Sunday, June 5, 2011



Iqbal is dead. Tall Boy has been kidnapped.

What’s this I’m talking about?

Tall Boy is the Ritz we bought last year. A shiny Blue Ritz that the adverts described as “Tall Boy model with K2 Euro Engine”. Since then it was Tall Boy, a much pampered addition to our G 10 household.

As for Iqbal, he was a neighbour in Manimajra. Young, handsome, in his forties. He and Vickram had begun working together about ten years ago. They were almost inseparable for some years, working hard, travelling places, getting orders, eking out a living. Work became play and the bonhomie between them extended to both families that came together as a close circle. Then life took another turn. Vickram went to Vietnam for a spell and Iqbal moved to Canada with his family. Temporarily, he said. He planned to return after his children were settled in professional schools.

If only life were so easy! Iqbal fell seriously ill. A sudden, advanced stage of cancer, so they diagnosed it. The family returned sorrowfully to India and watched him waste away. The handsome face grew withered and pale. The sturdy body was racked in pain and began to shrivel up. They did the rounds of doctors, chemo, radiotherapy and whatever was advised. Nothing helped. The shrieks of pain grew louder. The limbs became twisted and deformed. In his last few days he was a caricature of himself, a huge, helpless subhuman mass of skin and bone. Death came almost as a relief, leaving behind a void that would never be filled.

The company had to be closed. The rented office space had to be surrendered. Vickram had kept it thinking that some day Iqbal would recover and perhaps they would begin working together again, revive the good old times. But that was not to be. Now the assets had to be disposed of, the desks, computers, air-conditioners. Vickram tried to put it off. Then, finally, he steeled himself and set out in Tall Boy to close shop. With a heavy heart he handed over the space to the landlord. Keep the desks and chairs, he said. We will take the computers and AC.

The AC and computers loaded into Tall Boy, Vickram drove into Iqbal’s house and began to unload. Tall Boy stood in the driveway, the boot and a door still open.

It was not all that easy. In the midday heat, perspiring freely, he tried to get the computers working again in what used to be Iqbal’s study. As Vickram mopped his brow, flopped in a chair, he heard the engine rev up and rushed to the window. It was Tall Boy, its tail-end disappearing around the drive. The car had been stolen.

What then? Did he run up and down the street trying to follow it? Or did he stand aghast at the gate, gaping with unbelieving eyes?

I am away from home and will never know. All I know is that he called me and asked me the registration number of the car.

Which car? I ask. And he says: the Ritz. It’s been stolen. What’s the number?

I do not remember the number. Nor does he. What do we do now?

Think, he tells me. Try and remember.

You try, I tell him. I can’t. All I remember are the last four digits.

Look at the photographs on your computer, he says. You may find the number somewhere.

Try the insurance guy, I tell him.

Inane conversation.

Have you filed a report? I ask.

How can I when I don’t have the number?

Okay, let me think. I will revert.

I sit and meditate under the rhododendron tree outside the IIAS. Then I go into the library and look up back files on my laptop. No photo to be found. I take out the portable hard disk and try again. Finally two photos are located. Tall Boy in all his splendour, on the road to Shimla last year. Another one of Tall Boy with Vickram leaning against him outside Applecart Inn. I note the number – CHO1 AA 1159 – and sms it to Vickram.

Now what?

The report is filed. We wait for further action. Fingers crossed. Will Tall Boy come back?

I try and look at the larger picture. Losing a car is a big loss no doubt. But there are bigger losses in the world. Ships sink, monuments get razed, people die. Tsunamis happen. Floods, earthquakes, volcano eruptions. All sorts of irreversible damage. What cannot be cured must be endured.

And then I think of another disturbing issue. Tall Boy was parked in the driveway of Iqbal’s house. Everyone in the locality knows that Iqbal has passed away very recently. And yet someone, probably someone from the neighbourhood, stole the car from that very house. A dead man’s house.

To me the thought is revolting. It is like stripping off the shroud of a dead man. It appals me that human beings can sink so low. Stealing from the house of a man whose funeral pyre has barely cooled! It is unthinkable. It is obscene.

I do not know which anguish is greater? The personal loss of Tall Boy? Or the stark reality that human beings can be so depraved?

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