Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Malabar Op goes to the movies: the bits in the middle

The story so far...

The Setup

And now...

INOX Cinemas. The place brought back so many memories. There was a time when I used to work in the building next door. As they had limited car parking, I parked here quite a bit. For just 20 bucks a day. I glanced nostalgically around the basement.

I set about gathering information through my extensive network. I arranged to meet the hacker at the McDonald's nearby. How long would it take to hack into the PIFF database and get me the co-ordinates on this Sally dame?

"Oh, I already know where she is."
"You do?"
"How come?"
"After years of hacking, I'm now telepathically wired into the web - a flick of my neurons is all I need to get into any system."
"Oh yeah?" Private eyes don't like having the Mickey taken out of them. "And?"
"She's at that table over there, wearing the delegate pass with 'Sally' printed on it."

Conversation having dwindled a fair bit anyway, I excused myself. Malabar Ops are usually pretty smooth with the ladies, but Sally seemed just a touch out of my league. I decided to wait for an opening. Which came soon enough. I'd just ambled out of Blue Nile (not the river; it's a restaurant rather famous for chicken biryani) when I saw her arguing with a watchman. Breaks down like this:-

INOX, being a multiplex, has plenty of parking, but it tends to get a wee bit crowded, and has rather tight entrances and exits. Sally, being a new driver, and, further, having taken out her dad's expensive car, was just a tiny bit averse to denting it. Luckily for her, dads who can afford to buy expensive cars can also usually afford memberships in expensive clubs in the middle of the city. Said club was down the road from INOX. "Why don't I just park here and walk down?" she wondered very reasonably.

Watchman at the club stops her just inside the entrance. Asks her for her pass. She roots around in the dashboard. Then in her purse. She tries turning her pockets inside out. No luck. Watchman tut-tuts and tells her that he couldn't possibly let her in. She could've argued with him, and told him to escort her to the reception, where they'd no doubt be able to verify her membership; but being a pacifist, she decides to just forget the whole business and risk the dents at INOX.

And this is where the story gets complex. Her car's already inside the gates, you see, which means that the easiest way to leave would be to use the "out" gate. But the out gate's further down the road, and she would have to drive through the premises to reach the exit. The watchman objects to this on the grounds that allowing a pass-lacker to drive inside the compound would be a violation of several of the club's by-laws. Which left her with turning the car around and leaving via the "in" gate. Except that, it being the entrance, he couldn't allow a car to drive out of it, due to several other by-laws which expressly forbid that sort of thing. This would seem to have left them at an impasse.

Not to the watchman. He proposes a solution. Why don't she reverse the car out of the entrance? Apparently, the by-laws only state that a car's bonnet be closer than the boot to the club's fountain - the actual direction it moves in was left uninked, and therefore, open to interpretation. Sally, though, voices reservations about backing her car out into one of the busiest streets in the locality. And there the argument raged, centred chiefly around the themes of "what's written in the club by-laws" vs "desire to remain out of the hospital."

And in I stepped with customary Malabar Op calmness. I took the watchman aside, taking care to highlight my bulging biceps, and told him, with a few words out of customary Malabar Op vocabulary, about what would happen to him if he didn't stop being a prick right about then. Which he did. Sally was all gratitude, and we got talking, and I told her I was at the PIFF, too, and she asked me if I wanted to join her for a screening of Galaxy Express 999, Japanese anime, later in the day. It was in E-Square, a fair distance away, but she offered me a ride.

Sally was one of those new drivers for whom no obstacle is worth avoiding at less than 80 kph, and with no more than 3 inches to spare. I couldn't help a few involuntary spasms through the ride, as though my foot were searching for a brake pedal on the passenger side, but I also managed to hear bits and pieces of what she had to say. She's not usually too much of a talker, but seemed to have a fair bit to say on this occasion, and what was more, seemed gently reproachful. It concerned my attitude regarding the watchman. She felt I wasn't very nice to him.

"Of course I wasn't very nice! He started it."
"Well what?"
"He was just doing his job."
"No, he wasn't. His job is to make sure no ones pees on the cars parked there and such like. He was just being a prick. Most likely, the sole amusement in his miserable little life is raising the hackles of those who cross his path."
"Is that what you think?"
"That is what I know."
"Hmm... Well, my father has this driver. I used to get annoyed with him because I felt he was intransigent just for the heck of it. There is one way to do everything, and that is the only way it shall be done. It took me a long time to figure out that all he was doing was what we all aspire to - introduce a little order and certainty into his life. It isn't spite. It's just vulnerability. And you might've seen that, and you might've handled the situation differently, if you weren't so very dead sure of his motivations."

We were now entering the realm of the a-little-over-my-head, and I just grunted a grunt or two, and said nothing. The way I saw it, there was nothing wrong with the watchman a pile-driver or two wouldn't fix.

The movie was watchable. It was about this little boy travelling around the galaxy in a magical train that took him from star to star in his search for the man who killed his mother. It was whizzing along, entertaining me, as movies tend to do, when towards the end, after the boy had had his vengeance, the time came for bidding farewell to his companion - the beautiful Princess Maetel - the woman he's in love with. "For now on, I will be a woman who lives only in your memories. I will be nothing more than an illusion of a young boy's heart, a phantom of your youth."

A blue light shone at my left, maybe from Sally's purse (but how could that be?), and I felt a surge of emotion hit me. Nothing like this had ever happened to me. And I couldn't get those damn lines out of my head. It refused to go, circling round and round in my head for weeks on end.

Just after the movie was done, I ran into Mrs Vegetarian, my last client. She recommended I watch Takeshi Kitano's "Boiling Point." She painted a fantastic picture of glorious, nihilistic violence in poetic slo-mo, set against the brutal backdrop of the Japanese gangland. What I actually got to see was a man washing his ass in the ocean, and a display of emotional equilibrium from the film makers on par with that of a 10-year-old who'd just been beaten up in a classroom fight he'd started. Confronting Mrs Vegetarian outside the hall, I demanded an explanation.

"You hated it? Good. I've been wanting to get back at you ever since you charged me a pot of money for 'investigating' those two idiot colleagues of mine. You told me there was nothing between them, and yet, last I heard, they'd left for Bangalore together where they're shacked up in the same apartment."

She sashayed away.

At just about this time, the phone rang again.

"Dude, this is PK. Can you come to MG Road?"

Half an hour later, I had an uncertain look as he extended two chicken-and-cheese rolls toward Sally and me.

"I want you to try this. The best rolls in the city." He had a puppy-dog look in his eyes.

Ghosts of case files past turning up in numbers reminiscent of zombies in a George Romero flick had to mean something. There is no such thing as coincidence.

I took the roll and munched thoughtfully. And still the princess's words refused to vacate the premises. It was all very strange.