Hair raising!

>> Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When I was growing up, cutting my hair was always a task in itself. There was this old barber in my neighborhood. He used to stoop so low, I used to fear he would fall over any time. The chair on which I used to sit used to seem straight from the British era. The whole metallic body rusted, with just a glimpse of the golden beauty it had once peeping out from some places. The upholstery a little torn.

He would then pick up this old dusty cushion from a corner and put it on the chair. So that my tiny little head could reach his height and he would not have to stoop even lower. A smelly cloth over me to keep the hair from reaching inside my clothes. But such was the cloth, they would still manage to reach places which used to give me the tickles. And everytime I moved due to them, I would get a tap on the head. He would then go about his task with the oldest of combs in the history of mankind. But his scissors were spanking clean. And so sharp, that the fear of him cutting off my ears kept me steady still. The barber was slow. So slow, that we had a joke going around, "Once he is done with one side of the head, he takes so long to do the other side that the hair on the first side has grown again by then!"

As I grew up and we changed localities, the old barber was replaced by Baroda Men's Salon. An everchanging group of young people from different parts of Gujarat eager to cut your hair. But apart from new combs, bigger chairs and some new oils, the basic haircut remained the same. Once you sit in the chair, he asks, "Cutting ya daadhi (shave)?" You think of the razor sharp blade he uses on your poor skin for a shave, shudder, and say, "Just cutting". And then you choose from one of two options: "Baarik (small) or medium". That's it. No hairstyling. Nothing. You don't want to risk your crop in these hands with anything else. Once or twice i tried variations like "Bhaiyya, baarik or medium ke beech me karo (Between medium and small please)" with disastrous results. So I pretty much stick to baarik or medium. So unless my friends start yelling 'Dude, you need to cut your hair' and mom finally warns me, "If you want to stay in this house, you better take care of that 'chidiya ka ghosla' on your head!", I dont go for a hair cut. And then, its either baarik or medium. Suddenly, its like a load of my head! And even a passerby can notice I have had a haircut! And you know what, I was content with this for 25 years of my life.

But then, things have a way of catching up with you. I recently had one of the "baarik cuttings" resulting in what I call a "champu gabaal (Sorry, I can't translate this!)" cut. And my hair was slowly on the way to regaining some form of semblance, when I got to know that in a week's time I had an important interview coming up. And I had to be in complete business attire, with formal suit and shoes (how I went about getting those could form a whole new post here!). But a lot of my well-wishers(?) thought that I had to do something about my hair!! I tried to get out of it. But they were having none of it. I couldn't even give the typical reason - "I don't know any great hairstylists with whom I can risk my hair at this last moment." Because one of my very dear friends, Nimisha, is a well-known stylist in the city with her own salon in Kalyaninagar. The salon's name is 'UppBeat'- ironic in my case!

But I finally decided to go ahead with it. You have to understand how huge this was for me. Here is a guy who has never cared about his appearance before. He does not know the difference between a shampoo and a conditioner and couldn't care less for it. And suddenly, he had to think about all those things! The anonymity of Baroda Men's salon was no longer there. There was going to be an expert, worse still a friend, who was going to pay complete attention to me, scrutinize my head in every angle possible, toot-toot about how unkempt it was and most probably scold me for all the neglect! Then, there was the image of a professional salon as being the bastion of the metrosexual. And I know that even if I try, I will never be even close to being one. So all in all, it took me a lot of courage to call up Nimisha and hesitantly ask her for an appointment. Misha being the sweetheart she is, said, "Oh! Come tomorrow itself!" Why is she such a sweetheart? Couldn't she just say, I am busy the whole week! How I would have loved to escape that way! But no. She had to be so nice!

Normally, whenever I have to go to my barber for a haircut, I am at my worst appearance. I have just gotten up, brushed my teeth and am off in my old t-shirt and shorts, hair all unkempt with a 3-day stuble adorning my sleepy face. But this was different! After a sweaty cricket practice, I couldn't just go to Nimisha all smelly and unkempt. I feared one of her assistants would probably kick me out. I shaved, took a bath, combed my hair, put on a fresh pair of clothes and went to her like a good boy!

