My Thai dream


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And before I knew it, I had hit on ‘Send’….and the wonderfully efficient Gmail servers ensured that my resignation mail found its way to the Kay Networks mail servers.

All of 25 yrs old and I was still struggling to make ends meet. The fact that I had completed my MCA at a small unknown college from Madurai Kamaraj University did not help my employment prospects. None of the big IT companies like TCS, Cognizant, Infosys or Wipro came calling at my college for campus placements.

In fact, the only companies that actually turned up were offering sales representative and marketing related jobs. And the few ‘technology companies’ that actually came to campus were offering jobs only for IT Tech Support services, the folks who help these large companies with their hardware related problems. And I had not struggled my way through MCA to end up in a job where the only thing remotely related to programming would be to actually help software engineers do their jobs better.

No, I did not succumb to family pressures in terms of being the first graduate in my family and the fact that I had to earn money to support my younger brother’s education for the next two years, and also provide funds to maintain household expenses in the next 6 months when my father would retire.

I stuck it out and finally found a job in a small start-up company in Chennai. It had only 10 employees and was engaged in developing mobile apps for aeronautical and aerospace companies worldwide. Some of their apps included ones used by Air Traffic Controllers in various US airports, and also for their ground handling facilities. The pay was not all that great but it was interesting work and more importantly it gave me relevant work experience which would add a lot of value to my resume.

Although I have been working in this company for the last 9 months now, a deep sense of discomfort still gnawed at me. The fact that I needed to be earning more money and seeing more of the world at this age was something that kept me sleepless at nights. And therefore, when a college senior of mine suggested that I start exploring overseas employment opportunities using online job portals such as monster, naukri, timesjobs, and the like, I thought that would be a good idea.

After a few days of endless browsing for decent jobs overseas, I chanced upon this opportunity at Bangkok. The company was called Integrated Software Solutions (ISS) and the job listing mentioned quite a handsome salary along with company provided accommodation. All of it sounded too good to be true and more than a wonderful opportunity which I didn’t want to miss.

I immediately checked the validity of my passport and then applied online for the job at ISS to which the HR Manager replied to in 2 days scheduling a telephonic interview. Given the 4 day gap between the intimation mail and the interview itself, I brushed up on my basic programming concepts and was more than ready for the interview. The call itself went off like a breeze, and then the next day, the HR Manager sent a mail with my offer letter attached. The only catch was that I had to join them in the next 5 days and I had to make all my travel arrangements to Bangkok myself which they would reimburse on the day that I joined the company.

And the amount for the travel arrangements from Chennai to Bangkok cost a good Rs 10,000 even on the cheapest Air Asia midnight flight. This was around the 20th of the month and I had only around half that amount left in my bank account. Having borrowed the remaining money from a friend with the promise of returning it when I got my first Thai salary, I booked the tickets and then it was the moment that I had dreaded the most about this entire incident.

It was time to let my current employer Kay Networks, know that I intended to resign from the company and also had to request them to relieve me within the next 5 days given that I had already booked my flight tickets to Bangkok. Now, while the fact remained that Kay Networks had given me a job after having conducted technical interviews and all that, one of the biggest factors in me getting this job was because its CEO Vish was a good friend of my cousin, and he had personally recommended me for the role. Given that this job was the result of a favor, I felt odd having to approach Vish with this resignation, that too only after 9 months on the job. But I had to do it, it was this or the option of being stuck in this small start-up without any opportunity to see the world, explore new cultures.

I painstakingly drafted the resignation mail but couldn’t bring myself to send it out. I read it, re-read it, put it in the drafts folder and logged out of Gmail. After taking a break of 5 mins, reading the mail out again in my mind, I logged back into Gmail and finally hit on the Send button. Little did I know what awaited me on the other side of this mail.

The fishiness of the entire Thailand job began right from the address of ISS in Bangkok. Given that it was situated bang next to the city’s biggest fish market, the building literally smelt fishy. After having reached the 28th floor of the building, I was in for a surprise. The office was nothing more than a small room which was just about the size of an Indian teenager’s bedroom and measured approximately 19ft by 21 ft in size. It just had a large table, 4-5 chairs on either side of it and one person on one of the chairs.

