The Blow

22 04 2008

 

When the ImprovTech trio had slunk out defeated from Rathore’s cabin they were in a trance. Ram Narain’s ears were still singing from the loud-voiced hammering he had received. Almost involuntarily he led the zombie-like babes to the Signals room. He shut his eyes as he walked and the screensaver of his mind was activated – strange gloomy chrome yellow and brown wheels-within-wheels turning around in a dull purple background. He tried to open his eyes to dispel the depressing vision but somehow it still wouldn’t go, almost as if the screensaver was password protected.

He was rudely awoken to reality as he literally walked into the Signals room door headlong, but this only added some angry red and white stars to the screensaver. Babe #1, whose name was Shehnaz – in case you were wondering already – put him out of his misery a little by pressing her thumb on the biometric access control. The door buzzed and opened; the three entered – Ram Narain rubbing his forehead, Shehnaz inspecting her thumb, and Vinita – Babe #2 even in case you were not wondering already – with that vacant and lost look on her face.

***

Back in Rathore’s cabin the potted plants outside his glass window were beginning to slowly brighten up and pop their heads out of the hiding place they went into when all the shouting was going on.

Rathore had not touched any ‘work’ since morning, and was still sitting back mulling upon the proceedings when the earth shook. The corridor outside trembled as a running XL and a fast moving Chai took a sharp turn each into the door of Rathore’s cabin, and for all their speed, fell oblong sideways into the cabin. Rathore kept as straight a face as possible as he surveyed – for several seconds – what appeared to be a messy heap of two contrasting heads, two tummies and several long limbs, as the duo tried desperately to stand up. Finally Chai rolled XL aside and stood up, and lent his arm to XL so he could get up too, cursing all the while. Meanwhile, the potted plants had gone back in hiding.

‘Sir! That gutless fatgut and those two lohns were fiddling with the server again,’ it was Chai. ‘Aani amala bhageetla tar sab bandh karke bhaag gaye!

‘But you guys went out seconds after they did. Where did they have the time to do anything?’ Rathore queried.

XL explained: ‘Yes sir! No sir! We first went to the data storage safe in the store room to get the tape drives on which the backup was taken. Then we thought we should empty our bladders, so we went to the loo. Then when we reached the Signals room these three were already inside and working on the server!’

Chai continued: ‘Ram Narain was mumbling some evasive excuse as they left, and they headed in different directions. I thought I should put the fear of the Maker in him, so I hollered something about how I would tell you and how you would never spare him…’

‘That only makes our task even more important,’ Rathore thought out aloud. ‘Gather everything you can – take the rest of the morning to analyse every byte of log files we have. Everyone leaves clues. Those idiots would have too, and we will find them.’

***

It was late afternoon – the beginning of evening – on the next day. Chai looked at the blinking indicator on his screen for a while without realising that he had to click on it. When he did, he discovered that it was an instant message from Rathore asking him to join the latter for their regular evening snack. He was surprised at how disoriented he felt.

Chai had spent the major part of the previous day gleaning out every possible piece of data that would come handy in the analysis. Before lunch he had joined XL as they reported to Rathore. XL would need the rest of the day, and most of the next, to complete his analysis.

This left Chai with nothing much to do, for the day. He had spent the morning doing the regular maintenance and checking routine. Not wanting to disturb XL who was ensconced in the Signals room, Chai whiled his time away at his regular cubicle. Later he would rue the missed opportunity of not learning about Anas’ investigation in time. For now, he tried playing ‘Unreal Tournament’ on his machine, but the grotesque opponents’ faces only reminded him of Ram Narain. He blasted one after the other with his pulse gun, or vaporised entire hordes of villains with his phaser, but still wanted more. In a fit of anger he exited the program.

He had just begun to open his next prized possession ‘NFS MW’ when he heard the familiar jingle of anklets headed his way.

‘Ah, the cow’s here,’ he muttered inwardly. Several questions came to his mind rapidly: ‘If I ignore her long enough will she go away? Can I swat her with that rolled newspaper? How long will she irritate me this time? Why does she not get the message? Why did she come here now? Why does she not go and bug somebody else? Why ME?????’

He looked up from his monitor and smiled sweetly at Swapna, the starry eyed Business Analyst from Improvtech.

