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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Anas AnalYzes

12 02 2008

Waiting for BC’s call, Apte sat in his brand-new, golden swivel chair, drumming his fingers on the antique, glass-covered, exquisitely carved rosewood table left behind by the British. His gaze slowly wandered across his kitschy cabin. Originally a huge room with a bank of ticket counters on one wall; it was converted into a ‘corner room’ and partitioned into two sections using a pale-green Japanese screen and a few fake palm trees. One section housed Apte’s workspace; that is, his brand-new, golden, swivel chair, his antique, glass-covered, exquisitely carved rosewood table, his brand-new, still plastic-wrapped, sky-blue visitor chairs, and his gaudy, backlit modern-art murals on maroon plywood walls, his dusty blue carpet, his cheap chandelier, and his whiskey cabinet. And then there was the pale-green Japanese screen, interspersed with fake palm trees, beyond which was the “Green Lounge”. This section of the room was lined on three sides with a succession of comfortable, green sofa pieces, interrupted by corner tables mounted with golden Laughing Buddhas. The monotone green walls housed the remnants of the ticket window sills, covered up using fake creepers. There was a 42” flat-screen television facing the sofas; in front of the pale-green Japanese screen. A mini bar snuggled in one corner. The room had a backlit greenish aura. He silently congratulated himself on personally designing the Lounge, and frequently used it to ‘entertain’ visiting dignitaries. The Lounge also had a separate entry, controlled by him. He began thinking of the times he had entertained Julie in there… Julie, of course, was posted outside his door. His eyes stopped at the mandatory framed painting of the face of the Great Man, found in all such offices across the country, and his lips turned upwards into a mocking smile. His expression froze and his face turned pale again as he saw another face – barely noticeable between the leaves of the fake palm tree – grinning back at him from below the painting.

The door burst open just as the phone rang, Julie trying to alert him of inbound trouble. Ram Narain stumbled in, his face even more bloated because of fear, tears welling up in his eyes.

“Sir, please save me sir! Rathore will kill me! He will kill you too! He will kill us all!!” A tear started down his chubby cheek.

“Kaay Jhaala! Bas ithey!”

Ram Narain narrated the entire sordid exchange, stopping only for sobs, and ended with a whimper: “Save me sir! Call Mr. Giri…he will save you. Rathore is mad. I have to call my boss. He will help me…Those girls of mine, one of them says she will quit and file a sexual harassment case, the other one is too shocked to speak!”

“NO! NO! NO! Don’t call anybody, you fool!” Apte screamed, and then mellowed, “I’ll take care of it. Trust me. Cool down, and wipe those tears. Go, and send those girls to me, one by one; mee baghto tyana.” The phone started to ring, with BC’s number winking up at Apte. “Look, don’t worry. I’ll see to it that Rathore suffers for this. Just go back there and have a drink or something…” Apte pointed to the Lounge.

Ram Narain entered the Lounge, took one look at the grinning face, and felt color returning to his cheeks.

***

Apte grabbed the receiver, and spat: “BC, he kaay aahe? You idiot! You are good for nothing! Can’t control your own people!”

“No shob….yoes shob”

“Tula mahitiye Rathoreney kaay kele?”

“‘Rothore loid on ogg, shob…”

“Tichaaicha! He shouted at Ram Narain and his people as if they were beggars! He abused Ram Narain and the poor girls who manage the servers! Do you have any idea what this means?!”

“No shob.”

“If Ram Narain goes to his boss, ImprovTech may pull out of the contract, blaming us! What will we do then? Where will the reputation of our Organization go? Do you know how big and powerful ImproveTech is? It is a respected global MNC! Who will ever work with us then?”

“Opte shob…”

“What’s worse, your people have abused those girls. What if they sue us for harassment? If I go down, I’ll take you down with me! Who authorized Rathore to carry out this witch hunt? Did you?”

“No shob.”

“Aataach suspend kar tyala!”

“Shob, rule…”

“Rule, schmule! If you cannot, put it up to me and I’ll do it. And do it fast, or I’ll suspend you too!”

“Ok Shob. Shob, Oi hab desoided Nawab bhill do invoistigashun…”

Apte feigned happiness, “Good! Good! Now you are using your head. Send me a mail, and I will authorize him to do the needful.” Apte slammed down the receiver.

Meaning to call them in from the Lounge, Apte looked through the gap between the fake leaves, and stopped in mid-motion. He continued to stare at the incredulous scene before him, his expression slowly changing to disgust. Finally, he cleared his throat and waved his hand.

***

Ram Narain entered the Lounge and saw Anas splayed across the sofa in the center. Anas, after convincing BC to let him investigate the derailment, had come straight to Apte to tell him the good news, and was sitting in the lounge nursing a morning beer. He motioned Ram Narain to sit while he got up to make him a drink.

Placing his drink on the center table, Anas sat next to Ram Narain and put his hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t worry Raam, Main hoon na. Suno Apte sahib kya keh rahe hain. Sab sambhaal lenge. You just relax.” The plump hand snaked around Ram Narain’s shoulder as he concentrated on Apte’s conversation with BC.

“See, I am investigating the accident now. We will take care of everything.” The hand started to caress Ram Narain’s arm, sending waves of relief through him.

Ram Narain couldn’t take it any longer. He lowered his head onto Anas and all the tears he had held back came gushing out of his puffy eyes. Anas used the other hand to hold Ram’s face tightly as he felt the warm flood soaking his shirt, his vest and then the skin. This feeling of coitobalnism excited him almost immediately to the point of ecstasy. His other hand traveled up Ram’s thigh, feeling the texture of soft flesh. His mouth watered in anticipation of the meat and he dribbled a bit on Ram’s curled mop. In a trance, he reached for the zipper. Anas suddenly snapped out of it, when he heard Apte cough, and found him staring at them through the fake leaves. With great reluctance, he pulled Ram Narain away from himself, and told him: “Now I shall go and investigate the accident,” he winked, “go and tell those girls of yours not to do anything rash, and tell them Apte sahib himself has invited them for resolving their grievances. You said one of them is too shocked to speak, you can send her to meet Apte sahib first, maybe just after lunch, hm? Come, let’s leave now, Apte sahib is a busy man.”