I called up ahead. She said, "You reach here. I will be upstairs. I will tell my assistants to shampoo your hair!" "No no no..." I cowered. "You meet me first, have a look and tell me if I really need to do anything about it." It was my last attempt. Somehow hoping to get out of it and tell the world with a smug grin, "See I did go to a stylist. And my hair is just fine the way it is!"

When I went through the glass door of the salon, a nice soothing music greeted me. I had a look around. The place was artfully done. My old image of a “saloon” was beautifully driven out of my mind like one of VVS Laxman's wristy flicks to squareleg. A nice receptionist greeted me and asked me to take a seat. I am no interior designer, but the waiting area seemed like the setting of a tastefully done lounge. Deep seated sofas with a water curtain for one of the walls, it somehow soothed my nerves. And then there was Nimisha. "You already look like a dude!" she said. I grinned. Maybe I could get out of it then. But the wily fox knew what she was doing. She had just put me at ease. And the curious child in me started to surface.

This was a new world for me. And like a small child, I started asking what everything was. First up, the chair. Wo! That was something. Nice and comfortable. And once I sat on it, she just pumped a lever at the back with her leg and up it went. OK, I know it's nothing out of the world. But at that time, I was so much into the curious child phase, that I found everything interesting! Next to the chair, there was this long stick, attached to a base with a beautiful spiral at the top. Must be a show piece, I thought. But no. It was just a stylish holder for the hair dryer! I am in unchartered territory here, I thought, as Nimisha started looking at my hair. "Hmmm... you already have your hair short at the side and the back..." I cringed. Here comes the tirade. The "champu gabaal" look was going to get me hell. Instead, she just smiled. "Don't worry, we will just work with the top a little. And you will have a new look!" My bewildered look made her laugh. "Now, go get a shampoo done". OK, I said. Then I looked around again, like a lost child. "What exactly do I... err.." I started off. She laughed again and led me to a recliner chair at the end of a basin like thing.

By now, I had stopped noticing stuff. It was a different thing that my glasses were off and I was sitting there in an awkward reclining position. One more lever, out popped a support for my ostrich legs, and I was comfortable again. I could not see what was going on behind me now. I could just here sounds. There was the sound of running water. And suddenly, there was water in my hair. "Is the temperature right?" the assistant asked. "Yes, yes" I mumbled. After carefully rinsing my hair, she applied something, then rinsed again. Applied something again, rinsed again. The whole atmosphere was so soothing, I felt like going off to sleep right there! I am not accustomed to such pampering, I told Nimisha. "You are in my hands now. Get used to it", she replied.

After the wash, I sat on the chair again. I was looking around for the normal 'dabba' holding the scissors et al. Instead, another assistant pulled out a trolley full of instruments! "Are you going to perform surgery here?" I though of asking. But knowing that she could do whatever she wanted to with my hair now, I kept quiet. And then she was standing there, with a comb and scissors in her hand. Accustomed to the rough handling of my head as if it was a punching bag, I didnt even realize it when she started off. And what skill! I could barely see as her hand just went from one end to another. Tiny snips here and there. So fast. So subtle. And before I knew it, she was done with the scissors! Man, this woman knew her trade! And then, came out a strange looking device with a nice strobbing light at the back of it. What was that? I almost asked. She guessed my apprehension. "It's just a trimmer!" I nodded my head as if I understood everything. Yeah right! But soon i realized what it was. It was the modern day replacement for the "vastara"! The long knife like instrument used to take out your sideburns and sometimes parts of skin along with it! But here, again, didnt feel a thing. This whole experience was turning out to be a little too surreal for me.

"OK, I am done with your hair". I grinned. But it vanished as soon as she said the dreaded words. "Now, I am going to style it." What??? After another round of shampooing and drying my hair, she said, "Put on your glasses. And check to see whether you like a particular style." My vision grew clearer. And as I looked into the mirror, for the first time, I could really appreciate what she had done. This was a side of me I didnt know existed! I was still too confused to really tell her what I liked and not. Finally, she decided on one. "Here, this should give you a good business look for the interview" I just nodded in wonderment. Then she gave me simple tips on how to style my hair. I kept nodding.

