When a former colleague offers Jack Patel and his best friend Kitch a job with a conservative British bank in Dubai, Jack has no qualms about taking it up. Solidity and stability are just what he is looking for. But changes are afoot at the bank. Power struggles within a complex and changing hierarchy ensures a series of problems for young Jack. And who would have thought that the Football World Cup would turn things topsy-turvy for the bank. Jack escapes all of this madness as he flies from Dubai to Africa to Chennai, hopping from one hilarious situation to the next. He rescues Kitch's wife from a ghost, faces a football quiz that can make or break his career, masters the nuances of Zulu pronunciation, encounters pirates (well, almost) and is forced to choose between a client's two wives - all in all, a rollicking roller-coaster ride. Who would have thought the corporate world could be such fun?
Here's an excerpt from PG Bhaskar's latest book 'Jack Is Back in Corporate Carnival':
Deja vu Dubai
I hate it when the Indian cricket team loses. It might not have been a big deal in the sixties and seventies when, I am told, we lost most of the time. But now that we have tasted success quite often, it is a bitter cup to swallow when we go down, especially if we do so without a fight. I had been looking forward to this match. But belying my every expectation, the men in blue were succumbing to pressure as one batsman after another walked back to the pavilion. But maybe all was not lost. Dhoni was still at the crease and there was another batsman to follow. The next over or two was critical.
'Does my bum look big in this?' Mina asked.
No,' I said quickly. On the verge of celebrating my first wedding anniversary, I was a veteran of twelve months at disposing of such questions. Maybe India could still make it, I thought. I mean, they don't refer to cricket as a game of glorious uncertainties for nothing. Miracles do happen.
Oh, damn! This just wasn't Dhoni's day. Now there wasn't a chance in hell, unless, of course, Zaheer Khan managed to hit a few out of the park. I remembered him displaying some heroics with the bat before, some four years back, maybe five. Go, Zak, go!
'Jai, you're not even looking at it!'
Yes! Yesss! Edged down to the third man fence. Hah! Like the commentators say every time, it doesn't matter how they come, as long as they do.
'Jai!' This time Mina's voice was sharper and louder. 'I said you're not even looking at it.'
'Honey, we have known each other almost three years. I know exactly what it looks like.'
There was a pause.
'I'm talking about the dress, Jai.' The voice was softer now but I could sense the iron fist behind the velvet glove. I turned around quickly.
'It looks perfect, Minoo. That's a terrific figure your dress is wearing.'
She melted at once. Clever me. A little tact, a honeyed word, it's all that's required on these occasions. Now if only these blokes could somehow get under the ball and heave. How come yorkers seem so much more effective when Indian batsmen are at the crease? This is so irritating. Hit the ball, mister. Oh, man, he's gone! Bugger it!
'I wish you would stop watching this silly cricket. Such a colossal waste of everyone's time. There! They've lost. See? I told you. A whole evening down the drain.'
Less than an hour later, we were at Kitch's and Galiya's apartment in Bur Dubai.
This was our second innings in Dubai. Over a year ago, we left Dubai, licked to a splinter by a worldwide economic crisis that engulfed Myers York, one of America's largest investment houses, and brought our little world crumbling down. We returned from India a year later to a new Dubai. Its sands had shifted under the fierce impact of the financial Armageddon that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The resurrected emirate had assumed a new shape, a new avatar that was in sync with the new reality; sober but not bitter, aware but not drowning in regret, reflective but with its vision and optimism intact.
This time round, Kitch and I were living quite some distance away from one another. Kitch and Galiya didn't want to leave the perennially lit up and bustling areas that formed the heart of Dubai. Mina, on the other hand, couldn't bear to move into an apartment. She had only lived in an apartment in the brief period that she spent in London, and hadn't enjoyed it one bit. For Mina, a house isn't complete unless there is a garden attached to it. She is never really happy unless she is somewhere in the backyard talking life into a plant or taking life out of a pest. As a compromise for getting her to return to Dubai, we had bought this house, not far away from where Kapoor lived. Kapoor was
a family friend, an elderly, rather swash-buckling gentleman who had greatly helped me with my previous assignment here.
Kitch and Galiya had moved into their apartment only a couple of weeks ago and this was our first 'formal' visit after they had settled in.
