As Karupiah alias Karp entered the luxury hotel room, he could hear the low volume hum of the aircon unit. He gently placed his laptop computer on a cushioned chair and powered it on. The application that came alive on the screen started throwing routine queries against a blue and white background.
Is the meeting room open? Is the aircon functioning? Are the chairs comfortably cushioned? Are the bathroom lights on? Is the commode working?
Karp repeatedly marked ‘Yes’ as his response to the barrage of questions, while trying to wean an animated giraffe away from the cursor. The application developers had incorporated a little graphics into their work like that playful giraffe, to break the monotony of responding to an endless stream of questions.
Is the room pleasant to be in?
He paused for a moment. He was not quite certain when the air conditioning unit was switched on. Yet, It was not as hot and sultry in the room like what prevailed outside, as the evening was advancing. It had to get further cooler. When the team would meet in an hour’s time, it should not be the source of unpleasantries.
Is the room pleasant?
The query popped up again impatiently and Karp with practised ease, quenched the system’s thirst for answers, with another ‘yes’.
But for two, Karp knew all others who would be attending the get-together. They, all of them Japanese, worked along with Karp and a hundred and twenty local professionals. Karp, his people and the visiting Japanese together were developing a massive application software to run the operations of a large retail bank in Tokyo.
This was the largest technological team headed by a Japanese middle management executive by name Yudha Nakamura. All the team members including the locals respectfully addressed him as Yudha-san. The ‘San’ suffix was mandatory to be applied to the names of all associated with the project, men and women when addressing them either in person or in email correspondence. ‘People are very sensitive to the way they are addressed’, Yudha-san said at the first project meeting, especially to the Indian team members.
Yudha-san was always seen with a tiny computer held in his hand and with eyes squinting to read the display on it. A comprehensive version of the questionnaire would be perpetually open on his computer. The questions would relate to anything that might even remotely impact the bank operation software, posing a risk to its completion as scheduled.
Have the team members availed 4 hours of rest last night? Have they taken any extended respite beyond that? Did they have their breakfast this morning? Were they able to pass their stools without difficulty? Are they drinking adequate water? Are they keeping away from smoking?
The questionnaire would get dynamically configured and customised based on the time of the day and the task on hand as well as the entity at the responding end. When a new member of the team is administered the questionnaire, it would commence in an innocuous manner with a query about the fragrance of flowers. Which flowery fragrance do you like most? Having obtained that piece of information, the questionnaire would gradually get more intimate.
Did you have a good sleep last night? Did you have sex last night? How many times did you indulge in penetrative sex last night? With how many persons you went to bed? How many of them were the project team members? How many of them were of your sex? How many of them were of your age? How many were below your age? Did you indulge in oral sex? Was it before or after coital sex? Did you and your partners wear condoms?
All this information and much more would be required by Yudha-san to be fed into the application. This would be necessary for reckoning the progress or setback of the project going on. Karp was aware of all that and like others was never tired of answering any questionnaire, anytime.
This happened only the day before – On knowing that the Festival of Lights, Deepavali would be celebrated in another two weeks time, Yudha-san added one hundred and seventy-seven queries to his question database. These were the ones on how to handle the ensuing risk due to the arrival of the festival, somehow missed to be reckoned earlier. With the guidance of the system, Yudha-san also came up with the process to be employed to handle the crisis called Deepavali, the festival of lights. It was:
On Thursday, the Deepavali day, none of the team members would be granted leave. A thirty minutes long Deepavali celebration would be organized in the office premises where the decibel-configurable eCrackers would be burst with appropriate amplification. This would be followed up with the ePyrotechnics display on giant screens at the application development area and arranged on a secure corporate net cloud so that those working in the project at Tokyo could also participate. As a gesture of goodwill, all the team members would be provided with 125 gramme of Indian sweets and another 125 grammes of Japanese sweets each, at the canteen during lunch which would be offered free of cost by the company. Each of them would be gifted with lingerie or a scarf or a handkerchief made from pure, soft Japanese silk, for Deepavali. Yudha-san made the team aware of all these in a specially conveyed meet.
