Sunday, July 28, 2013

A confession


While trying to clean up my drive, I came across an early attempt at fiction from at least 11 years back. I had an urge to edit this before posting here, but then thought against it!

The Business Times headlines on 21st April 1994 stated: “Collins Jewellers to buy Crystal Trading Gems in a $ 23 million contract.” Not new. This was the third company bought this year by James Collins, the well-known jeweller from South Carolina, now living here in New York.
Millions of eyes across the vast continent of America did not give a thought to this news; but one pair of eyes did. Those were of Shane Rockwell, a well turned-out robber belonging to downtown New York. Not a very known face but yes; his ‘neat work’ had done him wonders in the past.
All was planned. Rockwell researched about Collins and came to know that Collins was a regular at the St. Stephen’s church on Sundays. He had never before gone to a church, but for robbing the jeweller, he had to. He planned to make Collins a good friend and gain more knowledge about the biggest name in the jewel world!

A religious man by heart, James Collins never failed to visit the church on Sunday. A very well versed man by nature and a known trustee to the St. Stephen’s Church added to the list of assets that Collins earned. Another Sunday arrived and as usual the jeweller walked into the church and sat on the second bench to the right side. During Mass, a man sat beside him and started asking questions about the verse of the bible that the priest was reciting. Weird, isn’t it? But this wasn’t weird for Rockwell; he had not been to a church before!
Collins courteously answered, “Please maintain silence sir.” At the end of the ‘Thought for the day’, Father announced, “Confessions counter is open.” Collins asked Rockwell if it was his first day in church and got an answer in the affirmative. Rockwell, wanting to start a conversation, quickly asked Collins, “What is this ‘Confessions counter’?” A kind man, Collins told him, “If you have any confessions to make or problems to ask to the priest, you can do it over there. The only thing is that neither will you be able to see the priest and nor will he see you.” “Oh, Ok,” said a confused Rockwell; disgusted to realize that he didn’t know about his own religion.
James Collins formed a rather feeble impression of Shane Rockwell at their first meeting, but was impressed with the man and thought that he was a very respectable person; he only thought so!
Next time they met in the church, Collins was early enough to tell Rockwell to maintain silence during Mass. So he didn’t. At the end of the ‘Thought for the day’, Father announced, “Confessions counter is open.” Rockwell, after all a thief, was pretty disturbed by this confession business. He didn’t like the priest saying ‘Confessions counter’ because he didn’t want to confess what he was about to do.

He learnt more about the church from Collins: about the Bible reading, the Choir, the hymns and many other things. When asked why he hadn’t come to a church before and coming now, Rockwell conveniently replied, “My parents were atheists. They had lost complete faith in God after the death of my brother, their first child. So they forbade me to go to church. But I have always believed that somewhere something is above you; and that is supernatural, and that is God. Now that my parents are no more alive, I want to know more about Christianity and so I come to church.” Well done, Rockwell, he thought to himself.

In their following meetings, each one got to know the other; the difference being that what Rockwell came to know was true, but what Collins came to know was false. In a few days Dr. Rockwell became Shane and Mr. Collins became James.

Shane used to tell his tales of the hospital where he was apparently practicing. He told James how he successfully handled that serious case about the woman with her right leg having 16 fractures. And how could he afford to miss telling him about the man with a dislocated shoulder? But all was fake. No truth in it.

On the other hand, James was pretty true. He was very careful about what he spoke in public, but to as great a friend as Shane, he was very frank. He told him that he did not get along with his wife. He also told him that he loved his father and it was because of his inspiration that he was able to develop such a huge empire of Collins Jewellers.

Shane was benefitted by this knowledge. He not only came to know about the life of the ‘king of jewels’ but also got in hand vital information about various gems. He learnt how diamonds are cut and how fake diamonds can be differentiated from genuine ones. He learnt that as diamonds prepared by artificial processes are too tiny, most of the diamonds in the market are naturally formed and so they are not hundred percent pure. This could help him when he was actually robbing America’s most renowned jeweller.

One night, James invited Shane to his mansion for dinner. They had a lavish dinner of three courses: appetizers, the main course and desserts. James told Shane that he had been having pain in his left knee for quite a few days and asked for advice. Shane was dumbstruck. He said, “Ah, James! It is nothing but stress that is weighing on you. I advice you to take a pain killer, and if at all it pains again we will see about it.” How shameful was the fact that a renowned surgeon did not even know the name of the medicine to give for a knee pain. Dr. Shane would make a fine surgeon someday!

Friday, 4th July, 5:00 AM: Collins Jewellers was not working today owing to Independence Day. James Collins was still having pain in his knees. Just that it had become so painful that he could not get out of bed. He called up his family doctor, Dr. Henry Lawson, who immediately came home. His leg didn’t look too good so Dr. Lawson gave him an injection and prescribed a few medicines. James was worried that he would not be able to hoist the flag at the shop, which was to be done after three hours.

