Wednesday, April 21, 2010

That Moment

It is another of those evenings. It is dark outside, clouds hanging by since afternoon, just like that without blowing away and without pouring down, a drop here and a drop there, every other second, a calculated rate, maximising their lives the clouds hanging onto their passing existence. It was another of those days that comes and passes by, that came and went, unnoticed and without noticing.

It is a different bus, not the usual one with comfortable seats, but an old Merc mini that must have carried school children or may be still does. The seats are all cramped and the half an hour ride gives one all sort of aches. No power nap in these seats. The front seat is empty and before long I have pulled open the side door. I hop on the seat by the driver, the only seat where it is comfortable to stretch legs on this mini. Slam the door shut and put on the seat belt, the latter being a condition of employment all signed when joining Schlumberger. Pull-hop-slam-buckle up. Ready for a ride. Few minutes later it is 5:15 in the evening and the driver puts the wheels in motion.

Putting the head next to the window I let the tiredness drain into the metal. It’s comforting, the metal, the mini (with cramped uncomfortable seats at the back), the hold of the seat belt, the slow motion of the mini (still within the company speed limit of 15kmphr inside the premises boundaries, till it hits the highway), all is comforting, the untiring metal takes the tiredness away and sends weights across the eyelids, weights that bring in rest and calm. About 20 yards ahead on the right the cat lurks, next to the exit. A big black giant of a cat, restless in the evening, this evening, just by the corner. The driver hits the radio button gaining my attention for a fraction of the second. It is the usual. Some Russian/Azeri RJ with some English hop/pop/hip/pip/hap/rap. We are at the exit of the company complex. A right, down the narrow stretch for a hundred yards and another right will put us on the road to the city. The black cat is sitting next to the security post on the left. Driver nods and waves a farewell and good night to the security guard, who acknowledges with equivalent gestures and we are on our way. I am half asleep already.

Nearly ten minutes later, a nasty pothole in the road shakes me out of the lazy sleep. This driver has taken the route through the hills, the new highway, not the usual short way around the hills next to the sea. This route is longer but calmer on most days. The driver keeps the vehicle at company’s maximum allowed speed of 80 kmphr (he has signed few conditions of employment as well) but that is not good enough to keep the others on the road behind. Yet, he being the driver of this city (where all drivers are apparently crazy), he drives on left, next to the divider on the road, in the supposedly fast lane. Others have to do the honours and overtake as they wish. No one minds the trouble here. They all are giving their fair share of troubles to others anyways.

I am looking at the dog-shaped hillock in the middle of the lake. It is quite a fascinating piece of rock, carved by rains and seasons in an almost perfect face of a dog, a kind of old and seasoned looking mongrel. A side of the hillock lights up, shining with a natural brilliance.

The driver hits the breaks. He is virtually standing on the brakes. By the time I look straight the steel rods on the trailer in front are two-three meters away. Another second, maybe. Maybe less.

A toddler falling on a heater or a stove (the details are hazy). A fall from the roof top, a fractured bone and a dislocated shoulder (there was pain but he got up, slid into the bed and moaning groaning slept through the night). The cries that stopped the entire market when that desi hakeem tried to put the shoulder back in its socket. An attempt to get one point for Aravali ending up in a twisted ankle (on the other side of both the pole and the vault). Later the ball flying from the hockey stick of an angry forward of some team made it a twisted ankle and a hairline fracture.

A smooth first ride (to the city) on the scooter. A crash into a building on the way back from the city. Spoiled groceries, a crushed big-toe and a lost big-toe nail. A doctor pulling out the other big-toe nail years later (while talking to his wife who is digging into the eyes of some poor soul on the next operating table). Mem letting go of the scooter handle after being surprised by an unnoticed pothole in the streets of Moga. A motorcycle at 100+ on road from Mansa to Sanam, lost control but stayed on wheels. Mostly safe, always surviving.