They left the room together, Anas grinning at Apte just as he closed the door behind him. Apte shook his head and pressed the buzzer.

***

“Eheheheheheheheheh…!” *snort*

Back in his chair, Anas began rubbing his hands in glee, as he emitted a strange sound he thought was a sneer. Outside Apte’s cabin, Ram Narain had already briefed him about what had happened in Signals. He was still enjoying the sensation he had experienced, petting him while Narain had sobbed on his bosom. He began to dream about the new blackmail opportunity, when he shook himself alert, and began to think how best to use this against Rathore and his gang. After a good fifteen minutes, he picked up the phone, dialed an extension, and said:

“Come here, now!”

“Yes sir!” a female voice replied.

Almost immediately, a sari-clad, slightly plump, 35-trying-to-look-20-with-excess-makeup woman entered his cabin. She was clumsily carrying a pen and heavy diary.

“Good Morning Bij…Mrs. Giri! You’re looking lovely today!” Anas blurted automatically.

Her perfectly lipstick-ed lips opened, “Yes sir! Thank you sir! It is the good cold weather we are having sir, and ‘they’ brought me a new winter cream from Tokyo sir, you should try…” Anas kicked himself mentally, but there was no escaping Mrs. Bijli Giri, the ever-sycophantic, blabbering, and extremely dumb career clerk. He thought back to when the powerful Mr. Giri had leaned on him to get Bijli posted at Bhikshapore. He had thought at the time that he was being clever by getting in Mr. Giri’s good graces and weakening Rathore’s team at the same time. As it was, Rathore had outsmarted him, and convinced BC to depute Bijli to work under Anas.

Anas interrupted: “Ahum…Yes, well, that’s good! Good! Now, what I am going to tell you is very important, and very confidential. You must not tell anybody about it.”

Bijli was all ears, thinking maybe she would impress Mr. Giri over breakfast with this and buy those Pretorian earrings she had seen on African Sky Shop. Mr. Giri never came home before breakfast, not that it bothered Bijli much.

“You know there’s been an accident here, at the Junction. I was with Apte sahib some time back, and he has asked me to conduct a secret investigation. I shall be meeting the people concerned with this case. I want you to accompany me and take notes. But remember, this is secret, so we should be inconspicuous.”

“Yes sir! Of course, sir! Apte sahib himself! Wow sir!”

“Shut up, Bijli.” Anas mumbled under his breath. He smiled, got up, and left the room with Bijli in tow.

***

Presently, the duo came across Anna, dozing on a bench. Anas motioned Bijli to start taking notes. He poked Anna on the shoulder.

“Huuuuh *sputter*…….Saar, Marning Saar!” Anna sat up with a start. Anna, a short and stodgy man, was one of the Assistants (a.k.a. almost Peons) attending to the many ‘Saars’ in Bhikshapore Junction. Having secured his posting at Bhikshapore by forgery, bribery and loads of luck, he thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Fortunately, thought Anas, he was almost as gullible as Bijli.

“Anna, the Incident reporting file, it must be with Rathore. Get it immediately!”

“Yes saar. No saar, it is in the daakit saar. Rathore saar said he doesn’t want it, saar.”

“Oh? …Come to my cabin.”

“OK saar.”

Back in his seat, Anas motioned Anna to a chair with a smile. Anna’s face lit up at the sudden show of respect, and he lowered his considerable girth into it.

“Why does Rathore not want it?” asked Anas.

“I don’t know, Saar. I had taken the file to him from Bss..Chhatopadhyay saar, but he throw it back at me. He was shouting he had to get to the baatam of the hincident first.”

“Hmm. What do you think happened with the goods train?”

“Saar”, he began, nervously looking at Bijli, “I go to Signals every day. I know many things saar. This was not an accident.”

“Oh, you can trust her.” Bijli beamed. Anas continued, “If you help me, there will be a reward for you.”

“Reward, saar?” Anna’s jaundiced eyes glinted with greed.

“Yes,” Anas knew when he had his man “you want a promotion out of this grade, no? You want to work in…Signals? Supervisor?” Bijli cocked an eyebrow, and pursed her lips. This was her ambition in life, and it was being offered to an assistant!

“Saar, what are you saying saar. Supervisor?!” The greed, jealousy and megalomania that had shaped his facial features came to the fore, and he dug his nose furiously. “I will tell you everything saar.”

Anas sat back and listened to Anna describe his visits to Signals. He lamented how those ‘technicians’ had made the cabin into their own personal fiefdom, how he had scraped pizza slices off the floor, how XL never followed the manual and executed his own shortcuts, and of course, how Pondy was ‘watched’. As Anna decried the stash of porn and the injudicious use of the huge monitoring screen, Anas wondered if they had any he would like to watch. He thought of the morning meeting, and wondered how it would be to watch some of it sitting between Ram Narain and Munni.

Anas smiled as he understood that he can use the information as a flank, to drum up side issues which would fit nicely into the incident. He made sure Bijli was writing everything down, and noticed the scowl on her face. He switched off just as Anna launched into a tirade speculating on a ridiculous conspiracy by KK with the signals guys and canteen to derail the chicken train intentionally; getting a year’s supply of parathas in the bargain.

Anas thanked Anna, taking care not to shake his hand, and packed him off. Not a bad start, not bad at all, he mused.

“Mrs. Giri, I would like to make an offer to you.”

“What, sir?” Bijli shot a cold reply.

“See here, I think I can get those bastards thrown out of Signals, and Rathore out of operations itself. Once I take over operations, how would you like to be the boss of Signals?” He smiled knowingly.

“Oh, I would love it, Sir! Wow sir, Head of Signals, Sir! Thank yew Sir!”
 
“Okay, but you have to promise me not to reveal anything to anybody, even to Mr. Giri. Understood?”

