Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Malabar Op cracks the case

The story so far...

The Malabar Op takes a case
The Malabar Op in Guwahati
The Malabar Op in Arunachal 
The Malabar Op goes soft
The Malabar Op checks out the clouds 

And now...

It was my last day there. My flight was in 2 hours. I hadn't yet typed out my report, but things didn't look too good for my client back in Pune. There was what you'd call an indefinable something between the two subjects, but I was fairly sure I could define it in no uncertain terms.

Strangely, though, there were other emotions wrestling with my soul. Private eyes are used to dealing with the rougher elements of society. And that, in a way, defines our world view. But this case had brought me in touch with a bunch that defines hospitality: from the small courtesies such as almost always speaking in English in our presence, to the not-so-small ones as rearranging their plans to the tune of several days just so that we tourists could see more of the North East. I like to think of myself as cold and unsentimental, but even I found it a little difficult to say goodbye.

And then there's this other matter: I didn't want to go back to Delhi. I didn't want to go back to a job where I was no more than a colour on a spreadsheet, a resource to be billed for; where the value of my work was not the code that I wrote, but merely the number of hours that could be marked against my name; where a well worded and formatted email has ten times the value of a bit of code that would make another as myself weep with joy; where carefully-prepared recognitions, each indistinguishable from the last, is your reward for a job that may or may not have been well done, but certainly appeared to be so to someone on a far shore.

What meaning does "do it right" have, when what you are judged for is "visibility"? What do you say when you're told that quality is defined only by the speed with which tasks are done, and not by any standards that mean anything to engineers? Could they be right, though? But if they are right, is that how I'd want to spend the next few years of my life? Coming back to first principles, why did I once choose to become a programmer?

While I was grappling with these thoughts, I saw Mohnish and PK heading into a restaurant. Something about the way they held themselves told me that this was a conversation I'd want to listen to. I managed to find a convenient potted plant to hide behind. 

Mohnish: Dude... We've had our chance to make hay in the sack, and now is the time to... erm... let the sun... uh...
PK: Yeah. To everything, turn turn turn, there is a season. And ours is just too short. We're way different, you and I.
Mohnish: You like animals. So do I, but only on a plate. And our views on bamboo-shoot pork are too far apart ever to be reconciled.
PK: And you will never have a tail as long as a nightjar, nor a plumage like that of the male paradise flycatcher.
Mohnish: That's just, like, your opinion, man.
PK: Dude...
Mohnish: Anyway, it doesn't matter. Our families would never understand and it's complicated and, in any case, you and I, we both have our responsibilities. You have a voice calling to you from the depths of the jungle, and I have... in Pune...
PK: I want to die. If only I could die...
Mohnish: If you'd die, you'd forget me. I want to be remembered.

I sniffed quietly and wiped a tear off my cheek. With my other hand, I rooted about in my trench coat for a hanky. Why would anyone want to pay for international shipping to get "Brief Encounter," when a private eye's life is filled with billable moments enough for a hundred films?

But now, I had a decision to make. On the one hand was the Code I lived by. Take his Code away, and a private eye might as well become a project manager. If one were to say in a word what the condition of being a samurai is, its basis lies first in seriously devoting one's body and soul to his master. And for us private eyes, that's the client. To lie to her, or to cover up facts in my possession, that would be unthinkable.

And then again - as anyone who's ever called up his manager to inform him of the death of a favourite aunt on the eve of the World Cup quarterfinals knows - truth exists in several planes. From one plane, the version of the same truth on another plane can appear diametrically opposed, broadly speaking. The whole thing hinges on which plane you view it from; as a rule of thumb, it is best to view matters from the highest plane possible, though, of course, the planes upward are never-ending, much like the way the turtles on which our flat earth balances go on and on downward.

Round and round went the same questions in my head. Johnny Caspar put it best with, "I'm talkin' about friendship. I'm talkin' about character. I'm talkin' about - hell, I ain't embarrassed to use the word - I'm talkin' about ethics."

For you guys, reading this stuff is an evening's entertainment. If only you knew what I was going through. I was being torn apart. Beneath my impassive exterior, I was feeling like a part-time offspinner bowling at Sehwag and unable to get his length right. And there was no one I could turn to. Whom does the strong, silent type go to with his troubles? No one: there is no solitude greater than the samurai's - or the private eye's - unless perhaps it be that of a tiger in the jungle. This was something I'd have to work out for myself.

I had a soul to probe, a report to write, and expenses to claim. But, for now, I also had a flight to catch. I put my hat on as stylishly and with the same haunted expression that Gabriel Byrne had at the end of "Miller's Crossing," and strode briskly towards the terminal.

Case closed.