I squinted and winced as my eyes adjusted to the harsh sunlight beating down on my face from the sadistically placed east-facing window near my bed.
I rolled over and reached for my phone, which had vibrated itself off the bed, onto the bedside tabled and subsequently went on to deftly slip off that too, straight into a bowl of noodles left over from my midnight fridge raid.
I picked it up, absent mindedly wiped it clean with the corner of the bedsheet and fumbled around on the screen before finally summoning the dexterity to switch the alarm off.
Showered, shaved and dressed, I sipped my coffee while glancing through the Times of India which lay open on the kitchen counter.
I left my mug in the sink and made my way to the side table near the door. I put on my cufflinks and watch, clipped my fountain pen into my pocket, slipped on my hushpuppies and walked out the door.
I walked down the corridor toward the elevator as I heard the door slam shut behind me. I stopped. My keys…..
I patted down my trouser pockets and heaved a sigh of relief. I roughly jabbed at the button for the lift and made my way to the car park.
Rrrramona, my truck had been washed and detailed just the day before and was looking absolutely spiffy. The sun bounced off her freshly waxed white hood and her polished wooden lining made her look deceptively expensive.
I got in, heaved the door shut, cranked her up and gave her a moment to heat up as I rolled a smoke.
I looked at my phone, 7:20 am. I swiped down to my call logs and dialled Vignesh’s number. He didn’t pick up. I sighed and tapped my fingers on the wheel. A few moments later he stumbled out of the lobby of the apartment block, fumbling around with a jacket and his sunglasses.
“Sorry boss…” He muttered, as he heaved the door shut. We weaved our way through Indore morning traffic which essentially comprised of hung over villagers on 100cc motorcycles with milk cans dangling on each side and auto rickshaws darting about like wired dragonflies, each stuffed with atleast 12 people.
I walked into the office and slumped in my chair. Vignesh sat down on the black rexine couch opposite and blinked.
“Good Morning Baba! Good Morning Vigneshbhai!”
“Good morning Mahaveer.” Vignesh replied, somewhat less enthusiastically.
Mahaveer leaned in through the doorway, the usual grin splattered across his face. His morning cheer was not welcome.
He darted towards the kitchen shouting, “Krishna! Bring Baba’s coffee!”
“And one for me…” Vignesh called out after him.
“And one for Vigneshbhai!”
I muttered some expletives and glanced at the lesson bookings.
“You’ve got an eight o’clock.” I said, looking up at Vignesh.
“That ones yours boss.”
“You have an eight o’clock.” I repeated, my voice taking on an exasperated, maniacal tone.
“I have an eight o’clock.”
Krishna sauntered in with a tray in his hands. Two mugs sat in a pool of coffee. Both were only half full.
I looked up at him and snarled as he set my wet mug down on the recently and very well polished desk top.
“Get a bloody coaster.” I barked, picking up the mug and attempting to wipe off the wet ring of coffee left behind on the smooth teak surface. I failed miserably.
I glanced at my watch. “Where’s your eight o’clock?”
Vignesh, who was by now lying on his back, his legs stretched out on the arm of the couch opened his eyes. “Dunno.”
I shook my head and went back to sorting out the receipt books. “We haven’t done badly this month eh?”
“Hmm” he grunted in response.
It was beginning to get warm, I leant over and flipped the switch to turn the ceiling fan on. It creaked a little and got to doing it’s job.
Outside, I could hear the clanging of steel buckets and feedbins, horses snorting and the boys swearing at each other in Rajasthani. Intermittently a distinctly recognisable voice would break into song with seemingly deliberate intent to sound like a deaf cat.
I looked outside and saw Mahaveer jogging up towards the office.
I looked at Vignesh and nodded, “There you go, your eight o’clock is a nine o’clock.”
Vignesh got up, grabbed his whip off the desk and trotted out of the room.
I looked at the lesson roster to check who the rider was and was filled with instant regret. It was Marie, the very attractive , very French, very 22 year old daughter of a French teacher in one of the local private schools. But I couldn’t re-commandeer the lesson for fear of my lechery being too obvious.
