The Philippines: A day zero conversation

A 23 hour flight later, the wheels of Japan Airlines’ JL7235 finally touched down onto the runway turf in Manila.

I was out of the airport in less than 11 minutes, out-stretched my hand as a part of the ambiguous cab hailing procedure and instantly had a smiling cab-lady pullover.

The journey to the hotel was going to be 37 minutes long she said as she flipped a switch to get the meter running.

 


It was really easy to communicate with the filipino people, English being their second language owing to them having been an American colony for the longest time. According to another local I met later during the trip, they have mostly grown up on Western music, Full House, FRIENDS and a host of other good stuff churned out of the LA-based media factories (much like urban India?).


 

“Is there going to be much traffic along the way?”

“Yes, bad traffic sir. It is rainy season so everyone is trying to get back home before flooding time”

“There’s going to be a flood?”

“Yes, around 10pm”

“But it’s already 9:46”

“Yes sir, bad timing of your flight. Don’t worry, only feet get little wet” she said while using her thumb and forefinger to try and quantify the height to which my feet would be submerged.

I promptly removed my bag from the floor of the car. This should be interesting.

 


Apparently owing to slower infrastructural development and a rapid rise in purchasing power, there are way too many cars on the roads. A unique (at least to my ears) scheme the Philippines government has come up with to help the cause has been to disallow each private vehicle from operating on one of the days in the week. The no-driving day is indicated through the number plate (ends with a ‘2’? You can’t drive on Tuesdays).


 

With 34 minutes to to go, I figured I might as well engage in some good old-fashioned small talk.

“It’s just the beginning of July, summer’s over already?”

“We just have 2 seasons here sir. Summer and rain. Then more rain. Haha”

“You here on vacation sir? Not many of your people come to Philippines?”

“No, I’m here on work for a few weeks”should I just assume that she meant Spanish, Greek or Italian by ‘your people’? I decided to not burst my bubble and instead artfully circumvent her rhetorical question.

“Oh, where you work?”

“I work with Google, so I’m visiting the local office here”

“What is Glueglue?”

“No..Goo-gal”

“Glueglue?”

“No..Goo-ga-la”

“Glueglue?”

“N..Yes. Glueglue. It’s an internet company”

“Aaah you work on internet! All you young kids always on internet. That why you have fat glasses.”

Yep. Small talk was officially not quite working out for me anymore.

“What plan you have for tomorrow sir?”

“Nothing really. Will just go out and walk around the city all day”

“Oh no no. Bad idea” She said, with seemingly not having given my idea much consideration at all.

“What? Why is it a bad idea”

“Tomorrow is taihun. You will get stuck if outside”

“Oh, is that a local festival of some sort? I didn’t read about it anywhere”

“Sir, what you say? Taihun is rain and storm. You go out, you will fly away”

“Wait, typhoon? Is there a typhoon scheduled for tomorrow?”

“Yes, yes! How you not know?!”

“It didn’t say so anywhere on the internet”

“Aaah you young kids always on internet. Still not know of big Typhoon”

Alright, enough of this small-talk. 13 minutes to go.

You can criticize my fat glasses, but you cannot just insinuate that my web-searching skills are sub-par! I refuse to answer any further questions from this lady.

“Your English really good sir. Much better than most other passengers”

Unless, of course, her questions include an optimum amount of flattery. Good save lady.

“Thank you! Yes, most of ‘my people’ can communicate quite well in English. You have really good English too”

 


The local language in the country is called Tagalog. It has about a 101 dialects across the over 700 islands that comprise the Philippines. Travel about 30kms in either direction of Manila and the version of Tagalog spoken will be significantly different. English however, would still work no matter which remote island of the country you find yourself in.


 

With 9 minutes to go and a drizzle beginning to hit the windshield, we finally got off a long highway and now entered a clearly urban city complete with tall high rises bursting with color, massive malls bursting with people and ornate churches with characteristic Spanish architectural elements (that I can’t detect even if my life depended on it, but it says so on the internet, thereby deeming it undeniably true).

 


The Philippines was, for the longest time, under Spanish rule only to get independence in 1898 after the Philippine Revolution with the help of the Americans. What they didn’t realize back then was that the Americans were not leaving their island anytime soon either. So a lot of the older structures boast of a massive Spanish influence, while the culture is evidently influenced by the US to quite an extent.


 

With the drizzle now turning into a downpour, our skilled cab-lady took a swift turn into an alley where the word HOTEL was spelt out at the end with dodgy looking neon colored LEDs.

“Okay sir, your hotel is here. That will be 700Pesos. You lucky, no flood today. But be careful of taihun tomorrow”

With that wonderful forewarning, I bid our lady goodbye and entered the hotel looking forward to what this wonderfully friendly country had to offer beyond day 0.

This should be interesting.

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AS 01 N-8308

This was something I had conjured up about two years ago (Hence please ignore the slightly juvenile undertone 🙂 ) one night while I was up late at home.  Its based upon that old worn out Fiat car that stood stranded for years in front of the Transit Complex and the rumors that surrounded it

“The guy was in his Mtech second year….it belonged to him….i’m telling you….3rd year ke bhaiya ne bataya tha mere ko …and since his accident 8 years ago..its just been there and no one dares go near it because it’s…it’s.. CURSED.. it’s…it’s.. POSESSED…it’s…..”

