Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Dance of the Ttulu (excerpt)

(This is an excerpt of a story I've been writing..like..forever.. Just wondering if I should complete it, meanwhile..what the hell..let's push it out anyway!) 

Part 1 - The Journey                              

The car rolls on in the early evening traffic. The pre-five o clock action is relatively smooth on the road and the air-conditioning is set to a perfect 21 degrees C. Perfect because it accommodates the penguin attire that Sanjay is in, the international dress code of the financial services community that he is part of. 

“…..Amit, I’m looking through the SteelPro numbers on the spreadsheet. I realize that the project note has to be circulated to the Investment Committee in 2 hours, but I have some queries…..”.

He is on the phone to a colleague he was sitting with about 20 minutes ago at their office. As Leader – Greenfield Investments, at FinExt, he has the mandatory cell phone at his ear and a sleek VAIO notebook on the tray in front of him. The sedan he’s traveling in has airline style foldable trays at the rear of the front seat. He’s read somewhere about six months ago that the heat radiating from the battery section of notebooks can create make one sterile due to frequent positioning on one’s lap. At 29, Sanjay is still single and doesn’t want to preclude offspring in his grand design of life.

Amit has put him on wait as he opens his spreadsheet at the office. This is when the music on the FM radio dominates the environment.  The jockey is in an extra excited tone while she announces…”…you can win free tickets to the designer show being held his Friday at the Palace Mall and hear live performances from Cradlesnatchers, End of Days and Pavitra’ Avail special discounts on apparel! Gangmember pyjamas for as low as Rs 4000/-…..”. Notwithstanding his high net worth status, he still hangs around with his soccer shorts at home picked up from the export reject stocks at Firang Bazaar.

“..whew! as low as Rs 4000/-…” Sanjay thinks as he instructs his driver to turn down the volume. Amit is back in his earpiece.

The car brakes sharply. A red Accent has just zigged across the lane.  It’s moved from lane 4, near the divider, across to lane 2. In large yellow print on tail of the Accent …..”F 1 – Senna rules”.  Sanjay is momentarily distracted, lets out another sigh – “Senna’s dead, pal, and you’re driving skill is heading there…” - and returns to the SteelPro conversation.  Over the next five minutes, Amit has successfully answered his queries and the note must go.

The  sedan pulls up at a red light. It’s the last hurdle before the airport turn-off and in plenty of time for the flight. That’s when he notices that the F1 sensation is pulled up alongside in Lane 2. The driver has rolled down his tinted windows and exhales smoke. The drum beat from the music system is now the background score to the 50 metre radius around the car. The driver has wraparound sunglasses and tattoos on his forearm where his black T shirt ends. The co-pilot in the car is a clone…..another turning-20 youngster, male, who is wearing wraparound sun-glasses, has tattoos on the arm visible and a cigarette dangling out of the other window. A silver caption on the driver’s door says “…do your own thing”. The F1 team is in row 6 on the grid at the light alongside Sanjay’s sedan even after it’s breathtaking slaloms through the traffic. But it doesn’t bother the dynamic duo.

The traffic light syncs with the phone ring. “Sir, would you have two minutes available (no pause here for a reply). I’d like to tell you about the new Platinum holiday package in Mauritius…..” goes the voice on the phone.  

The car pulls in to the airport. This is one of the new privatized airports in the country. All of them assure “a dynamic new experience” for the traveller. The dynamic experience presently includes two uniformed airport personnel rushing to open the car and asking if he flies “Kingfisher”.  He is and now has to defend his strolley bag, designed to hold a notebook computer, from the eager hands while he says, “ I’ll carry this one”.

He’s led to the self-service check-in counter. Another suit takes over the console to punch in flight details, while Sanjay can admire the apparatus. So much for self-service. Only in India. A manned self-service booth. Sometimes Sanjay has this sneaking suspicion that ATMs actually have a person sitting inside who’s pushing the cash through the dispensing slot and that the airconditioning units installed are meant for their survival….and of course the security guard with whom you share the luxurious cubicles with.

