The Touch When I got out of my bed this morning, I had this uneasy feeling that it was going to be a bad day. So when the doorbell rang, as I was settling down with the morning newspapers, I knew that I was going to open the door to some calamity. I just could not help marveling at my premonition when I saw Govindu at the door showing off his nicotine-stained teeth in a big smile. It had been almost six years since I had come across Govindu, the odd-jobs man of Presidency College. He used to work in the Geography Department of the college. Nobody had any clue as to the nature of his job at the college. In the mornings, he would be driving some hard bargain at the vegetable market for the leader of the Students’ Union; during the day he would be running errands for the affluent students that included delivering letters d’amor to the girls. Govindu’s advices in these matters came quite unsolicited but the students were always keen to hear his point of view. Their reckoning was that he had seen college romance for donkey’s years and hence should know what he was talking about. He undertook several assignments outside the college too, not merely for making an extra buck but also because it gave him access to people. For example, whenever there was a Cricket Test at the Chepauk grounds, you could see him selling an assortment of consumables, from groundnuts to score cards. He had the freedom to visit any stand in the sprawling stadium and we used to envy him for it. In the absence of TV those days, there used to be a scramble for tickets and we had to stand in the queues longer than we ever did at Tirupathi! We invaded the stadium armed with pillows and bed sheets in the previous night itself to ensure vantage seats. So the sight of Govindu moving unhindered from one stand to another always used to be a matter of utter envy. Govindu stood at my door with his disarming smile but I was quite cautious. I knew he had come for a touch but that did not bother me per se`. What really bothered me was how much it was going to be this time. He spoke of this and that, the usual gossip about the boys and girls of my time who would have, like me, become grandparents by now. It was surprising that the names of girls, who set my heart racing in my student days, just failed to register in my mind now! I was totally preoccupied with conjuring up various arguments to beat down Govindu to a reasonable sum. The bid started at fifty and, after a protracted negotiation, finally settled at twenty. At the crucial stage of the negotiation, there was even a hint of black mail from him when he mentioned a four-line poem that I wrote on the prima donna of the college. "I still preserve that piece of paper, sir", he told me, adding innocently, “I must show it to Amma (my wife) sometime." I thought it was quite unfair to conduct negotiations that way but Govindu had a notoriety for going to any extent to extract his pound of flesh. When the currency finally exchanged hands, my eyes became misty at having had to yield to such blatant blackmail. I tried to talk him into parting with that piece of paper that contained my only effort at writing poetry ever but he would not budge. Great sentimental value was the reason he adduced for holding on to it all theses years. After Govindu left, I settled down with the morning edition of The Hindu. The paper had a photograph of two immaculately dressed Heads of State shaking hands and exchanging shining leather briefs. The caption underneath the photo described the event as the signing of an agreement for providing a soft loan of a few thousand crores repayable in twenty years. It was extendable for further periods of multiples of twenty years at the borrowing country’s option. Every character in the photograph was beaming and it was difficult to make out who was giving the loan and who was the beneficiary. I remembered what Stephen Leacock, the eminent humorist, had to say about borrowing. According to him, nothing could be more humiliating than asking someone for a small hand loan repayable in full on the following salary day. Those of you, who are ardent fans of Wodehouse like me, would agree with Leacock’s view recalling the harrowing times the friends of Oofy Prosser had whenever they went to him for a touch! Borrowing becomes more and more dignified as the amount and period of the loan increase and when they reach astronomical proportion, the lenders queue up in front of the borrower's place soliciting attention. Of course, every rule has an exception. People like Govindu do behave like Heads of States irrespective of the size of the amount exchanging hands. And Govindu’s loans are written off on the day they are granted! The same rule applies to tips also. In this case, we always treat with great respect bearers of Star hotels who would not accept low tips. At the same time, we treat with scant respect bearers who accept a paltry sum as tips when we should be feeling grateful to them for not causing any serious dent on our purses. In some ramshackle restaurant in George Town, you would throw a rupee coin disdainfully and the bearer would grab it with grateful tears in his eyes. But at Dakshin of Park Sheraton, you would pull out a hundred from you purse and clutch it nervously wondering if you might hurt the bearer with such a paltry tip. You would make it two hundred finally but still wouldn't look at the face of the bearer. Good you didn't for if you did, you would have been felled by his look of contempt.