Repeating History

August 18, 2009

Harry Mace’s grandfather was his best friend. The eleven short years for which he enjoyed his company were the best cherished moments of his life. They would sit in the porch of his house for hours together and talk about everything from ballgames to girlfriends.

There was one other person who had become Harry’s priority and that was his unusually attractive secretary Sarah. In finding ways to charm her, he once thought of trying a little act on her which his grandfather had tried on a lady that he was immensely in love with. “I wanted to marry her but circumstances did us apart,” his grandfather had told him.

That evening, Harry took Sarah to “The Hub” adjoining the Western Express Highway. They sat at a corner table at the coffee shop, away from rest of the bustle of the place. She asked him, “How was your day today?” He started off with this story, “I had gone to Linking Road. There was a huge international trade fair going on there. I was with one of my colleagues who insisted that we take a stroll through the fair and see what’s on offer. I agreed and we went inside. There was one guy in there who was selling fire crackers. He had the smallest stall and he was selling one particular fire cracker which he called The Bombshell. There was a placard put up on his stall which said – Buy the BOMBSHELL. Light one up and get another BOMBSHELL free inside it. Only $1/-.”

“His was the only stall around which a huge crowd had gathered up. That got me curious. I thought, what is in that fire cracker that makes so many people  want to buy it? So, I fought my way through the crowd and bought one. When I came back I couldn’t contain my curiosity. So, I arranged the red, cartridge like cracker in between two small stones and set it on fire with my lighter. It wasn’t much of a bombshell if you ask me. It went off making a minor explosion which was hardly audible in the din of the fair.”

“The moment it burst though, a piece of paper flew out into the air from within the cracker. It came sailing down through the air like a dead, dry leaf detached from the branch of a tree during autumn. It landed right near my feet. I bent over and picked it up. When I turned it over and looked at it, I thought to myself, ‘Oooohhhhhh! So, this is the BOMBSHELL that guy was talking about.’ It was…..”

“Let me guess,” Sarah interjected. “It was my photograph, right? Harry, you are so predictable”

Dumfounded, Harry asked her, “B…..But how did you know.” Sarah said, tapping her finger on the tabletop, “You see Harry, even I had a Grandmother who told me stories about how some men tried to impress her.”

Who is Luckier?

April 16, 2009

He wanted to kill time so he was rolling and then unrolling the piece of paper he was holding, over and over again.

The place was brimming with glamor. Men holding see-through glasses with golden and transparent liquids in them and three or four crystal-clear ice cubes floating on the top and women with bare backs smeared with shimmery make-up were all over the place. All of them were facing the same way, towards the stage in front of them.

An Arab with a protruding belly, dressed in an expensive black suit and wearing lots of perfume had picked up a ticket from the raffle box and was about to announce a number.

The moment before the announcement of the winning numbers of a lucky draw is a very tense moment. Everyone wants to be the winner but no one knows who is going to be the winner.

The Arab grabbed hold of a microphone and tapped on it twice before speaking. The sound of his taps reverberated through the hall. Satisfied that the microphone is working, he spoke into it, “Wa Rakam’il faiz howa– Arba Arba Sifar Wahed Tissa Khamsa” – And the winning number is 446185.

He knew it but he had to look at it at least once. So he unrolled the ticket and looked at the number printed on its top-right corner. The number was 446185. He was the only person in the hall who knew who was going to win.

He mumbled to himself, “And Mr. John Smith wins one more Audi A5.”

He lazily put his hand up and waved the ticket to show it to the announcer. When his surveying eyes caught the sight of a hand sticking out in the air, he bellowed, “wea al shakhs al faiz howa” – And we have a winner here.

All the heads turned towards John. Then, he just went through the routine once again. He made his way through the applauding crowd, climbed up a few steps and went onto the stage which had the music blaring through the speakers and a flurry of confetti pouring from above. He announced his name in the microphone, shook hands with the announcer and the chief guest, accepted the keys to the Audi he had won and came down.

By the time he was driving the Audi home, he had a very beautiful, cheerful and dignified girl sitting beside him.

The next morning, after all the humor and the flattery and the dancing and the love-making through the night, the girl whispered in his ear, “I love you, John!”

