Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Crooked Brigadier

"There is no point in morality or principals. A Man's only goal should be to better his and his dependents' lives by every means possible. Principals are for the ignoramus masses to keep them in control, to impart an illusion of order to the world we live in, where none exists", rambled Brigadier Arjun Khanna. It was his weekly night of drinks with his junior and protégé, Brijendra. 

Brigadier Arjun Khanna, son of a martyred army man himself, had not known of any life beyond the defense forces himself. He had spent most of his childhood in cantonments, travelling across the country with his father and now he was doing the same with just one change. Acutely aware of the upheavals in his life when his father was transferred; change schools, find new friends, sometimes learning new language, he had made sure that his daughter does not go through similar disturbing experiences. He had insisted that his wife and his daughter stay behind in his ancestral home, Chandigarh. The city was clean, developed, provided good education and moved at a leisurely pace - providing for every comfort his family desired. Thus satisfied, he opted for isolated and dangerous border locations repeatedly and on purpose. Every three months or so, either he visited Chandigarh or they came to stay with him for a few days. Over rest of the period, he was a strict disciplinarian with none but one friend and little distractions. 

Brijendra was eight years Arjun's junior but they had known each other since childhood. Even as children, they tended to behave as siblings with Arjun being the protective elder and Brijendra as the mischievous younger brother. They had kept in touch over the years but their bond got particularly strong on this posting. Misery loves company and to Arjun, Brijendra was now practically family, quelling loneliness and providing a sense of emotions in this sea of order following human machines. 

Once a week, they would sit together on the pretext of swigging a few pegs. It was then that Arjun, after a few fairly large rounds, would share his thoughts and experience with Brijendra. He would begin by teaching him the backdoor politics involved in rising up the ladder or the tricks that must be pulled to get a plum posting. He would then begin about the times he learned it the hard way and regret that their way nobody to train him such. His sermon would then drift to his life philosophy.

This is when their discussion would heat up. Brijendra was an upright, honest, patriotic officer; the kind any defense force in the world would be proud to have. But Arjun was quite the opposite - his principles could be termed Machivellian at best and, Brijendra feared, Quisling at worst. He was only concerned about the well-being of himself and his family, the army be damned. This used to trouble Brijendra deeply. This line of thought would not be surprising for any Indian but damning the army is not like damning the electricity board and could have far serious consequences for the country. 

On one such fateful night, Brigadier Arjun had had a few more than the usual and had been tipsy even before they got to the philosophy. He had been pulled up about the increasing infiltration from the area under his command and was taking it out on the scotch, gulping with a vengeance. His jibes on the army were particularly acrimonious today and so was the resulting argument with Brijendra. "Your attitude of self-preservation is not fit for the army. As long as you are in the army, nobody's benefiting, neither you nor the army. Why don't you leave?" poked Brijendra. Arjun was now some time past his last sober thought and began blurting whatever came to his mind, sadly, the truth. He slammed the table and retorted, "The army may not have gained my boy but you cannot accuse me of losing it. How do you think I managed the car, the farm house, the wife's business and the multiple plots?" In his excitement, he tried to stand up, failed, and collapsed on the chair. Between hiccups, he slurred, "You think it's a coincidence that infiltration increases in every location I...." And he passed out mid-sentence but having said enough for Brijendra to put two and two together.

When he woke up the next day, events of last night whizzed past him. He had been out of his senses but he remembered everything, word for word. As he replayed the last scene of the night in his mind, he wanted to kill himself for being so stupid. He immediately called up Brijendra but the phone was switched off. He next called up Arjun's quarter and was informed that Arjun had left about an hour back, dressed in his uniform. He knew where he had gone and now it would be all over. Long ago, Arjun had prepared for such eventuality and knew exactly what he needed to do.

Although hung-over, he set in motion and got dressed, simultaneously informing his team that he will be heading for an impromptu border patrol immediately. The captain, although surprised, heeded to the order. Once there, he took out the map and pretending to study it for a while, pointed to a particular spot he wished to visit. The patrol was flummoxed to spot some men who were certainly not Indians in the precise location. They decided to move slowly and round them up.