After that, everything was like in a daze. Her next client had come in. Before I could say anything, she told me straightaway, "Don't talk about money, or I will kill you." I just nodded again. We made plans to meet up with friends later. And I walked out. As I sat in my car, and once again checked in my rear view mirror, it started finally to sink in. That after years and years of the parted down the side blob of hair, I finally had something that I could call a 'look'. And I was really happy with it. I beamed. And then I realized, I hadn't even said thank you to her. Knowing Nimisha, I guess she would have 'killed' me for doing that too.


My Lucky Seven

>> Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ok, I am new to this tagging game. Had been tagged once before by Amrita, but then I was in the middle of my never ending story, so couldn't write it (It was a different matter that it was an extremely difficult tag, so I ran away from it!) Now, that I have nothing else to do, here's another tag from Yamini about seven places that I love in this world. This seems a little easier. So, apart from my abode, in chronological order, here they are:

1. Shivaji Park Tennis Courts, Mumbai: Sweating it out after a tiring school day, this is where I developed my love for sports. And for the assortment of chat items we used to get outside the courts. This is also where I realised that I am supposed to get attracted to girls. A plethora of beauties in short skirts hitting the ball hard all around me didn't hurt either! I would truly say that this is the place where I started growing up. Whenever I go there even now, I can still see the little boy inside me. The downtown boy who wants to be a part of the uptown crowd...

2. The basketball court at PICT: Ohh, the games we have played here. Sports and otherwise! I remember one time, there was cricket, football, basketball, handball and rugby happening all at the same time here! Not to mention the "batting" that kept happening at the courtside katta. This was the place where I first used to go when I went to college. This was invariably the last place from where I used to leave for home. People get nostalgic about a lot of stuff in college. This is what gets me all welled up.

3. Coffee House @ Taj Blue Diamond, Pune: There was a time when this was the only decent joint in Pune which used to be open through the night. And a friend's girlfriend had this nagging habit of arriving at the Pune station by a 4 a.m. train. So, we used to hang out here, before and after she arrived. That's how i discovered it. And then I kept coming back. Many friendships have been forged here. My first "official date" was here... Even now, whenever I just want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and sip a nice hot cup of coffee without shrill teenagers around (normally present in a CCD or a Barrista), this is where I head to.

4. The classroom at Kothrud where I taught Seed PGDET, Pune: For six months, I had a bunch of eager students who would discuss, assimilate and implement anything that I threw at them. This is where I realised why teaching as a profession is so hallowed and revered. The only time in my professional life, when I literally used to put not just my heart but my very soul into what I was doing. After three hours of teaching every morning, I would be mentally and physically exhausted. I am sure I learned much more from the students in these six months than they learned from me. A defining place in making me what I am today... and something that I would love to do any given day.

5. Sus road Tekdi, Pune: This is the place where I have spent probably the most memorable evening of my life. A beautiful setting sun spreading it's glow across the bustling city. Artifical lights flickering on as natural light dimmed out. Just you, your love in your arms, the open starlit sky above you and the city of lights in front of you. It can't get more romantic than this. It was a moment which I wanted to last forever. Still feel as if it should have lasted forever! I just can't go there anymore. I am afraid of disturbing the picture of it I have in my head. I feel a little pang in the heart whenever I cross the place!

6. The first carrom board, KPIT Recreation Area, Pune: This seems to have recently made it into this list. It is my getaway vehicle in office. A couple of sets quickly after lunch, hoping that my manager doesn't catch me sitting here. Long championship games between me/Rahul and Sunny/Gaya that go on into the night, neither team willing to give up! While writing this I have realised how much I look forward to this board during office hours!

7. The weirdly round thing sitting on my shoulders - my head: I like to get lost here. In my own world. I know it sounds a little loony. But I like it. And most of the time, it gets manifested as idiotic writings on this blog - pretty much like this one! I guess, being a little insane in the head is what keeps me sane in this world...

That's it. Phew! I ended up writing a lot here. And along the way, realised a few things that I had not noticed earlier... Thanks Yamini! Now, to continue the tradition, here are seven people whom I would want to write this one (those of you who don't want to write on their own blogs, please write it as a comment):


Hope you have as much fun doing this, as I did!


