Monday, July 31, 2006

Obelix goes to see Pirates of the Caribbean in Mumbai

One morning, Getafix was out in the woods cutting mistletoe for his magic spells when a little sprite by the name of Inbox came to him with a message from a faraway land.
It was an invitation from an indomitable fishing village across the seven seas. Our doings had reached their ears and they had sent Inbox with the offer of an exchange of friendship. They had chosen us, of all the little fishing villages in the world, as their sister village and had invited me, Obelix, on an exchange visit. I would be the recipient of their warmest hospitality, and one of their inhabitants would later come back with me to Gaul to visit us.
Excited by the prospect of this new adventure, I packed a few little boars for the journey and a menhir or two as a souvenir for my hosts, and set off, Dogmatix tucked comfortably on my shoulder. Cacafonix tried to sing a farewell lament in my honour but Unhygenix the fishmonger sat on his head. I tried to wheedle a little pouch of magic potion out of Getafix to protect me on the way, but he refused. As you may know, I fell into the potion when I was a baby and its effects have been permanent. So I climbed aboard the Phoenician trading galley that had brought a supply of silks and spices to our village, and set off for Mumbai.
My host Outforasix and his family were very friendly and showed me around. Asterix and Vitalstatistix had warned me that the inhabitants of the indomitable fishing village of Mumbai were accustomed to strange forms of transport and cautioned me to be careful not to fall off any of their wagons. I assured them that I was quite safe since I’d been on the wagon ever since the morning after our last banquet when I’d woken up with such a bad headache that I could only eat 6 boars for breakfast.
On the first morning, Outforasix said he would show me his office and we squeezed on to the 84 Ltd. Some of the other passengers called me “Jadiya” which, Outforasix told me, means “Handsome Prince”. I knew at once that I was going to enjoy my stay in this indomitable fishing village. These Mumbai people were jolly good fellows.
Outforasix introduced me to his friends Allergictovix, Chinesepunjabimix and Diplomainmechanix who travelled with him to Glasgow every day. I was a little confused by this because I seem to remember Getafix mentioning once that Glasgow was an old Caledonian town but I suppose this is an extension of the expression All Roads Lead To Home. Getafix always says that travel broadens the horizon, and I now saw for myself how right he was.
At one point I looked out of the window and saw some wild boar sniffing around a garbage skip. Naturally I tried to leap off the bus to get them, but a young man by the name of Broadspectrumantibiotix clutched tight to my overalls and since I hadn’t packed any clothes, and Outforasix’s daughters had promised to take me to a Dandiya Nite, I decided I’d better not climb off.
I wandered around on my own when Outforasix went to work and who do you think I met but our old friends the Pirates!
These guys, as you know, do get around a lot but I was really surprised to see big signs celebrating the Pirates of the Caribbean. I tried to push my way in to get them, and was really surprised that the ferocious Mumbai crowds simply pushed me right out again. I wish I’d brought a few Romans along, I would have loved to share them with these guys.
That evening I went to the Dandiya Nite with Outforasix’s daughters Veni, Vidhi, and Vissy. Their names made me feel strangely homesick because they reminded me of something, I’m not sure exactly what. We had a wonderful time dancing and a lot of people called me Jadiya here too. What nice hospitable people Mumbai has. Veni and her boyfriend Teachersbumlix even won a prize for the best dressed couple. Oops! I promised not to say anything about the boyfriend – don’t mention this to Outforasix, will you.
Dogmatix, meanwhile, was getting along famously with the neighbourhood dogs. He loitered around street corners with them and they sang loud songs till late at night, living the good Mumbai life.
It was now getting time for me to set out on the long journey home. I had made good friends with a dabbawalla, Palamburwillfix, who lived right near us. The first time we met I had tried to snatch away his dabbas and get at what was inside but he defended them brilliantly. When I later heard that the Mumbai dabbawallas are certified as six sigma, I wasn’t surprised at all.  Anyway, he invited me to his home and we feasted on bheja fry and kulfi.
