Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Happening

Wednesday evening. Around 9 PM. I called up Chitto to discuss about the Goa-trip that we three (third one being Pravu) had planned for the first weekend of December. Tickets were booked, researches were in progress to have some serious kick-ass fun and my intent for the call was to finalize the place of stay. Having exchanged the pleasantries ( both of us greet each other with a “Hello Sir!” for reasons unknown), we decided to get Pravu too in the conference.. He stays in Gurgaon but was in Kharagpur at that time.

Just when we finalized on a Hotel on Calangute beach, Chitto asked us whether we heard the sounds of bullets in the background. Chitto stays in Colaba and informed us that there’s a gang war going on in Colaba at various place and he has switched off all the lights and bolted the doors & windows. I googled “Colaba” for any such news, but there wasn’t any update till then. I jokingly told him to show some enterprise, become a citizen journalist and take some snaps of the gangsters. He then heard the booming sound of a bomb or a grenade perhaps.

We decided to hang up some time later and I immediately called up my brother who stays in Wadala which is a few Kilometers away from Colaba. He is a party animal and visits places in Colaba quite often. He was at a friend’s place in Dadar at that time and was aware of the “situation” in Colaba. He assured me that he will leave only after the gang war is over. By this time rediff had a headline about shootouts in Colaba; details were missing.

A couple of hours later I checked the news again and by this time it was clear that Mumbai was under an terrorist attack at various places and around ten people have died. Once again I called up brother. He was still with his friend Munish in Dadar. Three of Munish’s friends were missing and not reachable. They were supposed to be in Colaba at that time. Brother told me that he will leave only in the morning now. He had called up our parents & informed them. This is something that we both always do; we both never get calls from home in times of crisis and it is we who inform them that there is a crisis and we are safe.. Last time there were blasts in Bangalore, I was the one to inform my father that there are blasts and that I am far away from the area where blasts took place which was a lie ; the affected areas were at walking distances.

Thursday morning I logged on to the net as soon as I was up. The death count was 100 and the attack was rightly termed as unprecedented in terms of impact and manner in which it was being carried out. All the news headlines were in bold and there was absolutely no coverage for any other news which included state elections. A picture of burning Taj was shown along with the count for dead, hostages and injured. Experiences of narrow escape and horror abounded.

I went to office and then called up Chitto once again. He told me that the Nariman Point house where a Jewish family is taken hostage is just two streets away from his place. There are trucks of army and firemen around his place. He didn’t have any option but to stay locked inside the house. Once again I called my brother. Two of Munish’s friends who were missing last night were shot dead in Leopold Cafe. The bullets went right through their heads. One of them was two years junior to me at IIT Kharagpur and was about to get married in December. The other was from Indore.

The idea of a rocking trip to Goa seemed too perverse at that time and I discussed the same with Chitto. We decided to call it off, but gave ourselves a couple of days before we put a death nail into it and inform Pravu. My brother was going to Dewas the next day and he too cancelled the tickets now. The carnage was still on and the end was nowhere in sight. Contradictory news and rumors abounded. Taj and Oberoi were reported to be free a couple of times only to be followed by with news about raging fire and even more bullets and grenades.

My brother works for Yes-bank and Friday afternoon I got a call from him that Yes-Bank chairman Ashok Kapur was found dead in Oberoi. Saturday morning I went out for a walk and saw some reporters at the Frank Anthony school which is quite close to my place; one can hear “We shall overcome someday” when they sing in the assembly. The reporters were here because the NSG Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who died bravely combating the terrorists, studied at this school.

By Saturday afternoon, the trauma had officially ended. This was the first time things were happening to people connected to me. Thinking about my feelings about all this seems guilt filled indulgence to me. How does it matter if everything would be forgotten in a few days? Many of us are expressing rage, offering solutions, analyzing the situation, writing articles, commenting on the news sites. Will it be the same short lived patriotism, rage and sadness? Would the voices once again die down without any actions? One-minute-silences would follow, dead would be forgotten and then life will go on, waiting for another day when once again these maniacal devils would come to play with their bullets and bombs and bathe with our blood.

For this one time I wish there is a One minute where entire Mumbai erupts with people shouting at top of their voices. Let there be screams and cries, let there be shrieks, let the city roar. Let the twenty million souls voice there anguish and anger together; the sound would be loud enough to tremble Delhi and Karachi. This time Mumbai shouldn’t be praised for its ‘resilience’, but for its strength and the will to not to forget what was done to it and to not let this happen again. How we all wish that. But would those wishes remain a dream and would we once again allow the reality to become a nightmare.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tricks of trades: Introduction

Friday night. Music was exploding inside Vinnie as she zipped through the traffic at dangerous speeds to bring me back to home from work. All bills are paid ahead of time, car has been serviced and insured last week , groceries are well stocked, hair are short enough; in short, the weekend ahead had nothing better to do other than watch me switching between the bed and the bean bag . As the song goes, I had no deeds to do, no promises to keep. I really was feeling groovy, a drink was in order.

I parked the car and walked towards the “Happy Wine Shop” nearby to get a quarter of whisky. I had a 500 note along with a few 10’s. Something within me told me that the shop-keeper might try to cheat: he’ll pretend that I gave him a 100 rupee note instead of 500. So I memorized the number on the 500 note as an alibi. The romantic in me imagined that it would be pretty neat when I’ll grandly challenge him to check the 500 notes in his stack for the number I memorized and once vindicated, fellow customers would clap for me with admiration.

