"Yeah, the project is in Pune!".
"4 weeks, max 5 weeks!".
Couple of the lines that the voice at the other end of the phone had uttered. National roaming rates are fairly high. But there was music in that voice - music that told me that I would be onto a project pretty soon.
I packed. I packed like I was heading out to camp in the Redwood trees in California. Two bags, one looking like something really bad had been done to it in prison. A laptop shoulder bag and the laptop standard bag itself. The former to take me on short trips to Bombay - the presumption being that I would be able to make it to Bombay every single weekend.
Bigger incentives had been mentioned - stay @ Ginger, the economic traveller's hotel from the Tatas. I checked out images and videos of it on the net. They had a gymnasium. THEY HAD A GYMNASIUM. Memories of those images ran across my eyes while taking a bath a few minutes later. Glee escaped the mind and a smirk landed on the face. I would lose weight I knew. I would work hard at the project and work-out harder once back to the hotel. It had all been well-planned. The plan looked snug and a silent prayer joined the steam, reaching out ot open skies through the window of the bathroom. Not the nicest place to let prayers out I understand, but heck , I haven't really been the most religous of folks. Not for someone who has let out sighs in churches and smoke rings in Udupi restaurants (I'm not a smoker, mind it! :) ).
The next few days, strangers let out condescending glances at my sight and friends noticed that I walked like I had a six-pack cleanly tucked in under the shirt. I told them that it was a sign of things to come.
Four days and two more visits to Java city later, it was a smooth, though a 45-minute delayed landing at Pune. "Pimpri" I said to the cab-driver and was looking forward to the one major(?) city I hadn't yet set foot in. Friends had told me that it was a smaller version of Bangalore, that the pubs are great here and the place has weather to die for (the last was right, the weather here sure can kill and my clothes stick to me). Small or not, I was sure the people were of the same size as the average Bangalorean (count me out - of late there have been these frequent visits to Pecos that threaten to skew the average).
Mr. Cabbie ("Gore" as called by the guy guiding customers to the cabs), drove. He drove at a pace that would make cyclists yawn. And I'm not even referring to the new range of geared mountain cycles that come by of late!
The woes began thus!
In fluent Hindi - my command over the language is so bad, that it sounded like Marathi for a moment, which is good :) - I asked him how far was Pimpri from the airport. 20 km said the voice without its owner having to turn around. The heart sunk. "Aur Pune city?" I asked. There was a nice poha of hope, anxiety and aloo sev thrown into the question. 20 km said the voice again. Reiterating the question, led to reiteration of the answer. "Aur city se Pimpri tak?!!". This was to be the decisive question. It wasn't a voice this time. It was more inhuman and emotionless. "20 km". An equilateral love triangle. The head went in circles to compliment geometry. The stomach threatened to digest the kidneys and the red blood cells were threatening to go back to the airport and join the strike they were predicting. Clarivoyant, these RBCs I say! But just when one thinks its pit-bottom, there comes this stone which would add injury to injury. The insult was still due. We shall get back to it.
It was the consultant who had booked me @ Ginger and the call was to tell me that the provisional booking didn't go through. Polite was the voice that requested me to report straight to office and squinted were the eyes of the listener. "L..La...Lunch available there right?" I asked with innocence. Funny thing about low-cost airlines - just because they charge such inflated prices for the servings inside, one feels hungrier. I had resisted those pangs, because lunch@Ginger felt like a much better idea, one that wasn't of the same social-good as Columbus' cruising the seas, but important to me none the less. "I'm sorry, but lunch would be over by the time you reach" came the reply. Had I seen the face of the speaker I am sure that helplessness would have been spelt in hieroglyphics and Pali on either sides of the face.
"Gore saab, kahi hotel hai jahan khaana milegi?". With complexion closer to mine, I wondered if his folks were being fair in calling him that. Between milega and milegi, its my belief that milegi serves the purpose better when the subject is food. Don't ask me why! I'm someone who takes calls a lot on gut feelings. Food - gut - food, you get the drift! Gore saab assured me of a royal treat on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. And 20 minutes later, promptly stopped at a wayside dhaba, that seemed to have closer resemblances to a saloon than a place for the stomach. I ordered a couple of vada-pavs, for lack of options. In return I let out a couple of burps and ten bucks. Reaching the client's site, a factory at Pimpri, left me with feelings of clear exhaustion. And herein comes the injury that I have mentioned earlier. I couldn't have got off without it, after all these days, one expects and demands end-to-end solutions. The injury had to be meted out, else it would be unprofessional and incomplete an experience - something I striclty look down upon.
Security wouldn't let me in and requested that I stay at the entrance for a beautiful 30 minutes. It being 2: 30 pm ('late noon' to qualify the same), the sun was up to his antics. He shone, he lit up and if I wasn't mistaken, there were a couple of neatly aimed sun-burns that I might have just escaped. 2 days (or 30 minutes, depending on perspective) I was a free man and could find my place under the fan ("a place under the sun"? pah!).
At Hotel Kala Sagar, the shower won't work after the morning goes by, and the food won't come, until the night is well tucked-in. And sometimes, visions of a Gingery gym dance past me during the morning bath. In such times, a glee still escapes my mind, a smirk still lands on my face and a prayer still escapes along with steam, through the meshed windows. And as the water falls on the face in uncertain sequences, I set my mind back to reality, minutes later heading out to hail an autorickshaw. Security doesn't stop me anymore. A silver lining did you say? Fuck you! ;)