I stood up and after a quick glance in the mirror, walked outside. Mahaveer was standing right outside the office door.
“How bad are you feeling for being so lazy baba?” He chuckled.
“Shut up, get me coffee.” I snarled back.
I dragged a plastic chair from the patio to the arena and sat down, propping my legs up on the railing, rocking back slightly.
“Baba you’ll fall…” Mahaveer quipped.
I lit a smoke and watched, half amused at my own audacity and half at Vignesh’s newly developed accent.
She was quite striking. At about 5’4″, with shoulder length layered blonde hair, dark green eyes and a jawline that could cut glass.
I flinched as my mindless gazing was interrupted.
“Oh, right, yeah, just put it here.”
He stood next to me, a hand on his hip, the other one in his pocket. He shifted his weight and looked like what I have always referred to as the “bored autowallah” (autowallah=tuktuk/rickshaw-cab driver)
“Baba… You should marry her.”
“What? No. Shut up – you say that about every woman that comes here.”
“Arre, baba you’ll be old in a few years, then who’ll marry you?”
I growled at him. He backed away slowly and after achieving sufficient distance he retreated to the safety to the stables.
My gaze returned to Marie who was now mastering her sitting trot. Perfect.
I stood outside the feed room. It was sweltering. I always insisted the barley be cooked slowly, which meant it simmered on a wood fire for a steady 6 hours a day making the room like a walk-in oven.
The lads all squatted by their respective feed bins while Mahaveer dished out the right mix for each horse individually. Despite being a blithering idiot in other matters, I admired his precision where care of the animals was concerned. He would meticulously weight each serving of grain, bran, carrots and mineral mixes so each horse got as close to exactly the right amount as possible everyday. He was also a stickler for time to the extent that feed bins would be placed outside the stables at 11:55 and would be slid into the stalls as the clock struck noon. Even Japanese trains are occasionally delayed, but never the Mahaveer Express.
I stood over the feed and made a mental note about having to order more corn.
“Baba, all horses are drunk.”
“They’re drunk sir.”
“Water baba, water.. They’re all drunk.”
“Okay, go ahead and feed.” I shrugged, shaking my head.
Like clockwork, the boys meted out the feed and stood over their horses as they stopped their impatient neighing, kicking and head-shaking and began to stuff their faces.
“Shall we head home then?”
Vignesh nodded and we drove back to the apartment in Rrrramona, who had turned into a furnace on wheels from standing in the 40 degree afternoon heat.
I fell back in bed, quickly checked my emails, Facebook and the like and sunk back into my pillow. The thought of getting up and going to the kitchen was almost inconceivable now. I decided to skip lunch.
I turned over, set my alarm for 3:30 and closed my eyes.
I woke up with a start. The thumping on my door grew louder and more frequent.
“WHAT?!” I bellowed.
“Boss, its 5 o’clock” Vignesh’s voice called from the other side of the door.
“Ugh.. Yeah, coming.”
I rubbed my eyes and dragged myself out of bed. I quickly glanced in the mirror, straightened my shirt, and walked out.
The glare from the sun seared through the west facing living room window. I skirted around it as I made my way to the door.
I looked at my cufflinks lying on the table next to the door and thought for a moment.
I rolled up my sleeves, looked at Vignesh who was standing behind me and tilted my head towards the door before walking out.
I walked past the horses, Mahaveer in tow.
“Everything alright then?”
“Did we have any rides today?”
I sighed. No business was never a good thing.
Vignesh had tacked up Phoenix, a great big thoroughly undo-operative thoroughbred and was reining him in the arena. I sat down on a plastic chair next to the arena, propped my legs up on the fence and leant back a little.
Krishna yelled out a noise that sounded like “Ho!” in confirmation and trotted into the kitchen.
I lit a cigarette and watched Vignesh go round and round in circles.
I hated lunge-ing for as long as I could remember. The whole process was cumbersome, slow, boring and painful as far as I was concerned. Having to rotate on the spot for hours while a half tonne farm animal circled around you while making every attempt to make your life more difficult than it already is has never struck me as a fun way to spend to my time. Still… it had to be done and I had Vignesh to do it for me.
