If there is one thing that I hate more than Delhi road-users, it is having to get up early in the morning. However, this time, the worm was too good to be missed. I had to reach the office sharp at 6.30 am, and there was barely half an hour left for the mission. You lose some, you win some. As I moved on to the main road, missing on my precious early-hour sleep, the charcoal-laden path looked wider than ever; better still nobody honked impatiently from behind. My modest vehicle moved as if it was part of a minister’s convoy. And, for the first time in life, I made it in time for office.
At C-28/29 Qutub Inst. Area, what stood before me was an interesting site: men in joggers, young girls in casuals, and a harried Bhawna calling out names and frantically ticking on a series of list. “Bus number two is yours,” she barked at me and handed over a list of some 40 colleagues. I was supposed to take care of these passengers. In plain terms, play the bus conductor. A cursory glance at my fellow travelers and… good lord, my heart sank. Smiling at the top was EB, South Asia head, Indu Ramchandani. If the stories of her love for discipline were true, the journey was going to be as peaceful as Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March. The only saving grace was Sabari & Yusuf being in the same bus, but there was no trace of the first even at 7 a.m. (I heard later, that he made it by the whiskers.)
Inside the bus, Indu belied everybody’s expectations. The cubs realized soon enough that it was a holiday. And the fun began. Ashutosh, the marketing head, was game too. In no time, with help from Yusuf and Sabari, some ten people had polished off two bottles of Vodka and a half of Bacardi. The bus wore a merrier look now, with everybody singing and dancing full blast. Among the women, Geetanjali, Anubha, Pooja, Shahnaaz, Payal, Monicas, and Bindu did not give peace a chance. The only worried soul was the sturdy Sikh driver. Each time we fished out a cold drink from the thermo-col box at his cabin, he repeated his prayers.
Bosses are bosses. The diktat came midway at the Rajasthan border: Nobody was to have booze during the journey, thanks to a ghastly experience with Rajasthan cops last year. Aalok-Amir smothered the fun for the bus-II occupants, with I-am-serious tones. But the old dogs were not willing to learn new tricks. The last half of the unfinished bottle was worth the risk. The nectar was smuggled despite a watchful Amir, and put to good use by the foursome that need not be identified here.
The lunch at Chokhi Dhani was nothing much to write home about. What stole our hearts were the film-like village settings, rooms, and the jhoolas around the place. One more drink at the bar, and things brightened up.
Why is joy always shortlived? I was dreaming of swimming in a pool of beer, when Yusuf shook me into life. “We have to be at the conference hall for the Amir’s presentation, NOW,” his voice came from a mile. I got up; my head was still swimming. A splash of cold water and I returned to Chokhi Dhani. Together, Sabari, Yusuf, Percy and I made way to the conference hall. The door creaked violently as we entered, and I felt some 50 pairs of eyes boring into us. But no one had actually bothered about us; we were guilty, and hence conscious (may be sub-conscious).
If I were to give the best presentation award, it would go to Aalok. “Any questions?” he began with a query. No one said a word in return. “So you wanna go?” he smiled, and left the podium. Everybody wished him well, and dispersed.
The evening was worth looking forward to. Post-eight, the venue resembled a bird sanctuary. It was a hands-down victory for the Britannic babes. They came, they saw and they conquered. Some in slits, most in spaghettis, a few in tights; all of them smelling nice and laughing confidently. Men suffered from the minority complex. The only place where they looked confident was bar. I too helped myself generously. People are generally indulgent when the bill is to be footed by the company. So there were unfinished glasses of expensive liquor all over the place.
Had the bar not been closed at 12 (or was it 1 am), and the music not stopped half hour later, the party would have ended with morning treasure hunt. But that was not to be. By 3 am, almost everybody was back in his/her bed. Almost!!!
The morning came with a nightmarish knock on the door. Poor Yusuf was virtually dragged out of slumber by a girl named Anjolika. Percy was hauled out by an equally obstinate Simar. But a few held the fort. Come hell, heavy water, or treasure hunt, the old guard remained wrapped to their blankets. The clues at the hunt were game, and enthusiastic women lost a few kilos looking for the answers. Finally, the deserving got the best.
The breakfast tasted like rubber to those who had an overdose of aperitifs last night. Considering the number of zombies in the team, it was a good idea to ferry them for once and all. I had been assigned the role of monitoring the bus-II. By no stretch of imagination it was a mean responsibility. And already the guilt of having left behind Prasanna & Mona hanging on my neck like Albatross, I was careful this time. I ran south, I darted north, but kept the flock intact. Sugata, how I wish you were there!!
The return journey was depressing. The seats suddenly turned uncomfortable, the road too bumpy, and the lunch insipid. Had it not been for The Gang (Geetanjali, Anubha, Pooja, Monica J, Monika T), everybody would be sleeping. But fed on some steroids, this women power took the bus by storm. The total amount of energy spent would have cleared the rubble at Bhuj earthquake. Meanwhile, Payal, Bindu and Arpana concentrated on Yusuf like acid. Yusuf fought back like Abhimanyu the (young!!??) warrior, ducking a volley of jibes from all corners. How happy and cheerful you then looked Yusuf!! I wish I could show you the mirror; you were the fairest of all. And, God was I jealous???
Barring Yusuf, it was a tired lot that reached Britannica Center at 7.30 pm. The hustle bustle was at the same crescendo that it was some 38 hours back. I stretched and moved inside the vehicle with friends to head eastward – the only worrying point being the morning sleep.
No wonder, then, that I woke up in the morning with a familiar pain in the head.