It would suffice to say that what happened over the next half hour was the product of one man's anxiety and subsequent bravery. Arjun first gave away the element of surprise by accidentally firing a few shots. And then, as the fire exchange turned in to a deadlock, Arjun went for a suicidal charge, pulling the infiltrators in the open and winning the day, getting fatally shot in the process.

 He was rushed to the army hospital where, between gasps, he asked to see Brijendra. Teary eyed, Brijendra entered with heavy steps and sat beside him. He looked at Arjun quizzically, asking for an explanation in the deviation in his actions from his words. Actions that cost Arjun his life. Arjun gestured him to come closer and whispered in his ear, "No country in the world will ever investigate a martyr.", and dropped dead.  

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

A Heart of Gold

It is an open secret that during the time when the dance bars were banned in Mumbai, they were not in fact, shut off. Quite a few continued functioning unhindered, albeit covertly. It was in one of these bars that Qashif fell for the dove-eyed, wheat-skinned, slightly overweight and hopefully adult Hema about a year back.

He happened to see her shake and thrust out of beat one night and could not take his proverbial eyes off her. He reacted to the situation like most other Indian men would; visiting the bar every night, asking for her private services daily and generally stalking her to the extent a bar girl could be stalked to the point of botheration. 

His advances failed to win him any favors initially but on the suggestion of friends, he turned on his charm and won her heart. Whether it was his personality or the the gold chain that he gifted her did the trick is still debatable. She was innocent but certainly not lacking in common sense. However, it did get her to agree that he be her only customer from now on. 

Hema of course, was joyful. Gone were the days when she would hope to find a patron for the night and sometimes danced herself to a sweat for paltry sums of money. All this had begun to change. She would sluggishly move around the stage until Qashif appeared and then go up to his table to sit with him while he had one peg after another. She now received the full night charges every day and sometimes, if he was feeling particularly generous, jewelry items, usually, solid gold.

Hema was particularly elated when she opened her eyes today. At first she could not recall the reason for her lifted spirits, but as soon as soon as the pain in the neck kicked in, she remembered. Qashif had promised to marry her and had even gifted her a gold necklace with diamonds in it in the shape of a heart. Even her untrained eyes could tell that it was expensive beyond any sum of money she had ever heard of. She admired it so much that she went to sleep wearing it.

As she lazily tossed around her bed, rewinding her whirlwind affair and imagining an exciting elopement, someone knocked on the door. She cursed the darned chaiwala for breaking her chain of romantic thoughts as she got up and opened the door, making sure that she had hid the necklace first. What she saw was not the chaiwala but a fat, sari-clad woman of about thirty five years of age carrying an unclad baby in her arms and an adolescent girl by her side who was wearing rags for clothes and had not had a bath in a week at least. The woman's face looked heavy and ghastly due to red, swollen eyes and puffed cheeks; the kind you get from crying for a long period.

She had not even registered the faces properly when a sound of agony and despair emerged from the fat woman. Her throat was hoarse from all the weeping and she had to gasp for air intermittently but she kept speaking. After a few attempts, Hema understood that she was inquiring if her name was Hema. When she answered in the affirmative, the woman quickly handed the baby over to the girl and moved towards Hema threateningly with raised arms but collapsed on the floor before she could actually land on Hema the punch that she had begun. The children, meanwhile, had started wailing seeing their mother on the ground.

Not knowing what to do, she set about restoring silence by patting the children and offering them water first and then moved the woman inside and closed the door lest her neighbours saw the tamasha. Sprinkling water didn't help so she pushed a dirty sock near the woman's nose to revive her. This did the trik and the woman finally came to, much calmer now thanks to exhaustion. She asked Hema if she could have some water and if she would be kind enough to speak to her for some time. 

