Category Archives: A Ridiculuous Bed-Time Story.

Work of fiction. An experiment with publishing online. Read disclaimers.

A Ridiculous Bed-Time Story: Chapter 5: Meter Down!

‘Not fair!’ screamed Priya,  forcefully slamming her cup into the saucer.

‘What’s not fair?’I asked, taken aback by the sudden outburst.

 ‘You are making it sound like Nishant’s girlfriend was responsible for the phone hitting the man’s head. How was she to know?’

‘I guess. But you know the most unlikely of actions can trigger events which eventually lead to extreme situations. History is replete with mass murders happening just because of an innocuous statement or a slight. Sometimes the slight was just perceived not even intended’

‘Enough with the philosophy lecture – As long as we are clear that the girl is not to be blamed.’

Our waiter came over to inform us that the dinner area would be shut down now. I finished the last of my drink in a gulp and we got up to leave. The trees on the hotel compound seemed to be whispering to each other as the night breeze picked up. The monkeys had all disappeared for the day. Crickets were starting their chatter in the far distance. The grass in the hotel’s lawns rustled as something scampered past. I wasn’t sure if it was just a mouse or a snake chasing a mouse.

‘Let’s go for a walk to Single Tree Point’ Priya tugged at my shirt ‘We rarely go for walks any more.’

‘But that’s at the other end of the hill. And we will have to pass through that lonely road through the jungle. Its past ten already.’ Truth was, I was petrified of wild boars and stray dogs and there was no dearth of those in the jungles here. And if that weren’t enough, snakes joined in at will just to add to the fun.

She smiled. ‘Don’t tell me you are scared. You aren’t chickening out are you?’

‘No way’ I put on a brave face ‘but one must behave rationally. Its late.’

‘Let’s try irrational for a change. Maybe it will make things better’ she smiled and pulled me towards the main entrance of the hotel. Our hotel was at the edge of town. The path veered off into the dark countryside almost immediately. On the other side, the road led to the centre of town and bright lights, screaming children, loud boisterous adults, horses and chocolate fudge.

We headed out to the lonely road that would eventually get us to our destination – a lone tree standing on a rock-face with a sheer fall on the other side. It was miles away from all human habitation on the hill. It was the last place I wanted to be at in the middle of the night.

Again her arm slipped into mine. We passed a puzzled security guard who undoubtedly was used to seeing people heading in the other direction at this time of the night.

‘Where do you think you are going?’ he demanded.

Priya stared him down ‘Where ever we feel like. What’s your problem?’

The man stood mute for a few seconds. Then he slowly walked up closer to us. I could see that he was drunk. Bloodshot eyes and the strong lingering smell of cheap liquor didn’t leave much to doubt. ‘Madam, do you know of the spirits that live in the jungles here? You city folks think you can just go for a stroll at any time of the day you feel like. The jungles hold many secrets. Deep dark secrets – and souls of those who still have unfinished business roam here at night. And they try to kill anyone who is foolish enough to wander into their path’

He swayed where he stood.

This was the last thing I needed to hear. ‘Lets turn back’ I suggested. ‘Yes Yes’ the guard agreed with me still staring at Priya.

‘I feel like meeting a murderous tortured soul today’ teased Priya. ‘Mister, We are going for that walk.’ she pulled my arm.

I had no choice but to fall in step with her as she marched towards the dark path ahead. I had to get my mind off the task and getting back to the story seemed like a good idea. ‘Talking of murders, something like that happens at Spectrum’

Priya gave a stunned look. ‘Does the terror kick the bucket?’ she asked.

–Π–

On the roads of Mumbai

Nishant couldn’t believe what was happening. He had a healthy respect for Murphy’s law, but things were now bordering on the unbelieveable. He tried desperately to wake up the President, but he was knocked out cold. The cleaning crew had finished their work and moved on to another floor. Patil was nowhere to be seen. And then the horror of the situation struck him. As he knelt there, watching the president frowning even when unconscious, he realised that there was no way this could be explained to anybody! He grabbed his broken phone and ran as fast as he could. Rushing out of the building he ran out into the main road outside and almost jumped in front of a taxi that screeched to a halt, barely avoiding running him over.

In his perturbed state Nishant didn’t bother to ask the taxi driver if he would be willing to take him as a fare – he just pulled open the door and jumped in. His heart was pounding and sweat was pouring down his face in buckets. ‘Chalo’ he screamed at the protesting driver, who muttered under his breath about weird people who lived in this city.

The taxi driver kept glancing at him in his rear view mirror and tried to strike up a conversation. ‘Saar you look troubled. Like you did some murder.’

‘Murder? What the hell are you talking about ? I haven’t done any murder!’ It had never occurred to Nishant to check the man’s pulse. Surely a plastic phone couldn’t kill somebody. The taxi drivers casual statement had just added a new twist to the already sordid tale. What if the President was dead? His imagination started to run wild. A Black bag over his head as cops led him to the courts. Media reports on how brutally a senior executive had been murdered right there in his office. He would spend the rest of his life breaking rocks in a high security central prison.

While playing out these frightening scenarios in his head, it struck Nishant that something was odd about the conversation that he just had with the cab driver. He stopped wringing his hands and looked up. ‘You know English?’ he asked, astounded.

‘Yes. Saar, I am from Kerala saar. Kuttapan Pattikuttan my good name saar. I have Yem and Bee Yea.’

‘Are you are an MBA?’ Nishant blurted, forgetting his own worries for a moment. ‘Why are you driving a taxi?’

‘Aiyoo! No Saar, Not MBA heh heh! Maths hum naahi knowing saar. I am Bee Yea and Yem Yea Saar.’ stressing on the Bee and the Yem.

‘Okay an MA and you are driving a taxi, why?’ To Nishant it seemed incredulous that someone with a Masters degree would want to drive a taxi.

‘No job in home saar. My friend do Pee-yechh-dee in Political Science saar, and now he running tea-stall. Tea for 2 Rs, Appam for 5 Rs and political analysis he gives for free. I tried for Gulf saar but I am too qualified they say saar. So driving taxi.’

The unemployment scene in India’s most educated state would have been a fascinating topic of discussion at any other time, but Nishant had enough troubles of his own right now. He realized that he needed to call somebody who could help him out in this mess. But first he needed a phone. ‘Can I borrow your phone?’ he asked the taxi driver.

‘Yes Saar I have phone. But connection not working. The Spectrum company big thief company saar. Taking money and not giving any charge. I am changing to Hawatel saar. They giving new unlimited SMS offer from today.’

It took Nishant all of his self control to stop himself from screaming. If he heard about the stupid unlimited SMS offer one more time he was going to kill somebody. But then again maybe he already had.

‘Give me your phone. I will put in my SIM.’ Nishant said. Pattikuttan braked hard, narrowly missed hitting a bus in the next lane and pulled over to the side of the road. Vehicles swerved past, the drivers hurling choicest of abuses.

‘You not having phone?’ he glared at his passenger.

‘No, it just broke.’

‘Show broken phone then!’ he demanded.

‘I threw it away!’ Nishant replied wondering what his problem was.

‘No phone, sweating, all tension on face, putting SIM in my phone. Any lafda wafda?’