Swapna was decked up in full bridal glory, or at least it seemed like that to Chai. The weight of her dress probably matched – if not exceeded – her own weight. The girl was short, even by Indian standards. Her heavily sequined and embroidered dress, coupled with all the jewellery she wore, made her probably the best human counterpart of a worker ant – one that carried weights well in excess of its own. But it were the jhanan jhanan payal baaje anklets that got Chai’s goat.

‘So, how are you today?’ she began.

‘Erm… um… fine. And you?’

‘Feeling better now, after meeting you…’ she breathed, with an impish grin.

‘What?!’ Chai was mortified.

‘Nobody here knows anything about the system. I have been trying to find out something about the Engine Master Maintenance application but no one has a clue. I knew it was only you who could throw some light.’ Swapna defended herself quickly.

‘Who’s this nobody you’ve been talking to?’

‘Everybody…’

‘Did you talk to Rathore Sir?’

‘Would I dare?! And anyway, what is your problem? Do you not know yourself?’ Swapna chided, looking hurt.

The challenge was a bit too inviting. Chai took the bait. Although he had absolutely nothing to do with the Engine Master, or any other Master for that matter, he had a healthy knowledge of it. He hated his knowledge being questioned.

Chai launched into a boring description of the Engine Master. He wondered why Swapna wanted any details about the Engine Master, as it was no different in usability and function from any other regular Master. His answer came when she abruptly cut short one of his sentences with a question.

‘Are you feeling hot?’

Chai was flummoxed. Was she making an advance now? Why here? Everyone’s watching. And listening! Did the girl have no concept of office decorum? What should he say? What if he said yes? Would that be a case of sexual harassment on him? Would he be fired? She started it after all! How come he was to blame?

Swapna watched his quizzical expression for a while before she tch-tched, grabbed the AC remote and cranked up the fan speed. Chai breathed a sigh of relief.

He zombied his way through the rest of the narration. Swapna left with promises of coming back to him at the first notion of doubt in her mind.

Listening to the departing jingle of anklets, Chai hence found himself in a dazed state of mind as he rose to join Rathore that afternoon. His head was still buzzing with confused thoughts as he headed towards Platform One. Something made him stop short, though. He almost ignored Anna in the System Utilities room out of sheer force of habit, but then…

***

Clarified butter on the hot cooking plate. Mmm… the divine whiff was overpowering. The thin film of mixed batter of rice and pulses flour was being browned to perfection. Maybe there was the heavenly potato-dominated curry sitting on top! No, most likely not, he decided. That would accentuate the aroma. No, this was pure Ghee Dosa. At the precise moment the dosa would be carved off the tawa, rolled delicately but expertly, moved to an eating plate and a slice of yummy butter made to perch on top, beginning to melt. Then another blob of batter would be poured on to the hot plate and the process repeated, preparing one work of art after another…

Maybe it was Lovlee himself at work, thought Rathore, as he made his way towards the VRR. It was half past four and the sunlight was already casting long shadows across Platform No 1. The Vegetarian Refreshment Room was a legacy of a past era, although it was on the opposite end of the spectrum from the other such legacy – the Railway Hospital. It was maintained in an excellent condition, and more than satisfied its role as a haven for quality food at affordable prices. In the larger perspective, it was one of the last vestiges of the ages gone by in an increasingly standardised (sometimes bastardised) world of fast-food. Multi-cuisine restaurants of major food chains were contracted by most large railhead junctions in many cities. Pune and Delhi’s Nizamuddin had their Comesums; congrats to them. But Bhikshapore retained the age-old VRR, and has been contracting it to Balwinder Singh ‘Lovlee’ – and his father before that – for donkey’s years now.

Lovlee had his own share of self-contradictions. He was a hearty Punjabi Sikh with a huge paunch and a bigger heart. But when he laughed it sounded like a seven year old convulsing at flatulence in his vicinity. One look at the mighty man – his thick black full beard, his towering turban that changed colour everyday, his singularly dark and flowing kurta, his big shapely eyes and the thick steel bangle (kada) he wore – was enough to petrify a shoplifter. But, by his own admission, Lovlee’s best moments in life were in feeding other people and seeing them appreciate the heavenly food. This desire fitted perfectly with his choice of trade.

When Rathore walked past the large window facing the platform and into the door of the VRR, he caught the last few words of XL’s monologue, ‘…simply the best I’ve ever had. I mean, men, whoever has heard of Sardars making South Indian delicacies!”

