Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Croupier.

The following is a real story. Once upon a time, for one enchanted evening, I was indeed the honoured guest of an honest-to-goodness croupier working in a London casino in Great Russell Street (for all I know). I never got to watch him actually working in the pit: dealing the cards expertly or raking in and pushing out chips with his long T-stick across the green felt surface of the gambling table, though. By the way, the guy happened to be the elder brother of an ex-colleague of mine from the time I was in Forward Markets Commission in the early sixties. Clarion-McCann, where I worked for a little over 11 years from 1965, sent me to London in 1971 for 3 months’ training. This was the time when the ex-colleague offered to inform his brother in London of my visit and make sure he entertained me suitably. I had been unaware till then of the brother’s existence. The reason for keeping it hush-hush became clear only after I met him. In London, I was rooming with an old school pal who was writing his Ph D thesis in Chemistry. This was in the attic of an old house in Drayton Park, Islington, in North London with its own taciturn London landlady in attendance. The eponymous tube station was on the Northern City Line, 5 minutes away from where I was rooming. Anyway, the mystery brother called me one Friday to say that a limo would pick me and my friend up the coming Tuesday at 7 in the evening. He said Tuesday was the day of choice because it was his weekly day of rest. The designated Tuesday arrived in due course. On the dot at 7 pm so did the promised limo. The aforementioned landlady was startled out of her habitual stupor to express her astonishment at its appearance to my friend and me. To cut a long story short, we rode in the limo to an unknown destination which turned out to be the restaurant and watering hole attached to the casino where the mystery brother worked. There we were treated to a most lavish spread of dinner with champagne flowing. My friend as well as the mystery brother and his cheerful sari-clad wife were teetotalers. So, I was the only guy guzzling. From what little they told us, it turned out to be the classic black-sheep-of-the-family story but with a happy ending: the ne’er-do-well finally making his pile in faraway London. I was puzzled why the couple was going out of their way to impress someone whom they had met the first and, most likely, the last time in their lives. I reckon they must have wanted me to carry a glowing report of the royal treatment I had received to their family in India. I did my bit out of gratitude. A few years later, I heard from my ex-colleague that his brother had passed away and his widow had opted for living in London rather than going back to India. I guess it made sense. The couple had no children and also no emotional ties left in India.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Work fascinates me. I can watch it for hours.

This morning, I went out wearing my canary yellow T-shirt with the “Work fascinates…” legend emblazoned across the chest. That, by the way, is not “by the way”. I’m upset at the way Mumbai opens up for work later and later as time goes by. As late as the early eighties, shops in our neighbourhood used to be open by 8 am. Now you can count yourself as lucky if the shutter is up by 9. By one of those bizarre happenstances, all my chores today got done earlier than I had thought and despite taking a really leisurely walk via Khotachi Wadi to my final chore I reached the spot 45 minutes too early. There was no alternative – no good bookshop within easy reach – to while away the time on hand. So I strolled aimlessly through a sudden but brief cloudburst around the once familiar neighbourhood most of which seemed so alien thanks to the new shops and new multistoried buildings. I finally landed up in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant & Stores for a cup of tea. After taking my order, the lady who now seems to be in charge of the Irani CafĂ© started scolding someone for being late. He happened to be the man from the raddiwala there to collect the used cardboard cartons and plastic bottles for recycling. His lame excuse for being late was the cloudburst I mentioned earlier. I watched him as he went about his task systematically while I sipped my tea. He seemed to be good at it the way he unhurriedly undid every carton and flattened it out to arrange layer on layer. It took him as long to finish his chore as it did me to finish my cuppa: all of fifteen minutes. My last chore saw me again admiring someone taking ten minutes and a lot of chitchat on the side to do a job that should have taken no more than two minutes at the most. That’s the way the cookie crumbles these days, I reckon.