A young girl, who joined the team as a campus recruit a month ago, on hearing that there will be no holiday for Deepavali started sobbing uncontrollably with her face getting flushed. She grabbed the duster kept at the bottom of the whiteboard Yudha-san used to write on when conveying new regulations and fast-tracked schedules to the team, and threw it aimlessly. It hit Yudha-san on his knee and rolled to the ground. Yudha-san looked at the girl in all benevolence and sympathy and muttered in Karp’s ears, ‘It is all my mistake, Karp-san. I should have anticipated such action and framed appropriate questions’. Yudha-san revised the application immediately and a set of new questions came scrolling on his palmtop computer.
It was then Yudha-san observed excitedly, ‘Karp-san, the Application reminds me to ask a hitherto low priority question, now promoted to the top in the order’.
Karp was wondering whether it would be about the duration of his sexual activity last night about which he knew he could not furnish an impressive response if honestly given. Yudha-san came up with a totally unexpected question, though,
‘Was a meeting conducted for providing rest and recuperation to the team leaders’?
‘Yudha-san, no meeting was conducted to provide rest and recuperation to the team leaders’.
‘If it was not conducted, Karp-san, it has to be conducted this evening.’ said Yudha-san.
‘It will be conducted’, Karp nodded in approval.
‘They have to take rest this evening. Let this be auctioned upon as a top most priority item’, repeated Yudha-san, as the supreme head of the project.
That obstinate response from Yudha-san galvanised Karp into action and he found himself standing all alone in the hotel room.
Someone was wishing Karp a good evening. He turned back. Carrying a black shiny attaché and with a huge jute bag hanging loosely from his shoulder, Akira-san was standing at the entrance, appearing a tad nervous. If Karp was not in the mood to wish him back his greetings in Japanese or in any other language, he seemed all prepared to retrace his steps. He would have preferred to get himself dissolved in the crowd and disappear, had that happened.
Karp bent a little, bowed and uttered the greetings, which immediately put Akira-san at ease. With an impish grin, he entered the room.
As Karp switched on all the LED luminaries, it became much brighter and colourful, with shades of soft blue and lavender engulfing the room. Karp gradually brought down the brightness to make it suitable for availing rest and recuperation.
There were eight black reclining chairs laid out in two rows of four each. They were stuffed with plush cushions with cosy and comfortable headrests and broad hand rests. A low table with a pure white cloth spread on top was there besides the chairs. All these were on expected lines as envisaged by Yudha-san.
‘Gosamasi’, Akira-san thanked Karp, bending forward a little and immediately ran towards the last chair to the left on the second row, with the swiftness of a stealth bomber.
‘I have been instructed to be present here 15 minutes before the commencement of the proceedings’, Akira-san told Karp in a whisper.
‘You have come exactly 15 minutes before the scheduled commencement’, Karp showed him his laptop time display with an appreciative nod. Akira-san clapped his hands and laughed in abandon like a child.
His mobile phone purred. With an instantaneous excitement descending dense on his countenance, he ran to the room corner away from Karp, shouting ‘moshi, moshi’ into his mobile. Karp went out to switch on the corridor lights and when he came back in, he found Akira-san still listening attentively on his mobile with his whole body bent down in servitude. For the next 15 minutes, he was in rapt attention to the caller with occasional Hai Kutasi uttered with all devotion and with the head nodding perpetually in a quick up and down motion.
The conversation over, he ran back towards Karp and in a voice choked with emotion and ecstasy of one who was the sole witness to a recent miracle said:
‘The senior executive of Division 7 called me up just now. Yes, the senior most. Top-san’.
‘For his rank and designation, he ought not to have known about the existence of a low level being by the name Kinato Akiro’, Akira-san declared. Yet, it was indeed his fortune that happened.
What did the Top-san communicate to Akira-san? Karp enquired.
‘Karp-san, you also should be happy. Top-san is happy we are going to integrate into the main application the voice to Japanese written word conversion widget we are developing here. He is delighted the sentences like I am living, I am working, He is winning, She never takes rest etc. are getting properly formed as written output in Japanese, both as Katakana and Kanji scripts’.
Akira-san was momentarily back at the trance-like state as he uttered this.
