How An Extra Leg-Piece Once Saved Hamid Anees’s Life
Hamid Anees looked like any other boring man who worked at a boring bank. He wore the same four khaki safari suits to work every day for thirty years, his hair, as black as it was when he first stepped foot into the State Bank of India on Lattice Bridge Road, Chennai, and his comb, the same one used to brush his moustache with for the larger part of three decades, rested in the front pocket of his shirt.
Hamid Anees was not a man of much regret. For instance, he did not regret taking the Bank Exam in the summer of 1988. If it weren’t for that, he would have probably taken over his father’s medical store in the small coastal town of Tutricorin. But here he sat, behind the grand counter of the State Bank of India on Lattice Bridge Road, Chennai, advising customers about their bank balances, asking them to sign properly on their cheques, informing them about increasing interest rates. Sure, it wasn’t the most glamorous job, but in ten years time, he would retire and earn a pension for the rest of his life.
Yet, when the clock above his counter, next to the portrait of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi struck three, he found himself squirming sitting behind his counter. He felt the tiniest pang of regret. Just a tickle. And then it started creeping in, and kept creeping in, and before he knew it, he was swimming in an ocean of regret— the kind of regret one only feels three hours after eating a chicken leg-piece too many at lunch.
‘Neha?’ he looked behind. ‘NEHA?’ he repeated, with trembling hands and fear in his eyes, silently swallowing a burp.
‘Yes, Hamid sir?’ she appeared.
‘Can you cover for me?’
‘Of course, sir.’
‘I’ll just be five minutes,’ he said as he darted to the bathroom.
‘Are you going home now?’ Harini furrowed her eyebrows.
Aadittyaa and Harini stood outside a large wrought-iron gate, the words “ANNA UNIVERSITY (MAIN ENTRANCE)” beamed from a tacky florescent yellow banner hanging awkwardly across. For Chennai’s premier institution, aesthetics weren’t exactly top priority.
‘I can’t go back in,’ he said. He wasn’t wrong; as of fifteen minutes ago, Aadittyaa was banned from entering university for the next six months. ‘Bloody cameras,’ he muttered.
‘How are you going to tell your parents?’ Harini asked.
She had a point. How would he tell his parents? Harini had lived two doors away from Aadittyaa her whole life; she knew his parents would be shocked to find out that their son was suspended from university for hacking down closed circuit television cameras with an axe— he was a peaceful kid. They wouldn’t, however, be as surprised to find out that he got caught because he forgot to delete footage from the damaged cameras— Aadittyaa wasn’t exactly “cautious” or “intelligent”. Why would their oblivious, harmless son suddenly engage in an uncharacteristic act of destruction? No, Harini thought. He would have to explain right from the beginning, from that summer afternoon when the mercury soared to forty eight degrees and they sucked on orange icicles in his bedroom and watched V for Vendetta for the first ever time.
‘I don’t have to tell them anything,’ Aadittyaa said.
‘What if they find out?’
‘It’s in my past. And the past can’t hurt you anymore, unless you let it.’
‘Aadittyaa Aravind. Stop. Quoting. That. Fucking. Film.’
Aadittya glared at Harini. ‘Sorry, A,’ she rolled her eyes.
A for Aadittyaa, A for anarchy. He thought that was very clever. After all, he was now an anarchist. He was blissfully unaware of what anarchy was for the first nineteen years of his life, but that fateful summer evening, the one with the orange icicles and V for Vendetta, had changed his life.
Aadittyaa had not read much anarchic literature. In fact, it would be correct to say he had not read any anarchic literature. The sole material he had engaged with that covered the subject was V for Vendetta itself, but that did not stop him from founding the Anarchy Society at his university. Members would wear Guy Fawkes masks and all black outfits and march to the Karpagambal Temple every Thursday to steal a solitary shoe from pairs of shoes that devotees would leave outside. ‘It’s not about stealing shoes,’ Aadittyaa had declared to his recreational anarchist cult, ‘it’s about standing up for something.’
Stealing from outside the temple was a calculated decision too, if one could call Aadittyaa’s decisions that. He did not support organised religion, not since he watched V for Vendetta at least. He snickered at people who believed in religion or superstition— ironic, Harini thought. Most well off families happened to be superstitious, and Aadittyaa’s parents were no different.
When he was born, the family priest recommended naming him Aditya— Sanskrit for the sun god. However, the family numerologist believed that a name with eight to ten letters would lead to a longer life, and recommended Aadittya. This didn’t go down well with the family astrologer who felt it was imbalanced, and recommended adding another “a” at the end. Aadittyaa. You could never have too many A’s in a name. When he “discovered” anarchy and began to openly despise religion, as any form of hierarchy, it was no surprise to Harini that he did not want to be reminded of his name.
