READ THE PREQUEL OF THIS STORY HERE : https://tellmeyourstory.in/a-lucrative-offer/
“Don’t you love your wife?”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t!”
A haze of unease engulfed Rajesh – what does Mona mean? While preparing a befitting reply he sees many other members of the Indian community gathering around his table; everyone’s finger pointed at him. He begins sweating. He gets too nervous to counter them.
In the middle of the September night, Rajesh wakes up sweating to discover himself in the clay-white bed in his London apartment. He stretches his hand to touch Riya, habitually, to ignore the horror of the nightmare. Not getting the much needed touch brings him back to a sub-stratum of reality. He recalls Riya would never select white as the colour of their bed; white is the colour of death to her. She prefers rainbow in bed. He recalls his moments of desire with her on the multi-coloured bed sheets in their Bangalore home. He shivers, feels as if he is sinking in the soft whiteness of the bed – did he reach here after death?
The sound of the clock ticking on the side table helps him to wake up in his current reality. He recalls own habit of keeping an alarm clock beside the bed even in the era of smart phones, his arrival in London two months back, Mona’s waiting for him at airport and subsequent real-world experiences in the new city – London.
London is not completely unknown to him. He had visited the London establishment of his previous company several times. But the experience of flying with Air-France economy-class ticket and the Business class of British Airways is different. However he didn’t expect Monalisa Mhatre to receive him at 7.30 in the morning. Parking area for terminal 5 is little far and that too is expensive. He could not stop asking, “Was it really necessary to pay 12 pounds for this pick up?”
“What makes you so apprehensive?”
“Not apprehensive, but every investment should have a reason.” – He tried to sound logical, though he knew Mona was right.
Mona didn’t have an intension to enter into a debate; said, “Needed to give you some quick input before your joining – and I thought meeting you at airport would be better. Anyway I can drop you on your way to hotel if you want to hire a taxi.”
“No – I am here not to waste pounds.” He smiled regaining the confidence of a corporate executive which he began losing at the sight of Mona and her 2nd generation Porsche Cayenne.
He received the necessary brief before he reached – supporting a core engineering strategic team needed much more than his knowledge of CDM software. Especially in a new environment one needs more input on the environment itself than the technological know-how. Collaborating with human resource requires skilled driver in the moving vehicle of collaborative software system.
His hotel in Dorset Rise was three minutes walk from his Fleet Street office. Reaching hotel took 1 hour – almost same time the metro takes. His premonition about Mona’s romantic mood proved to be baseless – she showed no sign of softness for him in that one hour. As she left dropping him at the visitor’s car park quickly waving her hand, Rajesh felt relieved; at the same time pensive – do women gain power by forgetting own emotion?
He met Mona in Bangalore after a decade-long gap. He knew her as admirer colleague once – imagining her to be in a higher role was difficult. Yet in Bangalore, he didn’t get her completely. They spoke for about fifteen minutes – his assignment was already planned, he had to only understand the scope of job and communicate his approval. Seeing her in Airport astounded him. The once ordinary-looking bookish girl looks confident now. Her look is still not comparable to Riya’s, yet accomplishment added attractive dimensions in her appearance. Her car is probably a part of her persona today. He sank in thoughts of Mona till he opened the door of his room.
The view of the busy street from his room welcomed him with a pleasant smile. That was when he felt being a part of the city. Little discomfort of not getting South-Indian filter coffee and lavatory without health-faucet didn’t disturb him like it did during his first visit – he came prepared this time. A hot shower embalmed his mind with calmness removing the layer of itching envy Mona’s arrival had created in the morning.
To Be Continued in Part 2…
Rajesh found home in an Essex street flat within couple of weeks.
