Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tales of Sanju Krishna

Well, to begin, Joy and I usually fill our plates with a hastily prepared meal and plonk ourselves in front of the television. However, when my parents pay us a visit, our dining table is converted from a computer table/work zone/dresser/knick knack holder/utility section and so on to a dining table where we get to feast on a real elaborate meal.

No meal is complete without the conversation that goes along with it and before the parents arrive, Joy always tells me Aabar cha baganer golpo shuru hobe (tea garden stories will start again) and acts real bored. Since Dad retired before Joy and I met, he keeps ribbing me whether the stories are true or not as they seem too farfetched from our humdrum city life. I am sure he must be secretly enjoying it as he has numerous comments to pass. Well, my Dad and Mom have been associated with the tea gardens almost all their lives so their stories usually centre around life in the tea gardens of Assam, Dooars and Darjeeling, the clubs, the flower shows, the picnics, the bungalows and of course the numerous interesting characters you get to meet and so on.

My parents were posted at this garden called Rajmai in the late 70’s. A young chap called Sanju Krishna joined the same garden as the Assistant Manager. It was his first job after college. The stories that went around were that his Dad was influential and the Director of a company somewhere in the Andaman’s and that was how Sanju Krishna landed this job. Well, not to say he was bad…in fact he was well liked by one and all as he was charming and sophisticated. He quickly gained a fan following among the female tea workers as he was amiable towards everyone and a great source of entertainment due to his happy go lucky and carefree attitude.

He was fond of music and blew up his first salary on a record player and records of Jim Reeves, Cliff Richard, Abba, Boney M and so on. That left him with no money for other basic expenses. In the tea gardens, you are provided with furnished bungalows, servants, transport, and several other amenities. You have vegetable gardens where you can grow veggies, but you still need to buy your own groceries such as rice, oil, pulses, bread, and so on from the local grocer in the tea garden or from the nearest town that is usually an hour or two away.

Since he was perpetually broke, the cook from his bungalow would arrive at our doorstep almost every morning and borrow 4 slices of bread, 2 eggs, a glass of milk and whatever were the requirements. Sometimes, instead of sending the cook, Sanju Krishna would arrive from the back door, enter the kitchen, make an omelette and toast a few slices of bread, eat and vanish without my Mom noticing his presence. The bungalows were large and rambling and had a pantry attached to the main house. To get to the kitchen you had to cross this long veranda so most of the times the memsahibs were unaware of the coming and goings at the back of the bungalow.

Club nights in the tea gardens meant a strict dress code of formals only. Sanju Krishna used to always look dapper in the various blazers and suits that he owned. Late one Saturday night in early January, Sanju was returning from the club in his brand new Ambassador that he had recently bought. It was a real cold and foggy night as is the case during that time of the year in Assam. Suddenly, there was an accident in the empty tea garden roads where you don’t even see a soul at that time of the night.

My father who had arrived much earlier was woken up by the Chowkidar and could hear lots of voices near the main gate. He came out to see a large bus in front of the bungalow, which is a rare sight indeed as public transport in the narrow roads of the tea gardens is a rare sight indeed. On seeing my dad, the bus driver comes running towards him and says that there has been an accident with the Burra Sahib (Manager) of the tea garden. My dad enters the bus to see Sanju Krishna (the Chhota Sahib) sleeping.

It seems that after the accident, Sanju Krishna got down from the car, walked some distance to the main road where the night buses ply all over Assam and hailed a passing bus. He convinced the bus driver he was the Burra Sahib of the tea garden and that’s how the bus managed to navigate through the small and winding roads to reach the tea garden to drop him off. My dad paid the driver and sent him off. Then he did a thorough checkup of Sanju Krishna to see if there were any bruises or broken bones and could not find any. Then he asked him where the car was and what happened that night. This is what Sanju Krishna had to say.

He was returning that night after an enjoyable club night (movie, dinner, a couple of drinks and of course good company). Suddenly, a beautiful lady in white appears in the middle of the road, which is located in the middle of a thick jungle. To avoid hitting her, he swerves to the right and the car lands up in a tree. Sanju Krishna manages to get out of the car safe, walks a couple of miles to the main road and hails the bus to drop him off. My dad asks him what happened to the lady. Sanju Krishna says she had disappeared by the time he managed to get himself out of the car. Since it was late, my dad decided that next morning they would go to the accident site with the garden tractor and get the car. So they go off to sleep.

