Monday, February 11, 2013

Talash ki ‘Khoj’

The phone call came through in the wee hours of Saturday. Deep in my early-morning musings on nothingness, I had missed the first few rings. But my home minister did not. ‘Who’s calling up papa so early in the morning?’ she snapped.
Before I could feign ignorance and put up a blank face, she muttered, ‘must be pipi from Kolkata’. Sure enough, papa’s excited chatter in Bengali came through the closed door.

‘Ki shanghatik!’ an expression in Bengali which means ‘event extraordinaire!’ kicked off the morning’s tea-table conversation. Not knowing how to react to such out of context exultation, I quickly metamorphosed into my trademark ‘I am interested to know about it…’ expression. A quick glance at the home minister confirmed that the ruling party has seconded my actions. Phew! what a relief!
I was just in time to focus my attention to Papa, the source of the early morning exclamation, and he began, ‘Did you know that pipi at 78 years of age, watched Aamir Khan’s Talash last night! Can you imagine? At her age, all alone, she just walked into a multiplex and watched the movie! Truly ‘shanghatik!’’

Both my home minister and myself, nodded in unison, our eyes wide open, waited with bated breath for papa to continue. One extra-long sip of black tea later, he continued ‘she said that movie is a hit! And that we should watch it too! She also mentioned, not to delay too much!’

Flashback: My pipi is a die-hard Aamir Khan fan, in early 2010, when papa was in Kolkata, pipi had taken him along to watch ‘3 Idiots’. Both of them, along with the entire nation, loved it! In that one fateful day, pipi rose to the stature of a ‘super movie buff’ and nobody in our clan could dare question her judgment.
Fresh from my flashback, I blinked and realized that papa was looking at me for some reaction, or rather, the movie timings? I cleared my throat and looked around for support at my home minister, and found her looking at the kitchen chimney with unusual intensity….a ploy, a ploy to withdraw support from your ally! I felt like the Prime Minister, who was just going through a grueling ‘no confidence motion’.

‘Ki holo ta ki?’ (what happened?) jolted me out of my reverie… another way of asking when am I booking the movie tickets? I gulped down my now cold, sugarless, black tea and conceded defeat. ‘Let me see if I can get tomorrow’s tickets…’ I meekly surrendered. Through the corner of my eye, I could see a classic smile of triumph slowly spreading across his face. I am sure the home minister too must be celebrating the victory. Everybody likes movies and popcorns and outings, as long as there is no payment involved.

All through Saturday, once I confirmed that the movie tickets for Sunday have been booked, there was palpable exuberance running through every member of the family except me.

I was wondering if Amir Khan was ever so excited about any of his movie releases. Anyways, not to stick out like a sour thumb, I decided to keep mum. After all, more than being golden, silence has no enemies!

I decided to take my scooter along, my only empathizer since Saturday. It served the others well since the car we had booked would otherwise have gotten a touch crowded.

45 minutes before the show timings, papa walked out of his room, impeccably dressed, phone in hand and paan in the mouth, ready to call pipi and inform her about the triumph and impending victory ceremony. My home minister came out, son tagging along, dressed to the T, deplorably glaring at my two-day-old stubble. But I did not budge an inch. I had made it very clear during our ‘getting ready for the movie’ phase that I would not dress-up for the movie, much to my dad’s chagrin.

As everybody got into the cab, my dad admonished ‘Do not try to overspeed and match up speed with the car, drive slowly, safely! Then, to add insult to injury, turned to the driver and said ‘Thoda slow chalana, mera beta bhi hai na scooter pe’. The driver nodded with a smile and then glanced with a hint of disdain at my ‘limited speed’ transport.

As I reached the multiplex a good 20 minutes later, I could see my folks standing in a straight line, on the pavement. As I was passing them towards the parking lot, I realized that papa was not smiling. Perhaps I kept them waiting too long, I thought. In that case, I am due for another session of lecture on timeliness. God save me!

Anyways, I parked the scooter and got back to my family, and sure enough, nobody was smiling. My heart sank, I realized that I am about to get a dressing down in public.
My speed slowed and as I reluctantly reached them, Sunny shouted out ‘Papa, papa, that driver told dadaji that Kareena Kapoor is a bhoot in Talash!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

2-ply face mask

Breathing is getting difficult. The transclusent green fabric of the 2-ply face mask is suffocating me. An additional layer of handkerchief below the mask is making matters worse. Still, I have kept the improvised contraption on. This flimsy green fabric covering my nose and mouth is looped around my ears with a very thin and worn out white elastic band.

