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Thursday, July 16, 2009

P.K.Koshy’s Daily Routine

As I, P.K. Koshy, sip my morning tea I look out to see if Waghmare is anywhere around. Question is: Do I want to even see his face on the way to my morning walk? No. He has a car and he has a dog, and I dislike both. And I loathe him. Problem with the dog is it shits everyday before my door and I suspect Waghmare (In Marathi – the killer of tigers) has taught him to do that, I am sure. The sly bastard, I know he is a cunning and crafty man. He works for some life science company and is home most of the time pottering around in his chuddies. His sole aim is to give me a lot of headaches, which I can feel digging its monstrous fangs in my head right now. I know he is around, I can hear him shuffling in the row-house next door. I time his morning walk, which may be over by now. Then he takes his dog out, which too has been completed now that it’s 8 a.m.

The car is another possession of his that I detest, indeed hate. It’s a Maruti Swift, his proud possession, a symbol of his prosperity. I don’t have a car; neither do I have a dog. He parks it right outside my door as if it’s his father’s road, just to make me jealous as I don’t have one. I shouted at him many times. The bastard, he won’t listen to all my ranting, and continues to park it at the entrance of my row-house. I had complained to Oondirmare (literally: the killer of mice) who is our row-house association’s secretary, but he is too much in awe of Waghmare, the killer of tigers. It so turns out that the killer of mice is afraid of the killer of tigers because of reasons I needn’t mention, but then why he is the association’s secretary? Killing rats is not such a big deal, nor tigers, for that matter. His grandfather’s grandfather might have shot at a tiger and missed, and now he carries the name of Waghmare. Doesn’t “mare” mean “act of killing” and not “marnara” meaning “man who kills.” Next time I speak to him I will say this, only to embarrass him a little.

I read the newspaper that has just arrived. A few months back I used to subscribe to two newspapers, but Marykutty told me to cut down on expenses. Now I only get the Hindustan Times to read as I sip tea. Marykutty asks me if I need more tea. I say, “Why you want my tummy to protrude even more like a chakka, a jackfruit?”

My tummy, like all Malayalis’ tummies protrude a bit, no, in fact, more than a bit. It has grown in size since I had retired, last month. They say, the Malayalis I mean, that it’s a sign of prosperity. I think the eating of a lot of carbohydrate-enriched rice – the Malayalis’ staple diet. And, what if my tummy protrudes, whose father’s goes? Like they say in Hindi, “Kiska baap ka kya jata hai.” Waghmare’s tummy also juts out. But he is a pathetic sight in his striped chuddies, jackfruit tummy hanging out, and the exposed thread that holds it to his waist. “Chee, no shame, this man has,” Marykutty would say watching him walking his dog and scratching his arse. And he called me a “besharam” when we had a fight over the dog shit.

That’s why I avoid him during my morning walks. We have fought many times. Over dog poo, over car parking, over overflowing gutters, over hundreds of silly trivial things which he doesn’t have the civility to acknowledge, the illiterate. He has connections and is all the time glued to his phone, talking in the entreatingly cloying voice of his, the moron.


At last, I finish tea, throw away the paper to be read later, and peering carefully through the window to make sure Waghmare wasn’t around, step out. His dog is sitting on his steps panting, and wagging its tail, glad to see me, the abominable creature. But my quarrel is with his master, the chuddy-wallah. I have nothing against you koochi-koo, may you and your master rot! I never wear chuddies like your master does, what an insult, can’t you do something to stop him showing his hirsute legs?

I am dressed in polyester trousers, my checked shirt, and my branded walking shoes. Today I have to visit the office from where I retired after 27 years of service. They are giving me a send-off party, they said, sort of after thought. I am an employee of Bard, no, nowhere related to the poet, but BARD as they call the country’s nuclear research program – Baroodwala Atomic Research Department. I don’t believe in parties, but I think I will go and meet my colleagues, though it might make me teary eyed to see my desk being occupied by a new chokra boy who succeeded me.