“Understood, sir! Not a word, sir!” The earrings would have to wait. Maybe a vacation to South Africa instead…

“We will go to the Hospital in a while, be ready.”

***

Anas and Bijli headed out of the Junction towards the hospital complex. Anas was quite disgusted at the prospect of entering this railway hospital. The hospital, built during the Raj, was one of the few relics left untouched in the otherwise modernized Junction. It had some good doctors, but the staff was stiffly unionized, and they weren’t backing off. As a result, the conditions at the hospital were deplorable, to put it euphemistically. The floor was cracked and uneven at places, the paint was peeling, bedding and stretchers were torn, leakage and fungus was everywhere, medicines were always in short supply, half the staff was openly hostile to patients, and the other half was anyway clueless, having been recruited more for political favours and nepotism than any qualifications. Even now, a faction of the union was staging a ‘Dharna’ right on the steps, blocking the hospital doors. They decided it would be better to enter through the back door, usually reserved for ambulances and critical patients.

Just as the duo were making their way back to the front towards the stairs, Anas noticed XL sitting on a bench, and stopped, pulling Bijli to a side before XL could notice them.

“Look, do you see XL sitting there all by himself? Now, let’s be honest here. You know how he feels… you know…so do your thing…”

“But sir! How can you say that, sir? I am a married woman!”

“Yes, we all know that. But we also need to find out all we can about the accident. Don’t worry, I will be around to help if….. Remember, “Head of Signals”…” he drew sets of quote-marks over her head as he spoke.

“Ohh, sir, yes, I’ll do it.”

Anas watched her turn and approach the bench in the corner, and then headed towards the first floor marked “General Ward”.

***

Anas entered the ward and looked around. It was a pretty dreary sight, what with people in all shapes and sizes sprawled on cots, and being fussed over by clusters of relatives, much like flies swirling around a batata vada sitting on the canteen floor. The strong smell of formaldehyde caused him to wrinkle his nose, and he turned to spit, stopping in mid-motion and nearly dribbling it out on his uniform. He was staring at Rama Rao, who, lying on the bed with his leg in a cast, was looking right back at him with a curious expression. Anas fished out his kerchief and wiped his face, approached Rama Rao’s bed, and sat on the stool placed next to it.

“Hello Rama, how are you? Very sorry to hear of the unfortunate accident. Where is KK?”

In a weak and faltering voice, Rama Rao answered: “I am okay saab. I was moved out of ICU today saab.” He started to sob, “Saab, my leg is broken saab, I cannot work for three months, the doctor says. What will I do? My family is…” Anas counted to ten, and looked up, “Where is KK?”

“Kunjachan sir has been discharged saab. Only minor concussion. He will be in the canteen with his parath..I mean nedicines.”

“Hmm. Tell me, Rama, how did all this happen? I thought KK was the best driver ever!”

“Yes saab. Kunjachan sir is the best. He can drive that engine with his eyes closed. He doesn’t even have to look outside or at the speedometer. He says he can sense these things. I wish I can learn to be more like that. In fact, he was just describing to me how he polished off the last paratha while adjusting the controls and it was perfectly at 30 Kmph. Then, suddenly, XL babu jumped across the engine, and then Kunjachan sir started to shout and leaped at the brakes. He is very quick saab.”

“And then?”

“Er…I fell and fainted, saab.” Rama Rao said sheepishly.

“Well Rama, I wish you a speedy recovery.  I have to go now, duty calls.” Anas walked off without waiting for a response from Rama Rao, who lay there looking at the receding figure.

***

Bijli reached the bench, bend down and tapped XL lightly on his shoulder. A jolt went from his shoulder to his heart, as he looked up to see two creamy moons, six inches from his face and barely contained in the low-cut blouse, grinning at him. The jolt, turning into titillation as it slowly traveled southwards, suddenly flared as they moved – in slow motion – to his right, eagerly perched themselves upon his arm, and in a most seductive tone, blurted, “XL! How are you feeling?”

Hurriedly realizing that these usually come with a body attached, XL sat upright, and his rapidly reddening face came face to face with the smiling face of Mrs. Giri, looking over him with…interest, he thought.

To the casual observer, a slightly plump aunty had just sidled up to a definitely plump uncle in a most inappropriate manner.

“H..H..Hello Mrs. Giri. Fine! Fine. I am feeling fine…never better!”

“Oh, call me Bijli. I’m not formal, you know.” Bijli said, batting her eyelashes.

“Y..Ya! Of course! W..Whatever you say…Bijli.” How sweet did that sound, XL’s heart exclaimed.

“I heard about your little accident, and I was so shocked. Rani was telling me how you risked you life to try to save the train. I want to hear it all from you.” Bijli flashed him a strange mixture of a concerned face with a smile stuck in it. Her hand reached over and slowly stroked his left shoulder, crushing the rest of herself on XL’s right arm.

XL was suddenly all gallant and coy. He hauled in his breadbasket, took a deep breath to puff out his chest, settled into Bijli’s encircling arms, and began. “You see, I was sitting at my terminal, alert as usual…” and XL meandered through the story, embellishing it suitably to make himself the hero, the victim and almost the villain, barely managing to eliminate the part of Babe #2. All the while, Bijli kept encouraging him whenever his pace flagged, with exaggerated thrusts from the side.

“Oooh…You’re so brave…what a heroic effort… tell me more.” Bijli moaned, snaking a hand up onto his lap.

XL, barely managing to control himself, obscenely mouthed: “Oh, that is all there is to it, Bijli.”
 
“Uh.then, umm.. I’ll see you around, Mr. Lobo.” Bijli said abruptly, detached herself from the arm and the thigh, got up, adjusted her sari, turned, and left. Bijli saw Anas standing at the foot of the stairs with a smirk on his face, and felt – first her flushed face, and then her head – fall in shame. “Not – a –word, sir”, she gnashed, as he fell in step, still smirking. XL, dumbfounded, watched them leave the hospital, pushing past the union mob, and wondered why his shoulder was suddenly very cold.

The casual observer muttered “KLPD” as he passed XL and walked away, quietly laughing to himself.