Father, mother, sister, brother, few wanted relations, plenty unwanted, many friends, few good friends, some lost friends, some forgotten friends, a love on the sidewalks. A first school, a second school, an only college, a first job, a second job, the last job. Kabirpur, Sultanpur Lodhi, Kapurthala, Chandigarh, Delhi, Pune, Bombay, Perth, flight to Dubai and to Baku, a taxi ride to Salyan highway. A day spent like any other. An evening like any other. A pull-hop-slam-buckle up. The cat walking across from the right to left as gracefully as a tiger. The pothole and a bump. The rock in the lake such perfectly carved, the trailer overtakes the Merc mini like all the others. The sad and slow clouds bursting apart to give a blow to the mountains. That natural brilliance on the dog-rock. The bolt of lightning hitting up ahead on the roads. A push on a break in panic up ahead on the road. Many breaks behind it. The thunder following the bolt, drowning all sounds. The trailer in front out of motion that instant, a dead stop. The driver standing on the brakes of Merc mini. Steel rods two three meters ahead of the comfortable seat. A well fastened seat-belt. A second, maybe. Maybe less.

Does life flashes by in that last moment? Do we remember the pains and joys and loved ones and hated ones and forgive and ask for forgiveness in those last moments? Maybe, if we are lucky and go peacefully lying discarded by old age and neglect. Maybe. Maybe if you are on US1549 and plan your crash on Hudson maybe you have time and then you get a second chance, maybe you are among the blessed ones. Not many are blessed. Hollywood hardly happens in reality.

A pull-hop-slam-buckle up. Nap-bump-rock-bolt-thunder-brakes. He has about half a second to go. And half a second is only half a second long. His last words are lost in the noise of skidding tyres and crashing vehicles and breaking glass and ending lives. He watches the rods come. His last thoughts are forming the words that he will say. He could not complete what he wanted to say. “Oh Shiiiii…”. Half second is over.

Crash. Pain. Lots of pain. Angels and demons. Fatal system error. Shut down.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Talking Letters - 2

Dear Baku,

When the driving coordinator tells you the bus will pick you up at Majakia, when the drivers tell you the pick-up is from Majakia, you go looking for Majakia. It’s a good thing that there are other colleagues who wait at that bus stop. And once you know where that place is you know where you need to go the next day, every day. But still one keeps looking for Majakia. Just to make sure. Few days pass. You haven’t found it yet. You go to the driving coordinator’s office for some work and read the bus schedule and, hence, a name on the board. Next morning there is no difficulty locating ‘mothercare’. Acha majak kiya. Khoob maja kiya. mothercare. Majakiya.

On ‘five parallel’ just behind the building where I stay there is a meat shop. Early morning (when I cross) they, on few days, have a bull there. They are in the process of making it one big piece of beef. But what bloody crude way? They tie the legs with four ropes at four distant poles and that’s about it, out come the blades. Where are your butcheries?

You know my views on the beauty of the women that walk your streets. The more I say the less it seems. What about the men? Let’s talk about their stupidity. Was it just to compensate for the extra portion of beauty in one half, the other half had to lose out on their share of brains? At least half of the men just stand in front of their buildings all day long. Doing what? You should know better. This is what they do in the flights. They are sitting, all calm and ready for the flight to take off. As the stewardess’ are in their seats the smart guys take out their phones. As we hit the runways they are texting, talking on the phones and stay on phone till the signal let them be. And same story while landing. As the lights are switched off for landing the phones are out. And as the wheels touch the runaway half of them are out of their seats trying to get their luggage from overhead cabins and running towards the door. Poor stewardesses have to shout through the PA, on an occasion in fact one left her seat and started pushing these four time bigger men back into their seats. And those who are not running to find their luggage when the wheels touch the gravel, just when they feel that they can’t crash now and are safe they let out the breath they have held for last three hours since we took off, breathe some air in and start clapping. Pilots would love to come here. Rarely are they applauded anywhere else. I guess it’s not the men’s fault. Staying among your beauties it’s not that hard to lose whatever mind you have in the first place.

By the way, I thought Baki was your girlfriend’s name. But that’s what they call you in your language.

