Friday, April 11, 2008

Monsieur Murphy’s Laws

This is a long post… so sit back and grab a glass of whatever your poison is.

I first got to know about Murphy in Calcutta at what used to be the annual Book Fair on the Maidan. I say “used to be” because this year there was no book fair thanks to pseudo-environmental wrangling between the guild that hosts it and the Army on whose land we used to spend hours every day of that last week of January when the book fair would bring the city to a halt (even the political demonstrators paused for those days). I had a knack of spotting odd titles and Murphy’s Law became part of my collection. Over the years, my admiration for the man grew as I found hundreds of his laws applying to the weird situations I’d land up in. I even made some of my own…

And then, Murphy came back to me with a vengeance over the last few days.

It started last Saturday.

I’d requisitioned a Blackberry despite my aversion to the damn thing, as I was to fly out of the country on Monday morning and didn’t want to be without the office email (the laptop data card I have works only in India because no one has bothered to cater to a Mac user). Unwilling to be faced with another five-digit bill from Vodafone in less than two months (a three-day conference in Thailand in February had set me back by over Rs 18,000!) I thought I was being smart. My secretary had compared tariffs of Vodafone and Matrix (who have been doing some splendid advertising lately) and reached the conclusion that I wouldn’t save too much. Damn Swapan, I muttered… his agency’s ads were a delight to read but it looked like here was a repeat of a brand being better than the service offered.

The Blackberry that was handed over to me on Friday was temperamental. It refused to connect to the GPRS network without warning and I was left holding an ugly, unreliable object. The office replaced it on Saturday morning with another, even uglier looking piece. It took me 15 minutes to realise why its previous owner had orphaned it: the click-wheel wouldn’t work. I could scroll down with difficulty but not go up. So, there I was with all the mails downloading beautifully but not accessible. Frustrated I was. And increasingly paranoid.

Even my boss – among the wealthiest in the land – counselled me and suggested I check out Matrix. So I did and called dear Swapan. It is Saturday evening now and I am getting irritated that the last few hours I have are being wasted in stupid logistics. But Swapan is true to his word and so is his client. Kunal from Matrix calls back and assures me he’ll meet me Sunday morning.

I reach office at 11 am on Sunday. And Murphy strikes again.

An untrained office maintenance worker has accidentally pulled the plug on a UPS that leads to several servers going down – including the one that hosts the email. So, no office email – not on the Blackberry, not on the Mac, not on the Internet. Twiddle, twiddle…

But the Matrix man arrives and takes over. He has an engineer somewhere on standby who gets on to the phone and guides him meticulously through the set-up (it’s the first Mac installation Kunal is doing) and, after one aborted attempt and forty minutes into the process, the data card comes alive. Bye-bye Blackberry! The office technicians haven’t even surfaced – they have bigger problems to fix. Then Kunal explains why their country-specific SIM cards are more economical and I am convinced. Two cards are handed over and it looks like my problems are over.

Hold on… the credit card authorisation Matrix requires as a backup doesn’t go through. I have a 5-lakh rupee limit on this card and we can’t get 15,000 authorised! Murphy works Sundays too. It does happen eventually but not before some more calls are made and pressure vessels ruptured.

I head home and all is well.

Monday morning at the airport is glitch-free. The 9 am Lufthansa flight to Paris via Munich takes off finally at 10.10 thanks to Delhi’s air-traffic jams. Does Murphy have a Shengen visa too, I wonder? Is he following me?

Midway into the flight, I drop my co-passenger’s tomato juice on his video remote control – a minor disaster compared to what follows.

The flight lands at Munich at 2.20 pm – an hour late. And I have just 10 minutes to make it to the connecting Paris flight. Immigration takes a while and I run with an 8-kg handbag in true Microsoft Corporate Challenge style, dodging trolleys, kids and duty-free shoppers (looks like a nice airport that’s blurring by). I am the last person to make it – in the nick of time. And I am exhausted.

Paris airport. Baggage belt no 1… no bag though. I made it to the connecting flight, the suitcase didn’t. So much for the fabled German efficiency. Claim forms are filled and the first Parissiene I am talking to assures me in her condescendingly official way that I will get my bag that night itself. It is Monday evening and the conference I have come for starts at 9 am Tuesday. I tell myself never to wear jeans, a denim shirt and sneakers on an international flight and to carry a spare change of clothes. I am so worn out now that I cannot find the energy to figure out the bus/train to town and opt for the more expensive but less stressful taxi.

The rest of that evening – what’s left of it – passes incident-free in the hotel room itself. It is the second time I am in Paris; alone. And I am too worried to try and explore the city or any of its cafes.

Before turning in, I try Lufthansa again. Big mistake… Now there’s a man at the other end who chides me for assuming my bag would come that night. “Tuesday” he growls. And I set out to find a grocer who will sell me a basic toilet kit so that I can brush and shave (this hotel is a tiny boutique hotel that offers free wi-fi broadband but no shaving kit – and no one’s figured out a website yet that’ll clean you up and make you look presentable). Sleep comes fitfully and I am up at 5 am wondering what to do. Having slept in my underwear, I am prepared to turn them inside out and wear them again (no clothes could be bought at night ’cause no shops were open) but I am already feeling dirty and disgusted with life. I have no clothes, no cell-phone charger… so I go down to ask the hotel if they have one. And voila! I am told that my suitcase had arrived at some unearthly hour – why they didn’t send it up is a mystery but it would have saved me some stress.

So I hurriedly bathe and change into fresh clothes and look presentable enough, thank you. Murphy leaves me alone that Tuesday – perhaps he’s a Hanuman devotee and this is his Sabbath.

(This post is not about Paris so don’t look for anything to do with my stay there. Ok?)

Wednesday dawns and I am wondering why the red thread on my wrist (acquired from a temple some weeks ago) isn’t warding off the evil eye. Even the suitcase had a red ribbon (for easy identification) on its handle. Perhaps I should switch to black threads and ribbons.

Murphy strikes again! The email data on my Mac in a program called Entourage (an Outlook equivalent) disappears! Data binding and backup happens on its own but I cannot find my mails…it’s there somewhere on this machine but I’ve just about had it!

The conference ends on Tuesday and I wander around seeing parts of Paris I’d missed earlier. No further encounters with Murphy that day.

Thursday dawns and I checkout; the receptionist guides me to a bus depot nearby and I drag the suitcase, buy a 13 euro ticket and board the bus to the airport. One hour is what I was told… along the highway I see a sign that indicates Charles de Gaulle airport is in the direction this bus is not taking. “Don’t be paranoid,” I chide myself. I’d asked three people, including the bus driver – a tall dark Moroccan I think. But the anxiety grows as the city gets left behind and the countryside appears… I walk across to the driver to confirm and he is aghast! The bus is not going to CDG Terminal 1 but to some place called Beauvais… I’m doomed. He points to a sign on the front of the bus – except that I’d approached it from the side while boarding. Beauvais has a tiny airport and that’s where he’s headed. I’m now cutting it fine and frantic calls to the office tell me I can catch another flight four hours later but I have to make it to the right airport first!

I grab the only cab at Beauvais airport, the driver discards his coffee and we set off again… 80 kms, 45 minutes and 117 euros later I reach CDG. In time. But I’ve lost money, many heartbeats and a few years of my life.

So much for Paris. I’m not coming back. Not alone, at least.

1 comment:

Two With Nature said...

:) Shakespeare's words - alls well that ends well...