London didn’t change much in last few years – neither its people though rising number of Asian population became a concern for many conservatives in these years. Polite colleagues in office-environment would never mention that, but one may overhear stories about how the presence of aggressive Asian boys in locality forced a senior citizen couple to install a new security system at home. A person would not face trouble while taking stroll by the river Thames or Trafalgar square – but being only coloured person in an elevator of in a City of London shopping mall can still expose one to some unpleasant moments, even if not humiliation. He did not have much time for socializing, he did not even have an adventurer’s enthusiasm to discover London tube at odd hours as well, however found own behaviour inexplicably fussy once in a while. Since joining new office he stopped looking at people’s faces – found new responsibilities largely occupying to keep himself absorbed in. Instead of going out on weekends, he choose to take rest in his cozy apartment and chatting with wife about his home eight thousand kilometers away.
Spring had begun showing its colours in the outskirts of London. During his last visits when his schedules used to be packed with official tasks, he dreamt of coming back again to take a trip to Scottish castles and Irish meadows one day. Despite of gaining the scope, he did not try to follow up his tourism dream this time. Joblessness of several months taught him the value of savings. He joined Butler Longman on three-year long contract. On top of that, payment was not excellent. Now saving every possible penny became his priority. Sacrificing own enjoyment seemed inevitable.
However life is not trouble-free even for the most cautious person.
The more Rajesh was trying to concentrate in work, more he sensed some environment- issue in office. Soon he discovered Mona’s leaning towards recruiting Asians. The London office took the form of a mini Indian subcontinent. He guessed qualified emigrants or their descent’s being available at a cheaper rate a reason behind this. Asians work hard and stay in office beyond working hours if pressurized. He could not conclude whether many resources from one region of the world was the reason that had created an absolute informal environment. However, he smelled something was not quite right in the enterprise; hierarchy appears nothing but an excuse to threat out of favor people. Personal comments flowing in manager’s cabins while discussing employee performances entered in his ears like sewage sludge. His discomfort modified into irritation soon. And the first reason behind it appeared to be Sarah.
Sarah’s skin and look is of an Indian’s. Since many years Rajesh has inculcated a hypothesis that Indian girls prefer travelling abroad in search of grooms if they cannot get married in India due to their skinny looks. He did not have an intension to make friends with a junior Indian engineer of mediocre caliber in the team. But Sarah was too sociable to miss a scope of conversing with him. Rajesh did not want to buy name for being rude in the new office and hence allowed her to share table with him during crowded lunch hour in the cafeteria adjacent to office.
And that gave her enough scope to ask personal questions:
“I assume you are comfortable in London?”
“Why don’t you bring your family here?”
“You know the meaning of intra company transfer visa, am I right?”
“Don’t you like England?”
“I do.” Rajesh was trying hard to guess where the conversation was leading him.
“Then you may apply for permanent one.”
“How come?” – He was more curious than interested in applying for one.
The reply left him awestruck. He didn’t know how to counter the unruly girl. In Indian environment, he couldn’t imagine a junior colleague talk to him like that.
His shocked face amazed Sarah. She left table giggling.
She continued being the reason of annoyance for weeks. She was not exactly a lazy employee, rather an average one not excellently skillful or very apt when it came to pointing out technological requirements of a project; only her capability of flirting made her extraordinary. Rajesh had noticed men in office enjoying her flattering them. He knew very well the words she threw at him were thrown to many colleagues in many occasions. Only if a logical analysis helped the middle-aged grumpy man to ignore her! He could not resist asking Mona about her during one of the lunch-meetings.
“Sarah? You mean Saraswati Salmon? Her mother was of Indian descent I have heard. Father is an Afro-Brit from Bristol. That’s where the name and coloured skin came you know!” Mona chuckled; then said in the serious tone, “But what makes you curious about her? Anything wrong?”
Rajesh had to state there was nothing wrong but the girl’s way of conversation.
“You mean you are not being able to manage a junior techie under you?”
Rajesh smiled, understanding Mona’s intent, did not ask anything else. However the sound of her giggling continued echoing in his ears.
To Be Continued in Part 3…
One day Sarah’s voice occupied his mind for entire 20 minutes of his walk-time till he reached his Essex Street flat. He had applied for European Union’s driving license. His colleague Patrick told him about the rumour about Britain’s exit from European Union – he didn’t bother. He was not much aware of global politics; common sense told him that England’s exit from the Union should not be matter of concern for Indians, even if that practically happens. His worry revolved around getting a used car. He knew it would again prove his mediocrity in comparison with Mona, but being an employee of eighty thousand pound worth and having a family in India he could not afford anything better.