The senior, second highest in the hierarchical order executive, Top-san from Tokyo told Akira-san that he was excitedly awaiting the test run of the software developed here. He was thrilled it would be accomplished with 75 testers conducting quality assurance runs of the application, non-stop for two weeks, which was due to commence, the week after. Though organisation hierarchy-wise, he was 6 slabs down below Top-san from Tokyo, Top-san was gracious enough to phone up Akira-san and share his thoughts on the software. This seldom would happen in the hierarchy-driven corporate organisation. Akira-san went on repeating how the God from Tokyo interacted with him.
Tears were welling up in Akira-san’s eyes as Karp gently guided him to his chair. It was at that moment, others entered as a group.
There were five of them, the expert technologists from Japan. They all carried black leather attaches in their hands. Yudha-san was the first to enter.
Following Yudha-san, maintaining a respectful social distance of two feet, Mari-san came with a humble smile. She happened to be the only expert woman technologist in the group. The golden ear-rings Mari-san wore dazzled in the controlled brightness of the vapour lamps lit in the room.
After Mari-san, Ishikava-san entered, carrying a tiny electric rice cooker on his right hand in addition to the mandatory attaché on the left. Close on his heels were the two new-sans entering with trepidation. Not being sure what they were supposed to do, they nervously looked at Yudha-san for guidance.
‘Am I late, Karp-san’? Yudha-san asked. He shuffled his feet while he kept standing, awaiting Karp’s reply. Others too stood behind him in single file.
‘No, Yudha-san, you are not late. In fact, you have arrived a minute earlier’, Karp looking at his watch and beaming a smile, informed in encouraging tones. Yudha-san’s face registered a sad look immediately.
‘I am extremely sorry. I have come unplanned like a moron a full 60 seconds in advance and have wasted a portion of your time you would otherwise have scheduled for your tasks on hand’
He sat with a look of anguish crossing over his face and marked ‘No’ on his palmtop computer for the question, ‘Did you arrive in time for the meeting’? He reclined on his chair looking remorseful while others shared his grievance and sat bolt upright. The new-sans were perched on their seat edge with contrite.
Yudha-san stared at his palm top for quite some time. He raised his head, looked at all and enquired -‘Is the entire group of team leaders now tension free and happy?’
They answered in the affirmative, in unison, Karp with his voice rising with increased decibels joined others in their saying ‘Yes’. The tiny smile that crept on Yudha-san’s face stood frozen there. Yudha-san, with his palm top now on his lap, reclined a little more and nodded his head in approval of their sentiments.
Without any trace of emotion on his face, he looked at the screen and read out loud the next question -‘Has half a bottle of sake, the rice-based Japanese liquor been made available to each of those present here’?
Akira-san screamed like a recalcitrant schoolboy and excitedly opened the large jute bag he kept under the side table. A small improvised corkscrew with a tiny motor and a LED display at top was taken out of the bag first. This was duly placed on the table. Akira-san then took out deliberately slow the bottles of sake one by one from the bag, to the hushed murmurs of ‘Arigato’ from the group assembled there. Karp muttered appropriately in similar phrases in his own language. Akira-san ultimately took out the coloured ornamental glasses and arranged them on the table.
Akira-san kept the improvised corkscrew at the centre of the stopper on a bottle of sake and switched it on. The rotating needle protruding long and thin out of the gadget drilled with vigour into the cork and decanted the spirit through its long capillary tube, onto the glasses kept nearby.
Does anyone feel like tasting any other variety of liquor?
Raising his glass to the level of his eyebrows, Yudha-san enquired, looking at his palm top. Two feeble voices answered ‘Yes’, only to be immediately corrected to ‘No’, as all others responded so. The new-sans with their hands trembling looked at each other with feeble smiles. Yudha-san conveyed his pardon with a nod which made them appear relieved and smiling joyously.
‘Does anyone require hot Indian chips’? Karp asked.
Though there was a resounding ‘No’ that came from the group, all eyes were on the side table, Karp noted.
Karp looked at the extra large side table. He had arranged with the hotel administration to keep it there near the wall with a few bottles of chilled beer. Also, there were four plates of banana chips and other Indian savoury items like Bikaneer bhujia, with sheets of cellophane paper covering them air tight. A hermetically sealed packet nearby had on it in large print, ‘Extruded, fried zero-cholesterol wheat flour based salted Indian sticks – for export’.
