Monday, August 27, 2012

A dinner conversation

"Robin, Pass me the juice"

"Sure Mama"

"Did you taste the Risotto Robbie? It is just the way it's made back home"

"Absolutely Mama. It reminded me of Aunt Teresa's cooking"

"Yes dear boy. Did you read the thank you letter sent by Chatterjee? It was so sweet of him don't you think?"

"Yes Mama. It was nice. It's good he has not forgotten us after becoming President. That's sort of humble"

"Forget us? My foot! He will never forget us. Not because he likes us. But he knows which side of his bread is buttered. He is a wily cat that Chatterjee. But he is always loyal to the family and you have to grant him that. That's why I chose him for presidency"

"But Mama, if he does not like us why did you make him the President"

"Because you cannot be an emotional fool. Robin, hasn't Politics still taught you that trust no one, like no one and respect no one except your family. This decision was for the family. Even if Chatterjee loathes us from the bottom of his disgusting heart, which I think he does, I would still reward him. He has been loyal to the family and that's what matters. Judge everyone by their loyalty first and last. I know that Chatterjee will choose our family over his country any day"

"That's true Mama. Chatterjee deserves a promotion after all the doggie work he has done for us. I have to appreciate your thinking Mama"

"Plus he knows things and he understands how to maintain secrecy. If he had not been such an invaluable soldier for the family I would have considered disposing him. In Chess, it is sometimes important to sacrifice minor pieces like soldiers so that other important pieces get a superior positional advantage"

"Other important pieces like the Queen. Right Mama? Can I watch the news Mama. Please."

"Not today. The news is too depressing. The laalis are hounding us again today. It must be all over the news. Put on something nice and pass me the roasted Lamb"

"What do you want to see. Can we watch some soccer?"

"Yes. If you wish. And Robin, you still need to learn to be discreet about Rosemary. Tell her to quieten down. She cannot be all loud and belligerent. The laalis are always on her lookout so this kind of behaviour is not tolerable. One slip and our reputation goes poof into thin air"

"I am sorry Mama. I will inform her you were displeased with her behaviour"

"And be discreet about Tanya as well. You see, I don't want Rosemary to ever know. When you displease a woman you risk your whole empire falling apart"

"But how did you know about Tanya?"

"Oh Robin. I thought you would be more sensible than your sister but you have a totally different set of problems. You are turning out to be so gullible so naive and so innocent which just does not befit the man in the family. Try to understand that even if you want to let go of Tanya she will not want to let go of you. You are the goose that will lay her the golden eggs. Really Robin, I am getting sick of your affairs. You think you can hide things from me. If I was so stupid I would not have been in this position. You should be ashamed of yourself. Hiding things from me like this. And make sure you keep your hot-bloodedness in check the next time"

"But Mama, she was saying things like she cannot be without me and that she worships me and is devoted to me like no one else can ever be. She said she could not live without me"

"You fool. You get suckered into those things. Next time she contacts you inform me immediately. You cannot tackle a silly girl how will you be able to handle your cunning party people and those horrendous laalis"

"I will be careful next time Mama"

"Just remember that when you rule this country you will need to have your wits around you. You will be attacked from all corners. One goof-up and they will tear you apart into pieces. You have to sober down and be more aware. If you don't get smart quickly even your Mama will not be able to save you"

"I have cut down on my smoking and my drinking"

"Yes, but that has not stopped you from acting stupid already. Buck up baby. It's very important. Look how our village has become more prosperous. Look at our family back home. You have to carry on the legacy and make the family proud"

"I promise you Mama that I will take care and be more careful. I will be really smart and cunning as you want me to be"

"That's like my good boy"

"By the way Mama, the violence seems to be escalating in the eastern part of this country"

"Don't worry Robbie. Our dear old Sampath Singh is working at it. And Subramaniam is always there. I have informed him that if need arises he has to divert the issue"

"Ah. Subramaniam Uncle is on it. Then there is really nothing to worry about. What would we have done without him. What do we have for dessert tonight Mama?"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Memoirs of a sleepless traveller

I have a particularly mixed record of sleeping during train journeys. In some fortunate journeys, I fall asleep instantaneously. Almost as soon as I put my head onto the pillow. But not so in most journeys. During these journeys its a constant battle between sleep and just tossing and turning restlessly in the rather smallish bed you find in Indian railways. This particular journey that I am recounting was one such battle. It was three AM and sleep thus far was successful in evading me. The more I longed for sleep the more it ran away from me. Like a wily temptress. For some obscure reason I always think of sleep as a feminine entity. Perhaps, due to the unpredictable nature the better sex commonly possesses.