I walk along the road that connects to a nature park in Belapur, a road that cut into what they say is a tropical rain forest. The road is full of puddles from last night’s rain, and I avoid dog shit, cow shit, and little puddles that are everywhere. There is garbage lying around thrown by lazy people in the night when no one’s watching. I think this country needs strict laws. They will break laws when no one’s watching. So opportunistic are they! My friend Joseph, the only person I speak with on my walks, says Singapore fines 500 dollars for littering. We should do the same. I meet some of my usual friends, the old man who tutors students, the retired man who is always humming a carefree tune, the yoga freak who does breathing exercises, and the Old Geezer’s Gang (OGG), as I call them.

The OGG consists of retired chootiyas, too far gone to redeem their failing bodies. They spend their morning time gossiping about other walkers, laughing, huffing and puffing their tottering bodies. They don’t get any exercise at all, the way they talk excitedly, badmouthing their former employers, this minister or that, or even the haggard women who come for a walk to escape the drudgery of cooking, washing and cleaning.

I dismiss their jollity as frivolity and only exchange a few polite “Good mornings” with them. They walk so slowly that I feel their bodies would disintegrate and die in a few days. If I become one of them then I would be discussing cardiac arrest, arrhythmia, blood clots and a host of other diseases with them, and would lose my teeth and my confidence. I walk fast and leave them behind. The OGGs are there in practically every part of New Bombay, indeed the world, old men without any meaning in their lives, their minds having been eaten by the moths of mediocrity.


Leaving the OGGs behind I walk to the top of a hill that overlooks the highway to Bombay. There’s the constant roar of traffic and the rainforest is alive with the sound of birds, the echoes of which reverberate in the trees. I shut my eyes, relax my body and sit down to my meditation session. The OGGs have caught up and are teasing me now.

“Kya Koshy-saab, ithna medition math karo. Kuch duniya ke barre mein bi socho.”

(What Koshy, stop meditating and start thinking about the world.)

I tremble with anger, but I hide it. It’s said: do not pick a fight with people who have nothing to lose. Besides I have to come here tomorrow too.

“You booddhas, you with your gossip and bitterness, you will die fast.”

They laugh.

I didn’t say it in jest, but seriously. It was a curse. I leave them, the old farts, feeling a throb of pain in my temple. I then begin my descent down the hill and the songs of birds grow thicker and louder, a symphony of sounds, which soothes me. I like bird songs. They are so natural and beautiful, their every note so pure. I am more relaxed now. What do those old geezer’s think?


As I near home I see Waghmare looking at me from the terrace of his row house, a sarcastic sort of look. I don’t greet him, the dog. If I greet him, I am sure he will come wagging his tail like his cur. I used to be friendly with him when we had come to live in Belapur, twenty or so years ago. But then there came the fights and I stopped talking to him.

“Who will talk to such a fellow, no manners, keeping dogs that have no sanitary sense?” I ask Marykutty. She has grown fat over the past few years. I tell her to come for a walk in the morning but she won’t listen. Even since Benny, our son, went away to the USA she has been like this. Not talking much, only doing what is necessary. Her hair is white and unkempt, her ways slovenly. I can’t help it. I go for a long walk in the morning and evening to escape from the ruin that is my wife.


I take the 9 a.m. morning train from Belapur. It is crowded and though it originates in Belapur I don’t get a seat as the commuters from Nerul have travelled back to Belapur so that they are assured of a seat. So I stand in the cramped space between two seats. This is the most coveted place to be in the first class compartment, because whenever anyone in those two seats gets up, by the fact of being first in queue, I get to sit down. I know these things. I have travelled on this route for 30 years. It is my routine, rather, was.

But my turn doesn’t come though we have crossed the Thane Creek Bridge at Vashi. There’s too much rush of people, perspiring, their wet bodies sticking to me in the heat. I can make out the regulars, the Sardarji in his usual seat by the window, the bald man who is a nodding acquaintance who works for a cigarette company, the company secretary with a shock of black hair which he claims he doesn’t dye, the bank manager with his usual bunch of newspapers.

When Kurla comes, a lot of young fellows get down. I get a seat vacated by a young chap with a heavy knapsack which almost knocks me down as he swings it on his shoulder. Wonder why they all carry knapsacks these days like menial labourers. They are the people working in the new economies – software, hardware, the outsourcing units – coolies all of them. They dress nattily; listen to pirated music on their iPods, or imitation music players, talk incessantly on the phone – probably to their girlfriends. What’s there so much to talk about, I don’t know. I and Marykutty hardly talk a few words everyday – sometimes, nothing at all. All we have to say have been gone over and exhausted. Now, silence speaks. One such executive type is saying on his cell phone.