After gulping down two glasses of water, she began, softly at first but sorrow and anger building up as she went along. She told Hema that she was the children's mother and Qashif was their father. Everything was going along well in their lives; a loving couple, two healthy children, a well-paying job, a pet dog and the occasional scotch for Qashif. It all changed the fateful day when Qashif visited the dance bar to celebrate the birth of their boy. Qashif himself would never do such a thing on his own but his friends talked him in to it. But once he saw Hema, he was never the same again. He was no longer a husband, a father or an employee but only a man who was in passionate love and wanted to have his object of desire. Going through the familiar spiral of drying off bank balance, losing the job, selling everything and finally borrowing money to keep Hema happy, Qashif's family was now homeless and did not even have money to feed the children.

By the time the woman reached the story's end, her voice had grown hysterical and she dropped on Hema's feet and begged her to free Qashif from her charms. Hema crouched down and requested her to stop crying and give her five minutes to return. Once the woman let her go, Hema darted straight to her bedroom. Rummaging through her clothes, for what seemed like eternity, she reappeared with a bag in her hand. And she said to the woman, "I can't take back the agony that you have suffered. But I can ensure that I do not cause you any further trouble. In this bag is every gift that he has ever given me and I think they all belong to you. I have also put in some savings to help you start again. I will also tell Qashif to go home and look after his family in stead of chasing me. Please forgive me for my sins."

The woman was about to drop to her feet again but Hema, now accustomed to this, caught her midway and hugged her. Between sobs, she thanked Hema profusely and compared her to divine beings as she left the house with the children in tow. As soon as she left, Hema called up Qashif and told her his wife had visited her. Qashif asked in apparent amazement, "Wife? What wife darling?"

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Life of a Salesman

"Thieves do not have a conscience. The whole notion of them being in possession of any sort of honour is a charade designed by society to provide some comfort letting politicians rule. There may be some who stole a bread to survive, but having prevailed over the chaser once, they steal and run forever, sometimes, even ending up stealing and running the country. Watch Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye if you don’t believe me.”
Thus rambled my boss, with a mix of deep philosophy and quirky references. It was an impeccable style I must admit. With so much abstraction thrown in, you could never really counter the reasoning and rebut the argument no matter how right you think you are. For no man in his right mind would question his boss’ philosophical outlook or the taste in movies. The real point however, goes for a toss and by the time you go around that barrage of words, the decision has been locked and stocked with your boss holding a couple of smoking barrels over it.
Before I stray any further, not unlike the Boss, I must orient the uninitiated over the situation at hand. And you will need the orientation if you are not from my line of work. Here I am, a Sales Officer for an FMCG giant, looking after the sale of my products in Punjab. You will understand my role a tad better if I explained the functioning of the sector. The lowest cadre is the salesman, who goes shop to shop, booking orders for his company, depending on the shopkeeper’s needs and his targets. It isn’t an easy job as the shopkeeper wants to keep less while the salesman wants to sell more– typical conflict of interest there. You see that shampoo in the shop even before the ad has appeared on TV, that’s a good salesman. The shopkeeper is out of your brand of toothpaste? That’s an incompetent salesman, and in my view, a retarded shopkeeper for who in his right mind, would not stock my toothpaste in his shop. That thing sells more than Rajni’s movie tickets.
My role is to ensure that the salesmen visit the shops regularly and the distributor supplies regularly to shops. I also go around on these ‘beats’ with my men to ensure things are ship-shape.  My boss, as you may have guessed is the Area sales Manager and manages a handful of officers like myself. Having taken over just a week back, she is on a travelling spree, hopping from one Officer’s territory to another’s, working long hours in the market and acquainting herself with the distributors.
 The above statement came about a fortnight back. After yet another long day’s work that included “working the market” in the blistering heat, noting down the distributor’s stock and inspecting the stock condition and inspecting stock unloading that had just arrived from the depot, we had just settled to have a cup of tea with the distributor. They had only begun to exchange formal introductions when the manager entered with a worried look on his face. As it turned out, one piece of a very expensive cream had gone missing from a shop during our visit to that shop earlier during the day. The shopkeeper was sure for he had only kept three and had only allowed us inside his shop today; after all, an ASM’s visit does warrant an invitation for a tea.
To my mind, it could either be the shopkeeper or the salesman. Both had motive and I could trust neither. I weighed my options; the shopkeeper was my biggest business opportunity in the town while the salesman was only a week old and easily replaceable. I knew I had to pacify the shopkeeper if not return his money but could not bring myself to rob a man of his livelihood on mere suspicion. It was then that my Boss uttered those words and freed me of my guilt. On hindsight, it did not really implicate the salesman but at that point I was more than happy to relieve myself of the burden of my guilt.