Under normal circumstances, in some other time and place, even my five year old son would have shunned this 'band of protection' as fake. But, this is Pune, and through the last month, the H1N1 virus, popularly known as 'Swine Flu' has gripped the city in a vice-like grip.

Pune, with 8 of the 10 deaths, and 221 of the 333 Swine Flu cases in the state, is hogging the media-limelight for all the wrong reasons.

While doctors in select city hospitals are working round the clock to detect, isolate and treat the steady onslaught of suspect cases, media on the other hand is slogging overtime to discover novel angles of reporting on the flu. Reporters, photographers and editors alike are working in a tizzy to report on the confirmed cases of flu and resultant deaths. Adorned with the latest snapshots of ailing victims, families grieving the loss of dear ones and long queues of potential flu victims waiting to get tested, the newspapers are all clamoring to get a bigger piece of the pie called – ‘readership’.

The Government, as usual, is out with its age-old rhetoric ‘We are taking all necessary measures to curb the spread of the disease…

On the research front, the Indian bio-tech companies will take at least another six odd months to come out with a vaccine for the flu. Compared to the completion timelines of other research behemoths – indigenous nuclear sub, LCA and ICBM variant of Agni to name a few, six months is almost like delivering the vaccine ‘before time’.

Meanwhile, surrounded by this medical, digital and bureaucratic commotion, I am left with this 2-ply face mask to defend against this fatal virus.

As the Government closes schools, colleges, cinemas, malls and other public places in a bid to restrict the spread of this virus, I try to stretch the thin material of my mask in an effort to cover as much skin as I can.

An article in the newspaper this morning exposed that not all masks can prevent the spread of the virus. You need to wear specially designed masks with three layers of filtration (sold under the brand name ‘N95’) to guard against the virus. The problem is that these masks are in short supply.

The article stirred the Leonardo in me. Improvise! Improvise! The label on the mask that I got in office, read – ‘effective 2-ply protection’, my handkerchief became the new and thicker third layer.

So what if I am suffocating, the mask is now in place. I have finally found my saviour, my knight in shining armour, who will guard me from all evils – viral or otherwise in this ‘Sankat City’, my 2-ply face mask!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A number game

I believe that this business of eLearning is nothing but a number game. With each day, this belief is gradually becoming a conviction.

I am a member of the Instructional Designer fraternity. I am supposed to bridge the “knowledge gap” of the learner. However, this involves, getting tossed between projects, while juggling verbs like ideating, visualizing, thinking, reviewing and scripting.

The crunch hits when the verbs collide and I suddenly realize they are not so abstract after all. This happens, for example, when scripting of a module crosses paths with visualizing of a previous module, or, when comment fixing (a follow-up activity of scripting) crashes against reviewing of an alpha module.

In these moments of verb(al) crisis, I sit back helplessly and try to duck the lethal volley of toxic mails flying into my mailbox. Alas! Without success! Soon, I start using a more physical verb — running, from senior reviewers to project managers, trying to explain that the timelines are absurd. More often than not, I feel like a clown performing alongside a domesticated lion, who is confused about what to fear more…the lion or the probability of missing the glass plates that he is juggling.

Time goes, in this — almost daily — melee of verbs, and it is time to catch the evening office bus.

I realize another day is over. Numbers on the calendar inch closer towards the dreaded project delivery date. Daily deliverables, in the form of number of screens, fall below the company benchmark. Appraisal ratings, again numeric, get affected by the previous two numbers. Finally, all the numbers together, cast an ominous shadow on the numbers on my paycheque.

In this season of recession, when numbers are pivotal to global financials, it is only a matter of time before they catch me too. Another number added to the number of pink slips.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


“I am working sir… I am a trainee programmer in BCS….”

The words flashed across the Gtalk window. For the first few moments, I just stared blankly at the streaming flow of words. Nothing registered. I read the words again, and only then, like the heady aroma of piping hot Darjeeling tea on a wintry morning, the happy feeling began to spread across me.

Mingma Dema. Yes, Mingma was in the first batch of my BCA class. She was from West Bhutan. I still remember the day she had come to college, for her admissions. She had come up to the 2nd floor, to have a peep at the BCA department.

At that time, we (the entire college and its folks) had barely moved in to our new building at 8th Mile. The BCA department was in a mess. I asked her why she was around and she replied “Sir, I came to see, sir, I…” the words trailed off. I couldn’t help but smile at her child like innocence. Soon other students of her batch also joined in and one of the Sisters showed them around.

Right from the first day of her class, Mingma stood apart from the other students of her class. As a teacher, you could feel the sincerity, honesty, and innocence in her. In an age when entertainment is defined by what the cable TV channels air, students like Mingma are a rare breed.