We rang their doorbell, which involved pushing Minnie Mouse's nose, upon which a series of nursery rhymes started playing inside the house. The bell amused Mina but, frankly, I found it rather embarrassing. When God blesses a couple with a child, I think he tends to take away their balance. To think that an old pal, a hard-nosed,
regular guy like Kitch would attach a soft-nosed Minnie Mouse to his door… But then, in some ways, Kitch had changed since the wedding and more so after the baby. Among other things, he was now clean-shaven. A year's persistence by his wife and his rather prominent moustache had - like the Berlin Wall - fallen and with it, I suspect,
many of his whims. As we walked in to the tune of 'Humpty Dumpty', Mina grabbed little Olga from Galiya and folded her into a hug. Kitch got up morosely from the couch in front of the TV.
The presentation ceremony had just ended. We exchanged a silent look of commiseration.
'That's it,' he greeted me gloomily. 'We're well and truly out of the tournament.'
'Now there's nothing for us to do but sit and mope,' I said.
'And,' he added, 'hope that Pakistan gets thrashed by Australia.'
'What!' I exclaimed in mock surprise. 'You mean you don't want the trophy to remain in the subcontinent?'
'Screw the subcontinent,' he cursed, promptly attracting a wifely glare. 'If India doesn't win, I don't care if the damn cup goes to the other end of the universe.'
Kitch and Galiya lived a few minutes away from where they lived earlier. This was a bigger apartment, with three bedrooms. They showed us around the place. Their spacious living room was done up in black and white. White marble tiles, a big black couch with white cushions and smaller white ones with black cushions, a black dining table and black chairs with white seats. The master bedroom was in beige and brown. It had a double bed, as well as Olga's crib. They all slept in the same room, though Olga had her own room, done up in pink and yellow, liberally dotted with pictures of Minnie Mouse, Barbie and a few other characters I didn't recognize. In the master bedroom, just above their bed, was a framed picture of Kitch and Galiya on their honeymoon in Cambodia; Kitch was wearing a white t-shirt with the letters 'L' and 'O' printed on it, his arm around Galiya's shoulder; she was in a black one that said 'V' and 'E'. When I stepped into the room, Kitch blushed and mumbled something about Galiya insisting on putting that picture up there. Just goes to show, I thought, that you should think a million times before getting your photograph taken. A few quick ones here and there, a snap taken during an inebriated, youthful moment and there you are, potentially faced with a lifetime of shame and sorrow and, thanks to Facebook and YouTube, an
audience that can quickly run into thousands. On the opposite wall was another huge picture of the two lovebirds holding a glass each in front of a bar called 'Angkor What?', a corrupted version of Cambodia's famous tourist attraction.
We sat down to dinner. What a year in Chennai can do to a girl! Galiya - of French and Kazakh descent - served us idlis (made, of course, from the ready-made dough now available at Dubai supermarkets) and homemade vada, or vadai as Kitch calls it.
'Do you know,' Galiya told us, 'at one of our restaurants in Chennai, we actually stopped making vadais, because we realized that between Kitch, me, the cooks and the waiters, we were devouring about forty a day. I kept calculating how much weight we were putting on.'
'And I kept calculating how much money we were losing. But the customers got upset; after all, you can't have a Chennai eatery without vadai, so we put it back on the menu, but at almost double the price.'
Over a year ago, Kitch, Galiya and I had all been part of Myers York. Kitch and Galiya got married while we were working there. When we lost our jobs, the two of them went to Chennai, where they opened three restaurants. I married Mina - whose Kenya-based family members were my clients - amidst a lot of turmoil in the world markets and upheaval in our personal lives. We ended up buying and running a farm in Brahmadesam, Tamil Nadu, racing against time to pluck acid lime fruit before they became too ripe, trying to predict the weather so we could water the crops just right, convincing a van driver that his van was not a truck and that it was perfectly okay for him to take our produce to the city in the middle of a local truck drivers' strike. We enjoyed it for the most part. But Kitch and I couldn't resist another shot at the private banking business. I think it had something to do with the way we left Dubai, amidst ruin and disaster, without so much as a friendly wave in the direction of our clients who had faced so much shock, and with such little warning. I also had a nagging feeling that I had left a task incomplete. I felt like a footballer who, having gone past the defenders and the goalkeeper, finds the ball being blown away by a gust of wind. As much as I tried to convince myself that it was the markets that did everyone in, I was plagued by guilt.
Book: Jack Is Back in Corporate Carnival; Author: PG Bhaskar; Price: Rs. 150; 312 pages