Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Double Bill

Money is trouble. Two back to back incidents just re-affirmed my faith in this age old saying.

Money for Nothing

I might be working now, and reached an age where the kids in the neighbourhood have started calling me 'uncle', but yesterday I found myself in a situation best suited for pre-teen sitcoms.

We were having our daily afternoon post lunch walk downstairs, laughing our way along as we always do. A pretty female came next to me, pausing to say something. In my universe this is an event with probability almost zero, whatever be the circumstance. So it did surprise me more than it should have. I literally froze.

"Excuse me", she politely said.

I looked around, she might very well have had the wrong person. I felt like enacting the "You talking to me?" routine in front of her. Words failed me, as they often do in such situations (they do, don't they?). The least I could manage was a surprised smile.

"Yes", still smiling. Plastic smile.

"I think you have dropped some money back there", she said.

There. She put a full stop on the purpose. I looked back and saw a 10 rupee note lying there. It wasn't mine, but the expression I made was like I'm not the kind of person who drops 10 rupee notes. On the contrary, maybe the expression went something like I'm the kind of person who drops 500 rupee notes and doesn't care to look back. It failed me that there were other people with me and they could be the concerned people. First words failed me, now my mind.

"ME ????" , I asked with all the surprise I could garner.

It came out sounding like I was excited that she had selected me, out of the 5 people, to give that information. Something of the "swayamwar" type thingie of the ancient ages. Or the ancient ages as depicted by Ramanand Sagar and co.

It was her turn to be surprised. Very surprised.

She said, "No, any one of you?". The tone of that sentence was much like Priyanka Chopra's iconic "Your silly village girl" in the Scooty ad. In fact the sentence came back to haunt me, much long after the incident, with emphasis on a different word each time.

No, any one of you?
No, any one of you?
No, any one of you?
No, any one of you?

Those weren't pleasing thoughts I tell you. I just tried to figure out which one of the versions would have been the mildest. I gave up.

My friend, I don't care much which one, saved the situation by claiming the money to be his. But somehow, the habit of getting the last word did not fail me here too.

As she walked away trying to figure out what creeps they have in office these days, I had to shout out "Thank you", like she had just saved a million lives.

She turned back, smiled and went away nodding. The kind of smile and nod that says "You'll never, ever improve, will you?"

I try madame. I try.

My unforgiving friends did not spare me after this.

"What did you think? This was some new generation improvisation of 'Excuse me, kya ye aapka rumaal hai?' type of pickup line?".

You got me :)

Meet the Fakers

If the previous incident was fit for pre-teen sitcoms, this one would have been suitable for a crime thriller. A seemingly harmless trip to the neighbourhood bank took a chilling turn when I got a phone call just after I thought I had wrapped up the whole rent paying business this month for good.

"Is this Mr. XYZ?" XYZ being my landlord.
"Wrong number." I said without even thinking twice.
Then it struck me. I had written his name on the money deposit envelope and my number, so this was no coincidence.

The phone rang again and I explained the scenario. The voice on the other side had a tone that couldn't care less. That is partially because of the bomb that was dropped after that.

"One 500 rupee note that you have deposited just now is fake. Either come to replace it or get 500 less deposited."

My world came crashing down. 500 Note? Fake? I had just take the damn money out of the adjacent ATM and shoved it in the bloody envelope without even looking. This is what you get for trust? They slip one of them phoneys in between? And why is she all cool about the fake note? Aren't they going to like arrest me for this fake racket? Take me to the prison and torture out the name of my imaginary accomplices and the make of the fake printing machine?

"I'll be there in 15 minutes." I told her in a voice just short of breakdown.

On the way, I was telling my roomie of the fate that awaited us. Snipers would waiting on the gates. They already had our images on the CCTV, where we were so cutely trying to figure out just how the heck does the coupon dispensing system work. They would shoot us on sight and get accolades for encountering masterminds of the fake currency racket. Then find our IIT ID-Cards in the wallet and media would be full of 'The Departed-esque' type conspiracy 'rat' theories. Rats planted young. He patiently pointed out that a fake 500 did not deserve this much drama.

