Monday, April 1, 2019

Bugged Again

Bugs - They have a special affinity to me. 

This has got to be my craziest adventure, If you cannot handle a gory story, stop now! and don't click the link to the picture further down in the story.

About three years back, I had to make a a two day business trip to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I would be getting onto an early morning flight. I was up at 4 AM. I took our boxer dog for a short walk and left for the airport an hour later after packing and getting ready.

It was summer and pretty hot and muggy. I was upgraded to first class on my outbound flight, so I was able to catch up on my sleep. As I settled into a nap, I was woken up by a slight itch at the back of my right leg, just behind my knee. I ignored it and went back to sleep. I had flown into Baltimore because of lower fares to that airport and rented a car to get to Harrisburg. The itch came and went, I ignored it. The trip was largely routine and uneventful. The next day, one of my meetings got canceled, so I finished my work early and was able to get onto an earlier flight back to Atlanta. I was home at 4 pm. the itch had come back a few times during my trip and I  had ignored it. Now, when I was back home, and was relaxing with a cup of tea, my mind went to the itch, I asked my wife to take a look. She put on her glasses and checked it out. She was behind me, so I could not see her expression, but there was an eerie silence from her. “There is a weird bump and it has a strange pattern on it”. I heard a hint of alarm in her voice. Let me take a picture with my phone she said, the alarm still there in her voice. As she focused on the bump and started to take the picture, she “freaked out “ - it’s a bug and it has latched on to your skin. I asked her to just yank it off. I can’t!, it has burrowed into your skin, it’s half in and half out. Now it was my turn to be alarmed but I must confess, I was amused as well, mostly with dis-belief. She showed me the picture, and my alarm level climbed a couple of notches. 

We didn't waste any time heading to our friendly family doctor who accepted walk-in patients without an appointment. It was already closing time, Dr. Singh was on vacation that day. His standby Dr. Kumar was also heading out of the door but agreed to see me after my wife explained the situation and showed her the picture. The doctor was intrigued and I think excited in a sick way, she had never seen anything like that. She agreed with my wife that it was a bug, probably a maggot that was drilling into me. I was directed to the inspection table , belly down so she could look at it. Since it was past closing time, the rest of the staff had left and there was only a front-desk admin assistant besides Dr. Kumar. My wife was quickly enlisted as a nurse assistant by the doctor. Her job was to shine some light on the intruder with her phone flashlight. The scalpels came out and Dr. Kumar went to work. After a few pokes and  prods, she triumphantly said , "it is what we thought it was and it is alive!" Fifteen minutes later, the ad-hoc surgery was completed, I was cleaned, bandaged, injected with antibiotics and was handed the prized remains of the now murdered bug by Dr. Kumar. 

The bug had led a privileged life the last couple of days. It had a personal escort on its flight to Harrisburg, had a comfortable car ride and slept at a decent hotel and a flight back to Atlanta. It even flew un-ticketed, including first class on one segment. It was well fed on my flesh. But now the bugs two day sojourn had come to a bloody end. My wife asked Dr. Kumar - did you get all of it out? I hope so, she said. Keep an eye on the area for a few days , it you see anything unusual or if your husband develops a fever, get back in touch with us.

On the way back home, my wife finally asked me the most important question- how did it get there in the first place? I had no clue! After a couple of hours of speculation we settled on what seemed to be a logical explanation - when I took our dog for a walk in the dark that morning, I was wearing shorts and when Rocky went into the bushes for his business, the bug took a leap of faith onto the human leg nearby and latched on.

This episode left me scarred and with a question in my mind, I am still searching for an answer - Should one pay attention to minor irritants in life?

This is my second bug story - please read my first "bug" blog post titled  Doctor, Chef Or Archaeologist? Bug Off here.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Can I get a ride? Or three?

Another "first job" story. While at  HCL, I extensively traveled eastern Uttar Pradesh - the largest state in India. PC's were just starting to make their way into large cities, Universities and Corporations. Small businesses and individuals were also dipping their toes into the digital world. 

