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     Volume 5 Issue 109 | August 25, 2006 |

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Common Cold

The Journey

Neeraj Sinha

When I saw him this morning at the central bus terminal, he was engaged in an animated discussion with a driver over the merits of adhering to schedule. While the bus driver, a practical man who'd been in the trade for sometime insisted that published time-tables were mere professional hazards that one had to take in one's stride, our friend persevered that time tables were meant to be followed. It was clearly an argument that neither of them could hope of winning, but the bus was not yet filled to capacity and the driver had nothing better to do. My friend never had anything to do anyway.

He was, let me assure you, not always like this. A perfectly 'normal' school going kid during his time, he too resorted to honesty only as a last option like the rest of the gang and never had qualms about doing the done thing when the teacher was looking the other way. Somewhere down the line, however, while the rest of us were busy discovering 'facts of life' for ourselves, he turned into an oddity. The general opinion was that the damage was largely self-inflicted and probably a result of his insistence on reading up odd books written by impractical men from another time and era.

He never married. Not for want of trying, but which potential mother-in-law in her right senses would ever think of tying her daughter's fortunes to a man who insists on being a walking compendium of good conduct all his waking hours? I mean it's all right to be nice once in a while, but it does become a bit of a strain on the system, doesn't it, apart from being a threat to money making ability, if someone insists on being an angel for most part of the day! Even if one were to discount the mothers in law of the world for the time being, which woman would ever accept that she resembled a crumpled bed sheet more than a fresh rose bud first thing in the morning...? Having known him for more than a decade, we knew the friend was likely to volunteer such bits of information to his life-companion whenever the occasion arose.

While it is always difficult to know the precise sequence of events in such cases, it is widely rumoured that his long time girl friend finally slammed the door on him when he insisted on taking her to the police station for a minor traffic infringement while she was driving his ancient automobile from the pre-partition era in a quiet corner of our town. When the lady in question, correctly pointed out that no one was hurt and more importantly, no one had seen the infringement, the friend maintained that whether anyone else saw it or not was no longer material when he had himself seen the offence being committed in front of his eyes. He then proceeded in characteristic fashion quoting several times from his vast repertoire of Bollywood one-liners insisting that 'the Law will take its own course'. The law did take its course but in a manner slightly different from the one envisioned by our protagonist. The cops at the police station couldn't control their mirth, nor his girl friend her anger, at the turn of events. The friend got booted out and his vehicle was seized for being driven long after it had surpassed its roadworthiness stage!

Its not that the friend never had his moments of sanity. There were occasions when he could rise well above minor issues like insisting on truth, especially when confronted by a stronger adversary who showed an inclination to combine his physical power with lungpower. As recently as last year, while officiating as a referee at the great annual football league, he allowed himself to be persuaded by the leading centre forward of the more boisterous team that he was merely giving his opponent a brotherly hug which he had initially misconstrued as offensive play. His detractors naturally say that the friend was drawing upon prior knowledge suggesting that the said centre forward was also a part time boxer, like many of his other teammates. But what are detractors for, if not to say mean things...!

Meanwhile, the argument at the bus stop was beginning to take an ugly turn. The conductor of the bus, a hefty lad of about 7 feet and a few more inches had joined in the fun and the driver, a smart fellow in his own right, decided to shift the onus of continuing the argument on his broad and adequately muscled shoulders. There was only one direction that the discussions could take now on. After all, it is not for nothing that ancient civilisations across the world, while examining CVs for recruitment to its various departments, almost always insisted on the ability of its potential recruits to physically overwhelm others.

In the case at hand, it didn't take long for our protagonist to realise that the path of truth passed through the rippling muscles of the bus conductor. Once that realisation dawned, it took only a few threatening gestures from the human gorilla to clinch the argument.

By now, all seats in the bus were taken. The driver happily honked his horn in sheer delight and the vehicle moved on towards its destination carrying its cargo of human passengers leaving smoke and dust in its wake…

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