Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Everybody’s Prize

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on October 20, 2009

The three friends sat in the brightly lit, shabbily kept room waiting in anticipation. Bhatia, bespectacled and the leanest of the three was clearly on tenterhooks. He gave away his nervousness by fidgeting with his non existing moustache. Jay and GK were expectant but feigned indifference by blowing thick smoke rings into the air, alternating drags from the cigarette they were sharing. They knew that the days of their poverty as represented by the need to share cigarettes are coming to an end. More accurately, they knew that their days of relative prosperity are about begin what with the final placements in the best of the companies of India. Presently, they were following the flight and eventual disintegration of the smoke rings into the air. Actually, Jay and GK were locked in a battle to determine who the better smoke ring blower was. The contented smile on Jay’s face indicated the winning edge he had

All three became alert at the sound of the door opening. As expected Shriks and Vishy walked in. For a change they were neatly dressed, perspiring slightly from the early summer temperatures of Delhi and all smiles. Both of them had a tired look on their faces

” Ah! here come the heroes, the cannon balls. So what is it like? ” Bhatia rushed to Shriks and Vishy beaming and all smiles. Double teeth on both sides of his upper jaw destroyed his otherwise cute smile. Actually it added a touch of grotesqueness to his face
” What do you mean what is it like? ” counter questioned Shriks with a mild irritation in his tone
” We mean the bloody prize… what is it like? ” replied Bhatia ignoring the irritation in Shriks tone
” Guess it no.. what do you think it is like? ” Shriks asked back
” Cash vouchers… books…. certificates….it can be anything… how the hell does one guess?    ” replied Bhatia
” It is so very clear why you’ve got knocked out in the first round. Plain inability to guess. Good quizzing is not just about knowledge and recall, it is also about just in time guessing. Delivering goods on demand Bhatia ” Jay’s cool and relaxed voice cut in from the far off corner where he was seated
” Ah c’mon…… out with it Shriks…. don’t act pricey… bugger ” Bhatia pleaded with Shriks completely ignoring Jay
Shriks pulled out two thick envelopes from his bag and handed them over to GK walking across the room where GK and Jay were sitting
GK opened them carefully, blinked for a minute and then said: ” Guys this is good stuff… you have hit it… 3 nights and four days at Maurya Sheraton in Jaipur as prize and that too for four people ! By the way it helps to have brainy guys as roomies ” He paused for a brief while and then said ” So who is dropping out? ”
” The better question is who shall we ask to drop out? ” said Bhatia
Vishy who remained silent for a while declared ” I don’t want to go. I am OK to drop out. I am going home anyway. My tickets are booked for the evening.  It has been nearly 18 months since I have been home. My parents would have forgotton how I look like. By the way Ravi wants it. He plans to take his wife along ”
” Bugger you have won it and you need to take it. Others will latch on as it works out ” cut in Jay once again and then added with a smile ‘” It is time Bhatia showed some signs of sacrifice essential in a human being ”
” Hello, Hello no chance. Guys don’t screw me like this. By the way this is Delhi friends, the mythical Hastinapura once desired by the illustrious princes of Kauravas and Pandavas. What do they say? when in Rome do as Romans do and when in Delhi let us do as the Pandavas did ”
” What do you mean by that bugger? ” replied GK who was watching the proceedings unfold in front of him
” The prize may have been won by Vishy and Shriks but it belongs to all of us. Remember Pandavas… they shared everything equally… including Draupadi….. And look at the coincidence, we are exactly five. No one can take unilateral decisions ” asserted Bhatia
” It is not coincidence Bhatia. It is design…. sheer design of our temporary student poverty. We could not afford to pay the rent on our own and we five pooled up… what else could that be other than design… yes it is a coincidence that you Kuwaiti had to be part of it….”  butted in Jay without raising his voice
” Ya agree bugger. I am puzzled by the mythological slant of Bhatia. Tell me Bhatia did the schools that you studied in Kuwait also teach Indian mythology? ” GK said getting ready to light another cigarette 
” Guys, that was my naani paining the hell out of me at home in Kuwait and not mythology at Kuwaiti schools. Spare me. Spare the poor Arabs and spare Indian mythology….well…..okaaaaaaaaaaay, lets come to the point. Vishy you simply can’t give this ticket to the black buffalo ” declared Bhatia
” Black buffalo? Who’s that now? ” asked Shriks curiously
” Who else? Ravi. Ravi the black buffalo ” came Bhatia’s reply
” Bugger no buffalos are white unless a special variety is getting produced in Kuwait ” replied Jay nonchalantly
” Guys stop the Kuwait bashing. It is not my fault that I studied there. In some sense it is my motherland. I was made there. Saddam did bash it a lot already. You guys should stop referring to Kuwait like that again ” Bhatia replied in an edgy tone
” You were made in Kuwait ? reflects a lot on the quality control processes at Kuwait, Bhatia. They are producing defective goods ”  Jay laughed
Bhatia was about to respond when there was a loud knock at the door and Ravi entered. He was not far away from Bhatia’s description
”  Guys here comes the recipient-beneficiary, the man on a mission ” Bhatia announced in a dramatic tone
” Hai guys where’s Vishy? ” enquired Ravi
” Ravi… are you blind? Can’t you see Vishy? Is he transparent? He is there but his pass is with me ” replied Bhatia flaunting the envelope which contained the passes
” What pass are you referring to? ” Ravi asked feigning ignorance
” The same prize pass that you intend to take your wife on a second honeymoon trip bugger ” jumped in GK clearing his throat
” Shut up guys… I am going to talk to Vishy and not to all of you. I know it is his. He has already told me all about the pass and what it offers ” replied Ravi
” Think you are going to get the pass by talking to Vishy? You are completely mistaken. He has another semester to live with us. His placement and fat job is all fine, we too have fat jobs now. He can begin to shed the skin of his poverty only after six months and as of now this is a rare prize. The Kohinoor. It is the common property of all of us and I am the self appointed negotiator of this house ” came Bhatia’s longish response
” Guys, guys I need to take her somewhere I have only taken from her and never given to her ” Ravi responded in what appeared a pleading tone. Everybody was silent for a while as if they were waiting for Ravi to complete. Ravi looked at all of them and said ” What fun is it for you bachelors to go to a five star hotel and spend those nights and days? People might think you are gays having a good time ”
” I have to say I like your style Ravi. You want the bloody pass and you call us gays. If I were Bhatia I would have shown you the door by now ” piped in Jay without raising his voice
” C’mon guys she has been funding my education for 2 years and it is time I do something for her ” said Ravi. He started to realise that it would not be easy getting the pass from them
” Certainly you should do something for her.. well hard to believe that you have not been doing anything to her other than making holes to her money bags… flex that little muscle in your skull and go win a prize and take her wherever you want. Why have an easy pick on straight bachelors like us ” Jay replied. The remark around gays seem to have hurt him.
” There is no point talking to you guys.  I better talk to Vishy straight and get his pass and offer him what he wants. We know each from a long time. Moreover he is from my state. What says you Vishy? ” Ravi winked at Vishy

