Friday, June 30, 2006

Lionel Missy

I (Ram) was watching the highlights of the Argentina versus Serbia group match with a school friend of mine.

Friend: "Oh look there is Aimar"

I was surprised because not many Indian women take interest in Argentina let alone Argentine football and let "one-more" alone Pablo Aimar. I was also surprised because the closest my friend ever got to a ball was bringing the "globe" from the staff-room to our geography class.

The commentators got super excited when Argentina scored the second goal of the match in what was eventually going to be a 6-0 rout. And they very well ought to because that goal was a result of 24 sublime passes. It was a treat for someone like me who has supported Diego's Argentina since Italia'90. So I naturally did a celebratory jig, however, I was once again surprised because my friend wore a disinterested look on her face.

Ram: "What's the matter?"

Friend: "Ah nothing!"

Ram: "NOTHING! What do you mean nothing ? That will probably remain the greatest goal to be scored in this Cup."

Friend (seeing if the shade of the nail polish on her left thumbnail matched the right thumbnail):"Is this one a little darker? Elle's light pink is a lot darker than Lakme's."

Ram(preventing myself from killing her): "You didn't answer my question!!!"

Friend:"Oh the goal, yeah it was good"

Ram: "Good... thats it!!!Good....what do you know about football?"

Friend: "Oh shut up! Don't you dare make any sexist comments.I know my football. Heck, you know what, in the seven-a-side college team, I was left back."

People sure change for the better when I don't see them for a couple of years. I mean, not that I am bad influence or anything but from the globe to a football, damn! She played for her bloody college while I..uh...well...all I had to show was a pot belly and a worn out couch. But there wasn't much I could do anyway. I was simply not cut out for Football or cricket or basketball or kho kho or tennikoit. Although I was an expert at analyzing the finer aspects of the game like the players, clubs, transfers, substitutions, angle of free kicks, hairstyles, weight of the ball and the grass on the pitch. During my school days I actually thought I was probably a little too you young to emulate the Romario's, Becker's and the McGrath's. And, now seeing the Messi's, Nadal's and Pathan's I think I realize I am a little too old to do something about my deficiencies.

Friend(determined to stay on topic): "Did you ever play football?"

I was jolted out of my reverie. It was as if she read my mind and moreover she looked menacing. I wasn't very good at differentiating hues of pink but my colour coding capabilities were good enough to notice that the lady's face was a flaring-bright red. It was better if I put an end to the issue now before she asked me any disconcerting questions of her own.

Ram(trying to change topics): " know sister uses Revlon...just the right shade of pink, it would even match your you wanna try?"

Friend: "You didn't answer my question."

Ram(cornered look):"Uh...yeah, I play..I used to play"

Friend: "Never saw you play in school"

Ram (a little scared): "I played with the guys in the colony"

Friend: "Oh so you never played for our school"

I needed to do something fast and thats when I used a trick that I unconsciously picked up from the males of the Pillai family. It was as though my forefathers were talking to me like the voice from heaven in B.R Chopra's Mahabarata: "Son! Whenever the woman is on the offensive, you make her realize that you are the man of the house and you do not like to get talked down to. Fear not my child, stand your ground!"

Ram: "You made your point Pinkie, I didn't play for the school or the university or the district or the state or the country, but I know to appreciate good goals"

I didn't know if that worked but Miss Pinkie reverted her attention back to her finger nails. Both of us were quiet while Argentina scored 3 more goals and peace prevailed until Lionel Messi scored the 6th goal in the 88th minute of the game. Miss Pinkie jumped with joy

Friend: "Now thats a goal...what a player, he is so cute"

Ram: "What!!! It was a good goal alright and if not for Tevez's pass it would have never been a goal"

Friend: "Tevez looks like crap and so does that baldie who scored the greatest goal of the world cup!"

Ram(sneering):"This isn't fancy dress competition and his name is Cambiasso, hey wait a minute..."

Friend: "What?"

Ram: "You only know the names of the good looking guys, don't you?"

Friend: "NOOOO, dont assume things"

Ram: "Okay whats the name of Argentina's coach?"

Friend: "Pekerman"

Ram: "Ahaa so you have a thing for older guys...the Richard Gere...Sean Connery I know why you admire Abdul Kalam so much"

Friend: " Oh just shut up Ram, don't make a fool out of yourself"

Ram: "Whats the name of their goalkeeper?"

Friend: "I dont have to answer that question to prove a point!"

