Sunday, July 22, 2012

पाकीट


"मित्राते फाटकं पाकीट कधी बदलतोयेस आता? "
"काय रे , काय सिल्वर ज्युबिली साजरी करायलयंस का काय त्या पाकीटाची? "
"काय, गिनीज बुकात नोंद करायची आहे का काय? "
"तुझा वाढदिवस कधी आहे तेवढा सांग बाबा, आम्ही सगळे एक छानसं पाकीटच गिफ्ट देतो"
"वाट मॅन, कुच अँटीक वालेट है क्या वो? "
"काय, लक्की पाकीट वाटतं?"
"अरे त्यातल्या पैशांचं सोड, तुझं लायसन्स, पॅन कार्ड, डेबिट कार्ड वगैरे त्यातून कधी पडलं तर केवढ्यात पडेल ते. कंजूष कुठचा"

माझ्या त्या कळकट्ट, जीर्ण आणि अगदी हॅवेल्स फॅन च्या जाहिरातीतील गलितगात्र झालेल्या राजेश खन्नासारख्या वाटणाऱ्या त्या प्रागैतिहासिक पाकिटाकडे पाहून एक ना अनेक जणांनी हे उद्गार अगणित वेळा काढले असतील.
तसं त्यात खोटं काही नव्हतंच म्हणा ना. बाहेरून उसवत आलेले धागे, आतले अगदी चिंध्या झालेले कप्पे, त्यात मधूनच डोकावणाऱ्या नोटा,काही बिनकामाच्या पावत्या, आणि माझ्यापेक्षाही भयानक दिसणारे माझे फोटो मिरवणारी ओळख कार्डं,भस्सकन ते खिशातून बाहेर काढले की समोरच्याला एकदम अंगावर आल्यासारखे होत असे.

जुन्या काळी पोस्टात खर्डॅघाशी करत करत घरात खाणाऱ्या दहा बारा तोंडांना पोसता पोसता मेटाकुटीला आलेल्या कारकूना सारखी
त्याची अवस्था झाली होती. पण मी मात्र एखाद्या हठयोग्याप्रमाणे कशालाच दाद देत नव्हतो. सगळयांच्या कॉमेंटस केवळ हसण्यावारी नेत, अगदी महाराणा प्रतापांच्या चेतकाप्रमाणे, ते मरणासन्न पाकीट मी खिशाशी बाळगून होतो.

तर, नुकतीच आमच्या टीम मध्ये, पुण्यातील एका नामांकीत मॉल्स ची कुपन्स वाटली होती. हो-नाही करत, शेवटी ह्या वीकांताला त्या मॉलमध्ये शिरलो. तसा अशा ठिकाणी खरेदीचा काहीच अनुभव गाठीशी नसल्याने मी भावाला बरोबर घेवून गेलो होतो.  मोठा आणि चकचकीत हॉल,सगळीकडे अगदी पद्धतशीरपणे मांडलेल्या विविध ब्रँडेड वस्तू, अगदी ब्रेसलेट,शूज पासून ते शेरवानी पर्यंत सगळाच माल डोळे फिरविणाऱ्या किंमती नाचवत उभा होता.

"अरे, हे पाकीट पाहा, छान दिसतंय. ", माझा भाऊ एका पाकिटांच्या स्टँडकडे बोट दाखवत म्हणाला.
"हम्म, पण माझ्याकडे पाकीट आहे की ऑलरेडी"
"नाही, ते काही कामाचं नाही. हे घेवून टाक, सातशे रुपयांना आहे फक्त, डिस्काउंट मिळून अजून स्वस्तात पडेल. "
सातशे रुपये?? मी विचार करू लागलो की सातशे रुपये एका वेळेस कधी मी पाकिटात तरी ठेवतो का?
पण नाही, ह्यावेळेस का कुणास ठाऊक, माझा विरोध पूर्णपणे गळून पडला आणि मी मुकाट्याने ते इटालिअन का कसल्या लेदरचे पाकीट विकत घेतलेच.

