Monday, June 12, 2006

The Flag-Bearer

Kurup was bored stiff: life was uneventful and each day was like any other. It was therefore a welcome change when he was taken off his routine duties one day and assigned the role of the Protocol Officer for a VIP.

The boss informed the Protocol Officers identified like Kurup that their PSU would be playing host to a parliamentary committee for two days. Each dignitary was to have a Protocol Officer. If there was a squeak, heads would roll, they were warned. (The footnote was that any minor discomfort to the VIPs could cost the boss his job!)

All finer details of the visit were planned meticulously. Bouquets and garlands were ordered, stay and transport arranged, the data required for review by the VIPs collected and the papers required put in natty folders. The itinerary (including the mandatory trip to Kanyakumari) and the menu for the lunches and dinners drawn up. The bill would, of course, be picked up by the hosts.

The entire machinery got into action. As soon as the team landed, the parliamentarians were whisked off to a posh hotel in Kovalam. Plied with the goodies at the lavish dinner hosted by the PSU and lulled by the ambience of the resort, the VIPs were kept in good humour. The meeting held the next morning went off without any major hitch.

Post lunch, the team was to proceed to Kanyakumari. A dozen white ambassador cars stopped in the porch, picked up the VIPs one by one and moved forward. Leading the pack was the car of the Chairman of the Committee. In the front seat beside the driver was Kurup, the Protocol Officer.

The April sun was beating down mercilessly. For protection, the VIP raised the shaded window glasses. The two engaged in small talk. The VIP found the name Kurup amusing: “Aapne apna naam Kuroop (Ugly) kyon rakha hai? Aap to dekhne mein sundar lagte ho.”

The car had barely left the city limits when the VIP shuffled his portly form within the car. Kurup spied through the corner of his right eye: his guest now opened the suitcase, took out a polythene bag and pulled out the contents. It was a light blue garment with broad grey stripes. Too casual a shirt to be worn by a usually white khadi-clad politico, said Kurup to himself.

The VIP spread the garment open and muttered to himself. Handing it over to Kurup, he said, “Kuroopji, ek ehsan (help) karoge? I washed this in the morning and it is still geela (wet). Please hold it against the wind: by the time we get there, yeh sookh jayega (It should dry.)”

The choices before Kurup were two: do as he was told or get out of the car (and put in his papers the next day). Being a pragmatic chap, he opted for the former, hoping that no familiar face would catch a glimpse of him speeding southwards on the NH 47 in a car, a striped blue underwear flailing from his left hand!

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