The Storm

>> Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The wind howled around her. Standing on her terrace, she could see people scurrying for shelter below. The tin sheets that formed a makeshift roof of a hut across the road cluttered. They fought a fierce battle with the wind. Trying to hold on. To their identity. Without the four walls beneath them, they would be nothing but tin sheets. Those four walls made them a roof. They were the last line of defense for the simple people that lived under their shelter. They were the only thing that kept those poor beings from being homeless. They had to hold on. They had to fight this battle.

She watched this with a smile. She seemed unperturbed by the howling wind. She stood firm. Her long hair flying away behind her. Her white dress clinging on to her, flailing like the torn sails of a ship caught in mid-storm. She stood there with her back arched, as in defiance to the world.

He watched her. The lines of her face were sharp, unlike the soft features that have come to be recognized as the standard of beauty these days. But in her face, he found something which was rare to come by. He found truth. It was naked. There was no mask. There was the sheer arrogance that she could and would do whatever she set out to do. He realized that she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. A beauty not masked by years of faking emotions or hypocritical wanderings, but that derived from sheer competence. From the happiness that is inherent in you after a work done well.

And he thought about all the work that she had done. All that she had accomplished. Fighting through the inefficiencies of the bureaucracy, trying not to get entangled in the political games being played out in the capital, she had sustained her march, taking the nation along with her. But somehow, the wolves had caught up. They had ended up making such a big mess of it all, that before she could react, the world had collapsed. She could fight against the biggest masterminds. But it was the most stupid of things that had sent across a crippling wave of losses throughout the world.

Many had been crushed. But she had stood resolute. She had not despaired. She knew what had to be done. And she had started going about it with the single-mindedness of a bricklayer intent on rebuilding the whole building - brick by brick. What she had planned to do was going to ruffle quite a few feathers. But it had to be done.

It was at moments like this that he hated his job. He looked through the lens again. He looked at the hope she gave. At the sheer confidence that she exuded. He saw the steely resolve in her eyes. He traced her from toe to head, taking in the surreal beauty in front of him. A beauty that invigorated the basest of human qualities in him. As her forehead came into his cross-hair, he shrugged, "Oh, what the fuck." And pulled the trigger.


9: Epilogue

>> Saturday, August 15, 2009

Spoiler Alert: Please don't read this epilogue if you intend to read the story. There's a whitish kind of box on the left side of your screen containing the links to the storyline. 0:Prologue is where the story actually starts. (Well, I had to put up this spoiler alert as a few of my over-enthusiastic friends actually read the epilogue first! And then cursed me for it!)

9: Epilogue

She slowly came out of the water. Waves slashing against her glowing tanned skin. Sand desperately trying to cling on to her, as if it didn't want to let go. The sun beating down on her, making the sand particles glow. She pulled back her hair. And just whipped them around in the most nonchalant manner possible. Sid looked at her and sighed. This is the life! He grinned as he lay on a hammock sipping on his drink. He looked around. He could just see the virgin beach stretch to eternity on both sides. She came up to him. In her peculiar Carribbean accent, which Sid just loved, she said, "Sid! Naughty boy! What were you looking at?"

"You know what I was looking at. Don't you?"

She laughed out aloud. And lay down on the hammock besides him.

Sid looked at her. He looked at his surroundings. And he sighed again. He had done good. India, Pune, Big Mac, SecureSoft, all seemed so far away right now. But he was in the midst of it all - just a week back!

He had planned it perfectly. He had destroyed the DVD. He knew he had to. He couldn't risk it falling into Big Mac's hands. But Big Mac didn't need to know that. He had sent across the mail to SecureSoft. He knew they couldn't refuse his offer. Big Mac and the two gentlemen, whoever they represented - all to be caught redhanded. Sid's freedom and a new life in a country of his choice was a small price to pay in return.

And then there was the dealing with Big Mac. He had known Big Mac long enough to know his pressure points. Once he had told Big Mac that he just wanted more money for the DVD, Big Mac had agreed. Again, a few million dollars in a Swiss bank account was small price to pay in return for the DVD and the bounty Big Mac would earn from the two gentlemen. It never occured to Big Mac that Sid would have had a deal with the police. Big Mac walked straight into the trap. Thereafter, tracking everything else was pretty easy.

Meanwhile Sid was on the flight to the Carribean. He had always wanted to come here. He loved the carefree life that people led here. There was just one thing that he wished he could have done. Meet Neha. Whatever they had, it had been special. He would have liked to say good bye.

