24 March, 2010

Overheard

( This story posted earlier on 27th Sept 08 got deleted by an error. Just a repost)


Mornings are serene. Almost quiet.
We don’t relax much otherwise but at these times early in the day am always far less stressed . In our business,being the senior most can have its advantages. I was generally treated fondly by the owner. After all he started this business with me. What glorious times were those!!! Reminiscing about the good old days is what keeps me in good humour these days.


The whole day I listen to the radio, whichever station is being played. I listen to the clink of the glasses and the bottles, the crunching sounds of the crates being stacked in readiness for the business. Typically we are open from nine in the mornings till two in the night.

Oh...What kind of business? It’s a Country Liquor Bar, License no… No I cannot tell you that else you will know exactly where it is. Suffice it to know we are near an Industrial area.

Today is payday in the neighboring factories. Pockets are going to be heavy and we will aid them shed some of that weight into our till. In anticipation, more raw stock has been ordered from the suppliers for today and the week ahead. The day began as usual, Namdeo Doke, our early morning regular has with him a new fellow from his machine tool factory, where they both work as skilled lathe operators. Between them they order one bottle of Santraa (An Orange flavored..Cloudy liquor extremely strong and very popular) and a plate of spiced dal. They quickly go about finishing it. After all they have to reach in time for the second shift. The pungent fumes and slurred words begin. I overhear their conversation but no one notices me. The till rings as the first customer pays up. Business has begun.

The door to the entrance is always open but covered with a dark blue curtain so no passerby can casually peep in. The Panwala outside conducts brisk business serving bidi’s and cigarettes to the customers walking in, and scented pan and mava’s to the ones going out. Nothing can quell the stench of the rotten liquor but everyone attempts and commerce prospers.


Whooooooooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnn goes the factory siren, a sound that always reminds me of the flea ridden mangy cur in the neighborhood who wails when he sees the full moon. The siren announces the ending of the first shift. It is now five minutes past four in the afternoon, and the patrons who would rush in now are not the kind to leave in a hurry. Extra plastic chairs are ordered from the shop next door who supplies chairs to functions and marriages. Their only condition to us is always the same, that the chairs be washed and wiped before being returned. Our customers are not the genteel types that the chairs are normally used to.


Mhaadu dada is the first to walk in with his three cronies. Mahadeo, the name he is born with is long forgotten. The day he bashed the head of a union leader in-charge of the line of factories in this area, the title dada ( elder brother ) got added to plain Mhaadu. This was for teasing Rakhmi whom Mhaadu was soft on. He took charge of both, the line of factories and the curves on Rakhmi. He is a very quiet man, broad shouldered and clever. He keeps his eyes and ears open and is prepared for danger, after all running a union of workers is neither easy nor a healthy occupation unless one is watchful. He comes in only once a month on payday to collect the union contributions from existing members and to enlist new members.


Today the word has gone out that the union contributions are upped by Rs.10/-, after all hadn’t the Union negotiated a pay-hike of Rs.100/- for the ordinary worker? Most workers will happily pay the extra charge but there always is that one ungrateful soul who would accept the manna but not want to settle the due. Mhaadu and his three friends would firmly talk to such souls and their presence would ensure that dissent doesn’t achieve rebellious proportions. I knew about this action for a month now as Mhaadu had quietly mentioned this course to the same three men here and I had overheard.


One is privy to a lot of secrets by simply being in a bar. Our guests after all need a reason to be here. I shall tell you the trend as have seen it happening time and again. It begins with a celebration by a group, where a few first timers join a few veterans at the table. The old timers place the order and the rookies look about wide eyed, soaking in the inside sights of the bar. Till this moment their daring has led them to only the fluttering blue curtain on the door. The curtain has been swept aside and a threshold is crossed. Rookies make faces at the first sip, the veteran’s laugh and soon challenges to manhood are issued. These challenges have only one measure, glasses or bottles. Soon the frequency increases and it graduates from a want to a need. Another type is the one, who sought the support of the bottle, when the first crisis hit them. Had they faced it squarely and moved on, I would never have come across them. Now they are here and totally bottled in, both by circumstance and habit.