"आता, ते जुनं पाकीट दे फेकून. " भावाने पुस्ती जोडली.
मी नुसतंच हम्म करत बिल देवून टाकले.

घरी आल्यावर, त्या जुनाट पाकिटातून सामान काढताना मात्र हात चांगलाच जड झाला. माझं मन आपोआप सहा वर्षे मागं गेलं. मला आठवतं, कसंबसं इंजिनिअरिंग संपवून मी नुकताच नोकरीला लागलो होतो. नोकरीचा पहिलाच महिना चालू होता, त्यामुळे साहजिकच पहिला पगार वगैरे काही झालेला नव्हता. रोज, मी आईकडून, फक्त पी एम टी च्या तिकिटाइतके पैसे घेत असे. जेवणासाठी डबा घरून नेत असल्याने त्या पैशांचा प्रश्न सुटला होता. जाताना बस ने जाई, पण येताना ३-४ किलोमीटर चालत येत असे, तेवढेच पैसे वाचायचे. आता रोज तिकिटाचे पैसे घेतल्यानंतर ते पैसे ठेवायला अजून एखादं पाकीट घेणं म्हणजे त्या काळात खरोखर आमच्यासाठी चैन होती. मी खिशात नुसतेच पैसे ठेवायला घाबरायचो, कारण चुकून खिसा फाटका निघाला तर काय? पण त्यावरही मी एक उपाय शोधून काढला. माझा एक मामा नेहमी, घरातील रिकामी दुधाची पिशवी स्वच्छ धुवून, वाळवून, त्यात पैसे ठेवत असे. मीसुद्धा तेच सुरू केलं. मी कात्रज दुधाच्या रिकाम्या पिशवीतून पैसे नेवू लागलो.

एकदा माझ्या एका मित्राने मला असे पिशवीतून पैसे काढताना बघितलं. माझी परिस्थिती काही त्याच्यापासून लपलेली नव्हती. त्यानं माझी अडचण ओळखली आणि हळूच म्हणाला की, संध्याकाळी चल माझ्याबरोबर, तुला चांगलं पाकीट मिळवून देतो. मी त्याच्याकडून पैसे अजिबात घेणार नाही हे तर नक्की होतं. मी त्याला स्पष्ट सांगितलं की, बाबा रे, रोज चे बस चे पैसे वाचवून माझ्याकडे फक्त तीस रुपये साठलेले आहेत, आणि तेवढ्यात पाकीट मिळणार आहे का? तेव्हा, अरे तीस काय तुला तीन रुपयांत मिळवून देतो असं त्यानं छातीवर हात ठोकत सांगितलं.

संध्याकाळी, तो मला, कर्वे रोडवर, एसएनडीटी च्या ब्रिज खालच्या फूटपाथवर घेवून गेला. तिथे एक म्हातारा बऱ्याच गोष्टी विकत बसला होता, त्यांत पाकिटं सुद्धा होती.

"मामा, ते पाकीट कितीला दिलं? " मित्रानं विचारलं.
"तीस रुपये. ", गुटख्याची पिंक बाजूला टाकत म्हातारा बोलला.
"काय मामा, काय सांगता, पंधरा रुपये देतो बघा. "
"नाय वो, तेवडी खरेदी बी नाय. "
"असं नाही, बघा पंधरा रुपये देतो, नक्की सांगा"
"बरं चला, पंचवीस द्या. "
"नाही, पंधरा लास्ट".
"हे बगा, वीस लाष्ट, मी आता निगालोय घरी म्हनून देतो, घ्यायाचं असंल तर घ्या नायतर नाय. " म्हातारं आता चांगलंच वैतागलं होतं.
मित्राने मला खूण केली. मी वीस रुपये काढून दिले आणि ते पाकीट घेतलं. मित्रानंच दुधाच्या पिशवीतून पैसे काढून पाकिटात कोंबले आणि मला परत केलं. कृतज्ञता, येवढाच भाव माझ्या चेहऱ्यावर होता.
"थँक यू. " इतकंच कसंबसं माझ्या तोंडून निघून गेलं.
"अरे चल, मोठा आला, उद्या त्याच पाकिटातून पैसे काढून पार्टी घेणार आहे तुझ्याकडून. "