The difference between that moment and the moment when he had just twenty dollars left in his bank account was that one of his wishes had come true.

When his car had broken down, there was no electricity in his apartment and he had just twenty dollars to survive on for three days, he fell to his knees and pleaded, “God, please! Please make me the luckiest man.”

From that moment on he was the luckiest man.

He was the luckiest even in the matters of failing body parts. He had already successfully received a heart transplant and he knew that even a third heart would work for him if the second started failing.

All his friends were ready to do anything he wanted them to do, his coffee was always served just the way he wanted and he had seen the world. Everything was perfect. He always mulled over the thought, “I have no problems at all.”

Little did Olivia know that she would find John sprawled on the floor of his room with remnants of streams of froth on the sides of his mouth.

Olivia was john’s maid. She was the most trustworthy old lady and that is why she was the only person who had the extra key to his room for cleaning purpose.

On his forty fifth birthday, when Olivia unlocked the door to his room, she found John dead on the floor with an empty bottle of poison and an envelope lying by his side.

With trembling hands, she opened the envelope and read the letter inside:

“MY NAME IS JOHN SMITH.

I AM THE LUCKIEST MAN.

I HOLD NO ONE RESPONSIBLE FOR MY DEATH.

I AM ENDING MY LIFE BECAUSE I HAVE NO LIFE.

I HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO DO.

THERE IS NO LIFE WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE ANY PROBLEMS TO TACKLE.

LUCKY ARE THOSE WHO GET THE OPPURTUNITY TO TACKLE PROBLEMS AND OVERCOME THEM.

DIFFICULT TIMES ADD THE ‘SPICE’ TO LIFE.”

Pushing The Papers

March 29, 2009

Successful bankers have a way about themselves. They exude aristocracy much more than the rich of any other stream. Their job is to keep the money coming in. The cash flow cannot stop, come what may. They seldom talk in terms of how many of certain things have to be sold. Rather they always weigh in the profits in terms of how long, “Is my cash flow based on an internal rate of return or net rate of return? How long will this take to double the principle?” They make money with money – Other People’s Money.

Jerry Roland was one such banker; Focused, Flamboyant and shrewd. His receding hairline gave off his high pressure lifestyle but that had no effect on his mesmerizing personality. At forty two he was much more energetic than most of his younger subordinates. He could read people’s minds with his sea blue eyes. He was the dream-man of innumerable women around him. He never failed to attract their dreamy eyed admiration. He always maintained a brisk pace while walking. And when he walked, there was always a bunch of people scampering about him either trying to ask him something or taking orders from him.

It was an over cast Friday morning when he dashed into his office with his signature flair. Every time he entered, the force with which he pushed open the door would cause the curtains on the window on the opposite side to slide by an inch. He was the best asset to the organization, so he was assigned this imposing office overlooking the East Bay which always smelt characteristically of the birch wood so extensively used to decorate the interiors.

As he entered, his secretary stood up from her desk at the far end of the room and greeted him, “Good Morning Mr. Roland!” Jerry replied with an acknowledging nod of his head. She serially arranged the papers on her desk for the briefing. As jerry walked to his swivel-chair, he unbuttoned his exclusive Armani jacket. He took it off and carefully arranged it over the high back of his chair before sitting down. When he settled himself into the chair he loosened his tie, and swiveled his chair to face the secretary, “So what’s the day’s agenda, Brenda?”

Brenda came and stood beside his chair. She lay down a few sheets of paper in front of him, on his desk. She started of with practiced precision, “Sir, this Mr. Jackson seems to be an area of concern for the bank. These are his loan payment statements for the past year. He was issued a loan amount of sixty thousand pounds for his shipping business. He hasn’t made any payments since eight months now. His total outstanding stands at ninety five thousand pounds. We have contacted him several times asking for the payments. He just alludes by saying he is bankrupt.”

“Hmmmmmmmm…..” he picked up the papers from his desk and leaned back into his chair. He flipped through the papers one by one. When he reached the last sheet he asked Brenda, “You said he’s not been making any payments. I see he has made some payments every month.”

Brenda replied, “Close to nothing considering his dues.”

