It was 7 AM in the morning, and my blackberry started screaming in the loudest of the voices possible, without realizing that it is waking up an innocent, harmless chap. Even before there was a greeting from my side, Sathvik professionally, as he wants to call himself, took over the proceedings- as if to waste no time at all. 'Alright bro, wake up. It's time! 8.15 sharp, we will meet infront of the Chestnut Hall. You don't have any more time to lax away. Just hurry up'. That was one of the most serious wake-up calls, I have ever had in my life. I dragged myself out of inertia, got ready- and was at the indicated meeting point at sharp 8.15, expecting to see the rest, least aware of the fact that the rest were still resting. After half-an hour of waiting. I finally identified Kothi, and some distance behind him Sathvik- who was professionally and secretly organizing some other assignment of his, later that night. Their Singapore friend joined us too, very soon.
Sathvik, sensing that it was his time to speak said, 'Andrew has rented a car, and he should be here any moment.' This guy is known for his extraordinary ability to predict the wrong things, which not many of us knew then. Everyone was excited. It was just a delay by 30 min, which is acceptable by all standards! In the mean time, I realized that I was not carrying my passport, the only form of my identification here in the US. I have been too lazy to apply for a drivers license or a state ID card, even after close-to-an-year stay here in the US. I have had bitter experiences of getting thrown away from many places due to not carrying an identification with date-of-birth on it. Universities strictly keep your date of birth a complete secret on the university-ID card, making them absolutely useless outside of the university; unlike in India, where some 'gyaan' on shortcuts to clear JEE, will often result in a TTE in a train let you off with your IIT ID card. I expressed this concern to my leader incharge. He immediately retorted, 'don't worry; that should not matter. Sky-diving is only for people whose age is above 18. And with the amount of hair grayed, if there is any one in this world who believes that you are below 18- I'd murder him and go to jail.'I found it convincing. Coupled with my (our) laziness, I didnot really go back home to get it.
5 minutes later, Sathvik came back with a grave gesture as if to let us know of somebody's death. 'Ssup, dude', asked Kothi. 'Andrew couldn't rent a car due to credit-card related problems, like not possessing it. So this is not going to happen this time. Some other time guys', declared Sathvik again. Sensing that everyone still wants to go, our smart professional leader quickly amended the declaration saying, 'there will be a meeting to decide upon the future course. But peeps, don't have high expectations!' The meeting explored several unfeasible options, all involving calling different car rental companies and asking them to rent us a car. We said one of us has a credit card, one of us a drivers license and one of us is above 25 years of age. Unfortunately none of the car-rental companies seemed to have believed in team play. They wanted one person to possess everything. Kothi infact thought of lecturing them about team-play, but the action got postponed, as currently all his immense brain storming experience was needed in the meeting. When all the options got explored and when everyone almost gave up, I proposed the so-called 'worst option', which was taking a cab. Sathvik did some quick calculations in his mind, and surprisingly seconded this thought. Kothi went into shock, on hearing the 'C' word. Andrew backed out. Back in senses, Kothi was witnessing Sathvik bargain with a cab driver for a flat rate of 130, when the cab driver was actually charging 140. The bargaining part made him happy, but he not being involved in it made his madrasi marwadi blood boil. He immediately joined by saying 'nothing more than 70.'
On the other hand, I became nostalgic about the Chennai auto drivers. I remembered how we used to laugh infront of them at the rates they quote, even though we hadn't an iota of idea, what the actual rates should be; I remembered how we used to just walk away as a starting bargaining stunt. I was really missing all those here, whence thanks to Satty and Kothi, I felt home!
So, finally it settled at 200 -two way, with all the financial calculations that succeeded just staying in the error margin of +30, from the earlier thought-of budget. Everyone was happy. Half-way through the drive we realized that we have been traveling parallel to one of the railway tracks, all along. After all, public transport in the US is not that not available. Before people could decide on jumping out of the car and taking a train for cost-cutting purposes, I changed the topic to next week's Rahman's concert- but not without assuring that I am all in for a public transport option while coming back. 'Well then, one way - half the price it is', said Kothi- backed by Satty. Some humanitarian appeal by the cab driver made the final deal at 120 bucks.
It was 12 in the noon, and Sathvik had already informed that we were going to be delayed. 'All right, that's the airport- and that's how we dive', said Sathvik showing us what we were seeing, and informing us, what we already know. 'Hello, I am Sat. We have a reservation at 9.30. We got delayed. I informed you...', said Sathivk to one of the guys there. 'Don't worry sir; just fill up these things- and wait for 3 hours. We will arrange for your diving.' We decided not to go back even if it means Sat waiting for 3 precious hours, which otherwise could be well spent taking pics of hot babes for DP. 'Peeps, this form says that it is not their responsibility if we die during sky-diving. Just sign it. Don't believe it, though. They would take care of us like a mommy takes care of her baby,' briefed Satty, about the form that we were about to fill, probably trying to comfort us, but ended up more so trying to scare us. There was a column which asked details about the identification that a person is carrying. Satty realizing my worry said, 'don't fear, I am here. Sab sambaloonga mein.'. I understood it as 'all we need to do is go and put senti to them. Look at how the master does it, and learn.' With such words of assurance from a person who a while back promised to murder anyone who asks for my ID (more precisely, the age proof), I felt doubly assured.
