Sunday, December 6, 2009

An unfinished journey

For once Gayatri is not irritated waiting for the train. She dreamt of this journey many times, sure that it’s going to be a joyous one. Lost in her dreams, in harmony with the cacophony, she felt his arms around her. She smiled and looked at him. She kept staring at him, searched for that assurance. She couldn’t find it. Is he trying to convey her something? The quiet and shy Gautam, took her by surprise often with the innovative ways of expressing his affection. Ah! How much she savored every such moment.

She held him close oblivious to the disapproving stares. She felt his body stiffen. “Why is he tensed and uneasy?” She thought. “Didn’t we dream of this day together? But it’s natural to be apprehensive about a new journey, bigger responsibilities and unknown challenges.” She was talking to herself in her thoughts.

Her reverie was broken with the approaching train. She pushed back her thoughts, held him tight, ecstatic as a child looking at the roaring train.

He held her away from him; “it’s time for me to go,” he said.
“I’m sure I heard it wrong,” she thought looking at him.
He shrugged her looking at the stoned figure. Mouth parched, she whimpered, “but why?”
Silence was the answer.
“Can you ever forgive me?” He asked.
He couldn’t see her agony. He was already looking for salvation even though she hasn’t absorbed the news yet.

“Sorry,” he squeezed her hand one last time and boarded the serpentine train as it chugged its way out of the platform to its onward journey.

Day melted into dusk; perched on a marble bench she stared emptily at the sad and happy faces bidding adieu to their dear ones. With a numb mind and wounded heart, she wobbled towards the exit. Her frail body quivered as the tears of humiliation drenched her in shame.

Her once perfect world is shattered into pieces now. It’s for the time to decide if she can shape it up again and discard the useless parts.

“Didn’t we dream of this journey together? How could he take a decision on my behalf without taking my consent?” the thought irritated her.

“Show me your platform ticket please?” Asked the ticket collector at the exit.
She showed her train ticket.
“Oh! This train left in the morning. Did you miss it?” inquired the TC.
“I was never meant to be on that train,” she smiled feebly and moved on.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The "P" Effect

It’s going to be two years in my present company soon but feels like yesterday. The first day went very fast and pleasant. Introductions, formal “hellos”, casual jokes, welcome mails and a joining lunch treat by one of the team members. I replied to the welcome mails that came from my manager, VP and the senior VP, Mr. P – his signature in office mails.

One of the team members enquired if I heard from P, to which I nodded. What followed after that was a 15 minutes introduction of P who is a demigod in the company. Sure he is - a prodigy, who knows how to run a show successfully. The India office witnesses a flurry of activities every time he visits, which is too frequent.

It is impressive to know that he acknowledges everyone by name and enquires about personal tidbits of oldies in the company, talks about cricket nonchalantly over a cup of coffee, pulls a fast one on others or entertains us by making himself the butt of jokes.

On the professional front, he talks about why the code is complicated, why the SQL query is unnecessarily lengthy, why is the architecture not scalable, where is the deployment going wrong, what requirements are missed in the FSDs, how can the user interface be improved and what should be the documentation approach.

He is awe-inspiring, but it also resulted in intellectual disparity between him and the rest of the organization. Even an intellectual is capable of making mistakes if he doesn’t have the check points regularly. The outcome could be monopoly and chaos, which can spell disaster. There were times when plans had to be altered at the 11th hour, his casual comments and feedback kept most on tenterhooks. Everyone is panting to meet his expectations round the clock. Ironically even I am one among them who is gasping for breath. Obviously, I can’t have my way and stay out to watch the whole act being enacted again and again! It was not surprising when P’s “foresight” took precedence over customer deliverables. There had been rumors that friends turned foe when they came to work for him and finally bowed out.

He is standing alone in the arena, with no real contenders to challenge him. If somebody of his caliber and intellect comes onboard then it would be no less than watching Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged unfold. Till then it’s going to be the “P” effect here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The slumdog millionaire

It was when we shifted to Bangalore and moved into our neighborhood in Kormangala. My father, who belongs to the old school, believes in friendly and helpful neighbors. Not even 10 days old in the city, he knew Mr. Joseph, our immediate neighbor and “the old couple” (this is how we refer them even today) in front of our house and few more in our street. His day starts with a half-an-hour walk followed by scanning the morning newspaper in the portico.

Next to the “old couple” house is an empty plot which is a bigger version of a kitchen garden. If you thought in 30 by 40 plot, one can hardly grow any plants, then you are wrong. A mango tree, plantain, papaya, bottle gaud, brinjal, and many more seasonal fruits and vegetables. Dressed in an old shirt and a lungi (Indian version of sherong), he comes everyday to remove weeds and water the plants. It is a sight to watch the gardener who nurses every plant, observes every leaf and bud, oblivious to his surroundings.

My father, out of curiosity, wanted to know the market value of the plot. So he asks, “Excuse me; where does the owner of this plot stay?”
The gardener: “Why?”
Father: “Well…just like that. Does he come anytime this side?”
The gardener: “What do you want to know sir? You can ask me.”
Father: “hmm…I wanted to know the price of this land?”
The gardener: “60 lakhs….I am the owner.”
Father: “Is it? There is one more plot at the beginning of this street. I saw you there too.”
The gardener: “Yes. Even that’s mine.”

