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Prithvi Raj Banerjee

The Crossing

After staying a while in the US, the author returned to India, the country he was born, raised and spent his formative years. As it happens, something he was so accustomed to suddenly felt new and needed practice.  

“Welcome sir”, the man in crisp navy blue security uniform said cheerfully giving me a polite bow.

He then proceeded to give me a brisk but thorough body frisk with a portable metal detector that would put any American Airport  TSA personnel to shame. 
Before I realized what happened, the man had done his job. He gave me a polite bow again and opened the door of the hotel as I looked at him bleary eyed and disoriented after my transcontinental flight.
The multistoried hotel was located just across the largest technology park in Hyderabad. I looked out of my room window at the rows of huge buildings across an empty road. It was late in the night but most of the buildings across the road were lit up, their glass edifice shimmering brightly against the night sky.

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IIT JEE


I had decided to give another shot to the IIT joint entrance examination.
Indian Institute of Technology’s or IIT’s are a group of elite engineering colleges in India. The admission to the institutes is through a joint entrance examination, universally acclaimed as very difficult to get through.

I did not get through IIT last year and accepted admission in one of the state engineering colleges. This college was in a beautiful campus that was tucked away in the foot hills of Himalayas. On a clear day we could see the outline of the snowcapped peaks.

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Notes From India : How About A Raise ?

Prologue:
‘Storyteller … tell us the story about their stay in India’ 

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The Black Board

If you grew up in the generation when the whiteboards did not exist, then you surely know about the blackboard. We understand this post does not advocate a cause in favor of education or an opinion on the systems of education. But it does beautifully narrate the existence and importance of the blackboards for those of us who went to school or college in the times of the “blackboard”. 

I have a fascination for the black board. The omnipresent center of attraction in the classrooms, almost sacred by the virtue of its limited access that demarked the teachers from the lesser mortals.
Countless times I had watched with fascination as the chalk transformed itself into dust, leaving ephemeral impressions that would last for less than an hour on the black board, but much longer in our minds.
Writing on the black board was an art in itself. Those expert in the art almost used the pauses between the impressions they made on it, as time to let a particular concept sink in. The concepts magically materializing in our minds a split second before materializing on the board.
Then there were others who used the medium for written dictation as the students furiously scribbled down the words of knowledge and wisdom from the blackboard before those words were wiped off to make space for more.
The black boards were very black in the hundred and fifty year old boys only convent school where I did my schooling from. The chalks were thick, soft and created a awful lot of dust. In fact, for a long time I had assumed that the reason the tunics of the fathers, brothers and sisters of the convent were white because it would be easier to go unnoticed after wiping the chalk dust from their fingers into their habits.
“Why did they assign Navy blue blazers for our uniform then” , I often used to wonder.
The blazers used to get stained with chalk by the end of the school day, much to the annoyance of the parents. If one was particularly lucky to got caught focusing on anything else apart from the blackboard, the punishment, was to be assigned to a space next to the blackboard , facing the class, where one was unable to see what the teacher was furiously scribbling, but at the same time get thoroughly drenched in the chalk dust.
After my school days, I managed to get admission in one of the coveted engineering colleges in India. The black-boards there were modern and were actually green in color, often stacked two or three on top of each other, and each could be individually pulled up and down by a pulley system.
Multiple boards gave a lot of time to the students to scribble down the words of knowledge and wisdom from the blackboard before those words were wiped off to make space for more. It also gave us sufficient time to sneak out of the class while a professor was busy writing a particularly lengthy passage on the board with apt concentration.I used to often silently admire the fact that someone can fill in four blackboards worth of information in one hour!
The chalk in my engineering college was thinner and harder, often making squeaky sounds especially while materializing into a particularly long mathematical formula. Also, the chalk dust was significantly less.
This light-weight chalk also doubled up as projectile ammunition that could be thrown at a person. In fact this was a very popular use, especially in the first year of college when several such projectiles were tested on the girls in the class who usually sat in the first bench of the class. I was in expert in this projectile art and often practiced on the lone girl in my class, the girl I eventually ended up getting married to.
My next encounter with black boards was at MIT. Here, there were a mix of black and green boards , mix of thick and thin chalks and in some classrooms pulley systems that stacked up four blackboards one on top of other !
But times had changed. In majority of the classes those magnificent black boards stood dwarfed by projector screens where well crafted and rehearsed slide shows materialized. There was no need to take notes as the lecture slides were available to all the students.
I had just completed my Master’s thesis and had to do a dissertation. My presentation was up just before the lunch break. As I entered the room during my allocated slot, I was surprised to see more than a hundred people in the lecture hall. I started hooking up my laptop with the help of the technical staff and we found out that there was some glitch in the projector setup. The projection screen would not unfold despite several attempts.
As the clock ticked through the futile attempts, the restless din in the room got louder and louder.
I looked longingly at the fixture on the roof just in front of the black boards, from where the currently inoperable screen was supposed to appear.
“Why me?” I thought when suddenly my gaze fixed into the three level stacks of black boards just behind the projector screen fixture. Looking at them, I realized that these boards were not green – they were actually black!
“I guess we will do this the old fashioned way!” I addressed the classroom as the din gradually died away.
I briefly paused to glance at my Navy-blue Blazer, and picking up the soft chalk from the podium, I walked towards the blackboards amidst an applause.