Found about the lucky child who got some 20,000 Azeri Manats this Novruz. Lucky fella, nine millionth citizen of your country. Well planned sex can bear some good results.

The girl who sits opposite in the office shares her name with the first lady. Mekhriban, Mehriban. One with k and one without, though it’s silent. Karan Johar would like that. Grateful, that’s what Mekhriban said mekhriban means. Well I am not sure about others but I am grateful that every time I look up from my laptop screen there is a beautiful face to behold. There will be a break from that routine now. I am off to Perth for a month. Keep the beauties safe and I will be back by the time spring turns into summers. They tell me summers give the fairer sex here a better chance to express themselves. We shall see.

Time to cook some dinner my friend.

Narayan Desai (T)

Monday, April 05, 2010

such person such zone

Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

Sing it.

Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

A half burned cigarette. That knock on the door.
With a little more heart, with a little more start.

Return to senderr, address unknownnnnnn.
No such personn, no such zo----ne.

A long ride, two riders, a horse, a seat belt.
Sing it for yourself and sing it for the love.

Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

Accepted gift. Discarded beef in kitchen sink.
Sing it as a whole and sing it for your soul.

Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

Conscience of a man. That fountain pool. Few lost coins.
Sing it for the sender, sing it for the address, sing it for that person, and sing it for that zone.

Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Nightmares

It was the final presentation for their final year project. They (he and his project partner, MK) had wrapped up the project somehow, not so accurately and not with the correct means but good enough to print and present. Now he was standing between the library and main building waiting for MK. It was slightly odd the way things were happening since he left the hostel for this presentation. He had fallen and nearly rolled down the road after crossing the SAC roundabout and just about managed to come up the incline with all his energy spent by the time he had crossed the sick bay. After a struggle he had reached here and was now waiting for MK. The hard bound, gold embossed final project report was like a weight in his hands. It was pulling him down. The weight was growing with every passing moment till he could no longer bear it. He had to sit down. Walking towards wind tunnel he sat on the side of the computer centre and let the weight fall beside him. There wasn’t much relief. That feeling of being dragged down by that black and golden weight remained.

Usually sitting here was a breather worth the value if not more than the missed lectures but today the place was not healing him. He didn’t get better, the feeling of tiredness in his mind and the feeling of numbness and heaviness in the body grew. Surprisingly, there was no air blowing, not a slight breeze through the wind tunnel. The usual humdrum of life didn’t reach his ears. People were walking by carrying there black and gold weights in their hands and they were all carrying heavy weights, the bodies were being dragged along at the expense of all possible efforts. It was quiet. A quiet full of heaviness, of gravity exceeding the gravity. Things were moving but not with freewill.

Finally, MK appeared at his side. He seemed refreshed. Had two coffees in his hands. Four rupees each to carry them through the final lap of this race. He handed sardar a cup of coffee and sat down and when the recently married girl from their batch crossed, with chooda and hina still gracing her arms, MK had something to talk on for next ten minutes. MK spoke but the sound seemed far away from sardar. He could hear the voice but in strange whispers. Like a bad transmission. Slow, shrieky, sharp, and sad. After a while MK did remember that they were yet to go through the slides and immediately picked up the slides and started proving to the world that this is how the world can run engines better, not even one percent convinced himself. And then it was time.

MK got up and moved towards the wind tunnel. Sardar tried to pick up the black and gold weight but it seemed an effort. He struggled but could not. He tried to raise himself but the weight dragged him down. MK looked back after reaching wind tunnel and found sardar sitting where he had left him. He walked back with a concern on his face. When he was discussing the slides he had seen sardar distracted as if something was troubling his head. When MK got to him sardar raised his arm and MK pulled him up. MK picked up the final report and slides and they started walking.