आणि, तेव्हापासून ते पाकीट अगदी इमाने इतबारे मला साथ देत राहिले. कधी कधी वस्तू नुसत्या वस्तू न राहता तुमच्याही नकळत तुमच्या अस्तित्वाचा भाग बनून जातात. खरेतर पाकीट ही एक क्षुल्लक वस्तू वाटू शकते, पण माझ्यासाठी ते पाकीट एक मोठं थँक्स होतं, त्या जुन्या दिवसांना ज्यांनी नुसतंच जगण्याचं बळंच नाही दिलं तर, हे सुद्धा शिकवलं की कशीही परिस्थिती असली तरी आनंदानं आणि समाधानानं जगण्यासाठी मन मोठं असावं लागतं, खिसा नाही. ते पाकीट एक रिमाइंडर होतं, ज्यानं यशाच्या, सुखाच्या अनेक प्रसंगांत कधी उतू मातू दिलं नाही, की अगदी अनेक अपयशांच्या, दुःखाच्या प्रसंगात खचू दिलं नाही. ते पाकीट म्हणजे एक मोठं सॉरी आहे माझ्या त्या मित्राला ज्याच्याशी मी पहिली कंपनी सोडल्यानंतर फारसा टच मध्ये राहू शकलो नाही. खरं तर त्या पाकिटात पैसे, कार्डं असं काही ठेवलंच नव्हतं कधी, ठेवल्या होत्या त्या फक्त आणि फक्त पैशांत कधीच किंमत न करत्या येण्याजोग्या आठवणी...


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Crossword, me and she..


For an unusually hot and dry July evening, amidst clear skies, I set off for my usual weekend visit to Crossword. With most of my friends now having been married, or settled abroad, or busy with their respective girl friends, or a bit too out of touch that they are not even a single phone call away, this crossword window shopping has been a favorite pass time of mine since last numerous weekends.

The security person with his bulging belly gave a blank apathetic look to me. I somehow have started fearing that these guys will one day throw me out for continuous peep INS and no purchase.

Nevertheless, the fully blowing air conditioner inside provided much needed respite from outside heat. There were a handful of people around meticulously flipping through pages. I adjusted my thick glassed specs and advanced towards a new arrivals section, and started looking for some eye catching stuff. And suddenly, I was disturbed with an elated but equally soft voice.

“Chaitanya, is that you?”

There she was, almost after four years, wearing a bright red top and jeans, hair let loose on shoulders, and smiling as effervescently as ever. Last time, I remembered seeing her when our entire project team in my first organization had bid her an adieu when she had got married to an US settled geek and was leaving for good.  I must accept the very news of she getting betrothed had broken many hearts on the floor. I guarantee she had given many raging hormones in our team , a lot of sleepless nights. I remember many guys on the floor trying to be extra friendly with me just because she used to sit opposite to me and work in my team although I had hardly seen her working. After all it was highly difficult for her to find time from constant blabbering on mobile phone. One killer smile to manager and she was all set to go home by 6 P.M. bus and nerds like me were always there to work extra time and yet get spanked by client, lead and manager.

“Ohh my my, Aarti. Indeed a surprise madam!” I exclaimed.

“Ohm gosh, look at you, you haven’t changed at all”

“But, you have changed and changed for better and prettier.”

I wasn’t lying at all. Although she seemed to have put up a little more weight and obsequious fat around her waist, she looked a lot fairer than what I remembered her. Her complexion was close to flawless. The faint lipstick was enhancing her thin lips. The three years of stay in west had done her features a world of good.