But maybe, it was better he had vanished the way he had. He didn't really know what he would say to her. And how would she react? Oh, what the hell! Sid thought. Let bygones be bygones.

As he looked into the sunset, with a drink in hand and a Carribean beauty besides him, Sid couldn't help but remember one of Big Mac's special ones, "Sid, my boy! It's always better to leave a girl's bed without waking her up and leave a country without telling anybody... Saves a lot of explanations!"

The End


8: The message

>> Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The steaming hot cup of coffee warmed her hands as Ishika held it. As she drank it, the steam fogged her glasses but the warmth spread from her hands to her jangling nerves. The blanket that she had pulled around her gave her a sense of calm. Through her fogged up glasses she looked at Neha sitting across her on the bed. They both needed that coffee after the evening's events.

The clock behind Neha struck two as Ishika thought about the last few hours. After the call, Neha had literally dragged her out into the car. Ishika was completely flummoxed. Here she was, at one moment sitting and chatting up with her friend, and in another moment she was holding onto her life as Neha shot the car precariously through Pune's bustling evening traffic! On the way Neha told her everything about Sid and his recent activities. Ishika just couldn't fathom it. It was straight out of a Hindi movie!

Neha's dad had meanwhile mobilized the state machinery. The Bund Garden police were on the lookout for Sid. They had positioned plainclothes policemen across the Bund Garden compound wall and on the bridge adjoining it. But they could find nothing suspicious. It was Saturday evening and there was a plethora of people milling around the various eateries and shopping places near the Garden.

Neha and Ishika reached Bund Garden at about the same time that Neha's dad did. He looked at Neha. Ishika sensed that he was about to scold her. But then, he held himself back. He must have understood. Maybe Neha wanted to get to the bottom of this as much as he did - though for completely different reasons. They waited at Bund Garden for quite a while. But there was no sign of Sid. As expected, his phone was again switched off. Ishika had calmed down by now. And she started thinking about the call. She asked Neha to describe it to her in detail again. The promise that Sid made to Neha, telling her to reach Bund Garden with her dad and the police and then the sudden groan at the end. It all pointed to the fact that maybe Sid had realized what was in the DVD and did not want to be a part of this theft anymore. And before he could do anything about it, he had been attacked. Or worse.

But wait. Sid had not called Neha. Neha had inadvertently called him. So, it could not be that Sid had planned to call Neha. The phone call and the subsequent directions to come to Bund Garden must have been spur of the moment actions. He must have already planned something else with the DVD. God knows he had a lot of time since last night to do anything he wanted to do with it. The fact that he was attacked while on the phone would mean that he had not delivered the DVD to whoever it was supposed to go. So, there was a high probability that the DVD had not fallen into the wrong hands as yet. Maybe all was not lost.

Ishika spoke with Neha and her dad. She put her hypothesis in front of him. Neha's dad smiled. "Well done Ishika. Infitech were fools to let you go! Now we just need to figure out what he could have done with the DVD. The best thing he could have done with it would have been to destroy it." Neha and Ishika looked at him. Ofcourse! That would be the simplest thing to do! "But often when you are under pressure, the obvious answer eludes you," said Neha's dad.

Just then, an aide came up to him and started speaking. Ishika looked around. It had gotten dark. The crowd was thinning out. Some of the shops were downing shutters, happily counting away the profit they had made on this busy Saturday. Neha's father spoke up, "We may finally know what Sid has done with the DVD. Apparently, we just got a mail at our office email id marked to me from Mr. Neel Siddique. That's the alias Sid had used when he had come here."

He paused. His aide gave him a printed piece of paper. Neha's dad read it aloud. Neha and Ishika could just look at him, mouths agape.

As Ishika finished her coffee, she looked at Neha and smiled. "You do have one hell of a choice in men!"

"The rat bastard!" Neha said aloud and then suddenly grinned. "When all this is over, I would sure like to meet him once!"

"And do what?"

Neha grinned again. She switched off the lights. That was some day, thought Ishika as exhaustion slowly took them into the deep recesses of sleep...