Story Credit And Sketch Credit : Prithvi Raj Banerjee.  He is a storyteller and plans to author a book some day. He is also a photographer and a cartoonist. In his blog ‘Tales from Near & Far’, he writes & illustrates stories inspired by incidences from his old and new homes, as a tribute to people who continue to make homes under new skies.

Operation C.A.T

A sandy silver beach in Goa. 
I am sitting on a white wooden beach chair under a huge orange beach umbrella. A pint of chilled beer stands refreshingly on a shiny white plastic table next to me. John, from the beach shack approaches politely with a plate of grilled pomfret fish. I look up at him and smile.
“O MY GOD”, the words come out involuntarily from my mouth. John vanishes in thin air, along with the plate of pomfret. Poof!  The plastic table along with the chilled beer bottle goes next. Poof ! 
The beach chair, the beach all vanish. Poof!
***
“O MY GOD”, I was kneeling in front of the cupboard in my study.
“There she is”, my son exclaimed with ear to ear grin. In the lower most shelf of the cupboard lay his pet cat Cookie. Next to her, no thicker than her bushy tail, were three kittens. “You are a great grand dad!”, he says excitedly as I tried to  wipe the terrified expression from my face.
 “She is getting out of hand”, my mother had reported several months ago. “I saw her strolling with her boyfriend”. My mother had strict moral standards that stood firm even for pet cats. Cookie did not return that night. It was only after several weeks we realized that she was indeed goofing around with her ‘boyfriend’.
“She is going to have babies in a few weeks  …”, the Vet had declared, feeling the tummy of the nervous cat. The omnipresent grin on Vet’s face had become even bigger. The doctor had a pet crèche where we wanted to leave our cat while we were out on a vacation. A much yearned vacation to Goa. Sandy silver beach, wooden beach chair, beach umbrella, beach shack …
“So we will drop her in the creche tomorrow morning ..?”
“No Problem”, if the grin on Vet’s face had become any bigger, it would spill out of his face, ”Good timing,  because we don’t take pets with small litters .. so you timed your vacation well’, the vet had declared.
Next morning, it was time to drop Cookie to her crèche. But she had, for some reason, disappeared!  It took about an hour of collective scouting before my son located her.
“She had three kittens!”, my son beamed as he looked affectionately at his pet who he had cared for since she was a one month old kitten , “ I am a grand dady !”
“We don’t take pets with small litters…’, the Vet’s voice rang out in my head.
“O MY GOD”, the Goa vacation was vanishing in front of my eyes.  
We had booked an old Portuguese villa right on Bagha beach in Goa. The owners, a Belgian couple, had insisted on us paying the entire rental in advance. “We won’t be able to refund in case of cancellations – you know it is peak season  …”
There was only one option now. Sonia.
***
It was late in the evening when the maroon Honda City pulled in front of a seemingly deserted tree shaded house in the outskirts of Bangalore. 
A confirmed animal lover, Sonia had firsthand experience with a diverse range of pets including ducks, rabbits, birds, cats and dogs. We had left our cat with her during one of our earlier vacations.  
“You should not move the kittens today. It is not safe”, the expert had advised to the occupants of the deserted villa, “I will check on them every evening” The occupants had kissed her hands over the phone.
She opened the main door and glanced up the spiraling stairway leading to the upper floor.
“Lock all other rooms”, she had advised “Cats move their kittens several times after they are born – it will be difficult to locate them if they move to an obscured corner”. The villa occupants who were now in a sandy silver beach in Goa, sitting on a white wooden beach chair under a huge orange beach umbrella, had wiped the tears from their eyes impressed by the profound wisdom of their vacation savior.
Sonia tiptoed up to the study and peered in through the glass door. The frosted glass did not reveal anything about the occupants of the room. She gently opened the door and craned her neck in.
She was greeted with a blood curdling screech and a loud hiss. The freshly minted mother cat rushed towards her with her claws extended, puffed up fur and bottle brush tail. Clearly, in the ebb of her newfound maternal instincts, Cookie had forgotten the week she had spent at Sonia’s place. Sonia was summarily chased out of the house by the very angry mother cat.
 ***
“I need backup”, Sonia sat in her car outside the deserted villa. Her eyes were glued to the dimly lit study window – where the feline aggressor would be prowling around after the recent attack.
She was talking to Nina. The marathon running, working super mom did not have the word fear in her dictionary. Before Sonia could bat her eyelids, Nina’s car materialized next to her. Nina was briefed of the situation. “So we have an aggressive and potentially hostile feline that needs to be fed while their owners are having fun in Goa”. Sonia nodded.
The main door was opened, second time that day. The brave women tiptoed up the stairs. The Study door was opened again. This time it was time for two women to be surprised. There were no cats or kittens in the room!  Cookie had moved with her kittens to another place. That meant, danger could be lurking anywhere, ready to pounce unannounced on the hapless victims.
Sonia did a quick inspection of the room. The cat food and water bins were empty. She filled them up using the Whiskas bag left by the owners. Water was replenished from the bathroom faucet. Suddenly there was a sound from outside the study. 
“Shhhhh”, Nina put a finger on her lips signaling Sonia to be still. The commando tiptoed to the slightly ajar study door. I thin beam of light was spilling out of the dimly lit study, illuminating the granite floor outside. 
Suddenly there was a streak of stripes across the floor, followed by screeching and hissing sounds. Nina managed to shut the study door with a bang. Beads of perspiration formed around Sonia’s brow.
“She is out there … waiting!”
“We are trapped!!”
“Call Goa !!!”
Story Credit And Sketch Credit : Prithvi Raj Banerjee.  He is a storyteller and plans to author a book some day. He is also a photographer and a cartoonist. In his blog ‘Tales from Near & Far’, he writes & illustrates stories inspired by incidences from his old and new homes, as a tribute to people who continue to make homes under new skies

