Taken For A Ride
February 9, 2009 1 Comment
I saw the man before me. The conversation went like this:
‘Uncle, I spotted you as soon as I got in. Don’t you remember me?’
‘We visit your neighbor Vaithi Mama often, I mean every Diwali – I’m his nephew, Mani, from Sion. I’ve seen you on number of occasions.’
‘Oh, good, good. I’m sorry I couldn’t place you.’
‘No problem, Uncle. Mmm…but there’s a problem.’
‘Can’t buy the tickets.’
‘Why? Has the conductor run out of tickets? That’s mighty unusual. I always thought they are well stocked.’
‘No, Uncle. That’s not it. We seem to be out of money. My wife had cleaned out the wallet without my knowledge and I had not checked before stepping out. Kindly help us out.’
The lady standing at her spot had an appropriate eyes-down look of a child caught much after pulling his hands out of the cookie-jar.
‘Fifty rupees, Uncle’
‘Fifty rupees for two of you and the children? The children are charged half-fare, you know.’
‘I know, Uncle. But there are four adults and two children.’
‘Yes, Uncle. My younger brother and his wife have come down from Chennai. I’m taking them to visit Vaithi Mama. They are seated at the back.’
‘I know what you’re thinking, Uncle. But it would be such an embarrassment for me to ask him.’
‘And you would know Mama is not keeping well. One can’t go to him empty-handed. We would have to at least carry some bananas for him. Uncle, I’ll not trouble you for the return fare. I’ll take it from Mama. Be assured, I’ll pay you back when I come here next.’
Thus went fifty rupees from me – just the amount for getting the cards home-delivered.
In a few minutes, the bus reached St Anthony Church. We all trooped out. While moneyless Mani, true to his word, bought a dozen bananas from a vendor at the street corner, the boy and the girl spotted the sugar-cane juice stall.
‘Uncle (I was glad they didn’t call me ‘Thaatha’), it is so warm. Let us have sugar-cane juice before we go to Mama’s house.’
Before I could respond, they dragged their parents to the wooden bench and ordered for all of us. In a short while, ice-cold glasses of frothy juice were set on the rickety linoleum topped table in our front. I must admit the juice with a pinch of crushed ginger was divine to the parched throat. The father in Mani asked his boy solicitously if he liked it. The boy expressed himself adequately cutting a wide swath with his hands, knocking my glass on the table. I quickly retrieved the glass from dropping onto the floor, but could not save the cloth bag before it was wetted by the spilt juice. Hurriedly I pulled out the packet of cards and inspected the damage. Luckily only a few cards were stained by the juice. I could depend on my wife to find some use for those sweet-smelling cards. I paid out for the juice at five rupees a glass; cleaning up the spilt juice was thrown in for free. Mani, not one to be faulted on form, thanked me profusely for the treat; and in another breath he advised the boy, in no uncertain terms, to be more picky in future in knocking things down.
As we finally reached our respective homes, we said our byes with this exchange:
‘Uncle, those were wedding cards, I noticed. Who is getting married?’
‘It is my daughter. The wedding is on the fifth of next month at Ahobil Mutt hall in Chembur itself.’
‘That’s a right choice, baby!’
‘Sorry, Uncle. That was an ad jingle, I couldn’t resist recalling. The hall is centrally located, easily accessible and highly recommended’.
‘Congratulations, Uncle. On the bride side, you could do with more hands to help with the arrangements. Not to worry, I’ll be there from start to finish. No need for a formal invitation, between us.’
As I returned to my seat, my carefully pruned list of guests underwent a revision to include six more. I was lighter by eighty-five rupees. And the invitation cards were short on size and glitter and some stained.
Sometimes it was neater and cheaper to be a victim of crime.