Saturday, December 22, 2012

Just for an Ipad

Which Shakespearean tragedy is set in Scotland?

My eyes lit up, synapses inside my brain set off like mini-firecrackers.  Finally, a question within my range.

‘I know. Hamlet!’

‘Wrong again. It is Macbeth. You are hopeless!’

She chucked the trivia book in my direction, and collapsed on the chair with a sigh.

‘I cannot depend on you, I have to do this all by myself,’ she proclaimed.

‘Well, let us see you try, genius,’ I opened the book to a random page. ‘Who invented the flush toilet?’

She hesitated, before dropping into a French accent: ‘Toilet? Jean-luc Toilet?’

‘No, but impressed by the way you delivered a totally random guess. The answer: a 16th century guy called John Harrington.’

She threw up her hands in the air. ‘What are we going to do? We have zero chance of winning the contest.’

‘Why are you so obsessed about this quiz?’

‘It is humiliating. Five holiday quizzes and not a single win! We got to end the drought! We must win the grand prize tomorrow. Do you know it is an iPad?’

‘Something we don’t need.  You already have the touchscreen tablet I got for your birthday.’

She held up the Maylong from the table. ‘This? You mean this $79 cutting board? This is not a touchscreen, it is a stabscreen! I need a pedicure everytime I try to use this.’

‘It is a resistive touch screen, that is the future of technology.’

‘Resistive? Yes, it is resistive! And you bought this thing at Walgreens? What kind of a dork buys a computer at a pharmacy?’

Before I could retort, the doorbell rang.

‘If I had bought you an IPad, I wouldn’t have taken you to the Opera. It is either-or.’

‘All we need to do is find out a way to win the grand prize tomorrow.’

‘Keep dreaming. We need an act of God to win this quiz.’ I said, as I opened the front door.

Brandon, my neighbor across the street and the autocratic community President, rocked on the balls of his feet with thumbs hooked in the pockets. I knew he was going to hit me with a charge.

‘Hey, what’s up?’ I quivered.

‘Your trash cans. Still outside in the street at noon. I pulled them into your side gate,’ he drawled. Ok, so I left my trash outside for collection last night.

‘Thanks. I was going to get to them today.’

‘Trash is picked up at dawn. You have to abide by the 3-hour rule - get your ugly bins off the street by morning eight,’ he said. He flipped out his dreaded notebook and scribbled:  

‘I’m noting this down as an advisory, all right. Don’t let this escalate. We don’t want a special board exigency session to address this. ’

‘Ok, officer, is that it?’

‘No, actually not. May I come in? I have a favor to ask.’

He stepped in and my wife greeted him.

‘I changed the locks to my house yesterday,’ he announced.

‘Did you get locked out?’ I asked.

‘No, I just change it every year,  you can never be too sure. Now, I want to leave this spare key with you folks.You can easily tell it is my key because my name is engraved in the keychain, you see that?’

‘You certainly think of everything,’ I said looking at the monstrous keychain with his name engraved in pink lettering. He handed the key to my wife.

 ‘So are you and Elaine going to be here for the holiday party?’ she asked.

‘Of course. After all, I’m the President. And, without me, who’s going to run the quiz?’

‘Are you running the quiz?’

‘You bet. In fact, I just finished making it. You better prepare well, because you know my breadth – I’m going to ask all over the place. American Civil war, Hollywood, Geography, Science … you name it!’

I waved goodbye, shut the door, and turned around to find the spouse in a hypnotic trance.

‘Hey, what’s the matter?’

She smiled beatifically. ‘Who mentioned that we need an act of God to win this quiz?’


‘God is kind. Brandon is the quizmaster.’


‘And the key to his house is in our hands. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’

‘No, but I’m thinking jail.’

She leaped on the sofa chair, and peered through the blinds. ‘We don’t have a moment to lose. Brandon just opened his garage. He is going out somewhere. I know Elaine is not back until tomorrow. This is our chance.’