When I got back home, the whole village was crowded round, waiting to hear my stories. They refused to believe some of what I told them, even when I gave them the recipes for the bheja fry and kulfi. Perhaps you find it difficult to believe me too but I promise it is the truth, Qasam É Dastaan – or, as we usually put it, QED.
First appeared in Sunday Mid-day on 30 Jul 2006, as part of a series in which Saaz parodied a range of humour writers, using their voices to tell Bombay stories.

Dave Barry and Fat Women

It so happened that one day I was walking down Carter Road and I noticed a lot of young people and the thought came to my mind, “My god, these kids are fat! Will you just look at the young women especially! They are not even trying to pretend that their fat parts don’t exist by covering them up either as they used to do in my day!”
This is, of course, good news for us as a nation. In years gone by Indian women were starving themselves and painting gook on their faces so that they would get chosen Miss Universe and they would be on TV and everybody would clap and they would get lots and lots of money. Now, they are walking around in skin-tight lumpy outfits with such grace and abandon that it cheers the heart.
I had long suspected that women would soon suss out that all this business of getting thin and becoming Miss Universe was a big scam, perpetrated by men who wanted to keep all the food for themselves, which is why I was very pleased recently when my alert journalism colleague Santosh Kadam referred me to an Associated Press article concerning a discovery made by scientists at the Kasargod Institute of Science (KIS), Mangalore, that women who had waist size 34” or more, or who weighed 70 kg or more, tended to live longer, earn more money, have more boyfriends and generally have a lot more fun than women who did not.
The article, headlined Fatties Rule, also said that both men and women who were candid in their enjoyment of food were much more likely to be expressive and flamboyant in other areas of life and body as well. It went on to aver that unselfconscious enjoyment of food did mind-blowing things with the amino-acid-inhibitors released by the peritoneum, which led to a feeling of general well-being as well as spontaneous and often rather dramatic opening of the chakras. (In case you are unfamiliar with nutrition-related terminology, I should explain that an “amino acid inhibitor” is apparently some kind of thing in the human digestive system.)
Aside from Carter Road, I also noticed a lot of large-sized girls and women at various Baristas, Café Coffee Days, and some malls and multiplexes. They bulged out of their shorts and halter tops with calm confidence, and added a cool 4 spoons of sugar to their coffee even when everyone was watching. They were businesslike and could on occasion be quite ruthless if anyone happened to pass comments. Consider what happened to Ramesh Shetye of Gayatri Mall, Wanowari, Pune, whose story was brought to my attention by alert reader Pandurang Popat.
Ramesh had been hired by the Fancy Foods Company to cut and offer tiny slices of their new product YummyBix which came in 3 flavours (wild berry, musk, and chocolate), and earnestly explain to shoppers the virtues of YummyBix while they were eating their free samples.
A certain Preeti Arnyani (name changed on request) was savouring her sixth little slice when Ramesh, who was describing the ingredients and other virtues of YummyBix in a continuous, rapid-fire monologue, started explaining their low-calorie aspect. This so annoyed Preeti Arnyani that she hit him very hard on the head with her handbag with the result that – in Ramesh’s own words – “Concussion ki wajah se admit kiya mere ko. Teen bottle lagana pada.”
“I think she was fully justified in what she did,” Preeti’s protective and well-built elder sister Sweety avowed. “Sometimes when I’m at a party taking my fourth helping of dessert and some silly ass of a man will look at my plate and say ‘bas? You’re on diet or what?’ and I will gather up saliva in my mouth and spit in his eye. I do that to anyone who tries to suggest that I or any other woman might be (or should be) on a diet. But of course that doesn’t stop them. It’s very hard explaining to certain types of people, you try it and see.”
