Thursday, October 04, 2007


"Want some tea?" The rickshawwallah asked Anuj as he climbed into the rickshaw. He had just been a little unlucky, and a little new to the area. There are a few chai-tapris as they are called, where the rickshawwallahs gather when they need a break. If a customer is stupid/unlucky/new to the area enough, then the rickshawwallah has to save his and your time. Most would gulp down whatever is left of their cup of tea, and jump in if it is a big fare, and ask the customer to move on if it is not. Anuj was a customer with a big fare, he wanted to go right across to the other end of the city. The rickshawwallah on the other hand, was a man who enjoyed drinking every small sip of his tea. Indian tea can do that to anyone. So the man, sipped carefully on his cup, ...slirping it in slowly, cooling it slowly with his lips as he drank. The tea stayed for a second on his throat, then ran down into his stomach. When it ran past his neck, the rickshawallah found his voice... As soon as he heard that he had to go to the other side of the city, the rickshawallah used the time he had his sip to totally check Anuj out. He wore blue jeans and a white shirt, with an unrecognizable logo (to the rickshawwallah). He carried his wallet in his back pocket, and it jutted well out from his prominant butt, which looked large and inviting (to the rickshawwallah). He looked a little nervous, and terribly gullible. The rickshawwallah finished his sip. As it went past his neck, the rickshawwallah found his voice. "Want some tea?" He asked.
Anuj was nervous and new to the area. He was new to the area and lacked on vital piece of information. Irrespective of where in Mumbai one is, and how well the destination is known, the most important piece of information before you get into a rickshaw is; which is the immideate direction towards your destination. Anuj had made the mistake of walking up the wrong side of the road. Anuj ended up at at the rickshaw stand, a little tired and comforted at the thought of getting into a ride, so when the rickshawwallah asked him "Want some tea?" he nodded his head, his lack of breath silencing any words that he could have thought of speaking. Anuj looked at the rickshawwallah. He asked the guy in the tapri to make another cup of tea. The guy smiled and handed one over immideately. Anuj had time to wonder if he had change to pay for the tea, when the cup was presented to him by the rickshawdriver, in a small plastic cup. Anuj scaled himself in his first sip, and blowed on the tea, cooling his tongue simultaneously.
The rickshawwallah took another, slow sip. He was totally drinking it in. The kid had just been stupid enough to drink hot tea. His tea was comparatively cold. He new how to make a big fare bigger. Anuj was lucky because the rickshawwallah had an account at the tapri. He gulped in his tea, jumped into the rickshaw and started the thing up. Anuj was only thinking about not dropping all the tea. He was perfectly aware of the situation, but he didn't care enough about the profit the rickshawwallah was just about to care.
So when the rickshawwallah turned on the music, and loud remixed bollywood played on, two perfectly happy souls went on a ride from one side of the city to the other. They spoke nothing for most of the ride. The rickshawwallah was drawing up to a turn, which he could or could not have taken. The rickshawwallah was thinking of how exactly to ask for directions, when Anuj directed him without being asked. "Left" he said, and the rickshawwallah took a left, then he went on with an extra thrust of speed just because all responsibilities for further directions were left with Anuj. Anuj lived up to such simple responsibilities. "Right" he said. The rickshawwallah turned, and ended up at a similiar tapri he had left behind forty minutes ago. Anuj got down, replenished, and having sipped chai from a plastic cup as the city went past him. And he was generous enough to let the rickshawwallah have his seven rupee profit apart from the four he had made with the fixed meter, without making a fuss of it.
He was a totally different person to the people he was just about to meet at the tapri. Anuj was meeting another twenty eight year old, just like him, but he did not know it. Pankaj definitely looked thirty four - that was probably because of all the pot. Anuj waved out to Pankaj when he saw him, as he came around the same right turn. Pankaj just smiled back, and walked up to Anuj. Anuj looked at Pankaj, he was sweating because of the sun, which glistened on his reddened skin. Anuj had already decided what to do. "Want some tea?" he asked. Pankaj was a drifter, no one, including probably him, knew what he had done two years ago, all that mattered that he was there then and interested in what Anuj had to offer apart from the tea.
"What is the business?"
"I have what you want. The complete customer base of the call centre I work in. It will be mailed to you. I have a setting."
"How much do you want for it"
"Five thousand"
In such deals, there is no scope for bargaining. Pankaj had been sent by his company with a budget of seven, so he decided to go ahead with the deal.
"How should I pay you"
"Cheque payments only. Write one out to me now, and it will be mailed to you."
Pankaj took out his chequebook. Anuj made a call while he finished it. Pankaj shook hands with Anuj, said "thank you" and meant it. After that, Pankaj left Anuj at the tapri. Anuj stayed on for another twenty minutes, having tea. He saw one waiting on the other side of the road. Pankaj worked in an office complex right next to the tapri. He took the elevator to a floor near the top of the building, and walked into his cubicle. The e-mail was there on his address. He mailed the file to his boss, and headed towards the cabin of the boss.
The cell phone of the boss beeped with an e-mail alert. He checked out the file on his console, it was an excel sheet with names, numbers, and even addresses. They all had huge credit card bills. They were all going to be offered a scheme with a lot of benefits and fine print. The boss was happy. The boss called the canteen on the ground floor and ordered up two cups of tea. Pankaj reached the boss' cabin, just as the boss hung up.
"Want some tea?" The boss asked. Pankaj was happy, he said he managed to seal a deal for seven thousand.
The boss signed the cheque, and left for home immediately. He wanted to take some rest and plan for the next day. On his way out, he was surprised to find his nephew sipping tea.


