<--Added on 8/22/08 for migration to TPB -->
Another year is coming to an end. I guess this is one phase where you can telepathically reach out to all those you have lost contact with, no matter where they are. The New Year brings out feelings of hope for the future and a resolve to forget the past. In that sense, momentarily it unites you with everyone far and near. Deep down, our thoughts and aspirations unite for a fleeting period.
Out of the blue I happened to think about PV. It is now nearly 3 years since I last met or talked with him. I first met him while working in Bombay. The catering contract for our company canteen was won by a nearby establishment. It was a pretty big one started by a mallu restaurateur(?) years ago and professionally very well run.
PV was one among the many young waiters employed in the establishment and one of the few deputed to our office on full time duty. He would turn up at 7 in the morning and stay upto 8 at night finishing his accounts. He would walk through the cubicles morning and afternoon with a small notebook, mentally noting down the orders with the sharpness and retentivity that waiters are known for. All deliveries made, he would amble through the evening at close of day, collecting the cash. Though there were about 4 or 5 waiters on duty, we came to know him as a very quiet, soft-spoken but methodical guy. During the less busy hours, he would saunter around the office unnoticed, quietly taking in the fluster and bluster around every cubicle, briskly swinging into action when someone ordered a snack or a soft drink.
Quick exchanges during the idle hours gave me some insights in the lives of these waiters. They had the natural guilelessness of South Indians finding their feet in the melting pot that is Bombay. Most of them came here looking for a job in the mid and late nineties, while in their late teens. Picked up Hindi, learnt the intricacies of travelling in and out of the local trains, forged a community among themselves, had common hopes and aspirations. The hopes of getting employment in the Gulf having been dashed, either through lack of contacts or lack of avenues. Some had pretty much reconciled themselves, taking strength in the fact that they now had a job that paid them well going by the standards of their native village, hoping that would contribute to the marriage or education of a sibling. The average mallu's will is to some extent steeled by the fact that most of his kith and kin had to scour the length and breadth of the country to get his livelihood.
Language is never a barrier between a mallu and a tam and soon enough during those many evenings when I used to work late into the night, there were ample opportunities to have a little chit-chat with PV. During the days I stayed up late, PV would take pains and get me my dinner before he left. If it had been a night-out, PV would walk to my seat with solicitous enquiries the moment he arrived and promptly bring tea and breakfast. I and my Tam gang would gather for lunch in of the cubicles, and wasted no time in cribbing about the horrendous chappathis, which the Mallu cook would never get the hang of. PV would smile and promise he would instruct the cook to watchfully prepare them for our gang. Each one of us would take turns every week to place the order and foot the bill. Normally PV would give me the figure for the week and I would pay up the amount without looking into the details. Once we had light-heartedly cribbed about the decision to raise the price of each item by 50paise. I later came to know that PV had been billing me with the old rates for around two weeks.
One of the evenings, I was poring through endless lines of code. Current and old hindi hits rang out from the nearby computers. PV hung around my desk, lost in thought. "Sounds like Anuradha Paudwal", he reflected. I turned in surprise and asked him how in the world he recognised her voice. He said he used to be a big fan of music. I turned the topic towards malayalam film music. When I brought in my favorite Ilayaraja, "I've heard his Olangal, Guru, Kaalapaani", he quickly answered. We talked about musical theory and notations and I was quite impressed when he even mentioned Mayamavalagowlai and Sindhu Bhairavi among the basic ragams. Not bad for a Catholic Christian. He told me there was a musically accomplished priest in his village parish who went to Russia for seminary and musical training and came back to set up a music school. He had written some books on classical music theory(PV mentioned there was a good one costing Rs.120 and I told him to purchase it for me next time he went home). He had gone to the priest for carnatic music training at age 10 for a few months. The harsher realities of life forced him to quit and ultimately he dropped out of high school itself. Being the eldest of three kids, he had to support his siblings and parents. Came to Bombay in 1994 at age 17(he was also sharp enough to know the date!). His job was helping his younger brother attend nursing college, while his younger sister worked as a nurse in North India. He would travel to his home once in a couple of years and had not seen his siblings for over 3 years now. Teaching the children's choir at a nearby Malayalee church brought him some supplemental income. I suppose the Mallu parents would have felt secure having their Hindi-embracing kids learning mallu songs under PV.
After that, whenever I would see some nice sounding song in Asianet, I would ask PV for the filmography. He would not fail me with the details of the film. PV knew pretty much everything about Kerala politics, literature, cinema, media, etc. His omniscience came out in unassuming fashion whenever I drew him into a chat. MRF, The Week, Manorama group, he knew them all and their little histories. Even mentioned that Meera Jasmine grew up next door to his cousin! But he never rambled on aimlessly, only speaking when he was pressed for info. Sometimes, I would spot him going through The Times of India at the reception. He would diligently ask me the meaning of words he couldn't understand. I told him I regretted not having any contacts in the Gulf who might get him a better job and one befitting his acumen. He said he was working on a degree through correspondence, and god willing, would find the funds to finish it quickly.
One Saturday I and my roomie asked him to visit our flat and spend the day with us. He turned up immaculately dressed. We roamed around and visited some fast food joints and had a sumptuous lunch. Returned home at noon. I and my roomie took a siesta while he spent the hours eagerly tinkering with my new keyboard and my room-mate's guitar. Evening I got some milk and biscuits and went to prepare tea, despite PV's protests. "You're doing this for me all year, let me do this for a day", I insisted. The evening got over and soon it was time for him to leave. I hoped the day seemed to him like one from the distant past, where he would mill around the backwaters and green fields near his home. The next day being Monday, I was back to attending meaningless code reviews and he to serving tea and meals.
Few months later, it was time for me to leave Bombay. PV attended my farewell dinner but I really couldn't spend any quality time with him. I came back a few months later on a visit, just for a day. There was a mega sale from some garment exporter and a Book Expo in the nearby complex. Shopped all morning and evening picking up lots of clothes and books. Called up PV and asked if we could meet for a few minutes. We met on the road in front of his restaurant and chatted for a few minutes. He couldn't join us for dinner as he was on duty that night. I handed him a colorful shirt I had purchased for myself that morn. I was hopeful of more visits to Bombay and we split on a high note. But things never turn out as one wishes. In a trice, I returned to South India after a good many years. I was soon travelling around and living among suitcases.
Another year rolled by. By then, most of my colleagues in my company had moved out of Bombay. It was a cold October morning in Colorado and I was staring into the monitor, dreading the approaching winter. Click!
envelope popped up in the taskbar. The last of the loyalists in my ex-company had sent me an email, "Do you have a shipping address in Bangalore or thereabouts? PV from our canteen just returned from Kerala. He has purchased a book for you."