And you’re just not going to believe what happened last week when I went for a swim at the Bombay Gym pool with my teenage son Archie, but I swear it is the truth. Six enormous women in string bikinis were lined up to jump from the high diving board. In they plopped, one after the other, and there was a succession of wobbly thighs cutting elegant arcs in the air as they dived. Before the last one entered the water, a small commotion arose. Apparently a man sitting at a table near the pool, watching with a thoughtful look on his face, had made some kind of absent-minded observation to himself about the Archimedes Principle. One of the women swam gracefully around, pulled herself up smartly over the edge of the pool to her waist, leaned over, clamped a rather large hand around his ankle – and tugged and dragged the astonished man right into the pool. The others then floated across on their backs, and they took turns at placidly holding his head under the water, completely unconcerned by his kicking, struggling and spluttering. After the man finally came out, red in the face and gasping – and I wish to stress that I am not making any of this up – they went right back and did several stylish lengths in tandem. They came pretty close to Archie and me, but it was never scary; it was – and here I will quote Herman Melville – very cool.
It turned out that the man had been an actual Miss Universe judge, and several alert readers called in over the next few weeks to tell me that he had gone home that day with a huge box of chocolates for his wife (who had apparently had gone into shock and been unable to speak for 48 hours after seeing him with it) and flung his daughter’s entire collection of South Beach, Atkins, General Motors, Fit for Life and other related material out of the window. The next day he sent in his papers to the Miss Universe Corp, quoting “Better Prospects” as his reason for leaving.
First appeared in Sunday Mid-day on 30 Jul 2006, as part of a series in which Saaz parodied a range of humour writers, using their voices to tell Bombay stories.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Code of the Watsas

I was sprawled on my bed, engrossed in the final episode of Sex and the City when Jeevan sidled in to tell me that my flight tomorrow was likely to be late.
“Fogs in Delhi, Batty-baba,” he said. “Thereby all flights in country being delayed.”
This just put the cap on it. Preeti would be livid. I had promised to pick up fresh stocks of Fortnums’ goose liver paté from Patel Stores, our friendly neighbourhood bania, and if I failed to arrive on t. – well, you know, hell hath no fury like a rakhi-sister scorned, what?
“Jeevan,” I said, “there is no time to be lost. “Get Captain Modi on the phone pronto.”
Homi was one of the best. We’d been at Lovedale together – shared our tuck, travelled home by Bombay-batch every hols, and what not. If ever there was a bloke who could get something done in this desperate situation, it was old Hormuze Modi.
“Hey Batty!” Homi’s mellifluous tones attacked me from the speaker phone. “Have you heard the latest on Ma Gupu?” and he proceeded to drone on and on about our old Geography teacher who apparently had been through some rather awful times but was now retired and last sighted vicinity of Coonoor. Now I loved old Nergis Barucha, and the sound of her bossy “Bharat Watsa! you will accompany me to the headmaster’s office!” was still enough to wake me in a cold  sweat from deepest slumber, but this was not at all the time for this kind of thing.
“Listen, Homi old chap, will you be quiet for a second and allow me to confide the most awful problem a man ever had to face?”
“Oh no Batty, not the clap again,” Homi said worriedly. He was one of those few chaps who really cared about a chap.
“Worse,” I assured him. “Preeti’s having her annual bash in Goa tomorrow, and the boat pulls out at 7 p.m. sharp. Jeevan tells me my flight is likely to be late. And you know what Preeti’s like. If I don’t get the paté there on time I’m for it. Do you think you could you could get the old Lear out?”
“Any time, Batty, you know that, but tomorrow is Binaifer’s annual candle-light  vigil, that Save the Dolphins thing she’s been doing ever since she was 3 – so sorry old boy.”
You know, if anything ever did get me to tie the k. it would only be the hope that a cute thing like little Binaifer Modi might spring from the Watsa loins. I sighed and put the phone down heavily – then picked it up again.
Arvind and I had lunched at the Bombay Gym last week, and he’d let slip his new acquisition – a hovercraft, don’t you know. Surely he would - ?
But Melissa, Arvind’s delicate half, was out of sorts. “Bai trouble,” Arvind confided. “Poor Melissa apparently told her very clearly to cut the kakdi gol-gol but she went and served it cut lamba-lamba. I’d really better go in and check whether she’s regained consciousness, she’s been lying in a faint since lunchtime. Pip-pip, old man.”