As soon as I walked in, he enquired whether I was Lakshman to which I nodded and he immediately asked me for my papers and 4000 Thai Baht which was approximately Rs 8,000 and given that I had carried only Rs 10,000 with me to Bangkok, this came as quite a surprise and shock to me. He explained that the money was needed to process my Thailand Work Permit, only after which I would legally be able to take up employment in that country. Given the situation I couldn’t refuse and reluctantly parted with the money.

Once he had the money, he asked me to wait in the room while he would go down and bring the necessary forms. Left alone in the room, and given enough time to ponder over things, the entire ISS setup stuck me as quite fishy in every sense of the word. And when half an hour went past without any sign of the man or the forms, I surely knew that something was drastically wrong with the whole thing. I walked out of the room into the adjoining wing of the floor where there was another office. After around ten minutes of struggling with the fact that the receptionist at the other office spoke only a smattering of English, I understood that there was no office situated in the room from where I had come out. That was more of a small conference room that the employees of this particular office used frequently. She also didn’t know of anybody having used that room today.

It was then that I realized that I had been taken for a ride and had been conned out of at least 4000 Thai Baht that day. Apart from that I had also wasted more than Rs 10000 on a one way flight ticket and was also left stranded in Bangkok without enough money to take me back home. That was the end of my Thai dream.

It finally took a kind hearted Tamilian in the other company who lent me his phone and the kind heart of Kay Networks CEO Vish who patiently listened to my story and offered to book a return flight back to Chennai on the next convenient flight. He also offered me my old job back.

I had learnt a lesson the hard way. While the grass always remained greener on the other side, it helps to pay attention to the fact as to whether it is real grass or the synthetic or plastic grass that most gardens in bungalows use.

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Image courtesy: http://www.enterpriseirregulars.com/

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This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. This week’s prompt was to begin the post with the words – And before I knew it, I had hit on ‘Send’.

This entire post is based on a true incident that recently happened to an acquaintance of my wife.

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This post has been picked as one of Blogadda’s WoW picks for the weekend of 22-Sep-2013.

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The forgetful old friend


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Brigade Metropolis in Bangalore was quite a maze for newcomers. Given that Sunita had moved in only last evening and was walking around the complex for the first time today, her German Shepherd Tim didn’t give her any respite at all. When she stopped to tie her shoelaces, which had come untied, Tim managed to free his leash from her hands and bounded away in the distance. By the time Sunita tied her shoelaces and looked up, Tim had jogged quite a distance and she had no option but to run behind him shouting out “Tim, Tim, come back here, sit, sit!!!”  attracting more than a fair share of curious stares from her fellow walkers in the 7.00 AM mist in the misty October Bangalore weather.

That was when she first saw him. He was the only person who actually did anything to help her out. The old man in his grey track suit briskly walked up beside Tim and grabbed his leash which was dragging beside him. He then went down on one knee and started scratching Tim below his chin and started talking to him. It turned out that Tim had taken a liking to retired Col. Stephen after all. By the time Sunita caught up and took Tim from him, the German Shepherd had started wagging his tail and was playfully running around the old man’s legs.

The colonel with a broad smile handed over the leash to her and asked her “Are you new around here? I am quite sure I wouldn’t have missed out on petting this wonderful friend of yours here all these days.” Sunita smiled and introduced herself – “Hi, I am Sunita, and yes, I moved in just yesterday.” The colonel took her outstretched hand, and with a firm handshake of a military man said “Retired Colonel Stephen Gonzalves. Welcome to Brigade Metropolis”.

That introduction was the beginning of a wonderful friendship between the single freelance technical writer, Sunita who worked from home all the time and the Colonel who also lived all alone. As luck would have it they were in the same block, although on different floors. However, it was convenient enough for them to drop into each other’s places every now and then to spend some time together chatting about common likes, watching World Cinema, cooking and eating lunch together and taking long walks in the lovely landscaped gardens of their integrated township.

For an ex-army man, the Colonel was fairly easygoing in nature. Although he did have a schedule that he liked to stick to, he wasn’t such a stickler to it. Every now and then he would break his own self-imposed rules to have a little fun on the side. And the fact that he didn’t take himself too seriously endeared him to Sunita quite a bit. For someone like her whose parents had died in a road accident when she was just 5 yrs old, he easily slipped into a fatherly figure and filled in a long-standing void in her life.