‘Are you going home now?’ she asked him and quickly glanced at her watch.
‘I don’t know...’
‘If you can’t go home, where will you go?’
Aadittya could not answer.
‘A! If you can’t go home, where wi—’ a ringing bell interrupted Harini. ‘I have a lecture now,’ she stepped back. ‘But text me.’ She turned around to walked towards the university building, and called out behind her shoulder. ‘Don’t do anything stupid!’
‘If I can’t go home’, Aadittyaa snickered, ‘I’ll go out with a bang.’
Today, Selvaraj Pandian graced the Thiruvanmyur watering hole, “FRIENDS WINES” with his presence. He did not grace these watering holes stocked with his presence often, certainly not at midday when they would still be stocked with alcohol. Those close to him would tell you that he barely graced anywhere with his presence. In fact, the employees at the toy store he ran would inform you that he hardly graced his own shop with his presence.
The sandy plastic chair clad south Chennai watering hole, on the other hand, was very accustomed to patrons gracing the dingy bar with their presence at midday, but rarely did they bring their dogs along. Selvaraj brought to the table, quite literally, a golden retriever— a breath of fresh air from the regular pack of cards, cigarettes, or revolver pistol.
He had company— a man with a receding hairline and a bushy moustache, wearing a white shirt, white trousers, and white sandals. His shirt was unbuttoned at the top, providing onlookers with a peek of his chunky gold chain and bed of chest hair.
‘What’s his name?’ the man asked Selvaraj, visibly amused at the dog.
‘You named your dog after a cat?’
‘After the cricketer, Laxmi, brother.’
Owning a toy store was never Selvaraj’s primary career choice. Many toy storeowners would inform you that it wasn’t their primary career choice either, and that they mostly ran toy stores solely for financial gain in order to feed their families and provide shelter. Not many get to do what they love and earn money from it, but Selvaraj did. Twenty-two years back, he was a tearaway pace bowler, like most eighteen year old aspiring cricketers were. It served him well— brought in enough money to feed his fledging family and provide shelter. But over the years he began to lose a bit of his fitness, a lot of his pace, and all of his hair; the money, too, started to dry up.
Let me clarify, Selvaraj never made it very big in cricket. He is not the kind of athlete you would tell tales about to your grandchildren; the kind who defied all odds, gravity, and the clutches of death to win games firmly lodged in the jaws of defeat. The highest level of cricket he would play would be the domestic test championship, the Ranji Trophy. He did play for his state Tamil Nadu for a decade and a half in the championship, but would never come close to the dizzying heights that West Indian 1970s all rounder Garfield “Gary” Sobers would touch. In fact, the closest he would come to Sobers would be naming his dog after him.
‘You wanted to be like Sobers when you were young?’ Laxmi scoffed.
‘My father wanted me to.’
‘Selvaraj Sobers,’ Laxmi chuckled, admiring his own wit.
Selvaraj still played cricket. No professional team would want a forty-year-old washed out athlete, but semi professional sides were more than happy to have older players with domestic experience. Selvaraj’s fifteen-year spell with the Tamil Nadu side was enough for him to be swooped by the local outfit The Titans; they weren’t The Titans of a specific place, or specific time, or of any other definable characteristic, but one would presume that they were called so because they were based in Thiruvanmyur. Thiruvanmyur Titans had a ring to it, but the wound up going only by The Titans. Whether this was a deliberate move or just an oversight on the owners’ end remains a story for another day.
‘Let’s cut to the chase,’ Laxmi said. ‘We both know why we’re here’
‘What do you mean?
‘You called me - I showed up.’
‘Yeah, I thought you just wanted a drink or something’
‘Some people drink at noon.’
‘You brought your dog along!’
‘Yeah, well, he gets lonely at home.’
Garfield yelped. Selvaraj was right. The dog did get lonely at home; he even took him to Titans games on match days. The Titans gig did not pay much. Selvaraj only earned ten thousand rupees every season, but he did not mind that. He only played cricket for the love of the game. For money, he fixed games. Not match fixing, good god, no! Nothing that compromised the outcome of a game; just smaller things, like wearing his sunglasses backwards, or shining the ball with a towel, or “accidentally” bowling wide balls. Local moneylenders like Laxmi would pay the cricketers in advance. They would bet on these petty, inconsequent outcomes, and sit on a fat wad of cash after the game.
‘How much money did I give you?’ Laxmi asked.
‘Thirty thousand rupees.’
