Friday, May 11, 2007

Glass bowl and a visiting card

It was an early Sunday morning and I was in Oxford Book Store near Churchgate. Wife and son were attending a Soka Gakkai meet and I was reading a collection of Ruskin Bond stories over a spinach quiche with melted cheese and ginger tea (both highly recommended). The Ruskin Bond stories on various people he has met over a period of time really absorbed me. Particularly the one of a police inspector (and also Ruskin Bond's beer drinking partner) who never made it big. The inspector told a fascinating story of the killing of a queen where he let the murderer go scot free looking at the motive and the human angle. I was just finishing the story when my phone rang informing me that my time was up and it was time to pick up wife and son.

I picked up a couple of Ruskin Bond's books for my son and headed towards the cash counter. There was an elderly gentleman at the counter and he was impeccably dressed. On a Sunday morning he was formally attired as disciplined old men tend to be, quite a contrast to my rumpled jeans, T-shirt and chappals. I strolled over to the magazine counter on the left as I waited my turn at the cashier. At this early hour, there was only one person attending customers and no one was in a tearing hurry.

At the counter, there was a glass bowl with a collection of visiting cards - you know the kind one usually sees in various restaurants for draw of lots or for sending promotional literature. Now I have this strange habit of looking at these visiting cards as I while away my time. I also tend to look at the visitor's comments book in different stores, especially when wife is shopping. It is interesting to see which part of the city do people come from into a particular shop, and what their comments are. At times I am also surprised at how easily people leave their mobile phone numbers and addresses. Today a card lying near the top drew my attention briefly. It was a member of the female species with her name starting with "T" and there was something unusual about the card - probably the color or probably the font - that drew my attention.

As I moved towards the payment counter from the magazine racks, I thought I saw this elderly gentleman at the counter quickly taking this particular card from the glass bowl and put it inside a white envelope he had in his hand, which was kept on the counter with one of his hairy arms on top of it. It piqued my curiosity immensely and I went and stood next to this person to get a closer look at him. The counter staff was busy punching in the details of this man's purchases. Total bill in excess of Rs3,000 and all in the form of magazines and office stationery. The person took out crisp five hundred rupee notes from the same envelope and handed it over to the cashier.

Apart from some stationery and note books, he was buying a hordes of magazines. I craned my neck to gauge the reading habits of a person who picks up visiting cards of unknown people from public places. It was varied - the reading habit, I mean. Making it to the shopping basket were Forbes, Fortune, Businessworld, Maxim and Debonair. I did not catch a glimpse all the magazines. This man was in his 50s at least, bald headed and boasted of a huge beer belly. He was dressed in a nice blue full sleeved shirt (I could not catch the brand), was wearing Color Plus cotton trousers of dark blue color and polished black shoes.

As soon as he collected his packets, he moved out of the store and left me thinking. Did he pick up the card or not? I am sure it was not my imagination running riot after reading a couple of Ruskin Bond stories. What was the name on the card? I was cursing myself for not remembering it. What were his intentions? Will he go home and then dial the number of an unknown lady? Or am I imagining too many things after reading the Ruskin Bond stories? As I collected my books and walked out into a bright sunny day, I made a mental note not to drop my card in any glass bowl in any store or restaurant in future.