Vishy remained silent for a while and smiled without a response which only egged Ravi further on ” C’mon Vishy you know her and me. Can’t you do this for me? In any case you are going home tonight so what is the point? We will remember you for eternity ” Ravi started to make his case with Vishy who continued be silent and turned to Bhatia for a cue
As if it were permission to proceed, Bhatia said in a loud voice ” Ravi is this the classic divide and rule policy is it? Sowing the dragons or whichever animals teeth you think they are is it? If you think you can get by with your cheap tricks your are mistaken. Let me tell you Vishy will not speak a word on this anymore. I will sort it out for you and all of us ”
Jay, GK and Shriks looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders at the assertion of Bhatia and as if that were right, all remained silent lending support to Bhatia’s assertion
It dawned on Ravi where he stood and what chances he had and quickly changed tacks to say ” C’mon guys please be reasonable. Ok what do you want me to do? ”
” Thats like it …. buy it… buy it from us. We are willing to sell it. Right guys? ” said Bhatia getting into the self appointed negotiator’s role in full spirit
” Guys like you I am broke. You all know my state. I depend on my wife for funding my education. Ya in the next six months I will be rolling in riches like anyone of you and then I will pay what you ask for. For all you know I may be hosting you all at a five star resort with no strings attached. But right now I am broke. So you got to be considerate. Please guys. Let me have the pass ” pleaded Ravi. The traces of bluster were completely gone
” The sindhi trader genes in me are not yet dead. I think a reasonable price for a pass like this is 2000 rupees. Actually it should be around 8000 rupees for 3 nights and 2 days. Ravi we are being very considerate to you. Think it over ” said Bhatia
” How I wish the sindhi trader genes died completely in you Bhatia else who would sell a 8000 ruppes item for 2000… you dumbo ” cut in Jay  
” Bhatia your finance fundas are wrong. It should cost only rupees 7500 and not 8000 at 2500 per night” said Ravi  ” but you see.. I can’t under any circumstances…..” Ravi was about to make a case when Bhatia jumped in again and said
” we know……. we know how much it costs … all the soaps that you are going to exhaust and the towels that you are going to flick will add another 500 quid…that takes the total to 8000 ”
It was evident that Ravi was reaching his tethers end. In a very conclusive tone he addressed the group and said ” Vishy, guys.. looks like I am not going to get this. Well let me make what I think is a fair offer. I will buy you six bottles of beer. In any case Shriks wants to use his pass and GK will tag along and for Vishy’s pass I am willing to give you all six bottles of beer. Shriks and GK can have their trip and the beer. Bhatia and Jay can have the beer. Think it over and let me know. After all we have been friends for so long ”
This was Ravi’s first real dragon teeth. Shriks and GK wanted to have their trip but also wanted to have some cold barley water in the hot Delhi summer. Bhatia and Jay were uncertain and thinking

