a girl should always accept what her parents say. This is the agony of an Indian girl which carries on from her mother’s womb to the tomb.
The journey continues when the girl gets married. The same process repeats after marriage as well- only the characters change. Now she has to understand the new environment and love everyone in the new family and sometimes it is expected to love and care more than her own family. Perhaps she tries to tune herself in to the new environment and waits for her destiny to shine.
She always wants to fly in her own way but her wings  don’t support her to fly to her destination as from childhood there have been so many obstacles in her way that it won’t let her fly independently. Hence she is always waiting for a moment to smile with no worries, no terror, and no sorrows. All that she wants is total freedom from everything that entangles her since childhood.

This article is written by a guest blogger Ms. Smita Chakraborty. She is a teacher by profession and likes to write blogs.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Naked Determination by Gisela Hausman: A review

I have to confess i am not a great fan of non fiction. I am a story guy. I like good stories. All those self help or self improvement literature brings out the lethargic guy inside me. As if my mind builds up a security parameter in which none of the words or sentences of such a book would ever be able to jump and come in while i go to a deep slumber. When i came across Gisela's book Naked Determination, the same inertia had gripped me initially. But as i went page after page, it felt like an incredible story. It contained life and times of Gisela Hausman as told by Gisela herself. Each of the chapters are like a leaf from her life tree. She isn't preaching or lecturing. She leaves it to your prerogative to draw out any lesson from each of those leaves. She could have written about great people and all the analysis of what made them great. But she deliberately avoids those cliches. Her life is rich and varied and it is from her life and rich experiences we can choose to learn life lessons if we wish to. It takes immense courage to put out one's own life for scrutiny by others. But she is honest with that and shares both her successes and failures. It's not only about her strengths but like all of us we can see her vulnerable side too through the depiction of loss of the loved ones-whether its death of her husband or ending of a relationship. This definitely connects her to the readers. From the book it is also clear that she is well traveled. She traveled to Russia, Mongolia and China during the iron curtain days and the chapters about those are good to read. The reason being these days we have the TLC, Natgeo and online travel guides which help us to plan for a foreign locale. However during the cold war era flow of information was restricted and it must have taken enormous amount of courage and a bit of craziness to visit those countries.The lessons she learnt on those trips are invaluable and i think that made the person she is today. Her insight on email writing is also very helpful in our daily lives. The language of the book is simple and style of writing is fluid which makes it a very good read. But above all this book reveals what an incredibly beautiful human being the author is.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Snackpack Jack

Jaikishen Gupta aka Jack (mostly addressed as such by his manager Tony Bhadraluchi in appreciative emails) always believed he learnt his lessons the hard way because most of his textbooks during school time were hardbound and not paperback. At this moment his desktop had a Visio document opened. He had immersed himself in the technical design it represented like a helpless pilgrim who had given all hopes of being rescued after realizing he was drowning in the mighty Ganges while trying to take a holy dip. Except in his world he had the outlook desktop email alert and the cell phone ringtone. Needless to say his untrammeled concentration was broken when an email alert popped up. It read-
HR-Vending Machine in the cafeteria.