Next morning, Dad and Sanju Krishna go in a jeep to the accident location. The tractor follows them. When they reach the accident site, my Dad sees a large crowd gathered at that spot and that the car is halfway up the trunk of a large tree. Everyone wonders how a car can get up so high. It’s a mystery. Somebody, in the crowd mentions that definitely there would have been no survivors. The laborers manage to secure the car with ropes and after a lot of struggle manage to get the car safely down. Everyone wonders whether the car will start. The key is still in the ignition. Sanju Krishna gets in, starts the car and drives off.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Spooked in the ESA

Each jaunt onsite, I have called ESA my home for a month or so. I absolutely love this chain of hotels for their comfort and the main reason being they have a kitchenette attached to every room. Since I absolutely detest anything bready, I prefer to buy my own groceries and cook myself a very Bengali fishy meal. Grocery shopping is an absolute pleasure with the sheer variety available.

Well to begin, this summer I landed myself a new project onsite and checked into ESA for over a month. During the day, slogged away at work and at night back to the hotel to cook, eat and sleep. This was the boring story of my life…until one night something strange happened. I was chatting away on my laptop around 11 pm with friends and family back home in India and had placed a glass of orange juice just next to the laptop. Suddenly, the glass began to move. I checked if there was any water underneath the glass because sometimes glasses shift positions if there is water inside, but this glass had no water. It was absolutely dry. The windows were closed so couldn’t be the breeze. I just ignored it and continued chatting.

The glass moved again (this time a considerable distance). I mustered up all my courage and moved the glass back to its original position. It moved again. I literally froze at this point of time and could actually feel a strange sensation of being watched at the back of my neck. I managed to get up and place my glass in the sink and switch on all the lights. I called up few of my colleagues in the other rooms and they immediately came over. I could barely sleep that night with all the lights on and had a miserable day at work the next morning.

A week or so passed and things appeared to have gone back to normal. The weather had turned sultry and humid, so I switched on the AC located near the window and sat down to watch a movie on TV. Barely 2 minutes passed and I heard the AC going off. I got up to check and saw that the knob had been turned off. I found that strange and turned the knob back to Hi-Cool and sat down again. It went off again. I called up the reception to check as sometimes they regulate it to cut costs. They informed me that they were not the ones turning it off. I checked with my colleagues in the other rooms and it seemed to be working fine. Made me wonder who was turning the knob off? And to think that back home I would ensure that it was pitch dark before I could sleep. However, at the ESA it was becoming a regular feature for me to sleep with all the lights on.

The following weekend went sightseeing to all the beautiful places nearby. Reached the hotel room around 11 pm and before dozing off, I was channel surfing to find something interesting to watch. I started watching an episode of “Friends”, my all time favorite. Then suddenly I am not sure what happened. I was transported to the early 20th century.

There was this strange flowery wallpaper on the walls. Reminded me of the old English movies I have watched. The furniture was old fashioned and a stove-top seemed to have replaced the refrigerator. There was this table at the centre of the room, where the ironing board was placed and it had a wicker basket filled with fruits. A gentleman with a long, white face and an equally longer nose sat at the table and was reading a newspaper. There was this equally hefty lady with short hair (looked like a white wig) busy spreading marmalade on bread for breakfast. It looked like a morning room and suddenly another girl in black appeared. She looked like the parlour maid and was busy cooking something at the far corner of the room.

I realized with a jolt that this was not TV but my room with a different look. The room had totally changed and I had been transported to a different era. I wondered whether I was dreaming but my eyes were wide awake. I closed my eyes and opened them again but the scene remained. I tried to scream but no voice came out. I realized that I had to get up and switch on my bedside lamp and then the apparition would disappear but I just couldn’t. It was like something had taken a hold of me and was preventing me from getting up or moving how much hard I tried.

It seemed like eternity where I was watching a different world play like a movie in front of my eyes. Finally, I managed to pull myself together and switch on the light. My room changed back to normal that instant. I looked at the watch and saw it was exactly midnight.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Bureaucratic Cancer

I must say my Mom-in-law is one brave lady. Last year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctors had given up all hope as the cancer spread to her liver and lungs. As she had her first chemotherapy session there was a reaction and she slipped into a coma. The doctors then informed us that she would not survive the night and it was only a matter of time. The whole family kept a night-long vigil at different locations. There were prayers conducted the whole night. Joy’s colleague along with 18 other members performed Reiki for her recovery. It was truly moving to see total strangers coming forward to help.

The next morning, she opened her eyes as if nothing had happened and asked my father-in-law whether he had eaten. Her recovery was miraculous. I remember the first time I visited her in Delhi a month later. I was feeling awkward and didn’t know how to react. The moment Joy and I saw her, she came towards us with a big smile on her face. It was like nothing had happened and she made everyone feel at ease. She still goes on about her normal routine including the religious rituals morning and evening. Her faith in God is unwavering and seems to have increased further. Despite the ailments (I say ailments because she is suffering from 8 major diseases) her zest for life is truly admirable. She has tremendous patience and I have never seen her getting annoyed or flustered at anyone. She truly lives and let lives!