The Colonel himself had become a widower around 15 yrs ago when his wife had expired after a prolonged battle with cancer. He didn’t have any children, due to the fact that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer when she was barely 25 yrs old and the side effects of her treatment had affected her fertility. Despite that, they seemed to have enjoyed quite a fulfilling life, evidenced by the old photographs that he had kept in his apartment. In fact, staring at these photographs and playfully ribbing the Colonel was one of Sunita’s favorite pastimes whenever she came to his house. Although he couldn’t be classified as having Greek God looks, he was still handsome in his own way even today, and his old black and white photographs were strong evidence for the same.

One day when Sunita rang the bell, the Colonel opened the door and gave her a blank stare. It was almost as if he didn’t recognize her. At first she thought he was just playing a prank and she walked right into the apartment. He just blankly followed her into the living room and sat on the sofa. Almost a couple of minutes later, in which time Sunita had walked into the kitchen and started making some tea, he spoke up “Oh hi Suni, how are you?” She thought it was quite a funny joke and started laughing, and then forgot all about it.

And the frequency of similar incidents increased. Invariably she would find him searching for something or the other at home like his glasses, a particular photograph, the newspaper. And then she also started finding things in the funniest of places at his apartment like the day she found his Nike sneakers kept on top of his fridge. When she asked him about it, he seemed as surprised as she was and didn’t quite know how his shoes got there. By this time, she had also noticed small quirks in his behavior, the blank expression that he had on his face at times, the complete silence with which he used to stare into the distance at times.

At first she thought that the forgetfulness was due to his old age. What Sunita didn’t realize was that the Colonel was slowly but surely walking down the path of losing himself to Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia.

On September 21, 2013, she noticed an ad in the newspaper for Alzheimer’s Action Day 2013 and read the symptoms. It was only then that she suspected that the Colonel might have started walking down a path which had no end at all.

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Image courtesy : dreamstime.com

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This post has been written for Alzheimer’s Action Day 2013 which occurs on September 21, 2013. Requesting all readers to please go through the Wikipedia entry for this disease and equip yourselves with information about it.

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This post has also been written for the latest Three Word Wednesday prompt where the post had to include the words, easygoing, fact and handsome and that is the reason that these words are specifically highlighted in the post.

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This post has been selected as one of Blogadda’s Spicy Saturday Picks on 12-Oct-2013.

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Colorful presence of mind


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Scene: Forest ranges, Wayanad region, Kerala-Karnataka border

Hema had always loved wild animals. And the fact that she was the daughter of a Forest Officer meant that she always had the access to see them in their natural pristine glory untouched by the ravages of man. Although she didn’t differentiate between the various species, the grey elephants inhabiting the ranges in the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary were her favorites. In fact so much so, that during the winter holidays, she had decided that she would try and follow a herd of these wonderful pachyderms for a period of one week to understand and learn as much as she could about them.

Her father was extremely partial to her whims and fancies as she was an only child. He therefore applied for leave and they decided to rough it out in the wild for a week following the herd as closely as they could. The two of them equipped themselves with a pair of good binoculars and followed the herd from a safe distance using as little of her father’s Forest Department jeep as possible. The jeep driver was given instructions to follow their trail using known jeep paths through the forest without disturbing any of the other wildlife in the region, while the duo tracked the herd on foot.

Today, the herd was grazing very close to the highway which passed through the sanctuary.

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Scene: Kozhikode Kollegal Mysore Highway, near the Forest Checkpost, Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary

The only solace that Soma had from his daily drudgery was his liquor. His job as a sweeper, cleaner and general odd jobs man at the Forest Checkpost barely paid him enough to feed him twice a day. And to add to his woes, his incessant drinking habit had ensured that he had taken loans from pretty much all his acquaintances in the region and most of his days were spent hiding from one lender after the other.

Today it was Bheemanna’s turn to be fooled by Soma. Although Bheemanna had seen Soma sweeping the leaves and other garbage from the Forest Office on to the small path in front from a distance, by the time he had reached the Forest Office, the garbage had all been stacked up neatly on the side of the road and Soma was missing.