Throughout the three years that she spent in our college, Mingma was always the class topper. In a department like BCA, exposure to good books, additional training on latest technologies and access to high speed Internet are essential requirements. For a small hill station like Kalimpong, such facilities were almost non-existent. But Mingma never complained. She would slog throughout the course with a smiling face.

When I quit teaching at the college, Mingma was in her 5th Semester.

I landed up in Mumbai with my current job and gradually, the frequency of mails and phone calls with friends and folks in Kalimpong was reduced to the odd mail in 1 or 2 months. Firstly, nobody had the time, and secondly, in these times of cut-throat corporate competition, memories and emotions are essential commodities, rationed only for the close family.

I lost track when Mingma graduated. I had no clue where she was and what was she doing. My life was taken over by office deadlines and weekly targets.

There was nothing special about that day. It was like any other day in office, and I was neck deep in work. Suddenly, the Gtalk popup flashed at the bottom of the screen.

I glanced down at it and couldn’t believe my eyes. There was Mingma’s name on top, and it said - “How r u Sir?”.

Before I could get over my surprise, a new message flashed – “Sir, I am in Thimphu, Bhutan. I am working sir… I am a trainee programmer in BCS….”

Thursday, January 31, 2008


The early morning air was very cold, felt like an icy blade slicing through the layers of clothing and lunging at my heart. The overcast sky made things worse. Kalimpong is reputed to have a very pleasant weather, but in the months of January and February, things take an ugly turn. The falling mercury complemented by sudden winter showers, force the residents to huddle around the glowing fireplaces.

It had rained a couple of days back and might again any time today. The flask and the little packet of biscuits felt a like a ton of bricks. I was alternating the bag between hands as soon as the first signs of numbness would creep in. There were very few passers-by, and those who were there, had adapted the ‘chin bent down – hands in pocket’ posture of walking. Everything was typical of a very cold Sunday morning in Kalimpong.

The Kalimpong Sub-divisional hospital was a good 3 kilometres away and it would take me at least 45 minutes to reach. It was already 6:30 AM, I quickly did a mental calculation and hurried my pace. Gosh! I had said that I’d be there by 7 – 7:15 AM. I should’ve started earlier, but sleep was hard to come by, and I had dozed off in the early hours of dawn…

The final 200 metres to the hospital, is at an average incline of around 25 – 30 degrees. I was huffing and puffing when I reached the main gate, and was pleased to see that there was hardly anybody else visiting the patients. It was 7:30, not bad, I thought, considering the weather and the distance. I let out a huge sigh of relief as I climbed up the final wooden staircase to the Maternity Ward.

It was warm inside, really warm, the wooden floors and ceilings really help. I passed by the rows of beds, the smell of spirit and Dettol distinctly hanging in the still air of the ward. Some were waking up, some ladies were having morning tea. The nasal cries of a few babies here and there spiced up the general silence of the place.

I reached the end of the row, and there was no sign of her, strange, I thought, I am pretty sure this was the bed. Anyways, I think she must have gone to the washroom or something. There were no nurses around, so I just kept the flask and the packet of biscuits on the table beside the bed and sat on the edge, relieved to have reached here more or less on time…

Around 10 minutes and many a curious and some smiling glances later, I realized that she, was nowhere around, for quite some time now. I looked at the young lady on the next bed, and asked in Nepali “Did you see my wife going to the washroom ?”, the lady answered back “They have taken her away…”. I was aghast! “Who, where, when…” all the questions tried to come out at the same time, the lady looking at my confused face, smiled reassuringly, and calmly pointed at the Operation Theatre.

Strangely, I felt nothing, no fear, no anticipation, no joy, suddenly everything and everybody was very quiet and calm around me. I walked out of the ward and reached the verandah where it was marked, “Delivery Room”. Seeing nobody around, just stood there for a few moments, waiting for someone to pass by, so that I could catch and ask what was happening….

I think around 10 eternally long minutes later, the “Delivery Room’s” doors opened and a nurse came out asking “Who is there for Bed No. 7’s patient?”. Suddenly, the ‘slow motion’ I was in, was broken, and I replied, “I am” as if saying “present Sir” to the teacher’s roll call in school.

The Nurse, smiled and said “Your wife and son are fine…” .

1st of February is knocking on the door again, and my son will turn 4 tomorrow.

“Happy Birthday Sunny, Papa loves and misses you a lot…”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kolijug (Kalyug)

“You are getting very prejudiced about typecasting people, that’s not the way you should meet them, you should have a very open mind…” went on Shibani.

