"Why, what happened?
"My friend is getting married. He and his girlfriend have eloped, and I am helping them out."
Babu was this character I came across while working in this small time business after college. He was our office boy, cum receptionist, cum delivery boy, cum office administrator, cum cleaner and much more. It usually never happened that you told him something and it didn't happen. However, like a chinese gadget he could ditch you at some crucial moments every now and then. But then the novelty of services that you get for the price at which it comes, you overlook the reliablity quotient of your chinese gadget.
In first few days itself I saw he was running the whole office administration in his own way. The coffee machine vendor, the EPBX maintenance, the AC maintenance guys, everyone was in his pocket. The cash strapped, near-its-death organization that I was working for, had not paid vendors for 6-7 months and still these guys came and worked. All thanks to Babu. You would think he must be this real street smart guy, glib with words but sorry to dissappoint you. Maybe people just couldn't say 'no' to him.
Our Babu was this lanky guy, with a freestyle moustache covering the upper lip. A strong smelling oil was put on the task of keeping the thick wavy hair in place, but the oils gave up by evening. He wore his office uniform which his mom washed daily with oodles of soap I guess, 'coz an unsuspecting guy would assume he was using Rin (Detergent cake in India) as deodorant. There was a tattered polythene bag he carried everyday, everywhere and protected as if it was his life's saving. He claimed that he had passed 12th grade. We never bothered to verify this claim, because if he had, those teachers need to face a firing squad. He was about 20-21 years of age I guess. His Hindi, was picked up right from the stevedores of the bombay port. He couldn't speak English for nuts but whenever he was jobless you would find him sitting with the english newspaper trying to put sense into the faintly familiar alphabets from his schooldays. Ocassionally you would hear him flaunt some English words over the phone, caring two hoots for the muffled giggles that followed after that.
Out of his many quirks, talking and walking in english were his pet dreams!
"Madam, there are only three nose remaining of this case of bottles." This was the first time he knocked me out with his english.
"Yes Madam, three nose"
"Whats nose? Kya bol rahe ho Babu?"
"Arre Madam, aapko nahi maaloom kya, woh inventory ki list pe likha hota hai na 'nose'" (He almost ridiculed my ignorance about this nose on the inventory list)
"Kidhar likha hai dikhao?' (I asked him to show it to me)
Babu came with the list and I saw units in "Nos." Goddammit, whoever came up with that notation for writing 'numbers' as 'Nos.
Once in a while he would even sit infront of a computer, trying to figure out what the fuss was all about. He never touched the keyboard nor the mouse, just stared blankly into it, as if sitting there will make him a computer pro one day, just like that.
He liked bike rides too. One random day, I happened to give him a pillion ride on my scooty too. He was going out for some errand close to the place where I was going so he asked me to take him. He came along mumbling what he had to do, down the stairs...I started my scooty...he took two minutes ...and hopped on. Somewhere in the middle of the journey I caught a glimpse of him in the rear view. Babu was wearing these black goggles with a THICK GOLDEN frame and looking all around as if he was the prince of Persia. I twisted the life out of the throttle and drove at neck breaking speed to reach my destination, lest someone catches me with this specimen on my scooty, in my hometown. I cursed myself for not wearing the helmet that one time. When we reached back, he took off his goggles and put them back where they belonged- his treasured tattered polythene bag.
He asked me to help him with learning English, which I unhesitatingly accepted. Thats when I realized, the easiest way to lose your face as a teacher is to start teaching english. Why is 'tion' pronounced as 'shun'? Why is 'gone', gawSSSn and 'tone', tone and 'done', dun? I never give up on my student when I am teaching. But I have to say this time, he didn't give up on me; even if I sounded absolutely absurd. There was an occassional 'are you sure?' from him, to which I said, 'thats the way they taught me', trying to retrieve as much lost credibility as possible, blaming it on others.Anyways, coming back to his leave! I was still sizing up whether he was cooking up some story for leave or was he serious.
Thier parents don't agree because the girl has just completed her graduation and my friend has not passed 5th standard even. They have come here from the village and I have to look for a job for him too. Why do parents have to create such a ruckus when two people want to get married and are happy with each other?
No matter how hopelessly romantic I get, I can't imagine nor understand why an educated girl would fall in love with a guy who does nothing, who isn't educated and is not going to grow up with age any further, and how long will that love last. So I tried to make some wise remarks on practicality and the realities of life. But having already lost my credibility thanks to the asinine rules of English language, he gave this back to me...
"Madam, just because my friend cannot read or write doesn't make his love less worthy. I understand that to fend for themselves here in the city without an education is difficult but its not impossible. They truly love each other, and love overcomes everything."
Of course it was mindless and had no remotest affinity to commonsense, but something in those fanstasizing eyes just broke my heart. I should have told him, "Babu, realities of life are far more different than what you seem to have figured out. All these dialogues on love look good only in a bollywood masala flick, not in your friends' life." But I somehow the words didn't come out.
Here was Babu living in this dream world of his, right in the middle of the chaos and madness called 'The Reality'. He may get lucky and meander along his entire life happily in his eternal dream, maybe this Don Quixote will find a Sancho Panza too. I guess Cervantes got philosophical and wrote Quixote because of this same wierd heartbreaking feeling one gets after seeing someone so lost in his own world, that its impossible to bring him out.
I did come across a couple of other Babus like him afterwards. Fool's Paradise is quite a crowded place. There are occassional vacationers too. I am intrigued as to how do they remain so untouched in the humdrum around them. Every now and then I even wonder, who is unfortunate, they- who can't see or us- who can?