Lovlee turned from the magic he was drumming up and opined in his sing-song Punju accent, ‘Oye Pappe! Ojjee give credit where it is due. Woh to it was KK here – Kunjachan – who gave me the exact recipe! Haanji! ’ As he spotted Rathore he added, ‘Hain ji! Aayiye sirji! Kya leejiyega Rathore sahab? Am I not telling the truth, hain ji?’

Rathore nodded at Lovlee, passing on an unspoken order for dosas, as he settled himself into a seat at the far end. The VRR was a longish rectangular hall with fixed tables and benches along both sides separated by an aisle. Lovlee had installed his young assistant Chhotu at the counter as he worked his magic at the stove.

Rathore looked around at the others seated in the VRR and shot quick and easy smiles at each. Besides XL returning his focus to the dosas in his plate, there was KK sitting in another corner with a gauze bandage around his head. Rathore noticed a profound sadness in his eyes, as if someone had pulled him away from his dinner of piping hot tapioca and tamarind chutney and only let him eat when it was cold.

Alfa sat close to the source, rousing from his reverie to elbow Lovlee once in a while, indicating it was time to replenish his plate with more dosas.

Rani stood in the aisle close to Alfa, eyeing him quite shamelessly, running her mop repeatedly over a part of the floor, ostensibly to remove some obstinate stain.

Babloo sat alone in one of the tables in the centre. He was the Station Master who lived the Junction. No, you read it right: he lived the Junction. Among all his boys Rathore had special regard for Babloo, for his voice had always been that of reason and measure at times of great consternation – which was often. He was a mature man who had risen from the ranks, and went about his daily duties with an enviable clarity of thought, a quality Rathore admired the most. The poor chap was almost never addressed by his real name, which was Runvijay Chaturvedi; and he had his mother to blame for this. The dear old dame still sent light blue inland letters to him from her village, addressed ‘Babloo, Teson Master, Bhiksapur Junkson’. There was no Pin code written. The ‘from’ address always had ‘Babloo ki maa, Chutku ki dadi’ scribbled on it. In all these years the postal service was yet to miss delivering a single letter from her.

There were no passengers there at the time. It was a lean part of the day for trains at the Junction, which happily coincided with the time the railmen chose to savour Lovlee’s handiwork. Rathore knew Chai would be coming too; he had pinged the latter a message while leaving his seat.

As Lovlee’s hands worked restlessly but harmoniously over the stove, Chhottu brought around full plates and took away emptied ones. Rathore instantly dug into his dosa, almost closing his eyes as he savoured the crunchiness. His mind replayed Oracle’s dialogue to Sita in Matrix Revolutions, which the local cable guy had aired the previous night: ‘Cookies need love, just like everything else!’ Rathore was an aficionado of good cinema, as different from the potboiler junkie that XL was, and he constantly related situations from movies to the happenings in his daily life. Mentally replacing ‘Cookies’ with ‘Dosas’, he had two more mouthfuls, one with thick sambar and the other accompanied by thicker chutney, before he looked up at his team.

‘You’re right Lovlee,’ Rathore called out. He was determined to extricate his best driver from the morose mood he was in. ‘KK should know the best recipe. He has probably eaten more dosas in one year than the rest of us put together in our entire lives!’

Lolvee snickered his childish laugh. ‘Ojjee changa aadmi hain apna KK! He’s vegetarian, but he told me how to add three drops of lemon juice to omelette batter to make the perfectly shaped omelette. I tried it at home, and I’m making them perfect moon shapes since then!’

Then, as Alfa prodded him yet again, Lovlee exclaimed ‘Oye puttar! If you crave good food so much you must get married! Ghar mein biwi ayegi to you will grow a paunch like mine.’

Rani giggled unnecessarily, and everyone perked up, seeing the connection. Alfa glared at Rani, then resumed prodding Lovlee, mumbling ‘Dosa khilane ka kaam kar, mai-baap. Rest assured you’re the guy I’ll approach first up when I need a marriage broker.’ There was a roar of laughter. Even KK managed a wry smile. Chai walked in at that moment and sat opposite Rathore, engrossed in the foolscap sheets in his hands. He had totally missed the mirth, not even looking up at the laughter.

Rani decided to get chatty. She crackled, ‘Rathore saab, that haraami is poking his nose around. He was asking all kinds of strange questions.’