I did wonder about the salesman for a couple of days. But his memory, like everything in life, too subsided. It was yesterday when I received a call from a colleague while in the market. The act of calling is not unusual in our fraternity as we develop a strong bon homie with our colleagues and also like to keep ourselves abreast with the goings on in their territory. It was, but, the situation and the content of the conversation that utterly shocked me. After the usual greetings and inquiries he asked me if I could refer a salesman for he is one short. While he was telling me how he had to fire one on suspicion of stealing when the Boss came visiting, I saw my Boss chatting up a shopkeeper, while she inconspicuously slipped a men's perfume in to her purse.

A Nocturnal Affair

“Nice chap, that Anshuman”, thought Kriti. Anshuman, like Kriti, was one of the graveyard shift employees at the company. It’s been about three weeks since he had joined as a lateral hire but he rarely interacted with anyone and seemed to have no interests outside of work. In fact, everyone thought of him as a rather snobbish social recluse. That was until last Thursday. On Friday though, Kriti had started viewing him under a whole new light.

Just as Kriti had arrived for her shift, she received some bad news; her little sister, who has never been a very healthy child, was again down with fever. Normally, temperatures are usual in a child and not something an elder sibling should worry about, but it would not be a story if everything were, indeed, normal. It so happens that her mother undergoes bouts of anxiety every time that happens. And as always, she was already wailing by the time Kriti spoke to her. In between hiccups, she, yet again, asked Kriti to board the first Delhi bound flight and be with family. Now, her father had been handling her mother’s hysterics for the past 20 years and would have done so now as well, had he not mixed his scotch with a dash of driving about a year back. Since then, Kriti has been the man of the house.

As Kriti hunched in her chair, pondering over her situation in her cubicle; this would be her third leave in the past two months and the boss was not exactly supportive the last time around; she noticed a pair of legs approaching her. Looking up, she saw Anshuman hurriedly walking towards her with a look on his face, she could have never associated with him; a look of concern.

The feet now stopped and the torso was leaning over to Kriti, a bit too close for comfort. “He has absolutely no etiquettes about personal space”, thought she. “You look worried. What’s the matter?”, he enquired. Kriti was in no mood to turn her personal worries in to office gossip, much less share it with a virtual stranger like Anshuman. “Go away”, she muttered. “You can trust me, I want to help. Just look at me once”, pleaded Anshuman.

Heavens know if it was the vodka or plain dilemma, once her eyes met his, words just tumbled out. She spoke about everything from the bully in sixth standard to her father’s rather ill-timed demise. By the time she realised having spoken too much, she had already told Anshuman about her dilemma; to stay here and let her mother suffer or to be with her and risk losing the job. A call centre job is not exactly lucrative but that’s all her qualifications allow her to do.

To her utter surprise, Anshuman offered to cover for her while she visits her family. She could never have imagined anyone ruining their weekend for her, much less him. All through the travel, she kept thinking about the conversation and those eyes, which compelled her to tell everything. His eyes. She had made up her mind and was excited to return.

