[Reader Alert! This post, isn’t going to be as funny as one would expect posts on Ouchmytoe to be]
This post isn’t funny because I have been spending all of my time between ibibo.com and my daughter Rhea. Without that creative time slot to think and plan a blog post…coming up with a funny piece is difficult. So here goes an autobiographical piece.
This article is about Fame, Faith & Failure…the three things that keeps any man going.
Two years back, when I went to Madurai, the city where I grew up, I bumped into a friend whom I used to play cricket with when I was in school & college.
Mani, the all-rounder I was scared to ball to…and frightened to face is today a bus conductor and works for Rs 6300. Here is what happened.
“Aren’t you Rajan?”
That’s how he knew me…Rajan. Jammy, the fancier name caught on later. There was no way, I was going to recognize him…he had become a man. A man hardened by fate, deeds & hard luck. A face, I wouldn’t recognize.
“Heyyyy…..hmmm….hmmm…how are you?” I just couldn’t place him. But being the good guy out of the two, he was more forthright.
“Looks like you didn’t recognize me. Remember me? Mani? The fast bowler?”
“Ohh shucks! Mani…it is you?”
“How have you been, Rajan. You are working with Indian Express aren’t you?” I could see that Mani wanted to hug me….but I didn’t. He was oily and smelled of bidis. I could see his khaki shirt was wet with sweat and salt formation where the sweat had dried, stood out like Google Maps. Though, I did think that his eyes were moist.
I didn’t tell Mani that I was with Indian Express ten years back, and had changed seven jobs since then. He kept on asking questions.
“Are you married?”
“Where is the girl from?”
“Is she pretty? Huh? Huh?
“Love marriage or arranged marriage?”
“Have any kids?”
“Boy or a girl?”
“Started going to school?”
He was genuine. I was the faker of the two. I answered in mono syllables. I didn’t ask him about his family, friends, job…nothing.
After getting bored of my mono syllables, he started looking at me up and down.
“You must be a rich man now. Aren’t you?”
“Well, not really. I don’t run my own business…I still wait for my monthly salary on the first of every month.”
Back in my town, asking somebody for their salary is an accepted norm. There is nothing to hide, especially if you are friends. And what I was dreading happened.
“That’s ok. I recently got a hike after completing two years and my salary now is Rs 6300. How much is yours?”
I could have been honest with him. But something inside didn’t allow me. I didn’t tell him that I was with Yahoo – one of the top Internet companies – and to make it worse, I cut down my package and said: “Well, my salary is double that.”
Mani was immediately on another subject. He told me that he met most of our cricketing friends at least once a week – they all boarded his bus and bought tickets from him. He also told me that some of our cricketing friends were richer now and HAD their own bikes.
“So, what do you do when you meet our cricket friends?” I asked Mani.
“Well, remember Rajesh…that sloppy fielder? He called me home last weekend…and introduced me to his parents as the best fast bowler he has ever faced.”
“Yeah. And remember, Suresh…that left hand bastman? He met me one day in the bus and we got talking. Now, I teach his young cousin brother the fine art of bowling….and Suresh pays me Rs 200 every month. I didn’t accept it at first….but you know Suresh…he always has it his way.”
“Wow…thats nice too.”
The people Mani was referring to had been an integral part of my life twelve years back and now I didn’t even know them…leave alone caring. Some shop keepers, some LIC agents, some sales executives….Mani, sure was famous among them.
“We talk about you…you know. I keep telling my wife that you are with a newspaper and we won’t have any trouble in finding a good school for our children, when we can afford to take them out of the Government School.”
“Hmm….” I didn’t commit anything to him and changed the subject. “So, how long will you be working as a conductor?”
“I have it clearly charted out. Two more years as a conductor. By then the small property that I have will be worth at least 2 lakhs…I will buy a second hand, white Ambassador car and become a Tourist Taxi driver.”
“Good money there?”
“Yeah. And once I understand the Taxi business, I will appoint a driver to drive my Ambassador as a Tourist Taxi…and I will get a good Gujarati family and drive their family car.”
At this point, he smiled…and added: “Double income, you see.”
Mani threw his beedi down on the ground and ordered the shop keeper for a Halls candy. Then he turned towards me and asked: “One for you?”
He wouldn’t let me pay for my cigarette too. After finishing with the shop keeper, he said he wanted to visit my home and see Rekha and Rhea and have a word with them.
I don’t know why…I lied to him that they weren’t home. He was very disappointed. I had just turned down the guy, I once wanted to impress. Back then, he was my hero…and I wanted him to be my best friend….so that he would take me in his team when the cricket teams were divided every day at 4.30 p.m., so that he would ask me to open the innings if I were in his team. How time changes.
I saw him returning the Halls candy and getting his fifty paisa back.
“Why what happened?” I asked.
“I didn’t want to be smelling of beedi, while meeting my sister-in-law…that’s your wife. Now, I don’t need it.”
Not for a moment did Mani suspect that I could be lying.
“So, what is your mobile number. I will give you missed calls…I can’t spend money in calling STD….you understand that….don’t you? You will have to call me back.”
After taking down my number, he gave me a missed call and asked me to save his number. I didn’t.
After parting ways and promising to be in touch in future, I started walking back home.
For Mani it was a monumental meeting with a friend from the happiest times of his life, and for me it was another update on Twitter, Orkut & Facebook: “Just met an old friend…”
Funny, meeting Mani didn’t even give me the excitement that I get when I see ‘1 Friend Request’ message on Facebook or ibibo. Requests from people, I don’t know. From people I don’t share any memory with.
Two days later, when I was back in Gurgaon I realized….Mani had all going for him. He might only be drawing Rs 7300 but he definitely has been a more successful person than I have been.
Class stays, they say…once an all rounder, always an all rounder. Maybe, that’s why when we had met….I was scared to face him.
Since this incident two years back, I have made seven trips to Madurai and during my stay there…. every day at the same time I go to that shop for a smoke. I always hope to see Mani, so that I invite him home and introduce to Rekha & Rhea as the best bowler I have faced and the best batsman I have bowled to. But, I haven’t yet been given a second chance.
Maybe, the second hand, white Ambassador is keeping him busy.