March 03, 2013
It’s inevitable; when two journalists meet after a long time and are done bitching about incompetent chief subs, bossy chief reporters, stupid news editors, the editor’s blue-eyed boy, and how some deviously ambitious junior reporter or the other did them in for no apparent reason, they will eventually get down to the good times as well.
Here too there will be plenty of one-upmanship.
It will begin with how one of them made some tight-ass punk in the office look silly, the pleasure it gave, and then move on to witty moments of others…known and unknown. Finally, it will come down to those almost schoolboy-like pranks that really turn back the years. Humorous stories come thick and fast. Tales that delight, tickle and titillate.
“Man those were good times,” one will finally say and the other will eagerly agree and it’s in this vein that I too recollect a few such tales and pranks I just had to share with you. So here goes.
Ramu’s Folly: The first time I saw Ramesh I knew he was a pain in the ass. His hair was carefully combed and perfectly parted. His shoes just had to have been spit polished. His trousers had creases one could draw a line with and his white shirt was much too white. He wore fancy metal rimmed tinted glasses. He never smiled and addressed the chief sub with so much respect that one could almost feel nausea working its way up. He discovered very early on that the real boss was the night editor and spent much time buttering him up.
Now the funny thing was Ramesh had no sense of humor. If he did, he never showed it. If somebody cracked a joke or there was a funny moment, Ramesh would look on with practiced indifference.
He began his journey in the newsroom at the news desk and quickly fell foul of our brainy, no-nonsense but impatient chief sub who within the week asked that Ramesh be exiled off to the business desk. He was duly obliged.
Two incidents though brought Ramesh down to earth and to everybody’s notice.
A couple of weeks after joining the desk, I erroneously referred to him as Ramu. “Could you pass on that dummy layout, Ramu?” I asked.
He gave me a furious glare. “It’s Ramesh,” he said.
“What is?” I asked in all innocence and was stunned to see the rest of the desk keenly following the exchange.
“My name,” he said.
“Oh,” I said, “I seriously thought it was Ramu.”
Later that afternoon I caught up with Ramesh in the tea room. He hastily took me aside where nobody could hear him. “Please don’t call me Ramu,” he almost pleaded.
“Why?” I asked, perplexed by his advanced stage of anxiety.
He looked at me as if I was the stupidest person on Earth. “Because only servants are called Ramu,” he said in all earnestness.
“Oh,” I said.
Within the week even the night editor was calling Ramesh by his new name. It was a done deal. Ramu never quite forgave me for that. “It’s a servant’s name,” he said.
But what really took the cake was when Ramu, in an uncharacteristic display of generosity, decided one day he would treat everybody to tea.
“What is the canteen telephone extension?” he asked.
A number was mumbled.
Ramu rang up the number and ordered six cups of tea and “something to eat.”
We watched in amused horror as Bikram Vohra, our editor, tried his best to catch a glimpse through the glass separating the newsroom and his office of the guy at the news desk who had just called him to order six cups of tea. Bikram put the phone down and approached the news desk.
“Okay, which of you chumps was it that ordered the tea?”
Of course nobody owned up.
Ramu never quite lived that down.
The cake that vanished:
Back in the early eighties when I worked at The Muslim we had this wonderful veteran journalist, Hakeem Sahib, who monitored the radio and later TV for bits of news that could be used in the newspaper. He was at least 75 years old at the time.
Hakeem Sahib owned a beaten up Ford Cortina that everyday required a push or two to get it started otherwise he would never have got home.
This was a time when onions were scarce and were being imported from India. Rice and sugar were being rationed and generally certain food items were hard to come by.
One day, Hakeem Sahib entered the office with a 10kg bag of onions and, hot and sweating with exertion, dumped it on the floor of the office. B.K. Bangash, our photographer suggested the onions would be safer in his work cabin. Hakeem Sahib agreed.
Somehow the onions disappeared. Hakeem Sahib was quite upset and complained to the editor, Mushahid Hussain about the theft. Despite a few suspects it was not possible to say for sure who had taken them.
A month or so later, Hakeem Sahib marched into the office with a large cake and this too was deposited in Bangash’s room. Much to everybody’s despair the cake also mysteriously disappeared.
Mushahid was not amused. “That was his 50th wedding anniversary cake,” he said, “I will sack the person who has taken it.”
Nobody did own up. Nobody was caught. However, there were a few guilty folk who took it upon themselves to push Hakeem Sahib’s car daily to get it started. They did so without being asked and they did so for several months.
Mr. Q and the missing plant:
The late Abdul Qadoos was a wonderful person. Soft spoken and ever pleasing it was impossible not to like him. As chief reporter at Khaleej Times he had to put up with a lot of nonsense from certain reporters who delighted in making life difficult for him.
There were those of course who took his good nature for granted and found ways of antagonizing him or running him down. One of the standing jokes of the office was that Mr. Q, as he was called, was bald as an egg yet had three wigs that he hoped passed off for real hair. One was short and was used for the time that Mr. Q supposedly had a hair cut, the second was longer and used for a longer period of time and third used sparingly just before Mr. Q went and got a ‘hair cut’.
Now, as it happened, Mr. Q was presented a rather good looking potted plant by one of the female reporters on Valentine’s Day which occupied a prime spot on his desk.
One day the plant disappeared.
Mr. Q was terribly upset and complained to the editor who duly admonished ‘persons unknown’ for the act. It was ascertained that the plant had disappeared late at night long after all the reporters had left and the newspaper had been put to bed.
For a whole week Mr. Q was moody and irritable. Then the plant made a stunning return. It was as it had never left his desk.
It was not till months later that the truth came out. One of the reporters had taken the plant. He had been drunk when he had done so and thought it would be amusing to see Mr. Q’s reaction. However, things didn’t quite turn out the way he had anticipated. He’d had to sneak the plant back in without getting caught.
What did bring a chuckle and a giggle or two was Mr. Q’s reported complaint to the editor when his plant had disappeared.
“My plant has been kidnapped,” he was rumored to have said.
God bless you:
“I hear there’s a new girl joining us today,” said Anwar Iqbal one afternoon at The Muslim way back in the early eighties. “I hear she’s a minister’s daughter.”
“No idea I said,” just as a stunning looking girl sashayed down the middle of the newsroom and into the editor’s office.
She appeared alongside the editor a short while later and was introduced as Chandra Tridev Roy. The news editor would further introduce her.
Anwar and I watched from afar.
And just as the news editor was about to introduce her to one of our two much respected chief subs, the girl sneezed. It was a loud one.
“Bless you,” said Anwar softly.
The girl sneezed again and again and again.
Eighteen in all were counted in the short span of about three minutes.
By this time Anwar was so bemused that he had to dash into the library to laugh. “This is going to be fun,” he said. “I guess I’ll introduce myself later.”
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