19 January 2008

My Mumbai/Goa Holiday - Part II

This is Part II. Part I can be read here:


We were picked up at the station by my uncle. We walked to his place, which was 5 minutes away, and found that only one of 3 cousins, the middle one, was at home, and was getting ready to go to work. The eldest one was away working and would be home only later that evening, by which time we would have left. The youngest, the brother, who studies in college, had gone for some special classes and was expected at 3:30-ish that afternoon.

We had quite a lot of catching-up to do with my aunt, and so we did just that. My uncle, in the meanwhile, was adding last-minute touches to the food in the kitchen, occasionally poking his head outside the kitchen to wisecrack.

Summing it up, we had a lovely time, talking flashbacks and all. We were treated like royalty, stuffed with exquisite food and were subject to my uncle’s fine wit, and before we knew it, it was 3:30 PM.

My cousin brother, who I haven’t seen in about 10 odd years, walked in. The last time I saw him, he was this lean, lanky kid with a ready smile on his face and a crazy sense of humour (found in abundance among all the cousins in the family). He was still lean and lanky and still had that same grin across his face, but was strangely very quiet and pre-occupied with something in his mind, which led me to wonder if studies and other responsibilities had got to him and gradually dissolved that crazy streak in him.

I was proven wrong when I went to the loo. Inside, on the door, were stuck many pictures: a sportsman, a guerrilla soldier, an army guy, etc.; and all of them were yelling their guts out with a lot of emotion. The photos were strategically stuck (at eye-level when squatting), and there was no way you could avoid seeing these photos when you were inside.
Displayed below are a few random photos I found on the web, thanks to Google Images, which try their best to convey the same emotions as those loo-door people, but these, I must add, are not half as hilarious:

My sister left alone at 5 PM. I had to meet a college friend at 6 PM in Mulund (a place close to Dombivli), at this place called “Deepak Bar” which was supposedly right opposite the station. I boarded the train at around 5:30 PM. By the time the train reached the station before Mulund, the compartment was crowded like hell. No joking. It was oozing with people, like in one of those concentration-camp-bound trains that the Nazis used to stuff with Jews. And I was right in the middle. We were reaching Mulund in a few minutes, and I had to get to the exit pronto, so I started pushing my way across to the door. When Mulund came, people poured out of the compartment like pus out of a just-squeezed boil, and I managed to get out too.

Satisfied that I had come out in one piece and at the right time, I patted my own back and shook my own hands (by clasping right hand in left and shaking them vigorously). I reached for my phone to call up my friend to ask him “What was the name of that bar again?”, only to realise my phone was missing. Hand instinctively went to my other pocket to check for wallet, and I realised my wallet was gone too.

My wallet was stolen, and so was my phone. After the initial confusion and a few minutes of the customary looking-all-around-helplessly bit, I decided to go to the police station to lodge a complaint, but decided to meet my friend first and ask him to come along with me. He would probably know some cop since he lived there. Only, I had forgotten where I was to meet him. He had mentioned that the bar was bang opposite the station, so I went out of the station and looked around to see if there were any bars nearby. I vaguely remembered the name and knew that I would be able to recognise the bar if I saw the board somewhere, but none seemed familiar.

I went over to a fruit vendor who was screaming out his wares and asked him for the names of the bars nearby. He stopped, glared at me for a second, and resumed his shouting (I don’t really blame him. If I was a fruit vendor, I’d probably react the same way if some guy walked up to me and, out of the blue, randomly asked me the names of the bars nearby). I turned to go but stopped when he stopped suddenly. A few seconds later, he resumed, and I walked away, pissed that the reason he paused was not to help me out but to give temporary rest to his vocal cords which were hoarse from all that yelling.

I found another fruit vendor who gladly rattled off the names of the bars, none of which was the one I was looking for. I randomly asked him if there was a “Deepak Bar” somewhere, and he replied “Yes, yes. 50 meters down this way, on the right.”

It’s amazing, the kind of distances the mind can travel, from one random thought to another linked together by the vaguest foreign keys… oops… connections, while your feet are treading the comparatively miniscule distance of 50 meters. Walking towards Deepak Bar, my mind drifted to thoughts of how this incident was going to impact my holiday. I had lost my debit card, PAN card, Driving License, my mobile phone and about 800 bucks.

I realised with dread that I would have to use only cash wherever I went (and I get uneasy and paranoid carrying a lot of cash). Moreover, carrying cash would mean that I could not have too much of it, and therefore would not be able to splurge money as and when I wanted. I would also not be able to withdraw money that easily. I would probably have to go to a bank which, I was willing to bet, was going to be located someplace really far away from where I was staying. Going there would, no doubt, be an emotionally-draining, pain-in-the-ass journey, and to top it all, I would probably have to tell my story to some bank employee, who, after hearing me out fully, would then ask me to go meet some other person, to whom I would have to repeat my story all over again. Going to the bank, I really didn’t mind much, but repeating my story to people, especially strangers, can be depressing. Especially if you’re on holiday. I wondered if I should type and print out a word document and show it to each bank employee I was going to be redirected to. This would probably save me time and energy, and I atleast wouldn’t have to worry about my tone when talking to those bank people. I eventually ditched the idea though. I pictured myself doing this and realised I would look like one of those deaf-and-dumb kids who always ring the bell when you’re sleeping on a Sunday afternoon, show you some paper about their deaf-and-dumb school and ask you, through sign language, to donate some money.

