The Journey (A Drabble of 100+ Words)

This morning…

Someone tapped on the shoulders startling me out of my snooze. A voice asked where was I going. A profound question from some inquiring soul aspiring to be clued into life’s philosophy – my life’s, a journey of three score years plus till date. An admirable pursuit of vicarious learning, I thought. I collected my wits in a trice, not to keep a thirsty knowledge-seeker waiting. Looking up, I discerned the form coming into clearer focus.

Well, an acolyte he wasn’t.

‘Colaba,’ I muttered, hurriedly fishing in my pockets for change.

The journey-ticket was thrust into my hand as he moved on.

End

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Man’s Scheme Of Things

Here’s another one on ‘Garden’ – four over hundred words.

‘Look at the chinar-lined vistas, blooming flower-beds, shallow terraces, smooth sheets of falling water, and wide canals studded with the stepping stones. Beautiful! Breath-taking! If only man had created this world…’

‘Well, our four-legged friends, also the finned and the winged ones, would be very nervous about it. They would want to be more than ending up as garden curios, gawked at in zoos, farmed for meat, or reared as house-pets, assuming they don’t figure in circuses or in labs anymore.’

‘Animal rights, eh?’

 The stray dog behind them morosely thought, ‘Forget it, he wouldn’t have another man around to share his world and women.

End

The Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar was built by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir for his wife Nur Jahan, in 1619, and later, extended on the order of Emperor Shah Jahan. ‘Shalimar’ meant ‘Abode of Love’ or ‘House of Joy’.

On sighting these Gardens, the Emperor was believed to have recalled Amir Khusrau’s farsi couplet:

‘Gar firdaus bar rue zameen ast / hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast’
If ever there is Paradise on Earth / It is here! It is here! It is here!

More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalimar_Bagh_(Srinagar)

The Untold Story About A Rearing Horse (contd.)

Part 3

‘So, there you are, just as I thought, wasting your time as well as Uncle’s.’

I turned around to see the voice belonged to a comely young lady clad modestly in a salwar-kameez. Her dupatta in disarray, locks of hair jumping their braid and playing on her forehead, the exasperated look in her kaajaled eyes – and she appeared to be addressing my master story-teller.

A moment’s silence – we all looked at each other. He was quite calm like he didn’t hear her or the words were not spoken to him.

‘I must be mad in my head to have fallen for him. Uncle, please tell him.’

She paused to catch her breath.

‘He doesn’t work anywhere, doesn’t earn a rupee. He does just three things – imposes himself on people like you, reads books or disappears for hours into some Internet Café. So how are we going to pull on? Doesn’t bother him a bit. I’ve even threatened him, one day I’ll just leave.’

For the first time since the arrival of this typhoon, I got my turn and I rushed to his defense: ‘You’ve with you an invaluable gem, a storehouse of immense knowledge, and you don’t see it, my friend.’

‘Uncle, tell me, how do we generate cash out of this invaluable gem? Sell him? Pawn him? Who’ll buy him? All in my fate. Now, come, let’s figure out for tomorrow.’

She took him by his hand and pulled him away.

‘Hold for a minute. I immensely enjoyed listening to him for the last hour and it cannot be for free. He said he won’t accept money. Please keep this. I wish I had more on me.’ I thrust the three hundred rupee notes into her reluctant hands.

‘Thanks very much, Uncle.’

In a few winks, they were gone by the nearest exit, the Vellai Gopuram.

Days later on returning to my base, I scoured the Internet high and low for corroborating sources. Surprisingly couldn’t find much. Came up with ‘A Forgotten Empire: Vijaynagar’ by Robert Swell, an oft cited classic, I learnt. It was mentioned by my master story-teller too, I remembered. Large parts of his amazing story were supported by this source.

Was the whole thing a clever scam? An incurable romantic, making it up? I don’t want to think so. If it was made up what then is the real story?

I regretted I did not find out more personal and contact details of him, not even his name, much less a snapshot; and fondly hope I run into him again in Srirangam or anywhere else.

End

The post, partly inspired by ‘The Miracle’ of Fredrick Forsyth, is not entirely fictional.

The photographs are taken with thanks from Wiki and http://richardarunachala.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/sri-ranganathaswamy-temple-trichy-tamil-nadu/.

