Sunday, August 23, 2009

Laws of Practicality!!

Placement is one keyword of every college student. I mean every one wants a good bike, a pack of good friends to hang out, a hot girlfriend that you can boastfully walk with, but at the end of your academic innings, you want to walk away with a good job. I love my habit of being “exception” to the obvious things but for this theory I was happy being a stereotype. And the art of getting placed at our college was a tough task. The Jaypee Engineering Colleges are three Campus strong educational infrastructure but the companies entertain only the best located campus, the Noida campus only. And that meant for every single company visiting our college campus, we had to pack our bags and land straight to Noida to be a part of the process.

The Sixth semester was about to end and I was packing my stuff to get back to home. Home is where I felt that there is a civilized person somewhere inside me or else in college we were nomads who wandered room to room, road to road, class to class without any well defined objectives. There were people who wished to flourish, while my friends and I just wished to survive. And in the act of survival we ended up with forty cigarettes and twenty cups of tea. The money that my parents sent vanished in a wink and in a matter of 10 days we came at the verge of hardships. And to add to it, I somehow broke the laptop of one of my juniors and hence I owed him a mammoth Ten thousand bucks.

There were two companies that were supposed to come at the last day of the academic semester that meant, first we had to rush to Noida and from there straight to our respective homes. I did not wish to be a part of the process, firstly it was pain to travel so much and more importantly I was out of money too. But, one of the companies was a big name hence I had to go. We went to the campus and the news broke out that the bigger company is not coming and the smaller one is only for Electronics Engineers. “Awesome, Couldn’t have been any worse”, I thought and started packing my luggage with a heavy heart.

It was an uncomfortable journey back home with train compartments stuffed like hell. Anyways 12 hours of hell and I was back to my home. I just wanted to relax, play and forget about placements, career and other serious aspects of life. I hardly spent a day at my home that I got a call from one of my friends who said that the bigger company is visiting the campus the day after. I was shocked. There are times in your life that your own faculties start hammering each other. My Brain and My heart were slamming each other and since we are practical people, living a practical life following the principles of practicality, my brain won and I made up my mind to get back to Noida. I somehow managed a ticket to Delhi for the next day

Shramjeevi Express was to depart at 11.45 and it was already late by ten minutes at Patna Junction. I had two bottles of mineral water, neatly packed separate boxes for lunch and dinner and three magazines that ensured a nice comfortable journey. And to add to it, the train was strangely vacant, a rare site on any Patna-Delhi train. The Train started with a jolt and hence started my journey.

“Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging alone like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle”

Lines from one of my junior school poetries, I was enjoying it. Some things can only be enjoyed when you are in the company of your own self and “World through a train window” is one of them. Three hours passed in no time and the Train just left Buxar station. I was now trying to dig deep into a magazine to get a glimpse of what is happening in the world’s largest democracy, home to 1.17 billion people. The concentration of the concerned citizen was broken by a slight murmur. A foreign couple was trying to get suggestions from someone. The helper, however was little weak in English but he was utilizing all vowels, consonants and syllables of English coupled with lots of gestures and postures. But poor guest were very confused. I find a lot of foreigners traveling in Sleeper coaches when they could have easily afforded a flight. Probably they wanted to catch a glimpse of real India and hence they were bearing the brunt of it. Anyways, at times I can be a serious interrupter so I became the part of discussion as well.

It was a Russian couple, who came to Bihar to visit the Buddhist Monasteries and temples and they were on their way to Varanasi which is a 7 hour journey from Patna. I started talking to them. They somehow found my language a bit clearer and hence asked if they can sit with me for sometime and find a solution to their problem. The Male was a 60 year old handsome man whose name was “Alexei”, the Lady was probably two-three younger to him and she was also a pretty lady. Unlike Indian Wives the Russian Wife was allowing his husband to speak. The Problem was a very simple one, the Couple had a general class ticket and they were traveling in a sleeper coach and they didn’t know whom to talk to avail the right ticket. I told them the TTE is the designated authority who will charge them the routine fine and then would make a ticket for them. The Couple then started talking all good things that they saw in India. They were very happy to see the Peepul tree in Bodhgaya under which Siddhartha found his Enlightment and turned to Gautam Buddha. That was nice to hear. I told them a little bit about the culture and heritage of India. After half an hour the couple left and I again started looking out of the train window. Now the train was speeding towards MughalSarai junction one of the major railway stations in the Patna-Delhi route. While looking out I was carelessly wagging my hands to find out the magazine that was laying somewhere on the seat, but instead my hands found something harder and clearly bigger. I turned back and I saw a black pouch with a crocodile symbol on it, beautifully bearing the word “Lacoste”.

