This story is a Winner of the Odd-Even short story contest
The story started somewhere in the month of December. The office was buzzing with discussions when I arrived. I was late that day; thanks to the metro construction on the Golf Course Road.
On entering I could just catch some phrases here and there: Odd day, Even day, Car Pool, What Rubbish!, What an idea, Let us give it a try, etc.
I came to my desk and asked: ‘So what is all the commotion about?’
‘It does not concern us. We are in Gurgaon,’ offered Arpita; my colleague.
‘We are in Gurgaon! What do you mean? We are Indians first, if there is an earthquake in the Northeast or floods in Chennai we stand united and as responsible…’
‘Mayank!’ she shouted at the top of her voice, loud enough to kill the enthusiasm of others too. They got back to their work hoping that we fight. Everyone likes when two colleagues start with a discussion which is normal and then it becomes heated and then they yell at each other. That is our own Bigg Boss episode. They were disappointed when Arpita did not say anything further. Yes, nothing at all! She got back to her headphones and bobbed her head to the song she was listening to (or not?!) making it impossible for me to ask anything further.
During lunch, the topic resurfaced. I then realized that there is a new ruling; applicable only to Delhi and as per my friends the rule was: one day odd-numbered license plate cars will be allowed to ply on Delhi roads and on the next day, even-numbered ones. The ruling will be from January 01 to 15 as a test run. There would be exemptions like public transports, lady drivers, two wheelers, but nobody was very clear on exemptions. The last discussion ended on someone informing us that a lady driver is allowed only when accompanied by a 12-year-old male child! (That is the mother of all laws I tell you. I mean if lady were allowed only with ladies or a lady was allowed with children; that would have been fine. But this complex rule? The way people interpret news and make it all twisted!) Arpita was right after all! It is for Delhi and Gurgaon was not impacted so I just ignored all the fine lines of the rule and joined the bandwagon of supporters of this ruling. The post on my Facebook read:
Sure this is an odd rule but even I like it!
I got a record 136 likes and 3 shares!
I never bothered to read the rule in full and understand what it meant thereafter. If you are wondering why I did not know about this ruling on my own… the reason is … I no longer read newspapers – there I said it! Please let it be our secret! If this gets out my image is in big trouble. I will be slammed by the intellectuals for being the ‘LS’ person who remains oblivious to the problems of the world. I am the good-for-nothing guy who has no grey matter for the matters of the world. When trolling on Twitter and posting on Facebook on national, more so international issues dictates your social status, not reading newspaper is not cool. It is akin to a crime that you are not reading about crime (see I can do some word play too, without reading THE paper). I can tell you one thing for a fact, many are not reading it but they will not admit this for fear of being cornered and not considered as the intelligentsia.
Actually, I don’t get time to read it. Before you take me to be the lazy types, let me tell you why. I get up at 6:30 a.m. and Sonika gets up by 7 (bed tea prepared by yours truly). I help Sonika with the kitchen chores as we don’t have a maid (yeah completely ‘LS’). Shivam is up by 7:30 and all of us are ready by 8. Between three people, two washrooms and one mission – ‘get ready on time’; those 1.5 hours are spent cooking, ironing, polishing shoes, finishing homework, showering and yelling! When I used to get a newspaper by 7, I could never find the time to open it up to read it! I did open it at times: we wrapped Shivam’s school projects in it, (the baniya no longer gives polythene Go Green, Swachch Bharat…), if Sonika makes bhajias/pooris, I promptly tear the inner page of the paper for draining excess oil. Not to forget the times when aluminium foil was out of stock, my rotis were packed in it (I told you…LS)!
By evening when all of us are back home, we are too tired to read the paper. Also Facebook, Yahoo news, Hike…one of them has told us of the major happenings of the day. One Sunday while I was selling old newspapers (how can ‘new’(s)paper be old!) and beer bottles to the raddiwala, I noticed many of the papers were not folded but were still rolled (not taking about food , this is the roll that the delivery boy makes of newspapers to pitch them in balconies, several ‘Masterchef Australia’ herbs planted by Sonika wilted away with the blows received by this missile). Even the rubber band was sitting pretty to hold them in place. (Those bands come in handy so many times for Shivam’s projects, so I saved them). I realized I was wasting money (and paper and trees… resulting in global warming…) and had enough bands to last at least a dozen projects, thus the newspaper was shown the door (Used to come from the balcony and went out of the door!).
Enough about the newspaper and the news! Immediately after the New Year celebration; Sonika and Shivam decided to visit Sonika’s parents at Bareilly for a few days. I cited some conference calls and workshops (all made up) to enjoy the much anticipated bachelorhood.
