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The Odd One Out… May 14, 2006

Posted by espritnoir in Bandstand Stories, I, Me and Myself..., Random Thoughts....

(Apologies for not putting up the conclusion to the Road Trip first. For starters, it’s just not shaping up the way I wanted it to. In the meanwhile, what follows next happened over yesterday and this morning, and like so many other pieces before, just wrote itself;)

“Excuse me, sir, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but do the digits in your birthdate add up to the number 2?”

I turned to the side, and saw this 18-19 something young kid, in a bright red t-shirt, with a 3 day stubble on his face, looking at me, as if his whole life depended on my correct answer to that question.

“Actually, no, it doesn’t.” Well, if this guy was a numerologist or something, he’d have to do a lot better than that.

He looked at his watch, seemed to do some calculations in air, and then asked me again. “Is it 8 then? Or 6 maybe?”

When he realized he had them all wrong, he finally asked me what the correct answer was. I told him.

“That’s the first time ever that I’ve got the wrong answer.I don’t understand it.”

“Well, don’t cut yourself up too much over it. I have known to be a walking contradiction to those who know me. I can’t claim to know things about myself, so I really don’t blame you anyway. Nice try, though.”

What else could I say? I mean, here I was, on a Saturday morning sitting on a stone platform at Bandstand promenade, watching the waves lapping at the rocks 5 meters away from me, and this kid who’s been sleeping on the stone bench suddenly gets up and asks me what he did.

Now, those of you who know a little bit about me, would know that normally the conversation would have ended right there. Better off as a observer, if I think somebody is getting too close for comfort, or if I’m unsure of what to say or do, my first reaction is to walk away. But somebody I made friends with very recently, told me that every once in a while, I need to decide when to be an observer, and when to get involved. This time, something told me to get involved.

Without any idea why, or where this was going, I asked him why he wanted to know the answer to that question he had posed me.

“Well, I’m trying to prove a theory I’m working on. Everything in time has a definite beginning, and a definite end. And since time determines everything, almost all details about a person can be determined by a particular time any event occurs. For example, the time that you met me, this moment, can tell me, or in theory should have told me, your birth date at least. I can’t believe I got it wrong”.

Somewhere inside, I was quite thrilled at being an anomaly – different from the rest – rather than just another correct statistic in his research theory. Small kicks I get from life.

He then went on to tell me more about his theory. I would have loved to pen it down, or commit it to memory so that I could have reproduced it here better. He stated quotes attributing them to Einstein, and a couple of other scientists, and philosophers, and used words like “astrophysics”, “quantum”, “particle physics”, etc. One quote that I think he used was “The start and end of any event, is repeated at regular time intervals…” or something to that effect. Frankly I wasn’t paying too much attention to what he was saying at this time. Anyways, after a little prodding, he began dropping hints at how this theory that he was working on back home in Pune, had been sent to a London university, and how they were bowled over by what they had read, and how he had been inspired to prove his theory right. A theory that, in his words, “would rock the nation.”

What was he doing in Bombay, and what was he doing at Bandstand? He had come to visit a friend, and something had gone wrong, and he had been forced to spend the night at Bandstand, out in the open. “You know how things get wrong sometimes…”

What was he doing in Pune otherwise? “I’m a student. Dad’s in the army, based in Kolkatta. Loves me a lot. Miss him a lot. I had been even selected to the 3rd round of Indian Idol (a very popular musical talent show in India, based on the American Idol theme) But Dad made me get out of it, as it would have affected my studies. They even called me for the Indian Idol Part 2, but he wouldn’t let me go. Say, you’re from Bombay right? You wouldn’t happen to know anybody from the entertainment industry would you?”

Aah, so that’s what it is, is it? Unfortunately I don’t. And I said that to him, and he instantly picks up the hint of disdain / scepticism in my voice. “You don’t have anything against the industry, do you?”