‘And how many wide balls did I tell you to bowl?’
Laxmi gaped, bewildered. ‘I said three, Selva.’
‘I thought you’d said two this time.’
‘It’s always three. It’s been three for the last year and a half.’
‘I know, that’s why I thought you said two wides, you know, to change things up.’
Laxmi was dumbfounded.
‘I would tell you if I changed instructions, wouldn’t I?’
‘I don’t know, this one time my aunt Sujatha went to th—‘
‘I would tell you!’ Laxmi almost had tears in his eyes. ‘Selva, the money,’ he said, ‘I need it back.’
‘The thirty thousand. I lost it all betting on your stupid ass.’
‘What do you mean you can’t?’
‘I used it all to pay for my insurance.’
‘Your insurance?’ Laxmi looked at him blankly.
‘Yeah, you know, an arrangement by which a company or the state undertakes to provide a guarantee of compensation for specified loss, damage, illness, or death in return for payment of a specified premium.’
‘I know what an insurance is, Selvaraj Pandian!’
‘Then why’d you ask?’
‘I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t fucking believe this is actually happening!’
‘You have until five in the evening to return my money.’
Laxmi put his hand into his pocket and fished out a shiny, silver revolver pistol. He stroked the golden retriever.
‘You have until five. Or else, you’ll never see Garfield again.’
The sun shone off Laxmi’s gold chain into Selvaraj’s eyes. Garfield stared into space.
‘Four hours, forty five minutes, and fifteen seconds’, Laxmi said. ‘Fourteen’.
In a dimly lit basement in Thondaiyarpet, North Chennai, two men sat glued to the television, watching the Two O’Clock news. The taller of the two wore an ill-fitting suit, a bowler hat, and sunglasses, while the other man wore a school uniform. On the wall behind the television hung a poster of The Godfather, a life-size cutout of Tamil cinema villain Prakash Raj, and a map of Chennai. Empty cans of beer, banana peels, and a box of eggs lay littered on the centre table. There is a common saying in the broadcast industry— you watch the Two O’Clock news either because you work in news or because you have no work.
‘Gangster Dharmaraj arrested for attempting to rob Member of Parliament R Raja’s house,’ the anchor droned on. Even she did not want to be on the Two O’Clock news. No one wanted to be on the Two O’Clock news.
‘Gangster-a?’ the man in the suit sat up. ‘Dharmaraj-a?’
‘We’re bigger than him brother Pramod,’ the other man reassured him. ‘It’s just the Two O’Clock news. Only people with no work watch the Two O’Clock News.’
Mani would take offence if you told him he had no work. He would argue that he was sixteen years old and still at high school, and was not bound by societal pressure to be gainfully employed yet.
‘If fucking Dharmaraj is a gangster, we’re bigger gangsters,’ Pramod fumed.
‘We deserve to be on the news too, brother Pramod,’ Mani agreed.
Pramod, unlike Mani, did have work. Sure, “Gangster” wasn’t an option on the income tax form, and many accountants would inform you that gangsters seldom paid income tax, but there was no denying that being a gangster was hard work. Pramod liked it when people respected that, and that was perhaps what helped him strike a connection with Mani at a wannabe-gangsters-only-screening of The Godfather a year ago.
‘How do you manage all that work by yourself?’ Mani had asked.
‘I barely do, actually,’ he had responded. ‘I’m on the lookout for an assistant.’
‘I’ve always wanted to be a gangster’s assistant,’ the boy blushed, and so began a rather peculiar gangster-sidekick relationship.
Unlike Mani, Pramod did not idolize the idea of becoming a gangster. He wanted to be an actor— not any actor— he grew up watching Nambiar terrorise hapless protagonists, Nasser kidnap supporting actors and heroines, and Prakash Raj playing antagonists with enough conviction to be the most despised man in all of Tamil Nadu. Pramod did not want to be any actor; he wanted to be a Tamil film villain.
When he turned eighteen, he joined the gym and put on some muscle to support his six foot two inch frame. When he turned twenty-two, he began auditioning for villan roles in Tamil films, but after a year of wandering from set to set and audition to audition only to face rejection, he realised he would never bag a villan role. Not because of his obvious lack of acting talent— when had that been a problem in the Tamil film industry—but because of his inability to grow facial hair. What is a Tamil villain without a moustache? Nothing of significance, that’s what he is. He could go audition all he wanted, but he would never land a villan’s role without a moustache.
One fine day, when this finally dawned upon him, he bought a gun, put on his father’s wedding suit, and went around town committing petty crimes— picking pockets, charging hafta at the local market, occasionally even sending threats to celebrities and politicians. What he had not done yet, was appear on the news.
