The Commute by Mandar Latkar
Mandar Latkar writes about his daily commute and how his outlook changed over time.

I love my job – well I don’t hate it – and I certainly love my colleagues. My boss is a guy who appreciates me and is simply awesome. Then why am I writing this? If all is well then what possible story could I have? Just bear with me a while. It is an interesting one, because all this never stopped me from being a dreamer. My commute starts here.

Every good story has a good old flashback. So let’s pan on the yellowed family photo on the mantle and take a walk down memory lane…

As a kid, I was a nerd who had an opinion about everything under the sun. The life was all shades of grey. The newspaper was my tinkle and readers digest my Geeta. No wait! don’t put the story down just yet. I really wasn’t that kid (Just an attempt at humour). Jokes apart, the reality was – I had no opinion about anything that wasn’t Pokémon, I never knew which newspapers came into the house and I definitely did not know a colour named grey till my pants reached my ankles and I had to buy a grey one for school. What I really want to say here is – I had no clue what I was good at or bad at and had no notion of anything that I could be good at or bad at. But the one thing that changed along with the length of my pants was that I developed a massive appetite for reading. I started with the famous five, graduated to Agatha Christie, Sidney Sheldon and John Grisham and then to non famous authors as well. I read fiction and then non fiction. I was fascinated by the written word. And so when it came to deciding what to do after HSC, it was obvious what I wanted to do. I took up engineering. If nothing else, 4 years in there made a poet out of me.

Now… I graduated and was rearing to start my professional career – you know how that turns out. Happy in the job, happy in the space and happy all around – My story gets interesting during this time. The biggest plus of landing a job for me turned out not be the salary but the fact that my job was a 12 km commute from home. Every day donning my helmet, with earphones and a shuffled playlist as my travelling companions I set off on a journey. A journey towards my destiny (sinister music plays in the background). The journey opened up to me a whole new world of possibilities. I started seeing the world in a whole new light. Suddenly everything was categorized in genres and everything represented a potential ‘story’. The journey had me looking at people, and people lived lives that were same and different according to where I saw them during the course of my travel. Every new thing I noticed instilled in me an urge to write. To write out whatever made sense to me and whatever story I could think of. On my way, I came across at least ten stories a day, eleven if I was lucky enough to find that one story that trumped the ten. So there I was, music in my ears wind on my face and the world a blur to me with thousands of titles floating around ready to be picked up and made into a story. The world was a blank diary and it was my task to fill it up with stories. Write to my heart’s content and then write some more. Out of nowhere I had this overwhelming passion for translating events into my own narrative. I wanted to write down a story out of anything and everything. Although if I were to celebrate Christmas against the will of my very Brahmin parents- Hey! I see a potential storyline here – I would have asked Santa to give me an eidetic memory. For the best stories that came to mind often slipped away into oblivion before I could lick the pen. So now comes the part where I describe what I really mean. Let’s come out of the flashback and go into a generic description.

While driving, my brain goes in an overdrive. Every new happening every new person poses a challenge. What story might generate from any of it is a mystery that I strive to solve. But just when a thread of a story dangles in front of me to be pulled on until the loom is empty, the journey presents yet another target and yet another thread to pull on. A mother crossing the road with her two children in uniform. The mind spends not a second in asking, a story of a mother? But the brain kicks in to say… A story of two school kids!! The heart says… No the story lies in the school bus driver. A happy person with a grudge of not having his own kids, but who loves all of them as his own. No sooner does a warm goodie goodie name of the driver comes to mind than a handicapped man riding his four wheeled scooter with a little Girl clinging on to him from the back seat comes under the radar (my story radar). A story sweet and charming? A story where the handicapped man jumps up on his feet in the end! There’s no telling how it turns out. There I see another one. A goggle seller with a sign saying ‘imported goggles’. I see him putting up his shop on the footpath the same way every day like clockwork. I am going to make him the president of the country in my story! Because that is what so great about story telling. I can make a tale spin any way I want. My story, my say. That’s what it looked like in my world. I commute and I make up stories. That’s why even if I love my job – Well I don’t hate it – I keep dreaming of a story that is just around the corner. A story that just needs me to get written. Of course that was not the only thing I did on my way. I also religiously looked at the ABS gym billboard and I noticed the stickers on the bikes that said “Dad’s gift” and “Mom says no girlfriend” – pardon my correct spellings and grammar – on which I have always wanted to write something or at least incorporate them in one of my writings (Look at that, I just did).