‘What are you going to do?’

‘Not me. You are going there. Someone reliable has to watch out for his return. You are going to slip into his house, and find the quiz.’

‘Are you crazy? That is a criminal offence called breaking in.’

‘It is not breaking in. You are using his key.’

‘He didn’t give us the key to barge into his house. He gave it to us for safekeeping.’

She suddenly yelled. ‘Brandon is leaving. Go right now. Go! Go! Go!’

I was being propelled into this. No choice.

‘Cell phone –charged and ringer off,’ she threw it across.

‘Cap.’  Installed it on my head.

‘Ok, here is the plan … he is backing out his SUV right now. It will take him twenty minutes even for even the shortest trip to the nearest store. When I signal, you put on your cap, cross the street …’

I strode across with my cap low down on my head.

Pick up the newspaper on the porch, stuff it in your coat pocket.  
With one stoop, I lifted it and crammed it in the pocket.

Unlock, step in, and close the door. 
Whew! The tensest part.

Now, you have exactly four minutes inside the house. 
I triggered the stopwatch on my chronograph.

Head upstairs to his study. Search the desk. You are looking for a file with two or three stapled copies lying neatly away from the rest of the mess.
The study was strewn with papers all over the place. Just as she guessed, there was one blue file on a shelf above the printer. I opened it and found two copies of the quiz. I quickly took pictures of all the pages, and slipped my phone into my pant pocket.

Head back out through the front door …
Wait! I noticed a neat set of yellow files organized by names. The thickest file carried my name. I pulled it out and glanced through it. It is an FBI-style almanac of transgressions:

Feb 17th:  Noisy Music.
April 3rd: Suffocating cooking odors.
July 9th:  Clothes (including underwear) hung out on the fence to dry.
Dec 24th: Trash cans left on the curbside.

So the bugger records all his notes into this file! 

Suddenly, I heard a whirring sound. The garage door! He is BACK. Only two minutes on the stopwatch. Oh my God!

I headed towards the stairs, but the kitchen door squeaked. Darn it! I darted into a bedroom looking for a place to hide. I heard his step on the stair. I crammed into a sliding door closet. Just then, my phone vibrated. I pulled it out of my pocket.

Text: He’s back. Where r u?

I froze. Brandon entered the room. He was breathing heavily and I heard the rustle of clothing. Suddenly, the closet door slid from the other side, and he tossed some clothes into a hamper. It closed again, and he seemed to have gone out to the bathroom because I heard running water.

I called her while trying to squat down, and whispered: ‘Why is he back so soon? You said I had 20 minutes.’

‘Well, he took the car to check his mailbox which is only 100 yards away. Never would have guessed that. Where are you?’

‘I’m in his goddamn closet. Ouch!’

‘What happened?’

‘I just knocked my head on some woman’s shoes.’

‘I always wondered where Elaine gets her shoes. Can you read the labels please?’

‘WHAT! Do you realize that I’m inside his closet? Get me out of here!’

‘All right, calm down! You will be safe. Where is Brandon in relation to your position?’

Just then I heard a humming sound. I peaked out of the closet into the bathroom.  Brandon had one leg up on the counter.

‘Oh no,’ I groaned. ‘Listen, Brandon is right now in my line of sight wearing nothing but a sarong and hairdrying his butt. I can’t take this any more. Extricate me!’

‘Ok, I’m coming.  When you hear met at the door, wait a bit and then get out.’

A few moments later, the doorbell chimed. I heard Brandon dress up quickly and take the stairs.

I sneaked down the stairs. I could see Brandon from the front window, he was outside on my porch helping with the holiday lights. Good, he cannot see me geting out. I opened the door quietly, stepped out and closed the door. She caught my eye and jerked her head in the direction of the road.

‘Oh crap!’ I just remembered something. To her horror, I unlocked the door again and got back in. Taking the stairs two at a time, I found the yellow FBI file still on the desk. What a dead giveaway! I quickly stuffed it back in its place, but not before yanking a good number of pages out.

