Reminiscences

Part 1

This was mid to late seventies and I was a rookie engineer, still learning the ropes, going around with senior colleagues installing imported computer systems of a leading manufacturer.  Most customers were from government as import by private companies was like climbing Everest on crutches.

We had just finished installing a large system for an instrumentation based application at an Government Of India facility on an island in the state of Andhra Pradesh (AP), some 100 kms away from Chennai. A tiring job over some six weeks to get it up and working given the by-no-means-unusual number of dead-on-arrival equipment/peripherals, and an irate and impatient customer breathing down our necks. Nevertheless, an interesting assignment, wherein I learnt from P, my senior, among many other things digital, analogue and real world, how to troubleshoot digital circuits with a piece of wire to short two points and a blade to cut the trace connecting two points – no DVM’s, no oscilloscopes! 

So it was finally over, the installation-completed report signed by the customer. With a great sigh of relief – it was mutual – we bade our byes, came to our rooms, picked our bags and boarded the bus that took us to the mainland by a narrow causeway, luckily not under water owing to low tide, in some 20 – 30 minutes.

P, speaking in Hindi and English, fixed up a cab to Chennai. The driver seemed a pleasantly chatty chap.

When we were ready to leave, the driver turned to me and inquired:

Ennanga (What, Sir), don’t you want to take home some rice from here?’

P was roundly ignored – coming from north, he would not be interested in buying rice, the driver guessed. He didn’t seem to mind it.

‘Believe me, your people will love Nellore rice. It’s expensive in Chennai. I know some good reliable grocery shops here, will get you quality stuff at a good price.’

After some hesitation, prodded by P, I allowed myself to be led to a shop; bought 5 kilo’s of a kind helpfully recommended by the driver and at a price he negotiated.  The rice came in two or three smaller bags for a reason I was to learn soon.

I was excited – for, this was one of those few occasions, living with parents, I was buying something for the house with money I earned; of course, laced with apprehension how it would be received.

When we returned to our cab, strangely the driver did not move the bags to the boot. Instead he spread them out on the floor where I rested my feet.  

The bulk I carried about me, not designed for squeezing into smaller spaces even in those younger days. Hard cushion, torn seat, MAYBE, but hard rice bags under one’s feet was a NO, especially in a long ride. Also, to me, it was and still is unacceptable to put one’s feet on rice, one’s food.

I looked at him.

‘Don’t worry. It is only for 15-20 minutes until we cross the border into Tamil Nadu (TN).’

Again I looked at him.

‘You see, on the way to Chennai, we cross a check-post on AP side of the border and, soon after, another on TN side of the border. ‘

So? <note: the words in italics were not vocalized>

I wasn’t giving up even if took all of Twenty Questions to get it out of him.

‘The TN guys will check our vehicle for any liquor we may be smuggling in – of course we don’t, and the AP guys for any rice we may be smuggling out.’

What…What did you say?

‘Nothing to be alarmed about. We’re not taking out sacks of rice. Only a measly 5 kilo’s. And usually they check the boot in a hurry and let us go – cars back up quickly on this busy highway, you know.’

From a rookie engineer to a rice smuggler? I stood still not moving.

‘Dear Sir, trust me, I ply this cab every day for years now. They’re after the big smugglers and not small fry like us.’

He roped in P for support. P made it sound a little better; he said I was carrying only a small quantity and that too for personal use and not for any commercial purposes, so it should be okay.

I relented.

The small talk on the way did nothing to dispel the visions I was having of me posing in a striped dress like they show it in movies.  

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Part 2

Shortly the cab slowed down and stopped behind the barricading pole.

An officer in uniform carrying a baton in one hand and a torch in another walked up casually to our cab.

The driver asked us to look normal and not tense up. It’ll be all over in a few minutes, he assured.

In those days, returning from college, when I took the exit at Matunga railway station, on many occasions, the TC (Ticket Collector/Checker) would, like a hound on scent, pick me from a thick flowing mass and ask to show.  Something to do with the visage – looking guilty when I wasn’t one wee bit. So much so, returning from my official overseas trips, for many years I always went for the red channel though carrying nothing more than a few toys for the children. 

And here this guy was asking me to look normal…ah.

In a practiced routine the officer went to the back of the cab, inspected the open boot. And then…he came around to my side of the cab. Well, really not well, this was no part of the script as I had known it to be.

I summoned to mind all those best scenes of Om Prakash, Asit Sen, Utpal Dutt.

The glass was rolled down. He stuck his torch inside and shone it at the first draw directly on those rice bags under my feet and the few grains that had spilled.

What made it worse was he did not look at me, did not utter a word. The defence I had urgently put together was not called for. He walked up to the driver in the same casual manner, signalled him to come out and follow him to his chotu cabin.

Turning to us and making gestures of resuscitation, the driver complied.