Thanks to Ms. Prema Srinivasan, my m-in-l, a post-graduate in History, for pointing me to Swell’s work, the chief verbatim source for Part 2.

The Vellai Gopuram has its own poignant story, a story of high courage, deceit for a noble cause ending in a heart rending sacrifice, with social overtones. The Kamban mandapam again in the same prakaram to the north has witnessed historic events of a different kind. More on these in subsequent posts.

Can I just buy some stamps?

Part 3: Good Bye, Humberto…

On our last day in Moyogalpa, we sat patiently in our hotel lobby. We knew that the ferry would blow its horn when it was time to board. We would sit in the shade of the garden-like hotel and then head into the sun and humidity only when the boat was boarding its passengers.
Humberto, who had never even glanced at us in days, now began a conversation.

Humberto: Where are you from?

Me: We are from America.

Humberto: How long are you traveling?

Me: I’m traveling for only a few months, Jeff has half a year.

Humberto: (shrugs) Oh.

He then looked back to his magazine as though we had never talked. I seized the moment; this was my first “conversation” with him and I was quite curious to know a bit about him. I thought of something to say to keep the conversation alive.

Me: How is business?

Humberto: Not good.

Me: (thinking – no kidding), “Why is that?”

Humberto: Him (he motioned with his head towards the Bahiha Restaurant and Hotel).

Me: What do you mean, how does he affect your business?

Humberto: He takes all the customers.

Oh, I see where this is going. I felt like a cat about to snatch a mouse. Jeff sat back with a big grin knowing what was about to transpire.

Me: Why do you think that is? (I tried to hide my sarcasm)

Humberto: Because he cheats.

This comment took me by surprise. “He cheats?” I thought, “What does he mean?”

Me: Humberto, what do you mean he cheats?

Humberto: Look at him, how he is nice to those people, he doesn’t even know them.

Me: What’s wrong with being nice to someone? Especially your customers?

Humberto: Why should you be nice to your customers? So that they will buy from you? This is dishonest. He doesn’t like those people [his customers], he just pretends to like them so that they will buy from him.

Me: I don’t understand. What is wrong with being nice to someone? If you meet someone in the street are you rude to them or are you nice to them?

Humberto: That is different, someone in the street isn’t trying to buy from you. When you are nice to a customer it is like offering them a bribe to buy from you.

Wow, it made absolutely no sense to me. I tried to look at it through the eyes of a man who lived through a…dictatorship regime. I suppose showing any form of “customer service” whether that be a smile, a friendly attitude or just good service was viewed as decadence…this guy actually believes that being courteous to your customers is a form of social bribery…

End

Can I just buy some stamps?

Part 2: I don’t get…

That evening I actually wrote 6 post cards. The next morning, while having breakfast at the Bahiha, I asked for change again. I had my 27 Cordobas ready to buy my 3 extra stamps. After I ate I went over to my hotel and found Humberto behind the counter. I announced that I needed 3 more stamps and watched in near disbelief as he slid down the counter, put on his postmaster hat and then announced as though he hadn’t heard a word I had said.

Humberto: How can I help you?

Me: (…OK, I’ll play along) I need three stamps.

Humberto: I’m sorry, it is Sunday, the post office is closed.

Argh!!! Are you kidding me? Why didn’t he just tell me that before he put on his stupid hat? What is wrong with this guy?…

Me: No, seriously, I need 3 stamps. Look, I even have correct change.

Humberto: No, the post office is closed today. You must come back tomorrow.

Me: What’s the point? Just sell me the stamps! I’m your customer!

Humberto: The post office is closed, there is nothing I can do.

Jeff stood nearby laughing and said, “Forget it dude, just buy the stamps tomorrow.”

I agreed and as we walked off I vented to him. It made no sense at all.

(To be contd.)

Can I just buy some stamps?

This piece is a slightly edited version of the original post at: http://scotttraveler.wordpress.com with the author’s kind permission.

Part 1: I get…

This story is about the owner of this hotel and the (unnamed) owner of the hotel I was staying in. When we arrived in Moyogalpa we immediately wanted to stay at the Bahiha (on the right painted in pink in the pix) as the owner was so friendly but he was all booked up…We ended up at another hotel with rooms that were bare but at least the beds were comfortable. There were no mosquito nets to be found and with no screens on the windows we were literally mosquito bait while sleeping. I tried burning a mosquito coil in the room but the next morning we woke up green and probably had toxic poisoning. After that experience, I always travel with a tiny “Defender” mosquito net; it weighs almost nothing and takes up about as much room as two pairs of socks.

