Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Waiter

Vikram had heard about him. But had never interacted with him very openly. His name was Raju. He was among the popular people at Star hotel. Since Vikram had to tour a lot especially to the south, Star hotel in Pondicherry was where he used to stay. Unlike other hotels this was a quite and less crowded place. The USP was its proximity to the sea. Almost all the rooms had a magnificient view of the beautiful white sands of pondicherry beach.
Raju used to be there every morning by the side of the reception desk, greeting people cheerfully with his captivating smile as they entered. He used to help them to their rooms and even go out of the way to ensure that every guest was well looked after, even though he was not the only Waiter at star. Yes, he was a waiter but in terms of popularity he was the real star. Apart from that his duty was to ensure to keep the lobby clean. As the hotel was popular people used to check in quite frequently,often the guests used to walk in with the sand on their feet into the hotel. Raju never frowned or complained about this. He used to mop the lobby floor every half an hour because of the above and do so cheerfully. The lobby was almost maintained spick and span due to his perseverance and commitment to duty. At the same time he used to interact with the guests, help them out as required and even guide them as to what places they can see.
Raju’s father once had a flourishing Hotel business. Actually he was among the pioneers who saw the opportunity in Pondicherry at a time when this place was unheard of and rarely frequented by foreign tourists, who preferred Goa more than any other place.The business grew as more and more people started to look at other alternatives where they could spend a nice and peaceful holiday. However destiny had its cruel turn of events and he had to sell it to Mr.Kapoor, who changed the management but kept the name of the hotel intact….Star…yes, the hotel were Raju worked once belonged to his family!. Yet he had no inhibitions about working under the new boss or for that matter even working as a waiter. Probably he considered this to be his hotel and hence the commitment came naturally. Whatever the reason Mr.Kapoor never got to hear any complaints about him. In fact all the guests used to praise him and Tip him off pretty well when they left. However Raju used to treat everyone the same, even to the misers who never tipped him but demanded extra attention!
Vikram always used to enjoy his stay at the hotel and more so because of Raju. Right from the early morning newspaper to the Tea, with not much sugar, Raju used to see that he was well attended. However there was one thing which always caught Vikram’s mind. Raju had a bright red tattoo on his hand, pretty much visible under his half shirts named 'Florence'!. On the first visit Vikram was pretty much amused when he saw it. But as he became a regular to the hotel and more aquainted with Raju, he made up his mind to just ask him about it.
The door bell rang. It was 7:30 am. Vikram was sure it was Raju with the tea and newspaper. “Come in…the door’s open” he said aloud. “Good Morning Vicky saab came the reply even louder with the usual bright smile!!. It was Raju. There was something new about him today. He looked more than just pleased!
“What’s that thing on your arm Raju? Who’s Florence?” Vikram asked. For a moment Raju looked taken aback. He then looked at his tattoo and smiled .
“Saab she had come to the hotel last year with her mom. She stays in italy. Her dad’s no more. Was her first trip to India last time. Actually they had come for a weeks stay at the hotel. I first saw her at the lobby and was pretty much captivated by her beautiful green eyes. As she arrived with her mom I thought the entire lobby just lit up!I controlled my emotions knowing that she was a guest and me a plain waiter.
For the first three days of their stay I hardly interacted with them. They preffered to be alone and not disturbed. Even at the restaurant she always used to quietly have her dinner and retire to their room, while her mom used to chat with fellow tourists. Often in the afternoon as i used to water the plants, she would be there by the pool engrossed in a book. The interactions actually started later.
One day as I was getting to work he heard cries for help. It was Ms.Fernandes, florence’s mother.“Help!!somebody help please..my daughter’s drowning”.As I rushed towards the beach,i saw Florence caught up in the high tide struggling for life. Without thinking i jumped into the waters and brought her ashore. “Oh thank you young man you come as an angel to save my daughter’s life. She's all that i have.God bless you!”.“Its fine Ms Fernandes. Let me help you carry her to the hotel” i replied. Back in the hotel as i was placing her,heard a voice...'ThankYou'. It was Florence. She looked relieved and was smiling. I felt as if I had already got my biggest tip!
As the days passed we started to talk. i took her around as a guide and a friend. During the sightseeing, shopping which we did, i learnt about her and told her about myself. Usually my services used to be restricted to the hotel, but for her i was now a confidant too !.I used to enjoy her company. The way she talked, laughed, gave those wide eyed expressions, all brightened up my day.I used to take out time especially for her and made sure that she got all that she wanted to see and experience.