7: A dark room

>> Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sid slowly came to his senses. He got up and looked around. His head was pounding. He put his hand to the back of his head. It hurt like hell. He tried to see if there was any blood. Atleast, his fingers couldn't feel any. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he looked around. It was a small room, about 6 ft by 8 ft. He had been lying on a creaky old bed with a smelly torn mattress. There were no windows. The only light came from the gap formed by the door's hinges. He tried the door. It was locked.

A slight feeling of claustrophobia came over him. He brushed it aside. Focus, Sid, focus. How did I land up here? He tried to remember. The cobwebs in his mind slowly cleared as he remembered the last hour before he lost his consciousness. And then it all suddenly dawned upon him.

'Big Mac! The French bastard!' he thought. It had to be his doing. Nobody else knew where he was staying in Pune. It had to be his men who must have knocked him over. And then Sid suddenly smiled. He now realised where he was. This had to be one of Big Mac's new places just on the outskirts of Pune. Big Mac had told Sid about it. In fact, boasted about it. It was a huge villa on one of the hills near Paud, a small town some 30 kms from Pune. To an onlooker, it looked like a typical weekend getaway place for one of the rich businessmen of Pune. Well, weekend getaways did happen here. But not the kind rich businessmen would want to take part in.

Judging from the artificial light coming from the door's hinges, Sid could make out that it was still night. So, it had not been long after being hit on the head. And then Sid smiled again. This was typical Big Mac strategy. You want information from somebody, knock him over his head from behind. Leave him in such a dark room and wait for him to wake up. The fellow, however hardened he maybe, slowly starts panicking. Wait for about 6 to 7 hours and then bring him out and do some tough interrogation. "Being in the dark with a girl, my dear fellow, can bring out the devil inside you. But being in the dark alone, young man, can also easily set the Devil on you!" Most often than not, it worked.

Sid relaxed. He could play along with Big Mac's game. He still had an ace up his sleeve that Big Mac didn't know about. Sid reclined back on the bed, propping himself up with his elbows. He took a deep breath. And his mind wandered to the happenings of the evening.

The moment he had laid his eyes on the contents of the DVD, he knew what it was. And a plethora of emotions had broken out in Sid's mind. His whole life had flashed past his eyes. His parents' fatal car crash when he was just 17, his completing his college education with whatever insurance money his parents' death had given him, and then his slow and steady involvement with Big Mac. Sid's was not a typical story of a street urchin rising through the ranks of the underworld. Sid was an educated, English speaking graduate about to join the boring routine life of thousands of engineers passing out from mushrooming colleges across the country. But Sid never was interested in that life. Even in college, he was the daredevil. He had trained himself in martial arts. His Royal Enfield was a prized possession. With no parents to hold him back, he had enjoyed his college life to the hilt. With his parents' insurance money slowly dwindling, he knew he was not going to be happy with a typical fresher's salary in IT world.

Through a friend who knew of Sid's other talents, he had a chance meeting with Big Mac. Big Mac had immediately realised Sid's potential. Sid, being Sid, had immediately realised the opportunity that existed for a educated, polished, English speaking conman in Big Mac's world. And the rest, as they say, is history. Sid had led a good life. He knew he was good at what he did. And he knew Big Mac knew he knew. So, they both had an understanding. It would be only the classy jobs that would come Sid's way. In sheer professional terms, Sid would have to agree that this DVD job had been the classiest one of them all.

Which brought him to the DVD. Sid knew that he was not particularly patriotic. Hell, he was a conman. He also knew, he was no Robin Hood. What he did, he did just for himself. But one thing Sid knew and Sid knew well, was that he was not a terrorist. Neither did he want to be associated with one. Big Mac had, for once, bitten off more than he could chew. Doing this would be taking them into a completely different league. And with that would come the additional attention of not just India's intelligence agencies, but also those around the world. He didn't mind dealing with the Bombay police, but Sid knew that there was no point getting all this attention just for money. Screw Big Mac, he had thought.

And then he had decided exactly what he would do with the DVD. He set about doing it. It had been a roller coaster ride of emotions and thoughts. And in all this, he hadn't realized that it was half an hour past the meeting time with the two gentlemen. In a moment of weakness, he had switched on his old mobile phone. And just as luck would have it, Neha had called at that time. Somewhere inside, he really liked this girl. When he got to know she was involved in this as well, in another moment of weakness, Sid had uttered probably the corniest line that he had ever uttered to a girl in his life.