I realized that the Russian woman was carrying the Pouch. “How careless can people be I should search for them and return them their bag!” this was my instaneous reaction. I stood up with the pouch to look around for them. And then the hidden evil inside me came to the picture and this is what it said: “Why to return the stuff to them, you did not steal, they left and hence now it’s yours”. And again I was caught in a whirlpool, where one part of me was saying to look around for them and return it to them and the other was saying that it is all yours. The Evil’s role was more pronounced and it convinced me to check out what stuff was inside it and I foolishly followed it. I looked around like a thief and then went inside a washroom. The Pouch had three sections with zips and it was surprisingly spacious for its small size. Inside the first section, there was a Blackberry Handheld and a fancy Samsung phone. The other section had a Sony Camcorder and the third section had twenty thousand rupees, yes I counted it too. The Evil said “See! Not a penny less than sixty thousand bucks and it’s all yours.

“God is great, in one go he has solved all your problems”, the evil said again. “I can pay ten thousand bucks to the laptop owner and spend the rest partying next semester”, I thought. MughalSarai junction was hardly at a distance of 30-35 KMs. I made up my mind that I would pack the stuff in my bag and get off at MughalSarai and from there would take another train. The impact of the evil was so great that the good part was dumfounded. I packed the pouch in my bag and sat down waiting for the train to reach MughalSarai. In the meanwhile I started recollecting the Russian couple’s conversations. They were overjoyed by the kind of treatment they got in India. They said that the very warmth of the Indians will keep them pulling back to India every year. They were also impressed by the Indian youth whom they found very talented and hardworking. And they had a special mention for Bihar. Before coming to Bihar, everyone warned them about the crime rate of it and the cases of loots and murders. But, when they left this place they left it with a very happy heart. They found every one in Bihar, very helpful and cooperative.

The Train was speeding along the green farms. I still remembered the lines of my old school poetry but I was not enjoying. There was a sort of restlessness inside me. My good part was weak but it still was alive and it was trying to knock the evil occasionally. There are times in your life that your own faculties start hammering each other. My Brain and My heart were slamming each other and since we are practical people, living a practical life following the principles of practicality, the brain has got every right to win. But this time my heart was not ready to lose this fight.

Two foreigners on Indian soil with no money in hand and no means of communication and all because of me. A stack of rectangular papers the mother of all evils which people call money, is that the only driving force in the world for which I will singe the goodness of countless Indians. And to add to it, when the police officials in Delhi will enquire from the couple that where did the theft took place? They would get Bihar as an answer and they would say “We knew that, that’s why we stop foreigners from going them”. The Evil now was on back-foot and my good part was firing all around.

Without wasting a single moment, I took out the pouch and started looking for them compartment to compartment. I hardly went 5 compartments ahead that I saw them desperately searching for SOMETHING. The Woman was standing with tears in eyes, she was paying hard for her carelessness. I waved my hands at them and showed them their “Something”. They came running towards me.

Where did you find it?”, The man asked.
You left it on the seat when you were sitting with me”, I replied.
God bless you. You don’t know how valuable are these to me?” He said again
No problems, just be a little more careful when you are traveling”, I said.

The man nodded in acceptance but the woman was staring blankly at me. And then she hugged me, the silent warmth of her hug was speaking volumes.

I still owed a fellow ten thousand bucks. I still had a strenuous placement session to go through. I had 8 hours of train journey and a full return journey left but I was a happy man because I was again enjoying “World through a train window”.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Malls, Rickshaw and a pair of socks!

After four years of Engineering, I got job at this reputed multi national firm. The best part I was in Gurgaon, near Delhi home to the best North Indian food and hottest girls in India. I was overwhelmed by the sudden change and welcomed it with arms stretched wide. I was still passing my idle time of final year when I got a call from the company’s HR department that I need to be present in person to collect the letter of appointment and also undergo the routine medical check up.
The farewell parties, booze parties, grass parties and all sorts of nonsense final year parties were going full speed and it was a pain to miss any one of them. But, what choice I had. I planned to go reluctantly. “Formal clothing” is one of the many things that a student has to graduate to when he steps into the professional world. I relate formal clothing to formal thinking, formal planning and formal implementation of thoughts, ideas and actions. While casual denotes liberation, formal denotes discipline both having their own beauty. Anyways, I was devoid of any formal attire and I was supposed to wear formals at the place. And hence started my hunt for formal clothes, I could not find any. Our wardrobes were cluttered with un-pressed shirts, mud soaked jeans, dirty socks and underwears but I managed to grab two pieces of clothes; a shirt and a trouser which were very near to what formal clothes are, but I could not find a pair of clean socks. “There are lots of malls on MG road, buy socks from one of them what is the big deal”, suggested one of my friend who was an inhabitant of Gurgaon.
Eight hours of train journey and I was here in Gurgaon. They call it the Shanghai of India, the millennium city. Skyscrapers, Offices, IT parks, Discotheques, Pubs and lots and lots of Malls, Gurgaon is very different from Lutyen’s Delhi which is still a bit old, classy and tattered. Limousines, Mercedes and BMWs were speeding around and I was enjoying the polished look of the city. In offices people draped in finest clothes and speaking on the costliest phones were walking around. This is modern India where people don’t think before spending and I would be a part of this elite crowd very soon. But for now I had to go to the office and I had three hours in hand and had to buy a pair of socks first. There were beautiful malls standing around.

