Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Malabar Op takes a case

I had long since grown tired of what I did for a living. Of patching and spit-polishing islands of code in the thousands upon thousands of classes that no one else seemed to care for. With every passing day they got a little longer, a little uglier and a little more incomprehensible. And no one gave a damn; not even the ones who owned it. And so, out of this desire to do something that mattered - to help people, for a few bucks a day and expenses - the Malabar Op was born.

I wanted a one-room office with my name and the legend "Private Eye" on a dirty stained-glass door. I wanted to write of long, lonely hours in a dusty office with just my phone and a blue bottle fly for company. But then, I wasn't rich. I had no savings to speak of. I couldn't afford a suitably rundown office in a suitably ramshackle building in a suitably seedy part of Delhi. And even if I did, given that my day-job office was in the Gurgaon of a thousand gleaming glass buildings, the commute wouldn't be pretty.

I did the next best thing. I created a page on Facebook. I am the Malabar Op. I walk the mean streets tough and unafraid... but I care. I'm here to help, to set things right. And I'm discreet. Could you "like" my page, please?

Two weeks. The Gtalk icon on the desktop was smooth and oval and white. I had no messages, no inquiries. I wanted a girlfriend. I wanted a vacation. I wanted a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and thermal underwear.

It wasn't Gtalk that would give me my first job. Early one Saturday morning, the doorbell rang. It was cold and wet and miserable. The sun hadn't been out for 3 days. It rained sometimes, and there was a fog out that was as heavy and thick as the blanket that enveloped me. I should be up and about, I told myself. The fog would lift soon. I shouldn't miss the few hours of relative bright, before the darkness crept in at what would still be afternoon in bright, sunny Cochin. "I've already put the garbage out. It's by the stairs," I yelled and snuggled back into my pillow. The bell rang again. I mumbled a meaningless curse, and opened the door.

Her hair might've moved gently in the wind, playing with misty tendrils of early-morning breeze... had it been one of those mornings. Sadly, it wasn't; there was just the dreary stillness of the fog. That's what you get if you try and make a cinematic entrance in mid December. I tried to look tough and unfathomable, with just the tiniest hint of reproach for the hurt of all those years ago - but tempered by a cynical, pessimistic knowledge of human nature - and also laid-back, wise and mysterious. But it's difficult to pull all that off in bad light, dressed just in thermal underwear.

"It's been a while."
"Well, are you just going to stand there? I'm cold. I didn't bring my boots. All these Delhi women are wearing boots."
"No, I... uh, won't you come in? Make yourself comfortable. I'll be right back."

I didn't have time for a shave or a shower, but I managed to find my coat and hat.

"What on earth's the matter with you?"
"I normally do my laundry on Saturday afternoons. You caught me at a rather inconvenient time."
"I see some slacks and t-shirts in that open cupboard over there..."
"Oh, those are deprecated."

I hadn't supposed that I'd ever meet her again. What could she want out of me now? The years brought back memories sharp and pungent. I felt like a pig in the Rann of Kutch that had just been fired at for pork by a T-55 tank.

"So, I hear you're going into the bedroom-peeping business?"
"Well, it's just something I thought I'd try out. And I don't do divorce wo..."
"Right, right. How's it going?"
"Not very well, so far."
"I figured as much. Listen, I may have a job for you."
"Oh?" I said warily.
"You remember Mohnish?"
"The chap with the pig fetish. Is he still in your project?"
"He's been spending a lot of time with PK recently. He's even taking him to Arunachal, when he's going on vacation in a couple of days' time."
"I want to know if this is more than just good, wholesome, fully-compliant-with-Section-377 (pre-July, 2009) male bonding. Maybe you could go along with them and find out."
"Let's call it a matter of the heart."
"What do you care? You just married a vegetarian."
"I didn't say it was a matter of my heart."
"What do you charge?"
"1250 bucks a day and expenses, plus 12.5% VAT. 5000 bucks retainer."
"How long would you take?"
"About two weeks."
"How do you figure that?"
"That's all the leave I have left. Sleuthing doesn't pay the bills, yet, you know."


Pritika said...

Hahahaha! Have fun you guys!

Rohan said...

Thank you, Pritika. I hope you liked the femme fatale... :)