Sighing, I now tried calling Rajeev, Preeti’s second husband, no. 2 (ha ha, nice coincidence there) at one of these enormous oil corporations that have their own helicopters and what not. He was a jolly good chap, though an old Mayo boy, batch of 1968 – to tell you the truth I like him a darn sight better than any other husband Preeti’s had. But the silky voice that answered his direct line said he was busy with Japanese visitors. Out on the golf course I’ll be bound. Never can understand how these oil fellows ever get any work done, honestly.
I had my hand on the phone again when I heard a small cough. I let go of the phone. Jeevan, as you may have long suspected, was the brains of the family. I knew from the expression on his face that my worries would soon be relegated to an earlier period.
“Don’t mind it Baba, but how about we can try the Gidwani-madam?” he asked solemnly.
I looked at him aghast.
“What, that old battleaxe!” I stared at him haughtily, waiting for an explanation. Old Jeevan was clearly losing it. It was all that fish he ate – mercury poisoning, don’t you know. The Gidwani bird, to put in plainly, was the rudest, ugliest old harridan that dined out every night of her life on a bridge story. The one and only time my dear departed mater and pater had her over had been one fateful evening 17 years ago. I had just learnt to play myself, and they’d called me in to make up the fourth.
“Do you play Stayman?” Mrs. Gidwani asked me. I did, of course – I mean to say, what sort of bounder doesn’t play Stayman. But instead of responding with a simple “One no trump” which would have sufficed the likes of you and me, she gave a loud cackle and started telling us about the time she’d sat down to a rubber at the Willingdon and politely asked her partner, “Do you play Stayman?”
To which the gentleman had apparently replied: “Madam, I AM Stayman.”
Now I mention this only so that you will have some idea of the vintage of this Gidwani. But while one expects that temperance and wisdom shall follow great age, as the night the day, our Gidwani has only got successively more ghastly. I shudder as I reveal this awful fact but since that evening she has gazed at Jeevan with covetous eyes and I assure you I have lived in utmost dread these 17 years.
Now Jeevan unfolded his plan, “Baba, you are knowing every time Gidwani-madam is telling to me her desire for man-servant like my good self and her intention of ample reimbursement?”
My eyes narrowed. What on earth was the man trying to get at? Surely, surely Jeevan wasn’t suggesting that he sacrifice himself to the Gidwani just so that Preeti could get the paté on time? Where on earth was his sense of proportion!
“I am talk to Raju, Gidwani-madam’s driver,” Jeevan continued, heedless of the young master’s visible agitation. “They are having first-class new SUV, and Raju is anxious for opportunity to travel on new, improved NH4. I can be telling to her that I will go now itself and tomorrow morning bringing for madam young chap for household work from my native village of Karad. I have speak to my sister and one fellow is there able and willing. From Karad Goa is nearby only. Raju will quickly dropping you at Preeti’s madam’s place late night. Next morning itself we shall be coming back with servant boy for Gidwani madam.”
By golly, the chap was a genius!
“Quick, Jeevan,” I cried, “chuck some things in a bag and let’s push off!”
“I have took liberty of already packing bag, baba,” smiled Jeevan.
So that’s how it happened, and there was great happiness and r. all around. Preeti’s paté got to the party well in time. Mrs. Gidwani was delighted with the bloke from Karad. Melissa soon recovered – it had only been one of her regular migraines – has them every now again don’t you know. Even sweet little Binaifer managed to save the dolphins. I mean to say, I was going to Goa anyway, and a chap’s got to do what a chap’s got to do, what?
(All characters in this narrative are fictitious, with the exception of Nergis Bharucha, former (formidable) Geography teacher at Lawrence School, Lovedale – presently retired to Coonoor.)
First appeared in Sunday Mid-day on 23 Jul 2006, as part of a series in which Saaz parodied a range of humour writers, using their voices to tell Bombay stories.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Code Returns

The Dnyaneshwar Code (Part 2)

Sophie-Kutty and Robo Langdon have arrived in Pune, following Sophie-Kutty’s recently dead grandfather’s cryptic directions. Sila the hijra is in hot pursuit. They join the huge annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur known as Palki, looking for more clues. Inspector Jadhav too has sworn publicly to solve the mystery.

The Palki comprised long lines of simple rural folk walking along in bands.