The lunch siren sounded in the distance.

***

Although he hated her, Anas had no choice. Rani had been on the scene at the accident, and he would have to talk to her to see if he could rake up some more muck. He called up M & M and barked at him to find her and send her over. He then called up Bijli and told her to forget about her post-lunch siesta.

Bijli entered first, subconsciously adjusting her hair, her sari, her posture and her face; clearly, she still hadn’t yet gotten over the ‘experience’. Rani entered just as Bijli was settling down to one side with her pen and diary.

Rani was a gaunt cadaver of a human being. By sheer dint of her perseverance, not to mention the sweeper’s union and a women’s rights group and Apte and the reservation panel, she had managed to insert herself into the most sought-after Junction in the entire country, albeit as a modest sweeper. Among other things, she openly despised Anas.

“Boliye Nawaab sahib, kya gandagee saaf karoon?” Rani giggled.

“Chup chap baitho” Anas snapped, pushing his bile back down his throat. Rani made herself comfortable on the floor.

“Oopar!” Anas shouted, pointing to the chair. Rani got up and sank into the chair, while Bijli looked on disdainfully.

“Now tell me, what did you see at the accident site?”

“What did I see? The entire thing. The Signals guys running around, Rathore running, Alfa running, the train crash, the Chickens and eggs flying around…and Alfa running after…*chuckle*…” and she burst into giggles.

“Alfa? What about him?” Anas straightened and then leaned forward, looking very interested. Rani didn’t miss the cue. She smiled, deepening and lowering her voice: “You know how Alfa is, mmmm! He was chasing and collecting chickens for dinner, what a good cook he is…and the way he chased those chickens, those huge arms with the rippling muscles, all those biceps, triceps and quads flowing lithely, imagine the broad, smooth back gliding in, the unyielding six-pack and that cute little butt…and then…”

“and then…” Anas repeated, as if in a trance.

“And then, the chicken took off and vanished under the maalgaadi!! What did you think Nawaab sahib!” squealed Rani, snapping her fingers in his face.
“Wha…” Anas suddenly found himself uncomfortably perched on the edge of his chair, leaning almost all the way across the table. His face, a mix of glazed manna and anxious anticipation, was equidistant from the two females who were doubling up laughing and pointing at him. He immediately drew back, turning a mottled purple.

“Get out! Get out! You bitch! Out! Now!” He screamed to Rani, who was already halfway out of the door, giggling away.

Looking down at his shoes, Anas pointed, “You too Bijli! And leave the diary here.”

“Not-a-word!” He grunted as her heard her snickering on her way out. Damn Apte, damn Giri, damn the damned union, he thought morosely, as he reached for the phone.

***

“Ahh, Munni, my pet, nice and slow.” Anas said, as he looked below his table and ruffled his hair. After a day like this, a man needs to relax, and what could be more relaxing…Anas thought, as he drifted off, thinking of Alfa; as the sun went over the horizon and the lights came on.

Much later, Anas sat framed against the sole lit office window, as he began:

Dated: xx/xx/xxxx

Investigation Report

Derailment of Goods Train No: R 2149

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





May the Farce be with you

18 12 2007

Ram Narain was shitting bricks. He knew that Rathore would see right through the lies that were part of the cover up ploy. It seemed just like yesterday, when Ram Narain being instrumental in bagging this lucrative deal, had got promoted and had rewarded himself with a shiny new sedan. He had known all along that his team was incapable of handling this project but he had given in to the temptation of the big bucks involved.

He remembered telling himself “Anyways, who will know, that we don’t know, no? Eh?”

Now those decisions were coming back to haunt him.

As he walked into Rathore’s cabin accompanied by the two babes who had executed this stupidity to perfection, Rathore could feel his anger rising and he almost looked away in disgust. Was it the effect of the star wars series that he was watching till the wee hours of the morning or did Ram Narain actually look like a ‘Sith Lord’?

Ram Narain was of average height but his flab made him look like a shapeless entity. When he walked, it seemed as if he was floating or a sliding mass of fat moving forward.

Rathore braced himself to listen to what Ram Narain could possibly come up with to explain all this. He was convinced that these babes were the dumbest creatures in at least a few million galaxies, the kind who would feel there was something slightly amiss, even if they got pregnant on a visit to the dentist.

Ram Narain started the conversation as if this was a ‘chai pakoda’ meeting and nothing serious had happened. He had expected that Chai and XL would be in the cabin. He amused himself by thinking of the duo as Chai Pakoda with obvious reference to Chai’s pet name and XL’s figure.

Rathore could feel his anger rising as he listened to Ram Narain trying to coolly wash his hands clean and stating that “I am convinced that we had nothing to do with this accident”.

“If only I had a light sabre, I would challenge you to a duel and cut you up into a thousand pieces” Rathore muttered under his breath.

“I have spoken to my boys and know what your people were up to.” growled Rathore, trying very hard to restrain himself from clobbering Ram Narain.

“Your team has not been able to scale up to the required standard and these two, sitting right here, have executed the crappy code written by your guys and that is the cause of this accident!”
 
“Rathore Saab, you need to look elsewhere and not at us!! Anyways my people were there only for a couple of minutes as opposed to your guys who call the signals room ‘home’!” Ram Narain hinted that it was Rathore’s team that was responsible.

That was the last straw. The threshold of Rathore’s control was breached. He thundered, “Two minutes is all it takes to screw up a perfectly running system! It is not the time that you spend, what matters is what you do in that period. You know that it was the incompetence of your people that has tarnished the spotless reputation of my team and Bhikshapore Junction as a whole.”

He immediately called Chai and XL into his cabin. The two were waiting in anticipation anyway and were in there in a jiffy.  As they came in, the small beads of sweat on Ram Narain’s forehead started to form a small puddle on the cavity between his cheeks and his nose. Babe#1 and Babe#2 also seemed to sink deeper in their chairs as if waiting to be teleported to another galaxy.

