The Hippoceres Giving-It-Nicely Service

I deposited myself fluidly through the doors in the last second before closure. The trains in the USA insist on closing the doors, thereby denying folks like us to use the hang-on-by-a-strand-and-heave self onto train later technique. I can’t say I was in a frightfully enthusiastic mood as I plopped myself onto the only remaining seat. I turned and looked at the person sitting next to me and saw I had drawn the stiff corporate pant.

I had to drop some documents off at a government office and then face a regular day. I sat contemplating the task ahead while opening my book to read. Nothing that a good book can’t fix I told myself sternly and set to reading.

Minutes into the journey, he (the s-c-p, the stiff corporate pant I mean) whipped out his phone. A purposeful gleam emanated from his glassy eyes. I moaned. I think I can figure out when my quiet commute gets thrown out the window. He called his team in India, and far from having a how-are-things conversation, took a piece of mud and flung it with whim across the seven oceans. Ocean beds shuddered as they transmitted the bits from him to the unfortunate team on the other side. He shouted at them,  and then looked about impressively.  Nobody cared. I scowled. It made not the slightest difference to him. He talked on. He promised to call them all separately and ‘give them nicely’ for not running a report or some such thing.

He sounded like one of those folk who make mental lists of jumping on people, telling them in precise language how they failed as individuals, and how they would improve in life if only they were to listen to him and follow his instructions alone. I heard a goodish deal of his side, which meant that the stuffed mushroom thought nothing of hogging conversations.

“Hello Kavya?”

She probably said Hello, and that was about all she was allowed to say. If I knew her, I could have messaged her directly and told her to put down the phone and continue doing whatever else she was doing, with no loss. He started with the I’ll-show-you-who-is-in-control early enough. “What did you tell Gopal?” he bellowed.

I rummaged around for some cotton, fake-coughed a bit and stuffed my ears, but it did not help. What was required was one of those vacuum shower stoppers, not cotton. I could still hear every word:

“He said that you said that,” and on and on he went how about she was wasting her time. The passengers near me felt a bit sorry for Kavya, whoever she was. Luckily for her, she had no idea she was being publicly shelled like this. I mean, if you are whipping the air out of someone’s lungs, at least have the civility to do so in private, what? I threw him a dirty look. It simply evaporated like a droplet of water in the Saharan desert.

Soon, the bore lost the fun out of ripping Kavya and I tried to read again. He played on his phone for a few minutes. War horses need rest and restoration between battles. A minute later, he called Gopal and started by telling him what Divya told him and how he ‘gave her nicely’. The train was too full now for me to move away from this spot of misery, even if it meant standing on a one foot.

Say what you will about the steel glinted glass, he kept his promise. He made seven different calls and in between every call, he logged back into his game and riled himself up a bit more and got on with his ticking-off. He told every one of them again that he planned on calling every other member who had not delivered something, to ‘give them nicely’.  After throwing his weight about like a dancing hippo in the local discotheque frequented by rhinos, he disconnected the call, looked pleased with himself and treated himself to a long round of playing a game on his smart phone.


I almost cheered when his stop came and he went out with a triumphant stride. Clearly, the hippoceres thought his day started on a productive note.

I ruminated for a bit about the phrase ‘give one nicely’. A very Indian expression is it not, to give one nicely while doing the exact opposite? What a super-fatted-bore!

Maybe like Russell said:

Civilized life has grown altogether too tame, and, if it is to be stable, it must provide harmless outlets for the impulses which our remote ancestors satisfied in hunting.

If the s-f-bore had to fight off a few dogs and then run a mile before he leaped onto the train, and then was barely able to hang on, he might not have had the need to ‘give everyone nicely’.

It turned out that the document drop off at the Government office was an egg drop too. I was sitting there an hour after my appointment time, and fiddling my thumbs watching the videos of ‘Incredible India’ play over and over again. The guy at the counter before me was waving his hand impressively and making a lot of noisy gestures. I could not hear him of course(I preferred the music).  There is something hypnotizing about those videos like ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’.

My stomach gave a threatening rumble before I finally washed up in front of the clerk (Are they still called that?). She looked peeved. Maybe the guy before me gave her nicely, I thought. She rummaged through my stack of documents for a minute and then said she could not help me because we required another form with notarized signatures of all players in the game. I gurgled and tried asking if my signature alone would do. She shook her head firmly – It was a no-go.

My stomach squeezed itself with hunger, and I thought to myself savagely that now is the time for all loud men and women to come to the party and ‘give everyone nicely’: I  wondered if Mr. Hippoceres would lend his services.

“Hello! May I speak to the Hippoceres Giving-It-Nicely Service please?”

“Yes Ma’am. Who would you like to give it nicely to today?”

Truth or Perception of Truth?

