Thursday, March 21, 2013

Peanuts, Literal and Figurative

I saw him walking towards my car. He looked young and had a face that needed shaving for a while. He had a bandanna tied to his head that had a very prominent "om" written on it. He was wearing spectacles, and had the piercing gaze of an intellectual, fresh out of school, and still without a job. To me, perhaps, he would have qualified as a hippie, or a writer, or perhaps -- both.

But at the moment, he just looked like a homeless guy, looking for a handout.

This was not a good part of town, and I was planning to flee it as soon as the red light turned green. As the man came close to my car, and smiled expectantly at me, I rolled my window down. My wife used to caution me about giving money to homeless people, since they were known to blow it on drugs.

I had a nice large pack of salted peanuts on the front seat. I picked it up and handed it to him. He looked shocked. The conversation that followed was quite interesting.

"But these are peanuts!"


"No man, you see, these are just peanuts!"

"So I see. Perhaps, I should know, since I handed these to you, right?!"

"No, no, you see, you don't understand. When I said that these were peanuts for the first time, I meant literally. When I said it for the second time, I meant figuratively. As in not much stuff, man!"

I always mixed up my literals and figuratives, and so, I smiled at him, and said, "Thanks for the education, I really need to improve my English."

"You might want to start by not trying to hire a monkey for a teacher, man!"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you know! They say that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys! And you sure don't want to learn from a monkey, man."

The light had turned green. I yelled, "Enjoy your peanuts!" and drove away.

After driving for a mile or so, I decided that if I ever wrote seriously and regularly, it would have something to do with peanuts. And, that once in a while, I would bring the monkeys into my writing.

Literally, and figuratively.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The water tweet

I went to a college in the middle of nowhere. And as engineering schools used to be, the student population was unusually skewed in favor of men. There were a few women in our graduating class, and during our days on campus, everyone knew who they were seeing.

On one particular Saturday evening, I went to a restaurant on campus, with a bunch of my friends. And there, as we looked around, all of us got the shock of our lives. On a table for two, a few yards from ours, was sitting the prettiest girl on campus. And opposite her, was sitting a friend of ours, who in these more modern times, would perhaps have been called un-cool. To say the least, that is.

They were engrossed in a conversation. So much, that they didn't even seem to notice the rest of us. In a few days, there was a rumor on campus that the two were in love. A few days later, when I met my friend alone, I asked him about the rumors. And, he gave me a curt  answer.  

"Oh, we were just making conversation in the restaurant. The chair opposite her was empty as I walked in, and all the other tables were taken. So, I sat down with her permission. And then, we talked. What else are you supposed to do when there is a pretty girl sitting opposite you?!"

A few days ago,  I was in a restaurant, waiting for my lunch. In India, in the cheaper restaurants that I seem to like, you don't wait for an unoccupied table, or, for a waiter to seat you. You walk in and find an empty chair. And then, you sit down to eat. It is quite efficient, and works well for most. So, I had walked in, and found an empty chair, which was opposite to a gentleman, who, with his emaciated look and unkempt beard, looked like a farmer. And then, as I looked around, I saw a pretty girl sitting a few tables away. The chair opposite her was empty. In just a few minutes, I saw a very handsome young man walk up to her table. He asked her if the seat was taken, and sat down.

They both looked like college students, and I suddenly remembered the incident from years ago, when a boring friend of mine had struck up an interesting conversation with a pretty girl. These two looked like a handsome pair to me, and so, my ears perked up for any interesting conversation that might float by.

To my disappointment, the young man pulled out a cellphone from his pocket. Then, he plugged in a headset and started listening to music, as he presumably surfed the web. Feeling completely ignored, the young lady looked out the window. If they were a few years older, they would have easily passed for a happily married couple.

Feeling completely let down by the twitter and facebook generation, I turned my attention to the farmer friend of mine, sharing the table. Although I didn't know his language, and his Hindi was passable, we had a pretty nice conversation. His district was going through a drought and he was in town to talk to some important people for help.

In the middle of our conversation, I heard a cellphone ringing. The farmer pulled out a phone from his pocket, and started a long conversation in the local language. From the tone, I could feel that he was joking with someone. And, he sounded very patronizing.

After he put the phone down, he told me that a young man had called him from the agriculture department trying to help him. The man had apparently offered to look at his soil report and using the internet, fix his problems for him with an SMS. The old farmer had asked him, with a twinkle in his eye, if he could SMS him some water. Given, that his district was facing a drought.

And that, was the end of the conversation.

I felt like cheering for the old farmer. Yes! There were more people like me out there. Those, who had a fair degree of skepticism for social media. SMS, Twitter and Facebook included.

Still elated, I looked at the table of the young and the restless.

The young man was still playing with his phone. The young lady had pulled out her own, and was busily tapping something into it. She had a full plate on the table in front of her. The waiter had forgotten to bring her water.

Perhaps, like my farmer friend, she badly needed some water. And perhaps, she was tweeting that to her friends on facebook, before sending an SMS to the waiter.

We were out of water too, and the waiter was nowhere to be seen. My farmer friend realized that yet another drought was imminent. And so, he reached out to the next table, and grabbed the jug -- to pour us some. If I had a Facebook account, I would have told everyone in the world that I knew, that it was simply brilliant of him to do so.