As Chai and XL repeated their version of the story, Babe #1 looked as if she was about to burst into tears while babe#2 seemed to have switched off and had as intelligent a look about her as a three year old in a class of advanced stochastic modelling.

Ram Narain tried once more and said, “Yes, they (Babe# 1 & 2) went into the signals room, but they did not make any permanent change to the system and were only there to take readings!”

“Yes, you need to mess with cables, insert disks and copy code, to take readings!” Chai exploded.

“But, we….just…” started out Babe#1

“You babes have….screwed up…. and you know it!” burst out XL

“Or maybe your code prevented us from the end of the world and the derailment was just a small price to pay for world peace!” chipped in Chai

Rathore’s team was swinging between explosive anger and dry sarcasm.

Rathore gave Ram Narain a final warning, “Own up now; tell us the defect that has caused this mess and we can together find a solution!”

Ram Narain’s voice was now a mere squeak “But…. it was not our fault!!!”

Disgusted Rathore said in a calm voice “It was my mistake to expect gutless people like you to have the balls to admit of your screw up! Now we are going to get the required proof and see to it that you pay for this!”

He then motioned for the Improvtech team to leave. They got up, still in a daze from the blasting they had received; and left.

“Guys, we will need irrefutable proof, so that their charade of innocence is busted and we can take their asses to the cleaners.” said Rathore. XL and Chai knew exactly what they had to do and they went out with a mission on their hands.

——– 

In the meantime, BC’s peaceful world of documentation was interrupted by a surprise visit. As Nawab walked in he observed how busy BC seemed. He also knew that he would need to choose his words carefully.

“People just do not understand the importance of documentation!”

BC’s eyes lit up.

“Aah, yoes!” he exclaimed, nodding furiously.

Nawab added “Had proper documentation and processes been followed, none of this mess would have happened”.

“Oh, yoes” chimed in BC.

Nawab knew that he now had BC eating out of his hands. He felt all powerful. He too had watched the series of star wars all night and had taken a liking for the ‘Dark side’. The power associated with it made him feel good. He conjured up the image of himself as Anakin Skywalker and he was confident that he would not loose any duel. He was too smart and cunning to let that happen.

He told BC, “I know you need to send a report for this accident urgently and you need to appoint an impartial investigator.  I am in charge of the security here and can do this investigation for you. I know that you have taken utmost care in reporting every possible detail and I will take care to mention that in my report.”

BC felt relieved now, much like taking a long healthy leak after holding back for half a day. Ever since Rathore had barged into his office, he was afraid that the blame of this accident would somehow fall on him.

“Nawab understands the sincerity with which I follow all procedures, he is the correct person to investigate” he said to himself.

But did he have the authority to take decisions?  He had not taken any decision for a long time and was unsure of whether he was authorised to do so.

He decided to ask Apte. “Oi bhill tok to Opte Shob and let you know. Hokay?” is what he told Nawab.

Nawab smiled, “Ok, we must follow all the procedures” he said, and left BC’s office.

As he was walking towards his cabin, he said to himself “Man! Now that was a piece of cake!”





Coitus Interruptus – Dual

20 10 2007

Bangabandhu Chattopadhyay was a busy man.  He was always a busy man.  Sometimes he was so busy he ceased to be a man and just remained busy. 

He was the Divisional Operations Superintendent or DOS to whom, quite unfortunately, Rathore reported, a factor of – the latter pacified himself – age and none else.  If you stayed in a government institution long enough to outlast the ancient furniture they use, they’d make sure you are gradually pushed up the pyramid, no matter how dumb you are, no matter how much you goof up, no matter the number of things you do to deserve anything ranging from a kick in the butt to societal ostracisation.  That perhaps explains all the crappy people you find ensconced in the top echelons of the governmental heap. 

Chattopadhyay was in his early fifties, a short skinny little fellow whose hormones never kicked in totally, resulting in a beard whose constituent hair you could count on your fingers and toes.  He was a one-skinny-man documentation machine.  What he lacked in terms of decision making power, he overcompensated by way of writing office notings in files – or at least he believed he did.  If a couple of his juniors were to debate a course of action in his presence, come to blows over it and finally if one of them were to draw out a club and bludgeon the other to death, this Chronicler Extraordinaire would do precious little more than write it all down faithfully, and forward them to his superior in a file marked MOM (Minutes of the Meeting). 

One would take that as an asset in certain roles, but this job put on him the tasks of taking up issues by the horns, playing by the ear, thinking on the feet and taking decisions at the speed of neurons.  The sheer number of body parts in the previous statement overwhelmed Chattopadhyay, and he was clearly less than equal to these tasks. 

Some people are old of body; Chattopadhyay was old of mind, besides being old of body.  His juniors were so up to here with his thought process they proceeded to call him BC, seemingly very innocently.  After all, those were his initials.  So what if ‘Before Christ’ stared at you in the face?!  So what if it was the well-known acronym for one of the most widely used expletives in Hindi?! 

‘Oh yoes!’ he responded to Rathore barging in, looking like Eddo Brandes when he took time out of the Zimbabwean cricket team to tend to his poultry farm.  Rathore had wisely decided to convey the news in person.  After all, he had no intention of revealing his personal cell number to BC, no matter how serious the official matter was.  He seated himself; he needed to.

BC’s exclamation was just a perversion of ‘Ah yes!’ which is how he responded to anything and nothing in particular. 

‘There has been an accident,’ began Rathore. 

‘Oh yoes!’ 

‘It was the Nagpur bound goods train.’

‘Oh yoes?’ 

‘At first sight, the cause appears to be a signals and track glitch.’

‘Oh yoes!’ 

‘The merchandise currently spans a radius of 200 metres, and is spreading rapidly.’ 

‘Oh yoes?!’ 

‘Oh yoes,’ he mimicked him perfectly. 

‘Oh… umm… ahem!  Whot liquid wos there?’ BC managed. 

‘The only liquid is in their droppings and eggs.  It was poultry, live.’ 

‘Oh yoes!’ 

Rathore grimaced.  BC caught the look and half-cringed. 

‘Sobmit a report,’ he chimed.  ‘I wont overything in writton.’ 

