“You are going to *censored*,” said the boss peeping over the cubicle wall scaring the living daylights out of me.
“Take Kevin with you.” He said disappearing down the hallway.
“Why should I go to *censored*!!” I protested running after him.
“Because you met the Fisheries Director that is why!” He said without stopping
“So what!” I shouted furiously trying to keep pace with him.
“These government types feel good if someone from the company visits them. They feel insulted if the Business partner (Dealer) lands up for the installation alone.” The boss stopped to explain, before striding off.
I stared at the Boss’s receding back with a sinking feeling, walked dejectedly up to Kevin’s seat, sat down on a chair and sighed. Kevin looked at me alarmed. He didn’t have much client experience but knew from practical experience that if I came near his seat and sighed “he” was in big trouble.
“Oh god! Why does it have to be me?” wailed Kevin in despair. I grinned evilly, feeling a little better now. “We are going on a long trip...” I said peering dangerously at him. “A very long trip…from which I hope we come home alive…” I said sinisterly, before walking away with an air of mystery.
Next day we were at the airport at the crack of dawn. Me in a bad mood and Kevin in a pensive mood. The flight was uneventful save for Kevin trying his best to explain to his co-passenger that the picture of the black box in the brochure he was carrying for the client was a Server and not a refrigerator.
We reached the capital city of this umm State in good time and were met at the airport by a rather antique looking Ambassador car, polished to perfection, complete with white Turkish towels on the seat. The driver looked like a Naval Captain and I nearly saluted him. I was saved some embarrassment by his salute. That’s when we realized that he was the driver. The conversation in the car was err… interesting.
You coming from Bangalore sir?
And you madam.
Yes Admiral err Sir!
You coming here for the first time?
Then you must know XYZ. Very famous place.
Call me ABC
Yes Mr. ABC!
No no, just ABC!!
We drove to this huge dilapidated bungalow that was the Directors office and were ushered in by another government type. Thankfully he wore khakhi. Phew!
We looked around. The bungalow would make a nice setting for a horrible Hindi horror movie. There was a dilapidated staircase for the ghost to walk down singing a mournful song and windows that rattled about on single hinges. We wouldn’t have been surprised if a lady wearing white walked down the steps singing a ghostly song.
In the dim light we saw the fat and jovial director sitting on a nondescript table with a plastic drum next to his chair. “Welcome welcome” he beamed and shook hands with Kevin. I withdrew my hands when I realized he wasn’t going to shake it. He greeted me with a “Namaste” and motioned us to sit down.
After we were seated, we looked around again. The musty office consisted of several chairs, tables and cupboard in what once was an olive green color. “Do you want tea?” Asked the director cutting into our reverie.
“No, thank you.” we replied in unison.
“Then you must taste our Buttersilk* fish!! (* not its real name) exclaimed the Director.
“No thanks! We had breakfast!” we said politely.
“No no no! This is a delicacy. You MUST taste it” said the director emphatically.
The he leaned to his side like he was going to keel over and just when we thought he was going to topple; he straightened up with a wriggling fish in his hands. Before we say “Holy Fish” he bought the fish crashing onto the table with a bang. Scales flew everywhere. Kevin and I sat stunned, unable to comprehend what had just happened. I started giggling hysterically when I saw the scales in Kevin’s neatly gelled hair and chest. Poor Kevin was desperately fighting with the clingy scales on his face and neck.
The Director kept the half dead fish on a tray on the table and started reading the technical literature we had bought for him. There was no reaction from anyone in the room. As if on cue, a rather small made lady got up silently, took the now dead fish and walked over to the other room that I think was the kitchen. I think she was the stores in-charge. I could see her cleaning the fish in the kitchen. She left the cleaned fish in the kitchen and came back and sat at her table and resumed filing like nothing had happened.
Kevin and I looked at each other. There was no movement from any body in the room. Two minutes later, a quite soda glassed man got up and went into the kitchen. He was the accountant. He seemed to be cutting the fish and soon the aroma of frying fish filled the air. Now the dour looking man sitting on another table and writing a ledger or file, pulled out his desk drawers and bought out, one onion and a tomato. We gasped.
He pulled out a knife from another drawer and started slicing the vegetables with the precision of a salad chef. He finished cutting the vegetables and kept the veggies on a ceramic plate in the Out Box tray. Dour guy went back to work after wiping his hands and glancing at us briefly. Now we were very sure we were in the Twilight Zone.
Just when we thought the live demonstration of red tapism was over, the peon who was sitting on a stool at the entrance of the office got up and bought the plate of fish and salad to the Director’s table. We looked around. Everyone was back to work as though nothing had a happened in the room. My first instinct was to get up and run and not stop till I reached Bangalore. But this account was very important for us. I looked at Kevin and he looked at me. Both of us were looking very scared.
When the Director asked us to eat the fish, we didn’t dare to say “no”. What if the same people who enacted the chilling routine of killing and frying the fish did the same with us. Half an hour later, we left the office with Buttersilk fish coming out of our ears. To make things worse, the Director had packed some fish for us to have on the way. And oh yes! You guessed it right. The packing was also done with precision red tapism that I won’t get into.
Of course, we threw the fish packet in the nearest dust bin. We didn’t want to carry ANY reminder of the trip back home!
We are back in Bangalore and if the Boss so much as mentions “Client Visit” we pull out the Resignation Letters that we prepared with a vengeance the moment we got back to Bangalore.
Have a nice week folks!