Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Distance

Hotel Girish still wears the same look from outside. Except that it now has a new window that serves Udipi dishes in attractive plastic- wrapped take-away packs over the counter. A package of 30 rupees would now fetch you a Wada sambar and chutney with a soft drink of your choice. This is the brainchild of Anna’s son - a software engineer with an MBA. Just back from the US.
With ready-to-deploy offerings and object oriented approach to solve just about anything in life.

It was a lopsided deal between Father and Son that Anna would “oversee” from time to time, while Girish would “take charge”. A new section serving Chinese cuisine would be launched next month to tap the college crowd that flocks the restaurant in the evenings.

Girish is sure of his cost benefit analysis, Anna is sure of his age. Both have kept their doubts to themselves in perfect harmony.

It was here that they decided to catch up. She would be in India for a week. There was so much to share.....if only they had the time and inclination. Both seemed short of supply and from both ends, he believed.

He was there before time. As always. A diary of past rendezvous flickered before his eyes for a moment. Whether it was the rugged platform of Dombivli station, the latest film at Eros, a harried job interview at Seepz or a cup of masala tea at Hotel Girish, she was always a trifle late to make it.....but with her unmistakable smile to make up.

The thought brought a smile on his lips. He took his seat in the family room. During those days, there was no room for families. And in any case, they were not a family. Just a young pair filled with romance and starry-eyed ambition. They would first bicker with Raghu for the best seat, and then begin their own argument. And Raghu would shake his head in playful disdain placing the plain white teacups on the equally unadorned table made of cheap plastic.

And what sweltering arguments they had! He remembered the day he had really gone overboard, he now thought. And how she left in a rage. Leaving the Chutney Sandwich and the tea untouched.

But wasn’t his proposal far-fetched? To start out on their own...in the small shed near that stinking garage. A public urinal stands there now. At least, it serves its purpose now.

“Rebel code” she had laughed at the name of the proposed outfit. That was what irked him more than her negative inference. She left fuming, leaving the storm in the teacup.

All that rut over that fucking open source ….a movement that now left him stuck with his fabled principles. And a life only incidental.

But how mesmerizing it all appeared then. The barmy desire to be called a rebel. To make a difference at any cost. And that forceful contempt at the mundane “programmer” tribe- desperate for green cards and the predictable chain that followed it – flourishing careers, celebrated homecomings, pompous matrimonial ads, snobbish marriages and the goddamed pride of a foreign-exchange earner.

In sharp contrast, his “code rebel” group. The intellectual sessions on Apache, Linux, Perl, the anti-proprietary campaigns, the free software ideas…

....And to cheer the contempt for the “run-of-the-mill”, those violent meetings at beer bars, cigarette-fumed debates and then the ghastly resort to grass. And where was the fervour gone?

After all that hue and cry, he was only a programmer still…an aging programmer at that, programmed to survive, a non-billable burden for the firm, a member of the lowly “in-house project team”.

Following the futile chase of an elusive dream of a new-wave start-up of radical morals, he was still employed to serve a profit-conscious firm of the same commonplace tribe that he once loathed. And now he wrote inconsequential code for projects that unabashedly promoted the Microsofts and IBMs of the world.

He was surprised to see her wrapped so elegantly in a saree. Still the same smile. The face looked more radiant but the gestures were familiar. As if it was another meeting at Girish plucked out of the past. But there was no Raghu to acknowledge their past. Wonder where’s he now?

He was unsure about her choice for the day and half-expected a fussy denial.... one stamped with US-returned credentials. But he was wrong. She picked up the laminated menu card and placed the order herself.

Idli sambar arrived followed by cold coffee. And then the nostalgia. There was so much for a hearty laugh. The Dombivli chawl, pestering neighbors, Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla, packed suburban trains, failed job interviews, messy projects with killing deadlines, the clumsy kiss in the packed Eros theatre, besan laddoos in her tiffin; all for him… and of course, the treasure of memories locked in Hotel Girish.

She remembered every single detail, with the passion of an author who breathes the entire script of his novel, however discarded it may have been. He could read the pathos of their story in her eyes, her gestures, her sighs as also her smiles.

They went on and on, till it was dark. Dark enough to curl back in the beam of their respective lives. She got up, and he could see her eyes were moist. So much had changed around them and yet nothing had changed between them. They were still the same.

She was now head of the Grid computing division of her firm, she told him drawing a family snap out of her leather purse. A happy family against the backdrop of the scenic Disney land. Her family. Her land.

He stared at the road on which her cabbie whizzed past. She was on her way to her world and yet she had left her warmth behind. Distinct it was, even in the sultry weather.

As he turned to leave, he bumped into Anna. The old fellow was in a jovial mood, watching the proceedings of the place that he had built - brick by brick. From a distance.

Distance! Yes, was it not the hint…the distance?

He could see it all from there – his bliss in her well-being, the thrill - not the pride - of his off-beat ideals, the chord that still held them together...the love that bloomed on parallel tracks.

Much like Anna’s devotion to his hotel. Amidst his son’s rapid strides, the youthful crowd, Chinese cuisine and the soft drinks.

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