“Total weirdo, men, my boss, men. So much like that only, no? Like that mad old uncle deLima, exactly. I feel like giving him two tight slaps, phat, phat. Har, har, har. He tho, I don’t know what to say, [listens] tell me what you did this morning? Had a head bath? What the f*** for? Tell you no, men, you will get a cold and be paying for medicines and stuff. [Listens] That’s cool, men, so, so, nice I feel, whaddappen, no, it’s, sort of, sort of, aaah, heee, hummm....”

What sort of talk is that? This teeny-weeny impudent fellow is talking of slapping his boss. What’s the world coming to? I am glad to be out of their rat race.


At the office everyone gathers around me. As expected, a chokra is sitting on the assistant’s seat that I had vacated. My boss, the director of the nuclear research program, has gone to a meeting with his boss, so I wait in the reception. Everyone is extra nice, which they weren’t when I was working here.

The new assistant apologies profusely. The sort of words I used to employ only a month ago.

“So sorry sir, he will be back soon, sir, will you have some coffee, sir, I am told you like coffee, sir,” then to a shabby individual in a khaki uniform “saab ke liye coffee lana.”


In the conference room they have put a fresh bouquet of flowers, they make me sit beside the boss, Mr. Rao, the man I tolerated with all my patience the last so many years. He is all jolly good manners now. The young assistant – yes, I remember, his name is Krishnakant Sharma – keeps a wrapped rectangular thing before his boss. On it is a card with messages from all my previous colleagues in vivid colours. Krishnakant has brought his cheap digital camera and is clicking pictures of me – of me! I can’t believe it. They are taking pictures of me!

Then everyone troops in and the boss gives a speech in Indian English praising all the qualities I never knew I possessed. Too late! He says I always had a smile on my face, even when he was rude. What to do? So bad no? He couldn’t help it, part of his job. The hypocrite! He doesn’t know what Herculean effort I had to put up, just to listen to his insults, because I had a family to feed, and a job to keep.

Then he takes the rectangular gift and gives it to me. He smiles and asks me to turn towards the camera held by his assistant. Resourceful chap, he is, this Krishnakant Sharma, smart dresser, too. “Smile” he says, and I smile. Only a few front teeth show in the picture, which Sharma comes and shows me on his camera. It’s the age of instant photography; you can see the results in seconds.

Then there’s a round of handshakes and some refreshments are brought in – sodden samosas from the canteen, tea in plastic cups, and a few potato chips.

Is it all I am worth? Have I worked all these years, sacrificing my freedom, my self respect, my joy for this? My colleagues want me to open the gift. I open it and they watch my face. It’s a picture of a waterfall with a wire attached and they say if the wire is plugged in, the waterfall will come alive with the sounds of birds in the background.

“How did you know I like the sound of birds?”

“You told us, didn’t you? Don’t you remember?” A friend, Mr. Muthuraman, who will be retiring next year said, “You said it brings out the poet in you.”

“Oh, so you write poetry, Mr. Koshy, I never knew. What a talented person we have had in our midst. It will be a complete loss, will miss you, really,” Mr. Rao said. The hypocrite!

I felt like telling him, none of my poems are published, all of them were rejected by a world, which is no longer in need of poetry or poets.

A murmur, a titter goes around. “Ah, I never knew he wrote poetry, in Malayalam, it seems, he is from a tradition of poetry, ah, murmur, murmur, titter, titter....”

I eat the soggy samosas, drink the tepid tea.


It’s 1 p.m. I have begun my journey back having had lunch in Swagat Restaurant in what was once the fort area of Bombay. I stumble several times as I walk with the rectangular picture under one arm. Several people jostle me as they pass me in a hurry. Bad mannered, all of them, no respect for elders. To think that this would be what I will be up against for the rest of my life, makes me nervous and jittery. I step over puddles, I side step gobs of spit on the street.