This particular trip started with an uneventful overnight train ride from Lucknow to Varanasi, where I spent two days. Next stop was a coal mining township - Singrauli. The only way to get there was by road. A six-hour trip. The last bus for the day had left and the next bus was in the morning which would mean losing half the day. A well informed local let me in on another option. I could potentially get a ride in a newspaper delivery Jeep that would leave around midnight and drop me about 10 miles away from Singrauli. After a late dinner. I headed to the rendezvous point and to my horror the driver informed me that all the three seats were sold. I was desperate, I had to be on this Jeep and was willing to pay him a few extra bucks. Soon we were on our way, the driver and three passengers in the front, I was at the back lying flat on top of a stack of newspapers. The crawl space barely ten inches high, just enough to get my plump self on top with not an inch to spare. It was a soft top Jeep and the back flap was tattered and torn.

The Jeep would be making three stops en-route and dropping off bundles of newspaper at each stop - the roads were bumpy, dusty and with every bump my face would hit the soft top roof and very soon I was chewing sand and dirt. One of the stops was an Aluminum plant in Renukoot owned by Hindalco. A large bundle of newspapers delivered here finally gave me some breathing room on top of the heap. Fast forward to 4:30 am, the Jeep stopped at a fork on the state highway, this was my drop-off point. Total wilderness and pitch dark, not a soul around, no habitation, no nothing around. no light, no water, no nothing!  My final destination - Singrauli was about 10 miles away and a local bus would come by at around 5:30 am. This was turning out to be a bad idea, a real bad idea! I did not blame myself, I cursed the guy who gave me this great idea.  

The one-hour wait was an eternity, scary, cold, dark. At every sound in the darkness, I jumped out of my skin. I set my briefcase down on the shoulder of the road and sat on it, waiting. In that one hour, not one vehicle came by, not one! And then a distant sound - growing louder gradually, and a faint light in the distance. A vehicle approached, rattling along, I hoped it was the bus. It seemed like a bus, the rattling really loud as it approached me, I stuck my hand out and waived, Yes! It was the bus, sharp 5:30 am. I boarded the bus, there were no lights inside, I felt my way to the nearest seat and sat down. Ouch! the seat was just a plank of wood, no cushion, the bus was a relic! Ouch! Thank God for the bus! I was the only passenger on it, we set off on the road to Singrauli. I was so tired and sleepy, I dozed off within a couple of minutes and was suddenly woken up by the loud crowing of a rooster....and oh the Rooster was on the bus, three rows from me, his owner had him in a cane-basket sitting next to him on a seat. It was now light, and I could see stuff around, I looked around the bus, there was one more person standing in the rear with two large milk cans. The bus carried on at barely 10 miles an hour, bumping and rattling on the single lane road. The rooster-man and the milk-man had boarded at a bus-stop when I was fast asleep. Next stop, yup you guessed it, a farmer and his wife with two goats! The goats refused to board the bus, so the man carried them up one at a time. It was one happy family now - A computer salesman, a rooster-man, a milkman and a farming couple with two goats, all in a rickety bus with no cushioned seats and broken windows, headed on the trip of my life! The Jeep ride by contrast was a piece of cake.

I got to the guest-house, freshened up and started preparing for my meeting with the EDP manager (Now known as the CIO) which was scheduled just after lunchMy senior colleague would be arriving directly from Lucknow, in time for the meeting. The meeting was a moderate success, we had a decent chance of securing the upcoming bid the client would be putting out to buy a host of computer systems. We had dinner with the EDP manager at the company guest house. He had arranged for a company vehicle to drop us about 40 miles away at a small rural railway station. From there, we could get a train at 2:00 am to a city called Allahabad, a 5 hour train journey. 

