I have been trying desperately to join a club in Bangalore where I could swim as well as use the gym and tennis facilities. The obvious selection criteria was distance as everyone who's been here knows about the traffic. I found one where my uncle is a member and went to talk to the President of the club. I found out that a scheme called a temporary long term membership existed which was for a whole 3 years. The expense was much lower than a permanent long term sentence..sorry..membership. However, the President was all for coaxing me into getting the permanent membership, and after hearing my plaintive attempts at bringing up the significant cost differential, finally gave up and agreed to the temporary membership. This happened while he summarily said a goodbye right in the middle of my sentence where I was trying vainly to come up with a good justification of why I did not want to spend the extra $6000.
A little bit of description of the exalted abode is in order. For one, you cannot go upto this executive floor (2nd) unless you are wearing pants. Anything a centimeter above a normal pair of pants prevents entry into the hallowed halls. Once you have survived this key hurdle, you are allowed to enter the President's inner chamber. This is a large room (can probably accommodate about 20 people easily) with a mighty desk and the President sits in a big comfortable chair behind it. There are a few uncomfortable chairs lined up facing him. Numerous sheets of paper and different colored files lie on the table in haphazard order. A curious object resembling a large matchbox turns out to be a beeper which alerts the staff that the President needs someone in the room right away. This object is made of polished wood with an impressive antenna to boot. The fact that all the Presidential staff are within talking range is irrelevant.
The first part of the process involves getting the application form. There are numerous details to be filled out in the form including long forgotten nuggets of information like when did you last cheat in an exam, or how many dogs have you stoned etc. The form requires a photograph to be attached and it has to be mandatorily of yourself. Hints of chauvinism surfaced when my wife, ever the aggressive one, grabbed the form and started filling it out. The President, recovering smartly from the shock of a woman filling out the form, quickly restored the status quo by saying that it's better that the man of the house do the honors and anyone in the family can use the facilities after that.
The completed form then had to be signed by three existing members who have been members in good standing for at least 5 years and they have not already signed a form for another new applicant. My enterprising nephew located three such members in a few days time, staking out the club at the appropriate times and obtained the all important signatures.
This done, we had to make another trip to the office of the President. Not an easy task considering that it is the President that we are talking about. One enquiry during his office hours led to a response that he was busy in the bar. We were unable to fathom that one. After a few days, we were granted an appointment to meet the President.
We should have realized that this was not going to be a routine evening, when, as we drove into the club parking lot, the watchman raised one leg while saluting us.
Since it had been a while since he had graced us with his presence, he had forgotten us (one cannot be expected to remember all the lowly mortals you come in contact with) and promptly handed us another new form. Once we had established that we were there only to get the final signature, he demurred, and again enquired why I was not taking the full-time long-term life time till-death-do-we-part membership. Despite me speaking the local language fluently, he insisted on talking in English. His words, and I quote verbatim "Temporary membership is three years. After three years, you should not feel". After a few more attempts, he finally caved in, again. He then used his trusty buzzer to summon a hapless assistant who had probably forgotten to go home. He enquired of this person as to what the cost was for a temporary membership. The assistant gave him a number. This was met by a cold stare and an immediate outburst (in English) of "If you don't know, shut up. Don't use your imagination". Not really picking up the thread of the conversation (probably because he didn't understand a word of English), the assistant meekly left the office. The President, now obviously pleased with his command of the English language, then turned to me and asked me which part of the US I lived in. On hearing 'Phoenix', he viciously turned on my nephew and asked if I was bringing him Phoenix shoes regularly. All this while, I was trying to make a quiet getaway and eyeing the door wistfully. However, this new line of conversation did not allow me such liberties. My nephew made a few conciliatory sounds on the shoes but Mr. President insisted that there was a world famous factory in Phoenix aptly named 'Phoenix Shoes'. I nodded my head vigorously hoping to continue my escape plans but now my nephew got into the act and vehemently denied the existence of any such shoe brand, let alone a factory in Phoenix. A stalemate quickly developed, and the Vice President, who also happened to be sitting there attempted to put an end to the 'Phoenix Shoe Factory' debate. Not succeeding, he sullenly gave up and we used this opportunity to pull a Houdini on them.
Walking out, we were met by the recently yelled at assistant. First he informed us that we should have talked to him before going in to the Oval Office. Somehow, we were supposed to know that we needed to hand this form to some random person in the outer office. Suitably chastised, we enquired if we could pay the check and get a receipt as the President had told us that though it takes a week to process, he, in his magnanimity, would add a note to the receipt that would enable us to avail of the facility from the very next day. Looking back, that was the turning point, where things took an even more confusing turn.
The assistant, let's call him Ramachandra (so we dont keep calling him by the shorter & easier generic term of assistant), explained that he would not be able to give the receipt immediately. Nonplussed, we asked why. He proceeded to explain that if he gave us the receipt immediately it would be more expensive but if we came by the next day, it would be the same cost. Our befuddlement exponentially rising, we requested further clarification. Supremely confident of his stand, Ramachandra took out a sheet of paper, mumbled something incomprehensible and wrote down a list of numbers which he added up. This came to a much lower amount than the check we had ready. My nephew, valiantly trying to keep pace asked for the purpose of all these numbers as we already had the required amount written on the check. Ramachandra, a wily veteran, would have none of that and came up with another different set of numbers which came out to be higher than the check amount. He then called his own assistant, a dumb looking teenage kid who looked completely disinterested in the proceedings. We continued our lost thread of requiring the signature of the President so we could use the facilities the next day. Ramachandra was riled at this and asked what we wanted to use. He said we could go use the bar right away. We gently reminded him that our intent was to improve our physical fitness, use the pool and the tennis court and we really didnt need the bar. By this time, Ramachandra was very worked up. He yelled at his assistant to go bring the bar owner. Once he heard from us that we wanted to use the other facilities, he continued yelling at his assistant to bring the pool in-charge, tennis court in-charge, gym in-charge. Before he could summon the entire working staff of the club, we stopped him and assured him that we realized the extent of his powers but we really didnt need to see all these people. Interestingly, amidst all these commands, Ramachandra's assistant had not budged an inch from his vantage point. My nephew also made a point that Monday was a holiday and all the denizens summoned were not going to show up. This was met by an impressed stare by Ramachandra and a look in the eye which bespoke admiration for a worthy adversary.
We still did not have our receipt. Finally, he assured us that we could get it the next day at 10 a.m. and asked us to leave the form and check with him. Once I gave him the check, he drew two lines across the top left corner with a flourish and proclaimed that the check was now crossed. As we didn't look very impressed, he showed us the form and explained that he knew all about our application and the adminstrative areas of the form were written in his handwriting. For the full effect, he held up the form aloft pretty similar to how one would hold up an Olympic gold medal at the podium. He repeated in hushed tones that it was indeed his handwriting. My nephew and I were unable to muster the admiration that was obviously expected and Ramachandra put down the form in some disgust and asked us to return the next day for the receipt.
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