Monthly Archives: March 2004

Economy Class Bathroom

This episode dates back to the last century. Well at least it feels that old, even though technically it *is* based in the 90’s. A few young girls unknown to each other have been thrown together by fate to stay together for the next 4 years to come. They all are apprehensive, judgemental and quick to form opinions based on the first impression. They know they have to face a lot of hardships, accustom themselves to this new environment. After being uprooted from their relatively more stable existence, they feel like weeds, ready to sway in the direction the wind takes them, entwined to each other nevertheless.

These were the girls of an engineering college which was just starting and they belonged to the first batch of it. To start with, there was no girls hostel, so the handful of girls were shifted to some meagre staff quarters, 2 girls sharing each room. No attached bathrooms, unlike what some might have been used to. Adjusting with 5 more individuals who are all new and trying to come to terms with their eating, drinking, sleeping, snoring, loud talking, clothes washing, loo occupying, music listening and what not habits is not easy for one if one has never stayed outside at all.

As is obvious I was one of these girls and was in this very situation along with the rest. One of the things I remember most about those staff quarters is the ‘economy class bathroom’. As I pointed out, there was just one lavatory and one bathroom (in fact one bucket and one mug too :-P). The only arbitration algorithm we used was to speak out as soon as possible in the morning that we would be ‘next’ (dunno if there was ever any ‘first’). Soon enough, as is obvious, everyone had to get ready by the same time, and the occupancy rate of these divine locations was quite high. However, there was this unused area in all flats, called the kitchen which seldom got our attention and we had just stuffed it with our trunks. One fine day, yours truly was getting horribly late and the arbitration mechanism had not left any chance to me. So I decided to be a little innovative and went to the kitchen. There was a proper sink and a water outlet on the ground. (That meant I wouldn’t have to stuff myself into the sink). That was all I needed. In dearth of a mug, I used an old empty jam bottle (of course clean) to pour water over myself. Here I must add, that the kitchen had a huge window compared to a small airlet in the bathroom and that window used to overlook a vast field (the empty grounds of the airport in Pune). One could also see the big, bright orange, rising sun from that window which was quite an overwhelming sight. Also, since the area was totally barren and devoid of any trees, the wind used to swoosh right into the kitchen. The first time I tried this experience, I kind of got addicted to the freedom from arbitration and queues as well as the bright sunrise one got to witness, not to mention the natural dryer that I had, which dried me completely without any expensive gadgets. The ‘economy class bathroom’ was thus born and that was what I referred to it as. But to me it will always be no less than a super deluxe one!

Facts stranger than fiction

Fact number 1

whiiiirrrrrr whiiiiirrrrr. (That’s my cell vibrating to indicate an incoming call). The CLI shows no number which is what happens generally with international calls.

Me thinks: Arrey! who is it remembering me after so long from pardes.. could be S, R, P …
Me says: Hullo!

Caller: Mein … (in a rather dramatic style).
Me thinks: oh! dramatic.. this could be only S (S is the only one who would do something like this.. slightly change his voice and start off in a dramatic way). Oh! the caller is introducing himself..

Caller: Mein….. Atal Behari Vajpayee bol raha hoon..

Me Thinks: Oh! so I am the chosen one this time! hmmm.. I think Shekhar Suman sounds better than him, himself!!

Mr. Prime Minister: Meine picchle paanch varshon mein kayee kaam..

Me does: The electronic equivalent of swatting a mosquito buzzing in your ear. Cut the damn call.

Mr. Prime Minister.. stop telling what all you have done. If you are really interested in calling me up, make the communication duplex. And to think abt the money that goes into all this faaltu propaganda.. couldn’t you have used it somewhere else? How about actually enhancing the communication infrastructure here, instead of clogging the already congested networks with your unsolicited calls. Have you forgotten the anti-spam laws that you laid down yourself? Or is the Prime minister pre-pardoned from all crimes like all other politicians?

Fact number 2

Scene buildup: I am totally kadka. I have to head for my optician and I know that it’s gonna burn a hole of at least 2K in my pocket. However it is necessary. I also have to drop in a cheque of my credit card payment for 3K. Since there’s hardly any money in my account and I have already issued a number of cheques, don’t know how much it leaves me with. I am driving and there’s no petrol in the car. My wallet also has barely 200-300 bucks.. out of which I decide to sacrifice 100 bucks at the petrol pump. I also need some cash to do more shopping this very month. This requirement’s the result of being born on the end of the financial year. (Yes, this is not a subtle hint but a very big one). In other words.. my monetary status would put paupers to shame.

I drive down to the petrol pump and instruct the attendant. Suddenly some chappie comes up and says a little apprehensively, ‘Excuse me Ma’m’.

Me says: Yes?

Chappie drawls: Ma’m … Could you do me a favour…

Me thinks: not another sales man.. i don’t want any credit card, insurance or any of those damn things.

Me says: what?