To the security check he marches. It’s not too long. About a dozen people. Enough time to squeeze in another phone conversation with his personal banker. He’s soon upto number three in the security sequence……when a pear shaped guy also on his phone wanders in ahead of him. He’s wearing an-off white suit with a maroon shirt  open two buttons to reveal a gold chain. Pear Shape is engrossed on his mobile…

“……..you just tell him that I will take care of it and the maal can be dispatched….”.
“Gupta saab” thinks Sanjay. He’s wrong.

“Ji, main Malhotra bol rahan hoon,”, continues Pear Shape, who’s now firmly ensconced in the queue. There are now about a dozen passengers behind Sanjay, some of whom notice the queue breaker.

“Sir, could you join the queue…” Sanjay begins..

“…..arrey, I’m sorry. Please go ahead”  says Malhotra waving him in front. Malhotra has in a rapid manouver seized the initiative from Sanjay and dropped back to sequence four in the queue! Sanjay can’t help smile….

“HOW CAN YOU BREAK THE LINE SO BLATANTLY”. Woman in a  cotton sari, late 30s, notebook slung on her shoulder is just warming up. “DON’T YOU HAVE ANY CIVIC……..”
Sanjay misses the climax of this episode while he goes through security. Yet again he can’t help noticing the healthy collection of cigarette lighters next to the cop who frisks him and wonders where they end-up.

It’s another 30 minutes to the boarding call. Time to grab a bite. The snack counters are overpriced. It’s like a national cartel of snack counters. The chicken sandwich ordered is accompanied by a ketchup sachet. The kind that never opens until it spills on your shirtsleeves.  Sanjay returns the sachet and wonders if its just part of a scam since hardly anyone uses it. Probably just spongy waste inside.  He’s not far from the truth.  Research showed that only one of seventeen customers actually took the sachet. Ram Seth, head of product research, presented this finding to management with the recommendation that the sachet be withdrawn from customer offerings. The snack counter is part of a national chain with 413 outlets – “The Snack that doesn’t stay back – healthy snacking” featuring the slim backside of a youngster in the ad.  Sriram Sreenivasan, the marketing head opposes the move at the senior management meeting. His viewpoint, “We will be disappointing more than 5 customers in a 100 by this withdrawal”.  The spin kills the sin.  The sachet rules. Ram reflects on this with his team at the ritual Friday night booze up at Gerry’s Watering Hole.  At the end of round three, vodka on-the-rocks, Ram’s at blast-off. “This fucking Tamilian bastard! Just opposed the move because he hates Gujuratis!”.  The team chips in with a few of their gems. This bonding session is designed to release work stress, according to Ram at least, with an omerta code on proceedings.  Sheetal, senior researcher and only female in the team, winces. She can’t stand the language, dislikes Ram and is waiting to slap a sexual harassment charge on Ram based on this. But Ram never uses gender specific abuse.  At some point, Misra, the wiley systems nerd comes up with a numbers game with the losing team picking up the tab for the next round. Three rounds later its time to go home. 5 guys (drunk), 2 sober plus 1 girl (tipsy). Two get fined by cops on a Friday night spree on drunks when driving home. One totals his left headlight parking at his home. Misra walks home, he stays 10 minutes away with his parents. He’s doesn’t drink but loves getting the gang drunk. He’s the ninth guy on the binge.

Departure is announced and Sanjay heads for the departure gate. The security guys checks out the boarding pass, he’s trained to spot the stamp that looks like invisible ink to ordinary people.  On board, there’s a scramble for the overhead lockers. Hand luggage includes 24 inch girth suitcases that must fit into the slot. Geometry is clearly a weak subject nationally, Sanjay muses, as he settles into his window seat.  A few minutes later, the Captain gets chatty on the intercom.  Competition in aviation has promoted public speaking in a big way and everyone near a PA system always joins the party. New information provided includes that the weather at destination is 38 degrees Celsius (cheering) and that the flight will land at  630 pm (in case the passengers missed out on this) and geography lessons on cities crossed in between.  Also that the aircraft will fly at 33,000 feet. Who’s to know if the pilot is lying, it all looks a long way down after the first 10,000 feet.

In the evolution of airplane rides, a big development over the last decade has increased the workload of flight attendants. The cellphone.  The world has discovered that all “my-life-depends-on-it” matters come to roost during take-off and shortly after landing.  Live updates of Facebook in case friends and family are confronted with data starvation deaths.  

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