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Second Class Citizens

October 5, 2015

It has been some time  since I travelled by  train and a couple of years more by  the sleeper class/ second class of the Indian Railways, not counting the time when we chartered an entire coach for a team building exercise for the company.  There was an emergency, and the only available transport was by a sleeper class train, that had already started its journey from the originating station somewhere in the north of India, by the time I booked my ticket in it.

The train came in at the unearthly hour. Have to give it to them for arriving on the dot. The coaches were dark. It would be foolish on my part to believe that everyone would be staying awake with the lights on for me to get on the train. As I groped my way walking across compartments counting in multiples of eight, I reached what was supposed to my berth, an upper one. I lifted my bag and tried to put it on the berth and was met with some resistance. I switched on the flashlight on my mobile. There were 2 guys sleeping on my berth. They were lying in a position which probably Vatsyayana could not understand or was unable to describe in his Kamasutra. After considerable time I spent to wake them, they sat up to look at who was disturbing them in the middle of the night. In my broken Hindi, I established my territory. After wiping the berth with a piece of rag, which my wife had so thoughtfully packed in the side pouch of my bag, I climbed onto my berth. Getting a perfect 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event would be easier than getting onto and lying down comfortably on a upper berth of the Indian Railways. It required my creaky joints to be stretched to the maximum or should I say folded to the maximum? The adrenalin pumped into my blood stream was preventing me from going to sleep. I was also waiting for somebody to come and check my tickets. Nobody came. And finally as sleep embraced me, I heard a woman tell her husband that there was no water in the toilets. I smiled to myself as I plunged headlong into the land of sleep. It was a fitful sleep and I dreamt that I was being thrown into the concrete mixer with a woman who was repeatedly shouting there is no water, there is no water, by Amjad Khan dressed as   Vatsyayana  and the 2 guys I woke up as 2 of his disciples.

When I woke up it was seven in the morning. Good, I thought to myself, only 3 more hours before I get off this infernal contraption. I got down, with a bottle of mineral water, which I bought at the station. I usually carry a couple of water bottles, not that I drink so much water overnight. You would have realized why I smiled for the ‘there is no water in the toilet’ statement. There were 3 or 4 men standing near the wash basin. They moved aside when I opened the bottle, poured some water in my mouth, gargled furiously and looked for some place to spit it out. It always works, to ward off the people crowding near the wash basin. I spat out the water, marveling at the innovative floral designs that the railways incorporated on the basins. On closer examination, it turned out to be the handiwork of our Bihari brethren by spitting out the ‘Khaini juice’. I went into the loo. I am not going to give you a graphic description and make you want to throw up. It was a good thing that i suffer from anosmia. And yes there was no water in the coach. Finally when I got down, I forgot to note the coach number, without which any complaint would be incomplete

On the way back, the same day, the coach was a little better than by what I had travelled the previous night. But one of the fans was not working. I tried the age old trick I had learned in my childhood to make it work. I inserted my business card into the grill and hit the blades, but it didn’t budge. It was very stuffy, so I tried to open the window. I t wouldn’t stay up as there was no hole to latch it up. Presently a young Ticket Examiner came and checked my ticket. I told him about the fan, for which he promptly told me to crank it with my finger. When I told him that I had tried that too, he was a little taken aback, as if a great company secret has been decoded. I told him about the window too. This time he didn’t offer any quick fixes. Curtly he said he will send somebody to look into it. I wasn’t naïve to believe him, but the day’s events had depleted all my all strength to counter him. This time around it was a dreamless sleep. When I woke up I found that the train had made an unscheduled stop at a station, from where I could reach my house faster than the time that the train would take to reach its final destination. I quickly grabbed my bag and jumped out, just as the train started moving. Shucks, I had forgotten to note the coach number again.

For an institution that is the largest employer in India*, even overtaking the armed forces, is it inefficiency or is the Railways under-employed, so as not to address the issues mentioned above and more?

For a service that made a profit of US$ 2.4 Billion* in 2013-14, is it too much to expect better services, better coaches and better everything? As far as I know, air conditioned coaches are not better off. There have been  cases of rodents biting off passengers’ fingers at night.

How is that people tolerate such things, given that they pay money in advance for the services?

Is it because we have become perfect Indians, of being tolerant to things we shouldn’t be and intolerant to things we should be.

For those of you, who cannot follow the track, here is the translation (and not the transliteration)

Ambi:Father, mother, how are you? Hey Nandhini,how are you?

Chari: Chari

Ambi: Chari how are you?

Chari: I am fin…..  Oh my god, there was one good bloke called Ambi,you have castrated him and made him normal like everyone else.

At the station

Chari: Ambi you are going on your honeymoon, don’t repeat what you did while we went to Thiruvyaru (a place, refering to an earlier incident where Ambi makes a fuss over the conditions on the train)

Chari:What will you do if the food they serve is not good?