On the day of her return, she arrived a while earlier than the rest. Making sure that nobody’s looking, she placed a note on Anshuman’s desk, using the keyboard as paperweight. She once again checked if it expressed her emotions;
“I wonder how will I ever repay you.
You have been guardian angel.
But there’s more to the situation,
I have fallen for you and that’s the real trouble”
Dinner on Friday, watsay?
-          Kriti
"Corny, but this will have to do", Kriti said to herself.

She keenly observed Anshuman as he arrived at his desk. Those eyes of his! Moving around, observing everything. There was a casual glance and the piece of paper smoothly found its way in to his pocket. Anshuman then focused on the screen, without even a nod of acknowledgement in her direction. Kriti was barely done cursing herself for being so stupid when she spotted that little piece of paper under her keyboard. Her curiosity turned in to elation as she read the content;
“Marathalli Circle, 11 PM. Don’t tell anyone.”

On Saturday, a jogger spotted her lying on the side of the road. Her blood drained out, she appeared unnaturally white for a human. Her eyes were wide open, focusing hard on something, as if hypnotised to a tranquil state. No signs of struggle or resistance, noted the autopsy doctor. She however, yet again, noticed those eerie holes digging deep in to her neck, but as per instructions, did not mention it in her report, just like the past five times, lest chaos breaks out.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Room mates

“I shall break down very soon if this goes on”, thought Shuchi as she dragged herself out of the boss’ office. Her boss had reprimanded her for missing the deadline, yet again. In a way, she was glad about it. This could help her blame the gloomy expression on the scolding and avoid the office jokes about the sky-high standards she sets for herself; something that’s considered a sin for people with comfortable, secure jobs.
Shuchi had been obsessed with perfection for as long as she could remember. This had been her identity throughout and had always set her apart. She would either be ridiculed or held in awe, subject to a person’s mindset. But she was certainly always judged; so visibly dominating was the characteristic. As is the case with any human, the jibes bothered her way more than the compliments elated her but neither of them could change her one bit. Mistakes were still unimaginable and the word “almost”, still hated from the very bottom of heart. “You cannot live with an almost perfect pulse”, she commented often. And plenty of good did that do to her career; her superiors disliked her for her inadvertent error-spotting (even in their work) and her colleagues feared her for precisely the same reason. But come crisis, it’s she everyone ran to; for you could rely on her to finish an 8-hour work in 4 hours if deadlines so demanded. Consequently, she had enough certificates of “appreciation” to fill her boss’ office and then some but that office, ironically, would never be hers because of the diligence that got her the certificates.

It was one thing to behave so in office and be isolated for everyone had to at least behave professionally and let her be except the occasional sarcasm but these compulsions can never be left behind at office unlike work. They tend to seep in to personal lives and define a person socially. Same was the case with her. She could stand the passive hostility in office but forced companions found it real hard to suppress their anger out of it. One of them was her room mate.

They had come in contact through one of the multiple online forums to find a room mate in the big, bad city. After meeting up over coffee where both hid a few minor details about self, they agreed to share the apartment, Aradhna had begun to deplore her within a month for precisely the same reasons as Shuchi’s colleagues. Not that she could do much about it as the security was paid and the contract demanded her to stay put for a year. A year is long time to suppress anger for any human being but more so for a woman who is fiercely aggressive and carries a dash of sadism as Aradhna did.

Five months in to the arrangement, both could no longer stand each other; Shuchi would clean the apartment to the point of dusting the ash tapped off Aradhna’s cigarettes from the sofa while Aradhna would blow her lid if someone as much as touched her stuff. Arguing and yelling their lungs out before falling asleep due to sheer exhaustion had become a norm rather than exception. Aradhna had developed a habit of intentionally dropping bits of paper or match sticks and pointing them out to Shuchi and Shuchi compulsively had to pick them up and throw in the bin, mouthing expletives.

