ILP @ CBE, Part IV
PART 4: TREE, SHADE AND A GUITAR
29 June, 2020hrs, HOWRAH STATION, KOLKATA, EAST INDIA
Four long hours is time enough to get a panoramic view of a city, especially so when you have nothing more to do than eating an occasional banana and sipping bad content of a coffee cup, and more so if the subject city is one that carries an awe and mysteriousness bequeathed to it by ages that have flaunted their glorious presence in history. Kolkata has in it what it takes to establish a spellbound impression on anyone who studies it. I was passing through the same kaleidoscope while I was sitting on a bench on Platform number 21, waiting for the Falaknuma Express, which was late already by four hours and must be rolling in any time in half an hour. The platform was filled with a myriad of people moving hither and thither trying to locate their coaches, porters touting the passengers to let them carry their luggage and the fruit-wallahs and other peddlers shouting at the peak of their throats to earn dough enough to fill their stomachs. Though tiresome, the four hours at the station gave me a glimpse into the variety and spirit of Kolkata. But all the time there was something dull, something unpleasant at the back of my head, something perceived only by an inner sense. Was it a case of ill-health? Was it due to the stress out of work in the previous weeks or was it something more mysterious? This I never knew.
The siren of the mighty Falaknuma with a royal silhouette cutting through the platform brought me back to earth from a quagmire of thoughts. I quickly located my coach, found my berth and folded myself onto the side berth. The clear sky, twinkling stars and a friendly breeze managed to lull me into a deep sleep and I remember nothing more of that day to write longer.
SAME DAY, 2300hrs, TWENTIETH FLOOR, JACQUESPLAZA, OLD MONTREAL, CANADA
Suddenly there was light, first in the living room, then in the bath room and then in the kitchen of Apartment number 2010. Exactly five minutes later, the door into the verandah slid open and out came a guy with the right age for a marriage and a wrong luck to waste it in the cold of Montreal. He pulled himself into a woolen jacket and crouched into an easy chair. Sunder was late again from work and he had gotten used to these long schedules right from the day he was sent to Canada, all the way from Mumbai to handle some of the automation affairs of a company that sells toothpaste. Far out in spread he could see the dazzle of the great city in tiny fluorescent lamps and colored neon gas tubes. His sharp eyes could capture the night-time glances of the Notre-Dame de Montréal Basilica, the OldPort and Place d’Armes. He hadn’t known much about Canada except that it was cold and is the second largest country in area only after great Russia. Of course he made it a point to know beforehand that living and kicking alone in this place would fetch him $ * * * every week. On the opposite side of the road, in the ground floor of an edifice that was older and taller than the one in which he was sitting, he could clearly see the closing signs of the drugstore, a cold beef shop and a restaurant which he loathed.
Suddenly he jumped out of the chair and ran into his kitchen only to find that the eggs had over boiled and the milk spilled over again for the fourth time this week. He was not having a great time that day. He had been bruised on the brains all day to fix the software that generates monthly reports of the company’s toothpaste sales and as though it were not enough he had to sleep through a hungry night. He had lost something. Did he know it?
SAME DAY, 2115hrs, WINDOW SEAT, DELUXE BUS, VIZAG TO HYDERABAD
Around 600 B.C. itself, Gautama Buddha had said “Desire is like a vessel with no bottom. It keeps asking for more, the more you keep filling it.” 2600 years later this gentleman was trying to prove Buddha right by making infinite attempts adjusting his body to find that-perfect-and-most-comfortable-seating-position in the deluxe bus from Vizag to Hyderabad. Amit had got used to frequently traveling along the east coast of India ranging from as far as Balasore in Orissa to Chennai down south. His expertise was in the field of requirement gathering for the inventory management module of large Enterprise Resource Planning projects in mid-size companies that supplement giant zinc factories by taking up their outsourced work of inventory, warehousing and transportation. This makes him commute regularly along the east coast, sometimes as frequently as three times a week but he still keeps trying for that optimum seating position in the deluxe bus.
He feared that the bus may have a flat tyre anytime and his schedule might get upset, just like the last time when he had to face a cloud of scorn the next morning for having been late. This time it hadn’t been that rough. He had done a good job at the Zinc factory and the bus was running as per time. Slowly he began to ponder over the big picture. For the last few months he had been doing the same thing over and over again- collecting the audited statements of the factory, talking to the store keepers and inspecting the zinc-life-cycle everywhere. He had to communicate this to the software designers the next morning and wait for a new assignment and take another parallel road along the east coast. He was not unhappy but was he happy? He was not idle but was he working?