” Guys, I don’t think it is a bad offer from this miser. I am OK with it ” said GK. Jay and GK nodded their heads in silence. Shriks remained silent. Nobody bothered to ask what Vishy wanted. They all knew it did not matter.
Suppressing a smile on his face Ravi quickly jumped up and told the group  ”  Look I am going to go and get beer from the shop. I will hand over the beer, collect the pass and have to run to the station to pick up my wife. Vishy if you want you can join me in the auto. I can drop you at the station ”
” Oh! I did not know that she was coming in today. Perfect planning Ravi. Let us leave in another 30 minutes. Should suit both of us fine ”

In Ravi’s absence, GK and Jay lighted one more cigarette. Vishy started to check if all the packing for his trip was ready. Bhatia and Shriks started to wrestle with a partially solved cross-word which was a left over from the morning. Ravi was back in 10 minutes with six bottles of beer in a sack. Bhatia walked up to Ravi and picked up the sack looked into it and said  ”  Buggers I can’t believe this… Ravi bought us the cheapest variety of beer that is available in Delhi… Oh! God can’t believe he bought Rosy Pelicans. There is no way we are going to have this. We want beer not hooch. Ravi you should get something better for us ”
Ravi was getting exasparated and replied curtly ” Guys, I said six beers and I got six beers. I never mentioned the brand…I am not a beer drinker and from what I know Rosy Pelican is a good brand… whats wrong with it? ”
” Nothing wrong with any beer in this world…….  but there are better ones and we can have better ones and we deserve better ones….let me tell you..The greatest drink that God created is water and a distaaaaaaaaaaant second is……..” Bhatia paused for the dramatic effect…when Ravi blurted out ” Oil !! you Arab. Give a rope to this Arab and he will ask for champagne cooled in ice.. french one that too. Have you smelled a beer in your life in Kuwait? ”
” Careful Ravi we can still cancel our deal. Sorry but what is this? Why are the beers warm? Beers need to be had cold Ravi. We want chilled beers. We will not take warm beers. We simply can’t ” Bhatia’s voice was rising and if it had not stopped by Jay, it would have probably ended up in an exasparated scream
” My own experience is that people vomit on warm beer Ravi… it ought to be chilled ” came the sagely voice of Jay
” Bhatia, Jay….. guys, trust me I did try for cold beers but the shop keeper had a power cut for the last six hours and he has no chilled beers available  ”
” Then buy some ice dude we will cool it and have it ” came the assertive voice of GK who has been watching the proceedings patiently
” Ice! You want me to buy ice for these beers!! Look look… I have said six beers and I have got them … please give me the pass and let me get lost… please ”
” Okay if you want to get lost then get lost… don’t hang around here for the pass ” replied Bhatia
” Look guys I am a brahmin by caste. Firstly, I am not supposed to be even touching these bottles. I did and now you are asking me to take them back to the shop. I feel like a bloody boot legger ”
” Wow! what is the caste angle in this? Are brahmins allowed to stay in five star hotels and freak out with their spouses Ravi? ” countered GK
Oh! shut up guys… please… please can I have the pass now ” pleaded Ravi and then added ” Look, have a look at my purse, I am left with sixty rupees and I need to hire an auto upto the railway station. Let me have the pass please ” his pleading continued
Vishy stood up and with an air of finality declared ” Guys I need to be going. You will get enough ice for five bucks. Why trouble the guy for ice? Let him go and even I need to go. In any case Ravi is giving me a free lift to the station. I would have spent atleast fifty bucks to the station. I am going to save all that. I will spare the five bucks and you have all the ice you need and some chilled beer  ” He opened his purse and pulled out a five rupee note and extended it to Bhatia.
Bhatia refused the fiver and said in a genuinely affectionate voice ” Poor Vishy, how will you survive in the corporate jungle? I really pity you. Your degree may have given you a job but it will not give you any assurance of keeping up the job. You have a long way to go. We will see you off at the auto. Ravi go, get ready and come back in fifteen minutes. Do introduce us to your wife… no not today… we will be drunk by the time you come back… tomorrow and definitely before you go on your jolly trip ”

One by one they all hugged Vishy at the auto and bid him a fond farewell. Vishy got to the station in time, crept into his berth and in fifteen minutes was fast asleep. The babel of the snack vendors at Jhansi station woke Vishy up. It took a while for him to recollect where he was. The realization that he was on his way home to meet his parents gave him a huge joy and made the heat bearable. That the competition was won, the prizes collected and bartered for six bottles of warm beer did not mean a thing for a teetotaller like him. All he remembered and smiled to himself was the encouraging support GK, Jay and Shriks lent to the lovable clown Bhatia’s loud and self righteous claim that his pass was everybody’s prize. 

A  smile flickered on his face and he went back to sleep once again

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