With difficulty I make it to Victoria Terminus train station and choose the train to Belapur. Trains are less crowded at this time. There are a lot of women, children, and petty traders in dhotis, kurtas, lehengas, some of them carry big loads on their heads and under their arms.

I, too, am carrying this load, this picture, this burden of my past, the thing that had divested me of my life, my writing, sucked the blood out of me with its dreary routine chores that needed to be done for my boss, which had in turn developed into a habit. Now I had to consciously get out of the habit every day. It sits in my hand, unwieldy, incongruous, obstructing the flow of people. They dash against it, turn and stare, even curse. It nauseates me how they couldn’t think of a better gift. All they could find was an artificial waterfall with artificial bird sounds whereas I like natural bird sounds. How dumb!

The 1.45 p.m. local to Panvel is empty. It passes through Belapur. I climb inside the deserted compartment and sit holding the packet in my lap. I am not sure what to do with it. I hate what it represents, the repression I felt, sacrificing everything for a government job, the dreariness of the function in the morning in which people were so cloyingly sweet. But I could sense their impatience. It was as if they wanted to get rid of me and go back to their work and get on with it. Mr. Rao had looked impatiently at his watch several times, the man who had said, “Mr. Koshy you are too slow with letters, you need to learn to manage your time, speed up, you know. I have no patience for your slowness.” He had the sarcastic look Waghmare sometimes has when he speaks to me. I hate them both – one my former boss, the other still my neighbour. Two unpleasant people who dominated my life these years.

The picture grew heavier as the train progresses on the Harbour Line. Masjid, Sandhurst Road, Dockyard Road, Reay Road, Cotton Green, Sewri, Wadala, Koliwada, Chuna Bhatti, Kurla, Tilak Nagar, Chembur, Govandi, Mankhurd, all pass in a sudden flurry and clatter of metal. It seems as if I have passed these stations a million times, but in the haze of the monsoon afternoon, when drops of moisture on my shirt seemed like swords stabbing me, I feel a strange oddness, as if I have never seen these stations. My daily routine has become alien to me.

I was sweating profusely. Is a stroke coming? Why am I feeling so funny, prickly all over? As the train passes over the Thane Creek Bridge I go and stand near the entrance to get some fresh air. The sea breeze calms me, I breathe in deeply, then tears streaming down my face, my face contorted into a hideous sob, I fling the picture over the railing into the sea. I have got rid of Mr. Rao for ever.

I look back. It lies there floating for a few seconds, then it slowly sinks into the brackish water and mud. I feel light, as if a burden has been lifted, I smile. I will take care of Waghmare when I reach home.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Queue-jumper

I had gone to my village of Kidangannoor on holiday (where my parents [now deceased] lived in retirement) and went to the Chengannur railway station to buy tickets for my journey back. It was summer vacation season and tickets for the return journey to Bombay were scarce. So I had to leave home early hoping to get ahead in the queue to book tickets. After reaching the station, I had stood in a long queue for about an hour and was at the head of the queue when a youth appeared from nowhere, stood beside me and began pushing towards the ticket vendor. When I objected he started complaining loudly to the people present that I was trying to push him and that I was (you won't believe this!) the queue breaker!

Imagine! A Hindi saying goes, “Ulta Chor Kotwal ko dathe,” a case of the thief scolding the policeman.

Me, a queue jumper? I am not sympathetic to such boors and fought back and got my position at the head of the queue and bought a ticket. Then I saw something that upset me further. The man was buying a ticket after me! I said with all the animus I could muster, “People, people, my dear kind and law-abiding saars (they say “saar” instead of “sir” in Kerala), can’t you see, that man is a queue jumper and he is buying a ticket.”

“He said the same of you, remember,” one man said.

“But I am saying he pushed ahead of me, he is a reactionary, an usurper, a hooligan, an anti-social element, a..., a..., a..., blot on civilised society,” I blabbered on.

They stared blankly at me, you know, the way you would look at a dimwit.

By this time the man who had barged in front of me had bought his ticket and was coming menacingly towards me.

“Enthado thante problem? What is your problem? Podo ividunnu, haaaaahn, kanichu tharam! Go away from here, or I will show you.”