'Forms, sir', said the guy. Sathvik gave all of them, he collected from us. 'ID's sir', the man said. Sathvik gave 2 passports and Kothi's Indian driving license and my Penn ID card. 'This is not valid sir,' said the man showing up my ID. I was half heart-broken. Satty patted me, and said, 'look sir, we came from Philly. This gentleman has forgotten to get his passport. He is above 18. I assure you that. And he has some form of an ID issued by the university. With this, I would appeal the humanitarian side of you to take a decision on allowing him.'
'Sir, I donot question the integrity of your claims. This man seems old enough and fit enough to undertake such an adventurous sport. But the rules of the day say that he should show us his authentic ID. I am nobody to break the rules,' replied the man like a slap on my cheek.
'In that case, gentleman- he can show you his ID (passport) on his email, if you allow us to access the internet,' said Sathvik. 'Well, sir! I am afraid the rules say we need to see the authentic form of the ID. Not a duplicate version,' virtually slapping me on the other cheek too. Realizing that this guy was trained by the SWAT, and about to work for the 'Blackwater,' when he was hired there at a better pay; I quickly interrupted and closed the argument about to build up saying, 'alright, I'll go back and get my ID- with no intention what-so-ever, of doing so.'
'Check your wallet', said Kothari. 'I did it', absolutely sure that not other form of ID is present inside that. 'Fikar mat kar. Agar tu nahi karega, tho mein bhi nahi karoonga,' said Kothi showing some compassion. Either it is a small world after all, or Gults surround the entire world, that one Gult couple agreed to drive Kothari and me to the nearest railway station, on insistence from Sathvik. 'So 12 miles it is, it will roughly take 20 min', said the person driving. It was 1.00 already and the next train was at 1.14. The train after that was at 2.14 PM. We reached the station at 1.30, taking long convoluted routes. The guy dropped us and left.
As expected, we missed the train. Taking the next train will bring us back in not less than 3 hours. Which means, by the time we reach the place it will be 6 already. Is it worth an effort? This simple math, led me to make a proposition to Kothari that perhaps we should do this some other time, and let the others do it then. He wanted to get team leaders approval for this unexpected coup. You don't get approval from the government for a coup! 'Sathvik will try to convice us by all means to come back. So let us not tell him', said I. Kothi was strictly against this, but Gods were on my side when coincidentally both our cell phones ran out of charge, and hence got switched off. We were detached from the external world, as both of us didnot memorize a single phone number; and nobody else could call us on our phones. For the first time, I saw some happiness in trouble. I don't know why, may be because I am a saddist or rather a masochist.
We went to the near-by Pizza place, and ordered for a couple of veg-pizzas. Since, it was all my mistake I took the moral responsibility of paying the bill. While removing my credit card, some other card fell down out of some remote pocket of my wallet. It happened to be the Student Travel ID (ISIC) issued by UNESCO, without my photo on it. So then the necessity to call Sathvik arose for me. He needs to inquire if that is a valid form of ID, that would allow my sky dive. We took the Pizza shop owners cell phone, exchanged our SIM's and called Sathvik. In other words, we used our engineering brains, to get the lost numbers. Sathvik picked up, and when I explained him the situation, he reassured me giving his view that it would work. Having experienced first-hand, enough assurances and predictions from Satty, which failed with a success rate of 100%, I asked him to put the SWAT guy on phone. He didnot assure me of anything, but ended the call on a note that gave hope. But he insisted on that card having a photo, even if it means I stick it. I had some passport photos too in my wallet, the ones I took for getting my US visa, and was prepared to cut them into stamp size and paste them on the card-which I always did whenever I needed a stamp-sized photo. While pulling out these photos, some other card came out.
Back in time, when the younger Jimmy was involved in the huge packing ceremony before leaving to the US for the first time- which incidentally happens for several days, with all sects of relatives having their own share in what he was supposed to carry, mamma said, 'Beta, you got your PAN card. Take it with you to the US. It can be of some help.' The arrogant Jimmy retorted, 'this probably can't be used even to wipe somebody's ass in the US.' Mamma, the wiser of the two, gifted the younger Jimmy with a wallet with a PAN card inside in one of the unaccessible pockets. The arrogant Jimmy, though was happy with the gift, found the card a worthless bauble in the wallet. He argued with mamma, disproving its right for existence in the wallet. Mamma appealed to him by indicating its harmless nature, if not helpful nature.
'Government of India, Income Tax Dept' was printed bold on this card that just fell down. I completely forgot about its existence. All that the SWAT guys rule book said was a Govt issued ID card with DOB on it. And Kothi's Indian drivers license has been accepted as a valid form of ID. So why not my PAN card? I have never been more thankful to my Mom's insight than I was then. 'Thank you Mamma; the older Jimmy is always going to be less arrogant,' said I to myself.
We ate the cheese filled Pizza, called for a cab and waited for it for an hour. Once it arrived, we reached the place back at 3, and showed this to the SWAT guy. 'Perfect sir, and thank you for coming back', said the SWAT guy. 'You along with your friend will be flying in the 14th batch sir', said he- indicating that Sathvik and co would fly in the earlier batch. We silently nodded.
'Gentlemen, we are waiting for the wind flow to recede. The 12th batch (Sathvik's) will take off only if the wind slows down in the next half an hour. Else, I am afraid- we will have to reschedule for the rest of you.' 'Oh Holy Ravioli! thought I'. 'Perhaps, Gods don't want us to sky-dive. It could be an omen', said Satty justifying the situation. But the winds have gone down, Gods blessed us, and I thus had one of the most awesome moments of my life, and the rest of it was facebooked! .
Acknowledgements: Thank you Income Tax Dept of India, and Thank you Mamma!!