20-Sep-2010

cafe with the lights


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“man it’s a mess on the screen! There are a zillion icons, I can’t find MS Word, help me out, can u come here for a sec? “

Perspiring heavily in my café cube, I called out to the only guy in charge. It was a hot march Sunday and I dint have this laptop then to type out a character certificate for my mba interview. And I only had this ‘Light Years’ internet café nearby.

What a queer name I thought. Silly science freak.

“sir please look up on the 7th row 5th column, you found it?? “

“oh mate…” I said perplexed at his memory matrix coordination “that’s one hell of a recollection, don’t tell me you know the entire desktop! “

“sir..” I could imagine him smiling mischievously from the adjacent cabin “..its easier for me this way”

“some iit’ian…” I muttered double clicking mercilessly on the W icon. The blank and white page opened reluctantly, as if disturbed from sleep.

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Its dark here. Been an hour and something since power went off, but I amnt complaining for a change. Since 4 pm it’s been raining well, interspersed with the white streaks of lightening in between. Like God testing out His new dig cam in low light mode. The flash is strong, I can tell, as for every split second it lights up the world around me. The wet trees, water streaming down in new rivulets down the road…only to disappear as if some one had pulled the power plug of the TV off. Only to plunge into smoking darkness, loud darkness. But I decided to see through it. I began typing, I had decided to see through darkness, I had discovered eternal light. Long time ago.

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Summer of 2009. Trivandrum.

It was my first job and not a bad one as I saved 10 grands every month. Atleast.

Bank was some 250 kms from home so I had rented a house, still there was plenty to save form the salary. I was stingy. I regarded Warren Buffet as competition.

That stinginess often took its toll on me. Insipid breakfast couldn’t be tolerated for more than 5 days at a trot. Not at all if the menu and cook was the same for all 5 days. Since I have started and associated myself with the word cook, cooking, dishes etc let me make it clear to you. Let us have no misunderstandings. If ever it comes down to me, you and a kitchen , go in yourself. The food and agriculture ministry would give you a certificate.

It would read something like this…

“ To Mr/Ms xxxxxxx, for timely intervening and averting culinary disaster of unimaginable scale and intensity. Govt of India remains indebted and recognizes the sense of alacrity and presence of mind displayed.”

Truly like a gentleman though, I keep my ‘skills’ to myself. But 5 days is the max time I can test my taste buds from not going senseless. This was the 6th day and I left home early at 7am to hotel aryas pure veg restaurant nearby. Now if you’ve cared to observe, all the tamil veg hotels name themselves aryas. Some will be sree aryas, some will be aryas pure and the rest simply aryas. Its some sort of a brand I guess, though it would be nice to know which is the original one. This one near my rented place was the fake nike , no doubt. Small and ugly, it had a psycho manning the counter with blood shot eyes, bald plate and a shabby lungi hitched so up that one wished he was a kareena or for that matter karol gracias. His wardrobe always malfunctioned this way so that till date I haven’t seen any ladies in the hotel except for the octogenarian who sells fish at the roadside nearby.

This guy glared at me as he came to take order.

“whaddya want you…..”

“dosa and tea”

That was it. I never said plain dosa/masala dosa/butter roast. One reason was fear. That guy was atleast 75 kgs more than me. And one day I got iddli when I ordered onion dosa.

That was the second reason. Third reason was that idlis couldn’t sustain me till 2pm in a bank. For the sake of historians reading this, I have heard our madman attempted IIT JEE thrice when he was ..err…75 kg less and 30 years younger…after effects can be brutal and everlasting, especially on hapless hotel customers.

[PS; I don’t have anything against IIT’ians except that I don’t’ like them much].

It was 7.25am and pocket 30rs. lesser when I boarded an “ananthapuri”. The ride to office would take 20 minutes on a normal traffic day. I was too early today. Even if I ambled along at a leisurely pace from the secretariat bus stop to office, I would reach by 8 am max. 8.30 was my time. Chances were high that some guys would be there at the faulty onsite ATM with complaints. Kumar sir reached by 8.15 everyday and I find him on all days engaged with some talk [heated/soothing/argumentative/mellifluous---depending on the customer and sir’s breakfast] near the ATM.

I was never some one to let go easily off the strategic advantages of 8.30 am!