“Are you threatening me after jumping the queue, in front of all these people?”

“What people? Ask them. Did I jump the queue, people?”

“No, no, no, no....”

I couldn’t believe my auditory senses, or my visual senses, for that matter.

“Pinne... then?” the queue-jumper was moving menacingly towards me.

“Oh, dear and esteemed and highly-regarded saars, can’t you see he is turning the public opinion against me, against propriety, against the laws of civilised society, against every tenet that you, decent, mundu wearing, respectable people believe in?”

“Hey, who are you to give big lectures, haaaahn,” this is a member of the public whose rights, decency and civility I was trying to protect.

“I am no one. In fact, I don’t even live here. But if this man barges in, buys a ticket while you have been standing in queue over an hour today, mark my words, he will be raping your mothers and sisters, stealing from the government’s public coffers, thumbing a nose at law and order next.”

“Heey manushya, watch your words,” with this the queue-jumper came towards me, folding and tying his mundu in a tight double fold over his waist (the Malayali’s preparation for a fight). I could see his striped underpants and the loose-hanging string he used to tie it to his waist. It was a threatening gesture, alright; the sort used by superstars Mohanlal and Mammooty to scare the shit out of villains in Malayalam movies.

Hell, no! I am no coward when it comes to a fight. I have well-toned and exercised biceps and triceps that I flex everyday for around thirty minutes, even on holidays. I also know a few Karate tricks thanks to a lightning course in Karate I took when I was working with a former employer. The teacher didn’t think much of my moves then, but if I could scare him with a few grunts and shouts, maybe, just maybe, he will hightail it.

So I got into Shotokan Kata position, or some such, I don’t remember, and shouted really menacingly at him, “Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh.”

“What are you doing man; can’t you see the man has grey hair? At least respect his age,” this is from an esteemed member of the public, whose honour I was getting ready to protect.

I stopped in Karate-mid-stance and gaped at him open mouthed.

He untied and dropped his mundu and said, “Since this kind and nice saar says so, I am leaving you, or you know I would have broken that knee of yours.” (In Kerala they always aim at the knees, so that a man will limp for the rest of his life.)

I stare at him, at the people whose rights and privileges I was trying so hard to champion, and then walk away. At least my knees have been saved the bother, and I got my tickets!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mr. Bandookwala, MBA, Harvard

I recoiled at the sight of him. Was it the same person? Was it the man who, when he strode into Pinnacle Construction Ltd., used to make the receptionist and telephone operator quiver in their seats? Was it the same man who was known as the blue-eyed boy of the chairman, the MBA show boy from the US, who dazzled everyone with his brilliance and his personal charm?

Surprising how people can change when their positions are taken away from them. Fate had played a cruel game with Mr. Bandookwala. No, he neither had a bandook, a gun, nor was he in the business of guns, not that I know of. But he had all the making of an Automatic Kalashnikov 47 about the way he strode, the way he spoke, and the way the peons and the employees of his department scattered and hid from his gaze in those days.

Now I couldn’t believe the man sitting opposite me was the same powerful Dinshaw Bandookwala. The fire seemed to have died in his eyes, eyes which now looked sunk and haunted. His nervous tics and obsessions were more apparent, his fingers worrying a few polyps on his face. He carried a crumpled leather bag and didn’t wear his natty shirts and equally elegant ties.

Times were when I used to admire the clothes he wore, two-toned shirts straight out of the Arrow executive collection, something I wished I had. They were too expensive for me. I admired the deodorants he wore, and everything about him spelled class and panache. But the man who was sitting opposite me seemed to have shrunk, his eyes had lost its glitter, his well-cut hair was in disarray, and his shirt was soiled as if it hadn’t been washed for days. The way he sat opposite my executive chair, he seemed like a supplicant, the sort who came to me for advertisements and sponsorships.


Those were the days I had to queue outside his cabin to get his attention. He had left strict instructions that I had to have permission from him through the secretaries to meet him. Then when he gave permission, he kept me waiting outside his cabin till, at last, he had the inclination to meet me. All this for his own work, work for which he would take credit. I would hang around his cabin this way for hours, afraid of even knocking for fear that I would disturb his concentration. When I, a blubbering mass by now, finally entered the cabin to get approval on some proofs, he would look at me rather distractedly and shoot me something like, “Why is the article “the” not before “company”? And, I would come out of my dither with difficulty, think of what to say, and before I could say anything, he would dismissively fling what I had written at me and say “Rajesh, first read and edit carefully before bringing me such crap.” His lips would curl as he said this.