They all commenced sipping sake together as if on cue. Yudha-san with an eye on the palmtop enquired again – Are all happy here? They responded together they indeed are. It was then they noticed the young girl standing at the entrance.
‘She is the dancer’, said Karp. The girl looked hardly a day more than 16. She was lean, tall and black and was wearing a crimson coloured chudihar, the Indian pyjamas and a printed kurta, the loose shirt with pictures of lotus and sunflowers. She looked around and with evident satisfaction went near the flower pot in the corner to leave her footwear besides it. Having done that, she came in with the large leather bag on her shoulder dangling a little, greeting all with a cheerful Hello.
‘Please sorry me. Apologies for me, please. You please excuse me ’.
It was Mari-san trying to say something, which escaped her mouth as a repetitive broken murmur. She would always write in her mind in Japanese what she had to convey and would translate it through multiple iterations, murmuring all along, Karp recalled.
‘Will this girl dance’?
Mari-san gestured towards the girl and enquired with surprise. As she took another sip of sake from her glass, her face radiated calmness and tranquillity like the countenance of Maya Devi on giving birth to Gautama Buddha.
‘Yes, she will. It’ll be a performance of Indian traditional dance. The grand finale would be the snake dance’, Karp told her, trying to gulp the sake in his glass at one go. He somehow could not relish it.
‘Are there snakes with her’?
‘Yes, I have’, said the girl. They all stood up in unison looking at her shoulder bag with primordial fear.
‘Has an entertainment programme been organised for the group’?
As Yudha-san asked squinting to read the next question on his palmtop, they all said ‘yes’, together.
‘Where are your dance costume and jewellery’? Karp asked the girl with evident impatience.
‘They are in my bag. I shall come costumed and made up in another five minutes’, the girl said with all confidence, chewing gum slowly.
‘What happened to the singer, the drum player, the flautist and the one with cymbals’?
‘They are all here’.
She pointed at her mobile phone and pulled out a small contraption with two enjoined cobra like tiny speakers from her bag. She connected it to the mobile and on touch of a key, mellifluous Indian dance music came gushing forth loud and clear from the phone. Karp waved her to a chair.
‘And where is the snake’?
Yudha-san asked in anxiety and reverted to his questionnaire still going up on his screen. Obviously, this question could not be in his database.
‘The snake will come when it has to, sir’.
The girl stood up, answered with all respect and went straight into the bath enclosure. As she closed the door gently, Ishikawa-san with the tiny rice cooker on his hand was walking across the room surveying the walls. He was looking for a plug point to plug the cooker on.
‘These Indian chips and other fried low-fat savouries are speciality items popular among food fans globally. They are vegetarian and mildly spicy, the Rajasthani bhujia and Manaparai murukku. You can try these snacks if you feel like’, Karp told the group.
‘Snakes’? Mari-san let out an excited scream as Karp immediately responded, ‘No san, not snakes, these are snacks’. He went on to spell both the words as Mari-san thanked him profusely as she resumed sipping her glass of sake.
‘Why don’t you try these, just a spoonful, Ishikava-san’?
As Karp enquired, Ishikava-san explained –‘My doctor in Tokyo has advised me to always go for rice cooked fresh. It can be mixed with desiccated and pound fish if I desire. But he suggests it is better to go for plain cooked rice. He insists I carry this rice cooker wherever I go’.
As he was cooking the rice, the dancing girl returned from the bath, attired in a bright dance costume and with a golden band around her waist. She had washed her face and had her hair braided tight and decked in jasmine flowers. With black kohl applied to her eyes and a red spot on her forehead, she looked charming and effervescent. She was wearing at her ankles anklets with tiny bells which chimed as she walked briskly. And, she was ready to dance.
Mari-san got up from her chair and went towards the dancing girl. She held her in an embrace hissing, ‘excuse me, excuse me, excuse me’.
‘Dear girl, why don’t you wear my earrings and dance’?
The girl politely declined Mari-san’s offer and holding her hands, smiled beautifully.
‘The programme is about to start. All, please occupy your seats’, Karp announced. Mari-san screamed ‘yes’ and walked with faltering steps to her chair.
‘Give the girl some sake’.