Ram: "You bloody well can't. Because you don't fancy Abbondanzieri."

Friend (defeated look): "You can think whatever you want to."

Ram(clearly enjoying): "Okay all you have to do is explain what offside is in Football and I swear will do whatever you want me to do...think about it... its like a blank cheque"

Friend (thinking hard for a minute): " Stop being juvenile, I know having cerebral capabilities that matches a frog doesn't help much, but, you could atleast make an effort to act mature like other adults."

Getting compared to a Frog, definitely hurt and I was trying my best not to show it.

Voice from heaven: "Son! persistence pays don't budge an inch. Women insult you when they cannot justify themselves."

Ram: "So Miss Left Back doesn't know. Hey! did you say you were left back for your team or left back from your team"

Friend ( face pales): " I don't have to respond to ape-men like you."

I have to admit it, I felt a little proud. With one accusation I made a huge leap. (from being a frog to being an ape).

Friend: "Its the right hand side of the ground"

Ram(puzzled): "What?"

Friend (a little unsure): "Offside"

It took some time for me to make the connection. Apparently Miss Pinkie got the football "offside" confused with the cricket "offside". It had me in splits.

Ram (uncontrollable laughter): "So whats onside then?"

Friend ("I want to run away from here" look): " The left side??"

Ram (falling off the chair): "Brilliant!!!"

Sunday, June 11, 2006


"Once you get to Chennai, buy your own auto", sagely advice from an American friend who clearly didn't enjoy his tryst with the auto-man empire of Chennai. A five kilometere journey in the city could cost you around 50 rupees. A 4 rupee price hike in petrol could make autocratic drivers demand 70 rupees without batting an eyelid. Hmmm, you might ask, "What ever happened to the meter?" The auto meter is a decorative piece of instrument made by a company called PRICOL and is universally detested by the auto-seekers of Chennai. Primarily because every manufactured piece is carefully redesigned by our enterprising auto-men which makes the meter run faster than Superman.

So to sum it all up, an auto ride is one harrowing experience. To make it a little less harrowing you should probably get yourself a business law degree with a specialization in negotiation.

However, the entire exercise leads to some lighter moments. At a recent get together with some of my college buddies we were recollecting a couple of such exchanges:

SK (friend of mine in Adyar):Sir, can you come to Ashok Nagar?
Auto guy: Yes Sir.
SK: How much?
Auto guy: 150 rupees sir.
SK: Hmmm..I know Adyar is in Chennai, isn't Ashok Nagar in Chennai too?
Auto guy:!!!!
The distance between Adyar and Kilpauk is 11 kms. 8 rupees per km is considered extremely reasonable

Vivek (in Kilpauk): Can you come to Adyar?
Auto guy: 120 rupees sir
Vivek: 40 rupees
Auto guy (stops the vehicle and pulls the key out of the ignition): I have driven this auto for 8 years, and I swear on this key you will never get an auto.
Vivek: Ok, 45 rupees, last and final!
Auto guys (shakes his head): Saaaar!!!
Vivek (magnanimously): Okay 60 and no more.
Auto guy (looks skywards): Fine lets go

a couple of hours later...
Vivek: Kumar, the auto guy fleeced me man
Kumar (smiling inwardly, welcome to Chennai! bangalore boy): So how much did you pay?
Vivek: I paid 60 da
Kumar (slightly flustered): from where to where?
Vivek(in the same breath as going from the living room to the bath room): from Kilpauk to Adyar
Kumar(incredulously): What 60 rupees from Kilpauukkk to Adyaarrr?
Vivek: Is that a lot? I knew it. Didn't like the sight of the guy.
Kumar (a long journey at 12 in the night, trying to make it a little interactive):So,how long are you driving this auto?
Auto guy: 10 months sir. I am getting married next month sir. I live in Adyar kuppam sir.
Kumar(ask one question, get three answers not bad, only if my clients were that easy): brill..
Auto guy (starts off before Kumar completes): Not exactly Adyar kuppam.Actually sir, I belong to Madurai sir. You know Madurai sir, captain's hometown sir. I am voting for captain sir. Are you voting sir?
Kumar: Uh..I
Auto guy: Captain is a nice guy sir. I am not exactly from Madurai sir, I am from a place called Usilampatti sir, famous for rowdies sir.
Kumar (gulp): Oh I see.
Auto Guy: Even I was a rowdy till last year sir. We usually start off when we are 16 sir and we are in the gang till 22 sir and then they let us go our own way sir.
Kumar(fidgety, 3 more kms to home): Oh cool
Auto guy: I didn't like it sir. My brother is also in the gang I am asking him to come out of it sir. But they pay him well and he even was a part of that high profile murder a year back sir. He got 1500 rupees for it sir. You would have seen it on paper too sir.
Kumar(shitting bricks): Uhh..what..
Auto guy: I hope you dont get me wrong sir, we don't kill sir. We just make up the numbers sir. You know like in the movies. We are in the background. All murders we do are for real-estate and politics sir. We don't kill common men like you sir.
Kumar( stretching head out to see how far the apartment is): Very nice, you are considerate.
Auto guy (flashing a smile into the rear view mirror): Yes sir, that we are.