I would be so traumatized that I would stare at the sheet not knowing what had gone wrong with my writing, my words, and wonder whether I would ever make it as a writer, or, for that matter a “corporate communication executive.”


But things had changed. I had resigned from the job at Pinnacle Constructions Ltd. and moved ahead. I am now General Manager (Corporate Communications) of a leading construction company and Mr. Dinshaw Bandookwala wants my account. After leaving Pinnacle, Dinshaw hadn’t done well in his business and obviously he was now clutching at straws. I could see from his drooping expression that he was either lazing around in front of the television doing nothing or was into something addictive. He smelled bad and looked as if he hadn’t had a bath for a long time. Unbelievable! He smelled so good in those days, the best of deodorants for him, brands I wouldn’t even recognize. He drew the best salary in the company, he was given the company’s best car, a huge cabin with a view of the city, a driver, and a peon as a, sort of, personal valet. This peon carried his lunch bag and brief case from car to his cabin and back, shined his shoes, brought him tea, handed him papers, delivered his paper to other executives and stood outside to run errands and serve him lunch. He had mandated that the peon should wash his hands with soap every time he handled his food and also shouldn’t eat his food unless he had eaten.

With me he had similar rules. I was to be very attentive when I spoke to him as if he was some celestial deity, whom I had to worship for giving me darshan, or divine sighting! I would tremble when the peon rushed to me to whisper that he had called me. And then what I have described above would repeat and rarely was there a day when he wouldn’t throw proofs and drafts I had carefully written and taken to show him. “You call this writing, there’s no flow, no thought, no ideas, you are all over the place,” he would say shaking his head. I believed I was bad, and I would exit his cabin as would a man condemned to death by hanging.

Everyone in the organisation was subjected to such treatment. His secretaries, he had two of them, were insulted every hour for this or that. Sometimes he wanted his secretaries to call someone and make them hold on the phone before he spoke to them; sometimes he wanted them to connect them immediately. He never told who was to wait and who was to be connected, and this led to endless rows with his secretaries. Everything had to be done in seconds or the big man would become mad and angry. And when he became angry everyone would get mauled. He wouldn’t think before making personal remarks, “you are wasting the company’s time, you shouldn’t move from your seat unless I tell you to,” he told his secretary one day. A high-ranking executive working under him was told to fan him when a few flies settled on his face one rainy day. The peons called him yeda, mad, behind his back.


What a change? Can a man change so much? I mean, how much can a man change when he is relieved of his position? Was he justified in misusing such a position with impunity as Dinshaw did? These questions buzzed around in my mind like bees. I was enjoying every moment that Dinshaw sat cringing before me, his facial tics making his discomfiture apparent. He used to be so glib in those days, articulating marketing concepts and spouting jargon as if he was an encyclopaedia of management concepts.

That he was the chairman’s blue-eyed boy was understood by everybody. They hastened to get out of the way of this fast-talking master of business administration (MBA) from Harvard when he approached. He was supremely confident then and flaunted his knowledge, poise, and charm. I couldn’t believe how such an individual could fall, and fall so fast in a few months. But that the cantankerous chairman could change his geriatric mind and dictatorial ways was not unknown to the staff. So when the staff kow-towed to Dinshaw they did it with the full knowledge that the powerful show boy could be a penniless pauper if he wasn’t too careful. But Dinshaw went cheerfully ahead, enlivening staid annual general meetings with presentations, socialising with industry leaders at dinner and cocktail parties, mingling with fickle minded media sales executives and advertising agency regulars.