Father walked into the house with nothing more to ask or say. By then, mother and I understood that the facts hit him hard and he is taking time to absorb them! He looked at us and what followed was a riot of laughter.

I was intrigued by this gardener, who is nothing less than a millionaire. What I am about to reveal is the facts about him which are no less than any shocker.

He has three other big plots in and around Kormangala, each costing a few crores. He is employed by a private firm as a grade 4 employee and takes home a salary of Rs 3,500. He has four daughters who are studying in a government school which hardly has any facilities. He doesn’t buy vegetables from the market. Whatever he grows in these two plots near our house is what they eat. Now you may ask, what happens when there are no vegetables in his kitchen gardens? I don’t have to answer that. You would have guessed it by now!

What’s special in the Sunday menu? Half a kilo of mutton cooked with papaya. Ever heard of that combination? By the way, papaya helps to cook the meat faster besides adding to the quantity that suffices a family of seven (including his mom. His father passed away)!

Most of us would not see that kind of money even if our two generations worked in an IT firm. I was tempted to ask him many times, “Why is he living a life of a pauper?”

Now you know why I have called him the Slumdog Millionaire.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Alone in the crowd

We got the corner seat with a good view of the DJ, the dance floor and the bar. Being the first Saturday in the New Year, Chrome, the pub, was bubbling with crowd by 10 pm with lot of eye candies.

I wasn’t too keen on hitting a pub a few hours after a day-long journey. I wanted to catch some sleep after an early dinner and a lazy stroll on the beach. But anyways, here I was. The theme of the evening being Techno, I couldn’t enjoy the music for long. My eyes strayed to check out the crowd. The bar was jammed with people waiting for their drinks while the bartenders had their hands full.

As I watched the groups engaged in animated discussions, New Year hugs and wishes, I felt like a stranger in my hometown. I didn’t know a single soul other than my family. My friends, just like me, left the city after studies. My gaze kept going back to a guy in his late 30s and probably approaching the 40 mark much sooner than he wanted. I am sure he was not too happy with his receding hairline. He was dressed more for an executive meeting than a Saturday night party in a light blue shirt and a navy blue trouser, rimless spectacles and black leather shoes. He desperately wanted to be a part of the young employees of HSBC. He laughed louder than the others, cracked a joke that turned out to be a damp squib and hugged everyone he met for the first time. He was such a misfit!

His desperate measures reminded me of a middle-aged lady in Hyderabad. While partying at a pub, she wanted to join us on the dance floor. We said yes, and she gunned for one of the guys in the group. She shooed me away with her heavy make-up, strong perfume, tights and a tacky halter neck top. Gyrating to the beats with all the "moves" she gave the oomph look to my friend. His girl friend gave up and decided to join me and so did the rest. Though I felt sorry for her, we had a good laugh looking at my friend who was put to so much unease. By the way, I spotted her a few more times at different pubs everytime with a different group. Nobody noticed when she came and went alone always.

Back to the hero of our story!

Sensing the pulse of the crowd, the DJ decided to change the music. We hit the dance floor and were having a good time. I saw the “executive” dancing too but without a company. He was with the crowd but still not one among them. After a while he opted out of the floor and contented himself by joining the onlookers.
Tired and sweating after a good half-an-hour dance, I decided to call it a day and headed home.

A frozen moment...

She said bye to her mother, sisters and brother while her father asked her to hurry up. Mother was breathlessly giving her instructions to be good to her grandfather; she was going to stay with. “Remember your every action will speak of your upbringing and us,” mom said umpteenth time. “Tinku, study well and take care,” she hugged her brother.

It was a full moon night. The tar roads, the big water tank, the TV antennas standing on every roof top were drenched in silvery moon rays. She hurried behind her father who was walking fast with the cycle and the lone suitcase tied to it. “We should reach early, remember we have to talk to K.G. Rao uncle,” he said. He was the TTE who had promised to get them a berth till Vizag. While she took long strides to meet her father, she turned back one last time at the end of the street. She saw the silhouettes of her mother and her frail sister who was waving at her excitedly. She felt empty and confused, not sure if she was doing the right thing by deciding to complete her higher secondary in Vizag. She was too young to understand what it was like to leave a sanctuary and be on her own.

As she passed the familiar sites, she thought of the 7-day long Goddess Bhagwathi festival every year; the school annual function and sports day; the evening chit-chats with her siblings and friends and the undisputed attention from her parents. “Never mind, I am going to come here on every vacation.” Lost in her thought, she didn’t notice Bappi, her neighbor. He was more of a rival than a good neighbor. Felt exhilarated whenever he made a sarcastic comment on her and siblings; probably the symptoms of a confused teenager. “Hey, are you leaving today?” he asked with a grin.
“Yes.” She replied.
“When are you coming next?” he asked.
“In Dusherra holidays” she answered and didn't wait for anymore conversation.

Unaware that with every step closer to catch the 8.30 pm Konark Express, she is leaving behind the 10 years of the most precious and carefree life, she misses even today.

Even after so many years, that moonlit night has been frozen in her mind’s eye and feels as if it was just yesterday.

That She was Me, when I left home for the first time.