‘We deserve to be famous, brother,’ Mani sat up.
There was a glint in Pramod’s eyes. ‘Yes! Let’s kill someone!’
‘I don’t know, let’s just kill someone.’
‘Seems a bit much…’
Pramod rolled his eyes, ‘Then let’s rob a bank’
‘You mean you’ll rob a bank.’
‘We’re a team.’
‘I have geography in an hour at school’
‘Don’t go! You’re supposed to be my assistant, dammnit!”
‘Mrs. Sudha will call my parents if I don’t go.’
‘Shall we kill her?’ Pramod’s eyes sparkled again.
‘Alright,’ Pramod scowled. ‘Then we rob a bank.’
‘You’ll rob a bank,’ Mani corrected him.
‘Do you have any darts?’ Mani glanced at the map of Chennai on the wall.
Pramod shook his head.
Mani shrugged. ‘Okay,’ he said, and picked an egg up from the table. ‘Wherever this breaks on the map, drive there and rob the first bank you see.’
He threw the egg at the map, and it promptly splattered on impact. Pramod walked towards the map and rubbed the yolk, which was by now dripping to the floor, with his handkerchief.
‘Lettuce Bridge Road?’ he squinted.
‘Lattice,’ Mani corrected him.
‘Let us,’ Pramod winked.
‘Let you. I have geography!’
Aadittyaa, Selvaraj, and Pramod
It was five minutes past three o clock at the State Bank of India on Lattice Bridge Road, Chennai on a Friday afternoon. It was busier than a regular Friday afternoon. One of the two tellers’ counters was more crowded than usual; she informed a harried customer that this was because her veteran supervisor was occupied and she was covering for him. She wasn’t as quick as him, she told him sheepishly.
The customer nodded in agreement, stopped for a second, sighed, and opened his backpack. He took out a revolver pistol and pointed it at the teller. Now, this was not a real revolver pistol. The customer had picked it up at the toyshop he owned. In fact, he did not know the slightest bit about guns. For a man who spent most of his life playing professional cricket and some parts of it running a toyshop, he never needed to know about guns.
‘Thirty thousand rupees, now,’ he placed his sports bag on the teller’s counter.
‘Five lakh rupees, now,’ a man in a sloppy suit, a bowler hat and sunglasses standing a couple of places behind flung a leather duffel bag towards the teller. He then brandished a pistol and fired into the roof. This was not a pistol from a toyshop, and the man definitely seemed to know a thing or two about guns.
‘ALL YOUR MONEY, NOW,’ barked a third man from the end of the queue dressed in a black t-shirt, skinny black jeans and a Guy Fawkes mask, and held a semi-automatic rifle above his head with the grace of a man holding a semi-automatic rifle for the first ever time in his life.
‘EVERYBODY DOWN,’ he yelled. ‘GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY AND NOBODY GETS HURT,’ he flung a large suitcase towards the counter.
The petrified teller squeaked, ‘It’s almost the end of the day, we only have ten lakh.’
‘Then give it to the man!’ the man with the sports bag said.
‘Yeah, you heard him!’ the man in the sloppy suit said.
It was not often that three separate parties accidentally ended up robbing the same bank on the same day at the same point of time. It was certainly not something Aadittyaa, Selvaraj, or Pramod had thought about, but they all instinctively seemed to agree that the best way forward would be to team up with the person in possession of the deadliest weapon.
Both the tellers combined forces and stuffed Aadittyaa’s suitcase with all the money they could find.
‘This is it,’ Neha said as she handed the suitcase back to him.
He received the suitcase and turned around, and Selvaraj immediately put his hand around Aadittyaa’s shoulders, as if he were congratulating a bowler who took a hat trick on debut.
‘Well done da,’ he said. ‘Good job.’
‘Nice one,’ Pramod did not want to be left out. ‘Now can I have five lakh from that?’ he meant business.
‘I just need thirty thousand,’ Selvaraj put forward his claim.
‘NO ONE GETS ANY MONEY, I’M BURNING ALL OF THIS!’ Aadittyaa waved the bag around.
‘No no no no no no no!’ Selvaraj panicked.
‘IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY, IT’S ABOUT SENDING A MESSAGE’ he continued.
‘No! Please, just give me my thirty thousand, there are lives at st—“
Selvaraj did not finish his sentence. It is difficult to finish sentences when a failed-Tamil-cinema villain-turned-wannabe gangster shoots you in the head. In fact, it is difficult to finish sentences when anyone shoots you in the head. Selvaraj lay motionlessly in a pool of blood. Later that day, an underground cricket betting ring would get uncovered after the ringleader would be arrested for shooting a dog. It was a bizarre chain of events, but then again, it had been a rather bizarre day.