That was month five. Having completed 11 months, Aradhna could not wait to move out and struck out days on a calendar. An eerie silence had taken over the apartment as they both knew it was about to end soon. Though relieved, Shuchi was somewhat sad about Aradhna leaving but blamed it on Helsinki Syndrome and went about business as usual. Aradhna, on the other hand, could not wait to finally breath in free air. So happy was she that she even went on her knees to persuade Shuchi to let her throw a party on the final night. Shuchi finally agreed under the condition that Aradhna would clean up everything before she left.
Alcohol brings out our inner self. Aradhna introduced the game of drop-and-pick which she had been playing with Shuchi all this time, and her friends began doing the same. For a while, Shuchi coped, picking up trash but humiliation finally took over, and she slapped one of the idiots. Taking a cue, everyone made a swift exit, leaving Aradhna fuming.

It was like the old days. They were both screaming at each other, calling names. However, both knew it was the end of it and they did not need to hold back. All the pent up anger was coming to fore as the argument got fiercer and louder. Finally, Shuchi could no longer bear the pressure and fainted. But Aradhna was not done. She had lived like a prisoner for a year and now Shuchi had slapped her friend and she had to avenge it. In a fit of rage, she lifted the dustbin and overturned it, dropping the contents on the carpet. Still not satisfied, she started pouring fluids from half empty bottles on the floor and went in Shuchi’s room with an aim to trash it beyond comprehension. She was still at it when Shuchi came to. Everything after that; the final stand-off, the smashing of bottles, the terrible realization, was a blurry haze. All she remembered was trying to clean the mess she had created.

A week later, Shuchi was happier than ever before when she stepped in to the apartment. With Aradhna gone, she did not have to fight every night and she would find the apartment the way she left it; no surprise trash waiting to be cleaned up or no book out of its shelf. She examined the living room and decided to get a new carpet. Those red stains on this one just would not go. 

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Giving Back

Anchor: "Good Evening. Tonight, we have in our studio a house hold name who needs no introduction, but unlike most successful men, he does not have a woman behind him. But what he does have is a story about his struggling days and how he passionately worked towards achieving his goal. Ladies and Gentleman, let's have it for the Forbes Businessman of the year 2011, Mr. Kanav Satija."

Kanav: Thank you, anchor.

Anchor: How do you feel to be here?

Kanav: Grateful, proud and many such superlatives.

Anchor: And how did you feel about winning the Businessman of the year award?

Kanav: Surprised, excited etc.

Anchor: In the past 10 years, since you had won the Entrepreneur of the year award, your net worth has grown 50-fold. How do you feel about that?

Kanav: Now you are just getting on my nerves. Can we please have some relevant questions, Anchor?

Anchor: (Laughs nervously). I had only heard about your straightforwardness. Now I realise that the truth isn't far from legend. Formalities aside, I shall begin with the most basic of question: Please tell me about your journey from your home to Chennai.

Kanav: Hmmm. A question I used to dread when I first sat for placement interviews. However, I shall try to answer it as well as I can. I hail from a small town in Bihar called Talaiyya. My father had a little land there, the produce of which, allowed him to feed the family of three and in good seasons, a paltry saving too. When I came of age, he sent me to Kota to prepare for JEE and told me that he has bet all his savings on me. The burden lay heavy on my shoulders and though not as sharp as the others around me, I burnt the midnight oil day after day and finally managed to walk in to the promised land.

Anchor: And how did the 4 years there mould you?

Kanav: They taught me to know when I should be reasonable and when I must be stubborn. The place could have easily shattered my self-confidence had I looked up to everyone who demanded it. There were the professors who ridiculed us for being coached in Kota or Hyderabad. There were the seniors who made fun of us for having high and mighty goals. There were the batchmates who were smarter, from more affluent backgrounds and spoke better English; who looked down upon the rest of the students. And by the time we were in the 4th year, there was a covenant of research oriented students and professors who chided us for even aspiring for a non-engineering job.

Anchor: So how did you deal with, what seems to be practically everyone, breathing down your neck for not heeding?