I thought about it a moment. I remembered some of the stories a close friend of mine told me when she was trying to break into the industry. She’s as tough as nails, but she refused to make the compromises that she would have had to, to get somewhere in the industry. She preferred to give up her dreams, instead. “No, I don’t. But I do know that it ain’t as easy to break into as it looks like. You need to make a lot of compromises, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could end up being chewed up and spit out like a piece of stale and tasteless gum. But, to each his own. If you are ready to make those choices, to get to where you want to be, it’s your call. I don’t have anything against the industry or the people. At the end of the day, it’s just another means of a livelihood.”

He seemed pleased with that answer. Somehow, a clearer picture was beginning to form now in my head now. Starry eyed boy, with dreams of making it big in the entertainment business, coming in to Bombay, hunting down production managers, casting directors, assistant directors, talent agents, getting caught in the clutches of touts pretending to be all of the above. But, typically (and maybe I’m wrong here, I am speculating on this) the starry eyed people are from the far interiors of the country, with basic or no education, who come into Bombay with big dreams, and nothing else. Not well educated youngsters, from an Indian Army background (although I was less than 10 years elder to him, and I asked him to call me by name, he insisted on calling me a crisp ‘Sir’ – “It’s the army background, Sir, I can’t help it”) who go around quoting Einstein, and talking about theories in quantum and astrophysics. What about all that, I asked him. How does that fit into all this entertainment?

“That’s how I want to prove my theory, Sir. It’s a movie about how this theory works.” And he left it at that. So did I.

How long was he planning to be in Bombay. Did his parents know he was here? “Yes. Mom knows I’m here with some friends.” Although I bet she didn’t know her son spent the last night out on the streets, sleeping by the rocks of Bandstand. I didn’t mention that to him though. “I’m leaving for Pune this afternoon.”

By now, we had been chatting over an hour, and it was time for me to leave. I wished him all the best, and hoped that his dreams – about the Indian Idol thing, as well as the theory that would rock the nation – came true one day. He seemed rather disappointed to see me go, like the time you feel when you want somebody to talk to, but nobody’s around. He moved on though, and I drove away.

Before I reached the end of the road that takes me away from the sea face, I had a nagging feeling at the back of my mind. In fact, it had been there since he had first started speaking with me, and told me he had spent the night out on the streets. Something made me turn back, and drive all the way along the promenade to find him again.

There he was, sitting alone along the promenade. From a distance, that almost appeared to be me. A lost soul, staring into the ocean, into trying to get to terms with himself. At least he knew what he wanted. Seemed to know, anyways.

I pulled up behind him, and called out to him. I wanted to make this as matter of fact, and as less embarrassing – for both him and me – as possible. “You planning to go back to Pune today. Don’t mind me asking, but do you have the means for it? You got a ticket?”

For the first time since I had been speaking with him, he faltered. “I do. I mean I will arrange something. Don’t worry”. Bingo. No money, and no ticket back home. Stranded in a strange city. He planned to make the Bombay – Pune train journey, ticketless. Possible, but pointless.

I offered him a 100 Rs. note – all that I had at that time – but enough to get him some grub and a ticket to Pune. To his credit, he was reluctant to take it. He had not asked me for money at any time. But, I didn’t want a young kid to get crushed in the city. Bombay’s got a bad rep, as it is. And in some cases, deservingly so. There was no point in making him go through it.

He stood there for a good 3 or 4 minutes, not being able to look at me in the eye, thinking about what to do. He seemed like he was about to break down. He could have been an excellent actor, but something told me, beneath the tough exterior, he still was just an 18 year old kid. I could just imagine what my mother would have gone through if something like that ever happened to me, and I’m sure if his mother knew, what her son had been upto the past 24 hours, she’d be just as upset. As a human being, it was the least people could do for one another. And just to call it even, I told him whenever he got his theory published, he could put a thank you note for me in the opening credits;)

Finally he took it, and that’s where we parted ways again. For then.

The whole day I was restless though. Something told me he wouldn’t leave. He had a conviction in his eyes, that said, he needed to do something. Prove a point. Maybe he had run away from home, and had lied to me that his mother knew where he was. After five or six uneasy hours at home, I decided to check Bandstand once again, to make sure he had actually left. He could have been anywhere, but something told me, if he was in Bombay, he would still be at Bandstand. It’s that kind of a place.