Mari-san waved in the direction of the dancing girl and raised her near empty glass.
‘No, thank you’, the dancing girl declined with poise and pressed a few keys on her mobile. The music commenced playing again. She kept it on an empty chair as a voice of a woman too joined the instruments, on the mobile.
‘They are the veena, the string instrument, flute and mrudangam, the drum accompanying any performance of south Indian dance’. Karp explained.
The girl took out of her handbag, a few perfume sticks. She also took a gadget looking like two tiny fire stones chained together with a silver thread and vigorously stroke them together. With a few sparks of fire spurting out, she lighted the perfume sticks and looked at the group.
‘This is not a cigarette lighter. Smoking is injurious to health’.
As others nodded in unison, she took a small plastic flower holder from her bag and kept the sticks stuck into the holes on its base. She kept the holder upright on the side table, near the bottles of beer. A soft and gentle fragrance engulfed the room as she started dancing.
‘Are all happy now?’
Yudha-san enquired again and with the ‘aye’ sounds reverberating in the room, he grinned as he entered ‘Yes’ on the computer.
‘Does anyone feel like some more sake? Another half a bottle, perhaps?’
Everyone except Karp answered ‘yes’ this time.
‘Karp-san, my apologies. To have more sake is the decision of the group. You too shall have it’.
Yudha-san said in a low voice accompanied with a gentle bow of his head. He marked yes to the next question about another round of sake for all as they rest and recuperate. Akira-san poured directly from the bottles into every glass filling them up to the brim in the process.
Yudha-san raised his glass and solemnly addressed the gathering - ‘Tokyo has conveyed their best wishes to all of you, through me. The company has wished you all success in your endeavour and trust you would be soon back home at Tokyo. Dear all, I am proposing a toast for the success of our project and growth of our company. Please join me’.
‘Please please please’. It was Mari-san. Sake has made her voice mellow and vibrating. It sounded like a dirge –‘My daughter is getting married, she has emailed me. The house is her own. She built it with her income as a hospital nurse. She wants to be there with her husband to be. Only those two. Where, please excuse me, please, where should I return in Tokyo’?
‘Questions of this nature are not there in my computer’, said Yudha-san. They are not there, said Akira-san. Ishikava-san watching his rice-cooker from his seat echoed yes. The two new-sans told with all confidence, ‘Yes, they are not there’. Mari-san nodded her head in affirmation and said ‘I please understand’. She thereupon resumed watching the dance, somewhat relaxed.
Fast paced music came loud and clear from the mobile phone of the dancing girl. As she danced, she also announced in advance what is it all about, for each part of the programme. ‘This is alarippu, meaning flowering of the bud is the first piece of the programme; this one is kavuthuvam, invoking the Divine blessings; this is Thodiamangalam’, she chirped as she danced.
Mari-san sent a flying kiss to her sipping, intensely her sake. ‘My dear daughter, dance like there is no tomorrow. Don’t love anyone without having a house of your own. No snakes should be allowed to sleep on the floor there’. The dancing girl was smiling as she cavorted in all elegance.
Ishikava-san’s rice cooker whistled like a mini steam locomotive and switched off the cooking mode, turning to ‘keep warm’ status.
‘This whistle means it is just the right time to consume the cooked rice. If delayed, it won’t be that palatable, though hot’. Saying so, Ishikava-san walked with feeble steps towards the cooker. He kept his glass of sake on the floor. It was half-full.
‘Due to my sensitive stomach, I find it difficult to dedicate my full efforts and expertise to our glorious organisation. I don’t know how long I’ve to carry this rice cooker wherever I go. To eat cooked rice daily is tedious. It smells shit. It tastes shit. Wish me more health and strength to contribute my best to the institution. A glass of sake for me please’.
He was crying as he bowed in all humility. The smell of cooked rice. Standing by the cooker, he started consuming the rice using a long wooden spoon. The strong smell of cooked rice was in the air.
The dancing girl who was depicting the scene of the neighbours complaining to the mother of infant lord Krishna about his pranks, stopped abruptly in the middle of a musical note. The gagra blouse with tasteful embroidery work she was wearing gave away at the hooks on the back and the inner garments were visible. She immediately pushed her back to the wall and was leaning on it to save any embarrassment.