When I came out again, Brandon was up on the ladder installing a snowflake.

Head straight to the playground, and read the newspaper.

I was still reading it when she finally came around in the car to pick me up.

*  *  *  * 

Name the great mathematician who died in a duel at the age of twenty.

The defending champions were stumped, this was clearly beyond their prowess. Brandon looked to us.

No hesitation: ‘Evariste Galois.’ 

‘Right again. Now, this is the last question to you. Where were the first sho…’

I eagerly interrupted him: ‘The first shots of the Civil war were fired on April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter!’

Brandon looked puzzled. ‘I haven’t even finished the question. But you are right. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a new winner. Team Integrity!’

‘Did you really have to call ourselves Team Integrity?’ I whispered, but she was too busy accepting the IPad3.

Later on in the party, I observed Brandon looking forlorn.

‘What’s the matter?’ I asked him.

‘You know, Elaine said she was at her parents' in the East Bay last Friday.’


‘But, look what I found in her closet on the floor.’

He showed me two Opera tickes: ‘What was she doing at the Opera in San Jose? Who was she with?’


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Intense Love

Of all the remarkable stories that happened in my neighborhood, the case of my friend Sunil Sen’s passionate gift to his wife gets the ultimate honors. It is a tale of drudgery, odds, and intense love. It is also a lesson that taught me to think twice before jumping at a neighbor’s invitation even when he has the best whiskey collection this side of the country.

When Sunil called me with news that his wife zipped off to India for a short break, I should have politely refused. He cannot really be inviting me over for a drink, because I know this snob feels too intellectually superior to hang out with me whom he considers more or less as a blabbermouth. But since I only seem to think in hindsight, I was hammering the ring knocker on his door within five minutes.

He let me in looking slightly annoyed at the noise I was making. He led me straight into his game room, which is one fabulous man cave with a big screen TV and brain wasting games.

‘I need some help.’ he said, not without a little difficulty as the very idea of soliciting help from underlings flies against his natural instinct.

‘Where is the Blue Label?’ I rummaged through the shelves.

‘Please pay attention. Next Monday is my 20th anniversary.’ he said.

‘20th?’ I whistled. ‘You know there are counseling services for child marriage victims.’

‘It is not our wedding anniversary, smarty. It is the anniversary of our first meeting. Twenty years ago, we met on a badminton court. I was 16 and she was just 15.’

‘Very romantic. Now, do you keep the good stuff up here or downstairs?’

He ignored my question: ‘I lost the game, but I went on to win her heart.’

I opened a cabinet with rows of idiosyncratic bottles. ‘What are these?’

‘Please,’ he said, annoyed. ‘That is not your type of Johnnie Walker drink. It is my Franconia wine collection. Trust me, you will not appreciate this. Now, what was I saying? Yes, I need your help on a project.’

‘Can we first have a drink before we get into the details?’

‘No, no alcohol, no games today. I need your full attention here. I’m constructing a gift for my lovely wife.’

I thought he was kidding. We are not drinking, we are not playing games? He was just blowing away a perfect, sunny day.

‘No alcohol? No games?’

‘No. Listen. My wife has just been admitted to Pandit Maharaj’s Kathak school in Berkeley. She got it only because of sheer talent and perseverance. She is in India now to meet the Pandit himself. Now, listen to my idea. I have the perfect gift for this occasion.’

‘What is that?’

‘A dance floor!’

‘A dance floor?’

‘Right here, where I’m standing at this moment! In this game room! See … ’

In the next instant, he suddenly jumped up in the air, frightening me out of my wits. He twirled and skipped like a monkey, I should say, very unbecoming to his gait. It struck me that he was trying to imitate a Kathak dancer in a clumsy effort to drive home a point.