The thing costs 130; I gave the 500 note, he asked me for a change of 30 which I gave him and naturally expected 4 hundred rupee notes in return. He began packing the small box and gave it to me in a bag. I took it and then walked back without taking the 4 hundreds. I forgot!! Forgot to ask for the change, forgot the whole 500 vs 100 analysis done just minutes ago. I still remember the number on the 500 note, but when it mattered I forgot the reason why I memorized it. The next morning when I looked into my wallet, I realized my mistake. Going back to the shop was futile; still went there. Someone who sells liquor can’ be expected to be so honest; God knows how many men he has to bribe and how many weird characters he has to deal with in a day’s work.

The shop-keeper tried his luck and he succeeded against a fully prepared customer. He must be doing this many a times; sometimes he would win, the other times he’ll sheepishly return the change feigning oversight. Not much risk involved there. That’s one of the many safe long term strategies that people use quite often. Then there are other tricks too, some brilliant some naive, successful to varying extents.

Most of the professions allow the cunning ones opportunities to cheat/trick/take unfair advantages. A few of them might not even be illegitimate; rules & law can get you only so far. I recall being taken for a ride by the folks at petrol-pump, house-maid, shop-keepers, bank, land-lord, restaurants, cab-drivers, sales-persons, two professional con-men and some more. My story would be an antithesis of the movie “Catch me if you can”. I see a lot of smart ones around me fallen to similar stuff at the hands of apparently less educated and intelligent ones. The reason I think it is possible for a worker at petrol-pump to cheat an IITian with a degree in Economics from LSE is that he has a method. I have caught him when the same trick was being played the third time and when I shared this with my friends, most of them admitted being duped similarly and now are thankful for pointing it out.

I’ll be starting a series “Tricks of Trades” devoted to these incidents. Would take up examples from the list mentioned above and try to analyze the strategies that the subjects involved use. All these posts shall be under the label “Tricks of Trades”. The analysis would be around the forces that help these subjects take the advantage. I’ll try to see what is the economics involved, what kind of statistics favor the modus operandi and what are the psychological factors that are used. Also would think on the lines of risks involved, repeatability, longevity and long term pay-offs of the strategies from the trickster’s point of view.

I’ll follow it up with the way I felt and reacted after realizing the truth of the situation and what could be done to prevent/detect/minimize losses in such cases. Even the best prepared would loose sometimes. As the example above shows, I had already sensed what was to come, taken the precaution and yet when the time came my mind chose to reflect on other things in life and the preparations went in vain. The excuse given in such cases is that we are only human after all.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What Happens In Dewas Stays In Dewas

After six long years, I celebrated Diwali with family in my home town Dewas (fondly called Las Dewas by expatriates).

“Aa gaya wapis ? Kya kiya Diwali par?” chirped Mukta, a very dear friend now, enthusiastically back in 2002 when I returned to Gurgaon after Diwali celebrations.
“Aisa kuch nahi kiya jo baaki log nahi karte” was the succinct response in a nonchalant and naturally cold tone.

I’ll answer her question this year with a little more description. Most of the mornings I had to keep a three year old entertained so that his mother could help my Mom prepare sweets. Another daily occupation was to wait in Verandah for a cow to come along and then inform Mom; she would feed her last night’s leftovers.

For Dad, I was the expert driver. Dad has been driving for decades, but still can’t reverse a car confidently. So I drove him through the town and waited outside while he entered his client’s places to distribute Gifts & sweets. Played a hard fought Test-series with Bro that spanned over five days. Met a couple of close school friends after very long time. We all have grown old now.

Dewas now has a cool multiplex to boast of. The ticket costs sixty rupees and they come to your seats to take the order for popcorn and soft drinks which, I am proud to say, are priced nearly as much as in Bangalore. Bro & I went with a couple of neighbourhood friends to watch “Golmaal Returns”. The seat next to Bro was damaged; whoever tried sitting on it fell on the floor. There were three such victims and watching them go down was way more hilarious than the movie. All attentions were diverted to that seat whenever a potential Bakra came to sit there; once my eyes were fixed on the screen when the stranger seating beside me nudged “Ek aur aa riyaa hain”. No one warned the poor fellow and once again everyone burst out laughing when he crashed.

Unwillingly burst a lot of crackers and ate thousands of sweets. Midway through all these excesses, I developed an irritating cough in my chest which made breathing difficult during the nights. I’ve managed to stay away from medication since last seven years with some luck, strong determination and persistent laziness. Expressed the desire to extend the run to ten years when brother suggested visiting a doctor. Bro reasoned “ Yaar wo record to Bangalore ka hain. What happens in Dewas, stays in Dewas.” Persuasive argument, but so many Sloths have survived a lifetime without a visit to the Vet. Good old treatment comprising of less food, lots of water and 12 hours of sound sleep for two days came to rescue once again. The glorious run continues.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the day is to read the local Hindi newspaper with morning tea. Fashion movie’s review read: “Is film me tamaam models nashe ki latiyad ho jaati hain aur apna jeevan bistar aur ramp par bitaa deti hain”. Even better was a Diwali-special booklet which had an article informing the reader with ten points about places where the Goddess Laxmi stays and the places she shuns. “Jo poora nanga ho kar nahaata hain uske ghar Laxmiji nahi rahti”. I know that Santa Clause doesn’t visit you if you are naughty throughout the year, but have my doubts over this “Thou shalt not bathe naked” maxim. Haven't done a survey on this one , but my guess is that most of the readers should be spending their life in penury. Also, please be informed that having sex at sunrise or sunset adversely affects your financial prospects.

Overall the trip to my little town was great and apparently aisa bahut kuch kiya jo baaki log nahi karte .