‘Does anyone have a safety pin please’? She enquired. Mari-san searched into her handbag and took out a long safety pin that glittered under the bright room lights. With unsteady steps, she walked towards the girl and gave it to her. ‘Gold?’ the girl enquired hesitantly.
Mari-san replied ‘My lover boy presented this to me for my birthday last year. Wear it. Excuse me, please. Then you return to me. You are my daughter. Please excuse me and dance. Finish before the snake appears, is that alright’?
The girl momentarily went into the bath and returned forthwith to continue with the complaints about Krishna’s pranks. She was getting polymorphic as Krishna, his mother and the complainant.
Akira-san’s mobile rang. The ring tone was a sound byte of the running commentary of a vintage FIFA final football match. It was the voice of the commentator going in a loop narrating excitedly how the header from the halfway line turned into a victory-clinching goal. As the dancing girl pranced around as Natarajan, the God of Dance with a swift footwork and hands arched gracefully, the football commentator rudely intruded into it. Akira-san shook himself out of inebriation and as everyone was looking impatiently at him, he ran to the corner of the room, screaming ‘Moshi, moshi’ into his mobile.
‘It would be midnight now in Tokyo’.
Yudha-san informed Karp. With a blank look he was watching the dancing girl circumambulating the space she was gyrating. Her eyes were rolling menacingly as her tongue was a little protruding from her mouth, blood red in colour. With her whole body trembling she jumped up holding an imaginary spear in her hands, as she performed the dance of Kali, the Divine mother and the destructor of evil.
Akira-san was trembling in excitement as he returned with the mobile held closely to his ear. He informed loudly over the sound of drums emanating from the girl’s mobile building to a crescendo, as she nonchalantly whirled past. Top-san regrets no one has realised the importance of the software being developed here to convert spoken Japanese to written words. He is surprised none here or elsewhere appreciates the fact this opens doors to speak in Japanese and get written in English immediately. He says that is Godly.
Akira-san started weeping uncontrollably. All stood up and clapped. ‘Top-san conveys through me, a non-descriptive role-holding insignificant employee, all best wishes to you all. He wishes you all the best through me’
Yudha-san gently tapped him on the shoulder and lead him to his seat. The dancing girl was enacting the annihilation of a demon in the hands of the angry Goddess Kali, oblivious of Top-san’s out of the world generosity and kindness to fellow human beings.
‘Let us propose to the health of Top-san’.
Akira-san measured sake and filled up all glasses.
‘Let us take a vow we shall sacrifice our life, family, holidays, friends… everything to the institution and wish many happy years of active service to Top-san. Let us promise him we shall successfully implement this speech to writing the application as scheduled ’.
All of a sudden, the room was filled with a melodious music like that from a bagpipe. Karp stood up with his whole frame shaking and shouted, ‘Snake music. Hear the music of the snake’.
He stopped abruptly and with a loud laugh sipped his sake.
The dancing girl was gyrating with head thrust forward and back like a snake closing on its prey, to the rhythm of the pipe music oozing out from the mobile phone. Akira-san went close to the girl, watched intensely her dance, and he too tried to imitate her movements, revolving slowly with a benign smile. He, however, failed in his attempt to dance and dropped down to the floor.
‘Even if I fall down, our software will be a success. Our software for’. He was muttering repeatedly lying on the floor with eyes closed. The dancing girl continued her traverse reptilian movements unperturbed.
‘Please please excuse me’, Mari-san in a shrill voice said as a snake came crawling in from the far off corner of the room. It was where Akira-san felt enlightened conversing with Top-san.
Karp observed it was a python as it was large and it advanced slowly with an apparent knowledge of the terrain and inhabitants.
‘A python here? Not at all possible. Pythons don’t come attracted by pipe music. This should be a cobra. But cobras are not admitted in five-star hotel rooms. This reptile should then be an overgrown earthworm. Maybe coming from the lawns’, he argued with himself. He started believing that too much sake is playing tricks with his eyesight and reasoning. He took another sip from his glass to quickly do a sanity check of that line of thinking which lead to ambiguity.