‘Of all the things to think about at this point in time…’ thought Rathore and swore under his breath. 

Aloud, he said, ‘In good time, BC, in good time.  Poor KK was hurt; he’s on his way to the hospital.  So is Rama Rao.’ 

‘Who KK?’ 

‘The driver.’ 

BC pondered, ‘KK…’ 

‘Kottayam Kunjachan.  One of our best!  Remember?’ 

‘Oh yoes!  Who wos ossistont?’ 

Rathore sighed, ‘Rama Rao.’ 

‘Oh yoes!  You mean Ore-ore!’ 

Rathore was at his wits end.  ‘No, we do not call him RR.  He’s Rama Rao, period.’ 

He rose, turned and left in one motion.  BC almost returned to the note he was in the middle of, then realised he had to perform other tasks screaming for attention right now.  He picked up the receiver and dialled Apte, his superior, at a most inopportune moment. 

Apte ran his fingers through his salt and pepper hair, and returned his hand to Julie’s hip.  Julie was bent over Apte’s workdesk, quite naked waist down.  Apte moved back and forth in a slow rhythmic fashion, screwing her royally.  He was just about to pick up his pace when the shrill phone rang.  He almost began to ignore the ringing till his glazed eyes regained their focus in the uncomfortable memory of the last time he did that, when his GM had almost walked in on his philandering afternoon romp. 

Apte stopped in mid-stroke and picked up the blaring phone. 

‘If it is something I can postpone,’ he muttered inwardly, ‘I could still manage to continue fucking the bitch.’ 

‘Rothore loid on ogg!’ 

BC was staring at the egg on the chair Rathore had just vacated.  It took him a while to begin thinking of the possible connection between the accident involving a goods train carrying live poultry and an egg in his cabin. 

Apte’s face was worthy of a video clip.  He swallowed a mouthful of expletives, and gave vent to his frustration by way of a loud slap on poor Julie’s upturned ass, as he quickly lost hardness and pulled out. 

The perfectly audible smack, and Julie’s accompanied whimper, threw BC’s grey cells back on the job. 

‘Sorry, Opte shob!’ he exclaimed.  ‘Occident!  There wos on occident!  Goods train.  Carrying chikon, and oggs!  Rothore brought one ogg to my cobin!  Oi bhill gib you full report – in file 437, Incidont Reporting.’ 

Julie’s meagre attempts to look respectable as she restored acceptability to her looks was totally lost upon Apte, who continued to stand with his now flaccid member hanging out of his suit.  He was quickly losing patience again. 

‘Shove that file up your skinny ass!  Zhala kai?  Atta tu mala he sang-na!  What was the reason?’  His mind worked furiously, ‘who was the driver?’ 

‘Some KK fellow, shob.  Oi bhill write full repo…’  Apte had already slammed the receiver. 

Julie silently left the cabin.  Apte dialled another extension, shrivelled member still exposed.  ‘Anas!’ he called into the receiver. 

Seated low in his cushioned office chair, Nawab Anas Ahmed was beginning to get that tingling feeling.  The combined ministrations of M&M’s soft fingers, and even softer lips, were causing the desired effect in his nether regions.  He looked down through his protuberant lenses at the baby face working diligently on his member and smiled. 

‘Aaahhh…  now you are beginning to deserve your promotion Munni,’ he raptured.  Anas called him Munni only during their sexual trysts. 

Before he could sense any further build-up, Anas was thrown off balance by the extra-loud phone ring.  Without missing a beat, he picked up the receiver and almost sighed, ‘Uunhhh…’ 

‘Anas, look, we’re in trouble.  There’s been an accident!’  Apte was almost shouting in panic. 

Anas straightened up in the seat and, mercifully for M&M, pushed his head away. 

His reaction was quite unexpected, even for Apte.  ‘Already?’ he queried calmly. 

Apte was beginning to get livid.  ‘My ass will get creamed!  I cannot afford to have a mess like this in my division!  What if they track it back all the way…?’ 

‘Calm down boss,’ Anas spoke as soothingly as possible.  ‘Let me manage it.  Do you have any other information I can use?’ 

‘Yes,’ Apte responded.  ‘The driver was KK, that holier-than-thou bastard from God’s Own Country.  I’ll make his life miserable…’ he trailed off. 

Anas was calm, yet firm.  ‘You know what to do.  Leave the rest to me.’ 

He hung up, and rose.  Looking M&M up and down, he said, ‘Tomorrow, my queen.  Tomorrow you shall continue where you stopped today.  Now I have work to do.  Run along and be a good boy…’ 

Apte replaced the dead line and quickly moved to the door and opened it.  He suddenly felt an urgent need to take a leak.  He stepped outside, then hurriedly leaped back into the cabin.  There he carefully zipped up, rearranged his tie, and proceeded outside. 

BC was already back on the file he had been writing, quite unaware of the fact that he was the de jure cause of coitus interruptus twice over in the same evening. 





When the chicken shit hits the fan

19 10 2007

KK had been driving the Maalgadi for many years now. He was still savouring the taste of delicious but heavy biryani that he had gobbled down late in the afternoon, as he wanted to reach Nagpur, his destination by dinner time. KK was a man whose life was governed by food. People say that he knew all the dhabas in India where one gets good food and always knew, not only what to order but more often than not, the cook of the dhaba. His lean frame did not reveal his only true love…food. His appetite was legendary and he had won many bets with his truly amazing ability to have food enough to ‘feed a Baraat’.


 

Goods Train

 

KK knew Bhikshapore had a canteen where Balwinder Singh ‘Lovlee’ made lovely aloo parathas served with tikkis of fresh butter. He was ruing the fact, that there was no time to stop, as the signal went green and he moved to the designated 30 kmph allowed for a goods train at this particular stretch. As he was describing the aloo parathas in mouth watering detail to Rama Rao, the assistant driver, he saw XL running towards the train and then he saw Rathore on the other side of the track. Curious, he looked at the track to understand what the commotion was all about and with a look of horror slammed the brake.

