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I.D. September 30, 2009

Posted by K in Fiction.
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It was dry and dusty, but the compartment did not smell of summer.

On seat numbers seventy four and seventy five two bald men played cards. On the upper berths lay two young army recruits whispering into their phones. By the windows, in perfect symmetry, sat two women, face to face. They weren’t looking at each other; that would have been too familiar too soon. One attempted to dream about the passing countryside. The other read the slightly stale news of the day. Eventually, though, each began stealing frequent glances at the other, till conversation became inevitable.

“Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“I see. I am coming from home.”

“Ah.”

“Strange, isn’t it? We are always either coming or going.”

“One can never be stationary.”

“Unless you’re very rich,” agreed the other.

“But even then.”

“They move their wealth around.”

“Or themselves, to commune with their riches.”

“New cars, houses, friends.”

“Investments, stocks, profits.”

“Not so still after all.”

“No, except for Collector Cama.”

“Collector Cama doesn’t count.”

“No.”

They paused to fish into their purses to pay for tea.

“So what do you do?”

“I work.”

“Me too! I repair computers.”

“I see.”

“I don’t dismantle and reassemble them…”

“No.”

“That is another department.”

“Yes.”

“I repair the damage people do to it. Reformatting crashed systems. Sometimes even deleting traces of, you know, porn sites visited.”

“That must be embarrassing.”

“Not really. It is they who are embarrassed. I don’t ask for it, but they always pay me extra for those jobs. Hush money, I call it.”

Both women giggled over their tea.

“Where do you work?”

“Oh, several places. Mostly peoples homes.”

“Oh, what do you do?”

“I just told you. I work in peoples homes. I cook, clean and garden. Sometimes I take care of children; it depends.”

“I don’t think I quite understand… What are you? I mean, what do you do?”

“I do domestic work. I am a domestic worker.”

The tea cup halted on its way to the other woman’s lips. The countryside crawled by in the pause that followed.

“You are a servant?”

“As much as you are.”

“I am not a servant!”

The domestic worker smiled.

There was no more tea left to drink, and no passing vendor to afford the opportunity to engage one’s hands and eyes.

The army recruits clicked off their phones as Vodafone went out of reach. The bald men were inspecting various parts of their anatomies. The women inspected the outdoors. Eventually the computer fixer glanced at the domestic worker.

“They let you go off?” she asked.

“Like an egg, you mean?” grinned the domestic worker.

“No. You know…take a holiday to go home.”

“Why, yes. It is in my contract.”

“You have a contract??”

“Yes. For two years. It contains my work profile, hours of duty, pay, leave, bonus. Medical benefit. Travel allowance.”

“You mean to say that your employers give you all that?!”

“Yes they do, but don’t get shocked; they are not so big on charity. It is a rule, where I work… All employers have to provide certain facilities and conditions of work.”

“Do they treat you well?”

“I don’t know; I never really pay much attention to them. I go in, do my job, and leave.”

“Do you like them?”

“Some are nice. We don’t socialise though.”

“No, ofcourse not. You come and go in different circles.”

The domestic worker nodded. “We come and go in different circles. The circles move too though. Sometimes, who knows, maybe they even intersect.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” she smiled.

They sat back and watched the fields run past, sometimes green, sometimes fallow.

“Moonghphali!” announced the peanut seller. Following him was a woman with a clipboard and an identity card.

“Ticket, please.”

The army chaps took out theirs. The bald men produced theirs. The computer fixer and the domestic worker fished out e-tickets. The ticket collector ticked off names, and asked for IDs. Both women fished in their purses for pieces of identification and value for peanuts.

Cracking open shells, they lay back comfortably against the seats.

“That was my union ID card, if you’ve been wondering. It works for official purposes,” said the domestic worker.

“Oh,” said the computer fixer, only slightly embarrassed at having been caught out.