It was sunset at the beach and her last stay at the hotel. Had finished my work at the hotel just to be with her.“ I am going to miss you Raju. I know you may find it strange but then I think you are the best guy to have come into my life so far. No ones been so nice and understanding with me before. Coming to think of it,I guess I am falling in love with you.” I was speechless, felt my throat dry up. I liked her, maybe even loved her, but had never let it show, as i knew that being just a waiter Florence could not lead a comfortable life with me. As I tried to put this point across, she just would not listen,“No Raju, I will talk to mum and come back. I promise exactly one year after today on the first of August, when I am done with my education , I shall be here with you. I could get a nice job here too. Together we will take care of each others needs…it will just be perfect, don’t worry i will come back. But…will you wait for me?.“I will..all my life”i said .As i looked into her beautiful green eyes,she kissed me goodbye. I felt as if I had found true love,the first time in my life!” Raju’s eyes went a bit moist as he narrated his experience.
As Vikram sat there hearing this sweet story he was touched. Touched by its simplicity and the genuine love that Raju had discovered. As Raju left, Vikram picked up the newspaper. It was friendship day. Yes the 1st of August. As the thought crossed his mind he looked down from the balcony to see Raju smiling and waving at him.“I am going to the station,Sir!. She’s coming today…1st august YES…!!!”No wonder Vikram had noticed a spring in his step in the morning!!.
Vikram had a meeting to attend that afternoon. As he returned to the hotel in the evening, he was surprised not to see Raju back. The dinner was served at the restaurant at night…still no sign of Raju. Wonder whats happened…did she come?...did they meet?...did they suddenly decide to shift somewhere else…a hundred thoughts crossed Vikrams’s mind.The next day too… no sign of Raju.
On the third of August ,the doorbell rang. “Come in…the door’s open” Vikram said aloud. “Good Morning Vicky saab came the reply even louder... It was Raju!. How pleased was Vikram to see him.“Where were you ,what happened and where is Florence? I want to meet her”.Vikram said enthusiastically. Raju’s eyes became moist again.“She didn’t come saab. Maybe her mother would not listen or maybe her studies is not over.I don’t think she did it on purpose.”.
“What!! are you crazy Raju! What makes you think she will come. You don’t even have her contact number”.Vikram reasoned.“No saab I trust her. She won’t cheat me. In fact she had said that she wanted to stay back, I was the one who insisted her to finish her studies and come back. She won’t betray me…she won’t…”.A tear escaped Raju’s eye.
He wiped it off immediately ,“Till then i will wait for her not one, not two but maybe even all my life. After all saab...I am a Waiter...he said flashing his usual smile!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Amma

The face was calm and composed. There was a positive aura surrounding her,the way it had always been. 'Amma' was what she was known as in our locality. Her real name was Dhairyalaksmi, Dhairya meaning courage, something which she had always represented throughout her life.As Kartik stood there watching her, memories flashed through his mind.
Amma had moved into the colony with her husband and son around 30 years back. Her son Vinod was of Kartik’s age and in no time they became the best of friends. Being neighbours he often used to spend time in their household. She always used to treat him equally as her son which was a quality, Kartik thought was rare to find. The morning hours in their household used to be bathed in loud carnatic music. She had immense faith in god and which reflected in whatever she did.Everyday as he and Vinod left for school she used to say, “Bye, Kartik. Take good care of Vinod”!.
Life has its own strange ways of unfolding events and that was precisely what happened with her. While they were in10nth standard her husband died in an accident. Amma decided to take tuitions to support the family. She also started stitching clothes for the women in the locality. Even then it was tough for her to make both ends meet. However she never let it show whenever her son was around. She was determined to see to it that he completed his education and fulfilled his dreams of becoming an engineer.
Two years flew by. Kartik and Vinod were awaiting their 12std results. Both were nervous as they walked to school to get it. Amma accompanied them with her usual smile chatting and talking animatedly along the way to cheer them up.Her smile made Kartik wonder about her inner strength. It was not as if she wasn’t anxious. Her husband was no more, she had done mundane chores, sacrificed a lot so that her son, Vinod could fulfill his dreams. If the result turned out otherwise, engineering would then become a distant dream for him. Still she was her jovial self. Always with her trademark smile on her face, it appeared as if she was making a mockery of the trails that life was throwing at her.
As she chatted with Kartik’s mother about how admissions have become highly competitive ,the results were announced...Kartik saw a single tear drop down from Amma’s eyes as she heard the result. He had never seen her this way before.Vinod had topped the school and was on the university merit list!!!
