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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tales of Moni - Chapter I

A night spent in jail can teach you a lot, put in perspective a lot of things you take for granted, and can make you be a lot more thankful for the smallest of blessings life has to offer in abundance each passing day. It can make a monk out of you just as easily as it can make a warrior out of you - the greasy plates that stay greasy no matter how much you scrub them without any soap or Scotch Brite, the mess of thalis from which you have to pick up your greasy piece of stainless steel without knowing who has used it before you, or what his medical history or even his current medical condition is, the dal that looks like it was cooked in grease, the rotis with an elasticity that test your deltoids, the bedbug-ridden blankets laid on next to another, slept on by numerous unwashed people before you, the hard, matressless floor beneath these dusty blankets, the thought of sleeping in a room where the average inhabitant has been to jail more times that you visited the college library, the dreadful stories you hear in the 'gossip' going around the room or the guy who's been there most often telling you ways to stab a person without getting more than 6 months of imprisonment, with his favourite takiyakalam being "g**nd kabhi mari hai? subah dholo phir hari bhari hai!" - yes, it can definitely at least begin to make a warrior out of you.

This brings us to the story of our hero, a warrior by birth - an Ahom Kshatriya. Kshatriyas are the warrior clan according to the Hindu Social Order prescribed by the Vedas and the Laws of Manu. These were the fighters of the community and were in charge of protecting the people of a society during war, or guarding the city during peace. They were thus supposed to be extremely brave people with a penchant for adventure. Our hero could easily fit into this description, although we will strip him of his warrior outfit and adorn him with a pair of jeans and a Tshirt, and a pair of floaters. His noble steed would be replaced by a Royal Enfield and the warrior-like physique could be replaced by a pot-belly and a roly-poly appearance, and when he laughed, his whole body would tremor - not like the ground did when a herd of elephants rampaged around the tea gardens of Assam, but more like jelly. We will discover more about our Ahom hero as our story progresses. Ahoms are the descendants of the ethnic Tai people who descended into the Brahmaputra Valley in AD 1228. The kingdom established by the Ahoms gave the Indian state of Assam its name. Our hero was thus one of them, born there and brought up in tea gardens across Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and travelled widely across North-East India, with a knowledge of the region unparalleled amongst the people I've met. He had a passion for History and Geography, but like most confused Indian youth, he went on to major in something he had no affinity towards. We shall enquire into this a little later, but first, as all heroes must, ours too must have a name, so we shall give him one.

He was called Moni Barooah. "Moni means Pearl, and Barooah means a leader of 3000 men!", he would guffaw after a few bottles of beer, half choking and half squealing with a peculiar laugh that I haven't witnessed on any other person thus far. I first met Moni at my workplace, where he had applied to be a voice and accent trainer. This was when I used to work for IBM Daksh, a global BPO corporation. We used to train graduates with or without experience on neutralising their regional accent to be able to communicate with people across the world, and on basic customer service etiquette. There was a team of trainers that did this, and whenever a new trainer joined, they had to undergo a train the trainer (TTT) programme to learn the nuances of the job. So in walked Moni in one such batch (which I was conducting), an hour or so after the batch had begun, with a moustache and a balding head and a goofy smile, the warrior's muscles molten into pork-like fat owing to years of inaction and several tonnes of beer that had percolated into his bones. As he walked in and introduced himself, at first he appeared to be an extremely shy character with not much to say. We could hardly hear the words that were coming out of his mouth in his low pitched, muffled voice, but even then I knew from the spark in his eyes that he had lived many stories to tell. It took him a few days to open up, but once he did, there was no stopping him. He was all over the place, making people laugh till they cried, performing crazy antics in the activity sessions during the batch, and being grossly underprepared for each of his teachback sessions. He said he had nightmares about a personified Grammar coming over to him and examining him at gunpoint while he was asleep, asking him all sorts of questions.

"Aapne kabhi jail nahin dekha? Chalo ek baar zaroor dekhna. Wahan ki social life bhi badi alag hi hoti hai" were the words of a police constable ringing in my ear as we drove into the jail campus just outside Gurgaon. I had thrashed around all day like a Sitol caught in a net, trying to escape this episode, but eventually succumbed to the fate much like a panic-stricken deer that has been pierced in the foot by the hunter's arrow, or a victim of sodomy who has just realised the futility of resistance, closing their eyes to painfully await the end of the trauma. There I was standing in front of the Bhondsi Jail, about to spend the next 24 hours in there. I can't begin to talk about all the chemical imbalances my body was going through right then, and I'd rather not.