‘There is nothing wrong with me. Give me your phone I need to make a call urgently.’ Nishant begged.

Pattikuttan was not convinced that his passenger wouldn’t bolt from the cab with his phone and getting a new connection was such a pain with all the documentation they demanded these days. He decided to hand over the Blackberry Sabu had given him, instead.

Nishant stared at the Blackberry with his mouth wide open for a few minutes but didn’t ask the taxi driver how he could afford one. After considerable effort he put his SIM into it and to his dismay there were only two numbers stored on it. Berrywala’s and Patil’s. Berrywala was the type who would promptly hand him over to the police. Patil was the reason he was in this mess, but seeing that there wasn’t any other choice Nishant made the call.

After what seemed like eternity, Patil picked up his phone. ‘Kutte! Hamesha galat time pe call karta hai!’ he screamed over loud music in the background.

‘Dude I think I am in deep trouble. We need to meet.’ Nishant whispered furtievely into the phone. Pattikuttan heard this and raised one eyebrow. His moustache twitched.

‘No problem, tomorrow at office. Lets talk our hearts out over how we messed up the proposal.’ Patil seemed to be in a hurry.

‘No NOW! I need to see you right away. It’s a matter of life and death.’ Nishant screamed. Hearing this Pattikuttan got really worried and started grabbing the phone. Nishant slapped his hand away.

‘Well…Erm…’ Patil hemmed and hawed ‘Well come over if you must. I am at Club Ruby, do you know where it is?’

‘No I will find out. Just give me the address’ Nishant managed to yell out just as Pattikuttan leaned over into the back seat, his body at full stretch and forcibly took back the phone.

Pattikuttan was shocked when his passenger asked him to drive to Club Ruby in Borivali. That is exactly where Sabu had asked him to deliver the package. Maybe this was a test. This passenger must be a spy to make sure that he didn’t run away with the packet. He had always had a strong feeling that Sabu was involved in something really wrong.

For the rest of the trip neither man spoke. Nishant focused on taking deep breaths to get his heart rate under control and Pattikuttan kept glancing at him in the rear-view mirror all along. After a long battle with rush hour traffic, a couple of cows, and an adventurous stray dog that chased the car for almost two kilometers, the taxi pulled up in front of a seedy building with ‘Club Ruby’ displayed on the front in Neon lights. The ‘C’ and ‘y’ had stopped lighting up and the sign now blinked a bright green ‘lub Rub’

“Club Ruby” was situated in the most dilapidated building Nishant had ever seen. And having lived in Mumbai for several years, he had seen quite a few of them. But this one looked like the lightest of breezes would topple it over. Club Ruby was flanked on either side by Topaz Medicals and Diamond Wine Shop.

Nishant got out of the taxi and as he walked past two really scary looking men guarding the door, it started to dawn on him that Club Ruby was anything but a club. The heavy doors opened to reveal a large dark room with smoke and loud music. And on a stage in the other end were a couple of pole dancers.

Now he had to locate Patil. With his mobile destroyed there was no way he could call either. The bartender had a nasty looking scar on his face and didn’t seem the communicative types. But still given his lack of options Nishant mustered courage and asked him if he had seen a strange looking french bearded guy about five feet tall.

‘Oh Patilbhai? He is there in the front row. Swami saab ke saath’

‘Patil ‘bhai?’ What do you mean ‘bhai?’ Nishant asked.

Scarface didn’t respond but nodded at somebody in the background. A waiter appeared out of nowhere and started to guide him through the maze of tables. Fat men, heavily drunk, were dancing where they sat – some of them doing gross imitations of what the women were doing on the stage.

And then with a bow the waiter pointed out towards a sofa in a corner of the room. It was a monstrosity, covered in garish red velvet. Firmly ensconced there were Patil and a man – narrow faced, tall and totally bald!

‘Kutte!’ screamed Patil as soon as he spotted Nishant. He had to scream to be heard over the loud music playing in the background. ‘Come, meet Swami! Swami is the ultimate salesman. He can sell anything to anybody. He can even sell you to your mother.’

‘Selling me to my mother shouldn’t be such a big task.’ Nishant gasped, as he squeezed himself into a tiny chair beside them. Several printouts and notepads scribbed with numbers and flowcharts were stacked on the table.

‘Maybe you should ask your mother if she still wants you. ’ said Swami grinning. Nishant took an instant liking for the man.

‘Forget that. Tell me your so-called urgent problem. The boss called you to ‘discuss’ the proposal mess?’ Patil broke into uncontrolled giggles.

‘Actually it was Renuka, the so called girl-friend of mine. Besides this is serious stuff and I can hardly concentrate in here, can we step out?’

‘Why? Can’t you think with a hard on?’ asked Swami grinning. ‘I come here to see how well I can think without temptation. You see if you have too much of everything you can lust for then there is no distraction right?’

‘I guess.’ Nishant replied, desperate to have the serious talk with Patil. The leg pulling could go on all night and for all he knew the Police might be waking up his landlady right now looking for him.

Finally Jignesh and Swami agreed to go out for a ‘ciggie break’.

‘Don’t you want to take your laptop along? Someone might steal it in a place like this.’ Nishant asked, amazed at the casual way the two of them just got up and started walking.

‘Koi nahi lega. Patil-bhai ka laptop hai.’ Guffawed Swami emphasising on the ‘bhai’ and giving Patil a sharp poke in the ribs.

Nishant had to get to the bottom of this bhai and dance bar nonsense, but that would have to wait. Once he got out into the cold night air words gushed out in torrents. Swami and Jignesh became dead serious as they listened. Both didn’t say anything and kept puffing away at their cigarettes and nodding their heads in sync to emphasize that they were following what he was saying.

Swami took a deep draw on his cigarette and appeared to be in deep thought.

Patil turned to Nishant and said ‘One thing is obvious. You are screwed,’

‘and your career at Spectrum is pretty much finished. You are lucky that you haven’t been arrested yet. And stop asking your friend out for dinner. Its quite obvious that she is the root cause of all your problems.’ Patil went back to his cigarette, satisfied with his insightful analysis of the situation.

Swami gave Nishant a serious look and rattled a slew of orders, ‘Disappear for some time. Don’t go back to office ever. Don’t go to your apartment. Camp with me for a few days. Give me your SIM, I’ll destroy it.’

Nishant was just glad that at least one of them seemed to be thinking clearly. What this guy Swami was suggesting seemed like a sensible start, if not an ideal solution. Nishant reached into his pocket for the SIM and couldn’t locate it anywhere. After a few minutes of frantic searching in all his pockets and even in his shoes on Patil’s urging, he remembered where exactly his SIM was.

It was in the cab drivers Blackberry!

[This post is the second part of a longer work of fiction. All people and events described are figments of the authors imagination. Resemblance to anyone or anything is coincidental. In short Nothing is True. For more questions on what, why and copyright stuff refer this post which introduces the book]

Related Fragments: PrologueChapter 1Chapter 2 Chapter 3, Chapter 4

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A Ridiculous Bed-Time Story: Chapter 4: ..And we have lift-off! No wait!

