Monsoon Musings

Three nostalgic drops in the funny downpour...

Those were the early days of my glorious employment stint. Every day, the Virar-Surat shuttled three hours to drop me at Vapi. This was followed by a bland auto rickshaw ride that took me to phase III of a gigantic industrial area. I had been assigned the weary job of ledger scrutiny in a dusty store room infested with people who were as wooden as the squeaking chairs around.

Turning page after page of the bulky ledger books, I killed 8 hours of time daily, succumbing to the torture of endless rants and tall claims of my native co-workers, with friendly grins and subscribing nods.

The only bright spot came in the evening - at 4 pm sharp. This was tea time. No, don't get me wrong, the tea was far from special. In fact, it was pathetic in taste and appearance, the cups as half-washed as the poor lad who passed them around.

But the very moment of the tea's arrival was so reassuring - "Just an hour to go" it signalled with every thud. It did leave a bad taste in my mouth but it kept the hope alive throughout the exile!

Sometimes, the bad turns best when pitted against the worst - like the stale odour of cigaratte fumes in a filthy public urinal.

"Take this bag. I have no use for it." offered my friend. "You need a bag, I guess!"

Wrapped in fungus, the smelly leather bag was crumpled from all sides. I was not exactly keen on the gift but the warmth was beyond words. Look at the emotion, not the gift, I told myself.

"Wait a minute, we'll have it polished" he urged as we came out of his office cabin. As the roadside shoeshine boy brushed vigourously, the Cherry gradually Blossommed on the leather. The bag was now a shining beauty in a dramatic transformation.

Just as I was about to tuck it in my arms, assuming the validity of the gift offer made seconds ago, I heard him stammer

"Err, wait a minute, I'll do one thing, I'll gift you another one - that one is much better than this one" he vouched in reverse gear.

It didn't need rocket science to unravel the mystery behind the mood swing. In any case, it was a gift I neither needed nor aspired for ...but the humour of the situation has me in splits to this day, despite the many years that have passed by.

The train was packed to capacity, as Virar trains almost always are. I managed to secure the space next to the window - the best bet for a standing commute. The train began its journey, slow and steady, away from Chuchgate.

At Charni road, an elderly gentleman, after much struggle, managed the place next to me. Though this spot appears sweet, it becomes a pain in the neck literally, thanks to the incessant requests by embarking passengers to tuck their luggage on the adjacent overhead racks.

Luckily, he was saved of all trouble as a young guy at the window offered his palatial throne in exemplary charity. While the old man was visibly relieved, the young man had no idea of the trouble he had invited.

"These days, people like you have become antique pieces" the old man laughed aloud what he reckoned was an exceptionally witty remark. The sacrificial lamb smiled, perhaps hinting at a full stop to further conversation, like most Mumbaikars. But grandpa was just not in the mood to give up.

"I tell our days..he began....The young guy's exhaustion grew with each nod he put forth in proof of his attention to each of the out-of-context tales.

First came a short if not sweet acccount of how the once-young old guy saved money and effort for his first employer - by repairing his timeless Favre-Leuba wrist watch and winning a movie ticket to Eros for himself and wife! The brevity of the first tale was inspiring but soon proved misleading.

The next story in line was an elaborate narration of how his dear son smartly spotted a loose connection that sprung their dead television back to life. Earlier, the TV had been diagnosed with tube failure by a mechanic who recommended a costly replacement for which the old man was to withdraw money from the bank.

This tale was replete with irritating direct speech references like "Oh, the TV seemed fine as I came home that day. How come, I asked myself - did my wife withdraw the money from the bank? or did the mechanic work without advance? what could have happened"....but the most nasueating of them all was "Bravo I am proud of you, my son, Keep it up, I told my son!"

This was immediately followed by the saga of a leaking LPG cyclinder...

I could not keep track thereafter. I was fed up, faking sleep all this while lest his preying eyes fell on me...and our poor friend - the direct victim of the onslaught - looked vaccumed and crestfallen after all that sacrifice.

By this time, we had the entire row to ourselves - just the three of us - as the fag end stations passed by, but we both lacked the courage to share any more time and space with the blaberring All India Radio.

While I fled towards the footboard, he was nowhere to be seen. I have a hunch he got down a station earlier than his destination, simply to escape the agony. Our old friend, all alone in the compartment, wore a broad smile, probably thrilled with the day's broadcast.