Some carried banners. Many were singing, playing the cymbals, or chanting. The women wore flowers. The men were dressed in dhoti-topi. Elders were carried in palanquins. They had walked for days; covered hundreds of miles. Pune traffic was diverted to non-Palki routes. In their fervour for Dnyaneshwar, school kids and office goers too had decided to stay home.
Sophie-Kutty was filled with pangs of grief for the loss of her grandfather. She looked at Robo. They had grown fond of each other. “I think we should mix in the crowd separately,” she told him. “Let’s meet at the German Bakery tomorrow lunchtime.” Langda nodded. He knew she was right.
Next day, Sophie-Kutty was surprised to see Langda already at the German Bakery, hanging out with a familiar-looking face. “Meet Shantaram,” he introduced her. The famous Australian convict had lived in Mumbai slums, saving lives with his first-aid skills and equipment. Sophie-Kutty had loved the book but found the Marathi renderings pretentious.
“Hmm, not bad,” Sophie-Kutty acknowledged, impressed, “but see what I got!” and she brought forward a handsome but rather dirty-looking young man whose upper-class British antecedents became evident the minute he cleared his throat.
“Antimony Hopscotch,” Sophie-Kutty offered him proudly to the others.
“Fascinating, this Pulkey,” Antimony beamed with native wit. He put down his backpack and he and Shantaram compared notes on their separate groups, routes, rituals, evening entertainment, and where to get good dope.
“Son of a duke,” Sophie-Kutty briefed Langda. “Mother studied metallurgy at Edinburgh. Badly oppressed by life of royalty and disappeared in the middle of his gap year. Surfaces occasionally to e-mail addresses where his folks can wire him money.”
“Gap year?” asked an unfamiliar voice, “Do you mean he spent one year buying t-shirts? Sounds like my son.”
Sophie-Kutty and Robo looked up. Inspector Jadhav stood at the entrance stroking his moustache. A shrill scream from Sophie-Kutty cut short Langda’s socio-economic analysis of the phrase Gap Year. He looked hurt, but she pointed behind the inspector where Sila was shackled. The inspector looked modestly victorious. “We caught him trying to make away with Sant Dnyaneshwar’s sandals,” he explained.
Sila leaned forward and thrust a piece of paper into Langda’s hand.
“Gup re,” shouted Inspector Jadhav threateningly, “Ek kan patti lavtho”.
“Well done sir,” said Robo, “Sophie, we can go home now.”
“What does Sila’s note say?” Sophie-Kutty asked later as they tucked into greasy cheese toasts on the Indrayani.
“I’d forgotten about that!” Robo exclaimed and unfolded the slip, but recoiled when he read FART IN A SHED.
Sophie-Kutty studied the message, squinting worriedly into the railway sheds they passed. As they walked out of CST, Sophie-Kutty jumped up, slapping her forehead. “My grandfather would have been ashamed of me!” she exclaimed. Can’t you see Robo darling, FART IN A SHED is nothing but ANDHERI FAST! Let’s hurry!”
They raced across the streets, propelled by the sea of evening commuters, and fell breathless into an Andheri Fast, pouncing into window seats before others got them.
“Sila!” Sophie-Kutty screeched, leaning and stretching her hands out through the window bars towards the hijra who had found them again.
“I am innocent! Those were MY grandfather’s sandals, he was a famous hijra!” Sila shouted.  “DNA test was done and sandal found to belong in my family. Please Sophie-Kutty, remember one thing, Evidence in a corruption!”
“What?!” Sophie-Kutty asked, startled.
Evidence in a corruption!” Sila repeated.
The train began to move. Sila ran alongside.
Continue prior deviance” he yelled desperately.
“Her grandfather was a hijra?” Langda asked incredulously. “I’ve always wondered how these things work.”
“Robo, listen,” said Sophie sternly. “These are Jacob Sussanna’s last two messages. Both indicate very clearly that the convict Shantaram stole Sant Dnyaneshwar’s sandals.”
Arriving at Shantaram’s posh new apartment at Lokhandwala, they found the front door key under the door mat, but no sandals inside.