‘That choice of the Beat It ringtone for Sabu’s phone was so clichéd. You could have put in Sheila-ki-Jawani at least.’ Priya took a big scoop of her icecream.

 ‘Not really. It seems to be the favourite music track. Keeps appearing in so many movies. You know – big jeep with goons, out to beat or rape somebody and they are always playing this song.’

‘Don’t generalise. And anyway how many Malayalam movies have you seen in your whole life huh?’

There was no getting around this lady. ‘Point taken’ I conceded, settling in with another glass of the wonderful golden liquid. The polite waiter dropped by to enquire if madam would like a cup of coffee and she agreed. In a moment of attempting customer delight he also helpfully deposited a copy of a popular weekly magazine on our table.

‘This telecom scam has really tarnished our nation’s image’ she said, flipping through the pages. One of big-wigs accused of the crime gave me a toothy smile from the cover of the magazine. I sighed and focussed on the sips.

‘So now we have the cop, and the bad guy. When are the hijackers going to make an appearance?’

 ‘Interesting that you should ask’ I said ‘Speaking of spectrum and telecom scams – it’s precisely at a telecom company that we meet the first of the four men involved.’

‘Which one, which one?’ Priya leaned forward eagerly, always ready for a juicy bit of gossip.

                                                            –Π–

Corporate Headquarters, Spectrum HiTech Internet and Telecommunications Company

‘SMS Bada Dhamaka Pack!’ yelled Patil from one corner of the conference room where he was sitting with his feet up on the table.

‘I think SMS Phataka sounds more reasonable.’ Nishant countered. ‘After all we are only giving a million SMS’s free per month. The Hawatel SMS Dhamaka offer is for unlimited SMS.’

The marketing team at Spectrum was in a tizzy. Hawatel, their biggest competitor had just announced a new text messaging product, called the ‘SMS Dhamaka offer’ giving anybody who pays Rs 49 a month the freedom to do unlimited text messages and now they had to respond.

The team had been in a conference room for the last eight hours trying to figure out their counter attack. A projector showed the image of a large hoarding sitting on the top of a shopping centre somewhere in the chaos of Delhi mocking them. The word ‘Unlimited’ was emblazoned in 5 foot high wordings in bright red.

‘SMS Rocket Pack boltein hai yaar. It will go well with the concept of a new product launch and all that.’ Patil was in his creative zone and he didn’t believe in regning in his runaway imagination.

‘Don’t we need to do the math on this? Looks like we are going to lose a ton of money if we offer the product’ Nishant was not sure if giving the the love bugs in this country  an option to do a million SMS’s for less than fifty rupees was such a smart idea.

‘What Math-Wath! You bloody MBA’s are crazy. Every time, you stare into an Excel sheet and give hazaar reasons on why not to do something. I say we launch it and then worry about the money. Anyway we have no choice, even the Wadaphone team must be on it already.’ Patil was now pacing around the room, pushing chairs out of his way.

Nishant’s phone beeped. It was a text message from his boss. ‘Is it ready?’ it said.

‘Not yet. Was thnkng we need 2 luk at de math’ Nishant texted back. At least his boss, of all the people, would see the need to consider the potential revenue loss. The department’s performance was the responsibility of his boss after all.

Nishant’s phone went berserk. Beep after beep rang out as his phone was flooded with text messages from his boss. He had received twenty copies of the same message.

‘What the hell are you doing? We needed the product YESTERDAY! Send the proposal to the President NOW!’ his boss had written from the movie theatre where he was watching the latest ‘Harry Potter’ movie with his daughter.

Nishant didn’t need to watch a movie to see a Dementor – he saw his boss in office every day and the man was pretty good at sucking out happiness from everyone on his team. Like all efficient bosses, he always needed every proposal to be submitted ‘yesterday’.

‘Told you, didn’t I?’ grinned Patil. ‘Okay now what is going to be? SMS Phataka offer or SMS Rocket pack?’

‘Let’s go with Rocket. Come to think of it, Phataka sounds like an obvious and clichéd counter to “Dhamaka”.’ Nishant was ready to drop dead and there was that thing about the logic of what they were doing in the first place, which was nagging him.

‘Everything out there is a rip-off my friend. We are going to offer people a million SMS’s for 48 Rs a month. Do you know what the per-SMS revenue is going to be?’ Patil couldn’t stop grinning.

‘So let’s do the math! I am telling you we can still convince them not to do this. It’s an unending spiral.’

‘Acquisitions, my friend! If we don’t counter, Hawatel will walk away with all our customers. And then Wadaphone will wipe the plate clean of what’s left. All we will have is some sambhar and chutney left.’ Patil had a unique way of describing marketing challenges in the Indian telecom market.

Nishant headed back to his workstation to make a write-up. Patil ran to his desk and mailed him an image file of the GSLV lifting off.

‘You do realise that the GSLV launch was a failure, don’t you?’ Nishant yelled across the room to Patil while still typing out the proposal.

‘GSLV, PSLV, Apollo – who cares. It will make the proposal colourful. Images are better than words,’ he said standing behind Nishant as he finished typing out the proposal in the company mandatory template.

Before he could hit the print button, Nishan’t phone beeped. ‘Have you sent it YET? I can’t see any mail!!’ Their boss was back to his remote monitoring through texting. He was an ideal candidate for the new product – A million SMS per month would be still be too less for him. He actually needed more to micro-manage his team from the restaurants and theatres he always seemed to have to go to.

‘On its way’ Nishant texted back and rushed to the common printer placed at the end of the huge lobby to grab the printout. He didn’t want any peeping Tom reading up on the super secret product details but he need not have bothered, the entire floor was empty. The company buses had left several hours ago and only workaholics like the President of Mobile Operations of the Western Zone and unwilling minions like Patil, the cleaning crew and he were around on the floor.

Taking a deep breath, and clutching a printout of his proposal, Nishant knocked on the heavy teak panelled door of the President’s office.

‘Come in,’ a stern voice called out.

Both Patil and Nishant entered, shivering from head to toe. Everybody in the office dreaded entering the President’s room. It was lavish to say the least. Teak panels covered the entire room. A huge glass window overlooked the garden in front of the office. From where they stood on the twentieth floor, they could see headlights of the cars making their way on the main road. The man himself, a giant with a barrel moustache sat in a huge leather chair behind a teak desk that seemed as large as a football field. Nishant was sure his apartment was smaller than the desk.

Nishant put his printout on one edge of the desk and pulled back one of the visitors chairs. He needed to sit down to prevent his knees from knocking. But the President’s raised eyebrow made it very clear that he was not welcome to sit. Hastily he pushed the chair back to its original position and held on to it for support.

‘Well, what is it?’ the man bellowed, staring them down. Nishant’s first instincts were to throw the proposal on his desk and make a dash for it. But Patil quickly moved behind him and pushed him forward.

‘Proposal, sir.’ Nishant stammered.

‘For your marriage?’

‘N..No Sir. For Rocket Launch.’ Nishant was ready to run any minute now

‘Are you working at ISRO or NASA? I thought we were in the telecom business. What Rocket? What Launch? Huh?’ he was checking mails on his Blackberry while the two stood shivering in front of him.