Congratulations flowed. Relatives who had mocked her for making her son study further and not sending him to work, now applauded her for her bold and wise decision!. Amma was amused at the end of it all. Vinod was jubiliant as it was a defining moment of his life.“Amma, I will become an engineer and all our financial troubles will vanish. You need not work when I take up my job. God is great. I had always dreamt of this day…” He just went on and on and Amma embraced him affectionately!!!”
Katik’s results were not that great but were decent though. Vinod got admission to the best college in the town. Kartik’s marks ensured that he just about got into a decent one. “I will miss you Kartik, you are and will always remain my best friend”.“Its ok Vinod, remember we still stay in the same building and our stream is also the same. So we will be in touch yaar,no probs”, Kartik consoled him thus in a lively way.
Four years went by. Vinod emerged as a very brilliant student. He topped all semesters and got placed with a leading German firm.As they used to study together, even Kartik was able to secure good marks which gave him a good placement with an Indian company.Life all but settled Vinod’s eyes were moist as he was about to bade farewell at the airport. “Be bold son, this is what you had dreamt about and having achieved it now, make sure that you maximize this opportunity. Your amma is here only am i am sure that Kartik will take good care of me. Next year when you come,you will be happy for having taken up this opportunity.”
All the communication that took place after that between them was mostly over the phone.As Kartik had an internet connection at his house,sometimes Vinod used to chat through the webcam, much to Amma’s amusement.“How fast has the world progressed, in those days you could not even talk to people who are far away, now you can even see them”! she often used to say.
“Amma there is a chance of my contract getting extended for another six months. But it's totally at my option. Pleased with my performance the management has given me this opportunity.I am confused Amma; its been one year...i want to see you”.Vinod said the other night. “ Listen vinod, show some maturity. Its a matter of another six months right… Haven’t I waited for you for one year..even this too shall pass..Go ahead son.and do well. After you finish you could be home this Diwali,It shall be wonderfull!”“Yes amma ….i will do exactly that and come home for diwali.”..Vinod replied .
It was Diwali.The bursting sound of crackers woke up Kartik and yes how could he forget his best friend was coming home!!!. He had to be there at the airport in two hours.
He dressed up fast and before leaving just switched on the TV. There was this breaking news…
“Flight from Germany to Mumbai crashes into the Arabian sea…no survivors so far”. Kartik felt a lump in his throat as he saw it. He immediately left for the airport. The airport was a complete mess. It was a flood of people making enquiries about the incident. The scene was chaotic and saddening as many families were mourning and lamenting the death of their near and dear ones. Kartik first checked the list of passengers hoping against hope that Vinod should not have boarded it. But destiny had already executed its cruel plan. His name was there…
He then went to the site where operations were being carried out to fish out the bodies and remains of the aircraft. No luck so far.As he walked back home with a heavy heart, there she was sitting silent and shocked by his mothers side. The news had obviously reached her too. Kartik’s mother was trying to make her talk, but she was possibly too struck by this tragedy that nothing made her move. The phone rang...the divers had fished out Vinod’s body.
After the mundane formalities, they got the body home. Once glance at the body and she erupted….tears flowed ,she became uncontrollable with grief and nobody could console her. Kartik had never seen her so emotional before. Not even her husbands death had moved her so much. But then today was the day when all was but gone for her!!!
Years passed. Amma had moved on.. The last years of her were spent in an ashram serving the poor and needy. Kartik was married and even had two kids.He often used to visit the ashram with his family. Even his kids called her Amma and loved her company. She used to shower the same love and affection on them as she had showered on Kartik and yes, Vinod!. The smile, the laughter everything seemed intact.
Today morning there was this sudden call from the ashram, which had made Kartik rush to the spot. “Extremely sorry Mr.Kartik,…it was Mr Moorthy the ashram manager. "She was perfectly alright till yesterday...was possibly the last one to go to bed after doing all her supervisory activities, never complained of any sickness or pain! It was only when the ashram maid went to wake her up this morning that we realised, we had lost her...” Even the doctor has confirmed it. Seems like she died in her sleep.”
…Or maybe death was too scared to approach her while she was awake!!!...Kartik thought. As Kartik stood there speechless he still found her smile intact, the way it had always been.
