road series

Toll Tales !

If there were any more objects of interest than the roads themselves, they are the toll booths.

They have been a subject of enormous interest and intense enchantment. For me, that is. Are you rubbing your eyes and wondering if my lunacy has had a fresh bout of energy infusement, well, indulge in me as you always do. Oh, I shudder at the plight of the world without kind readers like you who have progressed to the 4th line on such a topic of egregiously earth shattering importance like the toll booth.

For it is at a toll booth you catch glimpse of the moron who overtook you with such blinding speed that you really thought he was taxiing to take off to the Mars or someplace beyond. You catch the elderly grand mom kiss her sleeping grand daughter. And the grand dad looking away. I know what you are thinking here. No, I didn’t mean it that way. Whatever you were thinking.

It is also the place, where you see some strange acts performed with an intensity that bellies the seeming innocuousness of a toll booth. Like, picking their nose, brows furrowed in concentration that would befit a nuclear scientist on the verge of a mankind changing discovery.

Ofcourse, you would not be surprised to see those that would honk like there were virgins waiting in heaven for the loudest and most fervent honker ! If you are still not awakened completely, the attendants manning the toll booth wake you up in a jiffy.

Usually they talk to you from that elevated booth that somehow seems to you as though they are speaking from a distant star. Sometimes, there is paan stowed away and showing up as a lump in the cheek. By the time you comprehend and respond you realize that the line behind has grown at a pace that is faster than the birth rate in China and the honkers were having urgent apparitions of the virgins in heaven !

Ofcourse, then, that is the beginning. For the chap doesn’t have change for Rs.500 and you have nothing else but Rs.500/-. So there you are. Villain to a population on the highway with even the heavens hearing the noises !

All in all, the toll booth is such an interesting place !

In Kerala though, things are slightly different. First of all, Rs.7.50/- for a return journey is a fare that seems unbelievable. Especially to the wallet that grows lighter by Rs.150/- and more on trips to Pune. Rs.7.50/- ? That’s like a discount store selling off unsold stuff for free.

There are no high pedestals. The toll booth operators stand on the road. Ofcourse, it would take two lifetimes for you to pull out Rs.7.50 exactly. He comes in to help you.’ Give me Rs.10’ he says, not even bothering to look at you. As you hesitatingly fish out the Rs.10, wondering if you will get change in return, you get a small package in return!

The small package essentially is the balance of Rs.2.50/- packaged with the Toll Booth receipt !

Move on”. “Move on”.

In a jiffy the toll booth moves to your rear view mirror!

Ofcourse, you despair the opportunity of missing the other promised sights at the toll booth. But then, just to see that surprised smirk in the toll booth operator’s face, as he sees your expression change upon receiving the ‘packet’ from him….well, that’s priceless !

A question of numbers !

Numbers !

Race horses sport them. Players in football, basketball, cricket and such other games sport them. Athletes & sports people sport them. Convicts sport them. Cops sport them. ( In tamil movies, ‘ 403’ is how a junior cop is usually called in by the inspector or officer of similar / higher order ).

Yes. People sport numbers. On them. Although, am not sure about cops wearing them around. But still, you get the idea, right. It seems logical in sports or in prison. From a distance you cant tell one player from another. And so a number becomes a convenient representation.

Now that is logical.

But tell me, why would a young man walking down the street, in the summer heat of Mumbai, wear a jeans with 33 inscribed on his backside. Twice. I mean, on both sides of his backside. Why ?

This question has occupied my mind for sometime now. And as is the norm these days, i dived into the Internet. I never knew 33 was pregnant with so much meaning and possibility until Wikipedia told me so. I took a bow. Sample ( the list is huge) these :

33 is the largest positive integer that can not be expressed as a sum of different triangular numbers

Jersey number of basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The number was retired by the Los Angeles Lakers

Beethoven’s Op.120 consists of 33 variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli

Quite obviously, i have been left with far more questions than answers. And as is the other norm, i have been asking a few people around. “what could 33 written on the back pocket of a young man’s jeans, signify ?

Quite obviously greeted by strange looks. With a ‘Oh, not again’ sigh. Or a ‘where were you all this while’ mutter. Or sometimes a ‘whats the temperature outside’ question. And such else.

It was becoming a far too occupying thought, and then it happened: The question is posed to the missus. And she asks, head tilted, arms crossed, ‘ pray tell me, where have you been looking ?’

Stumped, bowled and adjudged leg before wicket on the same delivery, i walked ! I retired hurt. Pointing out to the coalescing clouds and reading something vague about a G 20 summit from the days newspaper. I bailed out. For that moment.


