Thursday, May 30, 2013

Disaster Strikes When you Least Expect it!

The dictionary definition of disaster is 
noun: a calamitous event, especially one occurring suddenly and causing great loss of life, damage, or hardship, as a flood, airplane crash, or business failure.

This is a story of a woman whose hardship may or may not have been classified as a disaster. You, the reader decide.

Let me warn you that this story begins as abruptly as it will end...

She was stranded at a cross road on a Friday evening. How she ended up there makes for another story, suffice to say that here she was. It was close to 9 PM and there was a threat of rains. She stood under the bus shelter with a number of other girls who had just finished their shift at a mall close by. She wasn't one of them but there was always safety in numbers. A couple of men were at the shelter too. All waiting for the right bus to board.

The first bus stops by and no one gets on to the bus. The same with the second and the third buses. However, by the time the fourth bus leaves the shelter the numbers dwindle to 3 women and 2 men, not including herself.  The fifth bus stops by and the numbers left at the bus shelter is now 2 women and 2 men, this time including her too.

She looks at her watch and realizes that it is just about ten past nine. That's not too late for a city that bustles with activity even at 3 am, she thinks to herself and stands closer to the other woman, trying to look more confident than she felt.  She rummages through her bag, pulls out her cell phone which only she knows has a dying battery. She pretends to look at it, all busy when suddenly...

She notices a figure walking in her direction. A smartly dressed short but well-built man in his 20s walks towards her smiling. He asks her still smiling "Does this bus go to..." followed by a common destination point. She gives him a cold glare and steps back closer to the only other woman at the bus shelter. In the five minutes that followed before the bus arrived, all the new arrival did was smile at her... with an almost psychotic demeanour. She ignored him while keeping her eye on him discreetly.

The moment the bus arrived, the "psychotic" stranger was the only one who ran and stopped the bus before getting on it.

By now, she had decided to take a bus to the same common destination point from where she could choose to get home almost definitely without much trouble or any more waiting.

She got on to the next bus that came, found herself a seat, pulled out a book and before she knew it, was lost in the book. Suddenly she jumped out of her skin because she heard a commotion... something about a lost pass. The voice was unmistakably the same. The "psychotic" young man from the bus shelter earlier. He was being asked to produce the pass or get off the bus. He tried to smile and talk his way through the situation. She felt goose bumps on her neck and decided, enough was enough! She spoke out aloud and mentioned how he had made her uncomfortable at a previous stop and she said that she could guarantee he didn't have either a pass or money for the bus.

He was promptly asked to disembark from the bus. As he got off the bus, he looked straight in to her eyes and said "I am not lying". She looked away, glancing at her watch... it was a quarter to 10 now and she really needed to get home without any more incidents. She reached the destination fifteen minutes later and as she began crossing the road, her eyes met a pair of eyes. The psychotic gleam in them were unmistakable. The world as she knew ended right there...

Like I said earlier this story begins as abruptly as it will end.

Disaster, I feel is something that happens to you when you are not looking, when you are not aware, when you are complacent, when you take things for granted, when you are so sure about your world. 


The dictionary definition of disaster is 
noun: a calamitous event, especially one occurring suddenly and causing great loss of life, damage, or hardship, as a flood, airplane crash, or business failure.

This is a story of a woman whose hardship may or may not have been classified as a disaster. You, the reader decide how this story might have ended.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Loneliness and Paranoia in a stranger's city

As she sat at the edge of the bed all alone in a strange but plush hotel room, her eyes fell on the  single bottle of water at the side table. She was thirsty but then her mind wandered... what if she drank up all the water and was thirsty in the middle of the night? This was a boutique hotel with no 24 hour room service. Where will she get more water to quench her thirst? What if she were to die of thirst in the middle of the night all alone in a strange city, in a strange but plush hotel? She could read the headlines in the morning papers "Woman found dead under mysterious circumstances!"

What would her family think? May be she should change out of her shorts to track pants so the photo of her dead body doesn't cause the least bit of embarrassment to her family.