1:00 A.M, we got dropped at this small rail station, just another trivial fact - we were out of money. We were unable to get a tour advance when we started the trip because the branch office was out of money. Credit cards had not yet arrived in India. We had embarked on the trip with whatever we each had in our banks, which was fairly insignificant, given that we were at the beginning of our careers. The train arrived, we decided we decided not to buy tickets, we were dressed appropriately to be traveling in first class, so we confidently boarded the first-class coach, peeped into a cabin which we found empty, climbed on to the two upper berths, and using our briefcases as pillows, we settled down for a comfortable few hours in first-class, Ticket-less! We had barely traveled an hour when the train suddenly stopped, and we could hear a lot of commotion on the platform. We jumped down from our berths, stepped out of the cabin and peeked through the window, horror - a surprise check for ticket-less travel, how did they know we were traveling ticket-less? The inspectors were headed towards our coach and would be upon us in a minute. In a flash both of us grabbed our briefcases and jumped off the train on the other side. The train started moving, the 'unreserved' coach was six coaches ahead of us, we ran like crazy on the large pebbles that are laid all along the rail tracks in India, the train was picking up speed, we were trying desperately to run faster, finally we got to the "unreserved" coach, my colleague got on to the foot board first and tried the door, it was locked, he handed me his briefcase and started banging the door. The coach was packed like sardines and the sardines would not open the door. The train was now going faster, the banging on the door was getting louder, the cursing even louder. I was running now for my life, with two briefcases, formal shoes, dress pants, running on pebbles! Mercy, the door suddenly opened, my colleague squeezed his way in, grabbed one briefcase from me and then gave me a hand up. Panting, breathless, home! There was standing room only, sweaty, stinky, colored fluid flowing on the floor from the lavatory at the end of the coach. What is that fluid? Don't pay any attention to it shouted my colleague! - just do not look that way, just do not breathe if you don't have to!

We stood for the next two hours, we were sardines too, stinky, sweaty, tired - when miraculously at a stop about thirty people got off the train and no one got on. what a relief! There was no sitting room as yet but we could walk around the coach freely now. The other end of the coach was dry, our morning newspaper became our bed-sheets, which we laid out in the passageway, our trusted briefcases once again became the pillow. When you are exhausted, you can sleep anywhere, even on a stone floor in a train with a sheet of newspaper as your bed-sheet and an occasional passenger tripping on or kicking you!

7:00 AM Allahabad, no money, feeling yuckier and filthier. Fortunately, another colleagues' father was the Director at an Engineering College here and they had a bungalow on campus, our colleague was also going to be in Allahabad that day. We hired a rickshaw and headed over, we had just enough to pay the rickshaw.  Warm bath, home food, some rest, human again.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, we borrowed money from our colleagues' dad and after a day of work in Allahabad went back to Lucknow the next day.

#varanasi #allahabad #trainjourney #renukoot #busride

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Be a part of the solution!

On my first job at HCL (Then - Hindustan Computers, Ltd.), my travels frequently took me to Varanasi (also known as - Benares) in eastern Uttar Pradesh - the most populous state in India. On one of my initial trips , I made a sales call at the Electrical Engineering department of Benares Hindu University or BHU. The EE department was an existing customer and owned six personal computers they had purchased from HCL a couple of years prior to my visit.

They were now looking to buy three additional PC’s and had sent us a sales enquiry. The enquiry had made its way to us in Lucknow via our head office in New Delhi. The Lucknow branch had been established only a few weeks back, most customers were unaware of this and continued to correspond with the head office. The head of the EE department (I forget his name now) pleasantly greeted me in his lab and after the initial courtesies, we got into a discussion on what they were looking to purchase, prices and delivery schedule etc. He was a satisfied customer and predisposed to purchasing the additional hardware from HCL. That would qualify as a dream sales call for any sales engineer. I was moving in fast for the close, quickly pulling out company stationary from my brief case and preparing a hand-written proposal complete with detailed specifications, payment and warranty terms , delivery schedule, post warranty maintenance details etc. I signed the proposal with a flourish and pushed the original across the desk to him and retained the carbon copy for our records. The professor went over it with a magnifying glass and after a few minutes looked up at me seemingly satisfied with everything. I expectantly looked at him, in anticipation of next steps to secure the order or at least a commitment of the order. There would be a formal 'tender' process to consummate the purchase but all I needed was a nod, a handshake, a commitment.