I glanced down at my watch, it was 10:50 AM, needed to finish the next set of Assessments by noon. She must’ve noticed the little lapse in attention, and quickly pounced back, “See, you are not even listening…”. I immediately tried to duck behind a face saver – “Ok, from now on, no prejudices, no opinions..”. No chance whatsoever, today she was in form, the replies had the accuracy and pinch of a seasoned pigmy warrior, raining poison tipped arrows, while u r haplessly perched on a tree-top, “Why would you do that? That wouldn’t stop u from forming them in your mind…”

It was getting increasingly difficult to counter the super-woman mode, so I resorted to chemical weapons. I do not know the composition of the various chemicals, that incite the feelings of pity in the human brain, but I am sure they are there. “Arre yaar, actually a lot of my friends were into theatre and music, and in the evenings, during adda-time, they would come back with loads of “antel” (intellectual) info. Trying to block our usual flow of – which girl dates which boy, for how long etc. – mode of conversation…”.

My voice trailed off under a fresh onslaught of verbal cruise missiles…“Disgusting !” was the first one, that hit it’s target, others followed, I ducked and ran under various protective shields such as … “The vending machine serves disgusting coffee”…looking at the pantry door suddenly, as if Archana has walked in; gaze out with a sad face, across the ever stretching Mumbai city-line, as if I am drowned in green-thoughts of global warming and carbon footprints of concrete buildings….

Alas, nothing worked, with another volley of ego piercing verbal shells, she ensured that no sheds of my vocal defences are anywhere in sight, gulped down her last sip of by now cold masala chai, sullenly glanced at her watch and walked out of the pantry with a one liner… “Sometimes, you should work also…”

All this, for suggesting that she should take Sampurna to Prithvi theatre. Sleepy eyed Sampurna, would anyways sleep off, letting her watch the play without any disturbances….

It is really difficult to survive in kolijug (kalyug)…

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Ayan Episode

I was still feeling sleepy, very sleepy. Strange, as getting-up early was second nature to me. No, I think I got it, its the weather, it must be, it was all over the newspapers and TV channels, lowest recorded temperature in 45 years, minimum temp. was 10 degrees. Unthinkable in Mumbai !
It immediately felt good, to be able to blame mother nature for my laziness... was pure bliss. Anyways, its 7 AM and time for a cup of tea. I dragged my feet towards the kitchen when I heard robot's door opening. My God! robot up at 7 AM, miracle, a real miracle. I immediately glanced out of the kitchen door to throw some spicy comment, and found the blurred figure of Ayan, slowly getting into the washroom. Oh, so that was it, it was Ayan and not robot. Then it can happen. At least it is probable, but for robot to get up at 7 AM, well, Sania had a better chance of beating Sharapova at the Australian Open finals.
Ah, here we are back to tea making. The kitchen looks clean today. Oh, so they cleaned it up after dinner, good, robot is getting organised. Thump, thump, thump, ...... savdhan, vishram, savdhan.... ah, the security guards are at their 7 AM drill.
But, something was not quite right, right? Ayan and robot... had a fight last night, over who will make puris tomorrow night. And it went on and on and on till I and Saurav intervened. Ayan then had dinner and went to his flat. Did they make it up? But when? Oh, must be during their really late night walks in the park. These boys really have strange habits, like going for a walk at 2 AM etc. Ah, as long as they are happy about things and not disturbing me or pulling me up to accompany them on their nightly prowls, its fine.
So, its tea time. The washroom door opened. Let me ask Ayan what happened last night, I hurriedly moved out of the kitchen, and there was Ayan, little blurred, coming out in his trademark half-pants. "Ayan, hey Ayan", I called out, no response. "Arre Ayan", I called out louder this time. It was so irritating when people come out half asleep from toilets. They can hardly figure out what is happening around them, let alone respond to somebody calling out their name. I took a few steps towards Ayan and called out with irritation and anger in my voice, "Ayan, hey Ayan, can't you hear..."
Ayan started walking back towards robot's room, stopped midway, turned back and must've smiled his sly smile and muttered a "Hi !". I moved in closer, saucepan in hand, "Hi, I'm Sudeb, from TIS Kolkata".
I had left my glasses by the bedside.

Robot is Abhishek, content writer from Kolkata. We joined on the same day. He mostly expresses himself in binary... and hence the name.
Ayan also joined as a content writer from Kolkata, but is currently posted in Mumbai.
We all stay at an apartment - Frangipani, at Powai, Mumbai.
Sudeb, by the way is the Manager-Marketing, from TIS Kolkata. He took our induction training.