Oh! But she didn't want to die of thirst. She did want to drink that water though. But once again her mind wandered... If she were thirsty again in the middle of the night, she might have to crawl  to the basin in the wash room. And once again the headlines in the morning paper were glaring at her "Woman dies under mysterious circumstances!"

Again, should she change into more presentable clothes? And so she spent the night staring at the bottle of water, never sipping from it and never sleeping. Until it was daylight and in moments she was fast asleep. At least there was room service now! She will not die of thirst...


A Treat at Jungle Retreat!

On Monday, 27 May 2013, I was to write about colours as part of a Marathon Blogging group that I am part of. I couldn't write this on Monday because I was bitten by the flu bug. However, here I am writing about what colours meant to me on this particular Monday.

My morning began with a plethora of dark coloured-clouds looming heavily above my head. My mind was filled with dark clouds after a night of fevered and delirious sleep. As I awoke, in a resort next to my daughter, my first thought was of breakfast. Through the haze of the dark clouds, I thought of a sumptuous breakfast and some quick-working pills to clear my head so my daughter's vacation weekend doesn't turn out to be dark and grey!

Come breakfast and a paracetamol, I was ready to push myself just that little bit more so I could add more colour in to my daughter's expectant eyes. We were off for a 45 minute walk around the property and the colours we managed to add to our day were many...

Different shades of green foliage, cactus fruit oozing bright red/pink juice that stained fingers, tongue and teeth, wild mushrooms with orange netted webs on the stalk, a black handsome Ram, a bright green Malabar Pit Viper, a bright green Malabar Tree Frog, Brown, Black and White Giant Malabar Squirrels, Bright Pink Lotuses and a whole lot more!

As we left Masinagudi that afternoon, the colours in my head were bright and happy colours and  I thought to myself, if I could stay on here, I would stay on forever! 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Disappearing Money and a Short-cut Through Life


2nd in the series - Stories from Traveling by Public Transport in Bangalore

Day: Tuesday, 19th March 2013
Time: 5:30PM

Avoid short-cuts through life at any cost, some would say. I agree and to reiterate this let me first share with you something that happened before my travel by public transport on this particular day.

I was to leave office a little early, to help the daughter revise for her exams. However, this was not to be and I was running late by a whole hour and a half. At this point, when a friendly junior colleague offered to drop me to the bus stop (a 800m walk) on his thundering bullet, how could I say no?

So, I went along. About 50m into our journey, this friendly colleague decided that he could drop me further ahead (2kms now instead of the 800m). Once again, counting the 1.5 hour delay, I gladly accepted. That's when it began... A short-cut through life!

Instead of the regular main roads that give one a comfortable feeling of traveling on the road often traveled, this polite creature decided to take a deviation off the road, climbing through a steep mound of mud and stones. Without exaggerating (though it is very tempting to exaggerate this part), this was a 45 degree angle slope! In spite of the adventurous blood that runs through my so-called Rajput, Kshatriya veins, I was tempted to tap the gentleman on the shoulder and propose that I walk till the ground is more lateral. I resisted, to avoid making him feel ill-equipped to handle, what but a slope on a thundering bullet!

The steep was cleared, albeit after some "oh!" and "ah!" from the rider himself.

The sight that awaited me on the other side of the steep slope was breath-taking (more like lung choking but we shall continue). On the left of us was a largish water body and a mud path running along the bank of the water body that met a rivulet feeding the water body. The picturesque scene was marred by the fact that the rivulet was the outlet of a sewage drainage and the water body was well what you get when you feed a land dip with sewage water! I held my breathe since there were a couple of people walking along the path and even a couple of bikes ahead of us passing through as though it were a regular scenic route that you can only be stupid not to enjoy.

The bike now had to cross the rivulet (yes, pass through the sewage water) and the couple of bikes ahead of us crossed it without neither incident nor reason to doubt that it just may not be possible. Just when our turn to cross the rivulet got closer, one of the voices in my head tried to sound an alarm. But once again, I resisted saying anything so my very polite and helpful rider would not have to go through the emotions of one whose very ego is hurt by questioning his ability to ride through what two others rode through.