‘New SMS product Sir. Counter for hawaTel Dhamaka’ Nishant mustered the courage to say something. Tales of highly accomplished and senior executives being given a dressing down by the man sitting across the table were part of office legend. Nishant prayed fervently that he would not join the distinguished list today.

Finally with an exasperated sigh, the phone was lowered and the man turned to face Patil and Nishant. The expression on his face removed any doubt that he considered their arrival an intrusion. He was a busy man.

‘How many?’ he asked with his arms crossed across his chest. He made no attempt to pick up the printout; Nishant was inching across the table in his direction.

‘One Offer Sir.’ Nishant found his voice, once again at a safe distance from the table.

‘Not how many products. How many SMS’s?’ he was holding his head in his arms. Clearly Nishant wasn’t doing a good job of impressing him.

‘A million sir’

The President sat upright in his chair as if someone had poked him with a live high voltage wire. He reached out and grabbed the printout.

‘A MILLION! Are you out of your mind? What’s the monthly charges?’ He sounded like he was gasping for breath.

‘49!’ Nishant croaked, he sounded like someone was choking him.

‘49 Rupees?’ A sudden chill descended in the room. Nishant glanced at Patil for support but seeing the terrible way he was shivering it was clear that none was forthcoming. The president repeated his words very slowly, a steely edge creeping in his tone now. ‘Did -you – say – 49 – Rupees – a – month – for – a – million – SMS’s?’

‘N..No, No 48 sir. 49 is what hawaTel is charging.’ quipped Patil in his sincere schoolboy tone.

‘How many SMS’s is hawaTel giving?’, the President now grabbed his spectacles and started scanning the proposal document.

‘Un-Unlimited Sir’ Patil stammered.

The president wrenched away his reading glasses and flung them on the table. ‘Bunch of screwed up…’ He crumpled the printout and stood up. He slowly walked up where the two were standing. At 6 feet 2 inches he towered over both of his minions.

Ignoring Patil, he moved in closer towards Nishant.

‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ he demanded.

‘Yes Sir, sort of.’ Nishant stammered

‘How many SMS do you send her?’ he moved a step closer towards Nishant, who tried to take a step back and tripped over the edge of the thick carpet. The President grabbed his arm to steady him. It felt like the grip of death.

‘About 10-20 in a day sir.’ It was more like fifty but this didn’t seem like the right time to reveal that fact.

‘So how many in a month?’ the man grunted.

‘About 500 Sir.’ If Nishant was missing doing the math, he wasn’t anymore.

‘So how much do you spend on SMS in a month?’ He took another step closer to Nishant.

‘About 250 Rs Sir on my current plan.’ Nishant suddenly realized that he was spending way too much on someone who really wasn’t his girlfriend anyway.

‘And now you will spend 48 rupees instead of 250 sending your girl messages saying how much you love her. You will fight with her on SMS. You will make up with her on SMS. You will ask what she ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner on SMS. You will ask silly questions, get silly answers and grin like an idiot all day long – because you can send a Million SMS’s. Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND?’ The man was having a fit. ‘Get out of my office NOW! And take your bloody proposal with you! Don’t come in that door with any proposal that loses money or I will kick you out of this company. I don’t care what Hawatel does. GET OUT!’

Nishant and Patil turned to leave.

‘Wait!’ roared the President. ‘Didn’t you idiots know that the GSLV rocket exploded on takeoff?’ He tossed the crumpled paper ball at Nishant.

Nishant ran out of the room as fast as his legs could carry him. Patil was right behind him, panting and shivering at the same time. ‘What the hell was that? Why didn’t you pitch it properly? You should have given him the big picture first. Now I need to go and get drunk to recover. So much for limiting my drinking to four days a week.’ he yelled at Nishant.

‘I should have shown him the big picture? I am going to kill you when I stop shivering. Just wait.’ Nishant yelled back.

The cleaning staff stopped what they were doing and stared at the two of them.

Patil left in a huff and Nishant went back to his workstation and tried to call his boss. The boss however, still caught up in the Harry Potter movie, cut his call and texted back. ‘Still at the theatre, what happened?’

‘Big boss killed the proposal. He threw me out of the room’ Nishant replied back hoping to get some sympathy for what he had just gone through.

‘I am sure you goofed up. It’s all about explaining the context properly. Anyway I will handle it tomorrow.’ came the reply

This was turning out to be a really bad day for Nishant and he decided that he needed to take a break. In spite of having been reminded just minutes ago that he was spending way too much on his friend he still messaged her to ask if she could meet him for a drink.

His phone beeped. ‘Sry Dufus. Cnt make it. Stck in ofce at team party.  Btw did ya hear about SMS Dhamaka offr frm hawaTel? Its awsme! We’re all taking it.’

Nishant flung his cheap company phone across the room – where it hit the President on the head just as he came out of his cabin reading mails on his phone!

[This post is the second part of a longer work of fiction. All people and events described are figments of the authors imagination. Resemblance to anyone or anything is coincidental. In short Nothing is True. For more questions on what, why and copyright stuff refer this post which introduces the book]

Related Fragments: PrologueChapter 1Chapter 2 , Chapter 3

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A Ridiculous Bed-Time Story: Chapter 3: Beat It! Patti!

‘You introduced that stupid super-soft mattress into the story on purpose. Didn’t you?’ Priya reached out for another hot poori on the dinner tray set out in the garden of the hotel.

I grinned. The place served an excellent piping hot dinner even though they had ghastly rooms. The smell of pooris and spicy potatoes rose into the night sky. There were very few people staying there at this time of the year and hardly anyone else in the dining area.

 A little mouse came exploring and was rewarded with a bit of potato from Priya. Bats flew in once in a while and changed direction at the very last minute soaring back towards the open sky. The grotesque figurines continued to hold up the ghostly orbs. Other than the clanging of utensils in a wash area around the other end of the hotel there was hardly any noise.

This would typically have been rush hour back in Mumbai and we would have been sitting down for dinner with cotton stuffed in our ears or snapping at each other because of a headache at least one of us would be having. I stretched back and looked at the sky. In between the branches of the trees, swaying in the gentle breeze, I could see stars carpeted the night sky. It was practically impossible to see stars from anywhere in the city even if one remembered to look up.

‘So what happens next? Who is the bad guy in the story?’ Priya wasn’t going to give up easily!

The single malt was excellent. I took another sip and it went down smoothly, warming my insides. ‘An unlikely one – A Malayalee actually, can’t hold his whiskey and not very smart.’

‘Oh! You mean he is exactly like you?’ laughed Priya.

–∏–

A chawl somewhere in Mulund, Mumbai

‘What da, get some beef fry. What is the use of all this good whiskey I got from the Gulf if there is no beef to go with it.’ Sabu moped.

Curtains made of shocking pink cloth were drawn across the tiny gap in the wall. A lone red bulb hanging off a long wire bathed the room in a sinister light. Two lungi clad moustachioed men lay sprawled on thin dirty mattresses, drinking whiskey. The pungent smell of fried fish mingled with copious amounts of cigarette smoke lay heavy in the room. A tiny television sat on a wooden platform in the corner of the room. A movie was playing where one of the ever-green-good-guy hero was romancing a starlet half his age.