“Forget about me, I must say you haven’t changed a bit. Still, that lazy stubble, under-grown moustaches, uncombed hair, thick framed specs and almost de-colored T-shirt”

Well, I knew I was as ugly now as I was at birth. I did not need her to remind me that again.

I gave her a helpless smile.

“Tell me, how’s life? how come you are in Pune?”

“Well, Rahul had a couple of dealings to crack here in Pune. We also hadn’t taken vacation for a year; you know being a vice president, it demands a lot from him. So, decided to club our India visit and here we are. You know they allowed both of us business class, cool, no?”

Well, well, I guess, I spotted where it was going to now, VP, doing dealings for his company, travelling by business class, what’s next?

“What do you do now a days, tell me”

I stressed the word ‘you ‘a bit more.

“I am enjoying being a Home maker now. I badly want to work but Rahul just doesn’t want me to. He says that he earns more than enough that he can feed a poor African island so why do I need to go for a job hunt”
Yes, he was right, I thought. I didn’t know about any poor African island but whichever place she would go to work must be rendered impoverished as she hardly knew what was meant by actually working.

“That’s good no, just enjoy the life then...”

“Nawww, it’s boring at times. Anyway, good that I met you, just needed to tell you that we have bought a specious 3 BHK in Baner. Rahul wants to sell it off, he says now the prices are at the highest. Can you help and find if any one of you colleagues or friends are interested. Rahul said for a genuine buyer, he can reduce the price upto 1 crore, but yes buyer has be genuine.”

I started counting how many zeros would be there in 1 crore.. I imagined prospective buyers to be either scorpio chaps or local politicians. And, what the hell was I supposed to do here. I am not a property  broker.

“Hey chaitanya, what are you thinking?”

“ohh yes, I will post an ad in my company’s portal”

“That’s so nice of you”

Then she continued about how lovely the weather is there in US, how good the roads are and how pathetic Pune has become since she left. How Rahul hates it here in India, how hard he worked to get there at this position, how much he loved to drive his Audi, how he enjoyed baseball game on weekends, on and on and on..

By that time I had started imagining Rahul as a combination of Bill gates, Dheerubhai Ambani and Super Man.

To much of my rescue, my mobile phone rang, I had never loved to hear the ringtone more than I loved this time.

“Yes, I am coming in next 15 mins”, I disconnected.

Aarati was giving me a questioning look.

“Mom’s phone, she’s waiting for dinner” I said.

“No need to clarify. No wonder that you will get only Mom’s calls. Come on Chaitanya, go and get a girlfriend for yourself.”

Now, this was a lot more than humiliation. Since last 20 minutes, I had got enough reminders of how miserable my very own life is here and she was just relentless in repeating the blows.
As she was once again about to comment on my appearance, once again our very old friend cell phone came to my help. This time it was hers.

She delicately took her iphone 4 out of purse,and chuckled..
“ohh, Rahul’s phone”

“Hi honey”
Her voice was actually oozing honey. I could not stop myself from staring at her immaculate lips.

“ohh yes darling, I am on my way, just caught up with an old friend in crossword. Arey, don’t worry baba, I am not staying here forever, will be there in a flash. Bye, love you”

“Well chaitanya, it was great seeing you after so long. Will catch up with you on FB later. But, please remember about our flat in Baner.  I have to leave now, Rahul gets worried too much about me. bye, see ya”

“Bye Aarti”

She gave her killer smile and turned back.

Phew, I heaved a sigh of relief and something interesting caught my eye. There was a book called ‘LOSER – Life Of a Software Engineer’. Curiously, I picked it up and flipped some pages. One page gave the comparison between quintessential poor Software Rameshs and ever aristocratic software Richas. I read one or two lines and burst out in a laughter. I guess, I never needed to find out who the Ramesh was and who the Richa was!!!!