Our hotel lobby area was an outside garden with hammocks, a restaurant and some plants. It looked nice enough. When we arrived at the desk to check in a portly man wearing only some boxer shorts, flip-flop sandals and a “wife-beater” t-shirt glanced up at us from his hammock with a look that showed his annoyance that we disturbed his nap. He rolled out of the hammock (with great effort) and yawned as he walked up to us. I noticed that he had a hole in his tank-top t-shirt right next to his belly button. He stuck his finger in the hole and scratched, wiped the crust from his eyes and asked for our passports. He filled out our registration with about as much attention as a dog resting on a porch on a hot day in Alabama. He asked how many days we were staying and after we told him he quoted a price. We paid and then watched as he dragged himself back to his hammock and began to lay down. I asked him (in my broken Spanish) if there was somewhere that I could buy stamps for my postcards. Without looking up as he adjusted the hammock he informed me that this hotel was the post office and he was the post master. He never did look up but instead laid down on the hammock, closed his eyes and went right back to sleep.

Later, I learned that his name was Humberto.

Jeff and I dropped our bags in our room and returned to the Bahiha for lunch and a cold beer. As we walked out of the hotel I was about to ask Humberto if I could buy some stamps but he was snoring away in his hammock so I left him alone.

When we came back to the hotel in the afternoon he was behind the counter tending to some hotel business. I could see that behind the left side of the counter there were some mail slots, a postal scale and a separate cash register. I walked up and asked Humberto if I could buy some stamps. He let out an audible sigh, put away his papers and slid a few feet over to the “post office” side of the counter and then took out his official “postmaster” hat and put it on. And then as though we hadn’t just spoken he said, “How can I help you?”

I thought he was joking but I played along, “I need to buy some stamps please.” He asked me how many stamps I wanted and I said that I needed 3. He said that the cost was 27 Cordobas. I took 3 ten Cordoba notes from my pocket and handed them to him. He punched a button on the “post office” cash register and when the drawer opened he announced that he did not have any change.

Me: Ok, can you give me change from the hotel register?

Humberto: No.

Me: Why not?

Humberto: That is hotel money, this is post office money, they can’t mix.

Me: That doesn’t make sense.

Humberto: That’s the rules.

Me: Ok, forget I’m buying stamps, as a hotel customer, as one of your customers, can I get change?

Humberto: No.

Argh! You have to be kidding me!

I stepped away from the counter and stood there for a minute. I watched as Humberto removed his postmaster cap and returned to his work on the “hotel side” of the counter. I walked back up.

Me: Hola. Can I get some change?

Humberto: No.

Me: Why not?

Humberto: Because you want to buy stamps, the hotel and post office money is separate.

Me: No, I don’t want to buy stamps, I just need change.

Humberto: No, I know you need stamps, I can’t give you change.

…I looked around his hotel lobby and restaurant. Aside from the cat purring on the counter and Humberto’s Mom washing sheets in the back, it was empty. Every guest of Humberto’s was over at the Bahiha having lunch. Hmmm, go figure, the Bahiha owner is friendly and he gets all the business.

I went over to the Bahiha and asked for change to buy stamps, “Sure Amigo, coming right up. Care for a cold beer or some food while you’re here?

Wow, what a difference.

I went back and watched Humberto mystically transform from slovenly hotel proprietor to officious public servant and then he dispensed my 3 stamps.

(To be contd.)

Playing the White Knight for the first time

There is a first time to everything in life – it is life’s act of bringing its ward to speed in unique ways. First day in college, first outing with a girl, first day on work, first salary, first customer-order bagged…marked by clumsiness, tentativeness, wrong turns, embarrassment, lucky breaks, and with mixed outcomes. The endeavor of playing the White Knight, though thoroughly praise-worthy, is particularly testing even for the sure-footed and easily perilous for the uninitiated like biking in a war-zone. This longish three-part post narrates an experience of the latter kind. Here it goes:

 Part 1

The episode is vividly etched in my memory. I was 25 or something, in a job that pitch-forked me from the cocoon of IIT class-rooms into a larger world of people and things, and tutored me willy-nilly in the ways and vagaries of life.