“So he’s been trying to make payments.” Jerry said analytically. “Does he own a house?”

“Yes, he is in sole possession.”

“Does he have a mortgage on that?”

“No.”

“Let me call him.” He picked up his phone and dialed the number listed on the statement.

It took five rings before there was an answer to his call, “Hello.”

Jerry asked in his customer centric demeanor, “May I speak with Martin Jackson?”

“This is he” came the reply in a deep voice.

“Mr. Jackson this is Jerry Roland, The Managing Director of Axim Bank. How are you doing?”

“Surviving”

This threw the conversation off track but Jerry knew too well how to handle it, “Let me be of some assistance here. Mr. Jackson I realize you have been having some problems keeping up with your loan payments with Axim Bank. I understand….”

“Hey Listen. You don’t understand. You haven’t gone through what I’ve have gone through. My business crashed overnight. I had backstabbers for business partners. I’ve had sickness in my family and I am the only earning member now. And I am not making all this up, ok! You don’t understand.”

Jerry kept his calm through all the rudeness being hurled at him, “Well, why don’t we try and work out a solution for all this.”

“There isn’t any solution.”

“You do own a house.”

“What about it?”

“I can help you with excellent deals on the mortgage of the house.”

“Hey, don’t even think about that. That house is the only thing I got and I ain’t gonna let it go.”

“Do you have any other options?”

“No I don’t. But I’ll pay when I have the money ok. Don’t push me.”

“Mr. Jackson, why don’t you come over at my office?”

“So you ain’t gonna rest until you get my house sold huh? I’ll be there.” Martin hung up.

The next morning Jerry found Martin waiting in his office even before he arrived. Martin was younger than Jerry had expected. He was in his mid thirties. He was a dignified man but looked bogged down by all his worries. Jerry figured that he must have spent the night drinking from his red, swollen eyes. He seemed to be in a hurry. The moment Jerry entered; he looked at him and stood up, as if to get started with whatever he was called for. Jerry could hear the rattle of dimes coming form the pocket of his old but clean jacket. “Mr. Jackson?” Jerry asked. “Yes” replied the man. “Please have a seat.” Jerry gestured him to sit on the chairs in front of his desk.

Jerry started in a reassuring tone, “I am glad you came by Mr. Jackson.”

Martin replied with his perpetual rudeness, “You will be. After all you are getting a chance to take over my house.”

Jerry said defensively, “We are not taking over your house. We are just providing you with finance against your house.”

“Its just the same. Listen, I’ll pay back your loan when I have the money. If you want to help me just stop the interest being charged on me. Your interest rates are too high.”

“As much as I want to help you on this, our company policies won’t allow me to.” Jerry was a considerate man and wanted to help Martin, but he was a shrewd business man. He was paid to be an opportunist. He said, “I can help you get a mortgage on your house with much lower interest rate.”

Frustrated, Martin said, “I knew you would say that. Just do what you gotta do fast. I’ve gotta go.”

Just then, Jerry’s phone started ringing. He picked it up and said, “Hello.” He listened for a while and suddenly his expression changed. He looked troubled. There was anxiety in his voice, “Where is he now? ………… What does the doctor say? ………… I am coming right now.” When he hung up, he fell back into his chair, covered is face with his palms and cried.

A disturbed Martin asked with concern, “What’s the matter Mr. Roland?”

Jerry replied through his sobs, “Its my boy; he’s sick. The doctor says he has SARS. They don’t understand how he got it. They say the chances of curing it are dim.”

“I’ll tell you what.” Martin said as he took a piece of paper from the memo cube placed on the desk. He took permission to use Jerry’s pen, “Can I use your pen?” Jerry nodded. Martin wrote something on the paper and when he was finished he pushed the piece of paper towards Jerry. He said, “I come from the jungles of Africa. People there are uneducated and traditional. But they know how the nature works. They know its secrets. There is this old lady in Zaire. She is ninety three years old. She might be able to cure your son with herbal medicines. You can try. She’s a miracle worker.”

Jerry said, “Appreciate you showing so much concern. I need to go now. Can I request you to come and see me at a more suitable time?”