Later, Sophie-Kutty sipped her chai and mused despondently, “I should have realised my grandfather would never leave me so obvious a clue.”
“Look at this,” responded Langda excitedly, “FART IN A SHED also reads FANS HIDE RAT. Did you know that one year the British banned the Palki saying that the plague was going wherever the Palki went? But the order met with outrage and rebellion of such magnitude that they had no choice but to revoke it.”
“My god!” Sophie-Kutty hurriedly interrupted his lecture. “My grandfather was one smart old geezer! That fits in with Ha ha! Vast armpit injuries itch!
It was Robo Langda’s turn to slap his forehead. “I’ve got it!” he shouted, leaping up.
Later that day, a beaming Inspector Jadhav faced a battery of mikes and press cameras. “I owe thanks to my dear friends Sophie-Kutty and Robo Langda with whose help the Mumbai Police have apprehended the notorious criminal Mr. Antimony Hopscotch.”
Jadhav and Langda had led Antimony into a temple, while Sophie-Kutty quickly picked up the sandals he left outside and returned them soundlessly to the relieved Palki. When Antimony’s own sandals had torn, he had been too broke to buy a new pair, so just helped himself to the Palki’s sandals without anticipating the resulting furore.
“It’s quite simple, really,” Langda said. “Evidence in a corruption and Continue prior deviance are both anagrams of Received pronunciation.”
“Besides,” added Sophie-Kutty, you must have noticed that most evil villains speak in that posh Brit accent. Remember Sher Khan in Jungle Book? Sean Ambrose in MI2? Lagaan, Mangal Pandey, Rang de Basanti? Cruella D’eville? Lord Farquhart? Hannibal Lecter? Even that horrid Simon Cowell in American Idol speaks like that.”
Concluded Inspector Jadhav, “From my side I am relieved that the culprit has turned out to be a foreign national. The minority groups would have been giving us lot of trouble. These days even our Hindus have become very sensitive and are closing down Hussain exhibitions and the like. The messages of our native Saints like Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram have become increasingly important and I request you all to follow. Jai Maharashtra.”
First appeared in Sunday Mid-day on 9 July 2006

Monday, July 3, 2006

The Dnyaneshwar Code

Robo Langda awoke slowly.
The doorbell had been ringing insistently for several minutes. He cursed silently and groped his way to the entrance of his apartment, forcing his eyelids painfully apart. That pesky sadistic newspaper boy did it every Sunday morning.
Robo opened the door with the chain on, and felt the large wad of newspapers thrust right into his gut. Coffee, he needed coffee. He tipped a generous shower of Brazilian instant into a mug of water and shoved it into the microwave. Then he saw the headline, and he reeled.
Castrating the ouch! it read. Langda’s breath came in slow, painful gasps. The famous communist poet Jacob Sussanna was no more. Langda, professor in History at the Bombay University, had read Sussanna in Femina and other esteemed magazines ever since he was a student. Sussanna had a brilliant mind, and was well known to be a storehouse of cultural knowledge. Vastly respected for his wit and wisdom, Susanna was a darling of the TV news channels and regularly held forth on various debate shows.
Fully awake now, Langda peered at the extraordinary headline and the photograph of one well-built Inspector Jadhav, arms akimbo. According to the article, Sussanna had phoned Jadhav bare seconds before he died of a massive heart attack. He had been sounding rather strange – Jadhav confirmed that Sussanna often sounded rather strange – and had requested the Inspector to come and see him immediately though it was the middle of the night. Indulgent of the eccentric behaviour of brilliant poets, Jadhav had rushed to his side, but too late. Sussanna lay on the floor, tightly clutching a note in his hand on which was hand-written, in bold capital letters, “Castrating the ouch”. What could it possibly mean?
“Inspector Jadhav is certain that Sophie-Kutty, famous Sudoku champion and granddaughter of Susanna, will have a solution to this mystery,” the article concluded.
Langda, who had an earnest face and kind heart, was romantically unattached. He thought for a moment, then pulled on his trousers, splashed some water on his face, and walked down to the Bandra station.