‘You want beef, bladdy, go to Trivandrum, bladdy and get it yourself bladdy. I don’t know where to go and get it in this bladdy city. I asked the ration shop where I buy rice, about the place to get beef and he shouted at me in front of everybody. Bladdy thief. Steals from his customers and acts all holy,’ Pattikuttan took a big gulp from his glass. The golden liquid seared his insides bringing a tear to his bloodshot eyes. His system wasn’t used to smooth whiskey. Old Monk was his brand.

‘This whole country is like that I tell you.’ Sabu peered through the smoke at Pattikuttan’s silhouette. ‘If you are dark skinned, have curly hair and a mustache you are classified as a Madrasi and they think they can shout at you as and when they please. Stupid people here don’t even know the difference between Tamil and Malayalam. All they know is Madrasi. And that city is not even called Madras any more.’

Sabu took a long draw at his cigarette with disgust. His anger manifesting as furious draws on the cigarette. The end glowered a hot red, the simmering flame reflecting his eyes. Pattikuttan knew his friend had a red hot temper, and had learnt over the years to ignore his mindless rants. He reached out to shove another piece of fish into his mouth.

‘These people from the North are so aggressive,’ continued Sabu ‘they don’t let us get anywhere in this country. Always they get promotions and raises da. They will always woo the boss with their butter-chicken and their wives will flirt with him. Anytime donkeywork is required, we are always present. Yes Saar, No Problem Saar, I will do Saar. Finally I got fed up and quit my job and ran away to the Gulf.’

Pattikuttan nodded his head. The whiskey was spreading wonderful golden warmth inside him and suddenly he found that he couldn’t stop nodding. ‘..and How do they treat you in the Gulf?’

‘Like a dog!’ Sabu roared and both men slipped into bouts of uncontrolled laughter, fueled by whiskey, fried fish and the heavy smoke from several packs of top-class 555-brand cigarette.

An hour later, both men lay perfectly still. Heavy snoring filled the room. The hero in the movie was done bashing up the bootlegging villains in the movie and had finished giving his speech against alcoholism to the whole village – all of whom then went and celebrated at the local toddy shop. The newsreader had announced the latest scams in the state and channel logo was left flashing on the screen filling the room in an eerie combination of blue flicker and dull red light. Only the occasional barking of a stray dog filtered through the closed window.

The shrill ring of a mobile phone broke the stillness the ring tone set to Sabu’s favourite Jackson hit – “Beat It!” He had tried Pavarotti once, but he didn’t quite connect with all the screaming.

Sabu reached out for the phone in his sleep and pressed the bright red call reject button.

“They told him don’t you ever come around here…” the phone started its buzzing again.

Sabu grunted and hit the reject button again.

“They told him don’t you ever come around here – Don’t wanna see your face, you better disappear”

Sabu snorted in addition to his grunting. He pushed the phone under a pillow and went back to hugging the empty soda bottle.

“They told him don’t you ever come around here – Don’t wanna see your face, you better disappear – The fires in their eyes and their words are really clear – So beat it, just beat it” A muffled Jackson screamed from beneath the pillow.

The caller was persistent.

This time Sabu grabbed the phone and answered the call “Who the blaady hell is this?” he yelled, the alcohol still slurring his speech.

Seconds later, Sabu was wide-awake. Mumbling ‘Yes Saar. Yes Saar. No Saar. Sorry Saar,’ into the phone he grabbed his lungi that had come undone and stepped out into the lane outside his friends’ kholi. The stench from the nallah flowing past filled the humid night air. Mosquitoes attacked him from all sides and his bare upper torso had little protection. Swatting mosquitoes with one hand and holding his breath for as long as he could, Sabu kept mumbling ‘Yes Saar’ at regular intervals into the phone.

When the call was done, Sabu was sweating. He glanced at the sliver of sky visible from between the asbestos sheet roofs of tightly packed illegal tenements. There were no stars or moon visible. A gentle hue of blood red in the distant horizon told him that it was almost dawn. Tucking his lungi in near his knees he went back into the dilapidated room and stared at his friend snoring away on the floor. In the next few minutes he made up his mind. Sabu didn’t really want to put his friend in any danger, but there was no choice – he himself was a marked man, and the packet had somehow to be delivered to the unpleasant man with the gruff voice. He had threatened to chop off certain vital parts of Sabu’s anatomy if the packets from Dubai didn’t reach him on time.

Sabu made some coffee on the kerosene stove kept in one corner of the room. He then woke up his host and thrust a cup of the sickly sweet coffee under his nose. ‘It will help you get rid of the hangover quickly,’ he cajoled. Pattikuttan accepted the cup full of muddy brown liquid stinking of kerosene without any protests. His head was exploding with a shooting pain and he still couldn’t see very clearly. His Seth, the cab owner, would be furious if he was late again. As it is, he was behind on payments this month.’

‘What’s the date today?’ Pattikuttan asked in between sips of the insipid coffee. He had enjoyed his friends stay so much that he had lost track of the days.

’10th’ mumbled Sabu from a corner in the room where he was rummaging through two giant suitcases he had brought with him. They occupied almost a quarter of the tiny room.

‘What?’ yelled Pattikuttan. ‘I have to run. Tomorrow is the day I have to make payments to the Seth and I blew it all on the fish yesterday. I will have to make at least 5 trips today or he will kill me.’

Sabu listened patiently and then approached his friend hesitantly. ‘Edo, I have a favour to ask of you. I need your help in delivering a packet to an address in Borivali today evening. And it will be worth your while. They will pay you 5000 when you deliver the packet”

Pattikuttan couldn’t believe his ears. Five thousand would go a long way in keeping the fat loud mouthed Seth off his back but usually when there was so much money associated with packets, things would go very wrong. ‘What’s wrong with the packet? Why aren’t you delivering it yourself?’ he had been raised to question any windfalls. The hard knocks of village life that taught his family that eternal truth a long time ago.

‘No da, there is nothing wrong. Trust me. It’s just that you have a taxi and it will be convenient for you. I will have to search for the address and then I also have to catch a flight to Kerala today. So will you do it?’

Pattikuttan pretended to think about the proposal for a minute. But his mind was already made up  – The five thousand had already made the decision for him.

‘Excellent, remember to use only this phone to call the number if you need to contact the person.’ Sabu said, handing over a brand new Blackberry device. Pattikuttan had only seen these sleek phones with some of the executives he picked up at the airport. He himself had a plastic phone he got cheap with a prepaid connection and the damn thing didn’t work half the time.

Sabu taught Pattikuttan how to use the Blackberry and before his friend could change his mind, he picked up a bundle of packets from under the lining of his suitcase and packed them all in a bright yellow plastic bag emblazoned with “FLY! BUY! DUBAI!” and handed it over.

[This post is the second part of a longer work of fiction. All people and events described are figments of the authors imagination. Resemblance to anyone or anything is coincidental. In short Nothing is True. For more questions on what, why and copyright stuff refer this post which introduces the book]

Related Fragments: Prologue, Chapter 1, Chapter 2 

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A Ridiculous Bed-Time Story: Chapter 2: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

“Goodself! Lifeblood! What kind of story is this?” sighed Priya as she finished signing the hotel guest register.