He called up Shane, “Hey Shane, I am having immense pain in my knees. I am unable to get up from my bed.” Shane was puzzled. After all he wasn’t a surgeon. He asked James, “Should I come over to diagnose the problem?” “No,” replied James, “My family doctor came over and has given me an injection.” Shane was so relieved. James continued, “I wanted to ask a favour from you. It is a tradition that I have been hoisting the American flag at Collins Jewellers ever since I started the shop. However, due to this knee pain, I will not be able to go to hoist the flag. But the dignitaries have already been invited and I cannot afford not to raise the flag. Could you please hoist the flag on my behalf?” Shane didn’t know that the opportunity to rob the jeweller would come so early and easily. He quickly told James, “Oh, sure. This is no favour for a friend, it’s my duty to help when you need it.” James called Shane home to collect the keys of the shop.

Shane went to James’ house. He touched his knee apparently trying to locate the root cause of the pain. James gave him the keys of the shop saying, “Shane, I am so thankful to you that you are doing this for me. The flag of the country as well as of Collins is kept in the right drawer of my cabin. Key number 23 is for that drawer. After the flag hoisting, the priest will give a speech for about twenty minutes. Then tell the guards that the flag would be there that day and tell them to lower it at half-mast. You can return the keys tomorrow.” By that time, James told Shane that it was already 7 o’clock and that he had to hoist the flag at 9 o’clock.

Shane quickly went home and changed his clothes. He arrived at the shop at 8 o’clock. Collins Jewellers was located in the heart of New York. It was a two-storied building with an open ground-like area outside. The flags were hoisted in this open space. To the right of the building, there was a toilet.

The guards recognized Shane and had been already informed to let him in. He opened the shop. He went inside James’ cabin, opened the right drawer and took out both the flags and secretly switched off the main switch for the burglar alarm. He instructed the guards to tie the flags on the poles outside the shop. By 8.45 A.M., all the dignitaries and the employees had arrived. Sharp at 9 o’clock, the national anthem was sung and Shane hoisted the flag. Soon after the flag hoisting and the national anthem, the priest got ready to deliver his speech. Five minutes after the start of the speech, Shane got up and asked the way to the toilet. He went inside the toilet and by his knowledge, found a back door there. But it was locked. Shane had the keys to the shop. He tried and one of the keys opened the back door of the toilet. He went outside the toilet and into the shop. He stole two heavy, diamond-studded necklaces worth $1.25 million. Those were the ones Shane had had his eyes on for quite a while now. No alarm rang as he had switched off the burglar alarm. He replaced the genuine necklaces with fake ones, and put them in his pockets. The fake ones had been specially designed to match the real necklaces. He switched the burglar alarm back on from James’ cabin and came out of the shop, into the toilet, and sat down to hear the priest’s last words, “… And lastly, I would like to say that whatever happiness you gain in your life, don’t gain it on the cost of another person’s happiness. Amen!” The ceremony got over. Shane went back home.

At night, Shane lay down on his bed and looked at his biggest ever achievement and even that, without giving a clue to anyone. But something disturbed him, it was his conscience. A few questions kept coming to his mind. Had he been right to his friend? It was alright, he had only made friends with Collins to rob him. But… what did the priest say, “And lastly, I would like to say that whatever happiness you gain in your life, don’t gain it on the cost of another person’s happiness.” The priest was right. Shane could not sleep the whole night, as he was feeling guilty for what he had done.

Next day morning, Shane went to James’ house to return the keys. He was happy to see that James was feeling a little better. James thanked him once again for his friendship. This made Shane feel all the more worse. The words of the priest again sounded in his ears like a gong, loud and clear.

At the same time, in the shop the necklaces went unnoticed. One of the employees did notice that the necklaces were shining a little too much, but he forgot about it in a few minutes because there was so much business to attend to in the shop owing to the holiday the previous day.

The following hours, Shane thought about the words of the priest and looked back upon what he had done to the person who had rested so much trust in him. By evening he decided that he was going to make up for the mistake that he had made. He knew exactly what he was going to do.

It was a bright new Sunday morning and the sun rose high above the church. Shane rushed to the church half an hour early. He knew where he had to go and walked straight towards the confessions counter. It was a little early and so no one was in the church at that hour. He left the necklaces near the counter along with a note saying: ‘I am returning the happiness that didn’t belong to me. Please give this to the real owner, Mr. James Collins’. On doing so, Shane thought twice, gave a sigh of relief and walked out of the church.

As usual, Shane met James outside the church. He asked James how his knee was. James could finally walk. Shane passed an unusual smile to James. James smiled back at him. Both James and Shane walked together into the church. They went and sat on their usual second bench to the right side. The choir began and all went well. At the end of the ‘Thought for the day’, Father announced, “Today, we have a different type of confession made. It is a letter along with two necklaces that says: I am returning the happiness that didn’t belong to me. Please give this to the real owner, Mr. James Collins. I am happy to say that whoever has made this confession has realized that he couldn’t have lived on someone else’s happiness. Mr. Collins, please collect your belongings from me later.”

James was very surprised on hearing this. He was totally unaware of the fact that someone had taken necklaces that belonged to him. James looked towards his friend and said, “I didn’t know that thieves have hearts too!” On hearing this Shane replied, “Oh yes, they too are humans.” They looked on to the priest as he continued, “Confessions counter is open.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The India of hope

There is the India of the old, the mighty;
the India of gold, and the villages; 
the castes, and the rich; 
of temples, and the looting.