Minutes passed…a few cars lined up behind us.

Finally, the driver came out and headed our way.

Was a police jeep with siren and flashing lights being summoned?

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Part 3

‘Sorry, Sir. I had told you not to panic.’

Oh

P took charge: ‘Now, what?’

‘We need to pay hundred rupees. He had wanted two hundred and fifty – I negotiated…’

They’ll let us go?

The matter was resolved and we pulled away as fast as we could.

Took a while for all signals of life in me to return to their base.

The rest of the journey passed without any further ‘excitement’, engaged in some perfectly inane chat.

I was at once sore at the driver for getting me into the tangle and also thankful to him for tactfully fixing it later.

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Part 4

The following day, in Chennai office, we finished the official business with regard to the installation.

Over lunch, when I began sharing our or my harrowing experience of the day before, the account manager who had not accompanied us interrupted:

‘Wait, wait. Let me guess – so you were taken to a shop, you bought some kilos of rice, shoved it under your feet in the cab, got caught red-handed…or rather rice-footed?’ He let out a guffaw that drew every eye in the room to us.

Wasn’t amused at all at his levity.

‘I’m so sorry, I should have warned you guys. Happens all the time like sun rises in the east.’

Eh?

I tuned out.

*

I was at an age innocent of the ways of the temporal world.

Luckily, also resilient. Most engineers are – they don’t hurt/sulk for ever.

The fact did not rankle me for too long that the rice from Nellore in the final tally was twice as expensive and easily available from the nadaar kadai at the street corner!  Or the generous tip paid to the driver at the end of the day for his ‘damage-limiting efforts.’

End

Overheard…

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Bird Talk

Captions are mine and brickbats too if any.

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A Candid Shot Of A Life-Time

I caught the intoxicating whiff. I was close to winning an entry in the Guinness Book.

Though like most efforts of this class and caliber, this was also to be by sheer serendipity than design!

It’s about me, my camera and yesterday’s incident.

Had always liked clicking shots. A photograph, me thinks, is seeing and freezing a rare moment of awe, beauty…for reliving that moment later, in a manner not possible with our God-given equipment.

However, I hated the pre, post and upkeep efforts associated with photography, not to speak of the expenses it entailed especially in the age of films. So the pattern was repeatedly a short burst of excited clicking using up a roll or a good part of it followed by a long dry spell leaving the camera to rot away in a drawer. So over time I had a good sized collection of cameras that had breathed their last long ago, rolls that did not see the light of the day and, of course, the inevitable piles of family shots faded well past their prime, many sticking together more than their subjects do and did in life. And every time my wife prodded me into cleaning it all up, it always left me at the end of an hour completely exhausted and the drawer holding fast to its treasures, not a wee bit lighter. Like many other things in the house, I suppose it now falls to the lot of my children to do the unpleasant which, I’m sure, they would in less than a click.

It may not be out of place here to mention, with me, it was and is always the basic camera without those fancy accessories. It meant without any perceptible loss of quality in my life, no close-up shots of a stern-looking bird feeding a hapless early-rising worm to its young or two parrots enjoying some intimate moments, or a brilliantly lit street in Hong-Kong at night, etc. etc. I knew and kept my modest place in this pursuit.

My hitherto unremarkable performance got a boost when mobile phones appeared on the scene with their mega-pixel cameras. Now taking shots and immediately looking at them, sharing and saving them were easy as popping a candy in the mouth. No clutter, no expense. Now there was no holding me back from going around shooting this and that – mostly flowers, plants, objects of art, etc.

Did you notice some significant omissions from the subjects? People, for instance. Yes, I always looked at them as an intrusion to be avoided. Call me queer if you wish. Also no children or pets…was and am never nimble enough to catch them in their act. Of course I did not have the equipment to attempt anything more ambitious.

Without further ado, let me get to the incident, the subject of this post:

I was dozing away after an early lunch. Perhaps blood-sugar induced or due to disturbed sleep in the night. Was startled out of sleep by some noise – it was the maid working in the kitchen. Looked around and saw my wife beside me on the bed also fallen into a nap.

She looked so peaceful in her sleep…my sense of guilt – at dragging the poor unsuspecting soul with me through rough times in life – often visits me in these moments.

The unfortunate sequence lasting under a minute start-to-finish begins here:

Wanting more than ever before to take a candid shot – she would make a pretty picture, I was sure – I immediately went for the camera, though not fully alert yet.

Grabbed the cell lying within my reach. It happened to be hers and not mine. Feeling too lazy to get up and look for mine, decided to go with it. The icons on the screen were different and unfamiliar – usually I don’t so much as touch her cell.

Still on the bed, I did not have my glasses. Could make out some splotches of color on the screen.