“Take your son to Africa. He’ll be fine” replied Martin and stood up from the chair to leave. He shook hands with Jerry and walked out of the door.

Martin was surprised when he stopped receiving notifications of his dues with Axim Bank after he last met with Jerry. He was rather uneasy. So it was after three months that Jerry received a call and was both surprised and delighted to hear Martin’s voice on the other side.

“Nice to hear from you Mr. Jackson,” Jerry said. Martin was appreciative of Jerry’s pleasant response. But he was also apprehensive. Was this the pleasantry before the slaughter?

“Ya Know, I was just wondering. I haven’t received any notification on my deferred loan payments lately. Is something wrong?” Martin chose his words carefully.

Jerry replied a tad too blithe, “Well Mr. Jackson. You don’t have to pay it anymore. The bank has written off your loan.”

“B….But How’s that possible? I mean….. I don’t understand.”

“Don’t worry Mr. Jackson. I pushed some papers around for you. Its all taken care of.”

“But, why the favor?”

“Because I owed you one.”

That suddenly reminded Martin of something. He asked Jerry, “How’s your son doing?”

“Oh he is excellent. He is just fine. And yes, he loves Africa.”

A smile of satisfaction passed over Martin face. He triumphantly said, “I told you he’ll like it there.”

Then there was a pause in the conversation. Martin broke the silence, “So, call me if you need anything else.”

Jerry replied, “I will Mr. Jackson, I will. Have a nice day.”

My Car – My Ride, My companion

March 12, 2009

Some people are aloof. They care least for their worldly possessions discarding old ones and buying new ones like it is a matter of no importance at all. But there are some who are emotional. They get easily gripped by the feeling of nostalgia and attach a lot of emotional value to their worldly possessions. Unfortunately, I am the latter kind. I am always obliged with things like my mobile phone, my laptop and my 17 year old Rolex watch gifted to me by my dad, for being my support system. My car is one thing which rates highest in the list of things I most cherish. And, I am sure that there are millions around the globe who feel the same about their cars. What with the places that my car has taken me and what with the girls it has helped me impress and what with the miniature parties that I and my friends have held within the 6ft by 4ft frame of my car, it has shown me a time that I will never be able to forget.

No doubt, my car is old and not as powerful as the day I had got it but after 8 years it is still there, taking me places and letting me a live a life full of freedom. The space inside my car is one place which I can proudly call “My own space.” I remember the time when I had tears in my eyes when I had almost lost my car. God must have understood that my car is too dear for me to be parting away from it.

I had gotten a new LPG kit installed in my car. My car had not been performing so well because the LPG kit hadn’t been installed right. It used to stall at times after knocking a few times. One afternoon it stalled right in the middle of the main road at Goregaon and no matter what I did it wouldn’t start. It was a sweltering day and I was frustrated out of my wits trying to get it moving. In a place like Mumbai, there appears a lot of helping hands for a distressed soul and so one appeared for me as well.

When I was in the middle of trying to get my car started, a man or rather a boy in his teens came up to the window of my car and asked, “What’s the Problem?” From the stains of oil all over his hands and clothes he looked like a car mechanic to me. I explained to him that my car had been conking since I had gotten the LPG kit installed. He asked me open the bonnet so that he could have a look. He pried around for some time and then asked me to get down and push the vehicle. With no other options on hand, I just did what he said. I got out of the driver seat and he got in. I went to the rear of the car and mustering up all my strength I gave it a push.

It started shifting. Then It started rolling. Then I was pushing so hard that I was running. Then I heard the engine of the car coming alive and that sound was the moment of such relief. Then I saw the car pulling away from me and then it kept going and going and going. The guy never stopped. That is when I felt like everyone around me must have imagined a jack-ass in their minds when they looked at me. I ran after the car, “Hey Stop! Stop you B$#%***.”