Chappie drawls: Ma’m…. actually I left my wallet at home in a hurry. And now I don’t have any money. Could you lend me some?

Me thinks: Don’t tell me!! Haven’t I heard this story already..(smirking internally).. How can ppl even *think* that this is gonna fetch them cash?

Me says: look, I hardly have any cash in my own wallet… am getting petrol filled for only 100 bucks!!

Chappie drawls: Please ma’m .. trust me.. I am a well educated guy from a good family. I am telling you the truth. Please help me ma’m. I am like your younger brother.

Me thinks: Yech.. that’s why god spared me any brothers.. esp the tight t-shirt wearing, ear pierced kinds..

Me says: look, why don’t you ask these petrol pump attendants? after all they have a lot of cash.

Chappie drawls: Ma’m their employer is not here.

Me argues: see, there’s some chap, he seems to be their boss, go ask him.

Chappie drawls: No ma’m I have already asked him. He’s not the employer. Please ma’m, you can keep my goggles, please give me your mobile number and address and I’ll return the money wherever you want.

Me thinks: beware of anyone who wants your details.. waise what could this guy’s thugging strategy be? Is he going to plant a heat seaking missile somehow? Is he going to misuse my cell number? I am not wearing any gold chain which he could snatch .. or does he have a camera somewhere and he’s from some stupid bakra copy show on some obscure alpha punjabi.. whatever..

Chappie drawls: Please ma’m.. I need just 50 bucks.

Me thinks: just 50.. hmmm.. mebbe he really needs it.. mebbe he *is* being honest.

(Hark back to an incident a couple of years back)

M and I are going some place in an auto. M is a simble zouthindeeyan (no not a mallu though) and is gulliblity personified. The auto stops at a crossing and suddenly some beggar women come and start wailing and screeching for money. They look quite healthy contradictory to their financial status. The story they tell us is that some female (in labour) is out on the road just about to give birth and they need some money urgently to get her to a hospital. I don’t buy that gibberish but M is totally taken by it. I warn him, but he brushes it off as one would an irritating fly. The strategy used by them, to bombard the unsuspecting citizen with the urgency of the situation and also the fact that the red (traffic) light is about to turn green, combined with the cacophony of ‘tumharee jodee banee rahe’ sentiments, probably flusters and numbs the mind of the most intelligent people and they give in, unable to handle so much. M starts pulling out a 20 Rupee note (something of great value to auto commuters). I again express that they are most likely fibbing and he needn’t be that philanthropic. But magnanimous as he is, he parts with it with glee.
The beggar women scurry away the moment they get their hands on the money. The light has already turned green and the auto driver continues. But the comment he made next is still clear and vivid in M’s memory. He said, ‘You shouldn’t have saab, this is their daily business. They loot so many passengers like this everyday’. Needless to say, I admonished that chap for not having said so a moment earlier. But at least after that M has had more reservations in these kinda situations.

(Hark back to reality)

I don’t want the same thing happening.

Me says: (to the petrol pump attendant, while the chappie has gone to borrow a pen) Does he come here everyday by chance, to ask for money?

Attendant: No, this is the first time I am seeing him, if you know him, give him the money else let it be.

Chappie drawls: Thank you very much ma’m. Yes ma’m. What is your number? I’ll return the money wherever you want it returned.

Me says: The number is 98XXXXXXXX.

Chappie: Your name.

Me says: Don’t bother with that. You have the number. I’ll just treat this as my good deed for the day in case you dont do what you are saying.

Chappie : (sensing my inhibition) You stay somewhere nearby?

Me says: Yes, somewhere nearby.

Chappie drawls: Thank you very much ma’m.

3 days pass and I keep oscillating between feeling foolish and feeling magnanimous ‘coz according to me, he seemed to be in need of money at that time. Eventually I forgot about it. Finally I got a call from an unknown number which turned out to be the chappie drawling again asking me where to return the sum. Whoa! So I was right! Trust is still alive!

Waiting to Inhale

As I made my way through the bustling city peak hour traffic in my new swanky ferrous coloured rocket wagon, my audio perceptron tuned into a painful cry. What was so noticeable about it was the excruciatingly painful manner of it. I tried to make out the source of such agony, using my audio digital locator binoculars, (capable of focussing automatically on a sound source, if pointed in the general direction), and I noticed in the view panel that the usual barren and vast Geological Pathway – 8 had lush green things on its either sides.
It was an amazing sight, not having seen so much green together in a bunch my entire living period. The word ‘trees’ was flashing on the holographic panel inside my wagon. ‘Of course! That’s what they are! I must pay more attention to my primitive-history lessons’. I also noticed that the ride had become unusually bumpy. I decided to check whether the bottom panels showed any signs of rust as even the slightest fleck of dirt on the panels could hamper the smooth aerodynamics of my rocket wagon. After all it was supposed to glide on a water path. The ‘fluid amplifier’ seemed to be non-functional. As I peered down at X069, I uttered a cry of surprise for there was no water under my wagon but I was actually hovering over hard, tangible earthly surface instead of fluidic surfaces like I had always been! No wonder the air cushion wasn’t uniform. It didn’t even look algaec or slushy as a result of being under water. Rather it looked very different and sunkissed. Till now the DA322I dial was not reporting anything intelligible on a quick reconnaissance of orbital data. Slowly but surely, my audio binoculars showed me from that hovering height, where the cry had come from.