But today I had to kill time till 8.15. I wanted to make sure Kumar sir always had the chance to talk mellifluously to a “might-be-young-and-hot-womens-college-chick-with-a-stuck-atm-card”. I always respect seniority. You’ll never find me distinguishing.

Misers and stingers never suscribe newspapers. They read it off the banking hall coffee table. I had to make an exception today. Nearby newsstand was not yet crowded and Mumbai Indians had won yesterday and I heard in radio that Sachin scored a 50. Some habits and heroes die hard. So I never minded when todays account went to rs.34.5 debit balance.

The Hindu. I will tell The Hindu, if you ask me where to read your sports page from. You pick up your language and the range of columnists is awesome. From Roebuck to Dinakar you get your game funda right. Ofcourse editorials are good, but save them for better philosophically inclined [hard] times.

I was leaning on the green secretariat walls near a police constable reading manorama, analyzing sachin’s stance and elbow position in the back page foto. It was then I noticed the walking stick flipping open. It was the bus to the railway station and he was getting down here. Without lowering the paper I watched as a dark goggled young man got down slowly, one hand on the footboard railing and the other clutching the stick and groping forward. He was blind and cautious, yet sure.

Blind people have always been the cause of intrigue in me. I felt pity in my young age which in the process of growing up assumed the form of an informed compassionate image and understanding. I have helped blind people cross roads before. This time I felt no different and walked up to him and put my arm around his shoulder.

“I will help you cross”

He removed his goggles and I felt he wasn’t blind at all. The look was direct, eye to eye.

Valare upakaram chetta. Thank You”

It was the eyes that held me, that detached me from his clear voice.

They were live, apparently so, but it wasn’t light that guided them.

I found them still trained at my earlier position, as I was taking a step forward.

It was sound bytes response, which for a second or two I mistook as a pair of normal bright pair . His eyes were a mirage of vision for mine.

We just made it before the lights turned green again. Peak hour traffic began buzzing past us.

“Where are you going, should I get an auto for you?”

Venda chetta. No .Once again thanks a lot. I’m going to the nearby computer shop.We are..” pointing to the left he said “….very near to it”

“Ok, you are going back by bus? Where do you stay”

Chetta bus undu. I stay near the medical college, lots of direct buses”

“Oh then we are neighbours, I stay at a rented house in that street near to college”

“Is it so, then you must visit my shop if you’ve any need chetta. I’m Raghu by the way”

He handed me card. I pocketed it thinking blind or not businessmen are businessmen.

“ok Raghu, I’m Rohith, I work at the bank nearby , I’m getting late , see you sometime”

“Thanks Rohit chetta, have a nice day, thank you.”

“Its ok” I muttered and headed off.

The ATM would be cash out by now, I was sure.

7.10pm. Early ‘end of the day’ I must confess. Customers and load was less today. Bless the Banking God. So target was the Aryas coffee shop. Buses plied regularly till 8.30, meant I could take it easy.

Nothing like a tamil hotel tea after evening, they serve you in those small steel glasses but its smoking hot and tasty. Called for a bit of finesse to savour it without burning your tongue tips off, which I was accustomed to by now.

While fumbling for a 5 rupee coin at the bill counter, a 10 rupee note and a piece of paper fell out of my shirt pocket. Collecting my change back I noted that it was that guy Raghu’s businees card. Had completely forgotten that. Flipping back the blank area, I walked to the bus stop reading his card.

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The rain is incessant, like a toddler at a toy shop pestering his mother till she bought him the HotWheels car. Its like a phase in our lives, when we cant see through anything, cant see off anything, when we have to stand and endure, get ourselves drenched in depression to our bones with the every passing minute, hour and day.

Sometimes months and years. And more years.

Before I wouldn’t have seen through this dark sheet of rain. I would have stood perplexed and confused, cursing and fuming. Not now. Now I wait, I give space, I try. To see through this all. To see where its all going, what its all about.

Like Raghu would be doing now, by the shade of his emergency lamp which he light up for others in times like these. In times of darkness and self doubt.

Surely for a disillusioned me of the past, he held forth an emergency lamp too.

It made things clearer, help me put them in perspective.

It was a business card.

“Raghu. P.V [Owner], Light Years Internet Café, Near medical college road”.

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