It appeared as if she was saying to the world," you know why i can smile at life... because i have known sadness!"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Date

The evening clock struck 5:30 .Ved watched the waves rise and die as he waited for his date at the beach.Her name was Zui and they were online pals.This was supposed to be their first meeting after knowing each other for the past two months.Ved still remembered their last conversation,"For all reasons you could be a girl,i have shared nearly my whole life with you,spoken to you about everything and yet i don't know even how you look!..Listen Ved if you don't want to meet me then that's it.... i won't talk to you!", she said unleasing the ultimate emotional atchyachar dialogue!.Ved was  more amused than shocked. A girl!! how on earth could she think of him like that. His orkut profile,testimonials from friends,qualifications...someone can't just fake them all .Yet this gal said it! Strange she is he thought,just as her name.But then she was definitely not worth loosing.
It had been two months now.An occasional surfing of profiles was what made Ved visit Zui's profile.Detailed was what first came into Ved's mind as he read it.Yes he actually did read it. Strange since most guys hardly bother!.There was her pic too,her head slanted slightly sideways with a childlike smile-happy and beautiful.Ved left her a scrap complimenting her on the above, not because he had to, but because he felt she deserved it!.Two days passed by and Ved had all forgotten about this when he saw a reply,"Yours is the most beautiful compliment i have ever received and i am going to treasure it for life!".Ved was delighted when he read this .He was more happy because she didn't rank him alongside some romeo who is out to get a few gals.She probably sensed that the compliment was genuine and straight from the heart and this was what made Ved happy.
The conversations began after that. First occasionally, then regularly. Right from the start, Zui was very honest with Ved about all that had happenend with her.Her failed relationships,family problems,confusing career decisions all expressed with truthfullness and trust.Ved was surprised at first about how someone could trust him soo blindly without even meeting or knowing him fully.Yet he was determined to not break it.Thats the least he could do for Zui, who by now had become a close friend and yes they had still not met. The trails,the personal failures behind that smiling face hit him and he tried to sooth her with whatever advice he could give.Many a time he could sense her troubled feelings and he just wished he could be there at that moment, to comfort and make her feel better.
Ved's life was nothing as dramatic as Zui's, atleast on love and relationships.He had his own set of failures which he had overcome and proven a point or two to his critics.He told Zui too about his life.
Compatibility was perhaps the biggest point in their realationship or was it affection/friendship/trust or a mix of it all...Ved had stopped thinking He thought what matters in life is not quantity but quality and if in two months they had grown close to literally being best friends then it's not to be complained but enjoyed!!
The phone rang..."Ved,i am stuck in a traffic jam..should be there in 5 mins...am wearing a black t-shirt ...what about you???"..Ved smiled to himself and replied,"Black!!!!"....."What!!!!!..khi khi khi!!..came her laughter loud and clear...am coming!!!". Sunset was nearing,the beach was crowded, the children were in full swing and so were a few couples!!.
Hi!!!!!!! Ved.....There she was...black t-shirt,brown cargos,small frame and a big and confused ego!!.Beautiful he thought as he saw her face.He still had no idea what she thought about him.
"Lets talk a walk"..Ved said..."No yaar its tooo crowded...can't we go somewhere else??".Well Ved had actually called her to the beach since he thought no girl would be comfortable meeting in a less crowded place for the first time! But then girls are like that he thought-Unpredictable and the beautiful specimen standing in front of him was possibly the mother of them all!."Lets just take a stroll,if you are still not comfortable we will go elsewhere,is that fine?" Ved asked. Ok,came the reply and then started what was a wonderful experience.They talked about everything..She certainly did!. Even repeating some which she had already said.Sitting on the setting sands with the chill breeze blowing , here they were talking to each other,possibly coming to face with realities about each other and yes giving a final touch to that imaginative figure of a true friend. It was simply wonderful.
Before taking leave of each other there were no kisses,no hugs,just a warm handshake probably highlighting the sweet relation that they shared.As Ved lead her across the road,holding her hand to the rickshaw,he sensed that he had after all probably got a nice friend,someone who was so compatible with him that it made him wonder ,was it just two months!
He thought,certain relations in life are unexplained and best left unprobed.Instead of thinking about what is happening one should probably look forward to maintain it and enjoy the mutual admiration,feeling,trust,affection,love whatever exists.Because it's very rare in life that you meet people who understand you and make you feel special and Zui was exactly that.As she left in the auto,Ved had no clue about how the relation was really going to shape up,what had she thought about him,whether he was what she had expected him to be.Nevertheless as he looked up into the sky full of twinkling stars he sensed someone up there wanted them to meet and he was thankful and happy about the whole experience.
Whether they will meet again...only time will tell!