Saturday, August 09, 2008

Ouseph in Mumbai

Incidents that take place in the lives of some people are narrated over and over again till the person concerned is transformed into a minor legend in his own lifetime. Apocryphal stories start getting attributed to him. Ouseph is one such person.

It is true that Ouseph was a little absent-minded, but he was not dim-witted or daft as some of the stories in circulation suggest. He was a bright student in college (good at debates and quizzes). And, yes. He could render the Mukesh numbers mellifluously. History and literature were his passion. Ouseph was quick at work and could put in long hours of work. But he needed work to keep him going. At the slightest hint of inactivity, he would nod off and the return trip from the world of dreams would take time.

The number of stories made up by the ingenious minds with Ouseph as the central character, is large. There are so many of them that it would be tough to sift the real from the fictional.

According to a true story, he was looking for a house to live in as a bachelor. He had asked some friends to be on the lookout, but they could be of no help. Thiruvananthapuram was as conservative as ever and landlords would say, "We have a house to let, but we have a young daughter and do not want to let out the house to a bachelor."

Ouseph, however, did not give up easily. He himself went round the city in search of a dwelling place. A few such sorties convinced him through a process of deductive elimination that if he were to get a house, it had to belong to a person who did not have a young daughter.

So, when he called on another prospective landlord, he introduced himself, and said: "I work for a P.S.U. I hear you have a house to let out. I am a bachelor. Do you have young daughters?" It took a little bit of explanation to extricate him from the thick soup he had landed in.
While personal knowledge can vouchsafe the truth in that episode, there is a lurking suspicion that the following is a product of the fertile imagination of some pals: Ouseph had joined a large oil company and his first posting was in Mumbai. The year was 1975 and it was still called Bombay. The company had thoughtfully provided him with a residential flat in Malad, in the suburbs.

His first journey by the suburban electric train to the office in the morning was an experience he dared not go through again. He was punched and squeezed and dealt with in many other ways. The return trip was worse. He baulked at the thought of a similar adventure. A colleague suggested the BEST bus as an alternative till he got used to the metro.
So he got into a bus the next morning. As the vehicle trundled along the busy roads, the conductor came to collect the fare. The bus was passing through Goregaon. Ouseph was watching the proceedings with an air of detachment.

A uniformed schoolgirl in pigtails told the destination and the fare in paise (Yes, there was a time like that!) to the BEST conductor, "Jogeshwari, 15." A young woman (still in her bridal finery) who had just got into the bus, offered the conductor a rupee note (It had not got into the list of endangered species by then) and told him, "Prabhadevi, 25".
The conductor moved on to a gentleman with a neatly manicured grey beard, wearing a fez cap and dozing with a rosary lightly held in his hand. He nudged the passenger on his shoulder and asked, "Ticket?" The elderly citizen woke up and replied, "Haji Ali, 65", proffering a rupee coin. Handing over his ticket, the conductor approached the next passenger.

She was an old lady bent double with age and perhaps hard of hearing.
He asked her twice, but she did not respond. The conductor asked her, a little louder this time, "Haan, maaji, aap?" She replied, "Kalbadevi, 85".
An anglicised gentleman, complete with his hat in his lap, had meanwhile opened his wallet and announced, "Elphinstone, 45", followed by a middle-aged and plump Gujarati lady, who said, "Mahalaxmi, 50".

It was Ouseph's turn now. He said, "Ouseph, 23".


Moumita S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ritwik Sinha said...

This is indeed brilliant!

P.S. I am Tatai/Ritwik, the last time I wrote my comment, Moumita was logged into her gmail account. To remove the proxy comment, I had to delete it. I still subscribe to that view though.

Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

A fantastic story, it doesn't matter how authentic it is. A good piece of writing always reminds you of someone or something or an idea. Mr. Ouseph reminded me of the absent minded people who sometimes botch up things and offer a free laugh to everyone around. And makes the world a little less drab place to live in!

BTW, This reminds me of a "public bus story" that happened in Kolkata. Maybe, I will put it on my blog sometime.