‘How will you manage?’ Sonika was concerned for me. Women are so difficult; yesterday she was so excited to meet her folks today she may decide not to go.
‘I will manage dear. I will order food or have fruits. You just carry on and have a good time.’
‘Please take care.’ She did not look convinced but agreed to my plan.
As they sat in the cab she said…’ Can you go and check out a few furniture shops Sunday? We need something before Saloni arrives.’
‘Sure dear!’ I muttered wondering why her US settled cousin ‘chose’ to stop by at our place; among so many eligible NCR relatives.
They left on January 2nd, Saturday…office was closed. I binged on all the shows that did not have Chhota Bheem, Avengers, Ben 10 in them.
Sunday I decided to visit the furniture showrooms shops. I did not know where to start and I could not risk asking Sonika so I sent a WhatsApp message to Arpita asking for ideas. Women know of shopping places like men know of ahaatas. I checked my phone after a shower, in case Arpita had responded:
Ghittorni, MG Road ...good that you are going today
What is the message about good I am going today? May be she means Sunday and no crowd…? Let me not disturb her further.
I quickly started towards MG road. The road towards Ghittorni was eerily traffic free, Must be due to Sunday I reassured myself. When I crossed Gurgaon and saw even lesser cars I was a little uncomfortable… my FM stereo is not working otherwise I would know from RJ Nitin the traffic updates. Also no newspaper so I don’t know if there is some construction in progress and…Oh no! It suddenly struck me. The odd-even thing…. I have entered Delhi and today is one of the odd or even days. I raked my brains to recollect how it worked. Was it Monday Odd, Tuesday Even and so on or was it according to the dates on 1st Odd number on 2nd even numbered…. I was totally clueless! So here I am with a car numbered HR 26 AN 1234 (I paid a hefty sum to get this cute number Sonika wanted!) and I am not sure if it will work on January 3. Actually knowing how Murphy’s Law works when it comes to me…I am certain the rule is as per dates and I am in a wrong car, I mean wrongly numbered car. I looked around to find more cars with number plates ending in odd number than even (yes there were a few ending in even too!) I concentrated more on even numbered vehicles…buses, cabs, tempos, lady drivers…looked like all of them were covered.
And then I saw it…an Audi Q5 just ahead of me with an even number plate and a guy driving it. He was covering and looked as nervous as me! I came parallel to him and tried a sheepish grin in the hope to extract some information…but to my horror he just accelerated away. There was no turning back as there was no U-turn in sight. I just mumbled a silent prayer and drove ahead! Now I know why Arpita had said – good you are going today. She knows my easy to remember car number and she plotted to send me to Ghittorni. I bet she is miffed with the prank I played on her. I had withheld her Amazon delivered GUCCI bag for two days and Man was she cross. Later Sonika told me it was a CRIME!
I noticed the Audi (Oddy!!) guy slowing down and soon after they came into view. They were five of them, the traffic policemen. They stopped him and were taking so long to talk to him and get matters sorted, I parked on the side of the road and kept a close eye. Suddenly the driver was picked by the collar, out of the car and dragged into the nearby parked PCR! What is the world coming to…just driving a wrong car from Gurgaon can land you in big trouble at Delhi. Now what must I do? I hoped for some great idea to come to me. I started looking in the car for some paper to cover the digit 4…or a red tape that we used once for making alphabet ‘L’ or some such thing. There was nothing that was helpful. Suddenly I saw Sonika’s bright red lipstick and scarf in the glove kit and I did the unthinkable! (In retrospect I don’t believe I did it, I was possessed) I smeared the lipstick and covered my head with the scarf and checked my reflection…(now I am really cute looking you see…my friends have sworn by it…and I had shaved today too)…but I looked really bad; actually gross! While I was so occupied doing my make-up I failed to notice that two policemen had come to my car and were now noticing all my moves with interest. I guiltily got down and tried to smile.
‘Ye ke kar raha hai’ (What are you doing?)
‘Actually I was…I mean I thought…’ no words were coming out.
‘Sir meri gaadi ka number even hai…aaj woh odd day hai na’ (Sir my car has even number and today is odd day so..)
They laughed for full five minutes and even called the PCR van and others. They all were so amused it is difficult to narrate it here. Even the Audi guy was laughing uncontrollably!
‘Re heroine aaj toh Sunday hai...aaj na laagega ye rule. Aur thare pe toh bilkul na!’ (Pretty lady today is Sunday…today the law does not apply…especially never on you)
‘But this man in front….you just arrested him.’
‘Oh him…that is for the stolen car.’ They said as they went laughing away.
I have renewed my newspaper subscription starting January 4, 2016.