The curve ball he threw at me at this moment caught me completely by surprise. He said, 'I would like to give you a commitment for this order, but there is one thing you need to take care of' - I braced myself and all kinds of thoughts crossed my mind - is he looking for a deeper discount or additionally favorable terms or could it something more nefarious like an under the table bribe. The suspense did not last long. He stated in a firm but non threatening voice, 'You know we are a satisfied existing customer, but the fact is that three of the six existing computers we own are inoperable and we have been waiting for the last two months for your company to send a service engineer to attend to the PC’s'. My palms were beginning to sweat a bit, the thought of the order slipping away was scary, I quickly recovered my composure - and promised to move ‘heaven and earth’ to get the problem addressed with the highest priority. Soon, we had a deal - if I did move ‘heaven and earth’, he would buy from me.

I rushed to the train station to get back to Lucknow. This was a successful visit. All I needed to do is go into my bosses office first thing next morning, show him the copy of the proposal and let him move ‘heaven and earth’ - that was his job. He had been my boss merely two months and while I could not profess that I knew all about him, his reputation for making things happen preceded him.

My boss, R K Bachus came to the office promptly the next morning at his regular time, I had been waiting anxiously for the past one hour. My desk was right across his walled office and he could see me from his desk. When he settled down, he looked across and caught me staring expectantly in his direction. He shouted - “Khurana” and made a hand gesture to come into his office. I shot out from my chair like a bullet and promptly placed the proposal copy on his desk even before he could ask me a question. I went onto explain that this was the order that the customer wanted to place with us but was contingent upon his outstanding service issue being resolved expeditiously. Mr. Bachus, I have promised to move ‘heaven and earth’ and I am counting on you. He looked at me and asked me a simple question - What is wrong with their computers? I quickly replied - “they are inoperable”. He repeated his question- What is wrong with their computers? I understood his question the second time- ‘I don’t know’ I replied in a voice that was meant to imply - why are you asking me this question? I am a sales guy , not a service engineer. He pushed his chair back a little and reached for the bottom most drawer of his desk, he retrieved whatever he was looking for very quickly and pushed it across the desk to me. It was a toolkit with spanners and screw-drivers. He paused slightly and then stated very "matter of factly" - take the evening train back to Benares, figure out what exactly is wrong with the PC’s and then I will be willing to move ‘heaven and earth’

That was my first ‘professional’ life lesson - ‘don’t be a part of the problem, be a part of the solution ‘. A lesson learnt and cherished to this day, more than three decades later.
#bhu #benaras #beneres #varanasi

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Well Well!

In torrential rain, five of us arrive by car in a small village in Madhya Pradesh - a large state in central India. The sun has just set, small incandescent lamps and kerosene lanterns were lighting up. The cattle return home while children still play in the village square. We have traveled five hours to get here and will be walking the last mile through ploughed fields - a vast expanse of black cotton soil (sticky and clay like); very soon our feet will weigh a ton with the clinging soil. We buy rubber soled shoes in preparation for the walk which will take us at least an hour. It is now pitch dark. We were hoping to buy flashlights in the village but the one store in the village square was out of them. 

In single file, we set off, taking turns to lead the pack - no umbrella, no raincoats or ponchos - lashing rain, biting rain, we are drenched to the bone. There was no hope of the rain abating for a couple of days. The only light was the occasional bolt of lightning.We could barely keep our eyes open - lashing,blinding rain!

Our mission - to rescue our seventeen-ton "bore well"  drilling rig stuck in the soil, a mile away from the road. The bore well was completed that morning and then the sky opened upturning the soil into clay-like mush. The monstrous rig mounted on a truck, was stuck in the clay. This rescue was was going to be a long grind.The truck would be jacked up a few inches off the ground, long wooden planks laid below the wheels, the jacks brought down. Now it was showtime for the driver - he would rev the engine a few times, like a bull rearing to charge and then shift into gear and floor the accelerator! The truck would move forward about fifty feet before settling down in the clay again!. Each of these cycles would be about an hour long. Only one mile to go! Only 5000 feet to go!