Another unsettling thought was that money (or the lack of it) would be in the back of my mind all the time. This depressed me no end. It would, for sure, influence my thoughts, the way I look at things, and it wouldn’t, for sure, leave me alone. It would definitely crop up every time I decided to buy something, and I would end up doing a mental calculation of how much money I had left. The last thing I wanted to think during a holiday about was something as spirit-dampening as how much money I was spending and how much I had left. I mean, I was here on a holiday, not on some attempt to make ends meet or anything.

Also, losing my Driving License screwed up my plans of renting out a two-wheeler in Goa. I would either have to walk or take a taxi wherever I had to go, which meant that I would either end up spending a lot of time, or spending a lot of money.

Time and money: the two unequal pans in the faulty balance scale of life. Everything, in the end, was a trade-off between time and money. You can choose to have an abundance of either one or the other, but not an equal mix of both. Take my example. In the past, I sometimes (most of the time) worked weekends and holidays, accumulating leave with the hope that I would either be able to en-cash the leave or someday be able to take a long holiday when I needed one. But when the time seemed ripe for a holiday, new work would crop up, new work which couldn’t be delayed, new work that always required “immediate attention”. So I ended up working when I needed a holiday, and eventually started working weekends and holidays again, because I figured if I wasn’t doing anything on those days except rant about the unfairness of it all, I might as well try finishing work earlier and go on a holiday much sooner. This, as you might’ve guessed, didn’t work. When I finished this, more new work which required “immediate attention” came up. I know this sounds like something right out of Catch-22, but this is how things always turn out in the end. With me, atleast.

I found my friend drinking with two of his friends in Deepak Bar. After the initial ‘hey-how-are-ya’ and associated back-pats, I told him what happened and asked him to accompany me to the police station. I was visibly jumpy, and he told me to calm down first. I borrowed his phone and made a few calls [to block my debit card and inform sis. Getting through to my sis turned out to be this huge affair because I didn’t remember her number: I first had to call up mom in Chennai, get my sis’s mobile number and call her (she didn’t pick up the phone), call up mom again and get my sis’s home number, call up to be told by sis’s MIL that sis and BIL had gone out somewhere, then get BIL’s mobile number and finally speak to him. Yeah, yeah, I know I should have got all 3 numbers from mom, but then I wasn’t expecting my sister not to answer her phone. Moreover, I guess your thoughts get all tangled up during such situations].

After the calls, I asked my friend if we could go to the cops. He told me to chill and sit down, and told me there was no way I was going to get back my wallet or phone, and so there really wasn’t any point going to the cops. His friends agreed with him, and while I was mulling over this, one of his friends shook my hand and said “Welcome to Mumbai”.

While leaving Deepak Bar, I decided to travel back by train, since I was in no particular position of being robbed again (everything that could be stolen already was), but my friend wouldn’t hear of it and insisted on dropping me back at my sister’s place, which was quite far away.

My friend ended up driving even more rashly than my sister’s driver, and while I was grabbing dashboard, his friends at the back were joking and doing imitations of Rajesh Khanna and Ashok Kumar. Maybe it was a Mumbai thing, driving rashly and swerving between lanes and cars, like in Need for Speed or one of those old arcade car race games that we grew up playing.

I hadn’t been able to get through to Airtel to block my SIM Card, so I tried calling them again from the car. I called up Airtel Mumbai, and was put on hold for about 5 minutes, and when I finally got through to a representative, he told me that I would have to call up Airtel Bangalore, and gave me the number. I called up the number, and was put on hold for another 10 minutes, and when I finally spoke to the guy there, he told me “Sir, you have called Airtel Pre-paid. You would have to call up Airtel Post-paid”, and gave me another number. I called this number and was again put on hold for 5 minutes, before being transferred to this jackass who kept repeating “You have to come to the Customer Care Centre tomorrow morning” for everything, even when I got tired of hearing this and asked to speak to his boss. I eventually banged the phone down… or tried to, rather (how on earth do you bang down a mobile phone?), and called up Airtel Bangalore Pre-Paid again. They gave me a different number. This turned out to be Airtel Bangalore Post-Paid all right, and after proving my identity answering those verification questions, I finally got my SIM card blocked.

They finally dropped me on the main road near my sister’s lane, and told me not to let this affect me, and to enjoy my holiday.

As I walked back home, weaving my way through pedestrians and potholes, it suddenly sank in that I no longer had a mobile phone. Though I would consider this a blessing in the days to come, I was pretty upset at the time, groaning inwardly at the thought of having to re-build my contact list, a Herculean task without doubt. I also realised that I would have to narrate the story to whoever called me on my new phone.

As soon as I got home, my BIL fixed me a much-needed and much-comforting drink of Dewar’s. Drinking this, I sent an email to colleagues at work, telling them I would not be reachable on phone, etc., and also emailed a few of my friends, informing them about what happened and asking for their phone numbers.

I made plans with my sister for tomorrow: withdrawing money from the bank, getting myself a new phone and a duplicate SIM card, among other things.

I went to bed and tried reading a while, but couldn’t concentrate. I closed my book and thought about what had happened. I felt like a jackass, like a victim of a giant cosmic joke. I tossed and turned and eventually fell asleep, convinced that something out there was out to fuck me…