The Birthday

‘How do we get our Gross Margins up by five percent?”, the dimly lit study was filled up by my CEO’s voice. 
It was a global management call and I could sense the rapt attention of all my colleagues, dialed in from all across the world as I prepared myself for the answer.
‘Can you get the ladoos now …’,  I looked in horror at the smiling faces of my eight year old daughter and her best friend. ‘… lots and lots of them …‘
I struggled to mute my speakerphone.   
****
It was Janmashtami and the kids had a day off from school.  The birth day of Lord Krishna was being celebrated across India with reverence and gaiety. In our house in the suburbs of Bangalore, however, it was somber corporate quarter ending.
Both me and my wife work from home. We have our own home offices in our tree shaded villa in the outskirts of Bangalore.  Her’s in a corner of the master bedroom suite , and mine, more isolated on the first floor. 
‘I am bored’, my daughter had come up into my office earlier that day.  Born and brought up in the US, she was beginning to build up an Indian accent.
‘Today is Krishna’s birthday’, I had winked at her, ’Why don’t you celebrate it?’, I suggested. A celebration with dolls would keep her out of my way since it was going to be a busy work day for me.
‘I will get you some sweets – you know- Krishna loved sweets’ I made a mental note to pick up some laddos on my way to getting the new ink cartridge for my printer.
Her eyes lit up. ‘But I will need Gauri’s help for the party’, Gauri was her classmate, neighbor and best friend.
I had patted my back at the inspired idea as I imagined my eight year daughter staying busy, learning about culture, and more importantly, staying out of my way.
****
‘Sorry..I am having some problem with the phone line – give me five minutes … ‘, I mumbled and muted the phone. The study had now filled up with the chatter of small girls.  A LOT of small girls. There were at least twenty five of them standing outside my study
‘We are having a great time, uncle’, Gauri chirped,  ‘ We put up Krishna pictures on the walls, sang Krishna songs, even had a Krishna quiz  !’, she said pointing at  her iPad.
‘I won …  a cute little girl with braids raised her had’
‘Now we are going to have a dance for Krishna’, my daughter quipped in excitedly ..’ , It is on the song  You belong with me by Talyor Swift …. we are all singing it for Krishna not for a boyfriend or anything .. you have to come down Baba..’
My lips curled into a smile as I glanced down the mezzanine floor into the living room. The room was filled up with more girls. My wife was sitting on the couch surrounded by an eager battalion of six to ten year olds from our neighborhood. She looked at me and rolled her eyes. I had to struggle not to laugh.
‘Give me a second’, I stepped back in the study and unmuted the speakerphone. ‘Guys I will have to dial out now – some unanticipated emergency at home ..’
‘Hope all is well ….’
‘Cannot be better’, I thought as I hung up the phone and ran downstairs with the chattering girls.
Author 

Prithvi Raj Banerjee is a technologist and an aspiring author. His collection of stories, inspired by incidences from around the world, can be found at http://pbnerge.blogspot.com.

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