The gust of wind threw him off his feet, sending him down on his fours. It had caught him unawares after such a windless day, yet the world around him was unaffected. When he got grip of himself he saw everyone else moving on, as if nothing had happened. MK stood by surprised but with an extended arm to raise him up once again. He was saying something. But it was distant. Sardar could not hear him. It should have worried him, he should have told MK that something was wrong but they had to do this. Finish this last hurdle. He was more alert for wind this time. He held on to MK’s arm. As he stepped under the wind tunnel the blow hit him again. He gripped MK’s arm harder, half hidden behind him. Nobody else seemed to notice the wind. MK continued to move forward and slowly sardar dragged himself out of the wind tunnel and out of the wind and then they were climbing the stairs next to engines lab. The presentation was next to department head’s office, first floor, second block.

They had reached the room and were waiting for the group ahead of them to finish. Another five minutes to go before their turn. Their project guide came and gave his final advice and encouragement. Why was it so quiet? Even when their guide talked sardar felt the world quiet, the guide’s voice was not like MK’s voice. It was not distant. It existed somewhere but it did not come to existence through sardar’s ears. Sardar could notice how the words were forming from the guide’s mouth, his lips were curling and giving the words shapes for sardar. He felt afraid. He should tell them, tell MK and his guide something was wrong, but what? And they had to get this project through today, if not tomorrow maybe too late. The apparatus didn’t work and they were lucky the evaluators had not come to check and confirm their experimental readings. Everyone had believed them with their results. So far. He had to do it and it had to be done now.

And then the door to the presentation room opened. Two of his batch mates came out with blood dripping from their eyes. They had wings of birds in their hands, wings bound in black and black embossed in gold. And then came a white man with a black name and red horns and then came short man with long tail, and there came a fat man with thin legs and there was a tiny little thin lady professor with her hair touching the floor and then came the sound of children crying and there came the sound of girls laughing and then came the sound of hammers and horns and there was a horse and elephant and birds and the door was still only opening and all wanted to come out and all wanted to come to him. The girl with choora and hina on her arms, the recently married batch mate crossed by and he felt MK’s pull on his arm. They were getting late and the professors inside the room were looking at him and the door was open and MK had setup the slides and he could see the title of their project and their names on the white sheet. And the rest of them, all of them that he had just heard and seen had left and it was him and MK and professors and slides and projector, and black and gold weight. MK gave another pull on his arm and slowly they moved in. The door closed on them, on him.

MK started speaking. It was the same shrill in his voice, a distant cry. Eeeeennnggggiiiinnnnnnnnee. DDDDDiiiiiiiiieeeeeessssssseeelllllllllllllllllllllll. The words reached sardar and caught him and shook him, trying to wake him from the slumber he was falling into. MK continued on, as was the plan he went ahead with the first ten slides. Ten as sardar could see the slides come and go. With every changing slide he wanted to say one, say two, say three and count till his turn came, say those words so that he can find the sound of his words, listen to them but nothing came and then it was ten on the projector and ten in his head and he knew that he had to find words and somehow speak them and tell the professors all about his project. Now it was eleven. MK moved aside. He was looking at him. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten. It was eleven now. He had counted the numbers of the passing slides in his head. He had tried to say the words to find his voice. He had tried but the tongue did not lift from the bottom, never twisted, didn’t touch the top of month, the lips didn’t find the shape they were meant to find, the air did not turn into the waves of sound it was meant to be and none of the eardrums felt the words that were to make them turn and turn and turn and thus make them part of the sharing, of the forming and of the listening, hearing, fading away of the sounds. And it was eleven and MK had moved aside and sardar had to say something. Something. Engine, diesel, piston, area, efficiency. Something. Direct, indirect, air, fuel, intake, combustion, power, exhaust. Something. Say say say say something. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten. The seconds were coming and seconds were going. Seconds that don’t need tongues and lips and sound and ears to make and break themselves. The seconds were ticking, he could hear the ticks in his head, clear and distinct. No shrillness in ticking, it was a clear sound, one, two, three, all formed individually with unique identities. And then it was eleven. And then the slide on the projector was for him. And then it was eleven, the passing second. And then it was a minute.
Ssssssppppppeeeeeaaaaaakkkkkkkk. Along with the ticking of seconds he could hear a sound. It was saying ssssssspppppppeeeeeeaaaaaaakkkkkkk. A command, an appeal, a request, a threat. Ssssssspppppppeeeeeaaaaakkkkkkkk. He raised his head. MK’s lips were forming that sound. There was it, in his eyes, the anger, frustration, surprise, and fear. Sardar knew he had to lift himself out of this weight, the weight of the golden words, the weight of the winds, the weight of the sounds, and the weight of existence. He was in the corner. He gathered all his remaining energy and tried to make his tongue move. All he could do was look MK in the eyes and make his head move. A negative. That was all he had in him. A nod, a nod in negative. The nod saying he can’t do it, the nod saying it’s you or nobody, the nod saying help him, the nod saying that it’s only MK who can open those closed doors. And then his head fell. And then MK took over.
It was eleven and then twelve and shortly it was twenty and then it was the end, the end of the presentation. There were questions which MK answered, the professors had looked concerned but the department head made them move on. This has to be finished. And then the others appeared. With their projects and slides, and black and golden books. MK in his slow forming words told sardar that he has to answer few questions on the project only then the evaluation of the project will finish. Only then yyyoooouuuuuu will pass. And people kept coming in and going out through the closed door. The door never opened but they kept coming in and going out. Then it was over, the last of the presentations. It was time for him to answer the questions.