Every minute that the rig is not working is lost revenue. 

Back to the walk - about half way through, it is my turn to lead. We can barely walk. The rain is fierce, the wind worse - eyes burning, face burning. One careful step at a time, each person holding on to the shirt tail of the person in front of him - to keep each other safe, to maintain balance. It is pitch dark and in the blinding rain, navigation is by guesswork only. Dragging feet - which are as heavy as lead with the clay. Suddenly, without warning, Anwar who is immediately behind me catches my collar and pulls me back, throwing me to the ground. Anwar is skinny and about half my body weight. I don’t know where he got the strength but am I glad he did! In the unrelenting rain, I was a half-step away from walking into an open well! Anwar saw what I had failed to see - a large well with its mouth wide open, ready to swallow the less careful. I escaped death. A close call. Too close. The Great Escape 3. ( Read my earlier posts -The Great Escape 1: Where is Jhumri Tilaiya? The Great Escape 2: The Giant Slide).

    ( Picture Credit - BBC article on Open Wells & Lion Deaths in India )

The mission was completed three days later, the team of eleven working around the clock . The rain also worked in tandem around the clock, never tiring, never giving up. We took turns at sleeping on the truck hood with the engine running to keep ourselves warm. One crew member cooked lentil soup and boiled rice and tea under the truck - that was the only shelter available, that was the only food available.

Well Well!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Giant Slide

One more road trip. This time with family friends – the Singh family, their son and I (Read my other post – Of friends and tadpoles) were tight buddies. Circa 1975 or 1976 – summer, a one week official and pleasure trip through Karnataka in South India.
Shravanabelabola is a mouthful , it is also famous for a 57 feet statue of Lord Bahubali. (Bahubali). The magnificent statue stands atop a stone mountain. You have to climb about 700 steps to get to the top. That brings me to my story – what Sarvanabelagola is not famous for. A natural large 700 ft (steps) slide (Photos) that can put Disney, Six Flags and Essel World – all to shame for the thrill. It was discovered by me 35 years back and has not yet been commercially leveraged – India should allow FDI in tourism too!
So – we climb the 700 steps to the top and somewhat emabarrisingly admire the naked monolithic stone statue that is more than 1000 years old. About half way down, my buddy and I decide to be a little adventurous and instead of walking down the steps, we decide to walk down the bare rock face of the mountain. All goes well for a few seconds, till all goes crazy for a few seconds – I slip on a patch of sand and in a flash I am on the great natural slide, about 375 ft to go to the bottom of the mountain. Newtonian physics quickly take control and easily overcome the willpower and physical struggles of an overweight teenager! 360 ft to go, my touché is also getting skewered on the hot rock – talk about feeling the heat of the moment.
Picture Credits: Tripadvisor
Certain death awaits me in a few more seconds, Mr.Singh is racing down the steps and despite being a fantastic athlete , gravity and Newton are winning this hands down – till I subconsciously stick my hands out. Miracle! My hands hit a railing post of the steps, I grab it for dear life – creating a pivot and I slide to a stop on to the steps exactly at the half way mark, right in front of the water shelter created for tired visitors – my wife would agree, I do have a way with timing. I come to – when some water is splashed on my face, my heartbeat is millions to a second ( the singh families too). My legs are jelly, my confidence too. The Great Escape 2. ( Read my earlier post on The Great Escape 1: Where is Jhumri Tilaiya? ).
There are a few more close calls in my life and hopefully I will write about them some day. They say fortune favors the brave, I am just happy on that day fortune favored the stupid.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Of Friends and Tadpoles

Primary/Elementary School in KGF (Kolar Gold Fields - was a hop, step and jump away from home...literally. The terrain in a section of open land on the way to school was a collection of thousands of small excavations in the ground (about three feet in diameter and up to two feet in depth). I have never seen anything like that again in my life and have no idea of how they were created in the first place...may have something to do with gold deposits. These excavations would almost always be filled with rain water, and that added to the fun in many ways. A bunch of us walked to school each day and this section was cool...we would race each other for about half a kilometer across the section, hop, step and jump. It was like an obstacle course and one wrong step could land you inside one of these mini-pools of water- not that we cared much about getting all wet and slushy!