Soon enough, Sophie-Kutty appeared, and Langda, cunningly looking the other way, stuck his leg out so that she tripped over it. As he helped her up, they held each other’s hands for a brief, warm moment.
Sophie herself was not that bad looking and had small, well-formed (but extremely strong) bones.
“I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather,” Langda said gently.
“He was trying to warn me,” Sophie-Kutty sobbed. “I’m so scared – see, I’ve been followed!” and she nudged Langda, indicating subtly with her eyebrow. Langda looked where she had pointed and said soothingly, “Don’t worry Sophie-Kutty, that’s only Sila the hijda. She lives behind Elco and I’ve known her for years. She’s quite nice, really.”
“But she’s chasing me,” Sophie-Kutty whispered. “My grandfather knew this was going to happen!”
“Sussanna was a genius,” said Langda. “You know his penchant for double meanings. Take a closer look,” and he pointed at the headline.
Sophie-Kutty gave a little start. “Of course!” she said. “I should have seen it myself. It’s a simple anagram. Re-arranged, CASTRATING THE OUCH reads CHURCHGATE STATION. She tugged at his sleeve. “Let’s hurry!” and they raced across the overbridge.
The train pulled into Churchgate and the two stumbled out but Sophie-Kutty’s blood ran cold. Sila was lurching along behind them, pushing the other well-dressed Sunday commuters out of the way. They hid for a moment behind a milk booth and when Sila paused, Sophie-Kutty grabbed Langda’s sleeve. “He’ll never look here,” she said, and pulled him into the Gents. It was deserted but the stink made them retch. Then, a large graffiti on the side wall made them reel. Retching and reeling, they clutched onto each other for support.  Ha ha! Vast armpit injuries itch,” Sophie-Kutty read aloud. “What can it possibly mean?”
“I know!” Langda shouted suddenly. “Quick! Can’t you see, it’s another anagram! My god, Sussanna was a genius! CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI TERMINUS!”
The two ran out and piled hurriedly into a taxi. After the toilet, that whiff of Sophie-Kutty’s perfume was very pleasant to Robo.
“Jaldi, jaldi!” Sophie-Kutty begged the taxi driver when Sila began tapping on the window with threatening looks.
They shot off but Sila ran alongside. “Just ignore her,” the driver advised. Sila was keeping abreast, tapping on the window, sari flapping in the wind, muttering dire threats. “These hijras are something else,” said the driver, “they could make our country proud by joining the Olympics or the marathon. But no, all they want to do is chase my taxi.”
Langda was immersed in thought. Peering at the headline again, he gasped. “Sophie-Kutty, look at this! Castrating the ouch can be rearranged to read CATCH TOUGHER SAINT. My god the extent of Sussanna’s cryptic skill is simply amazing. Finally I know what he was trying to tell us.”
Langda rushed to the window and bought 2 tickets to Pune.
“It’s the Palki,” he explained to Sophie-Kutty. “It’s one of our oldest religious traditions! The greatest ever expression of spontaneous faith! A movement never sullied by politics or powerbroking! Every year, untold thousands of pilgrims walk from all over the countryside, through the birthplaces of the great saints of Maharashtra. Huge processions swell as they move from one village to the next, until they reach Pandharpur on Ashadi Ekadashi.
“Tukaram, Dnyaneshwar, Eknath – these names you have surely heard? The Bhakti movement influenced the course of our country’s religious history from the 13th to the 16th centuries. They preached the equality of all humans, the all-pervasiveness of the almighty, and that spirituality had no favoured language. Of course the Brahmins didn’t agree.”
Sophie-Kutty yawned, Langda was a History Prof, remember.
The train pulled in at Pune Station. Among the crowd of faces that milled on the platform, Sophie-Kutty spotted Sila, and shivered.
-        Will Sophie-Kutty and Robert Langda solve the mystery of Sussanna’s messages?
-        Will her grandfather send any more irritating anagrams?
-        Will Sila finally attack them?
-        Will Sant Dnyaneshwar’s sandals be returned to the Palki?
-        Read about it next week in the concluding part of The Dnyaneshwar Code.
First appeared in Sunday Mid-day on 2 July 2006