30 June, 0800hrs, ROOM NUMBER 408, NAVARATNA DELUXE LODGING HOUSE, COIMBATORE
An old mosquito was finally happy. It had had a heavy breakfast. The room in which it lived was vacant for many days. It was old and it was raining outside and so it was starving for days. Finally it became happy as it was stomach-full now but out of sheer greediness it made one last deep bite into the flesh that had fed it and the flesh fell over and the poor old mosquito was crushed to death. I was suddenly awake. I went into the wash room, washed my face and stretched my arms in the balcony, watching the familiar façade of the Nilgiris. Suddenly I was thunder-struck. Where was I? I was supposed to be in the Falaknuma. How did I wake up in Coimbatore? Turning around I found Dhanunjaya lying on the bed. I hurriedly woke him up and was stunned to find out that even he was unaware of what had happened and that he was supposed to be in his flat in Hyderabad. After a mutual exchange of pinches to know if all this was real, we finally concluded that all this was true. What could explain such a phenomenon? Was it magic? We were determined to see it through. We ran out into the pass way and slammed the doors of all the rooms in the fourth floor but we could find no one there. We shouted. We shouted again. Then we started towards the stair case and ran downwards to the reception. Turning around the staircase on the first floor we could hear loud familiar voices shouting “They have cheated us!!! What has happened to us? Why are we here again? I want to go back to Canada!!!…..” On reaching the first floor we were surprised to find a huge crowd shouting at the receptionist. I rubbed my eyes and could see that the people standing there were none other than my own friends at the ILP (Initial Learning Programme) in Coimbatore. Forgetting everything, I jumped out of joy and met all of them-Sunder, Amit, Harsha, Kishore, Pramod, Guruparan, Ratheesh, Sankara, Srikanth, Chandran, Parthiban……..Everyone was perplexed and confused. Soon, after talking to each other, we all realized that it was the same case with everyone that they were in Coimbatore when they were supposed to be in different places. No one could explain such a magical coincidence and all were determined to put an end to this hullabaloo and everybody packed their belongings and started towards the railway station and the airport to go back out of this dream. Even I started to go to the railway station and get into some box that would take me home. But no sooner did I reach the end of the road, than I found myself on my bed again in room no 408. I was surprised. I woke up and fell on the bed again. I woke up again and fell asleep again.
In the evening when I finally recuperated, I found a note on my bed reading “Let’s meet in the TV hall at 1900hrs in the evening to discuss the situation.” Turning to my right I found Dhanunjaya asleep on the bed with his shoes on and a suitcase hanging from his right hand. He must have also been magically pulled into the bed having tried to get out of the place.
Later in the evening, on our way to the TV hall, I and Dhanunjaya were thinking hard to figure out the insuperable puzzle. We had the least idea of what we were supposed to react like in a situation like this and the only expression we could betray on our hapless faces was an upward curve of the mouth. Finally on reaching the TV hall, we found that all the members of our ILP class were already present and Guru was about to start addressing. In a voice surprisingly continuous in a plight like this, he said”Dear Friends!!! I suppose we all acknowledge the gravity of the situation we are in. The last thing we need to do now is panic. We are all trying hard to explain this bizarre happening by the means of classical physics but the point here is that we caught in a frozen Time Slice where the classical laws of physics are defied.” Someone from the crowd shouted, it was Karthikeyan “So is there no way out? Have we gotta be here forever?” In an imperturbable tone Guru replied” No Karthikeyan all we need to do is live out through this time slice and our life resumes after that just from where we were interrupted.” From nowhere, Basanth shot” Who all are captured in this time slice?”. “All the guys of our ILP class.” After a moment of silence, “The laws of the time slice we are in dictate that we can be in places and do only those things that we had done previously in our ILP days. Doing anything foreign brings you back to your default points in the slice, which is my bed in my case.” added Guru. Finally he declared” Our choices are made and we are here to understand why they were made so. We are excommunicated in time and our only way out is through.” I had dared to ask” For how long does this time slice last”. Silence was the answer and I understood we had to replace it with the right one. Can we ever be out?
As days passed on, we were getting used to the dynamics of the slice and almost forgot about all that happened. We were busy enjoying our revisit to the ILP and those days were even more rejuvenating than the first ones. We all had fun waking up each other early, moving around for classes in cabs with stifling ties, eating together, studying together, playing while studying and studying after classes. Birthday bums, late nights, weekend trips and all sorts of fun and frolic was around. We were like enjoying spring in the monsoons. Occasionally a guy was found sleeping in his bed in the odd time and we all knew why and made fun out of it. It was all happening in Coimbatore.