The bike began crossing and the next thing I know, I can hear the rider say "Oh no! Oh no! Oh shit!" and the bike tilted 45 degrees to the left, like the slope that it had just so proudly conquered a few seconds back. My left foot was swimming in dark, sewage water and I think I might have felt some things moving, had my 'Fight or Flight" instincts not kicked in. I jumped off the bike and jumped ashore before any more grime got to me, my clothes et al.

The bike was almost down and the poor boy struggled to get it upright, which was when (in my defence, having realised the scene I left behind) I went back into the little stream and helped him get the bike back on its wheels.

NEXT SCENE

Having been dropped off thereafter (without further incidents), I climbed into the familiar comfort of a 500C Volvo that would take me home safely for sure (Couldn't really say the same about other vehicles on the road that the bus would pass by on its journey).

So here I was, my mind too shaken up to read or write anything and instead just trying to focus on how to set the right question paper for my daughter once I got home. At the next stop, two women boarded the bus - one of whom sat diagonally opposite me while the one slightly older than her sat right next to me.

The younger girl seemed very energetic and was talking incessantly. She addressed the one next to me as Ma'am. To continue the narrative, I shall call the younger woman P and the older woman N (Note: These names are purely fictitious and have no resemblance to real people either living or dead, etc.)

From the first few seconds of the discussion, I quickly pegged them as government employees (or someone who worked in a highly bureaucratic organization). Mind you, I was minding my own business and trying hard to get over my "near complete fall into the great water-like body" and focus on exams instead.

And P went "And ma'am we have to manage 5 ATMs with wonly 2 officers"
"They can post 2 more officers but where is the place for them to sit? Paapa they can't send people without any place wonly"
"We will still need 4 officers at least to maintain 5 ATMs"
"I don't know waat they will do wonly"

My ears perked up, what with my own frustration earlier in the day with a bank I have banked with for over 11 years now! I thought to myself, this conversation may help me understand 'the bank's side" of a story and may be I could be a little more empathetic when I have conversations with the voices on the other side of the bank support phone lines.

P was by now smiling mischievously and my reading into it was that she had done something or had knowledge of someone having done a mistake at work that day. She goes, "I made the entry ma'am. MICR entry correctly I put 50 thousand rupees. Then that M made the ATR entry. Only few minutes she did ma'am work. That time wonly she put 30 thousand rupees for that cheque."
Wow! Now the conversation was definitely worth following through on.

"I don't know how it escaped when I was checking also"
"Paapa ma'am that cheque is going back. Bank charges also 22 rupees 5 paise is there. I tried to reverse charges and delete that entry but it asked password" 
"I asked sir, he you know no ma'am, he said no, let it go"
"We can actually reverse it and make it one more entry but then that email will come and they will ask why you people are doing like this. We can manage that also but he did not do. Paapa he is also being careful now after that RO meeting"

At this point N, sitting beside me asked "what is the customer name?" to which P gave it LOUD and CLEAR for all to hear "B........"
The girl sitting opposite me caught my eye and smiled nodding her head in what clearly meant "No wonder, we have such problems with bank"

And so P continued "Aiyo, his cheque will go now back with the reason also it is given - number and words not matching" "but it is matching ma'am. That M wonly she did it in that few minutes. Paapa that customer, he will have to pay the bank charges also because it is cheque returned to ma'am... what we will do?"

And then she went on to describe in more indepth details on how the bank worked, releasing money (no less than 10L) based simply on a phone call, by her, since an RTGS request hadn't come through.

By now I had forgotten all about the short-cut in life and the exam paper I had to set once I got home. My thoughts were more on the lines that your money is probably safest spent or at home in sacks! 

On that note, I shall end this post and wish all of you, my lovely readers a fabulous weekend...

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Three Course Meal and a Book in Hand


I am calling this series - Stories from Traveling by Public Transport in Bangalore

Day: Thursday, 14th March 2013
Time: 8AM

As I sat in the bus, headed to work, a girl was seated to my left. I was reading “The Pilgrimage” by Coehlo, one of my favourite authors. Something about the girl was distracting me. I re-read a sentence almost thrice and still wasn’t able to move on with my reading. That’s when it happened!