The India on fire, and of resolve;
of non-cooperation and violence;
of unity and partition;
of love, and oppression.

The India of war, and of progress;
of math, and of disease;
of songs and of mourning;
of freedom and of terror.

There is the India of celebration;
of pollution and festival;
the India of the internet, and lack of water;
of the cities, and of potholes.

The India of organization, of confusion;
of economics and corruption;
of reservation, and secularism;
the India of fear, and free speech.

There is the India of hope.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Neighborhood watch - Old San Juan, San Juan, PR

The cobbled stone is light blue in colour, may be that's what makes the pictures ever so fairy talesque. Brightly painted houses, narrow sloping streets, the ocean in the background, light music (or is it just the language?), tourists all over, pedestrians, bikes, cars, all scrambling for right of way. Turn a corner and you encounter a typically European square, turn another and there is a hole-in-the-wall crafts shop. Take in the Spanish, gobble up the mofongo, sip on the mojito while you talk to the American restaurant owner. Think of asking him why he moved from New Jersey to San Juan; think again while looking at the sea right ahead; don't ask.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Contact lenses

My eyes have gotten to that irritating, in-between state, whereI can just about do without wearing glasses, but wearing them makes everything looks so much clearer!

But when you want to watch television lying down sideways, glasses are painful. I thought of finally moving on to contact lenses.

But getting lenses in the US meant an appointment and a visit to the doctor, which my laziness didn't let me do. I instead called my brother in Bombay and got them delivered from there.
All excited, I opened the parcel to not find a case for the lenses. I ordered a set of 3 immediately on Amazon, and waited two days to get them. I was now ready to watch tv!

I had never wore lenses before, and had no idea how complicated wearing lenses for the first time is. A contact lens, being so delicate, can be held in both directions. The direction with the greater convexity is supposedly the correct direction. I was absolutely unable to decide which was the correct direction, so I started trying. I poked my eye for half an hour, and after my eyes were as bloodshot as I've never seen them before, I gave up.

The next day, I turned to Youtube to teach me how to put on the lenses. A ridiculous quack explained the procedurein great detail, but my trials still did not succeed.

I took these lenses to San Francisco, where I was visiting my sister, to learn from someone with experience. She had gotten her Lasik surgery done, so she did not have any solution for the lenses. She taught me how to do it, but only in words.

After a month of giving my eyes some rest from my poking, I took up the task again yesterday. Voila! The left eye lens was friendly enough to stay in! Now that I believed that something was not wrong with the shape of my eyes, I poked my right eye with more determination and finally succeeded. I cried; mainly due to the poking, but also in happiness!

I went to a friend's housewarming party after that, and he pointed out he thought I cried and came! After hearing my story, they started a conversation about how if you sleep with contact lenses on, they could end up stuck inside your eye and could require surgery! So I came home last night scared but ensured I took them off before sleeping.

I woke up in the middle of the night, and thought I was still wearing them. I ran to the mirror and started poking my eye. When you wear lenses, it's easy to forget you're wearing them, especially with my not-so-bad-that-I-require-glasses eyes. After nothing came out of either eye, I checked he case and realized I had taken them out the previous night! So much for watching TV!

Monday, August 01, 2011

Neighborhood watch - Chinatown

Neighborhood watch - Chinatown

One day at work, we got talking about food in Chicago; supposedly the restaurant capital of the country. Everyone raved about Chinatown; the hole-in-the-wall shops, the cheap goods, and the brilliant, open late at night, restaurants.
So I met up with a couple of friends to celebrate 4th of July at the immigrant neighborhood. We went to Lao Sze Chuan; probably spelled in Indian as Lao Schezwan. The place was quite busy; a half hour wait at 8.30pm. Once we were seated, no one came to take our order for 15 minutes, supposedly since the kitchen was too busy to accommodate all orders! Of course, we hadn't expected great service. The server simply said No to most of the requests that my vegetarian freind made! After he finally did take the order, we waited another half hour for the food to come.
Upto this point, our expectation of Schezwan sauce was that of a red, hot, sour-ish sauce. The Sze Chuan gravy turned out to be transparent, bland, sweet-ish. It is only then that I realized how Chinese food for me, was still the Indian-Chinese that I ate at Mainland China!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

City, matters.

June 6, official or not (I'm unsure), is a date etched in my mind as the start of monsoons in Bombay. I share a love-hate relationship with the rains there. Five years back, I hated the rains; but since, I absolutely love them.

Rains for me meant getting out of the building extremely armed, with a wind-cheater (I don't really know how that's spelt) and an umbrella, but both in the bag. It was about getting drenched. It was about making that run from college to Shot Club, and then trying to dry out the skin between the thumb and the forefinger so that I could cue. It was about going to Dhiraj for the coffee. It was about morning drives to the beach, and trying to park an enormous Innova in the by-lanes of Juhu. It was about avoiding the puddles on the ground while trying to kick the football.

It was about cursing the rain, while ever so loving it.