So this continued for a year. I was set in my ways, I commuted and sometimes ideas stuck and they took a form of a story. But this one day I had my mind on something different. That day I left like any other day but suddenly a thought struck me hard as a bolt of lightening. The skies darkened and the clouds began roaring – No wait… the darkness was the shadow of the man breathing down my neck and the roaring was that of the cars behind me honking away – I was holding up the traffic at the signal. I started off again and resumed my thinking with a dark cloud inside my head. A little voice inside me had said “you have enough material to write a manuscript”. I did not see any stories on the road that day and no favourite song on the playlist drew my attention away from – was that The Beatles? – well okay! the song did a bit, why else would it be called ‘favourite’ right? Anyways once Lennon had his say I reverted to my story, the only story that really mattered. The story of seeing my name on the front cover of my book. I went into my boss’ office and told him my idea. I wanted to quit and go write my manuscript. As you know my boss is awesome. He refused flatly…In the end we struck a deal and I resumed my work at the nice place that I did not hate.

“He saw the British standard flying in the wind while his was lying trampled somewhere in the massacre that the British had made of his own army. He took a last look at the Battle field of khadki and turned the other way, taking the slope to the wrong side of home. He did not stop until the horse began foaming at the mouth and the beast’s skin shined with the effort of the long run. Bajirao was crazed. At being defeated and more so by the same people who had given him refuge not so far ago. He cared now only for survival and nothing else. He kept the beast going at the same pace in trying to get as far away as possible from the British he knew would be coming after him. After all he was the maratha samrat. The last Standing Peshwa. He had retreated from the Frontline first and hardly fought 4 oncoming British soldiers before the sense of self-preservation set in and he retreated to Parvati’s top to be a mere witness and not a casualty in the battle that clearly was being won by the army in red, the ‘Royal army’ as it was called. Though beaten down Bajirao refused to be defeated as of yet. The dream of Peshwai still very much alive in his fierce heart as he left the exhausted horse to die and made way on foot to a safe refuge that he knew he could reach before the British army got to him. He was for now the last Peshwa standing on the Maratha soil.” 

It is the present day and I have my jacket on. Closely kept secrets should be kept near the heart. And I had my resignation in the jacket. A friend mentioned the story of Bajirao II and I start making the story in my own words. No, this did not affect much of my work as even though typing it took a while, in my imagination it took only about a minute. The tap that brought me out of the reverie was from my boss. He signalled towards a meeting room and I followed him in and sat myself opposite him. He looked at me and held up the book I had given him to read over the weekend. “I regret to say this, but I really liked it.” I was happy and confused at this reaction. “Why the word regret? What does he regret? Is he going to make me regret?” He stared at me for a while enjoying the power he had over me at the moment and continued in a menacing tone. “Do you remember the deal we made?” Of course I did. But I refused to show surprise that he remembered too. “You get published I accept your resignation” I nodded mutely at him not knowing what to say.

As I walked out I was neither happy nor sad as I knew I would soon wake up in my bed and then go off to work. I sat at my desk and e-mailed the resignation. (Don’t know what I was thinking bringing a written resignation letter in this age and time). I touched the letter in my jacket and realized: it was real. And I realized one more thing “That bastard stole my moment in the sun, the glory of handing over the resignation and saying I quit!” Man! He was awesome. Smiling to myself and nodding my head in approval I went back to the last month of working at the job I loved – well, I did not hate it.

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