It was a week-end and I was returning by train after working out the week at a customer site in Bhopal, a placid town in Madhya Pradesh. It was a day train; we had a night to spend onboard, reaching Dadar by noon on the following day. I found my place in one of those 4-seater cubicles in a first class compartment, stowed away my single piece of luggage under the seat, dusted the seat and settled down. And, I looked around.

The one other occupant in my cubicle was an elderly gentleman, well-groomed, perhaps over sixty and from the North, from the looks. He was a little heavy for his average height, sparse hair on the dome, inside an off-white jibba at least a couple of sizes larger over a matching kurta. His movements were labored betraying arthritic joints. He had a ruddy face with sacs of skin sagging below the chin and the cheeks that made it appear large and square and set perpetually on the verge of a very amiable smile. Facing him, I muttered a few perfectly inane words on this and that which, in response, drew a benign look of incomprehension. 

For journeys such as this, I usually carried a slow-paced novel in my shoulder-bag that could fill my time between interruptions and diversions.  Soon after the train pulled out of the station, I got back to the dog-eared book where the protagonist was, over several paragraphs, trying to cross over a busy street to join his wife who made it before him. 

For want of a name, Co will be my co-traveler. Co’s attendant was a fine specimen of the breed of men slated to inherit the earth eventually. Hovering in the passage-way outside our cubicle, he blew in whenever a gentle cough-like sound went out, like Morse code, in his direction from Co. He appeared to be in early thirties. Built appropriately leaner and shorter than his master, he spoke in a low mumble meant only for his master’s ears. But he knew his job and went about it with the facility of long practice.

Hours went by and the night fell. The protagonist in the book now was trying to sort out whether he loved or hated his wife’s pet cat, when the train pulled into a big railway junction, a designated meal-stop, I stepped out and had a quick dinner – a standard railway issue devised to hush the tummy growls more than to tickle the taste-buds. By the time I made haste to my seat, Co had finished his home-packed dinner and the attendant was clearing the paper plates. My repeated attempts to engage Co in some after-dinner small talk quickly sputtered to a stop. Co instructed his attendant to prepare the bed; he tucked himself chin-to-toe under a bed-sheet and pulled his shutters down for the night. His job done, the attendant melted away.  

I changed over to pajamas, lied head down on an air-pillow. I went back to the book to read a few more pages under a dim light before dropping off to sleep, with the protagonist’s feelings towards the cat unresolved yet. Relieved but tired from stressful work and lack of adequate sleep during the week, I slept like a log. When I woke up in the morning, the sun was already up and running about its business. It was a morning meant to loll in the bed, hemmed in with soft pillows, sipping hot coffee, turning the pages of the morning edition of Times Of India. Here, the seat in front was already cleared of bedding and accessories, and Co, already up, prayer-beads counted, groomed and set for the day. Was there a mild admonishment in Co’s eyes? I couldn’t say. 

My till-date sketch of Co and his attendant may have already hinted to you my line of sight. At this point, let me get it out in the open, bare a corner my soul for you to get the a drift of why I did whatever I did in the next hour, never mind the unintended flow of events that followed: Has it ever happened to you that you looked at a stranger and felt like putting your arm around his shoulders and comforting him from afflictions not known? That’s how I was drawn towards Co and his attendant right from the first moment I set my sight on them. They looked like an unsuspecting cow and its calf coursing thru a town where meat merchants had their eyes peeled out, I imagined. Leaping ahead, who would take charge of them in Bombay (now, Mumbai) was a thought that arose in my mind.

I must also confess neither these thoughts nor the protagonist’s ambiguous feelings about the pet cat in the book intruded my sleep. Now, back to the events of the morning unfolding.     

The restful sleep had brought me a cheerful outlook at the world at large, which presently had Co occupying the center-stage. Next in order was a generously sunny smile beamed in the direction of Co. Whereupon, I collected my toilet kit and change-clothes and lazily dragged myself to the toilet to shave, wash and make myself presentable. Wodehouse would have observed, if he were a witness, there was a spring in my steps, a song on my lips and a thought in the head that ‘God is in his place, all is well with the world’ as I headed for the morning ablutions. Little did I know the world would not stay as happily described after I concluded my appointment in the toilet, all in under 15 minutes.

 

(To be contd.)