Sometimes, one witnesses something that changes everything one had ever thought about life. Aadittyaa thought V for Vendetta was his life-changing event. But seven months later, as he witnessed a former cricketer getting shot in the head right in front of him, he realised that perhaps this was his life-changing event; V for Vendetta was just a false alarm. It began to dawn on him that perhaps, there was a small, slight, miniscule chance that his understanding of anarchy was convoluted; that robbing a financial institution hours after getting suspended from university wasn’t a very good idea; that getting shot by an actual gangster in the middle of an accidental three way robbery literally hours after being told not to do anything stupid would, in fact, be a stupid thing to have done.
Ideally, he would prefer shooting the man in front of him. Unfortunately, he had never really used a gun before, and the middle of an existential breakdown while attempting a robbery wasn’t exactly the best situation to try out something new. He didn’t think he would actually have to fire a gun. He had stolen his father’s credit card last week in a radical act of anarchy, and used it to buy the first semi-automatic revolver he could find.
Do anarchists live off their parents’ money, he wondered. So far, anarchy had meant voicing dissent in an academic safe space with negligible to minimal consequences. But as he faced a threat to his entire existence, he considered, maybe, just maybe, anarchy wasn’t for him.
‘Keep it together,’ he thought to himself.
However, he could not keep it together. He could not keep it together to the extent that he didn’t realise that he said this out loud, too. Not only that, but he also momentarily lost control over his bladder, and as a consequence, stood in his own mildly toxic bodily waste.
Pramod had read somewhere that in moments of crisis, a real gangster could smell fear. At this point in time, all he could smell was urine.
‘What sweetheart, all good?’ Pramod muttered an iconic Prakash Raj dialogue as he pointed his pistol at Aadittyaa. ‘Goodbye,’ he said as he reached for the trigger, ‘swetheart.’
Pramod pulled the trigger. Nothing came out from the barrel. He pulled again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Again. Nothing.
‘For fuck’s sake, I thought there were five left!’ he shook the pistol and looked into the barrel. Except, through sheer habit pulled the trigger, which, for a change, fired a bullet from the barrel. Unfortunately for Pramod, it promptly blew his brains out and splattered blood all over the counter and on to the clock and portrait of Gandhi hanging on the wall behind him. Pramod would make it to the news later that evening, just not under the circumstances he’d expected.
Aadittyaa stood wide-eyed for a few seconds. When he realised what had just happened, he bolted towards the door. As he did, he heard sirens in the distance.
‘Damn it, the cops!’ he thought. Had he paid a bit more attention, he would have realised that was just an ambulance in the distance, but one cannot expect critical thinking abilities to be at their functional best minutes after attempting to rob a bank and witnessing a homicide.
He quickly tucked into the lane on his left, and ran around the perimeter of the bank. It was only a good few metres into this did Aadittyaa realise he was running away from the scene of a bank robbery holding a suitcase full of stolen money in his right hand— he looked like exactly the person the police would be after. He threw the money into the nearest window he could see, and ran into the distance with the shattering of glass still ringing in his ears.
Hamid Anees had taken a satisfactory dump. In the good old days, he’d read property advertisements in the newspaper on the pot. ‘I find it meditative,’ he’d say. In the last few years, however, the newspaper had been replaced by a smartphone, and the property advertisements had been replaced by motivational videos his brother would send over WhatsApp. Smartphones— truly revolutionising communication.
He finished his business, and stepped up to the sink to wash his hands. As he squeezed the last drop of soap out of the dispenser, he heard a shattering sound to his right, and a suitcase flew in through the window.
Hamid walked towards it suspiciously. He bent down and opened it, and his face turned pale as he saw it was stuffed with money.
‘I’ll ask Neha to call the police,’ he said to himself. He zipped the suitcase and released the handle, and dragged it to the door.
As he opened the bathroom door, and stood facing the bank, his jaw dropped. Blood dripped off the portrait of Gandhi.
Pranavesh Subramanian is a 3rd year Media and Communications student at Goldsmiths. He forms 1/4th of New Delhi’s based alternative comedy collective, Brainfart Productions (which he deeply regrets naming at the age of 17). His aim is to one day research what it means to write comedy under late capitalism, but for now, Pranavesh is happy to settle for playing Football Manager 2017, taking the Wolverhampton Wanderers into Champions League. He tweets @pranxvesh and sometimes writes funny Instagram captions @pranavesh.