Trip to Madras

At six am on wednesday, I received an SMS from

“Cheap guy. Canceled middle seat. Some chick between us now. Hehehehe… ” The middle seat in question had been canceled since

had to back out at the last moment. And his seat had now been taken by Haritha, F 25. We were on our way to Madras, to attend a surprise birthday party on account of Kodhi’s 25th birthday.

I was inside the coach when I received the SMS. There had been some problem with the booking engine it seems, and the seat orientation was much different from normal, which means that people who were supposed to sit together were now far apart. We were supposed to have a window and an aisle. We ended up having an aisle seat on one side, and a window on the far side one row back. The window seat on the near side was occupied by a not-so-young lady, with a five year old boy. And a guy, who seemed like he was her husband, had come to see her off. Haritha. F. 25.

Lunch was at Benjarong on TTK road. Strong thai stuff, with the high point being the on-the-house paan level stuff. And I remembered my investment banking days by ordering a “derivative of thai red curry”. It was a good call, I must say. We had a nice leisurely lunch (7 hours to kill remember?) and we had killed some three hours by the time we got out.

Haggling with auto drivers… baskin robbins… fraud book sale at odyssey…. standing and reading a couple of amar chitra kathas there… haggling with auto drivers again…. find a fruit shop at a petrol bunk on nungambakkam high road…. lime mint cooler… five o clock… and sairam calls… there is a cake to be picked up from cakes and bakes on Numgambakkam high road…

I’ve forgotten to mention about my phone. I hadn’t recharged it for some three days. It’s a nokia 6670 with color screen and all that .Has camera and video. And on the train, I’d shown some videos to Hari. So by the time I get off at Madras, the battery has almost died. And by the time Sairam had finished explaining the location of the cake shop, the battery had told total jai. We continued to sip on our LMCs.

An hour to go for the party and we had to charge my phone, collect the cake, change and get to the venue, not necessarily in that order. We set out looking for a coffee shop, where we could find a charger, but couldn’t find any. As an aside, Nungambakkam high road reminds me of Linking road in Bandra. Maybe the general shape. Or the arrangment of shops. But they are way too similar. Spookily similar. Coming back, we are lucky to find a Vodafone shop. It has one of those things where you can just plug in your phone and charge. I run in and plug mine in. Only to be told it wasn’t working!

Hari comes up with a senti story and asks them to lend us a charger. It was so similar to the story told by the couple from Nagpur with a kid who were robbed of all their money and need some to go back. I thought the story was quite unnecessary, but the salesgirl is kind enough to lend us a charger and takes my phone and plugs it in. I don’t know if she knew that I had an airtel connection. A good way to spend another fifteen minutes. Needless to say, this shop too had A/C.

It was half past six when we entered Cakes and Bakes, and there was a light drizzle outside. It took a while to convince the guy there that we were supposed to get that cake (Sairam had ordered it). Finally managed to get through to sairam, and he gave us some “useful details” (2 kg pineapple cake with “happy birthday aswath” on it) after which we were in possession of the cake. We were advised to take an auto to Harrison’s though it was only an eight minute walk away. Having haggled enough for the day, we decided to walk. And it started raining.

Both of us had been thoughtful enough to carry umbrellas, and they were opened in an instant. One hand below the cake, and the other held the umbrella. Trying to balance the cake well enough that it doesn’t fall off. Was reminded of the odd rainy day when I was in IIT. When I would hold an umbrella in my right hand and try balance the cycle using only my left. There was more at stake here. A full cake. For which someone else had given us the responsibility.

I don’t know if you were on Nungambakkam high road that day. If you were, you’d've liked to see us. Two tall guys. Bespectacled. One thin, one fat. One with long hair, and the other with sideburns. Carrying black umbrellas. Weaving through the traffic. Avoiding the puddles and potholes. And trying to balance a cake between them. Would’ve been quite a sight. Sadly, there was no camera around. Rather, the only one available was in my almost-dead 6670.

We were the first to reach the hotel. Had a small argument with the reception staff because we wanted them to remove the “happy birthday to aswath venkataraman: Mulberry hall” from the hotel notice board. They argued? that the lack of a board would put too much workload on the already overworked reception staff. We told them about the importance of the surprise. We did it in two phases. First it was changed to “birthday party fourth floor” and finally settled at “unilever party fourth floor”.

We had changed into cleaner stuff before Ravi arrived, and he was closely followed by Kodhi’s relatives. And then there was Beedi and Swami and Sairam and some more relatives and some levers junta. Kodhi’s mom told us about the final strategies as we sipped the welcome drink. Kodhi had been told it was an official party. And was coming straight from work. And we had to surprise him.

There were several things that might have spoiled the party. Several people had wished Kodhi during the day, though his real birthday is on the day after tomorrow. At 645 pm, aadisht had called him, asking “so howz the party”. My dead phone had let me down again – aadisht had assumed that the party had started since I wasn’t picking up. And aadisht had wriggled out of it in a way that only he can.

Lights were dimmed, and people stood ready with the cameras. I couldn’t join them – the battery was down, remember? We were told that they were at the entrance of the hotel. And we made sure Kodhi would enter first. And stood waiting.

The look on Kodhi’s face as he entered the hall and looked us at and realized what was happenign was, well, priceless. That look on his face totally made our day.

(i must apologize for this badly written piece. I fell asleep as i was writing it and just went through the motions)?