“its just a CAR for crying out loud!” intervened Rohan at just the right moment avoiding Rachit from blowing a fuse yet again based on baseless hearsay.

“arrey, I’m telling you na , that car is creepy….haven’t you seen it yet? we’ve been here for 3 months already!….”

“OF COURSE I’ve seen it on my way to the workshop classes but it wasn’t remotely creepy, man!” claimed Rohan.

A short silence followed during which Rachit stared at the wall and then went on…. “the night’s the dawn of the dead”…….

“the WHAT??…. man !you’ve got go easy on the XFiles or wherever that came from!….” said Rohan, wondering if he was keeping Rachit beyond his regular bedtime with their late Friday night bakar.

Finally Rachit broke his stare off the wall, to look at Rohan “the night’s when that Mtech fellow returns to be around the car….so obviously you don’t find the area strange during…..”

“the guy’s dead according to you….and he comes back eh?” inquired Rohan.

“that’s what’s so strange about this!” earnestly explained Rachit.

An open mouthed moment later Rohan continued “HOW on earth do you come up with all this??….HAHAHAHA!!”

“you know what’s wrong with you??….you’re not a believer! and you know why? because you’re basically SCARED to face the truth!” concluded Rachit amidst some continued laughter which took a moment to stop and then Rohan spoke ..“believer??….in what?

Scared??….of what ?

Of spooks and stuff??…..you’ve got to be kidding me!”

“well I think you ARE scared…..and I pity the fact that you don’t have the power to believe!”

“oh so all this is a POWER now??well superman….sorry to be your kryptonite but this paranormal stuff you’re into is ABSOLUTE hogwash and I don’t have the POWER to believe in this simply because I’m……I’m…well….”

“scared of it? Scared of it being true?”

“NO….i’m of the opinion that its just always logical stuff whose logic is tough to realize….and there’s just NOTHING to fear in a car that’s not been maintained over the years….”

“yeah sure….that’s what Scully said BEFORE she became a believer…..”

“Now who’s Scully??”

“x files”

“I warned you about that show…..it’ll drive you cra..”

“THINK about it….why wouldn’t the officials of the college just remove the car from there? Its an eyesore and yet they’ll still keep it there….you know why?? ….”

“PERHAPS,coz they have BETTER THINGS to do…?!”

Rohan’s last comment seemed to have silenced Rachit. But winning the battle of beliefs didn’t seem to bring him much pleasure….perhaps it was the fact that the guy he proved wrong was one of the best friends his 3 month’s at IIT had churned out….and this friendship….he ‘believed’ in….

“listen if it really means SO much to you…….”

Breaking off a renewed stare , at the floor this time, Rachit rose his head.

“let’s go check out the car……what do you say?” Rohan concluded

“you sure you’re ready for this?”

“I PROPOSED it!”

“but its 1AM!”

“well……the night’s the dawn of the dead ….aint it?”

“wow!chal…..mein abhi jacket pehen ke aaya!”

and Rachit was off while Rohan went off outside Kameng into the cold night……

the stroll towards the transit complex was plagued by a thick fog covering almost every inch of cold ground ahead of them, the trees and bushes, quite close to them, rustled in the cold wind of the night…..the eerie atmosphere shut down any thoughts Rachit and Rohan had of continuing their debate or even of questioning why on earth they were out there and what they were looking for?……but soon the fog cleared a bit….and then a bit more…..until the visibility was good enough…..good enough to see the abandoned fiat ahead of them……

“well what now?” inquired Rohan

“I don’t know….you…you proposed the plan” stammered Rachit.

“I don’t see anything creepy about this even now!” said Rohan….relieving himself a bit having voiced the lie.

“you….you don’t?” asked Rachit, perplexed.

“no,of coure not! Do you??”

“hmm…no…lets go back then!”suggested Rachit.

The cold breeze grew stronger and yet the fog grew thicker, further adding reason for Rachit and Rohan to retreat to their rooms to resume their bakar .

“Are you two fuchhas??”

the sudden emergence of the voice from right behind them combined with the fact that it seemed to belong to a senior, kept the two of them rooted to their feet with the chill going down their spine rather slowly in the cold winter.

“well??”

finally Rohan managed to speak.. “yes sir, we are.”

“WHAT on earth are you two doing here??”

“well sir…..we just….were walking …..and…”

“oh…..its the fiat isn’t it??”

perplexed by the suddenness of the question and mystified about whether their faces really revealed so much….they simply nodded….

“yeah …. I knew it…..who are you guys, anyway?”

“my name is Rohan…..and this is Rachit”

“hi…..i’m Yashwardhan…..so this old fiat REALLY intrigues you eh?”

finally Rachit spoke up…. “well actually, we were wondering whom this fiat belonged to…..and …..why is it still here…. I mean…”

“you mean you STILL don’t know??”

“well…..not really….”