I know each of our regulars very well. I never talk hence they like to sit in my corner and rant. Patiently I listen to them talk, mumble, exclaim and sometimes even see them cry. I have no choice. I know Namdeo Doke has three ugly daughters with no hope for marriage unless he pays a huge dowry. He drinks to avoid the issue and he has a unique style of searching a groom. He periodically brings in a new young man, like the one he brought in today morning, into the bar and coaxes him for a drink. Then he would tell him about his terrific daughters. The routine never varies. Till today morning he was pitching for all his daughters tells me that nothing has materialized from his efforts. It is obvious that his daughters and wife are not too thrilled with his idea of prospecting for a son-in-law in a country liquor bar. Namdeo continues, he is the father after all, I observe and the till keeps ringing.

Balram is the havaldar at the police station in the next precinct. He comes here for his late evening nautaak. Balya favor’s my corner always. From the window he gets a view of the lamp-post outside the bar and Nimmo. Nimmo is the young prostitute, who stands there and solicits business. He is in love with her but afraid to tell her and seeks the courage of the spirit, we serve bottled. She likes him too and teases him by asking, when will he stop the daily lease and negotiate a total purchase of her. Not that Balya pays ever, either at the bar or with her. Despite all he is a likeable soul who often steers legal and regulatory trouble away from our bar, hence he is welcome, always. This is one unlikely love story and unless both flee, reality - would constrain them around the lamp-post. Balya has plans to run away and would practice his dialogues in his glass, on how he would convince Nimmo to join him; I just listen and hope it works out for him.



Bheema is very unlike his namesake from Mahabharata. He is a frail wisp of a man, married to the sensuous Rakhmi, with whom Mhaadu dada is having a rip roaring tryst. Bheema’s frustration at being cuckolded and it being thrown in his face has made him hit the bottle to contain his rage big time. He especially hates the moments when he runs into Mhaadu at the bar on pay day. I used to overhear Bheema mumble into his glass on what would he do to Mhaadu as clearly as if he is speaking to me. Bheema conveniently forgets that his ill-treatment of Rakhmi is what has thrown her into Mhaadu’s arms. I knew this when Bheema’s neighbor Ganpya and Raghu had once sat and discussed this. Ganpya said that Bheema spends all his salary on drink (not far from the truth), Bheema hits her, time and again when she would ask for household spending money. She was drawn to Mhaadu not just for his good looks but also the respectful manner in which he treated her. This situation did not benefit anyone and is swiftly slipping in the mire. Rakhmi and Mhaadu are now besotted with each other and Bheema plans revenge, twisted with public humiliation. I see it all happening in front of me without uttering a word.


It is around 7.30 in the evening now and the atmosphere in the bar is warming up.
The 21 inch TV on the shelf above the bar sees Lara Dutta and her gyrating butt. It is swinging to a popular song from Khakee, a movie. Personally, as much as bar songs go I always feel that Helen doing her “Mungda Number” is a classic (but that makes me old fashioned). Helen was one lady who could dance and whip up frenzy without being vulgar at all. Lara is not much of a dancer but her butt does have class and it’s in your face movement make even quite a few of the regulars lose their focus. Some of them splutter as they have tipped the glass up their noses ogling Lara who works her magic as she screams "Kaisa Jaadu Zaala Reyyy".


All is well and joyous as bars can be till I see the four enter. They quietly walk towards my corner. Pull up the chairs near me and sit. They are not our regulars and seem too sober and deep.They order two bottles of Narangi and boiled eggs. The spicy dal is also ordered. We serve the dal in plastic packets that is accompanied by the chopped onions, chilies and one slice of lemon. The packet is roughly broken open and the contents poured in the plate that has onions in it. The lime is squeezed on it and the same tossed about with an aluminum spoon. The spoon is the latest addition and was our upgrade. No bar in the area yet provides spoons. It is a simple yet important improvement. Our clients do wipe their eyes which would water with the strong liquor and smoke around. Now if they have eaten dal with their fingers with the chilli powders sticking to it imagine the drama. They would scream paaaaani..or water and rush to the metal wash basin, splash water on their faces and make such a mess. All of this is now avoided with our one aluminum spoon per plate.