Taking advantage of the natural camouflage provided by his green uniform, Soma, who had seen Bheemanna approaching had hidden himself in the woods adjoining the highway and decided to wait it out. When Bheemanna did not go away, he decided to take a nap given that his hands were aching after having to sweep that substantial stack of garbage in the morning.

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Scene: Bus on Kozhikode Kollegal Mysore Highway approaching the Forest Checkpost

The driver Das was extremely sleepy considering that he had pretty much been driving for almost 30 hours non-stop now. The only break he had was between his earlier trip and this one for around 10 mins, when he barely got time to go to the rest room to relieve himself.

Although he was clad in his spotless white uniform and was driving a shiny new Neptune Blue bus, he wasn’t quite in his senses today. If he was, he would have realized that he was driving in the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and wouldn’t have been speeding so much given the regulations about driving in this region. Added to this was the fact that this was a brand new Volvo Bus and he wasn’t quite used to all the additional controls that the company had fitted in this model. He was yet to come to terms with the excessive acceleration that the bus provided when he drove it, and was invariably speeding given his experiences with his earlier bus where had to push down on the accelerator pedal reasonably hard for it to move faster.

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The huge stack of leaves and other organic garbage adjoining the side of the road was too tasty a treat for the herd of elephants to miss. While the elderly matriarch allowed the herd to approach to the leaves, it also ensured that it kept an eye out for any dangers, as it knew from past experiences that this stretch of land was inhabited by humans and thus was a natural threat to them.

One little elephant calf which was only 3 weeks old was in an unusually playful mood today and unmindful of the dangers was running back and forth from the herd to the woods across the highway. Although the matriarch grumbled and snorted her disagreement with this behavior, the young one was in too playful a mood to comply.

Hema and her father were at the back of their jeep, gazing at these elephants from a distance when she first noticed the bus speeding down slope on the highway. It was driving way beyond the allowed speed limit within the sanctuary and was headed straight for the herd. Hema’s father could make out it was a bus only because of its shiny xenon headlamps which were on.

Das was taking a small nap at the wheel, and given the relatively bad visibility on that day due to the incessant dew in the air, he could not see the elephant herd directly in his path. He was too sleepy even to notice the speed at which he was driving.

Hema immediately did the first thing that occurred to her. She took one of the red flares that were always kept in her father’s jeep to be used as a distress signal in case of any danger on a safari, and lit it up. The flare immediately lit up with a bright red flame which was visible for at least 45-50 feet away. She then asked the driver of the jeep to drive as fast as he possibly could towards the herd, and in the direction of the oncoming bus.

Her intention was two-fold, one, to try and scare away the herd whose natural reaction would be to retreat within the woods as soon as they can, and two, to try and slow down the bus as well. If either one of these worked, a disaster would be averted.

The jeep driver was an old hand at driving these jeeps, and he had vast experience in driving in this terrain. He immediately got the jeep off the highway and started driving on one side of the road in the dirt. He drove on the side opposite to which the elephants were grazing while honking, which ensured that the herd not only saw the flare but also heard the horn. Alarmed and dazed by this sudden commotion, the herd retreated into the woods in a hurry.

Jolted awake by the horn, Das also saw the red flare through the fog and immediately slowed down. When he saw that it was a Forest Ranger’s jeep, he brought the bus to a halt near them.

Thus, Hema’s presence of mind had averted an accident which although would have only made it to the local newspapers as a small news item which people would have anyway conveniently ignored, like these news articles [Link 1] [Link 2]

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This post is written as part of the Write Over the Weekend initiative for Indian bloggers by Blogadda. This week’s theme was to use five colors which would form an integral part of the post and that is why the colors have been highlighted specifically in this post.

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This post is one of Blogadda’s WoW Picks for the weekend of 15-Sep-2013.

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Divided by a line


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Although I had made the approximately 24 hr trip from San Francisco to New Delhi quite comfortably changing over flights at Frankfurt airport (a true example of extraordinary German efficiency and engineering), the last leg of the journey was what was giving me nightmares.

