Sunday, April 16, 2006

Into The Thick Of Things

The auto-rickshaw driver despite his dissipated looks drove like a maniac on sleeping pills. His driving was as furious as that of Schumacher in his Ferrari, but with a somnambulistic touch to it... he was letting the vehicle carry us forward, like a starship with a brain of its own. To slow him down, and to give my overworked bladder a respite I asked him to stop. I raised the pinky of my right hand, to tell him I wanted to take a leak. His face wreathed in an unlikely smile, he veered off from the fast lane into the slow one, and to my horror, didn't stop for many more kilometres.

When he ultimately did, raising his chin to show me a vacant plot, where another huge industrial estate could have been built, just at the tip of our own Ambattur estate, I got the point. There was a break in the wall, and five or six auto-rickshawwallas lolled about looking as vacant and bored as only they can be on a hot morning with the traffic shooting past them in the opposite direction. My driver pointed to a bush lurking behind the broken wall, indicating it to be a safe spot to take a leak at. I did. Urinals and stray cats are invisible in Chennai. Mighty weird thing, indeed. Once I walked fifteen kilometres without finding a single urinal. Not a single stray cat sighted once in three weeks so far...

There was a tepid welcome at the factory. The boss grunted and mumbled -the sidekick was more forthcoming though. But what's boss if he can't surprise you. When we were walking around the factory, he pulled the keys to a tomato red Tata Sierra car, lying parked in the lot meant for vehicles. Handing the keys he mumbled
' Use this Max, whilst you are here...'
I loved the idea of being mobile but the layer of dust on the car, an SUV [sports utility vehicle, spoke of long disuse, which sank my heart. Old cars can be terribly temperamental. The dull tomato red colour is an eyesore too.

The presence of a diabetic in a massive cluster of sugar-lovers is always a source of ripples. Somewhat like a dying rhinoceros submerged in a shallow pool. Every time the animal shifts, ripples stream out in all directions. Every time I get craving for tea or coffee, the whole office comes to know. In the first two days that I spent here, I tried everything to get myself a proper hot brew. And I have fallen flat on my face every time.

There is a fancily done up visitor's room on the ground floor with plush sofas, a fan, an air-conditioner. Magazines, books, even a computer. There is spotless white and black machine for brewing your own coffee and a white and red machine for brewing chai [tea]. Well, after trying out different combinations, I decided the tea tasted like heated dishwater [Tetley of UK, meant for the hoity toity and not the hoi polloi] Certainly not for poor old me, addicted to tea, overboiled and strong made by urchins at dhabas, the roadside lean-to type tea-shops. The coffee comes out terribly weird. It is strong enough to give me a kick that sends me scurrying upstairs to work at wrong speeds, but fails to satisfy. Two or three cups result in severe acidity adding to my woes.

Morning and post-lunch tea arrives via an unwashed-looking urchin with penetrating black eyes, there's something voodoo about him. He seems terribly averse to simple mathematics. If there are four persons in my biggish office. where the CAD-CAM geeks work orgiastically, the boy gets only three cups. If there are three guys, he gets only two cups. However, Kishore my design assistant, yelled at the boy using a torrential stream of Tamil admonition [ I go by the tone, not knowing a word of the language] and he conjured up yet another plastic cup with lukewarm, terribly sugar-laced tea. I had to have it once and the aftertaste lingered on threatening to last till Kingdom come. He was yelled at again, and asked to bring one cup of tea without sugar. Giving me a piercing look, muttering under his breath the boy vanished for the day. No more tea for me.

So I ran back later to the visitor's room, hoping to try out one more cup of coffee. I brightly figured, I should allow the water to boil more. The white and black machine hissed and got into a bout of vicious gurgling. The sound emanated from somewhere, impossible to pinpoint the source, as if there were live creatures inside it. If I had caught hold of a stone-age primitive from the Andaman Islands, he'd have prostrated in front of this glass-walled apparatus housing a hundred invisible gods at war. The boss turned up accidentally, just as I was turning to the tea maker instead. He caught on, and very patiently explained the whole sequence to me, showing me each delicately carved wooden chest with consummables, all prettily hand-carved and tastefully arranged. Tea bags, whitener, sugar etc. Since someone called him on the phone, he abandoned me with my tentative attempts to brew myself a cup of tea.


At 8:55 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

I'm reminded of Ramakrishna's philosophical remark: if one destined to be a king is banished to the forest, still his kingdom will find him there.

If storyteller Max leaves far behind the misty realm of mysterious Baroda antiquity -- and lands a job in some modern metropolitan office, yet the necessities of tea and piddling will offer ample scope for his tales.

At 2:06 AM, Blogger balihai said...

max bhai,
i think i like your reportage a bit more. you have a natural flair for it.
makes real good reading. and makes me look forward to more.


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