I tried to keep up but I ran out of fuel and I had to stop. Panting hard and resting my arms on my knees I saw my car drifting away from me. I felt my life drifting away from me. I was almost on the verge of feeling the grief of losing the most priced possession. And then the unthinkable happened. My car conked off again. It conked off and it refused to start once again. I could hear the guy inside trying to give the car a number of shelves but it never started. It was the end of the road for the thief. He abandoned my car and took off. I started running again. I was unable to reach the thief but I quickly took control of my car again. When I got to the car I literally hugged it and couple of tears rolled down my cheek. My elations knew no bounds and I got into the driver seat like a man deserted in Sahara desert runs to a spring of water.

That is when I realized, “The crook took my cell phone when he ran off.” Oh the grief of losing my PDA phone. I felt handicapped.

Then there are the times when I have knowingly or unknowingly performed unthinkable stunts with my SUV. I love to be on road and when I tell people that I rode all the way to Jammu from Mumbai, alone, on my Royal Enfield Bike, they don’t just refrain believing it, they think that I am crazy. But it is true. I rode all the way to Jammu and back on my bike. I couldn’t find anyone to accompany me on this outrageous trip so I just packed my back and embarked on the great quest all alone.

So, when I got my hands on my SUV, there was no doubting the fact that I would go for a cross country drive in my car. This time it was me and my wife. We had taken a trip down south to Mysore. It was a blazing day and we were out on the highway to Mysore. We had been driving for three hours and surprisingly we couldn’t see a soul on the roads. In India, you don’t get to see that too often. When there is so less traffic on the roads, you attention tends to slack down a little. I became relaxed and was cruising at 100 Km/hr on a deserted road.

At one instance, the road curved sharply towards the right. It was such a sharp curve that the road became obscured at the edges of the curve. I didn’t slow down. I just swerved the car along the edge in full speed. I was going perfectly when a buffalo appeared in front us of like it had dropped from the sky. Now that can very much happen in India.

I was born and raised in Kuwait. I had seen animals like camels, sheep and goats but that was only when I took trips deep down in the deserts when we used to go for picnics. I had never seen a cow there. In the 18 years that I lived there I saw just two dogs and those were also police dogs whom my neighbor, who was a cop, had kept at his place for a month. There were just a few cats for stray animals. I hadn’t even seen real mice till the time I took my first trip to India in 1989. In contrast, I could quote an example of a little kid who was sitting beside me in a bus trip to Ahmedabad. When the bus was passing through one of the towns in Gujrat, the kid was in a playful mood and he was just swinging back and forth reciting the names of whatever animals he could see passing by on the road. He did this activity for about ten minutes and he kept going like, “Donkey, Donkey, Donkey…… Cow,Cow,Cow …… Monkey, Monkey, Monkey ….. Crow, Crow, Crow ….. Bakri, Bakri, Bakri ….. Elephant, Elephant, Elephant ….. Dog, Dog, Dog ….. Camel, Camel, Camel ….. Horse, Horse, Horse….. “ I thought to myself that it is only possible in India that you get to see so many animals on the roads.

But the buffalo didn’t give me time to recover in time. It was all too sudden and I had to do something to avoid crashing into the buffalo. There was no time to think and I was doing everything on instincts. I jammed hard on the break and threw the steering around to the left. The tyres screeched on the tarmac and my car spun around a full 360 degrees avoiding the buffalo by inches. My car must have drifted for a distance of 100 meters in the whole process. When the car finally came to a halt the buffalo was still standing right where it was before, we on the other hand were facing the opposite side of the road. I was dumbstruck and just kept looking at my wife in bewilderment. We couldn’t open our mouths to speak. That is when a huge brontosaurus like Sardarji came to the car and leaning towards the driver’s window he asked, “Oye sahib, Yahan koi shooting – wooting chal rahi hai?” I stuttered, “N…. Na… nahi.” I explained to him how the buffalo appeared out of nowhere and I how I lost control. The Sardarji said, “Oye Sahab, aapki gaadi jo aise ghoomi hai, aur aapki gaadi jo yahan aake aise ruki hai, mujhe to laga yahan pe shooting chal rahi hai.” I should say that if it were not for the excellent control of my vehicle, the buffalo would have not survived.

How many times have you remembered something and started smiling to yourself. When it is something really funny you might even let out a little laugh and people around you start thinking, “Why is he laughing to himself? He’s weird.” Those funny moments are what makes me so attached with my vehicle. The adventures are galore.