As Sid sat on the old bed thinking about it, he almost laughed out loud. Two moments of weakness in one day. Not good. Who did he think he was, a Hindi film hero? After doing a world of bad-doing, the hero realizes in the end that he has found his true love and gives up his crimes! Sid laughed again. What Sid had said to Neha on the phone had been true. But the way he had said it, Sid couldn't stop laughing at himself.

The he remembered what he had in mind for the DVD, Big Mac and the two gentlemen - whoever they might be. As the door to his room was suddenly thrown open, blinding him with light, Sid's laugh slowly turned into a sardonic smile...


6: The DVD

>> Tuesday, June 02, 2009

At around the same time that Sid was making the decision that would probably change his life, Neha sat along with Ishika in her posh Aundh bungalow thinking about the events that had unfolded in the past 12 hours.

The moment she had reached Pune, she had found a company car waiting for her at the bus stop. She was a little surprised to see the company car. Her father was very particular about keeping work and home as two different aspects of his life. Even though he owned the company, he would never use a company vehicle for personal use. The fact that he had sent a company car for Neha meant that her destination would not be home. It would be her dad's office. And the important thing was definitely related to his company. That's weird, thought Neha. How would she be involved in the company's matters? It wasn't as if she was a technical expert that her dad would call on to help with some problem they might be facing.

She called up her dad and told him she was on the way. He asked her to come to the main conference room in the main building. One more ominous sign. That room was always reserved for brainstorming sessions on big problems. Her heartbeats increased a little.

The car shortly pulled in through SecureSoft's massive gates. On reaching the conference room, she expected it to be brightly lit with a bunch of geeks with laptops in front of them discussing away some technical mumbo jumbo that she wouldn't understand. But she was surprised to find pin drop silence. The light was dim. And instead of a group of people, she found her dad at the far end of conference table, sitting alone. He got up as she came in. She quickly went to him and gave him a quick hug.

"How are you Pa?"

"Have seen better days, beta... Come have a seat. I am sorry I had to call you directly to office. I am sure you would have liked to relax a little at home first. But, this was a little too important..."

Neha sat down with a perplexed look on her face. She waited for her dad to continue.

"See beta. I don't know how to put this to you. You know I hate involving personal equations into company business. What I hate even more is getting into your personal business. I have always tried to let you make your own decisions and never doubted your judgment on people around you."

Neha still couldn't put a finger on where her dad was going with this. "Papa, what are you getting at? Come straight to the point na. I am getting a little confused here."

"I guess there's no use beating around the bush. I will come straight to it. Do you know this guy?"

He pressed a key on his laptop. What Neha saw in front of her took her so much by surprise that she couldn't speak for a while. Staring at her from the big conference room screen was an image of the same guy that she had tried so hard to forget for the last month or so. His hair color was a little brighter, his skin tone was a little lighter, but there was no mistaking him.

She just looked at her dad. Her mind was too numb to process anything right now.

"Well, we had this person visiting our office today. And there have been some problems and we have been trying to desperately locate him. It just so happened that Ramesh glanced at his picture while serving me tea here and he said that he had seen this guy in Mumbai once. With you!"

Ramesh was their trusted family help. He would be the one traveling to Mumbai to deliver anything that Neha might need from home. Neha remembered now the one time when Sid had come to drop her off at her place after a lunch date. And she had completely forgotten that Ramesh was supposed to come home with some of her stuff. He had met them downstairs and left.

"Is he a friend?" Her dad asked.

"Yes, I know him. Or rather, knew him." Neha replied. "What has happened dad? Please tell me." she urged.

"Ok. I will. But understand what I tell you is extremely confidential. This has to remain between us."

Neha nodded. This was turning out to be a little too surreal for her.

"My dear, you know that we build software for our country's defense forces. Well, unknown to anybody, we had undertaken a top secret project a year back, right around the time you left for Mumbai. It was also one of the reasons that I agreed to send you to Mumbai so that I could work long hours here overseeing the project without feeling guilty about you at home."

Neha nodded. That was all she could do at the moment.