After reaching there, I had to tell a billion people embarrassingly about my story, so that they would guide me to the place to get it resolved. The weekend crowd was overflowing in the bank and everyone seemed to look at me penetratingly as if to say "These be the rotten phoneys, what did they think?". Finally one person guided us to the basement.

In such circumstances, the basement is not an ideal place to settle issues. I mean if you visualise bank basements as made immortal by so many movies, the ultra modern security measures and unforgiving treatment they promise to goons, a very reassuring picture does not emerge out. Nevertheless it had to be done.

We were greeted by two very sceptical ladies, who shooed us out of the room. On narrating my problem, again, it did register something in one of their minds and out came a very shiny looking 500 rupee bill from an envelope. It looked perfectly normal otherwise, but maybe too much makeup is out of fashion these days. Sure the note was shiny and the Gandhi insignia had bit too much ink, but fake? Unfortunately I wasn't the one who works in banks.

I did try the melodrama bit here too, which famously had taken me out of a soup at a Mumbai local station. Didn't work out. This time though, I was happy just to come out alive. And kick the bloody ATM on the way back.

Alive and kicking. Ha.

Friday, November 02, 2007

She Don't Lie

Martina Hingis has said she is horrified by her positive cocaine test and that she is "absolutely, one hundred per cent innocent".

If you got bad news, you wanna kick them blues.

When your day is done and you wanna run.

She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie;

~ JJ Cale (Well, Clapton too)

I trust you Martina.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Nothing But the Tooth Redux : Root of all evil

Some of you might be familiar with my last rendezvous with a dentist, which culminated in an extracted tooth. Those who aren't, better 'brush up'.

The last time I fell in trouble, I decided that I won't let it happen again. Like every time else. I did try, mind you. I brushed at nights for 2 nights straight before I realised that brushing before bedtime at 4 AM and then again at 8.25 AM before turning up for lectures doesn't make a hell lot of difference. I used a funny tasting, funnier looking medical toothpaste to kill those goddamn germs. I gave up because it produced no foam and did not leave that cool, tangy, minty aftertaste. I am a man with clear cut priorities after all.

More importantly I had vowed not be my own doctor again. The last time around, I had mistaken my toothache for the onset of wisdom tooth; a concept based on the one paragraph I got to read in some school biology course. Some argued that wisdom tooth doesn't take 4 months to grow, which was the duration of my ache with increasing magnitude of pain. It is proportional to the amount of person's wisdom, I argued back. To no logical response of course.

After the extraction last year, I thought I had seen the last of the intimidating sight of a dentist's chair. Unfortunately, going by the turn of events, that was just a beginning. The pain returned after exactly one year, like a much awaited annual event. It returned with an entirely different dogma though, last time it was left, this time it was right. I just have too quote 'The Who' here.

And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight
- Won't Get Fooled Again

When the pain started, I assured myself that it had to be the wisdom tooth this time. No chance of anything else. Even by my standards, it was high time that wisdom dawned upon me. Like last time, and most other times as well, I couldn't be more wrong. Last time it was a fallen tooth fragment while eating a dosa and the instantaneous chilling pain that followed which jolted me to reality. This time it was a toothpick half covered in blood, taken over by searing pain that was the revelation. Each time is a new learning experience you see.

After 15 days of doing extensive study on dentists in the area and listening to a million harrowing tales, I decided to go with the closest Hospital in my area. Proximity beats expertise anytime. The hospital was new, evident by the still freshly painted advertisement boards hanging over neighbourhood trees. Being the gentleman that I am, I decided to give it some serious business.

I took an appointment and waited patiently outside the dentist's cabin. Accompanied by pesky toothless kids about 20 years younger or serene toothless elders about 50 years older, I did feel slightly out of place. I was greeted by an affable doctor who took stock of the situation and laughed occasionally when I narrated most of what I have narrated here. Apparently patients with a sense of humour are appreciated, and it is not hard to see why.