His son Akash asked over phone once, “Which car you will take Papa?”
He fumbled; tried to hide own anxiety from the eight year old, “I will select a good one beta. First I have to check which one is most comfortable.”
That day they chatted over specifications of different cars available in England for long – it was his longest chat with his son since he came to London.
Office gossips didn’t end with Sarah’s soft laugh at him. He understood many of the Indian colleague’s keenness to know more about his family. They collected the details about his and Riya’s epic love story, their enviable lifestyle in Bangalore and his losing the job. They wanted to know more – how come such a romantic couple decided to split for such a long duration? In order to satisfy them Rajesh shared stories of his once agony as a jobless ex-manager of the reputed software giant, the state which forced him to leave his beautiful wife and kids and comfort of home; but realized that the stories became tool in some hands to illustrate him as a weak Indian boy in early forties, unable to manage own emotional issues. He knew he had rivals; could not accept the fact that personal decision of leaving family at home could be an image-maker of a senior manager in a Europe-based enterprise. One day Suhail Shantanu, one of his colleagues, a migrant from Bangladesh caught him during lunch – “Guess you know about the MM rollout in Abu Dhabi centre?”
“I also know Monalisa wants you to visit Abu Dhabi once.” He could not resist throwing an anticipatory pebble in the bush of undisclosed area Suhail was talking about. It worked.
“Then you don’t know it properly – Both you and I will have to go there once and check feasibility of getting the same done here.”
Surprised Rajesh did not want to express doubt – at the same time felt bothered about Monalisa’s not sharing the information with him. Why did she need to keep him in dark when his role is of sheer importance in the project? Materials management was being done with basic locally procured software which needs to be replaced by a better one. However, company didn’t yet decide whether all their branches would deploy the same one or different cost centers, i.e. country branches would have own choice depending on cost and requirement. Whether SAP or Oracle’s software would be acquired here or some local software would be procured depends partially on his opinion. Not expressing the annoyance he asked, “Do you know the schedule?”
“Sometime next month.” Suhail shrugged; threw a question so abrupt that Rajesh couldn’t believe own ears, “If you don’t mind – why don’t you call your family to join you?”
“My wife is a manager of a global software company in India – an engineer of same category as mine.”
“Then she can look for some short term opportunity here as well. My wife was a professor in Bakharganj College before we shifted here. She left her job to come with me. I too came on contract in the beginning, and now our stay is extended.”
By then Rajesh new his giving explanation would not help much to change their understanding of relationships; still tried once again, “My children are studying there, both our parents are in India and – we have properties.”
“Then your children can stay with grandparents there. Don’t we have properties in Bangladesh?…” he went on describing number of rooms in his ancestral house, gardens and ponds yielding good revenue while impassive-faced Rajesh kept on watching him, nodding occasionally. Probably not getting reply from him made Suhail end with a vital question, “How would you stay without wife for three years, man? You are in early forties, right? I can’t sleep without wife – don’t tell me you are an Indian yogi.” He winked before leaving the chair – shattering Rajesh from inside with the supposition.
To Be Continued in Part 4…
Long joblessness appeared such a soaring pain in their chocolate box life that none of the couple thought of anything else but the lucrative side of the offer that came from almost out of the blue. He did not have time to ponder over personal matters before his quick transit. Broken-hearted Riya had to organize herself as well as children quickly to keep pace with him – it was she who inspired her husband to talk to Mona. She had no option to retreat. Reaching the comfort of London flat, Rajesh had already began missing Riya – not only her charming company, but also her gorgeous body. It was her charm that forced him to stay in the same city for years. Once out of the city for such a long period, his body began reacting along with his mind. He thought of taking up drinking to ward off his towering loneliness. Fear of own clumsy voice’s getting caught by Riya prohibited him. He could not escape in sleep in heavy drunken state. He had already gone through several sleepless nights remembering the taste of Riya’s mouth, flavour of her toothpaste, smell of her cleavage. Suhail’s comment set his ears into flames.