XL grabbed the lever and pulled……..*Click*….nothing happened as the engine was already on the coupling. Even Chacha Choudhary’s Saboo would not have been able to move the coupling, as the Diesel WDM 3A….weighing 18.8 tons was already on it. The speed was around 4 times of what is recommended for taking a turn, at the time of shunting.

There was an eerie silence when time stood still and then it happened. The engine, due to its momentum, jumped and mangled the track and as the brakes locked up, it skidded for some fifty feet before coming to a halt. The bogies tottered on the track and for a fleeting moment, seemed to stabilize, just before they fell to one side with a loud crashing sound. A plume of smoke and dust went up in the air. KK was in a daze as he had hit his head on the control panel while braking suddenly. Rama Rao was thrown off his seat and was lying on the floor of the engine, clutching his leg, hoping like hell that it was not broken.

As Rathore and the others, watched the disaster in horror, the cacophony surrounding the accident site revealed the contents of the goods train …it was carrying live poultry and to make matters worse, the now broken eggs….talk about literally raising a stink.

Witnessing such an event can send a person in a state of shock but Rathore was a person of unusual calm and ability to hold one’s nerve even in extreme conditions, especially with chicken flying all over the place. He was the first person to reach KK and Rao. He called out to Alfa to get back to the office and call an ambulance. A crowd had started to gather and confusion prevailed. Luckily there was no major fire as the train was not carrying any inflammable material.

Chai was busy flapping his long arms, trying to get rid of a stubborn chicken sitting on his head, as if enjoying the attention and refusing to fly away. He finally got the chicken off and was disgusted to find chicken droppings in his hair as the bird was ‘shit scared’.

Alfa came back with an ambulance and after seeing it off, Rathore asked Chai to take charge while he informed his seniors about the accident. The crowd that had gathered began to recede, as the news of the accident became stale.

Alfa saw a chicken stuck at the door of a bogie. He was tempted to grab it and had begun to salivate at the thought of butter chicken cooked with juicy tomatoes. As he took a step towards the bogie, out of the corner of his eye he saw Rani looking at him. Rani, a sweeper at the station was best described as a tomboy with a razor sharp tongue. Alfa stopped as he saw a look of disdain sweeping over Rani’s face. His huge male ego was hurt; he knew picking a trapped chicken was not really macho. He decided to catch one of the live ones running around, just to prove a point.

Alfa sneaked up close to one chicken and was just an arm’s length away when it ran for its life. Alfa, all of Six feet and almost a couple of inches over that, moved swiftly behind it. The chicken darted around with Alfa close behind. The chicken then went back towards the overturned bogie and slid under a twisted sheet of metal, to go over to the other side with Alfa screaming profanities at the top of his lungs. Rani burst into giggles and Alfa menacingly gave her the finger before she chuckled and walked off.

Rathore was briskly walking back to his office muttering to himself, thinking of how he would explain all this to BC.





Signals

15 10 2007

Chai was sitting by the Signals Cabin window, getting some much needed sunshine. In the extreme Air Conditioning, it tickled him more than warmed him. Chai looked up from ‘Railway Ki Duniya’, and caught Alfa mooning M&M down on the tracks. He smiled, and said, “They’re gonna come for him one of these days…” 

“Hmm..ya.” said XL, part-DBA, part-signals, without looking up from his monitor.  

Chai sighed, tossed the paper on his desk, and walked over to XL’s side. Sure enough, he was watching a new movie, a potboiler no less, ‘borrowed’ from the local pirate just outside the Junction. Irritated, Chai yanked the headphones off XL’s ears, took a step back, leaned on his monitor, raised an eyebrow, and looked at him amusedly. XL started to get up and protest, caught the question in the eyes, then slumped back, paused the movie; and looked up: ‘Whaaat…?!’ 

Chaimey Kampani, or Chai in short, was the running canteen joke of Bhikshapore Junction. Tall but slightly stout, genial but sharp, and a fucking polyglot, would start to describe him, thought XL. Chai was an odd case, born of a Thai mother and a Sindhi father; his name reflected his mixed lineage, but more pertinently, it reflected their sense of humour. He was famous for being the only signals guy in the entire Indian Railways to spend his holidays on Thai beaches. Generally good-humoured and efficient, he told people he was “waiting for the train marked Destiny.” 

“Well, today is Thursday, men; aaj tera number hai, men; aani chaar vaajley aahe, men; so switch the signal as per the schedule, men; kâo jâi mâi, men?” knowing full well that he didn’t. 

“Okay, okay, I didn’t forget……bloody racist!” XL smiled. Xavier Lobo, a Goan Christian, was not going to take the bait again. Being a pavwalla, he had faced this derogatory appellation all his life. Quite perversely, now he enjoyed it. 

The door opened, and the SysMaint babes from ImprovTech, the outsourcing company, walked in. The signals cabin, unlike the ones in the great Indian Hinterland (as Rathore named anything which was not a Metro), was pretty well equipped with three dozen mainframes, and a network infrastructure to kill for. The system was mainly used to monitor the signals, tracks and shunt schedules in real-time for 100 Kms in every direction; apart from handling the Junction’s requirements. A huge wall-mounted plasma screen, 20 feet long and 12 feet high and fondly named “Pondy”, basically showed who was doing what where on the rail network, all the while glittering with bright yellow, blue and green pixels. Signals was constantly manned by two railways persons for operational stuff. The maintenance of both the software and hardware had recently been outsourced to ImprovTech, to much opposition.  

The babes scowled at them and proceeded to one of the mainframes. Babe#1 opened the secure access panel. She inserted a minidisc in the slot and started to upload some code, while the other alternately checked the cables and XL’s expressions. 

Just as XL was trying to grin back, Chai turned to him: “Do it, men.” 

XL jumped, grunted, and then proceeded to press a sequence of keys.

“There, done! Happy?” 

Babe #1 had closed the secure access panel, while Babe #2 had finished messing with some cables. They started to leave, Babe #2 giving a parting wink to XL. Chai turned to the sun, now beginning to set in his window. 