He said: ‘See, see? She can dance right here, rehearse for her stage shows … ’

‘Ah!’ I began to see it: ‘While you sit here, where I’m standing now, and watch with your drink in hand?’ I asked.

‘Yes, that would be where I sit, of course, if I were inclined to watch.’

I was beginning to appreciate the plan.

‘Now, this floor is all carpeted,’ he said. ‘What she needs is a proper dance floor with wood paneling and a wall-sized mirror.’

With some diwans and hookahs for the audience, I thought. Like a scene from the Hindi classic Umrao Jaan.

‘Ok, so just get the dance floor installed. What do you need me for?’ I asked.

‘Installing the floor.’

‘Are you kidding? I cannot even install a door stopper, forget a dance floor. Get some guy from Home Depot.’

‘No, I have to build this with my own hands. I only need your help for manual unskilled labor. ‘

‘But I’m sorry … I don’t really have the time.’

‘Remember, I helped you out in the winter. You owe me this.’

‘C’mon, man! That was just a loose towel bar. You cannot equate that with installing a floor!’

Just at that time, my rummaging hand discovered a locked cabinet. ‘What is inside this?’

‘Whatever is in there,’ he said with an ingratiating smile, ‘you will find very appealing to your taste in liquor.’

I rattled the locked door. Ok, darn it! What do I have to do?


We had only two days to complete the work before his wife returned from India. On the first day, we removed the carpet, scraped the floor clean, and installed the giant wall mirror and lights. Manual unskilled labor was 99% of the job description. I really don’t understand the do-it-yourselfers, how they actually relish this work getting down on all fours, pulling and tugging stuff. If that was not enough suffering for a day, I had to put up with all the details of his love story. Where they first had ice cream, when they first exchanged Valentines, and how much they missed each other when he came to US while she was still working in India.

On the second day, we leveled the floor and Sunil got down to snapping in the interlocking panels. He said it was a task that demanded advanced visual skills and an artistic bent of mind.

‘Perfect alignment is the key here. Not for everyone,’ he declared, as he snapped the first one in place.

Five hours later, when the floor was almost done, I heard him suddenly grunting and swearing with the one last piece in his hands. He was trying to insert it, but it kept popping out.

‘It is supposed to snap,’ he said with a frown. ‘It is supposed to lock in.’ He tried again.

I heard a loud snap this time.

‘There you go, you got it! Yes, we are done!’ I said.

‘That snap,’ he grunted, ‘wasn’t the panel.’ He lay there motionless on all fours.

‘Is something wrong?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid I injured my back.’

He scrambled on his feet but couldn't straighten his back, looking like the number seven.

We rushed him to urgent care where he was seen by the doctor on duty, an easily-amused garrulous man with an eyebrow that seemed permanently up. The doctor gave him a Cortisone shot and laughed heartily.

‘You heard the old joke about how to spot a do-it-yourselfer? The walls in his house are painted in different shades, and he walks around with a limp. Ha ha ha!’

Sunil did not seem particularly amused.

‘You guys should be renamed to mess-it-yourselfers . Well, my dear boy, no more physical activity to strain your back unless you want to walk like an Orangutan.’

‘For how long?’ Sunil asked.

‘For the rest of your life.’


‘Listen, your back will be straight again in a few days and then, maybe, you can play bocce ball. But that is it. Don’t worry, get your physical exercise by a stroll in the park. It is not like your living depends on your athleticism, does it? I hope it is not. You are one of those Indian software engineers, aren’t you? Ha ha ha!’

We drove back in silence. Sunil asked me for one last favor as he stooped into the game room and collapsed in his chair.

‘Can you put the last panel in place?’

I got down and snapped it in. The floor was finished. Sunil switched on the lights with the remote control.

‘Ah, it is beautiful,’ he said, teary-eyed. Then his expression turned into a sickening contortion. He was trying to thank me. Not something that comes naturally to him.

‘I don’t know how to thank you. But I need one more favor … can you pick up Chitra at the airport tomorrow? I can’t really drive in this state. Don’t tell her about my accident, I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Just lead her to the game room.’