Well, my story begins here. Since my in-laws moved back to their home in Assam it has been very difficult for them to get the medicines that are required for her treatment. Since we live in the city, we buy the medicines from a Cancer hospital nearby and mail it to them through our Indian Postal Service (Speed Post). We never faced any problem sending it till a month ago.

Joy visited our local post office and the guy at the counter absolutely refused to accept it. When Joy asked him the reason, the surly counter guy mentioned that they do not send and accept any Speed Post packets for Assam. Joy mentioned that we have been posting and sending several packets in the past too through that same post office. Mr. Surly started getting annoyed and asked him to get the receipts (how many of us ever save the receipts).

So off Joy went to the neighboring post office where the Postmaster politely accepted it and sent it without a whimper. After posting the package off, Joy went to the main GPO to lodge a complaint. He informed the Officer at the Grievances Cell about the issue. The Officer informed us that Indian Postal Service can be sent to every part of India irrespective of the geographical location. Joy decided to teach Mr. Surly a lesson for the simple reason that nobody should take their jobs for granted and hold customers to ransom based on their whims and fancies. How many times have we kept quiet and suffered?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Trip to the Hair Salon

Last week we finally decided enough was enough of our laziness and decided to go for a haircut. I decided to try this posh new salon that screamed “Mane – L’Oreal Professional Salon”. It had these colorful neon advertisements all over town. Joy dropped me off and went to his regular barber down the road where he pays a paltry sum of 30 bucks. He absolutely swears that the barber there is the best and refuses to be taken in by those swanky salons that have sprouted all over town.

I envy him because in the past five years I have been living in this city, I have not been able to find a hair stylist that I can be loyal to for two reasons. The next time I visit the same salon, the stylists I like would have moved on to other jobs or the ones I like are simply too far for me to commute just for a haircut.

Well, my story begins before my visit to this posh salon. I called them around 2 pm to make an appointment. The lady who answered tried to act as snooty and polished as could be but couldn’t hide that local accent how much ever she tried. She informed me the hairdressers were currently very busy and took my phone number saying she would call me. I hung up feeling mighty pleased with myself that I hadn’t taken the trouble of going all the way just to wait. And that is exactly what I did! The clock struck 3 and no call. The clock struck 4 and still no call. I thought to myself that the next day I might as well commute and go to my old favorite which is quite a distance away.

At 5 pm, my phone rang and I answered it to find Miss Fake Accent on the other line. She informed me that the hairdresser was free by 5 pm and I should be there immediately. I looked at my watch and saw it was 5 pm. I asked her how does she expect me to reach the salon that very instance as it was already 5 pm and why hadn’t she informed me earlier. She gave some lame excuse of not being able to talk to the hairdresser and apologized profusely for something she didn’t mean a word of. I guess she thought I had a plane parked at my house so that I could reach instantly.

After giving her a piece of my mind, I informed her I would be there around 5:30 and off we went. Joy dropped me off and I walked a laborious 4 flights as the elevator did not seem to be working. After I had huffed and puffed my way up and finally reached, the receptionist informed me in the same fake tone that the hairdressers were busy and apologized once more. I guess she thought apologizing was the easiest way of hiding her inefficiency.

I waited another half hour till some dude with a stud in his ear walked up and asked me to have a seat. The moment I was seated, he looked at my hair and said it was greasy and required a shampoo. I informed him that I shampoo my hair everyday and I had just done so that morning. Well, Mr. Dude absolutely refused to hear anything and packed me off for a hair wash. I was left wondering about the good old days when we could go to a small beauty parlor and have a simple haircut without all the paraphernalia of shampoo, coloring and so on.

I decided to play along and see what they are up to. After the hair wash, Mr. Dude came by and gave an ugly twist to my hair with one of the clips dangling in his pocket. Then he informed me in a know it all tone what cut would suit me. (Pssst…it was the same one I already had) Talk about being creative. Then he began chopping with those huge shears with a vengeance. At the same time he gave me his expert advice. He asked me whether I used henna. I informed I had tried that the last time. The glance he gave me was outright disdainful before informing me in that superior tone that henna was for the hands and not for the hair. Then he added that was the reason my hair was so dry. Well, I thought it was greasy a moment ago when he had packed me off for a shampoo. Mr. Dude, if you ensure I shampoo twice a day of course my hair will be dry. Then he started pitching on using the products the Salon endorses. I smiled and said I would think about it.