Somehow guessing as best as possible, pointed the camera and clicked. Was sure it was going to a shot she would fall in love with. Owing to insufficient ambient light, unexpectedly the flash fired from close quarters. At the same time something else too happened at this instant that I was not aware of until later. A light sleeper she was, she woke up quite annoyed at the disturbance.

Luckily she went back to her nap quickly and so did I. After a few minutes, a shrill and persistent ring on the land-line woke us up for good. It was her sister in Chennai sounding very concerned about her sister’s health. Why, all of a sudden? It was because of a snap, she received a little while ago on her cell showing my wife to be curled up, mortally ill. While assuring her she was fine, my wife looked it up in her cell. No wonder they all had panicked – besides the sister in Chennai, there was another sister in Bengaluru – the one who raised the alarm first, the aunt (Chitthi) in Chennai who too was very disturbed…My wife returned waving the picture at me, breathing fire, demanding an explanation for taking such a snap and then sharing it over Whatsapp, compounding the misdeed manifold. What kind of a joke it was, eh? I saw the snap and there it was well and true. With the flash going off from so near, she had defensively screwed her face up, blowing to the high skies my quest for a candid shot of a life-time!  

The second part of the accusation laid at my door was not my doing, I protested. I knew little about the groups she had in her WhatsApp and, what more, I could hardly see the screen. But the fact they all received the snap in their group…I was forced to admit I must have done something to make it happen. Though, Glory to God above, don’t know how. But no use fighting it.

At the end of it all, I had on my hands an implacable wife and irate-but-well-meaning in-laws, not mentioning the infamous shot, though merited-ly short-lived.  

On the positive, the heady prospect of being included in the Book of Records. I had packed as many as six goof’s, to be clear on the score: a) deciding to shoot while groggy b) using an unfamiliar camera c) operating semi-blind without glasses d) the flash firing unexpectedly e) as a result, the subject screwing her face up and f) sending out the snap on WhatsApp – all in under a minute.

I thought that was good – or rather bad – enough to claim a place in the books. There’s a little more to it – think, can you fire off a flash in a bedroom in Chembur and wake up people from their siesta in Bengaluru and Chennai ?

Well, my wife did not share my cheer.

So there it stands, an authentic difficult-to-equal account that will perhaps over time undeservedly pass to be apocryphal.

End

Source: image from clipart.email

Smile Away

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Humor

from santa banta:

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Chuckles

from Ray Mitchell:

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As he lay on his deathbed he spoke, “Sara, I want you should know before I die that Ginsburg the tailor owes me $200, and Morris the butcher owes me $50, and Klein next door owes me $300.”

His wife turned to the children and said, “What a wonderful man your father is. Even when he’s dying, he’s got the brains to realize who owes him money.”

The old man continued, “And Sara I want you to also know that I owe the landlord a hundred dollars.”

To which his wife cried, “Oh oh, now he’s getting delirious!”

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If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t more people happy?

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A man asks his guru, “Do you have anything that stops the aging process?”

The guru responds, “Sure. What kind of disease would you like?”

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Character is what you are. Reputation is what people think you are.

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Jill, in the personnel office received an email requesting a listing of the department staff broken down by age and sex.

She sent this reply…”Attached is a list of our staff.  We currently have no one broken down by age or sex. However, we have a few alcoholics.”

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He who would go a hundred miles should consider ninety-nine as halfway.

Japanese proverb

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My first grade daughter and her friend both needed new boots as winter approached. The friend got in the car one morning and finally had gotten her boots.

“Tina,” I commented, “I see you got new boots! Where did you get them?”

“At the store,” she answered.

“Which one?” I asked.

She began looking at her new boots and after a pause said, “Both of them!”

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A teen-aged boy with spiked hair, nose ring, and baggy clothes was overheard telling a friend, “I don’t really like to dress like this, but it keeps my parents from dragging me everywhere with them.”

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Someday is not a day of the week.

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She said: All Desirable things in life are either ILLEGAL, BANNED, FATTENING, OR MARRIED TO OTHERS.

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Little Johnny and his family lived in the country, and as a result seldom had guests. He was eager to help his mother after his father appeared with two dinner guests from the office.

When the dinner was nearly over, Little Johnny went to the kitchen and proudly carried in the first piece of apple pie, giving it to his father who passed it to a guest. Little Johnny came in with a second piece of pie and gave it to his father, who again gave it to a guest.

This was too much for Little Johnny, who said, “It’s no use, Dad. The pieces are all the same size.”

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Dear Lord,

So far today, Lord, I’ve done alright. I haven’t gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or over-indulgent. I’m very thankful for that.

But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed. And from then on, I’m probably going to need a lot more help.

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“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”

Mark Twain

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“The thing that impresses me the most about America is the way parents obey their children.”

King Edward VIII

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Smile Away

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Smile Away :-)

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How Did We Miss Seeing It Until…?

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