Ambi: I will adjust

Chari:What if the toilet stinks?

Ambi: I will hold my breath

Chari: And if the fan doesn’t work?

Ambi: I will crank it with my finger.

Chari: Excellent, you have become a perfect Indian. Enjoy the trip.

Video courtesy: Arvind {A clip from the movie Anniyan (Stranger) directed by Shankar}

  •  inputs from Wikipedia

Love Thy neighbour

August 30, 2015

'We are neighbours, officer.'

‘We are neighbours, officer.’

I was just dozing off after a rather heavy breakfast, the newspaper I was trying to read almost slipping out of my hands, when the commotion outside woke me up. My wife and my mother were instantly on the balcony to see what it was all about. I tried to get back to my shut-eye, but the decibel levels outside was rising and it was getting difficult to ignore it. I stepped out into the balcony where my wife was giving a running commentary to my mother. My mother is a little short of hearing. The people living on my right, whom for easy identification I will call Right and the folks living opposite my house, whom I will call (you have guessed right) Opposite were fighting. After a few minutes of listening to their fight I could make out the plot. Right had parked his SUV right opposite Opposite’s gate, which in effect prevented Opposite to take out his car, right when he needed it.

So how did this confrontation happen so suddenly. Right had brought home a brand new SUV to add to his sedan. Opposite already had 2 cars. What they did not have is parking space in their house. Right used to park his first car in front of his house, on the road. Opposite used to park his first car in front of his house and the  second car also on the road side a little further from his house. When Right bought the SUV, he reserved the space where Opposite parks his second car, by parking a motor cycle there. When Opposite returned home he finds a motor cycle parked in the place where he normally parks his car, He promptly moved the motor cycle and parked the car. When Right comes back later in the night, he finds that his reserved place had be usurped by Opposite and in retaliation parks the car blocking Opposite’s  entrance. After a lot of name calling by both sides, someone calls the police. The police try to reason out with both of them. Opposite says that he is in the right, after all he had been parking the car in the exact same spot for years now. Right, on the other hand feels quite the opposite. He argues that the place is a common place and anybody can park where they please. Moreover Opposite did not have the right to move the motor cycle. Both stubbornly hold their places and after a point the sub inspector loses his cool and shouts at them. After some persuasions by some passer-bys  and good Samaritans they end their stand-off and arrive at a solution, which they could have done themselves if each had a little courtesy to talk to each other sensibly.

The moot point is encroachment. Well to do people encroach on roads to park their cars..In most countries you need to establish that you have adequate parking place in your house before you can own a car. Most cars are parked so haphazardly on the roads that they block vision on turnings or cross roads. The second point is rich, educated people fighting over something that is not theirs. Will they buy a refrigerator, or a wardrobe or a washing machine for which they do not have space  in their house and leave it on the roads.?

The Chennai Corporation has a  huge opportunity to make some money here, They cannot control this parking, at least they can charge an annual fee for parking and issue a smart tag. Any vehicle without the smart tag can be towed away. The money can at least be used to repair the roads that they are constantly digging up

Payback Time

July 31, 2015

crying child

As he was putting his bag in the overhead cabin,his passport fell out. I picked it up and held it up to him. He was still busy arranging his bag. Boarding had been delayed by an hour due to late arrival of the flight. So there was a mad rush, when they announced boarding. Luckily they allowed old people and people with infants and children to board, along with the business and first class passengers. I looked up at him. He was about 20 and grumpy as hell. He turned after putting his bag and almost plucked the passport from my hand.I got up to let him go in. My wife had asked for the window seat. She usually likes to look out and commune with nature. It was a bright sunny day. She would make the most of the three and half hour flight..I had opted for the aisle, so that i can stretch my legs a bit.There are some positives in checking in early.  For a moment he looked around if he could find another seat. It was almost full, so he plopped into the middle seat. He started reading from the book that he was carrying

The usual bustle before take- off was on. The crew demonstrated the safety procedure. If at all you want to see someone do their job with such disinterest, it is this part.Except for the first time fliers, hardly anyone watches these things. I have been flying regularly now, but I never miss these rituals, hoping that one day I would be able to find someone who does it seriously.Bigger planes mercifully have screens in front of your seats which  show the exercises, acted out by smiling actors.  I am willing to bet my last cent, that if in case of an eventuality that they talk about happens 90% of the passengers wouldn’t know what to do. What is a aircraft without a crying child? In this case, he or she was right behind us. I don’t know what makes them  howl so much in the confines of an air plane. The mother was trying her best to pacify the child. The child had a brother or sister, who was sitting  behind my seat. Ever now and then he or she would bang my seat with her knees or elbows sending shivers up my vertebral column.