Kanav: First of all, it was only a handful of a vast number but naturally, a thorn itches more than a fragrance soothes. The key, like I said, was playing between reasonable and stubborn. Perhaps it was my upbringing that taught me the essence of it. Those people, no matter how condescending, were better than me in some ways. And unlike most others, I was immune to their jibes and hence, could dare to get close enough to them to learn. In fact, I even befriended a few despite the differences.

Anchor: Moving on, your answer to the "bigass bank which pays obscene money to engineers for doing finances and valuations" when the interviewed you is part of IIT folklore. Would you like to recount the whole episode?

Kanav: Why not. Parth, the interviewer, had a look at my 9+ CGPA and asked me if I were really interested in Aeronautical Engineering and if I'd be happy running numbers all day long. My reply was, "Sir, I have seen my parents work really hard to get me here. I'd happy doing anything that helps me to honestly provide for them, even if that means washing cars." And wouldn't it sadden you that you shall be laying your 4 years' education to waste? I quipped, "Yes, I would perhaps be selling out my education but that's far less troublesome than the thought of selling my parents' sacrifices short. I believe there's a time for everything. I may later come back to it when I'm comfortable and seek satisfaction but right now, my goal is to secure bread for my family for the next few years." The reply hit home and he instantly took me on board. In fact, 2 years later, he took me as a partner to his start-up. The rest, as they say, is history. He later told me that he was looking for honest, hard working employees and not for the geniuses stuck in higher moral dilemmas.

Anchor: And how have you given back. Funding the entire Aeronautics Lab at your alma-mater. How did that come about?

Kanav: I guess I had always wanted to give back but I'd have forgotten all about it in my busy life, had it not for the jibes which the lovers of the branch, profs and students alike, threw at me.  They never let me forget. And when I finally had the resources, I did it. Funnily though, A few of my batchmates and my profs who criticised us for taking up banking jobs, welcomed my money and me with open arms. There were no uncomfortable questions about it and they even told the students that they always "knew" that I'll make it big someday.

Bhaskar had invited a couple of friends to boast about his old pal. But in one sentence, Kanav had made it clear that he had not forgotten. Though he didn't name anyone, Bhaskar knew Kanav was pointing towards him, among others. Today, when he was working on one project, Kanav's money was supporting seven similar ones, including his own. Back in the day, Bhaskar had never tired of questioning Kanav's integrity and loyalty for taking up a banking job. Kanav's legendary answer, in his view, was proof enough. But today, in a single statement, Bhaskar's hypocrisy was bared in front of himself. He stood naked facing the mirror of self-realisation, ashamed to even look at it. 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Unforgettable Journey