MK helped him up, and he was standing next to the projector. One of the professors said something and MK put a slide up. The professor’s lips moved. Here was it. The question for sardar, to take him through to the finish line. He had to catch the question and walk along with his answer to the finish line and then that would be it. He would be a graduate. End of the race. The professor looked at him. He tried the same lip movement again. Probably repeating the question for him. Sardar could not hear him and MK didn’t repeat the question for him else he might have heard it, slowly word by shrieking word and he could not tell this to MK and he could not find his voice and then they started leaving, one by one, all the professors were gone. His guide came to him and said something. He had a worried look in his eyes but those eyes seemed to say I tried, I did, and I have done so much already to keep you in this college, can’t help you get out of it, this you will have to do. It was his eyes and then the eyes were not there. His guide went out through the closed doors. MK was still there. Collecting the slides and the remains of the project. And then the dark took over.

As life came back to sardar’s limbs he tried to move. MK was still there trying to raise him to his feet and to take him to the hostel. He lifted him and moved towards the door. Sardar saw that the door was closed but MK kept moving. Sardar wanted to tell him that open the door first, you are walking into a closed door. The words never came to him and MK kept walking through the closed door. He was half out, completely out and as sardar reached the door MK felt the impact. Sardar was lying on the floor. He had hit something and fell. MK could not understand. He went back inside and tried to drag sardar out but he could not, sardar’s body did not cross the door. It has been a tough day on him and he was also beginning to feel the tiredness. He sat for a while on one of the chairs in the room and then he went to look for some food and help.

It was dark. Seconds turned into minutes, minutes into hours. Sardar lay there. The evening dissolved into night and night gave way to day. The day turned into night again and so on it continued for him. As the day would rise he could see the light come in through the door slits, through windows and with night the dark would take him in. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months, he lost conscious, came back to it and lost it again. Yet the words for help never came to his lips. He was lying in the corner of the room, behind the closed doors. He could not move and he could not shout and the help never came. There were attempts to open the door. Some distant sounds reached him every now and then. He had felt that there was someone trying to open that door, sound of friends initially, probably sound of someone from his family later on but the doors never opened. The cycle of dark and light kept on and May turned into June and June turned into July.

July was the month he was to join his job. He was trying to say that someone should help him, let him out he had to join the job, he had to travel to another city, his days in this place are over. The help never came. It was mid of July and the corridors outside starting teaming with life. His shouts never came out of his throat. Noone came inside the closed doors. It was end of July. He was to get his first pay-cheque from the job he would have joined, the salary that was much needed. He cried but the tears never came, he needed the salary. His family needed it. He had the responsibilities of the loans to be paid back, of the tuition fees and the admission forms required but the words, the tears, the cries had all deserted him. August came and yet he lay there. Then there was the second weekend of the August. There was that weekend arriving, an unusual Friday passing, a Friday with more life than usual. All his batch and all the staff were out there rehearsing for the big event and then the light went out of the doors and it was night. Darkness.