“What the…?” XL exclaimed. A red light was flashing on Pondy. Chai turned, walked back to XL’s terminal, looked at the garbage running across the screen, and cocked an eyebrow: “What the fuck did you two lohns just do here?” he asked the two departing damsels. Just as the anger and indignation in #1’s eyes rose to her lips, an engine horn shook the cabin. 

“Oh Shit!!” Both Chai and XL ran to the window, shielding their eyes, as the two babes slinked away. A goods train was staring in their direction. Chai turned to XL: “Do you know how the manual override works? Tokhe eendo aaye?” 

XL got the gist. “Ya.” 

“Well, get to it, fatso! I’ll get Rathore! Jaldi! Move!” and Chai took off towards the phone. Which was a very fast walk, the guy never ran. XL ran as fast as he could, towards the door leading to the tracks, narrowly missing the babes standing outside the door.  

Chai got on the horn, “Sir? Those SysMaint bitches…server 14……signals is screwed. …Pondy’s a Christmas tree right now….the signal changed, track is stuck….chala!” He flung the receiver down and ‘ran’ out. 

Alfa, still hammering at the hook, felt the shudder as the goods train creaked to life behind him. Good, he thought; he was getting provoked by all those suggestive noises coming from the cargo. Suddenly, he saw XL running and leaping across the tracks. He stopped and stared, at what was admittedly a funny sight. XL, after all, was like a bean bag loosely filled with melted jelly, jiggling all the way. Seconds later, he saw Chai running out of the cabin, when Rathore ran past him shouting something. He decided to follow. 

‘Grab the lever…Press and Pull in one motion…it’s been so damn long!.. Lord, if I pull this off, no more chai-pakodas! (huff!) I’ll jog a mile everyday! No, two miles! Ple(huff!)ase!!!’  XL thought, as he wheezed towards the manual override lever. 

They reached the point where the track changes and veers to the left, seconds before the train, just as XL reached the lever on the other side. Too late, all of them saw the rail, which was stuck to the side, meaning the train would turn left. The driver, thinking he was going straight, had already accelerated to 30 Kmph. With a look of horror, he yelled and dived for the brake. 

XL grabbed the lever and pulled……..*Click*





The Sweaty Shake

12 01 2007

Raj Singh Rathore sat pondering, scratching his chin lightly.  It was less a scratch and more a graze, a kind that moving one’s fingertips against the grain of a ten-hour-old stubble would feel like. 

His ponderation was no different from those of countless others who have ventured to stop and wonder right in the midst of some series of events certain vested interests call life:  “How did it come to this?  Where is this going?” 

Rathore was the Station Superintendent at the nodal railway station of Bhikshapore Junction.  The constantly yo-yoing and see-sawing turn of events that threatened to create major upheavals in his life and career often found him lost in thoughts so intense they made him sweat.  One thought led to another till he usually found himself questioning the basic tenets of his career, the Indian Railways, religion, life. 

However, this time it was different.  His line of sight happened to be in the general direction of the portion of rail track where Alfa was bent over, banging an obstinate hook into a fishplate.  Even over the thirty yard odd distance Rathore could see that Alfa’s actions were a little unnatural, especially his lower half. 

Alfa was not the gangman’s real name.  His name was Abdul Latif Fateh Ahmed.  Thoroughly fed up of different sets of people hailing him with any of the four constituents in his name he decided to settle matters once and for all, by acronymising it to Alfa.  He was still not satisfied; the tea vendor at the intersection insisted on calling him Halfa, prompting him to almost club his heavy fist into the guy’s face.  He would have done that, except that he was too dependent on the snacks at the stall to antagonise its owner. 

As he worked his big arms on the large hammer, swinging it into the fishplate, Alfa mentally traced a drop of sweat that formed at the core of his chest hair and followed it as it rolled slowly down his torso, miraculously side-stepped the depression of his belly button and dissolved its brief existence in another, denser clutch of curly hair beneath his stomach.  Once upon a time he would have been irritated by such truant beads of sweat, not any more.  Now these things egged him on, titillated his thoughts and basically fuelled his comic reactions.  He shook his hips from left to right rapidly, marvelling at the cool soft touch of the bead of sweat, trying to make the feeling last, even as the drop dissolved in the general sheen of sweat and couldn’t be traced anymore. 

Some twenty yards to the left and behind Alfa, RPF constable Mrunal Mehta peered over as he was crossing the tracks to the town side.  He slowed when he saw what he thought was an obscene jig by Alfa, and stopped, considering if he were to go over to the ruffian and give him a piece of his mind. 

Mehta, whose name had been shortened to MM, and later to M&M (Alfa had mauled attempts by some guy to further corrupt that to Eminem), was a soft sort of chap.  Everything about him lacked machismo as much as everything about Alfa lacked finesse and delicateness.  All the way from his ambivalent name, his stature of five feet two, his floppy baby fat and lack of muscles, his effeminate gait, to his thought process – in no way did he fit the bill as a cop. 

Alfa towered over him at an inch over six feet, was all muscle, sported an angry scar on his face, running from his forehead down to his lips, and even had an acerbic tongue to go with it. 

In short, M&M stood no chance.  But even as he made up his mind and recommenced his shifting gait Alfa noticed the pipsqueak through the corner of his eye, and instantly decided to throw in a performance.  He exaggerated his hip thrusting, gradually gyrating in a circular motion till it became a grind.  He then straightened up, holding the hammer in both hands in front of him, and did his best impersonation of Shakira, doing the hippy shimmy from the waist down.  He accentuated it with a bit of yodelling and tuneless singing till the whole sordid act got to his lone direct audience – exactly what he intended anyway.  M&M turned away firmly, fixed his stare into infinity and strode off, looking much like a new school teacher trying to ignore a whole class of jeering little monster kids as she walked past their classroom. 

A little distance away, Rathore graduated from the smirk he held all along and doubled up laughing.  That was a collector’s piece, he thought as he resumed working on the shunting schedule for the next day. 

To be continued…