The girl by my side, unzipped her backpack (a tell-tale sign that you are in the IT capital of India is people with laptop bags that contains what seems like everything one would need to stay alive stranded in a desert for an entire month!), she fished out a packet of something. She began opening the packet, the plastic making enough noise to fill the usual silence inside the a/c environs of the Volvo bus. The noise was bad enough as I tried telling myself that I was needlessly irritated because I couldn’t concentrate on my reading, and out came a biscuit, Bourbon cream layered biscuit at that. And I thought to myself “The poor girl has probably not had her breakfast and is just hungry.”

Feeling slightly less irritated, I got back to reading the same sentence for the fourth time. You might thing I’d have moved on with my reading but it was not to be.

As the biscuit was bitten into, what followed was slightly worse than the racket of the plastic packet a few moments earlier. It you have had the good fortune of witnessing someone chewing their food with great abandon; crumbs flying out and much chewing sounds emanating right from the gut upwards to the throat and out through the mouth, I strongly recommend that you stop reading this now. I could try to help you visualize what I was witness to but that would mean taking away your innocence a little bit. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Moving on, as the biscuit was consumed with great passion and oblivious to the God-Knows-Why discomfort it might have caused any co-passengers aboard, out came the packet once again. Oh yes! The packet was promptly stashed away into the bag after the first biscuit was freed from its shackles. The entire scene repeated.

That’s when my eyes met the eyes of another girl sitting on the other side of the aisle by the window. Very briefly, mind you, a mutual electrifying bond was created between her and I.

I got back to the sentence, now probably my most favoured sentence in the book, for the fifth time. The chewing and devouring had stopped so there was some hope that I might be able to digest the full meaning of this elusive sentence from a book by after all my favourite author.

No such luck, my lovelies. My very considerate and hungrylicious neighbour prepared to unzip the bag once again. This time though, I was mentally prepared for the onslaught of the sounds that would follow as she devoured yet another biscuit, chewing with her mouth so wide open that just maybe, the entire backpack might have fit into it.

However, I was in for a great disappointment because this time around, a noisier yellow and green packet emerged. Lo and behold! It was a packet of potato wafers (also known as chips before wafers became the cooler term to use).

Our eyes met once more, the electrifying bond converted into a shared smile, a nod and then each of us looking out of our respective windows to distract ourselves from the uncontrollable distraction that was my neighbour. After what seemed like an hour of the repeat performance but with crunchier and more crackling sounds added to it, the pack went back into the great abyss of the backpack. To be fair to my co-passenger, I must clarify that this wafery episode lasted about 10 minutes (let it not be said that I exaggerated or stretched the truth, thereby rendering my writing a work of fiction. There, I’ve set the record straight.)

Finally, I re-read that lovely sentence written after great thought (I am sure) by Mr. Coehlo.  I moved on to the next sentence and then the next and so on. There was peace at last and my world was spinning at the right speed yet again. Happy and content, I was now deeply engrossed in my book.

The end? Definitely not… just a small scene left, I promise.

Yes, the bag was unzipped one last time. As I imagined all the crunchy, crispy, crumby and noisy packaged food imaginable in the world being retrieved from the great, big bag, I was let down yet again, as a small box appeared instead. Fortunately, I was disappointed only for just a few seconds. My girl’s hand overturned the box and brought out two small pieces of innocent looking rectangular white tablet-like elements and popped them into her harmless looking mouth. Chewing gum, what luck! And then the chewing began right into my ears, for now she had a great urge to look out the window over my shoulder as well!

One last time, our eyes met and this time the bond that had transformed into a shared smile moved to the next level in our newfound relationship – uncontrollable laughter and yes, we did sense all our co-passengers smiling pityingly at me, while my neighbour was oblivious and continued with the movement of her lower mandible while peering over my shoulder.

And so I had no choice but to shut my book, put it into my very own IT signature-style backpack and sit through the next 20 minutes or so to reach my destination, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature so close to me. I was blessed. Amen.
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