Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A chance encounter with misery

Weird people have a way of finding me.

This time around, I took a share auto in Madras. It was one of those days; I desperately needed inspiration to get a spot of writing done, and the weather was remarkably kind: a pleasant wind, and rustling leaves and all that. I looked around for a spare seat and sat near a non-chatty kind of girl with no friends (as I always do) just to make sure that I could steer clear of anything eventful. She seemed a good deal like those movie extras who go unnoticed although they've been lurking around somewhere in the background for the whole two hours.

I settled in, called out to the driver to drop me off at Blue Star and took out my phone to text a friend. Suddenly, the girl tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up, wondering if she wanted to shift a bit, and was just about to move when she said ‘I need your phone.’

Erm. Ok, so I couldn’t decide if it was new-age daylight robbery lingo or if she merely wanted to use my phone.

‘Huh?’

‘I need your phone. Please, I need to make only one phone call. I’m from Pondicherry. I'm new here and it’s very urgent’.

You see, there are moments that you are immediately put to this formidable universal test of ethics. Was it alright to refuse someone who looked so earnest? Anyway, as doubtful as I was, I gave in to the pleading after she began to plod my shoulder every now and then in an exceedingly annoying fashion. And there were no means of escape.

I dialled the number she wanted me to, then handed it over to her.

I don't know who she called but I couldn't help overhearing her breathless conversation to the person on the other end. Parts of the conversation sounded off-key; there was mention of a motorcycle, a payment and the police.

I interrupted and asked for my phone. Blue Star was just two stops away. She mumbled a hurried goodbye and gave it back to me, gushing about how thankful she was.

'Sure,' I said, 'Do you have family here?'

'Actually not, but my brother's here'.

'Oh, he works here?'

'No, he's in jail.'

'JAIL? You used my phone to call someone in JAIL?'. I swear, the skies were already looking grey, and my heart was going to pop right out of my chest. Perfectly marvellous, this was. Now all I could think of was one of those crime dramas where my call would be tracked by an office full of spectacled full-suits who spoke in a dull whispers about how I was a possible accomplice in an attack on some famous person I don't care about.

I was perspiring, and it wasn't even hot. 'Well, what's he in jail for?' I dragged on, hoping it wasn't something horrendous.

'Oh, he just stole a bike. I mean, it was a new bike I think that's why he's taking such a hard hit. But it's alright, I just have to pay about seven thousand and he's out'.

'So wait, let me get this straight, your brother steals bikes?'

'Yes. I don't understand why they had to put him in jail though, I mean it was only a bike.'

What do you want them to do? I felt like asking, award him a bronze medal for robbery? I couldn't wait for my stop. Now she was getting terribly chatty, and I wanted to shove her through the window. Finally, we were close to Blue Star. I told her I was getting off, to cut short her conversation.

'Alright,' she went on, 'Thanks for the help'.

Just before I got off, another woman got in, and wedged her way between the both of us. 'So are you a college girl?'. She seemed happy, and was probably getting home from the temple.

'No,' she smiled and nodded politely, 'I'm in the Motorcycle business'. A moment later, they got talking.

Jesus Christ. I got off, and looked at my phone. No, no unknown callers yet.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The sinister logic of combo steal deals

I tell you, watching a movie in a theatre these days requires an incredible amount of patience. It's not like there aren't spectacular ways to waste time in Bangalore, but you see, when your clock is ticking on a city curfew of 11 PM, you pretty much just settle for whatever crap can entertain you for 2 hours.

After elbowing my way through this insanely long line of visibly excited teenagers and bored families with bawling infants, I found myself staring at the guy at the till.

'Yes, Ma'am'?'

I looked at a bunch of burgers displayed on the side and told him I want one.

'Only a burger?'

I nodded.

'We don't have a burger Ma'am.'

Ok, so like I was blind or something. I pointed to the burgers at the side and asked him what those were. Clearly, slapping him hard wasn't an option. Neither was giving him a pair of bifocals.

'Well, you only get the burger if you order a combo with coke'.

Erm. 'I don't get the logic. Fine, what about all those veggie rolls? Can I have one of those?'

He shook his head. 'No, you can't have one unless you order a combo?'.

So by this time, I had already lost my appetite, save one for an argument. 'Oh so wait. Let me get this straight, I can't order anything on your display unless I opt for a combo with coke'.

'Yes Ma'am'.

After a long debate about marketing math and suppressing the desire to add a few emphatic expletives now and then, I caved in and told him to go ahead with a combo deal. Impatiently, the guy in question took a burger and a roll, shoved both in the microwave (with the plastic), threw over a napkin and pushed it over the counter.

I waited.

Then he looked at me sheepishly and added, 'Erm. We only have large cokes, no regular size'.

Oh, how F****** generous.