The mini-pools had another cool thing about them; they were a habitat for crabs, frogs and tadpoles. Each of us had small bottles hidden deep inside our school bags with our precious collections of small baby crabs and tadpoles. These were very prized possessions, something to live and die for. We would trade in these valuables, barter them for other cool stuff, borrow and loan them for a few days and of course fight over them sometimes. That brings me to my story - My tadpole.

I had loaned a tadpole to a friend in the morning and the arrangement was that he would return it to me during lunch recess. When he did not show up for lunch under our favorite tree, I smelt a rat - no a tadpole. I set out to investigate and it did not long to find out, there was chatter in the school that my friend had accidentally broken the bottle and my most valuable possession had died. I was livid with anger, I had to find him and get my tadpole back - alive. I spotted him, near the volley ball court, I was running now, my anger was running faster, my heartbeat even faster. All three of us - me, my anger and my heart beat flung our selves at him in unison and brought him down. I think he was prepared and broke from our tackle in a flash. The volley ball game stopped. The real match was off-court. A circle of guys formed around us as we both took our stance to have another go at each other. And then the bell rang...lunch recess was over. The matter had not been it was decided that the epic battle would resume again after school near our obstacle course. The chatter was all over, from class room to class room it spread like twitter - only 35 years before twitter was born, but as effective.

When the bell rang at 3:30 there was a rush to the area behind school, must have been about two hundred kids that showed up and quickly formed a circle around the two of us, there were supporters for both of us, and they were loud. It was Showtime, the showdown between two best friends over a tadpole (dead) was about to begin, the cheering grew louder and carried into the distance. Both of us took our positions on the center and glared at each other, no words were exchanged, they were not necessary; this had to be settled physically. We flung ourselves at each other boxing, kicking and wrestling at the same time. With each punch and kick the roar of the onlookers also grew, it had been a long three hour wait from lunch to end of school, the crowds were impatient and finally the show was in full swing. We were quite evenly matched, after ten minutes and several cuts and bruises, there was no clear winner. The intensity of the fight and the roar of the crowds went up collectively, and then something happened....the crowds became silent, there was a hush. The only sound was the two of us at each others necks on the ground. We were oblivious, and kept wrestling. It was after some time we realized that there was something amiss, we stopped and looked up. The circle of onlookers was still there but they had formed a circle at some distance from us and were strangely quiet, they were not cheering.

We stood up and went over to the new show in town. We cautiously peered over the heads of the crowd; one of the kids was being beaten black and blue by his mom. Everybody watched in silence. This family used to live nearby and when the mom heard the huge roars during our fight, she grew suspicious that her son was somehow involved in the action. She was right, when he got there, she found her son cheering wildly. Go Manbir go, give it to him, he killed your tadpole, give it to him. The poor kid was getting the pelting of his life in front of all his school buddies. His mother suddenly stopped, she realized that the attention of everyone had shifted to her and her kid. She looked around the circle of kids and then screamed, go home all of you or each of you will be next! That did it, two hundred kids broke away and were off in a jiffy across the obstacle course, some were adept and some not ... Hop step and jump!. The two of us stopped to pick up our school bags before we could set off, but those few seconds were good enough for the lady to get to us. She towered over us, stick in hand and glaring. Showtime again! We hopped and jumped but could not get away from the stick! After a few whacks, she stopped, got us to shake hands, apologize to each other and make up and sent us on our way home.

Hop step and jump. I had lost my tadpole, but I still have my friend.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ducked - The naked truth

Vacations took us to New Delhi every couple of years. Great time to meet cousins and an awesome time to be pampered by grand parents. I think grand parents instinctively know that the best way to pamper kids is with food. And Delhi is a great place for food as any Delhiite will attest – chola-bhaturas, gol-gappas, kababs, tikkas, butter chicken - I could go and on. Life in Delhi was bliss.

