Friday, March 31, 2006

The Numerologist

Monday, March 31, 2006

The old man was furious. “Hey! Heeyyee!” he yelled at the top of his voice. The waiter finally cared to turn and look at him.

The cantankerous man sitting on the table opposite us fell silent. So did the discussions on other tables. All eyes in the restaurant stared at us through the hazy smoke of cigarrette that was in the air. The old man, sitting opposite me on my table, was still effervescently angry. He was unable to calm down.

Usually, the coffee house at this bustling square in the city’s heart turns into a bazaar at noon. Poor waiter, he could not hear, in that noisy chattering, the old man’s calls – rather wails – for a cup of coffee.

Nothing wrong in that. But the old man thought it was a criminal mistake!

“These waiters don’t think I am worth anything. Bull shit, I pay for my coffee you see! I tell you they’ve lost their sincerity,” he said in his husky voice.

You? Did he mean me? I mean, is he talking to me. Huh, I’d better avoid!

The old man was angry. The waiter had not answered his calls for the last, may be, six and a half minutes (but the man reasoned with me that he was calling the waiter for the last hour or so! Exaggeration? Yes, but who’d argue with a fatherly figure, so I went with his estimate: one hour).

“Get me one strong coffee”, the old man thundered again at the waiter, as though he was purchasing the whole coffee house at a go.

He must be a chain smoker, I felt. I must stay off, I told myself, like a cool customer. For, chances are that such people pick up a topic with you and then bore you. They normally discuss, ponder over, and then coin new suggestions for solving all the world’s problems. Usually they blame the young generation for that mess. I knew of an old man, who was also a cribbing creature.

I must complete this book before 1, I told myself. Then, I must start for my home, take some rest, and then, may be, call on an old friend, party in the evening…or check out with the latest movie or whatever.

“I am …,” the old man butted in, keeping the cup down in the saucer, after relishing the first sip of the coffee.

It was an unwelcome infringement. He had snapped my day-dreaming.

But the old man had calmed down, and settled. He had by then taken out a chit of paper and a pencil to scribble something on the paper; he drew a box, sketched some lines… I looked around, the coffee house was on fire again.

Customers had returned to their table-discussions. The noise was deafening as it was before Mr (I hadn’t got his name properly) Angry Old Man – yeah, that’s what suited him perfect I thought – yelled at the waiter. I paused, to realise that even I was back to reading the book and day-dreaming!

“What’s your name?” He was a little pushy this time. I noticed he was smoking a hand-made cigarette, with a bundle lying open on the table near the saucer.

I reluctantly, and in subdued anger, introduced myself as a journalist, a writer and a researcher. He looked amused. And naturally so.

In a small town, a person with all of that was an improbability, he must have thought. His looks gave me that impression.

“I am an astrologer. Better still, a numerologist. Tell me…”

This time I cut him short. “You are not starting it on me now, I hope,” I said with a smile.

“Oh jast a minute,” he said lighting a new bidi. He sounded soft this time, much like that of a grand-fatherly affection.

Belching the smoke right from his lungs, he resumed: “ha..tell me your birthdate.” The bidi lay hung from his mouth perilously, as if it would fall down any moment. But Mr Anrgy Old Man looked perfect with it. He appeared used to it – Smoking and talking simultaneously, with a bidi in his mouth.

I gave up finally, and revealed my birth date. Then, I got myself buried in the book again.

Intermittently though, I glanced at the old man. He was still buried in some calculations. I saw that he scribbled hastily on the piece of paper and then fell silent for some time, as if he was lost in thoughts. Then he murmured something to himself, before falling silent again, and gazing through the smoke he just belched after a puff of bidi. The process, I saw, continued till he thought he had found a break-through. This was followed by scribbling something on the paper again.

What do I do now, I wondered. I can’t move. I can’t leave the coffee house, because by now – honestly – I was too curious to know what was in store for me in my lacklustre life. I better know what his calculations suggest, I felt.

“Boy,” he announced, keeping his pen in the pocket and adjusting himself on the chair. He looked set for a long sermon.

“Oh boy!” I pitied myself, “You have a situation!”

But he continued. I was – admittedly – a bit nervous now. What’s in store for me in future?

Looking into his notes, he said, “You are laying your foundation for a big leap. Remember, you are about to take off three years from now. The fruits of your efforts and hard-work are in sight. Wait for a couple of years patiently.”

I felt great, elated, and on cloud nine. And much relieved too. Who won’t feel great after hearing such good things about self?

“Trudge carefully though for the next six months,” the old man advised. (I’d by then dropped the word Angry from the Angry-Old-Man.)

I will, certainly, I nodded, keeping aside my book, with a growing interest in his findings.

“What do you wear on your fingers?” He asked me.

Nothing, I shrugged.

“You’d better start wearing the stone,” he said, his eyes locked at something that he’d scribbed about my birthdate on the piece of paper.

“What’s that?” I asked him worriedly.

“A little scar on your otherwise good future, wear a stone and every thing would be alright.”

And how does a stone make the future alright? I asked.

“Do not ask questions. Just do as I tell you; it’ll be good for you,” he scoffed back.

Then, taking a deep breath, he ordered one more cup of coffee. And this time, the waiter did not take any chances. He was prompt and quick.

“So, where do I get this stone?” I asked him.

“Go to any good jeweller,” he said. “And offer prayers to the rising Sun when you get up, he’s the lord of your destiny,” he advised.

“I get up late since I work late nights,” I told him bluntly.

“That’s okay, whenever you get up, first offer your prayers to the sun,” he said.

“And, also keep a photograph of your parents with you. Offer prayers to them every Thursday and Saturday,” the old man said.

Then, he added a few more dos and donts to that list, before winding up.