After a minute or so driving along the promenade, I saw him again. He was still sitting, almost exactly where I had left him. The afternoon train to Pune was long gone, so either he had tricked me or there seemed another possible explanation why he had stayed behind. I observed him for a while, without being seen myself. He made a phone call from a cell phone borrowed from somebody else. At least the guy was resourceful. Wasn’t such a lost kid after all. Had a way with people. Walked around, sipping a cola. He finally saw me, staring at him. I had half expected him to run. But he walked on over to me instead.

Wasn’t he supposed to be on a train to Pune by now? He asked me, why was I there? Something had triggered off a chain of thoughts in my mind, and that’s why I wanted to check up on him, I said. I asked him whether he had in fact run away from home, point blank. He said no, his mother truly knew he was in Bombay, but she didn’t know anything about the movie people he was meeting up with. In fact, he was meeting a production guy at 5:30, and that’s why he had stayed back. He would be returning in the night. I asked him his mothers phone number in Pune. Better to check with the story rather than have him lie, and get in trouble later. Messaged his mother, asking her to call her son up on my cell number. In a few minutes, she called up, asking for him. She didn’t sound hysterical – like someone whose son has run away from home – so that was a good start. So, she did know he was in Bombay, and I made him tell her that he would be home for dinner.

I still wasn’t convinced about the smartness of his decisions, so once again, I tried my best to put the pros and the cons of what he was getting into. He told me he had a plan. Gave me the names of the people he had met, and those he planned to meet. How everybody had been a real good to him and had tried to help him, except me. Huh? So, I had been bad to him? Now, I was slightly miffed.

“No, no, not that. You’re the one who’s been exceptionally helpful, nobody’s gone out of the way as much as you have.” Now, I was blushing. Its bad enough to try and help somebody without making a big deal out of it.

Finally, after spending a half hour with him again, listening to his gameplan, for his theory & research, I warned him that if he wasn’t in Pune by the next morning when planned on calling his mom to check up, I would set the Mumbai police loose on him. By now, I had enough information to track down his possible movement in Bombay, people he planned to meet, offices he intended to go. He promised he would be home, by the next day. And making sure that he still had enough money to get back home, I left him there at Bandstand once again.

As I drove away, he waved out to me, and I stopped the car for a second.

“You are truly the odd one out, Sir. Remember that. Thanks for everything.”

It took me a second to figure out what he meant by that. Then I remembered my words to him in the morning. Strangely, that was one of the best things somebody has ever said to me.

At that time, I knew he was going to be okay. At least for this time. The vultures weren’t going to take him, just yet. For now, he was smarter than them.

This morning, I went to the same spot I met him yesterday. Feeling more like a patronising uncle, or even a concerned parent, than an absolute stranger that i really was, I called up his mother’s cell number. The first time, the machine told me “Please check the number you have dialled”. My heart skipped a beat. Was he okay? Had I made a mistake of leaving him alone? I tried again, and this time, his mother picked up the phone. I asked her if I could speak with him. And as she handed the phone to him, and after I spoke with him for a minute, wishing him all the best for the future, I was finally relieved.

The starry eyed one who managed to make it home, safe and sound. He, too, was the odd one out.

God, for the briefest of moments, it felt good to be human again, in the truest sense of the word.



1. The Entropy of Smruthy - May 14, 2006

excellent as usual…

2. EspritNoir - May 14, 2006

@smruthy : wow, coming from you, i’m truly blushing;) a heartfelt thanx for your support, particularly on this matter. thanx for hearing me out.

3. Anonymous - May 15, 2006

Very nice…if this was a Roald Dahl story, the kid would probably have turned out to be a ghost 🙂

– Akshay

4. Ajeya - May 15, 2006

amazing story!

5. poemer - May 16, 2006

How many people come into our lives, briefly, then leave, all via random circumstances? And we choose to make those moments count in a way that crystalize in our self consciousness. What is is about that moment that makes us choose as we do? That’s what I want to know….

6. EspritNoir - May 16, 2006

@akshay: hey thanks for dropping by. long time…(if it is the akhay i know…;) hows u been?

@ajeya: thnks, mate. whats more amazing is that it was true, and had i walked, it could have so easily not even occured.

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