I don't know if that even sounded remotely funny. Situational humour is best when translated on screen.

Not many people get a chance to develop a personal relationship with the auto-driver to know the difficulties they face. Now, don't get me wrong here, I whole heartedly agree that 70 rupees for 5 kms is daylight robbery. But they have their own problems, paying off the RTO, paying off the cop, paying off the owner if its a rented auto, supporting their family etc.

There have been many poignant experiences with a slight undercurrent of humour. I would like to narrate one such experience. (I really know this auto guy well and so we kinduv pull each others legs very often)

Auto guy: All you officer people, you earn so much. Whats there in giving us 10 rupees more with a smile on your face.

Kumar: Let them increase my pay and I will be happy to give you the extra 10 rupees. In fact I always tell my manager about you.

Auto guy: Yeah right! I believe you. Tell me, Whats my name?

Kumar: Chinniah

Auo guy: Ah you are educated so you remember names.Ok tell me how much you make every month..10,000?

Kumar(slightly uncomfortable): Uh..a little more

Auto guy: Ok lets say 15,000. Hmmm thats a lot of money. Thats how much I make in 2 months.

Kumar(I didn't want him to make me feel guilty): I have to pay off loans you know. 6 years of fees to be precise.

Auto guy: You studied for 6 years!! Are you an engineer?

Kumar (phone starts ringing): Yes, uh... Hello...fine that would be great, I will come and pick it at 6. Thanks I appreciate it.

Auto guy (listening to me on the phone talking English): Sir, its all got to do with English no sir?

Kumar: What?

Auto guy: Everything no sir. Only if my son speaks in English, he will get a job no sir?

Kumar: Well our CM can speak only Tamil, he is doing good.

Auto guy: But his nephews, whats his name... Maran, I saw on TV sir. He was wearing suit boot and talking in English and that too with white men sir.

Kumar: Yes Chinniah, you got to make your sons study English.

Auto guy: You should thank your father sir, he made you study. You speak excellent English.In fact, better than the guy in house number 6 sir.That guy thinks he is some lord labaku or something sir.

Kumar (smiling): Yes but will you make your son study?

Auto guy: I have two sons sir, I am sending one to the corporation school and the other to the convent. I can't afford to send both to the convent. The fees is 4000 rupees a year. Atleast in corporation school they give him meals.

Kumar: Yeah, can't you take a loan?

Auto guy: How many loans can I take sir? I couldn't pay the EMI for my auto so the bank guys seized it. I am driving my brothers auto. Every day I have to hear my brother's wife berating him for letting me ride it for free when they can make 150 rupees in rent every day.My wife berates me for being spineless. Women sir...they are impossible...never marry sir!

Kumar: I am sorry Chinniah.

Auto guy: Don't be sir. Even my mother made me study sir. I didn't, I started smoking when I was 14, drinking when I was 16. I smoked grass and mixed with all the wrong people. My brother on the other hand was not as smart as me sir.But he had good friends sir, he is hardworking. He owns 5 autos sir. Even if I didnt study and talk English like you sir, I could have atleast been like him sir.

Kumar: Don't worry man, your son is going to do good.You work hard too, I always see you in the auto stand day or night.

Auto guy: I hope so sir. He is the sole reason for my existence sir, I have really mended my ways sir.I have stopped drinking sir. Every paise goes for their education.

Kumar: Thats really nice to hear. In 10 years you will own 10 autos. Your son will buy them for you.

Auto guy (laughing): I am not greedy sir, really. I know I am over charging you, its only because I really need to make that much money support my family sir, make my kids study sir.I don't want to build a bungalow sir. I even dont want 1 auto sir. I just want my family to be healthy and educate my kids sir. My mother provided me an opportunity, I want to provide them an opportunity.
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