I made my way over to the feed room. The grooms were milling about carrying buckets of water and hay, the chaffer was rattling in the background – churning out fresh lucerne for the evening feed.
Mahaveer was in the feed room, measuring out barley in the bins that were neatly lined up in front of him. I missed my days in Australia, when all feed came in a neatly packaged bag, no measuring, no cooking, no cutting, no steaming.
Here we had to buy each component from a different vendor, clean it ourselves, cook it ourselves and measure it out individually each day. The process took an hour each time and we fed three times a day.
Mahaveer would administer all the feed for every horse. That way, if something went wrong, I had someone to blame. That, and I could never trust the grooms to be diligent enough to do it themselves.
“Whats the special today?”
“Boiled eggs” Mahaveer replied as he gestured over to Manohar who was seated cross legged on the floor with about 3 dozen eggs in a stainless steel plate in front of him. He peeled them one at a time and crumbled them into a plastic container he had next to him.
We had a special for each evening. An extra additive to make the horses’ meal a little more interesting. Sometimes it was Bananas or Apples on other days it was Papaya, Carrots and sometimes it was boiled eggs. When we were feeling particularly festive, we’d give every horse a beer.
I looked at my watch. 7:30 pm. “Have they been watered?” I looked at Mahaveer.
“Yes Baba, All drunk.”
“Er.. Okay, go ahead and feed.”
On my word, the lads who were now hanging around outside the feed room jumped into action, grabbed their respective bins and headed out to the horses. This was a ritual, three times a day. Nothing got fed until I said so, and certainly not if they hadn’t had a drink first. Colic has always been somewhat of a nemesis and I was mortally afraid of an incident.
I spent hours each day mulling over feed contents, work, water and balancing out the three. We fed at exactly the same time each day, often down to the minute and all the horses received exactly the same amount as they did the day before. I tried to minimise the possibility of an attack as much as possible and I think our success was evident in the fact that we had less than 6 colics, and only one fatal in 7 years.
I walked into the office, sat down at my desk and kicked off my shoes. Vignesh followed and fell back on the couch. Tiger, our newest adoption bounded in over the threshold and fell into a mess near my feet. He then proceeded to exercise his newly acquired teeth on my jeans.
“I need a drink.” I cut him off, kicking Tiger away.
“Yeah, okay, but Phoenix……”
“Send someone to the Dhaba.”
Vignesh got up and walked outside, muttering something to himself. He came back in a few seconds and nodded.
“One bottle of Blender’s Pride coming.”
“Can we talk about Phoenix for a minute?”
“What about him?”
“He’s getting a bit insensitive.”
“So what do I do?”
“Nothing. Do Nothing.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean do nothing. The less you do, the more he will listen. You are always asking your horse for 20 different things at the same time. Ask for less, he will give you more.”
I deliberately twisted my explanations to sound more philosophical and cryptic only so that I could spend the rest of the day is quiet amusement as I watched him try to work it out in his head.
“You worry too much, just do less.”
“Hmm.. ok..” He replied, a look of confusion on his face.
I heard a knock on the door.
“Bring it in.”
Krishna came in with a bottle of Blender’s Pride, a bottle of cold water and three glasses balanced on a tray. He set it down on the desk and looked at Vignesh.
“VigneshBhai, water or soda?”
“Soda please.” Vignesh replied.
“Theres no soda, only water.”
Vignesh looked at me. “Why does he ask then?”
I smiled without looking up as I watched Krishna top my glass up with water.
The third glass lay empty on the tray. I looked at Krishna. “Who is that for?”
Krishna picked it up and held it out to me expectantly.
“Just a small one please Sir, I have a headache.”
I struggled with this logic as I poured him a small. He walked out, glass in hand, humming to himself.
“Cheers..” I looked at Vignesh.
I took a sip and reached around to get my tobacco from my back pocket.
“Boss you smoke too much.”
I lit my cigarette and looked around for the TV remote. It was nowhere to be seen.