The gentry in 3rd ac is no longer what it used to be, thought Somesh as he pushed his suitcase under the seat. The 5 minutes it took him to reach his berth from the door, amidst clamour and congestion had left him exhausted. After catching his breath in a few pants, he surveyed his companions for the journey. The happy and complete Indian family; a husband, a semi-educated wife, a shy daughter and two overweight sons. Why he never found a shy son and overweight daughters with semi- educated mothers, he could not reason. What he knew with certainty was that they were not going to make his journey any easier. A tad disappointed, he focussed on the other side. The occupants of the side berths were not in sight but the luggage, or the lack of it, told him there were no women and certainly not any his age. “Not worthwhile to sit uncomfortably and converse with the other two, in that case”, Somesh thought and resigned himself to finishing the badly written “If God was a banker” during the journey.
Somesh loved travelling by trains. He had loved it since as long as he could remember. So much so that he would take the onward journey to Mumbai by train and only return by flight, whenever he went to meet his girlfriend, Simar, over an extended weekend. Although this cut in to their time together and almost always resulted in a quarrel with her, but he could not help it; these journeys were equally dear to him. They gave him time to introspect, the space to think uninterrupted and the freedom to be what he liked sans the presence of familiar faces judging him. This speeding sea of humanity was the only place where he got some time alone and stillness of thought.
He had, though, one regret: quite a few friends of his boasted about chance encounters in trains whereas he, a veteran by travelling standards, had never even been fortunate enough to have female company of the same age. And this journey was no different. “It would be worse, if anything”, thought Somesh. In a mental game he loved to play, he played out the movements, actions, questions and responses of each of the passengers. He secretly prided himself on predicting with reasonable accuracy, which was enhanced by years of experience in stereotyping and travelling. His train of thought was broken by the ruckus accompanying the middle aged men, occupying the side berths, who had arrived and were now stacking their bags. As soon as they had settled, both took out their phones and began talking in fluent, loud English so that their position of respect was established among fellow passengers.
As the engine blew the final whistle, Somesh’s mind started jogging; all the men are sharing some information about themselves. Highly likely that the businessman’s curiosity is aroused by someone’s line of work and questions and responses fly. Without any deliberation, the conversation flows like the mighty Ganga, exploring a variety of topics and finally settling in the vast ocean of India’s plight, politics and leaders. Once out of words, the businessman takes out a Hindi magazine from his bag and the other two return to making authoritative-sounding phone calls. At this point, the two boys who had been sitting quietly begin quarrelling, running around and generally wreaking havoc in the compartment. The others won’t complain, their gratitude bought by the laddoos which the wife had offered everyone.  By 9 PM, the younger one starts wailing non-stop for an hour, finally falling asleep by 10. The elder one though, carries on uninhibited until about 1 AM. Somesh is only able to fall asleep after the kid runs out of steam. And even before having a proper dream, it’s 5 AM and the younger one is up, all set to rule the kingdom in the absence of his older sibling. Somesh is more tired at 6 AM than he was at 6 PM.
“This can’t be allowed to happen. I must appear fresh and energetic for the interview tomorrow”. Somesh scratched his head, thinking hard. And then, like a flash, an idea crossed his mind. He again played out the whole scene with a minor tweak. Confident of his little scheme, he relaxed, biding his time.
Soon enough, they were looking at each other, expecting someone to start the conversation. Somesh listened as the businessman explained his business and the two men elaborated upon their company and role. “We shall be rivals if I get through”, Somesh murmured.  It was a brief moment before he realised that the others were staring at him, expecting him to ramble on about himself. Gathering his courage and wits, he calmly introduced himself, “My name is Somesh and I am in to smuggling stuff”. “Smuggling what?” the wife asked before she could check herself. With a carefully placed grin, making him look sinister, he said, “You don’t want to know”.
As he hid his hardly controllable smile behind the spiteful novel, he could feel everyone shifting uneasily in their seats – even the children. From that moment the compartment went unnaturally quiet and remained so until he had alighted the train the next morning.
As he sat waiting for his turn, he reflected on the incident. Not only was he better relaxed but also felt more confident, thanks to the wily trick. The masterstroke, he felt, was Simar’s call when he spoke to her pretending she was a call girl. On the one hand, his girlfriend was pleasantly surprised by his “naughty” behaviour and on the other hand, his sleazy choice of words reaffirmed his identity as a low-life among his fellow travelers. Talk about one stone and two birds. Lost in his own thoughts, his lips had broken in to a silly smile by the time his name was called out.
Walking in with a swagger, feeling supremely confident, he looked up to read his interviewers. In an instant, his face became the second thing to fall, right after his confidence had bungee-jumped without the safety rope. That his body did not follow suit was nothing short of a miracle. Sitting in front of him, were the two middle-aged men from the train. He wanted to turn around and run, run back to yesterday evening and re do that one moment when he had lied. Little beads of perspiration were now forming on his forehead and the back of his neck was itching. “Get ready to be slaughtered”, he told himself as he mumbled good morning.
Shamelessly sneering, they offered him a seat and glass of water. He only has hazy recollections of what happened next. Questions were fired and inadequate attempts were made at responding for a while. He kept gulping water until they had closed his file and returned it to him. He remembers the word congratulations and his hand being shook. What he clearly remembers is the instruction, “You are clearly gifted when it comes to convincing people. However, you are going to stop lying from now on.”