The cold was growing unbearable while the senior began to speak

“2 years ago professor Rathore tried to remove this car from this spot…..

but ……..soon he realized….what the car represented and..…..well..….he then let the fiat be.”

“but what DOES this scrap represent??” probed Rachit “and WHAT changed Rathore’s mind??”

The senior now rubbed his gloved hands against each other and said “well……beats me…..why don’t you just ask the prof?……its getting really cold…..I’m off …..and you fuchhas better get back too…..!”

with that the senior rushed off ,adjusting his cap and scarf, into the fog…..

“BIG help that guy was….”said Rohan on their way back.

“yeah,I really thought he knew something about it!…..just goes to show that even our seniors don’t know anything about the car!!” said Rachit

“I’m never wasting time like that again!!….all we got was….was…..another rumour….”

“yeah…. that senior really thinks we’re dumb enough to go upto a prof and ask him to tell us THE ghost story..!”

“hahahaha….well….good night….”

“good night” said Rachit and they departed to their rooms for the night……

The following week, the assignments and quizzes kept Rachit and Rohan too busy to talk about last Friday’s experience…….although as the week passed, their curiosity grew and by the time Friday arrived yet again…..and professor Rathore walked briskly past them…..relieving themselves of the mounting curiosity didn’t seem so ‘dumb’ anymore….

“Excuse me sir…..” said Rohan

Professor Rathore turned to look at Rohan

“Yes, what is it?if you have some doubts, please ask me later, I have a meeting……..”

“Sir, it’s just a small inquiry” pleaded Rohan.

“What about?” asked professor Rathore, continuing to walk again……

“It’s about the….the fiat outside the transit complex sir…..”

“Well, its not mine,if that’s what you’re asking!”said the professor with a slight indignation in his tone now.

“No sir….we wondered why it has not been removed from there yet?”asked Rohan, slowly realizing the foolishness of this situation that he had created!

Now clearly angered, the professor said

“It is NOT MY responsibility! Now if you’ll excuse me…..”

This was not going the right way for them and Rachit realized how imprudent the professor must think they were and decided to put the blame of the situation upon its true culprit.

“Actually sir, it was a senior named Yashwardhan who told us to ask you all this! ….That’s why we….”

Now, to Rachit’s astonishment the professsor stopped and turned to face the boys….clearly the professor had had enough of this!

Both of them got ready to receive a fit of rage that they didn’t deserve….the senior would finally have the last mocking laugh….why did they have to succumb to their curiosty??……

But when the professor spoke next….he did so with a voice lower in pitch, full of control and yet devoid of any calm

“Where’d you meet Yashwardhan?”

“We….we… met him outside the transit complex last week”

Rachit’s statement seemed to have had a very disturbing effect on the professor….he stared at them with horror struck eyes and said in a hushed, petrified tone with an expressionless face “he….he spoke to you?”

“well…..yes s..sir…. I told you ,that senior was the one who told us to ask you all that!….”

“Yashwardhan sent you here……to me……?”

The professor’s eyes now seemed hollow…his hands began to quiver….yet his mind remained transfixed upon a thought….a memory…..a dream…..he had had two years ago……………

It was the middle of august…the night was at its peak of darkness only to be disturbed by the intermittent jolts of lightning that broke all calm with the thunder that followed…….

The air conditioner hissed out cool air into professor Rathore’s room and yet…..he was drenched in sweat…..his face contorted as he struggled to wake up…..but his mind refused to abide….he was being pulled…..pulled away from the the lights of life……pulled into the dark…..and from the deepest regions of the dark, shot out a blinding light……from which a shadow arose………..and spoke……….

“I wish to remain.”

The professor found himself staring at the shadow with utter disbelief ……he didn’t know where he was…..he didn’t know why he was here…..he didn’t know why his open mouth could not speak………..but he DID know that voice.

“I wish it remain” the shadow continued.

Finally managing to find some words the professor said “but you died in it. I can’t live with it around me any more….. I just can’t!

“I wish that it remain……I wish to stay”

And with that the shadow disappeared into the light and the darkness gave way to reality…….professor Rathore shot upright in his bed……wiped sweat off of his face……and muttered to himself amidst his gasps for breath….. “ you ….shall stay.”

“Sir…… should……should I get you some water?!” asked Rohan, concerned.

The professor now collected himself and although thoughts continued to race in his head and the hopes that a dream had sown in his heart long ago were being realized and confirmed now right before his eyes….he managed to speak….

“LISTEN TO ME CAREFULLY, you are not to speak of what you saw to anyone……ANYONE! I have stayed quiet for too long about this and cant let two students ruin the peace of the institute!….DO you understand??”

shaken by the severity in the voice…..they nodded….

Yet, unable to hold himself back after getting this unexpected response, Rohan managed to speak “…..sir…do….you…you …know Yashwardhan…..?…”

The professor heaved a heavy sigh, stared straight into Rohan’s eyes and said…. “I………Yash was………..IS……my son..….he died 8 years ago….”

That night Rachit and Rohan’s bakar comprised of a long silence, with both of them unable to comprehend the situation…..unable to realize where logic lost its way…….unable to distinguish reality from imagination……finally Rohan spoke up…. “hey Rachit…. I believe.”

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