The plane took off without much ado. But the child continued to cry. Was it due to colic or ear ache or hunger, it was difficult to tell. The young man sitting beside me was visibly agitated. He was muttering under his breath. He looked at me occasionally with a stern look as if I was  reason that the child was crying. He got up turned around and glared at the poor lady who was as exasperated as the young man. He sat down and his restlessness grew. He was startled when I called him by name. I told him that I was his father’s friend and had recognized him from the photos his father posted on Facebook. Relax, I told him. He was little perplexed by the wide grin on my face. This just reminded me the time, I told him, when you were a child, you created such a scene with your crying, that your face turned purple. The crew grew so worried that they even contemplated returning back, I added. That did it. He looked peevish. he got up, took a pair of ear phones and plugged it to his music player, asked for a sleeping mask from the stewardess and promptly went to sleep. He didn’t even get up to have the refreshments they served. Somewhere in the middle of all this, the baby had also gone to sleep. So did I and my legs.

As soon as the flight landed and came to a halt, the young man was quick to get up, grab his bag from the cabin and stand in a queue to get off. Normally I would be the last person to get off the plane. So I called out to him to give my regards to his father. He just nodded. He didn’t even know my name. A small girl (it had been a sister) peeped from behind my seat to see who she was kicking. I gave her a toffee, which I always carry with me for occasions like this. The mother looked thankfully at me, maybe for putting the young man off her. The baby was still fast asleep.

In the taxi, on our way home, my wife asked me, whose son it had been. Who knows, I replied, I just got the name from his passport. The rest was a long shot, I said. She started to look out of the window, unable to control her laughter.

* From a stray thought on a flight where an infant was howling away to glory, on how they would react to a similar situation when they grow up.

Helmet pell mell

July 5, 2015

helmet pell mell

It was only when she asked “where are you going?”,did he stop. And so abruptly did he stop, that there were screeching of tyres and blaring of horns. He quickly moved to the side of the road and took off his helmet to see the see the source of the unfamiliar voice he heard from the pillion. It was not his wife who was sitting behind. The woman was also equally shocked. Recovering from the confusion she called her husband. He was still at the petrol bunk, where they last stopped to fill petrol. And yes there was a woman too at the petrol station, who was dressed very similarly to her, looking lost. The mix up had happened when the ladies had gotten off the motor bikes while their husbands filled petrol. That the men were dressed in the same colour  shirt and trousers and helmet to boot had led to this funny incident. This was on the first day that helmets were made compulsory for the nth time in Tamil Nadu.

I hope that the helmet haters will not use this as argument against making helmet wearing mandatory

Pic courtesy: Internet.

Sabbatical

May 26, 2015

sabbatical

As she entered the living room, there was an interview going on TV. A  nondescript old man, in an ill fitting suit  was being interviewed by a young reporter. She had seen this man, but she couldn’t remember who he was. From the conversation she understood that they were discussing about her. In fact for the last three months, the whole country was discussing about her. Right from the time she disappeared with only her secretary, everybody, including those who didn’t bother about her when she was around, wanted to know where she had gone. Her company did not know where she had gone. All they said was she had gone to an undisclosed destination to introspect about the huge loss that the company had incurred  in the previous quarter. They had lost big time to their competitor  Even people who were close to her  had no clue about her whereabouts.

It is not everyday that a CEO of a famous business house disappears without a trace. All TV channels had a field day. They ran programmes, debates, hounding the senior managers of the company to tell the country where their CEO had gone. To their credit the management held fort telling the anchors hat they need not have to tell them where their CEO had gone. And so it had gone on, till 15 days back when she came back as suddenly as she had gone. She kept to herself never speaking to anybody, A week later, started the massive over haul at the company. She fired some senior people. She hired some young people from other industries. She swapped the portfolios of some managers. The Board played along. The experts as usual, were divided. Some said it was brilliantly strategic while others said it was utterly foolish, The industry was abuzz with her actions. The markets reacted favourably to all this and the company gained some ground.

The media wanted to have her on the show, especially the guy from MITES WON, wanted to have a exclusive interview, Like hell, I will give that mite an interview she thought to herself.

Failing to get some juicy sound bytes from her,the media did the next best thing. They ran programmes with her competitors. She turned to look at the TV as she remembered the old man to be her lesser known competitor. The reporter was asking him what he thought of her return from her sabbatical. The old man removed his spectacles , paused for effect, looked into the camera and said, “I think, the one who has come back is not the one who left”.

She turned to her secretary, smiling and asked, ” Do you think he knows?”

Sparked from a news item: http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31807&articlexml=Afzal-hanged-for-political-reasons-25052015009047

Call 4 U

March 9, 2015

4 callsCall #1:

Female: This can’t go on like this. I have a feeling that you are not so serious about us. Tell me what are you going to do?