He decided to go for an evening walk along the riverfront after office. Idea of spending 50 pounds for taxi and pub visit pricked him once –he removed the thorn by force.
He took a taxi leaving office at eight; didn’t miss his ritual of informing Riya own whereabouts that he began even before his marriage, and then tried to absorb himself in enjoying the stunning view of the city under the bright lights illuminating the night sky. However success in pleasing himself remained elusive. The crowded May evening near the gorgeous tower bridge made him more melancholic than cheerful. His eyes were caught by the couples holding hands, families carrying kids on shoulders or in baby bags. Avoiding the cheerful crowd he took a stroll along the riverside – felt the tall lampposts showering their gracious light on him, smelt the water, saw the twinkling ripples drawn on the rivers by the evening breeze – everything was so colourful probably to imply the emptiness in his life – how did he not realise the outcome of leaving Riya and kids behind for three long years? He knew he could call Riya – that would disturb her sleep but not help him to get the touch of her skin, smell her hair. He began reflecting on own state of being depleted instead of the scenic beauty. An unusual fatigue engulfed him – he stepped inside a pub, sat there for over an hour, had beer at his heart’s content and returned home long before he planned.
Rajesh never considered himself to be thinker – never desired to be one. This was probably first time in his life he stood at the window, noticed the pigeon excreta below the window pane, the serpentine road below carrying the mark of human eagerness of reaching a destination. He tried to wonder whether he had already reached his destination. He could not confront himself any longer – went to bed.
And the nightmare of being accused of disloyalty to wife wakes him up in the middle of the night.
To Be Continued in Part 5…
“Believe in yourself. Have faith in your abilities.”
Rajesh made a habit of chanting the lines everyday while entering office. He knows the importance of being successful to be happy. Long months of non-employment taught him how happiness evaporates once a man’s success-story is breached. He knows the necessity of achieving continuous success to be continuously happy and also keep his picturesque family in India happy. Albeit a sense of inadequacy and inferiority grasps him at the sight of Mona. Mona the meek one who engrossed herself in management studies once, not being able to win his heart, is now his superior. Moreover her behaviour shows no weakness so that he could find a trace of her former soft corner about him. She appears supportive – and her supportive gesture causes loss of his confidence. He had attended many workshops in his previous company on self-realization and self-actualization but sight of Mona invariably brings the image of her milky white Porsche Cayenne in his mind. He feels miserable not being able to overcome the malady of feeling inferior – even chanting Belief mantra fails.
He is responsible for determining requirement of software implementations in the company from strategic business point of view. Now the responsibility of handling external customers in previous company looks as if it was easier. His junior colleagues do not refuse to support him, still his days end with bitterness – of not being able to remain a hero to Monalisa and of being the centre of gossip-mongers. He understands the same supportive colleagues found stories behind his not being able to drag Riya to London.
He tries to rejuvenate himself talking to Riya after office hours.
In the first few weeks Riya tried her best to provide psychological support to her homesick husband. But how long a senior manager of a conglomerate sitting in a London office should sound gloomy? Homesickness should cure within a certain period of time like viral fever does. Her patience for treating the sick one began fading away with passing time. “Your complaints are getting boring, Raj.”
“You are lucky that you don’t have to face issues I do.”
“You don’t want to know troubles I face here – how I spend with two kids here, how Dona (one of their pet Labradors) fell sick last week, how did I take care of your mother when she came here for surgery last month!”
Rajesh knows all those stories – Riya herself narrated those over phone. He also called his mother couple of times during her stay in hospital. He was grateful to Riya, yet his expectation from her was not very low. Doesn’t she know he called his mother every alternative day after she went back home, to relieve her from carrying all the pressure alone? How couldn’t she sympathize with her poor husband suffering in a foreign land? He feels weaker; screams louder to cover up the weakness, “I am the one who is earning, staying here alone to support you. Don’t boast of your management skills so much!”
