Friday, November 11, 2011

Chennai Blues

“Frog in the rain…”

A rude screeching sound awakes me from my reverie while I’m lying down in my room. “What the hell is that?” I ask my roommate who seems to be the originator of that noise.

“It’s only a song” he says in an injured tone.

“What song is that?”I ask incredulously.

“Uh…I think it is a famous song. Haven’t you heard it?”

I shake my head, while eying him wearily.

The rain already has me in somber moods. Coupled with his singing I could go crazy. When the rains started in Chennai I thought it would be a relief from the sweltering heat. It was, but it also brought torrential floods, muddy and slime-filled roads and overflowing sewers.

“I have never heard it before” I say. “Is it by any band? From a movie? What’s the correct tune?” I ask.

“I can’t remember whose song it is. The tune is correct though” he argues and again starts “Frog in the rain…”

“Stop!” I command.

The rains here have left us all affected in strange ways. We have become more despondent. Now we can’t go out anywhere. To eat something from the only Malayali hotel near our lodging means trudging through knee-deep dirty water. It was quite a shock from the magical scenario back in Kerala, where every rain simply invites you to drench yourself.

“What are the rest of the lines?” I ask. My roommate’s expression indicates his brain is overworking but he can’t seem to remember.

The only thing common thing between the rains here and back home is that once the rain starts the cable goes and that means no TV, the only other source of entertainment I had in my room. So here I am stuck with my roommate, staring at the ceiling with nothing to do.

“What is the song about? Do you at least remember that?” I ask exasperatedly.

“Well” he says after some considerable thought “it is about a frog in the rain.”

I sigh.

A moment of silence. My friend clears his throat. I know he is about to go for it again. Well, what the hell. I have no choice. What else to do. This time I too join in:

“Frooooog in the rain….”


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Deadly Business

Sometime ago at the death of a neighbor, we guys were huddled in a corner of his house when we saw someone distributing visiting cards among the people who had gathered there.

“What’s that?” someone asked. “Must be the catering guys” another replied for it is usual for relatives to appoint catering guys to arrange snacks and tea for visitors.

So we called him near and asked for the card. The name of the group was “Sivasakthi…” something. But it turned out they were not catering guys. They were the ready-made chitha (funeral pyre) people. If you were dead you only had to call them and they would reach your house within three hours with all the necessary equipments, i.e. wood, coconut shells and husks, ghee, - in short, all the stuff that you needed to burn properly. They were also experts in rituals, the man explained. That was good to know. In case you had any doubts on which road to take somewhere in your afterlife journey, they could probably fill in all the details. Book which paradise hotel you want and that sort.

“The leader of our group has burned over 3000 people” the assistant burner said with pride. It only worsened our despair. It felt like he was inviting us to die so we could experience their superior services.

“We have no other branches” he announced before moving away to distribute the cards to the other will-die-one-day-anyway people.

Can’t blame him. After all death is everyone’s business.

This last day I met another guy at the airport. A dead body was arriving on a plane and he was there to collect it. I saw him sign for the body and accompany it to the ambulance and drive away. Must be a close relative I thought. Then two days later I saw the same guy at the airport and again he was accompanying a dead body. Jeez! All his relatives abroad must be dying in quick succession, I thought. So I went over and talked to him. Turned out he wasn’t a relative at all. He was running an agency that specialized in helping retrieve the bodies of people who had died abroad to their relatives back home – for a price of course. The relatives just had to sign a contract and hand over the money and he would take care of everything.

“There are other agencies in this business also” he informed me. “But we have a specialty that they don’t”, he said to me beaming. I couldn’t wait to hear what it was.

“We offer free door delivery!” he said with a flourish.

Now wasn’t that an attractive offer. Free door-delivery?? Like grocery or a fridge or laundry. My parents bought a washing machine last week. They had free door delivery. This was just like that.

Who said death was all despair and gloom. It’s a bloody good business. And you can always count on people to die. People may stop buying clothes, or grocery, or electronic goods. But they just can’t stop dying. And so the business shall flourish too.

I took his visiting card too. If I die at least I get a free trip home!