Male: Relax baby, I told you, I need some more time……

Female: …. But you have been saying this for a very long time. For the last two and a half years you have only been extending your timelines. I can’t wait any longer. I think I am pregnant.

Male: Come on baby, I told you to be careful. Anyways, everything will get sorted out soon. I had taken a huge insurance on my wife and I don’t want any unnecessary spot-light when this thing bursts. It has been over a year now and I think the needle of suspicion will not point to me. Everything is arranged. Think baby, of all the wealth we will inherit and the insurance will be just a bonus.

Female: okay,okay, I hope all this hush hush will end soon.

Call #2:

Female: Just think dear, I will be home in a weeks’ time. I don’t know how I passed these 3 years, living away from you. And I know it was equally difficult for you. I can’t thank you enough for letting me pursue my dream career. Thank God, the ordeal is over and the wait has been worth it. When I come back there, I will be heading the region. I am dying to be with you….. forever.

Male: I too am very happy that you will be back. And I have not done anything great by letting you go the US, when your company recognized your talent and sent you to their head-quarters on deputation. Baby, I love you and I am very proud of you. Reached home yet?

Female: No, just left office. Had to stay back to finish some work. I am now walking to the metro……. ( a few scuffling sounds could be heard), here take all that I have ,don’t kill me, No….. no…. help,help……..(and then silence)

Call #3:

Male: Hello, it has been done… as promised.

Male: Hope there was no witness or clues that could lead this to me.

Male: It was pretty late and the street was deserted. I will take all her belongings and make it look like a mugging. I expect a transfer of the balance to my account in an hour.

Male: Will do

Call #4:

Male: We have got a call from a man saying that he heard his wife being murdered. He is so incoherent He lives in your jurisdiction. Take a couple of constables with you and find out what all this is about. I will text you his address. Take a statement from him.

Male: Yes sir.

(As he ends the call a notification pops on his phone ‘Saturday Musings has shared a post “Call 4 U” with you’.)

PS: Sparked from a news item I read today.

Tip of the Iceberg

February 22, 2015

Tip of the iceberg

A couple of days back, there was a news item about a person being arrested at the Chennai airport, for trying to smuggle Rs1.35 crores to Singapore. The arrested person was just a carrier. The money was allegedly a part of a huge hawala transaction. The customs came to know about the possible smuggling through a tip off. In fact this is not a one off incident, we keep reading about smuggling of gold, artefacts, drugs and invariably in all these incidents there is a tip off. I always wonder about the ‘tippers’. Who are they? What do they get by tipping off information? Are they disgruntled elements out to seek vengeance on the perpetrators of crime? What drives them to take revenge? Or is it a decoy for a more nefarious criminal activity? The possibilities are endless.

There was prohibition in Andhra Pradesh, when I was working there. But my friends and I got a chance to drink every day, as each one of us managed to get hold of a bottle and we thought that that was the last bottle we might get till Kingdom comes. In effect we were drinking far more frequently than when there was no prohibition. And that too at a premium. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, since I had a traveling job, I was not a frequent attendee of these parties. One of our friends was working for the government. I used to ask him how so much liquor was available in spite of the prohibition. He said that total implementation was impossible given the porous nature of the borders of the adjoining states, where there was no prohibition. There were 5 states bordering Andhra Pradesh (this happened much before the bifurcation of the states)- Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. But the real reason was not that. Liquor mafia was bribing excise officials, those manning the check-posts and other sundry people for an unceasing supply of alcohol into the state. The popular belief was for every nine trucks of goods being smuggled into the state, one would be allowed to be caught, so the authorities can advertise their efficiency and make believe that prohibition was being enforced.

Recently, one Sunday morning around 5.30 am, my sons and I went to the temple nearby. All three of us rode a motor cycle. We noticed that a huge tree had uprooted on a main street and was blocking three-fourths of the road. On our way back, we saw a group of people chopping down the tree to pieces. I was looking at the activity that I failed to notice a police constable standing. He stopped us for riding trebles. There was a traffic sergeant also present. He walked to us and asked us where we were going. I told him that we were going back home after going to the temple. Convinced, seeing the vermillion marks on our foreheads he said, ’I know you people think so lowly about us, as people who are corrupt, but you do not know the amount of work we do. See this Sunday morning, I have to be here and so is this constable. We too have a family. Our work would be that much easier if educated people like you follow the rules. Remember your children learn from you.’ He let us go, but that day, that officer shamed me so much, that I try to follow the rules as much as possible, though I might look like a dumbo to others. Mere laws are not enough, if we do not have the people and mind to enforce, and more importantly people who would want to obey laws. Sadly this great country is degenerating into a land of lawlessness. The only aim, it seems, is to hoodwink law with utter disregard for any moral values.

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