I finally gave up longing for sleep and decided to venture out to the station that had just arrived. It was a chilly night and I had an irresistible urge to purchase a steaming hot cup of tea that was being sold in the station.The tea was excellent but whatever semblance of hope for sleep I had were dashed. The tea had made me wide awake. Instead of going back to my allocated bed I decided to sit near the entrance of the coach. When the train would start, a gush of windy fresh air would strike my face.Its quite a pleasant experience especially if you are in a reflective mood deep into the night.But it seemed I was not the only one with the same idea. The person who was sharing my cabin in the train was already seated there. I sat next to him, slightly irritated because I was looking forward to some solitude and reflection.

"So you are not able to sleep as well" He asked me cordially

"Yes. Sleep has been elusive tonight. You are Manjunath if I remember correctly" I replied. We had already exchanged pleasantries and made small talk in the evening. I wanted to test whether I could remember his name. I generally have a bad time recognizing faces and remembering names. So I preferred to sort out the issue at the onset rather than get corrected later on.

"Yes. My name is Manjunath. Sleep has not been kind to me either. So I thought I might as well get some fresh air"

"You look especially tired. When was the last time you had some good sleep. Because it looks like you could do with some"

"Hehe. I would love some sleep. I haven't slept a wink the last 4 days to be honest"

"No wonder you look so tired. What's bothering you if I may ask". I have generally noticed that people do not mind if you are intrusive in a train journey. So I felt it was a perfectly legitimate thing to ask.

"Well, there are things of the past that bothers you. You know something that keeps haunting you"

"You mean something of the past that you regret now". There is something about train journeys that makes you talk. In one instance, a person had revealed to me his darkest and most intimate secrets. Maybe its the fact that you may never meet the stranger again and that makes people tell stuff to strangers that they would never dare to tell anyone they know.

"Exactly. You have the right word. Its regret"

"Regret? What sort of regret?" I was kind of piqued. These sort of things make me really curious.

"You know, general things" he said vaguely. He was suddenly becoming uncomfortable. As if realizing that I am a complete stranger rather than a confidante. I did not want to pester him but my curiosity was getting the better of me

"Even I have regrets" I replied "Had I studied harder for the entrance exam I would have secured a better college". I hoped me stating my regret would tempt him to reciprocate

"I do not mean any offense but I advise you to not lose sleep over that. It is a bit childish If I may use the word. Is that all you regret about?" He asked me in an obviously envious tone

"It may seem childish to you but it is something I regret. What about you. What's your regret?"

"The thing I regret happened a long time back. Around 6 years ago. When I was around your age"

"Back when you used to worry about exams" I said tongue-in-cheek

"Yes. Those were the golden days when I had still not grown-up. I had gone to visit a friend in a neighbouring town. I remember we had gone to see a movie that evening. While we were coming back we witnessed a bunch of people with swords and sticks in their hands going after a man carrying a child. It was a mob. The mob was chanting religious slogans continuously and in front of our eyes they managed to catch up with the man they were chasing"

He began to hesitate at this point. This time I was not keen on goading him to talk. Even I remained silent. I had half a mind to terminate the conversation and go back to my bed. While the other half was resisting the temptation and wanted to hear the whole story. Before I could decide he got over his hesitation and began again.

"What I saw next was unbelievable. The mob caught up with the person and in their frenzy started brutally assaulting the person with their swords. And they did not spare the child as well. It was a little girl. Both were being butchered. Their cries were like scared chickens shrieking during their deaths. Luckily, as it was dark, me and my friend were not noticed. After around 10 minutes, the mob started walking away from the scene. Me and my friend were shaking heavily during the carnage. But once everyone left we came out of hiding and approached the man and the child. The man was writhing in pain. He was not dead yet but we could see he would not survive. He had been viciously slaughtered. Inspite of the pain the man was pointing towards the kid. His daughter. As if pleading to us to save the kid. The girl was bleeding as well but not as much as her father. I asked my friend 'We should take the girl to the hospital. I think she may still survive' My friend thought for a while and then  replied 'But they started it 2 weeks back when they had slaughtered one of us. Why should we spare these idiots. Its better we leave'. And do you know what I replied"

"What?" I asked

"I said 'You are right. Lets leave at once. The idiots need to be taught a lesson'. And I left that little child, that little girl lying there in the pool of blood. I just left her. Heartlessly. Mercilessly. Mindlessly. I even conveniently forgot about it and successfully removed from my mind all traces of guilt that I should have felt. Until a few days back. A few days ago a little girl was born to me. To remind me of my sins.

And he started sobbing thereafter. A grown up man sobbing in front of a stranger. My mind had become blank after listening to his narrative. I put my hands on his shoulders and tried to console him. He withdrew his shoulder and wearily retreated to his bed trying hard to control his sobs.

A couple of hours later his station had arrived. Before leaving, he came towards me, nodded his head and gave me a slight grin. With that silent goodbye, he unloaded his luggage and climbed down into the platform of the station.