Several months had passed since the batch had graduated, and each of them had progressed to their respective processes, providing VASS (Voice, Accent and Soft Skills) support to the tele-agents on the floor, and I had moved on to training several more batches. Nearly a year later, we were out drinking on a Friday night - a few trainers and I, outside 444, one of our office buildings. After a few drinks, I called up Moni and he said that he would be free only at 3 AM. It had been a long time since we had met, and I was happy to be able to meet him that night. Little did I know of the adventures that would follow! We went and picked him up along with some more beer and came back to an isolated street near 444 and continued drinking. I was carrying my guitar that night for some reason, and hence we started singing, till 5 or 6 in the morning, stopping only to order paranthas from the redi next to the office. We were five of us - Akhil, Ranbir, Moni and I were trainers, and we were joined by a north eastern guy called Patrick from 444 as well. While Akhil left early, the rest of us continued for a while and then decided to leave. However, just as we were about to leave, I realised that I couldn't find my bike keys, and after some searching and some more contemplation, figured out that they must be in Akhil's car. We tried calling him, but he wouldn't answer. So Ranbir offered to take us to Akhil's house in his Maruti Alto with a Sylvester Stallone quote on his rear windscreen. All of us hopped in and after 20 minutes of what seemed like a roller-coaster ride, the four of us reached what Ranbir claimed was Akhil's apartment. Only, it turned out it wasn't.

An account of what followed must be preceeded by a brief description of Ranbir Chawla. Ranbir was a married man with a wife and a kid, very unhappy in his marrriage, had had an affair or two at work and been busted by his wife as well. He was a rugged guy with a stubbled face and a powerful voice which could sound like Amitabh Bachchan when he spoke in Hindi, or Sylvester Stallone when he spoke in English. His diction was very filmy, very angry-young-man-like, and when he was drunk, he could become quite a force to reckon with, as we found out that day. What started as an altercation with the guard of that locality escalated into an argument with a policeman the guard managed to summon, followed by four policeman, till finally a patrol van arrived and took Ranbir to the Sector 56 police station nearby. The other three of us did not know what to do, but we were sure that with his "Tum saalon ki aukaad hi kya hai, do kaudi ke vardi waale!" and "This is the khakhi shit that flows down the veins of our country!" and many other dialogues in both Hindi and English, he wasn't going to be treated too kindly at the police station. So we followed Ranbir into the station to try and reason with the police. Let me take a moment out here to tell everyone who's reading this. Please do not ever attempt this. Reasoning with cops, especially when you're drunk and your friend is behaving like the crassest ass-hole in town, and particularly if you have long hair, is not a good idea, as we soon found out.

I had to spend a night in the Bhondsi jail with Ranbir before some friends and his family came to bail us out. What happened with us is an entirely different story altogether, but the important point here is that only two of us went to jail that day - Ranbir, for being a total jerk, and I, as I later found out, for having long hair and a poney tail. The cops actually thought that Ranbir was on drugs and that I was the supplier who dealt those drugs to him. So much for perception management. Coming back to the story though, Patrick was probably the smartest of us, for he took one peek into the police station, and this roly poly Mizo guy from our office, who was grossly overweight at that time, ran with my laptop bag and my guitar on his back all the way to 444, which was at least 11 kms away from there. How he managed to do that is still something that cracks us up when we remember this episode. Moni, however, was inside the police station with me, and while I was being a stubborn principled prick about how the policemen should behave, and being slapped around for questioning their behaviour, Moni quietly sat down and waited for the situation to calm down. He offered some Khaini to one of the cops, and started speaking about the hometown, and how the Haryana Police was much better than the UP police or even the police back home. "Aap toh mere pita samaan hain sir. Aap maarenge toh bhi mein khushi se khaa lunga" is one of the lines I remember. It turned out that he sweet-talked his way out of the police station, and the cops even bought him breakfast and a cup of tea! All this while Ranbir and I spent the next four hours discovering the procedure to be sent to jail. That was also the day I was educated about the difference between a lock-up and a jail. Well, we got out the next day, after having experienced a night in  jail, which I'd actually wanted to for quite a while, though not for something as stupid as having long hair!

We met a lot of interesting characters in there - mostly petty criminals who were regulars, a couple of prisoners serving life sentences who were given the responsibility of prison wardens, an African guy who was arrested for buying and selling someone else's debit card, etc. We threw around the names of a couple of magistrates in the Supreme court that we knew of, and so we got special treatment in there. The life-sentenced warden was nice to us and didn't let us sleep with the regular criminals, but had a couple of mattresses laid out for us in his room. The funniest bit was that there was an India-Pakistan match on that day, which we watched in the tele in his room, while our cricket-crazy friends were looking for us, trying to trace us, hearing stories of Ranbir's dramatics at the police station, the medical check up centre (where Ranbir refused to have his blood checked till four cops pinned him down and injected a tranquiliser on his butt), and the district court (where Ranbir yelled out at the top of his voice that the judge was a 'sore loser'). One of my friends even got into trouble at work for not showing up, because he was busy searching for me. These friends had heard of the episode through Patrick, who had been smart enough to inform a few people that I had been arrested. Moni, however, was nowhere to be found for a few days, and it is only a week later that I met him to hear about what had transpired at the police station in our absence, and how he had managed to find his way out, and that too with a complimentary breakfast. (to be continued...)