It’s my age; I am rambling away from what I overheard then. Initially the conversation starts with praise to the lord for the drink and food. Rather incongruous, I think, but have heard stranger things here. All are hungry and concentrate on their food. Two plates of boiled eggs are finished in no time and two plates of bhurjee (An Indian version of scrambled eggs ) ordered before they are through with their first glass of drink.
They talk like friends who have not seen each other for a long time or old colleagues assembled together. The comfort in their tones with each other is evident in their conversation. They don’t address each other by names so it is confusing. I simply give names to their voices, Gruff, Tinny, Baritone and Rasp. Now u would wonder how I would know baritone in a country liquor bar, but the bar does have a TV and once Robert uncle a church organ player who after his wife died became our regular, stopped while surfing and there was a man baying on the screen. He was fat and had a beard and Robert uncle said he is a baritone called Pau or roti or something. That’s how I know Baritone.


Enough, I stray from the conversation, the four speak very quietly.

Baritone: “It has come in at the safe-house” 
Tinny: “When do we take it to the location?” 
Gruff: “According to the original plan, tomorrow at 10a.m.” 
Tinny: “How big is it?” 
Rasp: “About the size of a cigarette carton” 
Tinny: “Will it finish the job, seems so small” 
Rasp; who talked like the technical end in the quartet : “It will, Both the target and some bonus buildings too.”

I start wondering what buildings?? Are these men builders? No one from that occupation has ever frequented our bar.Then Tinny asked the question that sent a chill down my grain.


Tinny: “How many casualties expected if it detonates at 10.30, its peak hour in the embassy building no?”

Holy cow, these guys are going to blow up an embassy building. Now I was really scared. I was as usual taken for granted and the conversation flowed. So did the drink.


Rasp: “About 250 at least not counting property damage and the injured” 
Baritone: “This would be our statement. No demands. First the action and second the claim. Then the authorities of this country would take our demands seriously.” 
Gruff: “Yes, then shall flow in the money and the members. Our organization shall be the most respected group in this side of the world.” 
Tinny: “Who would think that the four of us here are starting a revolution?”


Involuntarily he twitched his leg against me and I shuddered and the plates rattled. He groggily stared at me and steadied me. These guys were terrorists. I had seen a lot of people and slotted them as petty thieves, drunkards, strong arm robbers, gangsters, union leaders etc. Terrorists were a first even for me. This brand of evil had me scared, angry and disgusted all at once.

My only urgency was, who do I tell this explosive piece of news that I just overheard. And then again who would listen and believe it if they hear it from me? Balya is a cop and would know what to do. He is sitting watching Nimmo while there is evil planned here, right next to him. Even if Mhaadu is alerted then he with his three associates can capture these people and a lot many lives can be saved tomorrow.


But I know I won’t tell anyone. I am not a coward but like a lot of conversations overheard this too shall not be told. I only wished that apart from having four sturdy legs and a strong browned mahogany body, bar tables could talk.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post, really interesting - www.burgessfurniture.com

bhagyareema said...

The ending reminded me of school days when we had to write autobiographies-autobiography of a book, autobiography of a dog etc. ;)
Good narrative, could not guess at all theat the narrator was a table

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Thanks...

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Yeah Bhagyashree it was exactly that...an autobiography...only the narrator and his context had grown up ;-)

dotcomgirl said...

I remember reading this one earlier. When I read it the first time, I couldnt make out who was narrating... but now I remembered. Good one! Especially the names of the characters :)

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

;-) Thanks DCG

Meghna said...

this one is awesome kau-kau :)

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

Oh Thank you Meghna...glad you liked it...one of my very early stories