Yudha-san read the display on his palmtop kept on the hand rest of his chair. In a feeble tone, he asked, ‘Is everyone happy’? Mari-san stood up and bowed to him like a sumo wrestler. She then started making long shrill notes like the whistle of a locomotive train entering a long circumventious tunnel. After a few seconds, the whistle stopped and she spoke.
‘No... Yudha-san. I am not happy. Excuse me, please. I’m sad. Very sad. The sounds of love making my daughter and her husband produce in the adjacent room make me stay awakened throughout the night. A large snake sleeps in my room. It wants me to dance. It wants to sleep with me. I’m very disturbed. Without having a room of my own, without sake, how can I sleep? How can I sleep silently with the snake? I have to tell him about the dancing girl... about Akira-san’s project to convert spoken a word into written English. What is loving without sharing information?’.
‘Your questions are not in the computer’, Yudha-san declared with a sympathetic nod of his head. He politely gestured to Mari-san to take her seat. ‘A member can speak for a maximum of 30 seconds at a stretch’, he reminded the gathering, as a matter of fact.
‘May I have a bottle of sake all for myself’? Mari-san enquired no one in particular. She was obviously tired of speaking that long.
‘This too is not in my database’, Yudha-san observed with a languid demeanour. He, however, gestured to Akira-san to issue her a bottle of sake.
The snake crawled near the dancing girl. It raised its hood a little. Karp pointed at the snake and moved between the rows of chairs drawing everyone’s attention.
‘Excuse me all. This is a king cobra. This will dance like the girl. It can dance much better than the girl, free of cost. You have to watch it. It is for our real rest and recuperation. No more questions. ‘Yes’ for all questions asked. ‘Yes’ for all queries yet to be raised. ‘Yes’ for the questions that will not be asked. You can better’. Without completing the sentence, he collapsed in a chair.
‘It is sake’, Mari-san remarked wryly.
Yudha-san hastily looked at his palm top computer and asked Karp –“Will there be a downslide of expertise in the completion of the job that would impact application delivery to Tokyo, on the 7 th of next month, because of additional sake?’
‘No’, vehemently said Karp clueless about delivery on 7th next month.
Satisfied, Yudha-san added, ‘Will there be a downslide in efforts due to the group watching snake dance?’
‘No downfall watching cobra dance’, Karp replied.
‘What is corba? No question about a corba on my database’, Yudha-san told in disappointment.
‘Cobra, Yudha-san. We call it a good snake in our language’, as Karp was replying, the pipe music for the snake dance rose to a crescendo. The girl was sitting on the floor with legs stretched at an angle to her torso. The snake did nor spread its hood but was holding a foot of the dancing girl in its mouth. It was trying to further its hold. The dancing girl continued to dance like a snake, with only the movement of the torso and hands. Her eyes were half-closed as in a trance and beads of sweat were appearing on her forehead.
Yudha-san got up from his chair. ‘Please listen, all’, he announced in a loud voice.
The snake was swallowing the dancing girl slowly. She was partially visible with both her hands together gesturing the flowering of a large lotus at dawn and the birds flying gently across as the waves touch the river banks and recede. The music was at its loudest and was getting repetitive as if caught in a warp. The tick-tock of a clock was heard crystal clear amidst all den and low-level hum of the aircon. It was Yudha-san’s mobile announcing the time. Big Ben chimes were heard as the clock struck twelve.
‘The company has fired me’, said Yudha-san.
Karp, not sure what he is supposed to do, slowly clapped.
‘I was short by 5000 US dollars for achieving the business target of 5 million I was assigned for last financial year. I know it is not a shortage in real terms. Currency conversion calculations were a tad wrong in arriving at that shortage. The wild fluctuation of Japanese Yen against American Dollars was not factored into the conversion. However, I abide by what the company decided. There is a breach of trust on my part. That is a tragedy. I have to go’.
Yudha-san wore a melancholic look as he looked at the group for some time before lowering his gaze. Everyone lowered their eyes as on cue and stood as in mourning. The pipe music was still going on in repetitive notes, apparently ceaseless.
‘Excuse me, please excuse. You please’. The pipe music was accompanied by Mari-san’s short burst cries.