Things took an interesting turn when she learnt that I was from Jamshedpur. She was from Jamshedpur too, and excitedly narrated about her school, Sacred Heart Convent, a name which meant so much back in schooldays for reasons not tough to fathom. Half of the appointed time was spent sharing memories of our hometown, the end of which put me in social situation I am ill accustomed to handle. Delighted to meet someone from the same place, she invited me over to meet her husband and 2 year old kid. I could only smile in return, this time and every other time.

The treatment itself started the second day. It gave me an indication that things were going to be very tough. For about an hour I had to keep my mouth open, to its maximum stretchable limit, while instruments emitting suspicious lights and emanating funny noises were inserted one after another into my mouth. Injections in the palate and obnoxious tasting medicines, which I was warned not to swallow, made the going even tougher. But this was just an inkling compared to what was coming up. I was told that the only way out was the Root Canal Treatment (RCT) which would begin the next time. I was explained about how infection reaches the nerve ending, how the canals are found out and cleared and filled and how the crown is fitted with an excellent illustrated diagram of the tooth. I probably looked like someone who would take an active interest.

The next day's session would rank close to the longest one hour of my life. The ones on the third, fourth and fifth day would give it a tough competition. The premise on which entire RCT is based is where do you experience the pain. And how much. This takes out the option of using a local anesthesia. So first the cavity was cleared and a hideous water nozzle inserted in my mouth. The water jet was directed into the cavity, with increasing force, and I was asked to tell if I experienced any pain. I told I did. I was instructed to hold on till it became unbearable. I would have liked to point out that I could be dead by then. Nevertheless it was managed, and it was established that as suspected, I did, indeed, need to undergo RCT. Bah!

The process of locating the canal comes close to the most sadistic thing that could be done to you (assuming....ahem! forget it..). Needles of various lengths, but invariably pointed and sharp and sometimes with those tiny screws near the end are inserted into the cavity at different angles. As the needle is poked into the cavity, you are supposed to convulse, you can't shout, when the pain takes your breath away. Makes it easy for the doctor to define unbearable. It is like Clockwork Orange with the eye replaced by the tooth. Sometimes two needles are inserted making intersecting angles and x-rays taken in all cases. With the needles and the small cardboard piece inserted for the x-ray and the looming radiation gun pointed at the cheek, it does get a bit intimidating. And more than a mouthful. On the brighter side the x-rays do look kind of cool with needles criss-crossing the tooth, reminds you of the pirate sign.

Locating the canal does take some time. Till then the entire sadistic process is repeated. Poke a needle. Push it inside. Bear it. Bear it. Bear it. Shriek. Wipe the tears. I went home looking like an exhausted warrior after every session. At times I begged to just extract the tooth and let go. To no avail.

Once the canal was found, thankfully, it was duly filled. The process though did not end here. I was told that since the tooth has no source of nutrition would become brittle. I was more alarmed when pointed out that this means that one day while biting an apple, the tooth may remain embedded in the apple itself. Which further meant that I had to get a crown on top. This required a process in which the guilty tooth had to be sized down. Which meant another painful session in which some kind of drill, with an irritating high frequency noise was inserted into my mouth. Tired of keeping it open for so long, I twitched a bit. That was enough for a gush of blood form the cheek to fill my mouth. And it hurt.

Finally after all these gory procedures, my dental imprint was taken and a crown ordered. I was advised to go with a ceramic crown which resembles the tooth, instead of the much cooler (and less expensive) gold one.

The overall bill was handed out to me, and my situation best summed up by the dentist's comment "I guess you guys are reimbursed by your company, right?".

No we aren't. I didn't opt for that plan, thank you. But I do have the satisfaction of telling people that I gifted myself a crown with my first salary. An exquisitely crafted ceramic crown.

I'm still waiting for the wisdom tooth.