"One iced tea, one pina colada, and one cold coffee" What mattered with coffee was what else you could get with it. The best things about the coffee shop was that it was always open. Really, when it comes to coffee, you never know what time of the day you might need one. Infact, coffee is consumed somewhere entirely out of time, it dilates it and expands it to suit the drinker's needs. The ordered had been placed, and the three people were lost in the crowd. It was four in the morning and the coffee shop was jam packed. The three people ordered, and spoke loudly; their voices were drowned in the chit-chat.
The menu was a laminated sheet of paper.
"Pulse Nurturing that’s what its all about"
"No man, it is all about sun worship"
"Shut up, it’s all about aliens"
Two boys and a girl. A little too loud. The Advertiser, the Lunatic and the Extraterrestrial on the next table overheard what they were saying. The Advertiser was a little surprised, the Lunatic unabashedly turned to the table next to him, and the Extraterrestrial got scared, someone knew about its existence. The two boys and the girl, unaware of anything but their own table, continued their conversation.
"The media does not survive by sucking money out of you, it is terribly cheap, What do you give the media in return? Nothing. Who gives the media its money? The advertiser. They advertise, however, would like to have a lot out of you."
"No man, there is no control system in place but nature and God. Everyone trying to overpower the natural control will rot in hell"
"The Aliens don't have a hell. We humans are a very young race. Its a lot of other things, but mainly our transportation. Our communication is ahead of our transportation, theirs is not"
"No man, really, there is a control system and its the media, its the source of all your ideas"
"Bullshit, I am a free man and I get my own ideas"
"The aliens control the media. They also spread the ideas you get through more channels than the media"
"See, that is what I would call bullshit, the media wouldn't be around if it were not getting their advertisers and profits."
"I don't care man, we are all humans out here, we give some, we take some, what's the difference, life is beautiful and I want to relax a bit you know"
"The aliens want you to sit back and relax, slow down for a while, which is something we humans have never done as a race. They are waiting for us to burn ourselves out"
"What are you guys talking about? Life is not beautiful, I mean, look around you, there is no God, and there are no aliens. Its just the human race out here, you are right about that, but some of us are better off than the rest"
"That's a very narrow outlook man, none of us are really better off than the rest"
"The Aliens are a truly equal population. They do not reveal themselves to us only because we are all not equal"
"Equality and freedom are just states of the mind, a media controlled state, they control all the beliefs you have as well"
"Just shut the fuck up man"
"The aliens can afford to wait, but I think we will burn out faster than they expect"
The advertiser looked at the alien and said "How do they get such ideas?"
The alien looked at the advertiser and said "You might never consciously fight for freedom, or equality. You might refuse to stand up to such beliefs, but your genes, are always fighting for such ideals. The great dawn is near"
The advertiser was serious. He looked at the alien, then at the lunatic.
The lunatic laughed and whispered out to nobody really, "I wonder who ordered the cold coffee?"