The clerk gave us startled look as he handed over the room keys.

“So is there a dashing handsome police man who catches these hijackers?” she asked me as the staff member led us to our room through a pathway made through the overgrown lawns. Plaster of Paris figurines held up plastic spheres with dim bulbs in them. A ghostly yellow blue light lit up the walkway through the hotel grounds.

 I was too preoccupied with the room to reply. It was a room furnished in garish shades of red. The large bed occupied most of the room, leaving just a tiny passageway for people to walk.

 “I don’t think the occupants of this room are expected to spend too much time out of bed” I grinned as I fell on the hard mattress and almost broke my back.

“Shut up!” snapped Priya. “And don’t change the topic. I asked you a question. Is there a police man?”

“Yes. There is a police man. A very colourful police man in fact.”I said, picking up the room phone to order dinner. The menu didn’t look very interesting. But they were serving whiskey which was always a good thing – especially when you were settling for a long story telling session. The long walk up to the hotel had made me thirsty.

–Π–

Galaxy Homes, Powai, Mumbai

Mishra opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. It took him a few seconds to make sense of where he was. The ornate false ceiling was in stark contrast to the peeling water-stained pink cement slab in his apartment. The satin curtains had been drawn back and bright sunlight streamed into the vast bedroom through the French windows of a large apartment furnished with obscenely expensive artefacts.

Even the sunlight seemed less harsh in these expensive apartments, he thought to himself. The wonderful smell of freshly brewed coffee filtered into the room. Mishra yawned and stretched his legs. He could just lie there forever given half a chance.

Though the large bed he was sprawled on was extremely comfortable, he knew it was time for him to leave. The maid would be coming along soon and though she knew about Mishra’s visits, there was no sense in making it obvious. The loud-mouthed fat lady would keep up the pretence, as long as he kept it up himself. Maids knew that gossiping about policemen didn’t do much good. Their husbands and sons usually disappeared without a trace for an extended period of time and they needed the law to drag them back home. ‘Though’ thought Mishra ‘in this particular lady’s case it might be an added incentive for her to gossip.’ Both the men in her life were lazy louts and drunks to boot. She would be better off if they disappeared permanently. Mishra could make that happen as well.

Disgusted with his random chain of thoughts, Mishra tried to get out of bed. His enormous belly made the task of getting up from the “ultra-soft imported-without-paying-duty” mattress, a rather tedious chore.

‘Crazy tastes these rich people have.’ he muttered. ‘Swedish mattresses? Aren’t there enough people in India who make decent cotton mattresses?’ he cursed under his breath as he struggled to sit up straight and kept sinking deeper. Finally with a great heave he flung his legs over the side of the bed and jumped out, only to slip unceremoniously on the smooth floor.

Mishra-ji, Senior Inspector, terror-of-the-local-hooligans, the man all “bhai’s” turned to in time of need, kicker-of-infinite-thieving-asses – lay sprawled, buck-naked on the cold marble floor.

Perfectly pedicured toes in golden Gucci slippers appeared in his line of sight.

‘I have seen beached whales that looked more dignified.’ cooed an amused voice.

Mishra sighed and closed his eyes. Sheila would never let him hear the end of this. He reached out to hold the edge of the side table and slowly pulled his enormous girth up. ‘Gently does it.’ he told himself. Any sudden movements and he might pull a muscle and then all the bloody constables in the police station would laugh behind his back. His nightly stopovers at Sheila’s apartment were not really a state secret.

‘I am leaving for a meeting. There are some cantaloupes in the fridge, if you care for breakfast. The maid will come in half an hour, please leave before that.’ The Gucci slippers disappeared into the living room.

‘Cantaloupes? Don’t you people eat anything normal? Breakfast should be spicy vada-paav washed down with masala chai.’ Mishra stood up and headed into the bathroom grinning at his joke. Belittling the exotic choices of the nouveau riche was Mishra’s private prop to his constantly battered self respect.

‘By the way what meeting are you going to?’ Mishra bit his tongue regretting the question as soon as he asked it. Cursing himself, he rushed into the bathroom hoping to close the door before Sheila pounced on him. In his experience the lady never told him anything unless he was required to assist in some way.

The bathroom in this apartment was as big as his living room. The mirror on the wall was surely bigger than his windows. Mishra sighed at his large belly reflected in the pristine glass. ‘Some bodies shouldn’t be seen naked’ he mumbled as he reached down to wash his face in the sink. He preferred his own bathroom with the tiny mirror set at chin level. His stubble was an infinitely more bearable sight than the rest of his body.

Elegant fingers stopped dancing on the sleek Macintosh keyboard in the living room. Mishra had tried using that keyboard once – jabbing at a few keys casually. Sheila’s screams had gotten the building security guard knocking on her door wondering if everything was all right with madam. ‘Interesting that you should ask. I am going to lead an agitation to get the two-timing cheating husband of my maid arrested.’

‘Uh. Huh’ Mishra mumbled as he washed his face with some expensive looking silver coloured face-wash he found on the platform.

‘Her juggi is in your jurisdiction.’ There was a definite note of annoyance in Sheila’s response. Mishra could almost see the left eyebrow raised half way up the forehead as she waited for his answer.

‘That’s good’ Mishra mumbled again as he doused himself with Sheila’s husbands deodorant. FCUK it said on the bottle. If hadn’t been Sheila’s apartment he wouldn’t have touched the stuff. So many fakes these days, and inevitably they got the spelling wrong. ‘These bloody counterfeiters,’ he thought ‘it was the most famous four letter word in the world and they even got that wrong.’ But the stuff had a nice smell. Her husband might be a loser, but he was a filthy rich loser making his living as the wealth manager for some really shady and powerful characters.

‘I wasn’t looking for your appreciation. Make sure those lady constables of yours don’t talk back to me this time.’ There was no mistaking the steely ring in her voice now.

‘Lady Constables? What the hell are you talking about?’ Mishra yanked up his trousers.

‘The ones you are going to send to arrest the maid’s husband. He has another woman – his keep.’ There it was. Now it was out in the open. No more subtle hints and the eyebrow was raised just as he had imagined.

Mishra rolled his eyes. His police station was perpetually short staffed and he really didn’t plan on sending lady constables to round up people based on whims and fancies of bored rich women who really didn’t have a clue on how the real world worked.

‘Poor man’ laughed Mishra ‘Isn’t having to tolerate two women bad enough. Why do you want to have me arrest him as well?’

‘Mishra, don’t push it! These perks you enjoy come with a fee attached.’

‘Sheila-ji, aap to naraaz ho gaye’ grinned Mishra, putting on his shirt. He looked at himself in the mirror. A sad, middle-aged obese man stared back at him. He was such a dashing young stud of a man when he had entered the force or at least that is what his relatives told him. His mother had high hopes for him. Even he had high hopes for him. But years of spending most of his time arranging security for VIP’s had added layers of cynicism and fat on that idealistic young man and all that remained was a belly and a bald palate.

Grabbing his cap he headed for the huge main door ‘I would have loved to spare the force to support your noble cause but I have a problem you see.’

‘And what is that?’ Sheila demanded as Mishra opened the door and turned back to face her keeping the door half closed.

