Heat searing into my skin
Rising up in sighing steamy vapour
On the searing blue berth I lie immobile
Dreaming dark grey clouds cool drafts and all pervading wetness.

Dimming sights ,a swirling dust storm
Craning my neck outside
Tonguing the first few drops
Of imminent thunderstorm

Smelling newly drenched earth
Rain french kissing the sand
Nude children uninhibited soaked in laughter
Men cowering under the shade of the banyans.

Bespectacled black blushing with exertion
Stumbling into my solitary coup
A pause, a break in my journey
Across me she sits , to stand again

The blackness drops, hanging on a hook
Brown pastures tumbling in and out
Behind the blinkers staying firmly put
I glimpse the glittering kaleidoscope.

(Penned in a rare moment of poetic inspiration on my last rail journey. The rains and the lass came as we neared the city of the Taj. My first poem in the public domain after an attempt when I was 13, in the school magazine. Ah, to speak of wasted genius ! *Sigh*)

A Tale of two 1s and two noughts

My love affair with 1100 began 4 years ago and is still going strong. An incident when I was in McLeod Ganj, near the Dalai Lama’s quarters comes to  mind. I had just quit my job and the vagabond shoes were new to me. There was not an abundance of common sense (not that I have much now!) . I was chilling with some friends and before I knew it, it was half past eight at night. Having said my goodbyes, I started walking to my guest house. A small problem! The guesthouse was a 4 km walk uphill, through jungle. Yes folks, jungle as in hard core forest. No lights, except star light! The last shopkeeper on the way up gave me some friendly advice that cheered me up.

‘Bhaisaab, make sure you talk to yourself ’ 
‘Don’t worry bhaiya I do that all the time!’
‘Arre, no sir, you have to talk loudly to yourself. Of course you know that there are bears in the jungle. Why just last week our....’
‘BBB…Bears you said?’

The word sent a chill down my spine but I put out a reassuring smile and walked on. Forget the bear problem, how the hell was I going to see and walk on the roughly cut irregular stone path? Ah, my double one double zero has a torch!  It was the first time I was using it in pitch darkness and it was reasonably bright. It stayed that way for the 45 minutes of my journey.

I must tell you some habits of bears in India so that you know your bare bear stuff the next time you are lucky enough to bump into one, maybe in the supermarket or in the neighborhood tea stall. If you’ve been warned about bears in the area you’re travelling in and you happen to be alone, ALWAYS talk loudly to yourself. Make noise! Bears have poor eyesight and can’t see you even if you are close but the noise will serve as a warning, for them. Also it might get the impression that there is more than one person on the way.

For this to be more effective, you can try one of my techniques. I sing duets and use my falsetto voice to the best advantage. One of my favourites is Lukka Chuppi from the movie Rang De Basanti and believe me I can give Lataji a run for her money! But in McLeod Ganj that cold starry night I was singing Yesudas’s Hindi hits. I figured the bears in the area were familiar with Hindi, and I really wanted them to daud for their lives as I started my systematic murder of each song!

Cut to the present. I told this tall tale just to illustrate my attachment with double one double zero. She is ideal for my rough lifestyle because she’s strong, sturdy and has an amazing battery life.  After 3 years of yeoman service, unfortunately the battery has now conked out. I turned Trivandrum inside out to find a new one but all that was offered were duplicates , in the range of 200- 300 /-.

Finally I found a shopkeeper who promised me the real thing.
He slickly takes a battery covered with a flimsy plastic wrap, the kind they dish out milk pedas in.

‘What the hell is this?’
‘Original battery sir’
‘But, but the ‘cover’ is open’
‘Sir, this was given by customer as he didn’t want it’
‘What? How do I know it’s not been used?’
Oops I touched a raw nerve.
‘Look sir, nobody is forcing you to buy this.’
Disinterested look from the dude.
‘Ok, how much is it?’
‘Ok saar good day!’

At the end of a long day, in another shop they finally point me to a newly opened Nokia Care centre. Something I appreciate about my fellow Malayalis. They are mostly a helpful bunch!

Nokia Care is on the 3 rd floor and since I was super fit from all the vagabonding I make it straight for the lift. The lift door opens and my eyes pop out. The floor is littered with shoes, sandals and slippers of every description. This looked more like the outside of a Nokia temple than a repair shop! Despite the sight of the million chappalls, I march bravely inside. There is a big hall packed with owners of the million chappalls. They are all staring at a lady behind a table. She must be the goddess! I approach her with folded hands and state my case. She barks out ‘Arun Vijayakumar’. Shuffling of feet behind me and a relieved looking gentleman marches on to the glass cubicles behind the lady. They are all manned by robotic looking men and women, the mobile doctors. I prostate myself before the goddess and state my case again
‘Ah yes the 1100 battery, original 299 rupees only’
‘Wowowo, I thought you only sold original accessories here’
Ah the goddess has a sense of humor, she smiles.
‘Latest stock from China, price drop form 450 to 299 just this week!’
I can’t believe my luck! Nothing like a bargain to lift my spirits up!

                             Isn't she a beauty ?