On one winter trip, I was around eight years old. My aunt and her kids had also descended into town and we had taken over grandmas home, pantry and peace. Pillow fights, Dark room, pillow fights in dark rooms, pillow fights in dark rooms with body tackles....Life was really good. Groups (Gangs) would form and the weaker (younger) ones would be bullied...oh the power of being older and stronger! Dictatorship ruled. Life was really really good!

While Indian parents are a pretty tolerant lot and go through a lot of sacrifices to pamper and spoil their kids, they also, I think have a breaking point. So, When our moms and grandma were reaching their breaking point with six rowdy kids in the house, they had a secret meeting ( this part is not true, I am just making it up for impact), they came up with a master plan that they would arrange for a trip to the zoo for the kids over the weekend. So far so good, but who would volunteer to play chaperone?....sorry no takers, zip, nada. So here is where the master plan came in. Get the neighbors' college going son to play chaperone - just pay for his zoo admission and food. The plan worked, the neighbors son fell for the trap, and off the seven of us ( Micky and the six dwarfs...oops kids) all packed up in our winter clothing, boarded the DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) bus and were off to the zoo.

A thirty minute, uneventful bus ride later, we were at the zoo. We went wild ... The animals in contrast seemed tame and timid. Three hours went by very quickly, we did all the regular stuff kids do at a zoo...monkey with the monkeys, monkey with the lions, monkey with each other. Our escort Micky (a pretty cool and nice guy) held up pretty well. He made sure we stayed out of trouble. It was now nearing lunch time and how do you keep a bunch of foodies without food for over three hours?... So we all settled down near a pond with a fountain in it and a bunch of ducks. The packed sandwiches came out quickly and were devoured even faster. We had a few left over and so we decided to feed the ducks too. Here is when the fun starts, I was roly poly even as a kid. While feeding the ducks , I leaned over a bit too far and my centre of gravity shifted too far out and yours truly was in the pond with the ducks. Micky was quick and was able to catch me by my collar and pull me out safely; frozen and shivering and drenched to the bone. Things could have been worse, I did not know swimming, I could have drowned in the two feet of water!  Things would have been really bad then for Micky. He was worried, I was drenched in the biting Delhi winter and we did not have a change of clothes - we were at the zoo, not the beach! I was shivering from the cold and Micky from fear.

Fear and responsibility can get the creative juices flowing very quickly, Micky quickly got hold of me and rushed me into the nearby rest rooms. He got me to take off all my clothes ( in case you are wondering.....yes my underpants too). He peeled off his sweater and got me to wear it....brilliant.....the sweater was like a nice western dress, it came all the way to a few inches below my knee....ridiculous!....can you imagine what I was going through.....first you fall into the pond and the gang (cousins and siblings) has a riot laughing at your expense, then you are stripped down and clothed in a knee length sweater and no underpants! And now you have to travel with the snickering gang in a public city bus! Without underpants! Life was really bad least for me, Micky was worried too. For the rest of the gang, life was great, they were having fun, with every glance and snicker of theirs, I felt more and more disrobed. The safest thing for me was to stand in the bus behind Micky and stare aimlessly out of the window. Just me and my bare thoughts. The co-passengers in the bus were a little more civil, they gave me a curious look-over and quietly looked away....small mercies!

When we got home, I was in a miserable shape, I was crying deep inside and shivering with cold and shame. The naked truth would soon be out. I teared up, Micky was a little better off than me, but the rest of them were having a blast. They each wanted to rush into the house first with breaking news - Manbir - ducked, disrobed and shamed in public! They were rolling on the floor in fits of laughter as each of them wanted to get their little part of the story in. I think it helped Micky and me, the elders also joined in the rejoicing , they did not give Micky a hard time, they appreciated and thanked him for managing the situation pretty well....I agree, things could have been much worse!.

Whenever we go out now, my wife carries a change of clothes for our daughter! I think I may have narrated this story to her when we got married.