‘Those lady constables are being deployed to arrest a woman who according to her very rich husband is cheating on him. Apparently this blood sucking witch – his words not mine – is having an affair with a handsome single Senior Inspector when he is not around.’ he said and closed the door just in time to avoid the slipper that was flung with full force.

‘We are separated! He is NOT my husband any more.’ He heard her scream from behind the solid teak door.

He couldn’t stop laughing all the way down to the car park where a Mercedes he had impounded the previous evening was waiting.

[This post is the second part of a longer work of fiction. All people and events described are figments of the authors imagination. Resemblance to anyone or anything is coincidental. In short Nothing is True. For more questions on what, why and copyright stuff refer this post which introduces the book]

Related Posts: Fragment 1: Prologue, Fragment 2: Chapter 1.

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A Ridiculous Bed-Time Story: Chapter 1: At the end of it all…

XBN Studios, South Mumbai.

‘THE NATION DEMANDS TO KNOW!’ Prakat screamed.

The bright studio lights blurred into one giant mass of illumination from behind Prakat Samacharwala as he screamed again. ‘India wants to know!’ God was questioning the three men sitting across him on the other side of the table on judgement day – A salt and pepper haired, French bearded God who had a weakness for huge Rolex watches that hung limply on his thin wrists.

It wasn’t a total exaggeration. In his own way, Prakat, news anchor extraordinaire’ was God. He could build or destroy people’s reputations as he wished. The “idiot box” continued to mould popular opinion and his show ruled the airwaves. Movers, shakers, washed-out politicians, wannabe rulers, criminals, law makers, law breakers, everyone who wanted to be famous made sure he was clued onto their next ‘big’ thing. After all – the nation hung on to every word he said.

Today, of all the days though, he really did want to destroy the three sitting across him. It wasn’t personal – it just had to be done.

‘Gentlemen, are you denying that this mail was written by you? Isn’t this the ultimate proof of your nefarious intentions? Proof of your conspiracy against innocent passengers on an airline? And that’s all we know for now. Maybe it was part of a deeper conspiracy.’ Prakat screamed looking in the direction of the cameras. He rarely looked at the people he interviewed. He just didn’t care about them.

Across the table from his interrogator, Srinivas moved his chair up a fraction and opened his mouth to say something but before he could get started, Prakat cut in ‘Let me read it out again. Maybe it will help refresh your memories which conveniently seem to have been erased like a bad quality USB drive.’

The dismal analogy was lost on his victims and his camera team. The producer shrugged her shoulders and asked Camera 1 to zoom in on the anchor.

‘You wrote to the hijackers saying, and I quote, “we have developed a cutting edge communication mechanism that can be used with any device and will ensure a degree of encryption so far unmatched…”‘

‘Yes, but…’

‘And then you go on to boast, and I quote, “…once installed on your devices there is practically no way anyone can trace your communications”‘

‘There’s a context…’

‘Wait! I am not finished. And then you write and I quote “We request your good self for a meeting to discuss the possibility of starting a mutually profitable relationship. Please let us know your feedback of the results. Such information is the lifeblood of our setup.”‘

The cameras pivoted smoothly to face the three crestfallen faces seated across the table from the news anchor, who on his part didn’t lower his pitch for even a second.

Prakat screamed an octave higher ‘Goodself? Is that even a word anyone uses any more or were you so caught up in praising your controller that you even made up your own words? What was the mutually profitable relationship, gentlemen? Money to satisfy your greed and hundreds of innocent lives in exchange huh?’

The cameras zoomed again in for a close up of the three men.

Prakat continued ‘And then there is the last line of the mail which is the ultimate proof of your culpability. Again I quote from the mail only XBN has gained exclusive access to. You say that you “look forward to their leadership, guidance and support in the relationship!”‘

Srinivas moved his arms wildly, a sure sign that he had finally found something to say. ‘Terrorists? Controllers? What nonsense. Can I please say something?’ he even raised his voice by several notches but was promptly shouted down.

‘Leadership! Guidance! Support!’ Prakat was going red in his face from screaming. ‘You are practically asking the would be hijackers to guide you and support you in your evil schemes. Was the hijack a part of a larger terrorist plan? Was it? The nation demands answers. We have a right to know!’

‘But you are not letting me answer!’ Srinivas leaned in closer to the table and waved his arms more vigorously.

‘Is this the state of the nation? Are we at the mercy of misguided people who support enemies of the state?’ Prakat was now going red in his face. If it was an act, it was a very good one.

‘Can I…’

‘Look at them’ Prakat pointed furiously at the three men. The cameras swung again ‘they might seem like ordinary looking men but these are the new faces of terror. The kind you might run into at the bazaar, on the road, in the bus. Ordinary! Middle Class! Looks like you and me! But could this be the new face of terrorism? The advanced gen-X, no longer content with explosives and subterfuge, they have now entered the world of the technology and they raise funds from you in the garb of entrepreneurship.’

‘Prakat, please, can I…’

‘Who knows, you just might be funding a terrorist plot every time you invest money in a business? XBN has gained exclusive access to three plotters of the sensational hijack – the first time ever on live television in India. After the break we ask them to answer the questions the nation has today. India demands to know, why they did the heinous things they did.’

‘Heinous? What the…’

‘Don’t go anywhere. We are going into a quick break. And after that we will be talking to actress Rupa Rattee, who has acted in several gangster movies, on her insights into the minds of the modern terrorist. Enter our poll now – Do you think hijackers and terrorists are getting smarter by the day? You are watching Trial by Fire only on XBN news. We will be right back!’

The red light on the television camera in the studio stopped blinking.

In thousands of living rooms across the country, people who had been glued to their television sets, afraid to even breathe, finally took a deep gulp and blinked at each other in disbelief.

[This post is the second part of a longer work of fiction. All people and events described are figments of the authors imagination. Resemblance to anyone or anything is coincidental. In short Nothing is True. For more questions on what, why and copyright stuff refer this post which introduces the book]

Related Posts: Fragment 1: Prologue

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A Ridiculous Bed-Time Story: Prologue

On a really hot day…

It was another brutually hot summer in Mumbai. It always had been these past few years – each year warmer than the one before. Newspapers dutifully made note of the record for the highest temperature being broken each passing year. “Global Warming” they said. “Nothing you can do about it, so live with it” was the not so subtle message behind all the elaborate articles about sunspots and emissions inconsiderate developed nations spewed out. Heat seemed to radiate out of the concrete and the tar, the only two surfaces left in the unbelievable congested metropolis.

The tiny apartment in the suburb of Andheri seemed even hotter than the roads outside. Apartment number 8 on the second floor of HillShade Co-operative Housing Society was miles away from the nearest hill and there was no shade to be seen either. All those concerns where pooh-poohed because it faced east, in line with vaastu requirements, onto the main road winding through the industrial hub, which was not quite a vaastu requirement but was the case anyway. The builder’s knowledge of vaastu ended with apartments facing east. He didn’t have much to say about living inches away from a major arterial road.