Riya understands her husband’s temperament. She on the other hand feels helpless not being able to direct him. Without an option to meet his colleagues she cannot do much. The situation is undoubtedly disappointing. How much one can advise over phone? She advises him to ignore gossips. He tries to explain to her why ignoring is difficult – and the same turns a routine. In fact their telephonic conversation’s ending with argument becomes so regular that Rajesh shifts to chatting from calling to avoid vocal fight – even chat sessions could not be better.
To Be Continued in Part 6….
Vishal, his childhood friend dropped in London for a week on his way home. The successful fellow had become an NRI choosing Florida as his abode years back. Rajesh keeps in touch with him, was attracted by the idea of spending a vacation in the childhood friend’s plush Florida home once – obviously the dream was never realised. None of his companies would provide him that much of time. Holidaying abroad could not be claimed from his company’s account in India. Rajesh’s success was limited to India. To comply with the norm of success, he needed to live abroad for a longer period to claim own space on the same platform with them. This is first time in London he feels thriving. Vishal’s call in the morning yesterday cheered him up. He said, “Why don’t you drop in my flat once? Don’t tell me you are too busy on Sunday.”
“Unfortunately I have to tell you that I’m busy on Sunday!”
“How about Saturday evening?”
“What shall we two boys do in a closed apartment on a Saturday evening?”
“Wait wait I am not that Londoner as yet I think – I will take time to understand your sentence.” He tried to add some pun before defending own invitation, “I don’t have scarcity of good scotch here – that much I can promise.” He was confident of impressing his Florida-resident friend showing his recent acquisition.
Vishal had different plan anyway, “In that case I will miss a ride on your 2nd hand car. Let me check how miser you have been!”
Rajesh had to keep himself happy with a 2010 Mitsubishi Grandis as he didn’t find a better deal for 3500 pounds. His feeling of inferiority encouraged him to publicize the news of his adopting a used car via facebook. He had a hope to get his pain eased constantly being rubbed on the pain-point. He answered Vishal’s sniggery with a loud laughter.
“Am in Marylabone, do come with your garbage cart, I wanna be garbage!”
“No issue but what’s plan?”
“Let’s roam around Cambridge Theatre.” Vishal sealed the deal.
Rajesh thanked own luck for bringing him to London that gave him an opportunity to meet a successful friend abroad.
While driving through A4201 towards Marylbone, he remembers a proverb he had heard long back, “children are the bridge between parents.” He rebukes himself for not remembering the same before. He should have spoken to the children more frequently instead of calling Riya. A spontaneous deep sigh relieved him from the guilt of not informing Riya about his meeting Vishal. Tomorrow morning he would call Akash and Akruti – not Riya.
The big fat Vishal fulfills the significance of his name. Probably staying in USA for years helped him to gain the weight suitable to his name. Thinner Rajesh’s looking at him with starry eyes pleases his friend. Vishal understands the width of his body reveals the width of his happiness to his contractual manager friend.
The day is cloudy. Sitting in the luxurious drawing room, sipping a large peg of an exclusive single malt they indulge themselves into discussing about the owner of the splendid house who is a Italian turned British turned American businessman friend of Vishal – his taste, number of cars, comparatively smaller size of the swimming pool in Vishal’s Florida home, current recession of USA, situation of Detroit post General Motors fall and many other global issues. By the time evening starts sparkling, they come out of the house. As the evening breeze began forecasting the arrival of rainfall probably in the late evening, they felt the urgency of going out. Some of trees in this residential area are in full bloom; the rest are stunning green. Summer is hotter in London these days, but the presence of the greenery becomes the reason some areas remain very pleasant. Vishal’s big hand taps Rajesh’ shoulder, “I don’t think drunk driving would be a good idea – let’s take a cab.” The superior friend calls taxi and that’s the moment Rajash discovered that instead of Cambridge theatre, their destination is Lexington Street. He never dared visiting the infamous Soho lanes; mumbled protesting, “But you can call girls in your place too. Why do you need to go to that area?”
“We – not you.”
Rajesh tries to act smart albeit giving an embarrassed smile. “It’s you, ‘cause I am not into girl-hunting.”
“You have many more options than mere girls.”