The light from the windows woke him. He was alive but how and why he didn’t know. The light came to him today just like it had done every day for last three months. It was a weekend, the quiet and calm life of a weekend morning. And then he heard the bells. He heard the bells clearly. Unlike the sounds he had heard these last few months. The bell’s ringing was clearer. The ship was reaching an island. They had reached their destination. A batch of passengers was ready to disembark after their long journey. He was meant to be one of them, member of that cruise that lasted four years, he was meant to be a part of the celebrations. It was their graduation day. The graduation bells were ringing. They were calling him to life.

The bells went on. Unlike the graduation bells which sounded only for a minute, these bells went on. Then he saw the light, the bright glow of the light coming through the white curtains and glass panes. His eyes slowly took in the place and his ears heard clearly. A fire engine was close by and the lights of the city were coming in through the window. He was where he had slept, on the same bed and inside the same four walls where he has been sleeping for last three months. He came back slowly to his existence. Slowly the light glowing from the curtained glasses and glow of the city brought him back to the real world of quiet and emptiness, of an existence which he wasn’t sure off. He looked around and the door was closed. He was still behind a closed door.

He could not decide which of the nightmares was worse.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Antique Bazaar

This place is a collection of tables and chairs (including a set with ivory engravings), an old swing set (next to the table with the ivory engravings), wood paneled walls, expensive and rare woods etched with rich patterns, a small stage for performers with traditional Indian designs carved on pillars at the corners of the stage, a very low roof and just minimum required natural light through the windows and curtains to make it glow with the artificial orange light providing minimum visibility, a kiosk with chooris, challas, few wooden artifacts, a small collection of Indian spices and herbs at the entrance, a large portrait apparently of a royal courtesan just behind the hostess as she welcomes you, a menu which proclaims welcome to the royal courts, and live performances from evening nine to midnight by dancers, singers, and musicians. This is Antique Bazaar. Just next to the portrait of the courtesan as you turn right and towards the seating area is a small gallery of photographs and autographs of bollywood stars and starlets, all proclaiming their love for the Antique Bazaar, its food and its performers and its ambience. On the first floor, opposite a sports bar, next to the fitness centre and swimming pool this is Four Points by Sheraton, Bur Dubai’s claim to Indian fame, Antique Bazaar.

Last time I finished the dinner by eight and even though the hostess was ok with me coming and sipping a cup of tea while enjoying whatever the live performance was to be that night I skipped it, watched a movie on laptop instead. This time around it was different. I had company, Pablo and Peter. Had wasted enough money during the day and the day itself as well riding a double decker tourist bus to see Dubai’s bricks and buildings. Only saving grace was the beach, ten minutes spent there were half the money recovered. The other half was graciously lost to being nice and sociable and not refusing Peter and Pablo in the morning when the plan was made to go around the city. It was Pablo’s first visit and he was fairly excited. So that was that. Starting, stopping, the day was killed and then in the evening spent couple of hours in the Dubai mall shopping (and breaking legs trying to find relevant shops in this mire of million shops and showrooms). Watched the fountain show three times (that sure was recovering some more money but it did not had anything to do with the double decker bus) and cancelled the plan of the movie first as there wasn’t any Hindi movie and second P&P were too tired for a movie by the time it was show time. So there we were, back in the hotel and after a quick shower (each of us in our respective hotel rooms) we were following the hostess to our table in the Antique Bazar, the restaurant on the first floor, opposite the sports bar, the Indian specialty of not so Indian, Four Points by Sheraton, Bur Dubai.