But hey, that thought refuses to go away. Tell me….. What is this 33 ? Written twice. Hmm.

Road Series : Madness !

I have a few habits. Hey stop. I am going to spare you from the gory ones. But this one, is quite innocuous : taking a quick walk in the vicinity of the office building post lunch.

As is with other oddities, comments / remarks / jokes / nudges etc etc, have come my way. Ranging from ‘do you want to buy up the building’ to ‘its bad for health’ to ‘you must be plain nuts’.

Well, everyday afternoon the sun tests my ability to withstand the heat. And i try and test the sun to beat me down. In under 10 minutes, the sun overwhelms me. In no time, beads of sweat form on the forehead, the shirt is drenched, the skin burns.

When all of the the above happens, i know that it is time to turn around. I feel like a local college champion, overwhelmed by the likes of a Roger Federer , just by his showing up! In no time, I rush back to the cool climes of controlled temperature of the office.

Today too, that’s the scene. The sun is at the top his bent. The March madness rules. I walk. In some time, beads of sweat are beginning to form on the forehead. Very soon, the skin sends a SOS beep to the brain, warning of the threshold level heat being crossed. The legs involuntarily turn around to head back.

And just then, the eye spots them.

Four boys. Sitting under the open sun. Not a tree or shade in sight. On the edge of the road. Two of them on a stool. Two on what appears to be brick, propped up by a broken down computer monitor. An inverted vessel holds a carrom board. And there is a game that is on.

I stare in disbelief. I look up to check if it is the same sun.

I watch for about 3 minutes. I don’t have to pinch myself. The sun does it for me. I lose today’s battle with the sun. Too. Soon, I head back to office.

I keep turning around to look if boys and their carrom game are done. The carrom game is on, till the last, the eye can see. The Sun doesn’t seem to be winning this battle.

That image of those four boys in mid day sun stays in my mind. In some time, i head to a meeting. And make my grand pronouncement : “You win some. You lose some. Even if you are the sun !”.

Others in the room look at each other. They smile a weak understanding smile. They know me by now. They know March. They know the Sun. And i guess, they think they have an understanding of the first signs of madness.

Ofcouse, I know too : Give me a carrom board. Three other blokes. An inverted run down monitor. And one huge brick. And ofcourse, the sun !

Road Series : Spare the plate !

What is 3 + 7 + 9 + 8 + 23 ?




I mean…I take time. Lets face it. I am slow. Ok ? With numbers especially. I have a problem with numbers. Give me words to play with. Any day. But get the idea.

I mean, look at the numbers that confront me with appearance or disappearance. Like that mirage of a bank balance. Or that illusion of a 32 inch waistline. Why go that far. Take the worry around my age. Ok. Ok. Stop.

The world runs on numbers. I know that. The missus knows the number of dosas i have gulped down. The boss clearly knows the number that i missed. And how many times as well. The pittance of the shares that i bought long back, disappeared before the fanfare in the heart around their purchase evaporated. Manufacturers alter their discount percentages the day i step in to buy.

A trillion dollars is a lot of number for a bucket and a bail out ! That’s my perspective. And of course, bonus is a bad word !

Of all of these, the only constant shareable number in peoples lives are number plate on their cars. I mean, its there. Right up there for the world to see. You can have it fancy or simple. But you cant have a number on the same car that goes up and down like the economy or the bank balance.

And that has been so comforting. For a long while now, while people look at the car and brand, i look at the number on the number plates. That degree of constancy is so assuring.

And for some time now that has been under threat. Obviously i don’t like it.

Indian numerals on number plates ! And i have seen this in Tamil, Marathi and kannada scripts. And quite obviously, i didn’t study numerals in any of them. I am illiterate ! And naturally all of them seem to be forms of art to me !

I am told that this is done to demonstrate a passion for the language. Come on. Come on!

Demonstrate passion. Sure !! Write an essay. Send text messages. Speak (abuse) in chaste native. Send children to native language schools. Speak the language. Read up literature. Ok. Ok. Ok. I give in. Go ahead and watch those damn mega serials. All in Gurmukhi, Tamil, , Marathi,Kannada, Hindi…

But please. Please. Spare the number plate

I mean, if you cut the lane, jumped signal, crashed into me and drove away, and i want to file a complaint. You sure dont expect me and the rest of us illiterates take a pen and paper to do a pencil sketch. Do you ?

Wait a minute…

Was that the idea ?!?