One fine day last week the hotel room smelled weird when I returned from work in the evening. There was something odd about the aroma. The smell of the room freshener or whatever else that had been used, was pretty strong. It smelled nice though. I had never been to a brothel but I guessed it smelled exactly the way it must have smelled in brothels – strong perfumish odour full of sex in the air. I didn’t mind.
Still immersed in the unusual air of the hotel room, lying on the bed and tucked inside a thin blanket, I was reading Shantaram and getting ready to sleep when Singa Patel called me. Singa asked me if I wanted to go out. He didn’t tell me where. It was ten in the night. If you know me, you would know that I am usually not awake beyond such hours. But then it had been a long time since anyone called me randomly at ten in the night to ask if I wanted to go out without even telling me where. I told Singa I would see him in ten minutes.
It was only when I had put my kurta on and was looking for my recently bought Adidas perfume to help me hide the day’s stink radiating from my body that I realized that the goddamn bottle was missing. Fuck. So it had been my bloody perfume stuffing up my nose all this while. The room didn’t just feel like a brothel then – it felt like a brothel where I was the prostitute.
The house-cleaner must have had accidently tipped the bottle down the shelf, the glass must have broken and the liquid must have spilled all over the floor. I decided to do nothing about it. I was sure it must have been an accident and that whoever had done this must have felt terrible. More than that, I wasn’t sure what could be done about it anyway. So I did nothing about it.
As Singa and I drove off in his car, we still didn’t know what we wanted to do – where we wanted to go. As he rode on, we spotted a Barista. We decided to have coffee there. I had coffee. He had tea. And over coffee and tea we talked about life.
‘Sometimes, I wonder what is that we are doing really’, said Singa.
He was talking about consultancy. Singa was over four years older to me. We worked in the same office. I tried answering him.
‘We study and analyze and draft reports with recommendations and way forwards that the client – the various government departments and agencies – may or may not use. Of course it’s a passive work. We have nothing to do with implementation of any schemes or policies or restructuring that we propose. If we want to do that as well – the execution part, we better become bureaucrats or businessmen or politicians or Chief Ministers. That would be so much more active. But if you think about it, most of them who do become Chief Ministers don’t become one because they want to do active work.’.
This is how we drifted from what we – the consultants – were to what the politicians were supposed to be doing. I think Singa kinda agreed with me. It always feels good to realize that what you are doing is not worthless. We were consultants and we were not worthless. Even when we were not the ones responsible for implementing anything that we ever proposed. And then we drifted to Gandhi and Nehru. Singa told me Gandhi was great. He looked at me and then I spoke.
‘I dislike the word great. Gandhi was great. I don’t deny that. But what is so special about Gandhi being great? Gandhi had a talent and he used it for the best purpose that he could find. His talent was to be able to unite Indians for a common purpose, even without being scientifically logical or democratic in approach most of the times. Imagine convincing everyone to get thrashed by Brits without attacking back – that needs an extraordinary talent. You and I can’t pull off such things. Even Nehru couldn’t pull off such things. Nehru was like most of us – scientific and logical. He had his own talent – the talent to set long term visions, the talent to implement short term plans based on scientific systems in place. And it’s not just Gandhi and Nehru. All of us have something special about us – a talent, and all of us who are using our talents for a reason that we think is right, are great men and women. All of us who are working hard and are being honest with ourselves and others are great human beings.
‘I think the reason why a lot of people use the word ‘great’ in such elusive terms is so that every time they don’t do a right thing, they can argue – ‘hey, I am not as great as Gandhi or Nehru or a or b or c. But that’s not true really. They are only choosing not to be great’.
A day or two later, I was checking out of the hotel when one of the house-keepers interrupted me in the lobby – ‘excuse me sir, I am sorry I broke your perfume bottle’.
I liked this. I had not talked about my loss of perfume bottle to anyone in the hotel and I don’t think I would have known who broke it. So I really liked it when out of the blue, this guy suddenly told me it was him. His face was so full of guilt – unnecessary guilt if you ask me. His voice was quivering. When I looked at him, I knew he was as great as Gandhi or Nehru. His talent was in being honest.
‘Ah – it’s okay. Never mind’. I smiled and checked out.