"Well, the defense ministry recently purchased a huge number of specialized missiles from the Russians, capable of launching with pinpoint accuracy towards any target within a 400 km radius. What was so special about this deal was that India also got a centralized control system from the Russians.

The missiles are currently spread out along India's western border, many of them at crucially hidden locations to nullify the insurgency threat from our neighboring country. Even though the centralized control system could work to some extent, it's software had to be heavily modified according to India's strategic needs.

And that's where SecureSoft came in to the picture. We bagged the contract for doing these much-needed changes. However, the majority of the team does not know exactly what they are working on. It's just me and a couple of designers who know what this is meant for. Everything else has been modularized such that its only on a need to know basis."

Neha nodded. Again.

"Well, now that you have got a background of the work, let me tell you that in the last month or so the project was in its final stages. It was being tested extensively. And for field testing, the actual data that would be used later on was being used for testing of all the functionalities of the software. We also have a system of backing up data everyday for this highly sensitive data, and we had put a tight security system in place for securing that data as well."

"Today, this fellow", pointing at Sid's image on the screen, "had come in posing as an Israeli govt official checking out various security systems that we design. Ofcourse he was shown around the other smaller softwares that we use. But he somehow got one of our project leads to take him to the server room. And using a stomach upset ruse, he got away with the backup DVD containing all the actual data that we are using for the testing of this project."

For the second time in a matter of 15 minutes, Neha had been stunned. The only thing she could muster up was, "What is in that DVD?"

Her dad let out a sigh. "It contains exact locations and details of all the missiles that protect India and it's defended sovereignty..."

"You want some coffee?" Neha was nudged out of her reverie by Ishika. Neha shook her head. "Hey! What's up with you, sleepy head?" Ishika asked her. Neha just shook her head again. She was happy that Ishika was with her right now. But she was in no mood to talk. Ishika, sensing her mood, didn't probe further.

Neha's thoughts went back to last night. After it had sunk in that Sid had been involved in the theft of that DVD, Neha had been able to tell her dad about how she got to know him. She left out the romantic angle. But she knew her dad sensed it. Neha gave whatever details she could of Sid. And while she was trying to, she was surprised to realize that she actually didn't know much about him. The only tangible facts that she had about him was his cell number and the address of the flat he was supposedly living in. Her dad had them immediately checked out. The number was a duplicate SIM and not in use right now. By morning, they had found out that his flat had been rented out just for a month and no details were available. Both had been dead ends.

The day had passed in a daze for Neha. She couldn't make sense of it. Not only had she failed to judge Sid's character, she had failed so completely that she had now started doubting her judgment on everything.

Out of despondency, she had called up Ishika. She didn't want to be alone. And yet, even with Ishika sitting right besides her, she couldn't help but feel even more so. She toyed with her phone. She came up to Sid's number. And not knowing why, she just dialed it. Even though she knew it would not go through.

But suddenly, the display on her phone indicated that the call had connected! Neha didn't know what to do. She just kept staring at it! She could hear a faint voice answering from the other end as she held the cellphone in her hand. Without thinking, she put the phone to her ear. "Hello", she said.

"Neha? Is that you?" It was after a whole month that she heard Sid's voice.

And then she suddenly found her own. "Yes. Who are you, Sid? What else do you do? Kill people?"

"Neha! What are you talking about? Listen..."

"You listen. The DVD that you stole yesterday was from my dad's company. Do you have any idea what is in that DVD?!"

"Oh God! It's a small world! Neha, listen to me! I did not know what that DVD contained. Not until right now. And now that I know, I am not going to let it fall in the wrong hands... I may have broken all my other promises to you until now. But I promise you this. Tell your dad to meet me with the police at Bund Garden in.. Ahhhhhhhhhh!" Neha heard a huge thump and a big groan as the phone went dead.

"Hello? Sid?? Hello???" Neha yelled. No response.

Ishika had been sitting up in a state of major alarm for some time now. Neha looked at her. "We need to call dad! And we need to get to Bund Garden! Let's go! I will explain it to you on our way there!"

She literally dragged Ishika with one hand as she tried to call her dad with the other. Ishika just looked at her with her big eyes. Unknowingly, she too had gotten caught up in the hurricane that was Neha's life at the moment...


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