His eyes veneered the system tray of his workstation. The clock in it registered 4:17 in the PM. It was exactly 13 minutes to his tea time/snack time. Although there was no such time as per HR policy but most of his coworkers would take a snack break at this time. They would go out to the roadside vendors, smoke, drink tea with deep fried snacks (samosa, pakora, bhel etc) and gossip among themselves. Talking to the roadside vendors provided them the much needed local information in this era of globalization. While Jack avoided (or at least pretended to) eating outside due to his increasing weight and restrictive dietary regimen imposed by his wife, devouring the forbidden stuff was like a guilty pleasure. He would seldom eat during this unofficial break as he would go home and have tea with his wife in the evening but he would definitely take part in the discussions. In his monotonous world of meeting deadlines and long working hours it was like a life line that injected a dose of much needed change that recharged his life cells. But today something was different-he had not received the customary call from Abhik Goswami (fondly called Otirikto by friends as a tribute to the word 'overweight' in Bengali language). Although Otirikto's workstation was just in the adjacent bay, he would always call Jack's extension and in his husky voice remind Jack of his obligation towards snack time. Jack held the arms of his chair and gave slight push so that he could have just the right elevation to see what was happening in the adjacent bay. He saw Otirikto was sitting in his chair (crushing the chair would be more realistic description) and reading some article in Wikipedia. He leaped out of the position he was in leaving the chair to a squeak a bit in recoil. He patted Otirikto on the shoulder.Without turning back Otirikto said-Do you have some soiled 10 Rupee bills.Before Jack could sink in the information Otirikto swiveled his chair and got out of it like an expert ballet dancer. Now Otirikto's desktop was in line of sight of Jack and on it was a block diagram of a vending machine. Both of them started checking their wallets as if they were getting mugged. Out came a 10 Rupee bill from Jack's wallet which exactly met Otirikto's specification.  On it Gandhi had lost an arm of his iconic glasses and one of lions in the emblem had turned red as it may have absorbed some red color. Jack sincerely felt he should have emptied his pockets before the weekly washathon (yes he was the one doing weekend laundry) or had he received it from the vegetable vendor last Friday. Anyways they had got their candidate for testing and rushed to the cafeteria. Some of his colleagues were already there inserting bills and punching the row and column combination to their desired snack. The machine appeared like a transparent refrigerator which had a number pad. The rows inside it were stacked with snack packs of various makes. Jack and Otirikto had the same feel when they had seen the Nintendo machine for the first time. They zeroed in on a snack and Otirikto decoded its row column combination. Jack inserted the tip of his worn-out 10 Rupee bill so that the vending machine could swallow it. The machine swallowed the bill but after making a churning sound coughed it back. It was not accepting the bill. One of the colleagues said that the machine would only accept good bills. They smiled. Like an expert magician showing his trick Jack caressed the bill again inserted it. This time it accepted and he punched in the row and column position of their desired snack-a Bombay bhel. The machine made a clunky sound and from the matrix of products spitted out the Bombay bhel. Jack and Otirikto ate that at the blink of an eye. Otirikto then brought out his worn out bill which looked like coming straight out of a trauma center except it was cello taped instead of stitched. This time they had Jhalmuri (a Kolkata version of Bombay Bhel or is it the other way round?) They went back to their workstations contended. Jack went back to his Visio document. He did not realize how much time had passed until his cell phone rang a familiar ringtone. He picked up his cell phone (a Smartphone) and saw the picture of his wife and a text right below it that read-wife calling. With a swift motion he swiped his thumb first over her picture and then on the telephone icon. Tony would always say that apart from weekends the only time he is able to touch his girlfriend is on the touch screen of his Smartphone. This brought a hint of smile to his face. He picked up the call and his wife was sounding irate-

Where are you honey?
Where else? In the office-Jack replied.
Still in office? Its eight and I had prepared tea. If you were going to be late you could have called.