Route No. 11

And something amazing happened today - ok, at least, something unique enough to worth mentioning. Was walking to the bus stop from the train station when a bus pulled over at a totally different stop. It was eleven forty seven, and there was still a huge line for that bus. The line compressed in anticipation of the bus, and shouts amounting to everyone "staying in line" rang out in two different languages - Marathi and Hindi. What was funny was two guys were encouraging the entire line to get in properly, and they were not even part of the line... now I happened to laugh at them, and at the spur of the moment, decided to give out a shout myself. My voice was lost amongst the many other public endearments, and a few insults, but two random guys I am never going to meet again laughed their asses off - or something like that, I really didn't care - the second it happened, I had a bus to catch of my own.
This bus happens to be on the Koknipada line. A little background history might help. One day ago - that is yesterday, things like that apparently make it easier to put things down - yeah so yesterday there were three people in line, a balding Maharashtrian uncle with a beer belly who got down pretty close to an Industrial estate and who was blaming the government for not taking good care of the transport system, and who was unsure of the bus timings. I know the bus timings simply because I am a regular on the route, and when there is a bus where the buses are so rare that they are always on time, there is really no helping it. We had both just missed the eleven twenty bus, the next one was at eleven fifty, and he was asking me if the eleven fifty bus was the last bus. I knew there was another at twelve twenty, which was usually cancelled for lack of people. Now its around eleven forty yesterday night, and we had no one but each other for ten minutes of our lives. Five minutes of that was spent in an interrogation of my background - what my parents do and what I have studied, but five minutes into this conversation, a Loan executive from ICICI bank walks in to the stop and begins the procedure all over again. The moment I tell him that I am in my final year of graduation, he got shit impressed. The guy has studied only till the tenth, and I guess his experience was sufficient to think I had studied "too much". I can now understand the respect society gives to doctors. I sat next to this newfound acquaintance in the bus, and the discussion varied between "not getting addicted to anything" (he was talking about alcohol, and suggested I drink beer for my health. I almost agreed, but not really) to how society has stopped believing in God. That is a part I did not understand, and brought the subject around to alcohol again.
Day before yesterday, it was the eleven fifty bus that I caught, and I went through it without talking to anybody, including the conductor - I just handed him the exact change, and he gave me the ticket. This is a convenient system really. The point is that it is a very small route, with very few people, and most of the times, we look out for each other. We all know where everyone else gets down, and the regular conductors exchange pleasantries with the older people. I am young and not Maharashtrian enough to be plugged into the system, but I get along when the need comes.
So, make as much sense of all of this as possible, cannot really say much more, and remember a lot less than when I started, because of the various deviations, but the point of the matter is that at eleven forty nine today, railway time, I ended up at the Koknipada bus stop, and asked the bunch of conductors there if the parked bus was the eleven fifty bus in perfect Marathi.
"Akra pannas chi ahe ka?"
(Is this the eleven fifty one?)
(Which one?)
"Kute jyachya hey?"
(Where do you want to go?)
(Now this was a lie. I wanted to go to Vasant Vihar, and the more popular line for this bus stop is the Pawar Nagar line. However, the Koknipada bus stops across the road from my gate, so I prefer the route.)
He nodded at this - and I took my place in the bus stop, the entire line consisted of only me. The conductor spoke to another college, in a whole string of Marathi sentences that were difficult to understand, but the discussion was cantered around the fact that they would have to run the bus for only one person, and that the routes had to be planned better. Also, some other conductor brought out an interesting point of share rickshaw people stealing away too many bus route people, but people like us (me) were left out in the process. Whoa. I didn’t understand too much of that, but guiltily remained to be the only guy in the bus stop. If you have been keeping track of the time, I had only a minute to wait.
That is how, I ended up being the only guy on a forty minute route. It was extravagant and luxurious. I was using up a lot of public money, a hell lot of diesel, all for only seven rupees and fifty paise. No one got on in the way, so it was me all the way from the station to my home. It felt like a chauffeured car, and somehow, inexplicably, I was gaining more from the transportation system more than anybody else, and the best part about the whole thing was, that I gave the conductor exact change.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"The Magic Furnace" by Marcus Chown

Marcus Chown is a Cosmologist who writes books that reveal the magic in cutting edge scientific beliefs. "The Magic Furnace" is the story of our existence in three parts.
The first part is a historical account of the concept of atoms. From Democretis to Prout to Bacqueral, he reveals snippets of their everyday existence, and how they went about their investigations.
The second part starts with a study of the sun... and mankind's early attempts at exploring the stars. The book traces scientific thought, through Einstein's relativity, how light was discovered to be be more constant than space or time, how nuclear weapons were developed, through what channels scientific thought travelled during the war, how matter was discovered to behave like both waves and particals, and how pigeon shit lead to the finding of the absolute proof of the big bang.
The third part, plunges into the heart of the matter, and explains the creation of our universe as current science believes it. The book concludes with an extra-ordinary point: that the very atoms that make up humans and everything around them, were forged in the middle of stars. It is a long story that needs to be told, the book meanders through the false beliefs as neutrally as it treats the real ones. Its one of those books thats makes one feel clever, and therefore, is a must read.

All humans are brothers. We came from the same supernova.
-Allan Sandage.