Meanwhile, I paid for his coffee bills too. After hearing so many good things about myself, I was obliged to do that little service to the old man.

“Come home sometime,” he said, getting up from his chair and about to leave the coffee house.

“I am alone, normally.” He added with a tinge of sadness. “I stay in a small room nearby. Come some time, I will be very happy if you come. I love company of young guys like you, in fact I love to be amongst people”

“Oh yes, why not. I’d come certainly.”

“And do respect your parents, son,” he said softly, his voice a bit chocked this time. “You’ve a great future. But don’t forget your parents in your long and tedious journey ahead.” He patted me and left. But soon turned back and walked towards me. “Don’t be like my son. He dumped me after the death of my wife. He took all my post-retirement money and drove me out of home.”

The Old Man left the coffee house on his old bicycle. His last words made me deaf to the loud and irritating chattering in the restaurant.

I sighed! Poor man, I said to myself. He’s all alone in this world, dumped by his young son, whom he must have raised bearing all the hardships.

I came out to see him drive down the othe end of the road. He was soon gone in the thick crowd on the busylanes of the city.

Looking at the sky, I saw the Sun. He was there, as ever. But it was never so shinning and bright for me as this time!

The Dormitory

the dormitory

Sunday, January 16, 2005

It's always an experience to be a part of this room, a dormitory of a hotel in Mumbai's bustling Dadar locality. I prefer to stay here whenever I visit this mad mad city. I know this place for some years now. It's fun, besides convenience, to put up here for a short visit.

It has six cots, each accompanied by a small almirah to keep your luggage safe in the room. Two young funny guys sit outside. They are the room boys.

It's neat and clean and tidy. And by Mumbai's standard, it's quite cheap - 300 bucks for a day's stay! Cheap! Ummm?

And Mr Sinha, one of my five dormitory-mates this time, also feels the same as I do. I met him the evening I checked in. He has the looks of a man who has held top positions. He was an IAS officer; retired just a year ago, I learnt from him within minutes of our interaction. I trusted him. After all, I had no other option. I am a journalist, I said. And he trusted me.

The subject was politics, as it always is in a gathering. And Mr Sinha went burst. "These bastards, what are you talking about them! These bastards don't have brains to run this country. Saale humko kehte hai...tumko akal nahin! Now these aanguthachhaps will teach us the business...." Mr Sinha must have had a bad brush with some leader, I thought.

His intervention in my conversation with other guy in the room had prompted me to introduce myself and know about him. Which he did without any problem.

In fact, Mr Sinha was very eager to introduce himself. He spoke loudly so that the other occupants in the room could also hear him . Others had no option. I was of course the worst hit, for I had started the conversation. He had, alas, found in me an audience.

And what brings you to Mumbai? I asked him in the momentum of the conversation, only to repent later. I should not have asked him another question, I felt.

Mr Sinha was in Mumbai to deliver lectures at a workshop organised by some company on marketing principles. He earned heavily from that, he said as if trying to impress me. Mr Sinha was quick to add, to avoid any misconception that, he thought, I could have had.

"Actually, you see, I can stay in rooms at any hotel. Money is no problem. Those bloody companywallas pay for my stay. Why will they not? If they bloody want my expertise, they better pay my bills. I get good money for my lectures also. I've written 12 books."

As he continued, I fell silent.

"But I prefer to stay in this dormitory; I had had a heart attack once while I was travelling in Mumbai..."

Oh! I said. How long back was that?

And Mr Sinha, who had earlier told me that he was in hurry to go out for dinner, sat firmly on his bed, and took a complete one hour to narrate the whole story. Intermittently, when I threw a look at the other samaritans in the room, I could see a deep sympathy for me in their eyes.

A fatherly Mr Sinha has no other audience in the room. A Sikh businessman from Chandigarh replaced one Mr Puri from Delhi who left for Pune yesterday. Mr Arora has been kind enough to share some of my responsibilities. He too is giving a good audience to Mr Sinha. And Mr Sinha now addresses him as well, so that I can do the work that brought me to Mumbai.

I still have to hear him in the evenings.

Mr Sinha has settled in Kanpur with his wife. He got married after his first serious love fell apart because his strict father, he said, was opposed to his affair. The memories still upset him. Or at least he pretends to be very upset over his failed affair. But more than the failure of his affair, he's annoyed with his father, who did not allow him have his way. The woman whom he married on the insistence of his mother is still his wife, by the way, Mr Sinha said.

He's been doing most of the talking. At 59, he looks 70. And that is enough to lend credence to his story. But he's joyous. Tragically for his age, he's too many diseases to deal with. One, he's already had an open heart. Two, he's a diabetic. Three, which is good for him and bad for others, he loves talking about himself! Yup, most of the time. There's no dearth of stories...

For instance, he'd tell you how he fired a Minister once on a policy when he was secretary; or how a gathering of Mumbai's leading industrialists (include any name you want, from Ambanis to Wadias to the Tatas) listened to him in awe as he delivered a sermon on the latest Marketing funda. Did he not tell me, he's an ex-student of IIM, Ahmedabad. He did. Ya.

If you've any problem, Mr Sinha is more than eager to solve it. That he would end up aggravating the problem is a different story. But Mr Sinha would not shy away from taking a chance to offer his ideas. He's now invited me to his home. He was very happy when I generously offered him a chance to solve one of my problems in the room.

Mr Sinha will be here for some more days. So far, from the day he has been in Mumbai in this dormitary, none of his family members has called on him. Neither his wife, nor his son.

"You see, it's a busy world, beta!" Mr Sinha said last evening when I opened the subject. "Nobody listens to me at my home. Nobody heard me ever. Never did my father, or my family," he said with a smile that looked superficial.

Mr Sinha was sad, as he tried to control his tears. His new story had just begun in the process. And I was there giving an ear to him.