“You mean? – Sometimes two words are enough to express a person’s terrorized state. “Don’t worry! I am not taking you to Admiral Duncan, neither driving you to that lesbian club at the corner.”
Vishal laughs loud at his own joke; then adds, “Women in your bed cannot drive you to paradise as they do in their own.”
Rajesh finds no word to suit his confident wink. Vishal is superior to him, not only as a successful professional but also as a man perhaps. He doesn’t dare going to brothels; in fact the thought of those painted bizarre girls instigates nausea in him. He knows he can’t explain his negative feelings before the strikingly self-assured Vishal; occupies himself in watching moving shops at the roadside.
To Be Continued in Part 7….
They stop before a wide glass window displaying the crowd dancing with the tune of a painted old lady dressed in an awkward pink dress. Rajesh finds this area relatively darker irrespective of dazzling bar and brothel billboards. He feels a chill in his backbone. Even apparently peaceful human figures standing at the roadside brought him a shiver in spine. He spots a young lady coming out of a bar carrying a kid in her baby bag. At the same time he hears Vishal, “Get down, don’t worry, it’s safe.”
He follows his friend mechanically. They take the stairs, stand in the hall among the cheering crowd, then moves towards reception. Vishal takes out wallet to pay two hundred pounds; he does the same, collects the necessary protective rubber from the vending machine. Suddenly he finds himself alone inside a dim-lighted room – or not exactly alone – there is a skimpily dressed girl. Her robotic lips move; he hears something like, “How may I serve you?”
He also hears own heart pounding. It’s perhaps a miracle that his reflex begins acting stronger at this moment. He orders in a confident voice, “Please sit down – I just need to talk.”
She abides by. He looks at her – a light-skinned girl at her early twenties, seemingly of Asian origin, too thin to be called voluptuous as per Indian standard is waiting anxiously, looking at his face. As soon as he discovers anxiety in her eyes, his own reduces. He starts relieving himself, “I am from India, employed with a company here but my wife and kids are staying there. How about you?”
The silence of couple of seconds tells him about the meager chance of a conversation. He continues. “I have been to London before, some four five years back – anyway didn’t find chance of visiting the city that time. Whereas I was looking forward to a city visit, my friend wanted to see someone here. Hence we dropped, but don’t worry …..” he feels comfortable after many months since his arrival in London, being in a leader’s role. He paid for the girl – she doesn’t have the right to touch him unless he wants.
His cheerful mood convinces Vishal of the good time he had spent when they meet after about an hour. He finds himself fortunate seeing his big friend excessively tired to talk while going home. He gets into own car bidding a short goodbye. Vishal bids adieu with a priestly advice, “You will need these girls if you are really planning to stay here for three long years. Don’t behave like a mouse. Be a man! That is the mantra to keep your wife happy. Be the sage – who was that one who slept with his teacher’s wife? Be him! Learn lessons to take back home.”
If the Godavari or Ganga flowed nearby, Rajesh could have taken a dip. He terribly misses a sacred river which could purify him. He feels appallingly lonely on the shower-drenched roads of London, misses his mother like he did in feverish state as a child, blames own fate like he never did. Returning home he would take a dip in the bathtub taking the name of lord Tirupati, only he could save him from the sin of visiting that dirty place. Lying in bed he would burst into tear, pray to the God, all knowing and all powerful – to cleanse him from all his sins, save him from all unclean situations he might need to confront in future.
The father from abroad gets to know how much his children are focused to their school events and mobile games and friends in India. They do not show much curiosity to know about London. In their environment they haven’t seen many to fly to London for higher studies. As he tries to communicate deeper with children, he senses a father living in USA could be more estimable than a father living in London. Within a short while they hand the phone to Riya.