I went to one of them, but the Mall was devoid any sort of crowd. I enquired with the gatekeeper and he said “It’s Tuesday and very limited stores are open today and no clothing shop is open so try other malls.” I went to other malls and they had similar answers. And I was disgusted, how do I go to the office without socks? There was a rickshaw waiting near the mall. I went to him and asked if there was any garment shop around so that I can buy a pair of socks. The Rickshaw puller, a frail person, with pepper and salt hair and sun burnt skin was looking like an ugly patch on the shining Gurgaon outfit. He said there would be no shops open; he can try in the nearby Chakkarpur market but can not guarantee. I had no option so I obeyed him in dismay and the Rickshaw sped towards the destination.
I have this curious habit of talking to people around so I started chatting with him. I came to know that his name was "Kishan" and he was from some small town in West Bengal. He came to Delhi 15 years back in search of a job; preferably a gate keeper’s job but he could not get any. He then, sold some belongings in his home to buy a Rickshaw and hence started his story. He moved to Gurgaon three years back because according to him in Delhi there is a fierce competition and he wanted to live in peace. We were in Chakkarpur market and all the shops were closed and hence now I had no place to go. Gurgaon the place of shining malls had no shop that could offer me a pair of socks.
Seeing my worried face, now the Rickshaw puller slipped in the chatty mood. He enquired “What is that you require so urgently?”.
Nothing, not your business anyways”, I replied.
Okay, but you can at least tell me, may be I can help you out!”, he continued.
You can surely help me, only if you have a clothes store of your own”, I was still frustrated
Tell me, I’ll try to help you out”, he replied
Alrite, I need a pair of socks, now tell me how can you help me out”, I said.
I can help you for sure but only if you agree to take my socks, they are brand new”, he replied.
What, your socks”, I said more to myself than to him
Okay, only if they are new”, I continued.
Sure sir lets move, you are getting late”. He replied and indicated me to take a seat.
And the Rickshaw sped again. We passed the same Offices and Malls and he turned into one of the lanes. The Roads started becoming narrower and narrower and the scenes around changed drastically. The skyscrapers were now 1 storey high houses with crumbling cement and weathered paints. The malls were not there, I saw one or two low lit damp shops but they had customers flocking. There was no elite crowd in fine clothing and expensive phones but people walking around in dirty torn clothes. There were no BMWs around, I saw Rickshaws, so many of them parked neatly near the building boundaries.
What place is this, looks horrible”, I enquired
Horrible to you, home to us, anyways this is my home, come on get down, I’ll give you my socks.” He answered.
I entered his place. There were 8-9 rooms in a line and all of them housed a full family. The roofs were low and ground was damp. There was a hand pump outside where people were bathing and many were waiting for their turn. But they were looking like a society where one man was pushing the hand pump bar, the other was bathing and the third was cleaning the floor. I entered inside his so called home. It was very small for a family of four. He opened a trunk, put aside some clothes and then pulled out a pair of brand new navy blue socks. I took them greedily.
So do you wear shoes too, otherwise why did you purchase socks?”, I asked
I seldom wear them, I have an old pair of shoes but one of my cousins is getting married next month”, he replied
I hence bought my wife a new saree and kids new clothes, did not have much money left for me so bought socks for now, would buy shirt if I happen to save something”, he finished and smiled bluntly.
Why was he smiling? I was clueless. I was still in the millennium city where people do not think before spending money. In the same city a hardworking Rickshaw Puller could buy only a pair of socks from all his savings. I tried giving him money but he did not accept that. He said “You are still studying, once you start earning come here and pay me back”. Persuasion was useless because he was an obstinate honest person. I agreed and he dropped me back to the make-believe world. Here I was, sitting in an Air conditioned room wearing an artificial smile on the face.
After I joined the firm, I went back to the place to pay him back but I came to know that the man has left this place. No body had a clue as to where he is at present. They said that sometimes he is seen pulling his rickshaw around in Gurgaon. I would indeed love to see him back and thank him for what ever good he did to me. Through this story I just wanted to tell him that a person in the elite crowd still owes a pair of socks to him.