Being born to the parents of immigrant Pakistanis who had migrated to India during the partition of 1947 was something that I had learnt to live with quite early in life. Kids in the Old Delhi neighborhood where we stayed used to call me a ‘muhajir’ which I learnt much later on in life was not quite as normal a term as I thought it was. It was a term which literally meant “immigrant” in Arabic and was used relatively derogatorily for people like us who had supposedly abandoned our homeland and had moved to another country. But then, was Pakistan another country, was it separate from India, wasn’t it the political cunningness of The Mountbatten Plan which basically just drew The Radcliffe Line on the map of the subcontinent and separated brothers, friends and kinsmen from each other.

My grandparents and parents had a lot of familial ties with people from Punjab, India. My great grandfather was born and brought up in Amritsar and had migrated to Lahore only due to the fact that the firm he worked for – Redington Typewriters had shifted its base of operations to Lahore. He was their star salesman having bagged many a corporate order from the British Govt. for the firm and therefore, the perks offered by the company for him to relocate to Lahore was just too tempting for him to ignore.

My grandfather was born and brought up in Amritsar and had to change schools when he was in high school due to this relocation. My grandmother was someone who once again was born in Jallandar, Punjab and moved to Lahore after her marriage. Back in those days, they didn’t have a Pakistan or a Hindustan, it was just one home, one people. Despite various  statements by leading politicians of the day to the contrary, all Muslims and Hindus loved each other and lived as one. They stood together shoulder to shoulder and fought the mighty yoke of the oppressive British Empire.

And then I was born in 1945. Yes, I am a Pakistani virtue of the fact that I was born in Lahore, but the fact remains that when the subcontinent was split apart in the biggest political divorce of its times, my father made a choice. Although he had been born and brought up in Lahore all his life, he made a tough choice to leave behind all he knew and move to India. He took this decision primarily because he truly believed that forming a country purely on the basis of religious affinity was not good in the long run and he was too broad-minded to live with that kind of thinking.

When I completed by graduation in 1967, I had secured enough marks and my father had earned enough to allow me to pursue further studies in the US of A. after I completed my post graduation there, I managed to get a job in one of the leading engineering companies at Detroit and settled down there. By this time two wars had happened between both the countries that I considered home, India and Pakistan, the first in 1965 and the second in 1971. Both of these events distressed my father so much that he requested that he move in with me. I immediately agreed and both my parents joined me a Detroit.

In early 1974, just a few months ago, my father passed away due to a prolonged illness brought upon by his chain smoking habit. One of his last wishes was his corpse be burnt and that his ashes strewn in the Ravi river, which flows on the boundary of India and Pakistan. He had spent quite a few childhood days playing on the banks of this river and enjoyed a deep sentimental attachment to it.

Here I was in New Delhi, with my father’s remains, contemplating the rest of the journey. I then took a taxi to Amritsar, the city closest to Lahore on the Indian side. Despite the innumerable potholes, cows on the road and the lumbering bullock carts, the faithful Ambassador and its Sardar driver ensured that I made it to Amritsar in good time. The last 30 odd kms of the journey from Amritsar to Lahore would sap all of my emotional energy. While I was fit physically, the death of my father and the subsequent sorrowful reticence of my mother had shaken me up mentally. I had never seen her so contemplative in my life before and this last task that my father had asked me to perform was testing me like no other.

On the way to Lahore from Amritsar, the driver stopped near a small town called Sarhad on the Grand Trunk Road. He told me to take a chai break as this would be the last stop before the Pakistan border and that the border formalities would take a good two hours, which effectively meant that we would have to go hungry for that period of time. As I stepped out of the taxi, I was greeted by a small boy “Namaste saab, chai ke saath kuch pakore bhi doon kya?” (Namaste sir, shall I give you some pakoras with the tea?). I nodded my assent and also quite enjoyed the savor snack.

Onwards, after clearing the formalities at the Atari Border Checkpost, after a good three hours, when we drove across the border into Pakistan, I couldn’t quite figure out why there existed so much animosity between the two countries. Everything looked the same to me, the sunflower patches, the wheat fields, the bullock carts, the friendly people. All of it looked the same to me.