I had hired a stout man named Om Prakash to be my attorney and he bailed me out of a lot of difficult situations. Once I had to urgently deliver an important document to him and I didn’t know where his house was. He owned a bungalow and gave me an address in Malad. I and a friend of mine, Gulti , set out in my SUV to find Om Prakash’s house.

When we reached his colony, we were having a hard time finding his bungalow. We were slowly moving in the front of a road, with seven or eight bungalows neatly lined along its left side. That’s when Gulti shouted, “There it is. There is a board with “Om Prakash” written on it. That’s the house. We parked in front of the house and walked till the front of the house. The front lawn was covered with a fence with a small gate that had not been locked. We walked past the gate and stood at the door step. Gulti knocked at the door. A dark complexioned lady answered the door. She was probably the maid. She asked in Marathi, “Kon Pahije?” – Who are you looking for? I said, “Amm.., Mr. Om Prakash.” The woman looked puzzled and asked, “Kon?” I repeated, “Om Prakash.” The lady gave a disgruntled reply, “Idhar koi Om Prakash nai hai.” I said, “Par Bahar Om Prakash ka board laga hai.” The woman said jeeringly, “Zara theek se padhna sikho, who ‘Om Prakash’ ka board nahi hai. ‘No parking’ ka board hai. Pata nahin kahan kahan se aa jate hai log.”

Gulti couldn’t believe it. He walked upto the board and stared at it. I followed suit. I read the board and it actually said, “No Parking.” I and Gulti looked at each other. We stared at each other for moment and then burst out laughing. We laughed so hard we almost came crashing down on the front porch. The lady was annoyed and she just slammed the door on us. When we got back, we had a blast telling other folks about Gulti’s great reading abilities.

Here is an account of how exactly I decided upon having the Mahindra Scorpio as my ride.

I have always been a biker boy and I have very rarely come across people who overtake me when I am riding. Birds of a feather flock together. I ride the bike the way I do because I was taught to ride by friends who were risk taking speed freaks. Safe riding was never an option for them. It was always about the speed and the adrenalin rush. The result is that I make more mistakes when I ride my by bike below the speed of 40 Km/hr. I hate it when slow riding riders block my way. When I lost a road race to the grand Scorpio, I decided that this is “D – Vehicle” for me.

Hanif is a tall and broad, hailstorm of a fellow. He has so much energy in him he almost sweeps people off once he enters the scene. Its tough not to get influenced by his aura. So when he challenged me to a race from my place to his place (a five KM road winding through everything from the most ramped up streets to a six lane highway in Pune), I didn’t say no. I jumped right in. I thought that his Huge Scorpio had no chance against my 300 CC bike in those narrow roads. But, he challenged that he’ll win.

We started outside my house which is on a really busy and narrow road. As predicted, his Scorpio had no chance against my much faster, lighter and smaller Vehicle. I started of with a wheely, putting in all the power from the beginning itself. I meandered through the narrow streets ducking under roofs and cutting past walking crowds. At one point I looked over my shoulder and I couldn’t see the Scorpio anywhere near me. I thought, “What a waste.”

After about two Kms the road connects with the Sholapur highway which is a wide three lane highway. I pushed my bike even more on the highway, turning the full throttle. I wasn’t worried about Hanif. I knew he was too far behind to catch up. My thoughts started drifting away. That is when something whooshed past me at tremendous speed. It was big and black and powerful. It was a silent stalker. I wasn’t ready for it.

At first I didn’t understand what happened. Then I tried to focus and understood that it was Hanif’s Scorpio. I realized it had not only caught up with me but now had gotten ahead of me. I tried to fight back, but it was impossible. I gave up. I just stopped there unable to carry on. When Hanif saw that I was no longer in the contention, he turned around and came to where I had stopped. He asked, “What happened? Why did you stop ha?” a mocking smiling lingered on his face. I said, “It was impossible to ride behind you. A sandstorm was raging behind your car because of the thrust. I couldn’t see a thing. I had to give up.” He replied with the smile still on his face, “He he he he, told you I’ll beat you.”

It was that day I decided that if I had to own a car, it had to be a Scorpio

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