Everyone knew she was referring to Anas. She continued, ‘Why should he ask me about the accident? But even that is pardonable. That dirty fool Anna was not even at the junction when the accident occurred, but now he is going around bragging about how he would ban pizza from his department after that stink-master Nawab fellow acts on his complaints.’

Rathore was getting very confused. ‘Are you telling me Anas has interrogated you and Anna? What the…’

Ji saab. And that make-up truck Bijli was also there, writing everything down.’ Rani could never resist giving adjectives to anyone she referred to. She continued, ‘Somehow he showed particular interest in our stud Alfa; so I just played along and gave him what he wanted…’ she trailed off dramatically, eyeing Alfa through the corner of her eye.

‘And what is it that he wanted…?’ Alfa was all ears now. ‘And what in tarnation did you give him?’ he added, testily.

‘Only the truth,’ Rani dropped her tone and drew out the words in a throaty, grainy murmur. ‘I told him how your different groups of hard muscles synchronised as you ran after that komdi,’ she was back to her normal voice now, ‘and gave him the KLPD of the day when I laughed at him. He was literally drooling at the time, and it was worth the gaalis to see his face undergo that transformation.’

‘Eagh!’ was Alfa’s reaction. ‘If the fellow makes a move I’ll chuck my fist up his arse,’ he threatened menacingly.

‘That’s exactly what he wants!!!’ exclaimed Rani, and the VRR erupted with hoots of laughter.

Rathore noticed with satisfaction that KK was silently shaking his head and laughing, baring all his teeth. Clearly, not everyone had begun putting two and two together yet.

‘Oh shit!’ XL exploded, and blurted out before he could stop himself, ‘I fell prey too! And so did Rama Rao.’

Everyone looked at him expectantly. Chai too finished what he was reading and looked up. So for the second time in two days XL conducted a narration. Only this time, he kept it staid, and eliminated the embarrassing parts. And no, this time, his audience did not get off on his shoulder.

‘I was there yesterday, at the Railway Hospital, around mid-morning. Those nuts had asked Rama Rao to go get his own medicines! I mean, men, how can a guy with a broken leg take the stairs and walk down one floor? Bloody cutlet, men, those compounder guys! I took the list from him and gave it to the store. He sez four out of the six are out of stock. I gave him a tapli on his head and then he vomited the truth – they would be in the stock room. So I went there myself, because there was only one bloody cutlet fellow in the store. In the stock room also there was no one! It seems everyone was sitting at the dharna outside. I found the fellow and gave him one on his kaanpatti then he went to get the keys. I was waiting on the bench outside when Bij… that Giri female came, men…!’ XL paused uncomfortably, as he suddenly recounted how she had ‘come’.

‘And then…?’ came from Rani.

‘She wanted to know what happened. I told her…’

‘What?’ KK demanded this time.

‘Pshaw, men! Told her how those ImprovTech females did something and how I ran to push the switch manually. Told her how I was just a bit too late for that.’

‘And what was that you said about Rama Rao?’ Rathore reminded him.

‘Then when she was leaving I saw Anas,’ XL continued. ‘That was when I became suspicious. I mean, he looked like he was waiting for her. But I lost my patience here and found that cutlet fellow responsible for the stock back in the dharna! When he saw me the bloody fellow ran and opened the stock room and gave me the medicines in three seconds!’ he paused for effect.

‘What about Rama Rao?’ insisted KK, getting impatient.

‘Ya men! I went to him with the medicines, no? He told me Anas was there to see him, and asked him about the accident!’

Rathore was now alarmed. His mind grappled with the multitudinous possibilities even as his sixth sense began ringing a huge bell between his ears. Quite unfortunately, Chai broke his own silence and confirmed Rathore’s worst fears.

‘All this is no longer mystery’, Chai explained. ‘I’ve just intercepted what looks like the official investigation report on the accident.’ He waved the sheets of paper in his hands.

‘How did you manage to do that?’ Babloo spoke for the first time.

‘It’s easy when you only need to outsmart the village idiot. Dirty Anna was standing at the new photocopier machine cum printer with the Incident Reporting file in his hands and that dumbfounded vacant look on his face. Pretending to help him out I programmed the machine to copy to memory, printed him one set, and printed myself another after he left, vacant look replaced by his patented shit-eating grin.’

By then Rathore and the others had guessed that it was Anas who had written this report, and that BC had asked for an office copy before he forwarded the file to Apte.

‘Read it out’, XL demanded.