When I hesitated, he pointed at the desk.

‘I’m going to leave my key in the cabinet door tomorrow. Drop her off here, and you can pick up all the good stuff.’


I stopped the car in front of the airport where she was waiting. She seemed surprised why her husband couldn’t receive her, but I glibly steered the conversation to her India trip.

Too many mosquitoes,’ was the only opinion she had about India. This couple was made for each other.

When we reached her house, she opened the door and heard Sunil’s voice:

‘Hi sweety, come on upstairs, I’m in the game room.’

I followed her into the game room with the luggage. It was pitch-dark until Sunil turned on the lights with his remote control. The dance floor sparkled and the wall mirror reflected the perfect O-shaped astonishment on her face.

‘Happy Anniversary, Darling,’ said Sunil sitting in the corner.

‘Oh Sunil, you remembered our anniversary. What is all this?’

‘It is a dance floor, my dear. Just for you. Made with the finest floating wood and their patented spring enhancement technology. This is your stage in your own home.’

Chitra started crying. ‘Sunil, it is so beautiful. ‘

‘Don’t cry, I’m so happy you like it.’

‘Sunil, but …’


‘… Oh Sunil! I didn't tell you about the incident in India. The Pandit asked me to twirl and twirl and twirl, and I got motion sickness. I threw up all over his face.’

‘Oh no!’ said Sunil.

‘It wasn't a pretty sight. But, it is all for the best. I don’t think dancing suits me. I spend too much time away from you. Honey, I don’t need a stage, I need a court.’

‘A court? Eh?’

‘I brought you an anniversary gift. You will love it!’

She grabbed the bag in my hands and pulled out a package wrapped in plastics. She handed it to Sunil.

‘What is it?’

'A badminton set, darling! So we can play again like the first time we met.’

The package slipped from his hands, and he buried his head in his hands. I heard a half-groan and some bestial sounds like a hyena screeching.

He gave up his back for her dance. She gave up her dance for a game with him. I heard a story like this before. Touching, but my eyes were glued to the key on the locked cabinet. I pondered for a moment if I should quietly open it and take what I had been promised.

On second thoughts, now is not the best time to take all the good stuff.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

ps: I'm glad to return to blogging here after a year-long hiatus.

I received a call out of the blue from an old buddy Atul, a wistful nostalgic, with the news he was shifting back to motherland by the year's end. Though I knew he was unhappy with his software job, I never imagined he would suddenly abandon a career here just to chase a whimsical dream of cultivating silkworms on mulberry leaves. It sounded like an absurd career change, but this man grew up in the Silk City, and evidently the roots are still tugging his heart. He didn’t give me all the details over the phone, saying it is a long story best explained over dinner. After a short silence, whilst each was trying to figure out who invited whom last, I ruefully realized it was my turn.

‘Oh, thanks, that’s great. BTW, my in-laws are in town. I’m sure you don’t mind if they tag along. I’ll email their dietary restrictions.’

At dinner the next day, Atul and his wife introduced us to his in-laws. Wrapped in Atul’s winter jackets, his mother-in-law said a polite hello, while the pater started at my forehead as if he were trying to read my financial affairs from the shapes of the eyebrows.

‘Who made the food?’ he demanded. My wife said she received their diet restrictions and prepared the dinner with minimal salt and spices.

His expression softened: ‘Thank you, we really have to watch what we eat at this age. Eat right and eat on time, that’s my mantra.’

Without further ado, they dived into the food. I noticed Atul looked severely depressed. I took him aside:

‘What’s the matter? I thought you’d be ecstatic about your move back to India.’

‘Yes, but this is our last six months in US, and we have to deal with them,’ poking his chin at his in-laws.

‘But, your in-laws seem very nice.’