I think he had enough with trying to convince me. He suddenly stopped chopping and pulled this hair dryer out. Then he began the process of blow-drying my hair with a brush. I thought he was trying to burn my hair at the roots as the heat was too much to bear. I finally informed Mr. Dude to stop pulling and burning my hair in a loud tone. That made him a little wary as everybody had started listening in to our conversation and he ended his theatrics.

I was also observing the other clients. I saw this little kid with her Mom, some college folks and some old ladies come in for a haircut. And everyone was bundled for a hair wash whether they liked it or not. I think these new age salons are just out to make a quick buck. I asked for the bill and I see that they had billed me the princely sum of 200 bucks for the shampoo besides a good amount of money for the haircut as it was by a so called L’Oreal professional hair stylist. Well, I thought to myself that I never even asked for the shampoo. That’s the price I pay for a bottle of shampoo that lasts a good 2 to 3 months.

This made me wonder. How many times in our life have we been coerced into doing things we do not want by pushy sales people? The choices we have are endless but at what cost. Well, I have begun dreading my next visit to any hair salon. Will somebody please tell me where I can get a decent haircut in my city without the frills?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's Raining Kids!

Well! I guess we all go through different stages of our life and I think motherhood is one of them. However, Joy and I have decided not to have one of those little brats. I think the main reason is we are both lazy and we absolutely do not want to take responsibility. Well, not to say I do not admire those women who multitask and manage their kids and homes so beautifully. But I realized a long time ago this was not for us so we are happy with our decision irrespective of what people may say. So comments to make us change our minds are simply not welcome.

As social beings we love inviting people over for a meal. That translates to inviting the kids too since in India, there is no concept of hiring a babysitter to take care of your kids while the parents go enjoy a leisurely meal. And that further translates to Joy and my skills in babysitting the kids while attempting to throw a near perfect dinner party. No offence, some of these brats are totally adorable. However, we do need to keep running and checking whether they are fiddling with any sockets, tripping over any computer wires, fiddling with any gadgets or out to break anything special we own while some of the parents turn a blind eye to their antics. The last party, one kid was so obsessed with the TV remote control and kept fiddling with all the buttons and it hasn’t functioned since.

I read an article the other day where some public places are kid free zones. India is waking up to the fact that there are some places that need to be kid free and just because you adore your kids, you cannot expect everyone to do the same especially if they are being a public nuisance. The article I read mentioned that in the US, parents usually hire babysitters so that they can go and enjoy a movie and make it enjoyable for other moviegoers too sans the whiny kids.

The same situation moves to India, totally different scenario. Joy’s colleague once mentioned that he and his wife frequent one of the so called multiplexes in town, plonk down on those cushy seats and let their kids run amok. He said it with such glee that I guess Joy didn’t have the heart to tell him that what could have been a totally great movie experience as being advertised by these multiplexes are shattered by the blind love some of these parents have for their kids. Why can’t parents discipline their kids and make them behave?

Then there is this good friend of mine living in another continent. I still picture her as a tomboy with short hair jumping over the classroom window. That is why I guess I am amazed at her transformation after having a baby. Now I have to keep in mind that she is a Mom first and foremost. Life has absolutely changed for her and for me too in a way. Her social networking site revolves around her kid. You have pics posted in almost every pose the kid made in his life (well, I am exaggerating a wee bit, but the albums dedicated to little ones these days are immense). Well, kid taking a bath, kid smiling, kid sleeping, kid with teddy, kid in his birthday suit (trying to avoid gender bias) and so on. In fact the kid’s birthday invitation arrived through that same social networking site where we could all catch up with the events being held. Well cribs apart, I appreciate the fact that technology has evolved to such an extent that though we live a continent away, we could all be a part of one of the most special days in their life.

Coming back to friends, I guess I am a little insecure at the back of my mind. I always took them for granted and I might be a wee bit jealous coz their priorities have changed. I now need to accept that the little ones are part and parcel of our lives too. The way I interact with them has changed. The mails, scraps or phone calls I receive are about their kids. So I need to be equally polite and ask them questions or remember social etiquette and pick up a little something for the little one when I am visiting. Even the meals I make these days are kids centric depending on their likes and dislikes. Kids today are smart and know exactly what they want and are not at all hesitant to mention it these days (sometimes can be embarrassing for the parents).

For instance, one thing I really miss is the group vacations we used to go on. Now since Joy’s good friends had an adorable baby girl, they announced that vacations are out of their scheme of things for now. So that leaves us with fewer options with the dwindling number of couples sans kid in tow.