“You guys think I am a naive piece of shit, don’t you?” Babu screamed adjusting his spectacles and grooming his non-existent moustache. We didn’t know how to react. Of all the guys in the gang, we knew only Babu could be convinced to do it. Dilip Nair, consummate salesman and super star of Tata Press Yellow Pages (TPYP), coughed into his chubby fist and stepped forward. We knew right then that if Nair couldn’t convince Babu, no one else could.
“We have a unique situation, do you agree Babu?” Nair said.
“Ngotha, what unique! You guys just want-”
“Answer my question.”
“I don’t know-” Babu said.
Nair looked at us. The Pantry at the TPYP office was a narrow space. With the five of us inside, it was house-full there. Nair drew his chair closer to Babu’s.
“Don’t you hate them? Those M&N bastards?” Dilip said.
“I do. Because of them, selling has been tough in Tambaram and-”
“Yes. And, tonight we will be sharing the party location with them.”
M&N was our competitor. They published Yellow Pages along with the White Pages and called themselves ‘Official’. And, they offered credit. We didn’t. Barely a couple of years old, the only thing that worked in our favour was the ‘Tata’ name. Almost every TPYP salesman had a story, back in 1996, on how the M&N guys screwed them over. Customers, those with a wicked sense of humour, would call both TPYP and M&N salesmen at the same time and watch as they fought over whose product was the best. There had been instances where the competing salesmen stepped out of the client’s and fought on streets.
And, this new year’s, by a strange quirk of fate (and demand for party halls), both TPYP and M&N teams were sharing the party hall at Picnic Plaza in Luz Corner. There were a few angry reactions. “I am not going if those bastards are going to be around!” Said some. But Jaideep, who was Babu’s mentor and adventurer par excellence, came up with a brilliant idea: what if we dressed up Babu as a girl and unleash him on them?
I liked it. So did Dilip and Rajesh. But, we decided that we won’t force Babu into it. He should do it on his own volition. You know what that means right? Coming from salesmen? Babu was new to the job. He was barely 3 months old on the job. And, he was in awe of Dilip, Rajesh, and Jaideep and his boss Pratap ‘bulldog’ Pandit. Their team was the best and they were a bunch of mean salespeople.
“Here you are with the opportunity of a lifetime to extract revenge. Tell me now. Yes or no?” Nair was moving in on the ‘Close’.
Babu was a little confused but the smart guy that he is, he said,
“Why me but? Why can’t you or anyone else do it?”
I liked the idea of Nair dressing up. I mean we called him ‘Shakila’ for nothing.
“All of us have facial hair. You don’t.” Nair said.
“What the fuck? Are you telling me I look like a girl?” Babu thundered, stroking his non-existent goatee.
You could have heard a pin drop. We thought that was that. No vendetta. Only Vendekka.
“We all are girls. Haven’t you heard of Shiva and Shakti?” Nair squeaked… and continued. “The thing is, at the end of the party, you get to tell them ‘suck on this you bastards’ and change into a lungi or whatever you think exemplifies your manliness.”
Babu stared at us. And after what seemed like a year, said, “Okay!”
It was as easy as that. One of the girls, I think it was Sudha, went home and got Babu a Salwar. The girls did the make-up on him. Some basic stuff: lipstick, blush, etc.
So at around 8:30 in the evening on December 31st 1996, when Babu stepped out of the rest room, we were stunned. Minus the specs, and with the make up on, he was looking like a hot girl.
So the onus of transporting the hot chick to the party hall was on me. As my KB-100 rolled into Mount Road, Babu got into his character. Partly because of men being men, hooting at a girl on a bike, passing lewd comments and so on. So Babu started waving to the boys on the road. And somewhere in Royapettah, he hugged me tight. So I had a retinue of an Auto and three bikers, constantly howling and hooting at Babu, who was now jutting his non-existent bosom at them.
I parked my bike in the Picnic Plaza basement. Babu jumped off it and said, “Why were they all so excited and behaving like monkeys on drugs?” I just smiled, and said, “Welcome to the woman’s world da!”
The Party hall was already crowded. One half of it was ours. At the start, Babu sat in one corner with the girls. After about an hour, he was dragged to the dance floor: the common dance floor.
A couple of guys from the opposite camp started dancing in front of Babu who was dancing like it was a funeral. Soon, another M&N guy got Babu a non-alcoholic beverage. Or so he claimed, because, right after that Babu was dancing around in a whirl, doing ‘jhatkas’. Soon, a sizeable bunch of M&N guys were around him.
Soon Babu ran towards us. He looked dazed.
“What happened?” I asked him.
“The paper fell down because of that guy…” He said.
And Babu pointed to his chest.
“What the hell? When did you do that da?” I was stunned.
“Jaideep only said…”
“Lose it!” I yelled.
“The other one!”
So as a bunch of M&N guys shot furtive glances at Babu and me, Babu put his hand inside and pulled the paper ball out and tossed it up, and head-butted it.
The music was on, but not a single M&N guy moved. They were staring at Babu, with their mouths open. In fact one guy walked up to us and said in a gurgling voice, “Can I have your Pager number Babitha?”
“Babitha?” I said.
Babu nodded as he patted that guys face.
As we downed two more drinks, Babu ran back to us.
“I am done!” He said. “Those guys are getting violent!”
Someone screamed “Happy new year!” The crowd joined. There were hugs all around. And to our utter horror, Babu stood in the middle of the dance floor doing a seductive jig as he removed his Salwar.
The M&N guys were transfixed.
Beneath the Salwar was a shirt. With a ball-point pen tucked in its pocket.
A collective gasp exploded as Babu pulled his pants down, only to reveal his Genesis cotton trousers, fastened- no strangled- with a belt that went around his waist twice. Babu went into the loo to wipe his make up off, as one after another M&N guys walked up to us, mouths open, fingers pointing, words failing.
There were hi-fives all around.
“Happy new year!” babu cooed to the M&N guys. They laughed, nervously and walked away.
So, as we, the boys and girls were doing a post-mortem of the sequence of events just like how you would have dissected Sixth Sense, Babu walked up to us and said something poignant to the girls.
“How the hell do you manage, you girls? I couldn’t take it!”
He said that in 1997, and I still wonder. How the hell do you manage, you girls?
Happy new year!