‘Nice? Those old fogies are insufferable!’ He started pacing the floor. ‘They are chewing my ear about my silkworms. The greybeard says it is a demeaning job, that he is too ashamed to disclose this to his circle of friends in Bangalore. Well, I really don’t care what his coterie thinks! For me, it will be a dream come true – in a rustic village with nary a care, just raising silkworms on mulberry leaves. I can spend all day examining the tenderness of the soft larvae in my hands. Tell me,’ he stopped: ‘have you ever stroked an organic worm in its pupal state? Have you ever unrolled a cocoon’s sticky fibers and licked the wispy threads off your fingertips?’

I threw up my hands. ‘Listen, you should consider their position. Engineers don’t suddenly resign their jobs just to breed insects. Give them some time, they will get over this.’

‘Ok, so I understand it is a bit of shock for them. Well, they can stay home in Bangalore and absorb this. They come here, lecture me, use all my stuff - my backpacks, my TV remote, my favorite chair. Look, they are even wearing my best winter jackets.’ Just then his mother-in-law vigorously wiped her flaring nose on his jacket collar. He winced: ‘And I have no privacy, and freedom.’

I was astonished. ‘Privacy? Buddy, you should get used to this. When you are in India, they are going to visit you every day.’

Atul’s face lit up, ‘Not at all. You think I’m an idiot? I’m moving to this godforsaken place called Magarhai in UP. It is so remote that it takes twice the time to go from Bangalore to Magarhai than from Bangalore to any place in the US. Stop for a minute and think about it.’

‘What if your in-laws permanently move in with you? Your F-I-L works in the civil services, after all.’

‘Civil services jobs in Magarhai?' he laughed. 'Until the forest officer dies, my F-I-L can’t get a position. Last I checked, the forest officer is as healthy as he is corrupt. He’s not going anywhere.’

‘Ok, then what is the problem? Cheer up, six months is not so long.’

‘Six months! Six long months! It has only been a week since they landed here! I will grow mental.’

Just then, I noticed his F-I-L take a small pouch out of his pocket and dump its contents on his dinner plate. Suddenly, a raw odor rushed across the room straight up my head like someone had taken two fire-roasted chilli garlic cloves and jammed them up my nostrils.

‘What the hell is that?’ I stammered. I saw my wife collapsing straight down on the sofa.

‘I should have warned you. That is his native chilli pickle. It is a sort of WMD.’

‘But what about all those diet restrictions in your email? No salt, no masala.’ I asked, reeling.

‘Beats me! Penny wise and pound foolish, if you ask me.’

‘My eyes! My god, this is like a tear gas attack. Do they always carry it with them wherever they go?’

‘They cannot eat a meal without that pickle. They bring a year’s supply from Kerala every summer, carrying it on person like a driving license. They brought a full jar to the US in cabin baggage.’

Suddenly, even in the midst of the strong odor, I felt my scalp trying to separate from my forehead: a moment of epiphany. I just had a diabolical idea!

‘Atul, I just figured out the answer to your prayers. I know how to send your in-laws packing off to India in a day.’

‘What? How?’

‘Cut off their oxygen supply.’

He went ‘Eh?’

I had to lay it out to him. ‘The pickle, Atul! That is their oxygen supply. Destroy it!’

It slowly dawned on him. ‘Whoa! Brilliant! Destroy the pickle!The lovebirds can’t last a day without it. What a terrific idea!’

I bowed.

Atul started pacing again. ‘Hmmm, the aged civil servant keeps it in his room … got it! My wife takes them out for a walk every day in the morning. It will just take me two minutes to find it and destroy it. The only question is with what?’

‘Try yeast. Scary white color, sour taste, and harmless.’

‘Perfect.’ Atul stopped pacing: ‘I owe you a big one, buddy. You are a genius, you know that? It is just a weird kind of genius, but it is still genius.’

From the distance, we watched his father-in-law at the dining table licking the picked rice off his fingers. Atul’s eyes narrowed as he whispered softly: ‘Enjoy this meal, you hungry old man … you won’t be having one like this in America again.’