Some creatures that looked like people from some ancient epoch were standing near those things called ‘trees’. They looked pretty outdated. For one, their hair was mostly the same color – brown or black. They were also holding some outdated contraption – it looked like an electric saw of yesteryears that we had read about in our online lesson of primitive-history just the other day. They were not using any mechanism, which supplied oxygenated air to their respiratory tract. What was surprising was that the pitiful cries of the trees failed to make any impact on those outdated people I saw. I wondered if they could even hear the cries. I guessed not, since they anyway looked so primordial, it was quite probable that they had never set their eyes on the extra sensory auditory nerve chip, forget getting it embedded in their ear for that extra range of frequencies.

I pressed the button labeled ‘transparent’ and my wagon soon turned into a gust of wind, with me cocooned inside it. I could have pressed ‘smell’, ‘fire’ etc too but decided not to take the risk. After all I had to observe what was going on. My aeriform wagon now made its way to the tree that my audio binoculars had zeroed in on. The tree tried flapping its limbs in a last bid to save itself from those people but probably the last of life had seeped out of it and its massive body fell with a big thud on the pile of its already mutilated limbs. The atmosphere seemed sombre and grieving as I witnessed the murder. The looked up info had shown that the trees had life in them. So this was nothing short of cold blooded murder! The other trees seemed to be mourning the death of this mate of theirs who had stood with them through sun and storm alike for so many years. I could see them shed leaves probably the same way a human being sheds tears, all the while knowing that the next one in line could be anyone of them. I noticed some ‘X’ like red marking on the trees. It looked like blood oozing out of trees. I checked up again – ‘trees don’t have haemolymph’. Then I saw one of the people marking all the trees with the ‘Red Cross’. Ironically this Red Cross was earmarking them for impending death.

The air was becoming thick with the screams of massacre and was getting unbearable. It was worse than any cataclasm that I had ever heard. I wondered how those people could be that callous. Suddenly the rocket wagon gave a lurch (or so I thought) and I found myself toppled from the couch I was resting on. Realization dawned on me as I stared at one of the screens on the video panel, my online lesson on primitive history was showing me the text ‘Trees – now extinct’. I looked at panel XO2 displaying the outside view. I could again see the familiar Geological Pathway – 8, barren and vast. My wagon was smoothly cruising on a bed of water. As usual, I was on my way, through the bustling city peak hour traffic.

PS. Note from the writer :
Hope you liked this amateurish attempt at sci-fi. If so, another one can be read here. This was written much before the Mars rovers actually landed on Mars

It was the year 2004.

Was? Isn’t it 2004 right now, you would say. Well to clarify, I am just quoting a sentence from the past, which was actually based in the future at that point of time. oh well, let me not confuse anyone… this is one of the lines of a sci-fi story which was written god knows when, but was a part of the english text book in class 4th or 5th if I am not wrong. I remember being *really* intrigued with the very numeral 2004 as it striked me as so different from the 1980’s. In CBSE schools we used to have the ‘Gulmohar Reader’ for english then. The series used to start from class 1 and would continue till class 6th I think. I don’t think that they have it in the syllabus anymore.

There was this particular chapter which talked about the year 2004. It was really difficult for me to imagine at that point of time what the world would be like. The turn of the century and a new series was quite overwhelming for me. Add to it the fact that it seemed *so* far away since there was more than a decade to go. That was all I needed for my futuristic imagination to take off on a wild horse. I don’t remember much of the outline of that chapter but what stands out distinctly in my mind today is something about hi-tech homes. The kinds where you have the bathtub adjusting the water temperature when it senses that you are in the house and depending on the season or your body temperature whether you want a hot bath or a cold one. The kinds where your garage gate opens automatically, the car steers itself (you don’t need a driver), the house lights up itself, the door lets you in (by ascertaining you aren’t an intruder) and the automatic electric kettle whistles indicating some fresh tea/coffee brewing.

What strikes me as remarkable is the fact that inspite of it all being so unfathomable then, not only have we passed that fantasy of the author, but we have achieved more..maybe more than what the author was able to imagine in his apocalyptic view of 2004.

HG wells is considered as the man who invented tomorrow. The father of science fiction wrote of stuff that never existed in his time, but later we all saw the same stuff taking place in terms of advancement and technology (or deterioration) . Makes me think that a lot of hi-tech stuff does probably get inspired from fiction writers. I am actually expecting teleporting to be the in thing in a couple of years! Well this is just a ‘bhoomika’ for my next post.. an attempt at sci fi :P. I’ll be(am) back.