As it was nearing nightfall, the driver stopped at a dhaba near Manawan town, once again on the Grand Trunk Road for dinner. Here as well, I was accosted by a small boy “Salaam saab, khane mein kya doon?” (Salaam sir, what will you have for food?).

Everything was still the same. Only the Namaste had changed to Salaam, that’s all.

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This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. This weekend’s post had to include the words Salaam and Namaste and that’s why these words have been specifically highlighted.

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Image courtesy: Wikipedia

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This post has been picked by Blogadda as one of the WoW posts of the weekend of 08-Sep-2013.

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The “funny” prank


WriteOverWeekend

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. This week’s prompt is to write a post with the usage of the words earphones, cough syrup and prank.

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Rustomjee Pestonjee (RP) had been staying in The Wilson Garden Old Age Home for the past 15 yrs now.

Ever since he had that fall in the bathroom around 16 odd yrs ago and bumped his head, his hearing had been affected. For the first few days, the doctors thought that his hearing will be back to normal, but as time went by, they prescribed earphones connected to a hearing device which could be kept in RP’s shirt pocket. Despite the earphones, his hearing did not improve all that much and people still had to repeat their words, and loudly most of the time to enable him to hear them and respond. While his wife and children dealt with it gracefully initially, they finally ended up in putting him in the old age home. After all they were also human and their patience also had its limits.

Life at the home was not that bad and RP did not have any hard feelings against his wife and kids. He understood the problems caused due to his inability to hear well. In fact he enjoyed life at the home that much more after he made two new friends there – Madhav Menon (MM) and James Hunt (Jim).

In fact the three of them had so much fun at the home that the rest of the inmates dubbed them the “unholy trinity”, given their penchant for breaking almost all the rules of the home and doing things which completely went against the grain of what others their age were doing. From late night jaunts at the nearby dhaba and bar, to playing crazy pranks on the other inmates, the fun quotient and enthusiasm of the unholy trinity was so much that it contributed a lot to the entire home being a fun place to be in.

On Independence Day, RP decided to enjoy the lovely monsoon weather of Bangalore and took the small walk down the road to the Lalbagh Gardens very close to their home. Once in the garden, RP got a little worked up and started pacing up and down the walking track unmindful of the gentle drizzle. Given the fact that RP hardly had any hair left on his scalp and the fact that he had forgotten to carry his umbrella, he was almost completely drenched by the time he finished his walk and got back to the home. Quite naturally, one thing led to another and by lunch time on that day, he had the sniffles and by tea time on the same day, he had a severe throat infection as well. As if his lack of hearing was not bad enough, he now could not talk as well. His entire life was like a silent movie now.

Now, MM and Jim were the best of friends with RP and sympathized with his situation, but they were also mischievous enough to realize that this was a golden opportunity to play some memorable pranks on RP, given his situation.

When they bought RP his medicines they added an additional special cough syrup bottle to the mix. Post dinner, when it was time for RP to have his medicines, they ensured that they kept a safe distance from RP.

When he lifted the cough syrup bottle RP’s initial reaction was that the bottle seemed empty, but then, he was too tired and dazed from his sniffles and throat infection that he didn’t pay too much attention to it. This bottle was nothing like any medicine bottle that RP had ever seen. It was dark, small and was sealed with a rubber cork. When he opened the cork, he immediately smelt something sweet and in the next 30 odd seconds, he started laughing uncontrollably. Despite the fact that he was in reasonable discomfort due to his throat infection, he simply couldn’t control his laughter.

Earlier MM and Jim had gone to a chemist that they used to frequent and had asked him for a favor. They asked him to bottle up his most potent Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) and seal it with a rubber cork. They then bought a small cough syrup bottle and carefully peeled the label and stuck it on the bottle with the laughing gas.

Funnily enough after around one continuous hour of laughing uncontrollably, RP had managed to spit out enough phlegm that was accumulated in his throat and as a result his throat infection seemed to have cleared up. And the fact that his laughter was accompanied by tears as well meant that most of his sniffles had also vanished. Therefore, despite the fact that MM and Jim had played quite a nasty prank on him, they had also unwittingly helped RP get rid of his cold and sore throat.

After all, that’s what friends were for, right…

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This post has been selected as one of Blogadda’s WoW Picks of the week on 26-August-2013.

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