The stage was about five meters in front and about four meters on sides and comprising three levels. The highest and the furthest, touching the wall had three musicians. One playing synthesizer and other two with some instruments which were not visible from where I sat. One of them was, as announced by the singer, an all-rounder, he played couple of different instruments (all not visible to me) and sang whenever a male voice was required for a duet. Mostly it wasn’t. Middle level had an interesting mix of living and not so living beings/things. In the middle was the singer surrounded by over twenty thick hard bound notebooks (lyrics of every possible Hindi song and gazhal from movies and otherwise). There was a harmonium next to her knees, mostly untouched apart from serving as a support for the open lyrics book every now and then. This level was nearly two feet higher from the third and the lowest level in the front, the dance stage.

Sitting on the mid level on either side of the singer, with their legs elegantly crossed, one foot firmly planted on the lower level, were the dancers (sitting when they were not dancing). Singer’s right, in orange brown rust colored, Madhuri’s Hum-apke-hain-kaun back-revealing choli and lehanga was Tanu. And wearing the color of Madhuri’s Hum-apke-hain-kaun back-revealing choli, in green and not-so-short-on-cloth-at-the-back choli and lehanga on the left side of the singer was Manisha. And it was her who was dancing while we entered and took our seats. Actually, it was me and Pablo at first. Peter was couple of minutes late and by the time he was at his seat Pablo was already drooling/gawking/staring the dancers over/at/down. Peter soon joined Pablo. In between other distractions I did the honours as well.

The hostess (with the mostess) was a tiny little creature clad in a sari. Pablo and Peter, Bolivian and Canadian, South American and North American. Bringing the Americans to an Indian restaurant, by default, made me responsible for the food orders and I think the Americans were glad of that as this saved them from looking through the menu. They had their visual apparatus deployed towards the stage. The hostess (still with the mostess) after helping us find our seats, depositing us into the chairs, sorting out the big white napkins, removing all the cutlery from the table, putting some of it back, finding us some drinking water, just fluttering around with nothing to do after handing us the menu cards, taking two of these back (Americans were busy), taking orders from me for whatever I could think of for myself in veg and non-veg for the Americans, delivering the orders to the kitchen and getting us the drinks, asked me who I think was the better dancer? While I was busy making the hostess (with the mostess) do all that stuff in the last sentence our two busy dancers had danced their way through three four Bollywood numbers. I saved my answer till later.

We were seated to the right side of the stage. On the left side, next to the wooden pillar, in front of the stage was a group of two (initially, which became three afterwards). Of these one was a sardar, a sardar ji as I should be addressing. Side looks suggested he was Maninder singh, the cricketer. He had a similar trimmed beard and a similar small turban. He wasn’t Maninder singh, of course, but some old dude from somewhere. The beard though trimmed had hundred percent grey crop. As usual with sardars crossing paths in foreign lands he raised his glass when he noticed me and I acknowledged with a nod of head (no point raising orange juice to his some-hotshot-expensive wine).

Tanu and Manisha, assumed names or real can’t say, but that is irrelevant anyways, were busy weaving their magic on whoever was interested. Sardar ji showed a definite interest in Manisha and I think she was seasoned enough to oblige and return the favour. She was dancing for him. Playing with him with eyes while Tanu danced and playing with him with her moves when she danced. Poor dear old sardarji. Yet he must be a wily old fox, wily old shameless fox I should say. It was a battle of equals (if we don’t consider the age difference).

The hostess (with the mostess) returned with the starters and also handed three cards. These were request cards for the dancers to dance on and singers to sing the songs of your choice. Our table got three, one for each fella. While the hostess (with the mostess) served the starters I answered her question. Tanu was the better dancer as far as skills went but Manisha was a confident dancer using more than her dancing skills to attract flies including the wily-old-fox sardarji, the Americans and others in the restaurant who were interested (and there were some who were young and interested but had their wives with them who had ensured the husbands had their backs towards the stage, wily-foxy-wifeys). It was only second day of Tanu in the job, the hostess (with the mostess) divulged some information and that probably explained why was she all jittery.

Whatever the disadvantage of being with the Americans in an Indian restaurant the advantage was now I had the three cards to myself and each card had two entries. Six songs of my choice. This was going to be a long dinner. I scribbled Pablo on one card, Peter on another and third one I folded and put in my pocket. Two cards were the maximum I planned to use.

