Sunday, March 27, 2011

Plan B

Midway through lunch, Doc got the call she'd been waiting for. The club sandwich, fondled lovingly only moments ago, found itself brutally flung to the side as she stood up with an electric sense of purpose, sending her chair flying across the floor.

She barked confident orders into the phone, "I'm coming. Prep the subject.". But her heart was a toy monkey, all wound up, clapping manically.

No stop lights heeded, no schoolchildren or old men with walking sticks allowed right of way. She bulldozed her way through traffic and within fifteen minutes made a screeching halt at the doorstep of the Institute. Keys still in ignition, she leapt out and rushed past the doors, which magically parted for her. Slipping across the polished floor, finding balance along the walls, she almost didn't make the corner that led her into her lab.

Her lab. Usually a chamber of isolation, tucked away in the back of the Insitute's building. Most passersby assumed it was a supply room full of chlorinated cleaning fluids & wilting brooms. Not today. The lab was humming with nervous energy. Doc's entire team was there, waiting with their eyes on the door for their leader's entry.

She burst in with a flourish and slightly out of breath. Assistant Moxy sprung to her side, shoving a tablet containing the latest data into her hands, while guiding her limbs into surgical scrubs. Doc hurriedly scanned Specimen A's stunning results, her smile widening, then disappearing behind a mask Moxy tied around her mouth & nose.

As she approached the operation theatre's entrance, the corner of her eye caught Dr. Spoote sidling up to her - "So, Doc, this is it, huh? This is your moment."

"Let's hope so, Spoote. I'm very confident."

"Of course you know this could go either way...."

"Let me interrupt you there Spoote. The subject is prepped - we don't want to fry the poor thing's nerve-endings now, do we? Or let me rephrase that - we don't want to waste the Institute's millions now, do we?"

Dr. Spoote stepped aside. Doc strode in, her eyes zeroing in on Specimen A, as she drew every fibre of her being into a nucleus of focussed concentration.

"Scalpel," she said.

The team gathered around her now, waiting for that single cut to begin the rest of their lives. Glory, sweet glory awaited each one of them.

Doc stood there, scalpel perched above Specimen A.

The team inhaled in unison.

"Oh dear," she said, "What exactly are we doing here?"


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A year and month to the day...

...the same dream, with the same intensity and the same sense of utter desolation.
I have just found out I'm dying of a disease that is slowly, but with great precision, vapourizing my insides. I am destined for death.
It is perpetually night in this dream, as I wander the hallways of this mansion that's supposed to be my home. There is no one here but me and two others - hired to be caretakers, but otherwise unrecognizable. They provide me with my basic needs - food, clean sheets and a kindly hello once in a while. Time is running out and I stumble from one room to the next, searching for a familiar face, someone who can hold me through the days I have left. But my body is continually weakening and getting progressively bent with each passing minute.
Like the first time, this dream too seemed to go on forever. I couldn't wake from it, I couldn't end the wandering. I found nothing, I just got weaker.
This time, it was too close to home. Just too close.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Boating in Kanpur

It is early morning and we find ourselves in the middle of the Ganga. We haven't had breakfast yet and our stomachs churn with every inch we gain rowing upstream.
Tiwariji, whose oil-slick of a hairdo violates my nostrils, sits two inches away from me. He has been sure to take a sip of the holy water before getting on.
We pass temple after temple along the ghats. Turn up the volume on your amplified bhajans. I don't think the gods can hear you yet
The stench gets worse.
"Chaliyega wahaan?" the boatman asks.
"Le chaliye, na."

With every slap of the oar, we are splashed by the Ganga; a putrid mess of untreated sewage. Organic waste, decomposed human & animal remains, chromium, arsenic and the always-in-ample-supply human excreta.
There is a man on the banks angling for fish. And now we can hear sounds of a waterfall...

Kanpur is taking a massive dump in the river Ganga and we have front row tickets to the show. The crows in the box seats are having a field day. The smell of human waste is unbearable and it's all one can do to not gag.
"Yehaan pehle bahut saara soos rahta thha..." says our boatman. 'Soos' or the Gangetic River Dolphin.
"Aur paas chalein?"
"Nahi, theek hai."

We're making bad jokes now:
Holy crap. We're in deep shit. We're up shit creek with shitty paddles.
Ganga hamaari maata hai/ Mooth humaari khaata hai.
The boat turns and the boatman stops rowing. The current will carry us back to Parmat Ghat. It will then courier the toxic sludge downstream to Allahabad and beyond.
"Don't ever drink anything but bottled mineral water in Kanpur," someone says from the back.
Tiwariji points to the floodplains on the other bank. They're growing watermelons there. Reminder to self: Don't ever eat the watermelons in Kanpur."
Try not to go to the bathroom in Kanpur. Try not to die here either.

At Bangla Ghat, we breathe in the heavy air of our colonial past. The British drainage system in Kanpur was visionary, yes, but we've taken it from strength to strength, getting creative in adding newer effluents to this poisonous legacy.
Oh look, a decaying calf floats by. Baby cow, not human.

Time to head back.
Tiwariji disembarks first. He bends down, scoops up the river water, takes a sip and pours the remaining liquid over his head.
We drive back to the hotel in silence. Breakfast is waiting.