Saturday, May 23, 2009

A meeting with roasted papad

The building was all stone and glass. We walked into the foyer (yes thats what it was) and found ourselves completely minionised under the high roof and the strange silence that seems like a punishment. Unlike usual bustling offices, here one had to look hard for the reception which was behind a certain wall. I noticed no sofas or no chairs. Nothing. Which can either mean that people in this office don't intend to keep their guests waiting at all or the other possibility ... there are no guests! That would be rather odd. But my first guess was correct. We were on time (Thank God!) and were immediately ushered into a meeting room where two gentlemen were waiting for us. We said all the right words... how are yous, surprisingly no traffic today, thank you for this wonderful opportunity... blah blah!
I had been forewarned that these two have a "fauji" background. So when we exchanged cards I wasn't astonished to read "Major" So and so & "Col" So and So. I looked up to see some smugness. Didn't find any so figured that retirement from "fauj" must've been a while ago. Thought that the crispness that is the gift of the military style that stays with people long after they retire must've left. Boy! was I wrong. This gentleman was as crisp as a roasted papad! He put me on my guard from the moment he delivered an invisible slap on my face when I asked him if their entire exercise was being done just for the heck of it, as had been our experience for the last four years with his organization. Collect quotes and then nothing. Ofcourse I quoted this statement in two inches thick sugar dip. It was time to change gears and sit pretty. Let him do the talking. And talk he did. Somebody had told me that women yak too much. Well ... here was our friend col roasted papad who would've put any bunch of women to shame. I realised, give an old man half a stage and he would make full use of two. Especially if the audience is the fairer sex and young and quiet. So off he went into the discussion. Well maybe its appropriate to call it a monologue. We listened. We get paid for it after all! Ha!
Tricky man this, I had to rephrase the risky (likely to offend a superior soul) questions multiple times in my own head before I quickly delivered them to this stumped (that would be us naturally!) audience. We were four of us. The girl from my team chose to remain mute the whole time. She figures if I am around, I have to bat and not she. She is wrong but we'll come to that later on. Col saab had his side-kick (Remember the major saab) siting next to him. He too had his mute button on. But then in his case I suppose that must always be the case as in true military style, the big boss gets to speak and give orders and its the job of the reportee to only nod in affirmative. The true fauji never says no. Er! but they chose otherwise in this case. They said NO to the rates quoted. You see ma'am, with a market like this (ref the downward spin of the world economy), you simply can't send a quotation like the one you have. I chose to smile, words were not a good choice at that time. I could've said a lot but then I was biting words since I arrived. Twenty minutes into the meeting and we still hadn't found common ground. Using my "fauji" connection is always a last choice, in most cases I don't prefer it. I share it only if I like the guy at the other side of the table and that too as a parting shot. But here, we were swimming and not really going anywhere. The colonel continued his tirade of superior experience, not to mention the three phone calls that he just had to take. Ah! nothing like the attention of a rapt audience that waits on every word you utter. And then suddenly a ghost appeared. He was wearing a jacket, had gloves on, no name tag. He said only two words - tea....coffee. We muttered something. It didn't matter what we had. We wanted to get out. HE brought steaming brew almost immediately. The col waited until he had left and then said to me madam can you tell me whats wrong with what he did. My fauji knowledge was being tested. I am expected then to know everything about service. Well I was too busy not attending to such training growing up. I knew I was dead. The man had delivered a perfectly good cup of coffee. It even tasted good. Damn! Thats when my client says, you see ma'am he has given you too sugar cubes on the spoon kept on the side of the cup. He should've brought sugar in a different container. He should've brought along a napkin. You see ma'am fauj teaches us some very fine things. I had a flash in my mind. I saw myself standing outside a chai pakode shop in pune and having hot pakodas without washing my hands and you can bet on it.. there was no napkin. And here I was ... nodding in affirmative to this ... client. What am I becoming? I also knew that had that pantry steward who served us the coffee been on my company's payrolls, heck I would've been proud of him. He was good. He was polite, he knew how to take orders and he knew how to serve. Gaaawd! What a psycho ! He was thrilled to know me when I said I know what you're referring to, I have had a fauji upbringing. I said all the right things afterwards.
Something was very wrong here you see. People who go through the fauji culture usually fall into a strange trap. They believe themselves to be better that the civilians. I know this because I was one of them. Fauj is the perfect way of living in a make believe world. Its hard to shake it off if you are the kinds who need a certain life style to prove that you are good and successful. But when you do shake it off, its then that you actually enjoy life. This man here in front of me was for a few minutes completely lost. He went back in time. I could see that.

This is hard to explain. Growing up I saw a lot of polished brass. A lot of red lipstick and high heels. Taash parties, holi fests, diwali bashes, dining ins, dining outs, weekend parties, etc etc. Back in those days, a working wife of a fauji would be a teacher (9 out of 10). Husbands would leave for work at 8.00 AM. Return by 2.00 PM. Lunch. Snooze. 4.00 PM either games (basket ball, tennis, golf). Tea at 6.00 PM. Party (atleast once in ten days). 10.00 PM dinner. To bed by 11.00 - 12.00 mid night. This is the routine of a slightly social fauji officer. The not so social ones were home after 6.00PM and slept early. You saw them at compulsory social functions like the mandir pooja program or the gurudwara functions or official dinners (I never saw those, kids were strictly not allowed).
Life is different. You move around mostly the English speaking apparently sophisticated apparently educated cordial lot. You almost never stand in a queue. Its stylish not have your daughter know how to cook. Nearly every fauji wife will have dark sun glasses. (My mom didn't. But then she was a mis-fit in the flying kisses type from the very beginning). I don't know now but a fauji will always get up when a woman enters the room. He will always be polite with women. Yes there are exceptions. There are enough loud drunks with uncomfortable wives who keep praying that her man doesn't put his foot in his mouth. I've seen it happen the other way round too. The man quietly picking up his wife's purse and taking her to the car. Smiles passing around.
These men and women who wear these olive uniforms during the day and attend these social evenings, go home and be themselves again.
And then one day all of it disappears. You find public transport. You discover that there is a queue to pay the telephone bill. You find that there is no spare vehicle except for the one you had the sense to buy from your meager salary while you lived in make believe castles. You find a whole new world. And the best part about that world is it will take you as you are. You don't have to have dark sunglasses, red lipstick, a crew cut, or high heels to fit in. You just do... just as you are. And its a lovely world.

But people like my roasted papad client here, never really come out of the fauji life. They dream of it every now and then. Even when its long gone. I wanted to shake the man and say.. dude...forget it. Take a local from borivali to churchgate. It would make you appreciate the guy who served you that cup of coffee.

Back to the drama in this meeting room. The meeting was finally over. By now I had made a record of sorts of nodding in affirmative and smiling so much that my face hurt. Suddenly colonel saab got up. Shook my hand (not like a fauji, just the fingers, not a grip) and strode out of the room with his side kick who said a polite good bye and followed his boss out of the room. That when I heard my team mate for the first time. She said look at this picture on the wall. I saw a square frame. With a white square border, there was a smaller square of grey clouds. It had a red dot a tiny red dot on it. I saw it and blinked.. what the hell is this. And then she said, look over there... theres three of em. And there they were. Three almost identical frames with just the red dot in different places. We laughed and tried in vain to control our pitch. This was the most weird meeting ever!

3 comments:

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Hilarious....was smiling all the way thru this..have run into some ex-service fellows on sales calls myself;-)

Soul Images said...

Shaz, this is of of your best posts... Funny, realistic, painful, happening... write more like this!

Tanveer said...

This should be either RSI or US Club or am just assuming too much into tis. But it was too good!