‘My daughter is getting married next week. Let her occupy the flat she procured with her revenue. I’ll, please excuse me, I’ll sit here. I’ll complete my work, surpass my target. Excuse me, I will teach. Please excuse, I’ll learn. I’ll learn dancing like a snake. I’ll dance, get paid. I’ll have my own flat. A lot of sake. The snake will come to sleep with me. Where is the dancing girl? I like her costumes. I’ll buy. Buy costumes that don’t require a safety pin’.
Mari-san was squatting on the floor and was reciting that like a litany, fixing her stare away and up at the ceiling.
This snake had swallowed the dancing girl fully.
Karp with a shudder glanced at the dancing girl’s mobile phone on the side table. It still was playing the staccato musical notes.
Where is the girl?
He was alarmed. How to pay her the remuneration for her dance programme? There will be a question in Top-san’s computer at Tokyo – ‘Was the dancing girl paid appropriately for her services’? A ‘yes’ will get Karp fired instantaneously.
‘Yudha-san, I’ll without fail to make the payment to the dancing girl ’.
He was promising in the tone he normally deploys to make near impossible delivery commitments to the company’s American customers, promising the earth and the sky together.
Yudha-san wore a benevolent smile for a second. He informed no one in particular, ‘I’m returning to Tokyo tomorrow’.
‘Will I be able to get another job?’, he asked with apprehension.
Mari-san took a look at the palm top computer he was holding and announced triumphantly, ‘That question is non-existent’.
“Won’t you be with us, Yudha-san, when we test successfully the widget for converting spoken word to written, next week’?
Akira-san was sobbing uncontrollably as his words became increasingly muffled.
The snake was slithering away from the room. Mari-san looked into her handbag and took out a small casket. It was an ornamental box of the type the jewellers pack the sold jewels in. It was made of light wood and had a silk interior in bright red and blue velvet encasing it.
Mari-san opened the box. There was a small safety pin in it. Made of gold, It looked identical to the one she gave the dancing girl to wear. She held it in her hand and requested Yudha-san –
‘Please excuse me. Please, can you deliver this to my daughter as my gift for her marriage , along with my best wishes? You can also convey your own greetings to the newly wed couple. Her husband to be is a much sought after undertaker in Kyoto. He could help you land a job’.
Yudha-san took the casket from her and knelt in front of her on his left knee in ceremonial saluting. ‘Arigato, arigato’, he said, thanking her profusely, with his arms in quick motion like that of a gravedigger.
All of them started leaving together from the room. Karp took the mobile phone from the side table. It was still playing the Indian dance music. Karp tried to put it off but could not succeed.
‘The cash in this envelope is to be paid to the dancing girl. She was devoured by a snake. This mobile phone is hers’.
Karp told the beautiful and sleepy young girl at the hotel reception. He handed over to her the envelope and the mobile phone. She pressed a few keys on the mobile with deft fingers and the phone became silent.
‘She is an accredited dancer in this hotel. But I am unable to furnish you any information about the snake. You may be aware the Government has made it a cognizable offence to use animals, which include reptiles, in a recreation performance’.
Karp said, ‘Yes, I am aware’. And the money, how will it be paid to her? Maybe the receptionist would be knowing that.
“If the girl comes, we shall hand over the envelope to her. I shall send a short message to your mobile on her receiving cash. Please leave your mobile number’.
‘The dancing girl is wearing a safety pin made of gold. Our team member Mari-san lent it to her’.
As Karp said this, the receptionist became somewhat agitated. She replied, ‘The hotel administration, as a policy, does not encourage their customers paying gratis or providing as a gift in cash or kind to the entertainers. Anyway, If she brings back the safety pin, I’ll pass it on to you’.
She handed over to him a tablet computer much larger than Yudha-san’s palmtop. Karp entered his name and mobile number as the gadget was generating a lot of static like an old radio receiver. He returned the noisy contraption to the receptionist. Walking out, he remembered the snacks in the room. He could have brought the Bikaneer bhujia with him. The children would love to munch it while watching cartoon films on TV.
They all left in an air-conditioned van to their office, to resume their work.
‘Are you all happy’?
Yudha-san enquired as he kept his palm top tucked into his trouser pocket.
Karp gyrated clumsily and cooed ‘yes’. Others too began moving slowly imitating him and shouted yes. After a few seconds delay, two young voices came feebly from the floor, purring,‘Yes’.