Now when Dinshaw speaks he doesn’t have the twang of his American accent, proving that the drawling accent had been put on to establish that he was a foreign-returned MBA. Words didn’t issue from his mouth with hardly a thought about what harm it could do and he no longer had his collegiate charm. Oh God! I groaned. He hadn’t even shaved himself properly, stubble stood on his chin, and the hair around the temples had a few grey strands. Those days he went to a famous hairdresser who only served clients by appointment. No, no, this can’t be the Dinshaw Bandookwala I had worked with, no, this is another apparition of him, ruined, derelict. I couldn’t believe it. Was he depressed, or, ill with some incurable disease? I was feeling sorry for him.


He misused the system. There are certain people who take advantage of the trust that is bestowed on them. Those days he used to come at around lunch time everyday and leave around six in the evening. Most of his work was done from his posh flat in Peddar Road, also a company-owned one. Should he have been so totally dependent on the company’s perquisites? He should have known that the chairman “bestoweth” as well as “taketh away” as the good Lord often does. Did an MBA from Harvard not give him even mundane wisdom such as this? Or, was the MBA any good at all, considering it didn’t even teach everyday commonsensical truths? How can young people like Dinshaw not know the pitfalls of being totally dependent on his employer?

Now as he droned some spiel about synergistic convergence in the marketing space, which I knew was drivel, I interrupted him:

“What happened, Mr. Bandookwala? What went wrong?”

He looked up, a bit shaken at this question. He looked hurt. His eyes misted, a haunted look came over his face, and he bit his lips to stop it from quivering.

For a few moments he was silent and sat there looking at his fingernails, slowly shifting his gaze from one hand to the other, a sign of being depressed. I hadn’t got an answer; I was waiting for him to speak. His head slanted to his right, his mouth opened to speak but closed again and no words came out.

What went wrong? I was still wondering.


Mr. Bandookwala had a way with women. I could deduce from the day I saw him that he was something of a ladies man. The tell-tale signs were there: the confident smile, the small inoffensive jokes, the gallant manners, the opening of doors, and the saying of pleasant things like, “you look nice” and “I like your pendant” which women like a lot. He knew how to give a compliment without sounding like he needed something in return for it. Most of all, he could make women laugh with jokes that didn’t make him look like a male chauvinistic pig. And this made me admire him even more because I didn’t have those qualities. When I cracked jokes women stared at me as if something was wrong, but when he made them, women hung to his every word.

There was a steady stream of desirable women dropping in to visit him in those days. They were stunning-looking girls who had had been models for obscure clothes and jewellery lines, and the novelty of their faces having worn down, now were working as ad space sellers for magazines and newspapers. I had to admit that they must have got their jobs because they were good looking and the newspapers were desperately looking to gain entry into busy executives’ cabins if they wanted to sell any space. Beauty sells, especially of the feminine kind. So one newspaper had decided that they would hire only “pretty girls” and on any given day there was a queue of “Pretty Girls” from the newspaper waiting to meet charming and successful Mr. Bandookwala, the bestow-er of the company’s advertisements.

I used to be jealous when he would sit for hours flirting with the “Pretty Girls.” One day I was slinking outside his cabin trying to catch his attention through a tiny peep hole. He was flirting with a comely space seller inside. I had to send the proof of the company’s private circulation magazine for printing and needed his final approval, a squiggly signature he would write with a circle around it on the proof. He had taken one look at the proof and had flung it on me in front of the desirable specimen of feminineness, “Why is there a common before ‘and,’ I told you I don’t want serial commas in my magazine.”

But those days I had detected nervousness, an obsessive streak in him, his inability to let things go before passing on to the next project, his inability to accept the inevitability of things others see as stumbling blocks that should, at all costs, be avoided. It seemed these compulsions were eating into his family life as the staff often found that the ritual of hand washing was going a bit too far. “Have you washed your hand?” he would ask his peon obsessively. Was he alright? Was his marriage going okay? What’s obsessing him so much as to insist that his peon wash his hands before he handled anything he ate or drank? He also confronted people instead of finding ways mitigating common human foibles. He was intolerant of mistakes. Maybe, being ambitious, he wanted to be seen as a dynamic man, a faultless man, but there’s a limit to such an obsession.


“What happened, Mr. Bandookwala?”

I knew I was being blunt, but if I was to entrust him with the marketing and corporate relations of the company I am working for, I needed to know. Or, else? Or, else, I could be out of a job and could demolish whatever career I had painstakingly built after I left Pinnacle Construction Ltd.