The journey was now quite a few hours old. It was time for dinner, and dinners are always terrible on trains. It is advisable to stick to light refreshments. Or fruits, maybe, if one were so inclined. The occupants of seat numbers seventy through seventy five were undecided about their meal. Finally, one bought a dinner (young army recruit; one veg. Biryani), two chose bread and omelette (one bald man and the computer fixer; fifteen rupees a plate). The remaining three decided to subsist on tea and sugar and trust the offerings at the next station (Junction: Vadodara). As the station approached, the domestic worker got up and stretched.

“One can’t ever be stationary,” she said.

“No,” agreed the computer fixer.

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PPP: Pre-Puja Post September 22, 2009

Posted by K in Uncategorized.
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You see, I will not be home this Puja. I will be in Chennai. I am already in Chennai. And I hate trains. And depressing hostel rooms.

Puja has sadly become an intrinsic part of me. I will miss it if I do not indulge in it, and moreover, it will be the first time in years, if not my entire life, that I will be doing NOTHING for puja. Last year I was in Bombay (and hence missed the Delhi Puja), but the BARC colony had a pandal full of Bangalis and lots of Bangali bhojan. This year I am in Chennai. I have no doubt the migratory bongs will put up a show here and there, and I shall begin the pre-puja hunt for Bengali ghettos. Just kidding, that’s CR Park ;P
I had no intention of abandoning my dinner of curd, chips, and apple and grappo fizz to write a puja post. However, there was a comment by somebody on an old puja post (circa 2006 ;P), objecting to my use of ‘weepy’ for Rabindra Sangeet. And words to the effect that I didn’t know ‘the culture’.

‘The culture’ will soon become a favourite phrase of mine, quite like ‘for the people and buy the people’. The former because of its immense weight and the latter because, well, some rediff message board commentator just plain hit the nail on the head, however accidentally 😛

Talking of rediff message boards, I was quite surprised to see the reader comments on the Jet Pilots agitation stories. I was expecting the tone to be pro-management, going by earlier responses to labour unrest, but there were pro-labour sentiments being articulated quite intelligently. It was fascinating to see this, because of the changing attitude to labour rights in these daaa-stardly times. The Indian middle class has been anti-union since the boom time.

I must say the Pilots did their job well. And Capt. Sam Thomas cut quite a dashing figure, too 😉 I would seriously urge those interested to dig out the CNN-IBN interview by Karan Thapar of Capt. Sam Thomas and the gentleman from the Jet Management (Dutt?). It is a fine piece of work.

And now *I* am off to work. More updates during Puja if I manage to locate local festivities.

In a metro September 6, 2009

Posted by K in Fiction.
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Man 1, clutching a briefcase on his lap.
Man 2, staring at Man 1.

Man 1 (edging away from Man 2) :Aap zara us taraf dekhiye. Mujhe kyon dekhe jaa rahe hain?
(Why are you staring at me? Please look away)
Man 2: Kyon? Dekhna mana hai?
(Why? One is not allowed to look?)

Man 1 (edgily): Dekhiye, mai us tara ka aadmi nahi hoon…
(See here, I’m not that kind of a man…)

Man 2: Matlab aapko dekhna mana hai?
(Meaning you’re the sort one isn’t allowed to look at?)

Man 1: Haan, us tara ke aadmi mujhe dekh nahi sakte hai. Mai mana karta hoon.
(Yes, I forbid those type of people to look at me.)

Man 2: Hm. (switching to English) By ‘us tara’ you mean homosexuals.

Man 1 (startled): Er, yes, look, I…

Man 2: You think just because I looked at you I was a homosexual. Fine, lets imagine a scenario where I was homosexual.
(pauses)
What makes you think I would have picked you…to stare at I mean…

Man 1: Er…

Man 2: Because you have a briefcase on your lap? Because you wear Wrinkle-Free? Because your mummy told you that you are her han’some lil boy?

Man 1: Look…

Man 2: Staring makes you uncomfortable, does it? Why do you stare, then? Why were you staring at that girl over there? I saw you, and thought I’d see how well you take your own shit.

(Announcement over the metro station. Man 2’s station has come)

Man 2(getting up): Oh and by the way, I am homosexual. Just so you know.