I have written about my train rides before. (the first one dated about a decade ago: They are entertaining, freeing, frustrating and are not entirely the best friends to the olfactory senses, but then, when else do you get to appreciate the fact that you have allergies and a blocked nose that essentially mean that you don’t have to screw up your nose when others do?

The trains are hugely helpful for people like me who don’t enjoy having their noses stuck to a steering wheel: I would much rather stick my long-ish nose into a book. The trains are functional and not at all fancy. They take me to and from work everyday and for the most part are reliable.  I don’t know what it is with casting an evil eye on the most simple things. I typed this line out about 2 weeks ago for another blog, and in the intervening time, there were huge delays on the system causing much inconvenience and noise on social networks multiple times a week. There was one time when the website said, “We have been overwhelmed with the requests on the website, please check Twitter for updates.” Like any other person, I feverishly dug up all mentions of the trains and was greeted with dire warnings. News sites and social media told me that due to delays people have been queuing up on platforms and that the platform was so full that Police were standing near the ticket gates and turning people away.

All most disturbing. I summoned up that crowd instinct nestled in all of us and made for the station. That instinct is one of many things. One, it subtly points our body in the direction we wish to go and the rest is handled by the crowd. Two, it scans the crowd to see possible options and three, it senses danger. Number Three shows the vulnerability of mankind. For all our talk about finding one’s true self and being what you are and all that, one flaming emotion in a large crowd is all it takes for a person to lose their identity to the crowd. It is enough to sway people. To push them from their standard norms of behavior, and thus behave in ways that most of them would not pride themselves in.

I have been in situations where the crowd turns nasty really quickly and they are not memories I set aside for bedtime tales. For instance, there was this boy who worked at the corner grocery store in Bangalore in those days. He had a shy smile that he flashed every time we bought something. One time, I caught him running after chicks and not making a single victory. (Not eve-teasing, this guy had bought some chicks that looked like miniature powder puffs in various colors and had, in an unguarded moment, let them all loose all at once. ).

chasing chicks

Of course, he had imagined himself being seen to better advantage in front of his customers, but there you are. Both of us laughed at that, I bought my packet of milk and was off. A few weeks later, I remember, some riots broke out (somebody had died or somebody said something about somebody’s death – it doesn’t matter), but this hitherto mildly affable boy was transformed. I was alarmed when I saw the slightly mad look in his eyes, when I was hoping to find friendly ones.

I was strangely aware of all this as I made my way through the streets expecting to be pushed out through the escalators back to the street again, only to find that the station was completely empty. My senses jerked. One lone policeman was leaning against the wall and dreaming of his next coffee, so he could have something to do. Some homeless folk were there using the warmth of the underground pathway, a musician whose musical talent seems somewhat misplaced in a subway station, and two dogs. Nothing else.

Say what you will about news channels and social networks – they can make the happiest person court tears in minutes with nothing but a shred of news. Maybe all this real-time-update frenzy has us expecting to be alive and aware in a place, without really being there. That day, I was enormously grateful that the trains had got back on track and got me home, that I had worried for nothing. There were delays, during the day to be fair, it was the milking on that was quite unnecessary.

But it made me think. In this day and age of sharing and over-sharing, are we aggrandizing the mundane? Or worse still paltering with the truth. What is truth when one is flooded by so many perceptions of it, fanned vigorously by viral social networks?

If this had happened, would it have made a difference to what the grocer boy did in a crowd?

chasing chicks social media
chasing chicks social media

Mind in a boat .. self in a …

The boats are feeling left out in my life. ‘An explanation?’ you ask, I concede.

Regular readers already know I use the public transit into work.

What readers don’t know is that through no fault of mine, I have sidelined the aquatic altogether. The ships and ferries of the world crave for my company, but I turn a cold shoulder on them. Life can be hard I tell them, and they understand, but wither away nevertheless. Just to keep the blighters happy, I’ve decided to take a boat ride down a river.

‘What is this frivolity about boats?’, you ask. There is a reason. My commute everyday now proudly includes a car ride to the transit terminal, followed by a jolly train ride, followed by a charge to the bus stop conducted at approx 30 mph  and then a frustrating ride on the bus. When you read this, you can readily imagine the plight of the boats. I mean if I were a boat or a ferry, I’d have raged and ranted. “Pure evil” I’d say and generally spread the message around on shore while docking at the yard and such. I am not sure about the vocabulary prevalent among boats, but I can assure you I’d have used the finest to make the constabulary shrink.

I am not a hard hearted person. In fact, I am soft hearted. So, the last time I went to a bookshore, I did something noble and wise that could appease the boats without actually getting on them. I bought the book ‘3 men in a boat’, and I must tell you I am perfectly enjoying the trip down the river.

Mind in a boat .. self in a bus

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