“Is everything okay on the home front?” I knew I was being inquisitive but I had to know if I was to consider his proposal at all. You never know about such high-profile people, what with families breaking up, people wanting more space and all?

“No nothing, they are fine. Why do you ask?”

Still I wasn’t convinced. He was lying. Something had happened of which I wasn’t aware. A man who was considered a mover and shaker in the realty industry, a man who was considered the spokesman of Pinnacle Construction Ltd., was now a depressingly remote person without the charisma I had once associated with him. It shamed me to think that I had thought of him as my role model.

And then I ended the appointment as too many things were queuing up to be done. I wanted to help him, but I felt I couldn’t trust him with the company’s business as too much was at risk. In corporate portals your reputation depended on the people with whom you were associated, and I didn’t want my company to be associated in any way with someone who had botched up his life, real bad.

Then from the corporate grapevine I knew the truth, the naked, shocking truth. There were rumours of a few affairs he had had on the sly. His wife had left him and he was living alone in Bombay.



Dear Diary,

Sachin sits there in the Café Coffee Day outlet and drinks cold coffee from a plastic bottle. He is a Ryzer. He wears glasses. He has two ear pieces dangling on his neck; obviously, he listens to a lot of music. Is this what online relationships are all about, I wonder? Meeting a total stranger, another Ryzer, in the neutral territory of a Café, over cold coffee?

“What do you do, Menka?” He asks.

“I work for an outsourcing unit, a part of the GPN network.”


The music is loud, the speaker beside me is blaring some techno music. A pack of dogs and bitches create a mad howling outside. I am frazzled. A pandal opposite is playing a loud Aarti.

“I said I work in o-u-t-s-o-u-r-c-i-n-g.” I raise my voice.

“You are doing some course?” He shouts back. The dogs start howling again. One was even trying to mount a bitch. Oh, God! How embarrassing!

I know this would not be a meeting conducive to getting to know each other. His Ryze profile says he is a broker of some petroleum products, or something. He looks prosperous enough, wearing an Adidas tee-shirt and Woodlands shoes. But it is as if he is from another planet, sitting and sipping his cold coffee. We are worlds apart.

“How’s the petroleum business, Sachin?” I ask.

“Oh, petrol, oh, yeah, prices have shot up so much, no?”

“I meant the petroleum products business….” I shout at him.

Why does this man who seemed so nice and charming online look such an awkward oaf in real life? Just then the dogs start howling again, this time they are yowling with pleasure as they see a man bringing their dinner.

“Yeah, he does that every day; no wonder the dogs congregate here outside the Café. So crude, no?”

“To each their own. Some people consider dogs as gods,” that’s the first intelligible repartee from him. I laugh.

How can I connect with this man, talk to him, understand him, when the speakers are dinning into my ears, and the people at the next table are making such a racket? They are talking in what they think is an American accent and are wearing what they think are modern clothes. I can see them pausing a split second to make up their mind, because they have to act out a careless shrug and put on the psueo-accent. It irritates me.

“Don’t you think it’s noisy in here?”

The loudspeaker starts playing “Churaliya Hai” and the boys and girls start singing and clapping.

“Yes, nice song. From the film Yadon Ki Barat, no? I love it.”

I exhaust all my patience. I feel like running out in the street and screaming, but I control myself. The dogs are busy eating their dinner and the howling is now whines of contentment. How lucky they are, barking, whining, fucking, fighting whenever they feel like it, without the rituals of meeting online, carrying on a dialogue for months, and then, at last, meeting at a café which sounds like a Govinda movie.

“Are you deaf?” I ask, twisting my index finger in my ear elaborately.

“Yes I am fifty per cent deaf in both ears. Doctors say it’s caused by loud pub music and talking continuously on the cell phone.”

At last, he understood my miming. Poor chap, I feel sorry for him.

“Let’s get out of here,” I mime to him and take his hand.

More than anything he is in need of sympathy, and a bit more of silence and quiet. I don’t know why he wanted to meet me in a noisy café. We sit on a bench in a nearby park and talk for hours. When parting we agree to meet tomorrow. I just can’t wait. Dear diary: today I met the most interesting man I have ever met.