Jack had not realized it was that late. The ever eager enzymes of hunger had not interrupted his work as it would do usually. He apologized and said he was held up due to an impending work that needed to be finished on time. He sent an email to Tony and left for home.
Near about six months  has passed since the introduction of the vending machine. In a special HR meeting held in the Company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley and presided over by the HR Director, Jack’s regional HR Manager presented a report on increase of employee productivity since the incorporation of the vending machine. Among various other things it said that
·  The concept of on premise vending machine was taken from a study conducted by a German university which stated that eating outside decreases work performance
·  Time spent by employee in productive work has gone up by x percentage as employees do not  out of the office premises frequently
·  Time spent on unproductive work like snacking and socializing has almost diminished as snacks are available inside office premises
·  Tasks are completed on time and before time because employees are going home late
The regional HR manager was congratulated by the HR director in presence of all other regional HR managers. The HR director said that this experiment would be considered a Kaizen and gradually implemented across all regional offices.
*********************************************************************************Jack has completely stopped going outside the office premises. He also does not go home early now for snacking with his wife. Initially his wife nagged about it but now she has stopped complaining. He has received numerous appreciation emails from Tony and most probably would be promoted. He could not even make it to hospital when his wife went for her first ultrasound. After that incident they do not talk much. Sometimes Jack would stand in front of the vending machine and stare it for minutes and in a fit of rage he would consider sabotaging the machine but the next minute he would calm down. How he can do such a thing when the only goal in his life(as with other Indians) was to keep himself employable-so that he could keep paying his bills, repay his home loan and try to secure a good future for the yet-to-arrive newest addition to his household.

Otirikto has gained few more pounds. In the current appraisal cycle he asked for a salary hike to the amount of 22 percent as he found most of his earned income was being spent on food. This was done after he conducted an independent investigation about his mounting food expense and found that he was being charged Rs 100 per Kilo for potato(the main ingredient of his home diet) by the grocery store as he had no knowledge about the actual market prices.

Tony broke up with his girlfriend. He came to India for an official visit and went for a team dinner (drinks included). After a few pegs of his favorite whisky he said that he finds the vending machine very mysterious. He thinks it’s not about the snacks it stores but the way it is operated and snacks delivered that makes people keep coming back to it-even when the hunger has subsided. He even thinks it can control mind.

As of now, HR has successfully installed the vending machine in all locations.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Friends with trees on heads

Some people say if you have belief, you can do things which are beyond the wildest imagination of human mind. However in my experience I found that if you have belief in your friendship you can even grow a tree on your head. Don't believe me..check out this snap:

I took this pic way back in monsoon of 2005 when we went to the backwaters of Kerela. On the left is Prem and right is Jayanto(for those who don't know). In a way i am also an innate part of this picture. Not because i clicked it but because Jayanto is wearing my T-Shirt. I think that's the way friendship is. It's so full of life that it grows on you without your realization. Just like that tree on Jayanto's head. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Finding Love | Epilogue | A dream

I am a dream. A recurring dream that Ragini experiences. Ever since she met Luv's friends, i have been   part of her sleeping experience-if not everyday but certainly periodic enough to qualify as recurring. Even on that Sunday when Luv went missing and she fell asleep holding their photo album in her arms, i moved into her sleep unannounced. Did i arrive on my own due to her agony or was i invited exclusively by the sedative effect of the curd rice she consumed. I am not a psychoanalyst and certainly as a dream i do not have the luxury of humans to read the most incisive book written on me ever-Interpretation of dreams- by Freud.
I open with the outdoors of a school. There is a reunion that is taking place. Guys in their mid thirties- some with their spouses and some with their kids and spouses are sitting inside a classroom. A teacher comes and everyone stands up to wish her. There is laughter and humor in the air. Some are bragging about their achievements in life. Ragini is sitting with Luv and next to them are sitting Ank, his wife and kid and Amir and his wife. She can also recognize Prabir the class topper and his family sitting ahead of them. Suddenly Luv stands up and excuses himself for going out of the class. Ragini looks towards people around her. Age has put a time stamp on these once young and restless people. They have put on weight and most have puffed eyes and receding hairlines. However its peculiar that most of them are looking outside the window. She turns to her left to see what others are so eagerly seeing. She sees Luv talking to a girl- a teenage girl wearing a school uniform. They are not aware that a class full of middle aged people are staring at them. She sees that Luv doesn't quite appear the same as he was just a few minutes ago when sitting next to her. He looks as if he came straight out of his school farewell photograph-a restless teenager who gives a damn about the world. She felt she is witnessing two people in a time warp-as if time had stopped for both of them.

I would like to thank Ankur for being the inspiration and source behind this story.