‘Arre Sir, Best Location! No obstruction in front possible. See all window in the direction of wind. What more you want? All day mast mast breeze in Mumbai city. You are the luckiest people in this entire road,’ he told us opening a tiny window with layers of thick bars. The wind in question now whipped up clouds of dust from the road and deposited a thick layer of it on everything in the house. By the time rush hour was done in the morning, and it was never quite done, it would seem that a dust storm had just passed through the place. At the time we were desperate, the loan we took out would require only 20 years of paying half my income as EMI’s – it was a perfect match of requirements.

It wasn’t even 10 in the morning. The incessant honking of cars and bikes from the road passing near the building had reached a crescendo. Someone in the apartment block had turned their radio on at an ear splitting volume adding to the cacophony.

An old ceiling fan in the room creaked and groaned as it struggled to keep a listless breeze blowing.

I had been dozing in the armchair after finishing the morning papers. Ever since the recession hit there was nothing else to do anyway. Some geniuses at banks in the US had created a housing bubble and I was paying the price for it. Days after the news of collapse of Lehman Brothers, my boss called me into his cabin. ‘It’s bad, real bad. We have no choice but to let you go.’ Honestly, I couldn’t blame them. It was as good as an opportunity they would get to weed out unwanted staff like me. All I had done in the three years was to figure out 30 different ways of writing “Today’s Deal” using different fonts on a pirated version of CorelDraw software that they had installed on an old computer. It would have been nicer though, if they hadn’t made me attend the induction party for the new trainee journalists they had hired the same morning.

‘It’s gone again’ screamed Priya from the kitchen. In the one room with an attached kitchen that we called home, even an exasperated exclamation seemed like ranting.

‘No more water!’ Priya stormed into the room. ‘I am fed up with this place. Let’s go somewhere. Just get out of here.’

I looked at my wife. We had obviously seen too many movies and had high hopes for our life when we married. It was all very ‘filmi’. The world was investing in “India” and even though either of us hadn’t bothered getting much in way of education – we were young and in love – but we were sure we would find a way to make it work. Parents on both sides had opposed the marriage. Mine, because they were sure I would ruin her life. Hers, because they too were sure I would ruin her life. Turns out both weren’t too far off the mark. But the lady still had the stubborn streak which caused her to rebel at home in the first place. She insisted on going down the gutter of life with me, kicking and screaming all the way.

‘Tell you what – Let’s go to Matheran for a few days.’ she said, staring at me from the doorway. She now had an imploring look in her eyes – the look of a person beaten by the city. It was clearly taking her all her will power not to break down. ‘I want to walk around in the quiet of the hills. I don’t want to see this dry tap, this dust, hear the honking of cars. I don’t want to be covered in sweat. I don’t want to see furniture coated with dust. I don’t want to hear the stupid songs on the radio or hear 10 different news channels blaring from TV’s in every apartment. I just want to sit quietly for a few hours. Please!’

I folded my newspaper and patiently explained to her why we couldn’t afford a trip right now.

It was late evening by the time we reached Matheran.

The toy train that was so popular with the tourists had already finished its last run for the day. Priya yanked my arm and pulled me onto the empty rail tracks. Even after the exhausting journey in the suburban train till here and being packed into a taxi with a dozen others she still had the energy to walk the five kilometres of the tiny toy-rail track to our destination.

The track wove gently through the hill side. The trees were filled with the sounds of birds returning home for the night. Monkeys swung across the road in search of anything they could steal from the visitors. A couple of horses clopped by, returning home after lifting heavy, out of shape people all day. The Sun was setting and a soft glow descended on the landscape. 

The track swerved into a dark corner, passing in between a narrow opening cut into the forest. Priya stopped and turned back. She waited till I caught up and grabbed my arm. As we walked into the darkness, following the rails, she tugged at my sleeve. ‘Tell me a ridiculous story’

‘A ridiculous story? I don’t know any stories, and definitely not any ridiculous ones.’ I said. I really was no good at telling stories and had hardly read any books. All I read was the latest scams by politicians or match fixing by cricketers. Neither of which made for good story telling.

‘All those years working with a newspaper and you don’t know a single tall tale? Come on. Tell me one. Tell me a ridiculous bedtime story.’

‘Look all those reporters at my paper just kept creating sensations out of mundane stories. Besides all I did was make ad-banners on the sister website screaming “Today’s Deal. Limited Offer.”’

‘Yes those limited offers that were always unlimited. I am sure nobody even paid any attention to those.’ she giggled ‘Come on- surely there is at least one story you know.’

We had now come out of the dark corner and passed by some shanties near the heart of the small hill town. Smoke rose through the tin chimneys. Dinner was being cooked. Little children were playing games in the courtyards and in the clearing by the tracks. Bats headed straight for us and veered away at the last minute. I could see our hotel just around the next turn.

I glanced at my watch. ‘It’s almost 9’ I said.

‘So?’ she asked.

‘So, it’s almost time for Trial by Fire to start on the CBN channel. And that’s where my story ends.’

‘Ends? But you haven’t even started!’

‘Patience, Mon Cherie. Now do you remember that episode a couple of years back where Pardesi announced he had a scoop, interviewing some terror suspects?’

‘Oh yes. But nothing came out of that, did it?’

‘Well, this is the inside story of what happened. One of my friends in investigative journalism section showed me the file they had prepared. The story, not surprisingly, never saw light of the day.’

[This post is part of a longer work of fiction. All people and events described are figments of the authors imagination. Resemblance to anyone or anything is coincidental. In short Nothing is True. For more questions on what, why and copyright stuff refer this post which introduces the book]

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Fiction Fragments: A Ridiculous Bed-Time Story

Over the next few weeks I will post fragments (fancy term for chapters) of a rather long bed time story I wrote in my spare time.

The usual disclaimers about all people and events being nothing more than a figment of my imagination apply. In short – ‘Nothing in this story is true!

To the young gentleman at my last book reading session in Baroda, who demanded to know why books aren’t cheaper, well it doesn’t get any cheaper than this (though you will only get it in parts for some time till I release the complete manuscript). To all those who insisted I keep writing, thank you for the faith you reposed in the most indisciplined writer on the planet. To those who didn’t quite like my previous book, I hope you see improvement here.

To those who are wondering why I am not releasing the entire manuscript in one go, there are several reasons, none of which are important (or meaningful) to anyone but me. But I am looking forward to feedback as the story develops here so the final version I am sure will be much better than anything I could have dumped on you.

That being said, I will eventually release the final manuscript under the Creative Commons  (I think it will be the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivs to be specific) so anyone can print/share/publish/sell do whatever without worrying about me (unless you plan on changing it). Till that time the content is fully copyrighted. If you are a reporter of that strange newspaper who happily lift things off others blog and pass it off as yours (you know who you are) – the words of relevance to you are “cease and desist”. If you didn’t get that part then here the same thing in plain English. “NO! You can’t use anything you read here” (I know that makes me sound like a pompous ass)

In case of a Black Swan event that you are a publisher, you read my blog and are interested in the manuscript for publishing, please note that I have a few teeny-weeny conditions I would appreciate you respect before you go crank up the printing press. Leave your contact in the comments on any of the posts, I will get in touch with you.

Now that I am done with the speech –  ‘Ladies and Gentlemen – I present – A ridiculous bed-time story which I hope you find is not as ridiculous as the title claims.’

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