My phone was ringing off the hook. I picked it up and heard Atul shriek in a panic-stricken whisper: ‘It is not working!’

‘Calm down, what is the problem? Have you found the pickle?’

‘It is in the suitcase. But I can’t open it. The mistrustful geezer keeps it locked.’

‘Oh boy! Have you searched for the key, maybe it is there somewhere.’

‘No, it is a 3-digit combination lock.’

‘3 digits? That is not so bad … 5 seconds a try, just a couple of hours before you crack it.’

Atul whispered back: ‘You’re right. But, I don’t have a couple of hours. I only get 10 minutes when they go for the walk. But … wait … I got an idea!’

I sensed this idea is not going to be good.

Atul went on: ‘Listen, I’m taking the whole family to Costco tomorrow. The house will be empty. Can you come in and do the job for me?’

I didn’t like this one bit, but then he made an offer I couldn’t refuse: his indoor wet grinder and flour mill. The secret to his sensational dosas. It was probably worth the risk. Still, I felt like the inventor who got smacked around by his own invention.


Just as he said it, I found the key in the flower pot. Beside it, a packet of yeast that I slipped into my pocket. I unlocked the garage side door and entered through the kitchen. Atul’s words: Follow the smell, it will lead you to his suitcase.

The odor led me up the stairs into a bedroom where I found the case lying on the floor. I methodically began to try out all the combinations. But, after only five minutes, the phone rang. It was Atul.

‘Are you done yet?’

‘No, I just started.’

‘Oh no. We have to abandon this, we are heading back early. My in-laws wandered into the beef section and they are all queasy now. You have only 5 minutes to clear the place.’

‘Wait, give me some clues. What are his favorite numbers? Anything … his birthday, anniversary number … ‘

Atul made a sound like he was scratching his head. ‘How do I know? I can't ask them now. Well, I know his IAS rank. It is 119, I think. He talks about it all the time.’ (Atul was referring to the highly competitive civil services entrance test.)

I tried it: 1-1-9. Click!

‘It worked!’

Atul was ecstatic. ‘Great! We are leaving any minute. Finish it off quickly!’

I found the pickle in a big silver tin box wrapped in his white undershirts. With a towel protecting my nose, I opened the top and quickly dumped the yeast. Mission accomplished, I barely managed to sneak out and run across to the other street when their car turned around the corner.


Atul called me the next day.

‘Yippe! It worked like a charm! My father-in-law was livid when he discovered the damaged pickle. But, don’t worry, they don’t suspect foul play, they think it is fungus. Very good job, bro.’

‘So, what’s the deal? Are they leaving?’

‘Yes, my wife just took them to the travel agency. He wants to take the first available flight back to India. Why don’t you swing by and I will show you what you earned today?’

I drove over to his place. Atul made some coffee and pulled out the wet grinder mill. As I was admiring the flawless design, his in-laws returned.

Inexplicably, they seemed to be in an awfully good mood.

I said: ‘Hello, I just heard the news that you are leaving early. I’m really sorry you can’t stay.’

‘No worries, young man. सर्ववस्तूनि कारणोद्भवानि!’


Everything happens for a reason. Atul, my dear son-in-law, you will be so happy when you hear this. At this travel agency, Sai Travels, I ran into an elderly gentleman like myself in the waiting room who told me that the Magarhai forest officer has been arrested on corruption charges. The position has opened up, so I immediately called the head office in Delhi. I need to show up and apply in person at Magarhai before Friday. We are leaving tonight straight for Magarhai and I’m very confident about getting this position. If the pickle weren't spoilt, I’d have never known about this case. Atul, my boy, I know you must be unhappy we are leaving early without staying the full six months. But, don't you worry, we will spend the rest of our lives together.’

Atul gaped open-mouthed as comprehension still eluded him.

I excused myself from their family matters. Now is not the time to claim the wet grinder.