There was a break in the dancing sequence and the singing lady started singing ‘baar-baar-din-ye-aaye’. There was an Indian family and a little girl Aastha had her birthday. We all joined in with ‘happy-birthday-to-you’ bit of the song and clapped. Tanu and Manisha took a breather. After ten odd minutes there was another break and this time one more family had a birthday celebration. But the singer’s ‘tum-jiyo-hazaron-saal’ were not as enthusiastic and heartfelt as earlier. This was some fifty plus dude’s birthday. No one from the crowd joined in. Come on dude get over it. Get ready to go down. Some people just don’t get it. Anyways that done the singer was back at singing and dancers back at dancing and we back at nibbling at the food half heartedly and checking out the dancers with idiotic abandon.

While Tanu danced ‘bidi-jalayile’ with less than ten percent implied double meaning conveyed than what Bipasha did, Manisha was busy with sardarji. There was a particular discussion going on through signs and eye language. It seemed sardarji had finally given in to the temptation and scribbled some personal demand on a card. Manisha ensured that it got to her and not the singing lady who usually selected what song to sing or what not to sing. She gave sardarji thumbs up which meant she was game and she with her looks ensured that the singer was also game. While this game of visual communication was on and with the confirmation from Manisha in her green lehanga had sardarji’s full attention the waiter serving them lost his attention and spilled a glass of wine on the table. No damage was done to the three seated dignitaries’ attire and after couple of minutes the order was restored. The manager offered the three a new table but sardarji very politely but strictly refused. How could he move away from his Manisha now? Things that happen in royal courts.

‘Bidi-jalayile’ fetched the singer and dancer a healthy tip from some gentleman in the far corner (who had requested the song). There was much thanking by the singer. And then Manisha was up to dance one last time for sardarji before he felt his wallet lighter by few hundred of the local currency notes. He had asked for ‘kala-chasma’ and though Manisha didn’t have one she ensured the old fella didn’t feel any less entertained.

Our food arrived. I had used the card with Pablo’s name on it to keep a glass of juice and was trying my best not to request any song. Requesting a song was generally ending with people paying generous tips to the performers. However, the temptation to mess with wily-old-fox was too great and I scribbled two songs on the card under Peter’s name and requested the hostess (with the mostess) to hand over to the singer. I was pretty sure they won’t be singing and dancing on the songs I had requested. Hostess (with the mostess) returned and asked how the food was. That was when the mostess left her. I had ordered a biryani and it was the worst ever, even I could make better myself. Although Peter and Pablo said the food was good (theirs was a different item) I frankly informed the hostess, only, with not so much mostess the truth. That was the last I saw of her. Tiny little as she was it was easy for her to hide herself among the chairs and stay away from the people she wanted. The hostess (when with the mostess) wanted all praise and if not obliged she refused to be the hostess. Well who cares, the focus was on stage not on plates.

As expected the singer didn’t sing the songs from my request with Peter’s name. The wily-old-fox of a sardarji left after a while and as he was out of the restaurant and as we three were settling the bill and getting ready to leave the singer started singing ‘main-kya-karoon-ram-mujhko-budha-mil-gaya’. I cried foul. This was unfair. The man had left. Even the desi auntyji at the next table laughed her heart out as she was also observing the old sardarji’s antics all evening. Wily Manisha danced to the empty chair just to add to the general fun of it and though not a big money I did leave a small tip (otherwise it would have been too embarrassing to leave like that with the Americans). And before the tunes of ‘budha-mil-gaya’ faded the Indian and the Americans (one each from north and south) were passing the table engraved with ivory, were crossing the gallery with the photographs and pictures of bollywood stars and starlets, moving by the courtesan on the wall and entering the sports bar opposite the Four Points by Sheraton Bur Dubai’s little famous Indian restaurant Antique Bazaar.

SIX MONTHS IS A LONG TIME

Ravi Choudhary of PTI was nearby as the lathis of the security personnel swung. Of the many images he clicked one will acquire a life of its...