“Wheres the remote?”
“I don’t know, I don’t watch TV.”
“Well, don’t just sit there, get up and look for the bloody thing.”
Vignesh fumbled around between the couch cushions and half heartedly scanned the room without doing so much as turning his head.
I sighed. “Nevermind.”
Krishna walked in, his phone playing some absurd Nepali music. The tinny electronic sound on his cheap Chinese made mobile phone was painful. I gave him a dirty look, knowingly, he reached into his pocket and turned it off.
“How can you listen to that shit?”
“What else to do baba?”
He had a point. There was little in the way of amusement and I guess we all needed some sort of entertainment or the other. The grooms would shuffle off into town and watch the occasional movie, or visit the city’s brothels when time permitted, but Krishna had his wife with him and was therefore permitted no such freedoms.
As it neared 8 o’clock, the rest of the lads sauntered in. Some sitting on the floor, the others perching themselves on whatever bits of the sofa were left unoccupied.
This too, was an evening ritual. We’d sit together, discuss the day, talk about families, life at home, horses and whatever was on the news at the time.
“So, now that we’re all here. Where the fuck is the remote?” I said, setting my glass on the table hard enough to make everyone turn and look at me.
“Which remote baba?” Sawai replied.
“The TV remote.” Vignesh interjected.
“Oh. That. Uh.”
I looked at him, frowning, “What?”
Mahaveer, who was leaning against the wall next to the couch smirked. I looked at him,
“What? Wheres the remote?”
“Sawai ate it.”
I have found that very often in situations such as this, rather than prodding for answers it is more prudent and less effort to just stare blankly across the room until someone comes up with an explanation.
“Well?” I asked, my impatience getting the better of me.
“Sawai ate the remote Sir.” Krishna said.
I looked at Sawai. “Did you eat the remote?”
“Yes Baba.” Sawai said, his expression taking on that of a dog who had just stolen breakfast off the kitchen counter knowing full well he shouldn’t have.
He looked at the floor.
“See Baba, its like this. I was watching a movie yesterday and I had the remote in my hand. I don’t know why but I started chewing on the edge of it and by the time the movie was over I had bitten off half the remote. So I threw the left away.”
“You’re serious aren’t you.”
I looked at Vignesh with a blank expression on my face. He pursed his lips and shrugged.
Taking another sip of my whiskey I turned to Mahaveer. “So now what? I wanted to watch the news.”
“Its okay Baba, the TV still has buttons, I’ll turn it on.”
“But I want the fucking remote!”
“Baba, now, where do I get you another remote.”
“Get it from him.” I said, pointing to Sawai, my tone growing more menacing.
Sawai shifted where he sat. Mahaveer looked at him, and back at me, somewhat confused.
“I want that remote, even if the little bastard has to puke it back up” I snarled.
“Baba, we can buy a new one tomorrow.” Mahaveer chided.
“No, I want THAT one..” I said, raising my voice slightly.
I looked at Krishna, “Bring me the medical box.” He obediently leaned across the couch and pulled the steel box off the shelf, placing it on the desk in front of me.
I opened it and pulled out a strip of tablets and handed it to Mahaveer.
He held the strip up and looked at it, reading the back. “E….m….e…tic….. Emetic…Emetic.” He spelt it out and repeated. “Whats this Baba?”
“This, my friend is how we are going to get my remote back. See that he takes atleast 2.” I said, getting up, grabbing my keys and putting them in my pocket.
I looked at Vignesh, who downed the rest of his drink and we walked towards the stables.
“Maybe that was a bit harsh boss. You can’t fix the remote.”
“I know that you idiot, just want to teach the fucker a lesson.”
I did a quick check on the horses and reaching for my keys in my pocket, walked towards the car. Vignesh cringed as he heard Sawai retching in the restroom.
“He’s going to feel that in the morning.”
“Shouldn’t have eaten the bloody remote, no?”
I looked at my watch. “Lets go get some dinner, it’s almost nine.”
“Can we go to KFC?”
“We can go to KFC.”