Few days later our mid-term was over and only sky was the limit to our joy. Nothing more to fear of, new plans were being sketched everywhere for trips, excursions, movies, parties, pranks and all such stuff. As days passed on we were beginning to like the French classes more and more. Madhukiran and Sree Krishna made sure they coped with the standards they had set in the first ILP, in exploiting these classes for fun and eventually ‘Alouette gentle alouette’ had become our anthem. Guru was wheedled with twice the magnitude and he seemed to enjoy it a lot better. Basanth forgot his own name as everyone called him superman now. Sankara still continued his habit of waking up everyone in technology classes by asking an occasional doubt in his pitch-of-the-decade voice. Rajesh had gone wilder and the slides were given for another round of censoring. The girls had been surprisingly less studious this time and they displayed more enthusiasm in doing the embarrassing works in the life skills classes. Gopinath was calm. Does he know some secret? Surprisingly this time the art of living classes were replaced by the yoga classes and that meant more time to sleep. Kapala Bharathi, Naavasan, Padmaasan… we were tuned to all sorts of them and managed to sleep in each fit.
The project time was the best of all. We had managed to put all our artifacts on the screen during the seminar and Narendran’s team cooked some rocket science this time. We must have explored almost all the food options available in the city. The nights were a bit scary when we were alone but it was for a short time only as we slept late after a demanding assignment or a birthday bash and woke up early to watch the Nilgiris’ façade from the balcony in the thinnest layer of light.
After our project demonstration was over, we all started on a trip to Ooty. The journey was a pool of mysteries. Seated in the last window seat, I began to observe the place with all its eucalyptus, pine and spruce trees. An occasional colt fastened to a staff touched something deep. The twists and turns of the Ghats were as dramatical as the vicissitudes of our lives. Our bus had stopped somewhere in the village on the foothills, where a fallen tree was being removed off the road by a group of villagers. Somewhere in the distance, I found a small hut and an old lady sitting on a cot in front of the house feeding her chicken. She looked into my eyes and smiled. The bus moved and I was again on the look out for Nature’s beauty. On reaching the rest house on top of the hill, we all got ready and went out into the woods. The place was so picturesque that we were literally burning out film rolls shooting pictures as though we were soldiers at war with zombie-guns at hand. I had gone far into the woods and suddenly I found that I was on a cliff enveloped by a huge cloud all around. It was so high and so steep that I felt it was the end of the world. After a few moments of nothingness passed by, I came back to earth and shot photos till my index finger ached. Turing around, I found the old lady in the village on the foothills. She was still smiling. Then she pointed her finger towards an old door. It was very old and embellished with meticulous wooden borders and craftwork. The door was standing nowhere. Nothing was supporting it. There was just the door and it was the only thing I could see. I suddenly realized this was the door that would take me out of the Time Slice. Yes it was all over. I felt I could reclaim my life again. I started towards the door. The nearer I went to the door, the reluctant I felt to go further. What was stopping me? I was beginning to like the Time Slice like never before. What explains this? Finally I was standing just in front of the door. I lost the power of thinking. I opened the door.
The soft breeze suddenly changed into a violent gush. I opened my eyes and found that the fan was blowing with full speed. I thought the old lady had cheated me and I was brought back to my default point as I had tried to trespass the Time Slice boundary. Now I had to be alone in the Lodge for two more days till the others came back from Ooty. Having nothing to do, I felt hungry. I came out of the Lodge and started searching for some bakery. I had some cool pastries and tea and came back to my room and sat on a chair in the balcony and got lost in the wind when suddenly a voice from behind the hand on my shoulder said”Hey Shyam did you wake up? Let’s complete our documentation work man. Tomorrow is our project presentation.” It was Parthiban. “Hey Pat how are you here? I was brought back here by the Time Slice... the door… Old lady… How… What did you do? Others where...” After a careful examination of my face, Pat said “What are you talking? Did you dream of something? Now get ready fast and come to my room.” I was surprised. I followed him into the corridor and found Harsha coming the opposite way with a jug of water in his hand.” Shyam bhai what’s up? Had a great sleep? What is the programme now?” Without waiting for a breath, I asked”Harsha tell me how are you here? Were you brought by the Time Slice?” In a confused tone, he replied”What Slice? What are you talking of? You day-dreamer. Come on man. Tomorrow is our presentation and it decides our rating and may be our base branch allocation depends on it. Now wash your face and come to Pat’s room.” I washed my face.
Fifteen minutes later…
Room no 401 was filled with sounds of laughter and people were toppling out of the beds holding their stomachs. I was aside, blushing.