Intelligence agencies, the world over, operate through a network of informants. The IB, in India, also has its army of men and women who literally keep their eyes and ears close to the ground (among other yogic postures) and periodically tip us off about anything suspicious in their neighbourhood. Unfortunately, their inputs have never been substantial and are often misleading. For example, when they report an arms shipment, it is likely to be someone buying discounted firecrackers in bulk for next Diwali. Or, when they spot a militant holed up in Old Delhi, he may well turn out to be some terrified sod hiding from creditors. What’s even worse is responding to alerts about shady persons lurking near Red Fort or Rashtrapati Bhavan, only to discover they are our own agents working undercover!
And yet, despite all the misgivings, we cannot afford to ignore our stool pigeons for fear that they may, for once, not be sounding a false alarm. So, when I got a tip-off last week about strange goings on at the apartment of a retired Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) official, I had no choice but to see if something untoward or subversive was indeed happening. After all, you could never tell if he was developing a new method of persuading Uranium-235 to split by bombarding the isotope with success stories of separation through mutual consent.
Anyway, that apart, the mad scientist I set out to investigate was none other than Albert Varghese Jacob, a committed bachelor who was once employed in the R&D division of the DRDO. He was known among former colleagues as Einstein because of his first name and the shock of fuzzy hair which he deliberately kept unkempt like the famed scientist. Of course, one must add here that other than this resemblance there was nothing common between our Einstein and the real genius.
Mr Fuzzy Hair exclaims You Rekha
For the record, Albert Varghese Jacob would never have come on the IB’s radar but for the fact that he roused the suspicion of one of our informants. Reason: unusual activity and a stream of visitors at his residence in Greater Noida last week. They included two yoga instructors, a team of tailors and suppliers of strong, lightweight nylon fabric. All of them reported at various times of the day and left late evening. Also, throughout the night, neighbours heard cries of “Eureka, Eureka!” from the apartment which they misconstrued as “You Rekha, You Rekha” and complained to the local police station that the mad scientist had a suspect stranger living in his flat, possibly a woman. A constable was promptly sent to investigate who quietly drank a cup of chai, collected his hafta and filed a “no incriminating activity detected” status.
I had studied the police report and a profile of Albert from the DRDO files and had concluded that I was responding to another false alarm. So, when I knocked at Einstein’s flat on Wednesday morning, I expected no fireworks. As if on cue, I was promptly welcomed in by Mr Fuzzy Hair. “Hello, I’m Einstein. You must either be from the CBI or from the IB,” my host said with an understanding wink. “Please come in. After the police, I was expecting one of you chaps.”
I was surprised that he could identify me by my profession. “I can spot the investigative types from a mile. So, what brings you here?” he said almost as if reading my thoughts and quickly coming to the point.
...when approached by a prospective hugger, the victim can swiftly stand on his/her head. This asana will not only take the perpetrator by surprise but will leave him/her no option but to touch the feet of the victim which, as we all know, is a mark of reverence
“Well, unusual activity in your flat - you know, people rushing in and out. This has come to our notice and it falls within our duty to keep tabs on those who have served the defence establishment,” I was half apologetic as I took out my scribble pad to take notes.
“Let me assure you,” Albert began with mock earnestness, “I have not yet been appointed as the RBI Governor to either disrupt returns on fixed deposits or upset national interest. Neither am I plotting to overthrow the government by planning a protest at Jantar Mantar. But jokes apart, all I have been trying to do is develop a module and a mechanism to help citizens, particularly politicians, avoid coming into uncomfortable contact with fellow beings and rivals who wish to embrace or hug them.”
A cushion to the rescue
I knew it would take me time to digest that, but I nevertheless pressed for details. So, Einstein launched into an explanation. The idea apparently came to him after he saw the now famous hug that Congress President Rahul Gandhi surprised Prime Minister Narendra Modi with during the no-confidence debate in Parliament last week. “I saw it live on TV and it struck me that the PM certainly looked uncomfortable. So, I wondered if there was some evasive action he could have taken under the circumstances. I wracked my brain and I finally concluded that there was precious little he could have done. In fact, come to think of it, there was no strategy at his disposal to politely ward off the hug. That, incidentally, was also my Eureka moment! I knew I would be hitting upon a goldmine if I developed a mechanism that could be employed to evade such physical overtures. Losing no time, I immediately started work on the project and I am happy to report some measure of success in my endeavour.”
“So, what is this mechanism that you have developed or are in the process of developing?” I was genuinely curious.
“Well, it is still in the prototype stage and is essentially a system that creates a cushion between the hugger and the recipient and renders the former’s arms out of reach to complete the process,” he explained.
“A cushion…?” I failed to make sense of that.
“Well,” Einstein continued in an expansive mood, “Great ideas, as you will agree, often spring from literature. My inspiration was Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay. In the 1923 novel, the hero, Theodore Gumbril Junior, finds himself sitting through a long-winded Sunday sermon wondering if there was any way he could find relief from the hard, wooden Oak benches that the congregation is expected to be seated on. He then hit on the idea of pneumatic trousers with an inflatable bottom which can provide a comfortable cushion.
“I have adapted that very Huxleyan concept for my inflatable hug-proof jacket made with special woven nylon fibre used in automobile airbags. A compact inflator provided with it, when triggered, inflates the garment with gas, creating a defensive cushion. Let me show you a simple demonstration,” he said, brimming with pride.
An assistant handed him a loosely fitting, bright, technicolour jacket which covered the top half of Einstein’s body. He then dramatically triggered a can of pressurised liquid gas and the garment filled out till it provided a substantial air cushion. “Try to hug me!” he implored, rather excited.
I stood up and tried in vain to get my arms around the rather rotund figure standing before me. “See it works!” Einstein screeched like an excited child.
It sure made a rather funny and ungainly sight. I had to admit that the contraption was effective.
The next big thing
“It will come in different sizes and shades and can easily be worn by people of all sizes and ages. What’s more, it can be washed at home or dry cleaned,” Einstein rattled off like a frenzied salesman.
“What have you named it?” I asked attempting to calm him down.
“If you can keep a secret, it’s called Einstein’s Pneumatic Jacket. Believe me, it’s going to be the next big thing!”
I told him I was indeed impressed. But the sleuth in me sought an explanation for the yoga instructors who were helping him with the project. I wondered what they had to do with it.
Einstein virtually parroted the answer. “They are working on developing strategies for those who feel uncomfortable wearing the jacket. In fact, we have already figured out some interesting manoeuvres. For example, when approached by a prospective hugger, the victim can swiftly stand on his/her head. This asana will not only take the perpetrator by surprise but will leave him/her no option but to touch the feet of the victim which, as we all know, is a mark of reverence. There will, of course, be protective gear for the head and the palm designed especially to facilitate this move.”
But what about all those who find it difficult to handle the upside-down posture? For them, Einstein had an easy-does-it option - simply execute a U turn! A person’s back, he averred, would put off most huggers! I reckoned it would.
After what was truly a mind-boggling and illuminating morning, I thought it was time to call it a day. As I bid Einstein goodbye, I finally found the opportunity to introduce myself. “I almost forgot this nicety, but I thought I must let you know that I am Shankar from the IB,” I said, lowering my voice.
“Mr Shankar,” he said rather effusively, “it was great of you to have come by,” And then, to my surprise, he gave me a hug…!
(As imagined by Ajith Pillai)