Chai began:

Dated: whatever

Investigation Report
Derailment of Goods Train No: R 2149

Incident:
The Goods Train No. R 2149 was scheduled… blah blah blah…

Investigation was conducted by looking at procedures… blah… interviewing… blah… checking logs… more blah… obtaining reports from ImprovTech… even more blah… hmm, finally:

Findings:

  1. Mr. Lobo did not undertake due care while executing the commands for switching the signals and further changing the tracks. Mr. Lobo was also found to be running an unauthorized program for watching a movie on the control machine. The same increased the system utilization of the control terminal to abnormal levels thereby causing the glitch in the system. Furthermore, Mr. Lobo complicated his errors by trying to use the manual override. The manual override has not been tested since switching to the new system. This can be verified in the maintenance reports provided by M/s. ImprovTech Ltd., attached in Annexure for convenience. Even though it was obvious to him that he was out of time, he nevertheless pulled the lever, and caused the track to be jammed to the left.
  2. Mr. Kunjachan, who was the main driver of the said train, is also guilty of being negligent while performing his duties as a main driver. Flouting the rule 41.D in the manual, he did not check to see whether the track was fully in place before accelerating towards the junction. Moreover, he was found to be distracting the assistant from performing his duties, and did not hear the warnings shouted by the railway personnel who were around. It is known that Mr. Kunjachan is quite senior and has an unnatural fetish for food. It is reported that Mr. Kunjachan usually has a cavalier attitude towards his duties, allegedly due to his age, seniority and experience. It is believed that this tragedy could have been averted and this loss would have been minimized, had a younger and fitter driver been used in his place.
  3. Mr. Kampani, who was on duty along with Mr. Lobo, has failed to discharge his duties properly by not performing oversight on Mr. Lobo’s actions, and also not preventing the use of unauthorized software and media on the control machine, despite knowing the dangers associated with the same. Further, he is allegedly accused of using profane language with, and sexual harassment of, and trying to shift the blame to, ImprovTech employees who were present in the Signals cabin around the time of the incident.
  4. As per eyewitness accounts, Mr. Abdul Ahmed (gangman) is reported to have pilfered the merchandise from the accident site.
  5. Mr. Rathore is found to be negligent in his duties of overseeing his team of railway personnel under his command; and turning a Nelson’s eye towards inefficient and incomplete work execution, unauthorized use of office resources, behavioural issues and theft by them. It is also reported that he has exceeded his authority by trying to run an unofficial investigation into the issue, and therein questioning and threatening ImprovTech employees. Furthermore, he has not yet submitted a written immediate incident report as demanded by Mr. Chattopadhyay (DOS).
  6. Mr. Ram Narain has submitted his report of the entire issue, along with the signed accounts of the two ImproveTech SysMaint employees present in the Signal cabin. He has expressed his anguish and shock over the maltreatment meted out to him by Mr. Rathore, and the brazen abuse faced by his team members at the hands of the Signals crew.

Summary and Recommendations: more useless blah…

There was a moment of disbelieving silence, followed by an uproar. XL was positively shaking. KK looked further dismayed, and let out some choice mallu expletives directed at Anas, ‘Pullinte mone, thayoli! Ninte ammayiappante veetti-chennu parayada, paratta naari! ’ Loosely translated, that would amount to: ‘Son of grass (as in, you insignificant insect), cur! Go throw such accusations at your father-in-law’s doorstep, you tattered stinker!’

Alfa looked like he was preparing for physical battle. He was banging the table and working himself up into a fury. This drew a curt ‘Abe pahalwan, thand rakh’ from Lovlee.

On sudden realisation, Rani switched from the I-told-you-so look on her face, to a chagrined, indignant appeal to Alfa: ‘I didn’t mean to say you stole the chicken! That bastard made it up. Honest! Maa kasam!

Even Chai was conversing rapidly with XL, switching languages involuntarily, leaving the latter confused. Only Babloo was silent, besides Rathore himself.

‘Let’s barge into BC’s room and stuff this report down his throat!’ exclaimed KK.

‘That useless bastard? To what effect?’ opined Chai.

‘He will at least realise we’re not taking this lying down,’ it was XL this time.

Tyala mait nahi kai? ’ Chai shot. ‘You think he doesn’t know that already? This was deliberate, man! Understand this.’

 ***

 

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One response

28 02 2009
Ava

awesome, where is the rest of the story?

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