Rajesh is determined not to fight again – he needs some solace after previous days’ experience. Scaring Riya with imaginary threat is also not in his agenda. He knows Riya would come to know about his meeting Vishal – Vishal and his wife Sruti are common friends; also knows Vishal would never mention their adventure to Soho to anyone else. He gives Riya minute description of his meeting Vishal, gives a speech on the unknown but wealthy Italian-British-American mansion owner and his friendly gesture of inviting Vishal in his home in the upscale London locality for a week in his absence, the heavenly taste of single malt, American recession and its impact on poor Americans. Amazed Riya participates chattering, giggling, echoing in between. Her husband feels the vibration in her mind from thousand kilometers away, imagines her surprised lips pouting, contented shoulders resting on sofa, pleased breasts bouncing with each of her laughter. He feels passionate desire for his charming wife, whispers his feeling over phone, experiences utmost pleasure being reciprocated. He body shivers with enchantment as his wife kisses him goodbye over phone – as if after thousands of years. He thanks Vishal wholeheartedly probably for the first time in his life – for existing, for becoming a reason he could please his wife after ages. Even showcasing a wealthy friend helps a mediocre husband to make his wife happy.
To Be Continued in Part 8….
A disgraceful moment of shock was waiting for him in office. Who knew some of his Indian colleagues also have a habit of partying in the same pub where he dropped on Saturday evening? He didn’t anticipate Peter Dharmaraj could pour such a message in his ears whispering during lunch hour, “Hope you had a nice weekend? But I think Soho is not a good idea – you may call gals at your home’s comfort.”
Irritated Rajesh knows opposing him would only lead to altercation. What they believe is true to them. He only asks, “You were there?”
“No, not I. Some young guys went to the pub on weekend. I call gals home when my wife goes to native. I have many girlfriends.” – Dharmaraj looks proud.
Rajesh feels own ears and neck burning. He no longer thinks of convincing anyone in office about the purity of his marital love. Why to memorize that nightmare again and again when it is not going to yield any positive outcome? Like every other man, he likes to be admired by women, establish own worth before them, but those who earn selling bodies to men were never in his list of ideal women. True that monotony of single life was disturbing him, possibilities of proving himself as a worthy senior manager before Monalisa Mhatre enchants him, but could never submit to an idea of sharing bed with human bodies available in market. Irresponsible relationship was never an option to him, moreover he is addicted to own wife – Riya is the only one who he terribly misses. Possibility of being attracted by an impure woman goes beyond his imagination. He grasps how his colleagues in the new office interpreted him – a spiraling lie which he would never be able to remove from their minds has already extended beyond his control. He tries to appear calm, excuses himself and sneaks into the rest room.
He looks at own shattered face, tears at the corner of own eyes. Failure in life has different faces. He was an envied successful man in India one year back. Recession in the IT industry made him unsuccessful. Again the seed of another success was planted with this job abroad. But tricky perception of a bunch of unknown people labels him as an unsuccessful man in marital life. His professional image remains intact while the image of his personal being has been painted with indecent colours. He struggles to keep his nerves steady, splashes water on face and neck repeatedly, wipes the last sign of water from face, tightens his jaws before leaving washroom.
Both cloud based software and Server based one have advantages and disadvantages. Rajesh had habit of working with server based one; people’s preference usually depends on habit. Had he not been a person valuing habit, he would have jumped from one company to another following most of his friends in software sector. He had enough reason to do that in last thirteen years. He was once ridiculed by colleagues for turning down a Swiss-Swedish multinational corporation’s offer for a role in their Vienna office on pretext of being a family man. In this particular service sector, frequently changing company is a ritual also for those who are used to luxurious Indian lifestyle – it gives them the opportunity to ask for good hike on salary which is typically agreed upon by the hiring company – often in urgency. Friends made fun of his idea of sticking to one employer. Rajesh on the other hand was convinced of the effectiveness of own strategy of working for similar projects in the same company. Habit helped him to gather an experience so high that very few in the industry would reach that.
True a sixty year old programming language is not used everywhere but also true that Intel still develops Fortran compiler for handful of projects in the world and companies having those handful of projects struggle to find engineers able to handle the language like divers searching for a particular electric eel in an ocean. Being one of the few resources in India having the skill, he could effortlessly persuade his superiors of the sky-high desirability of his kind of manager, manage good increment every year as well as couple of short-term but remunerative onsite offers. Reason he was shocked when his company wanted him to get accustomed with SAP implementation process two years back. He cannot deny that he fiercely fought to establish his point against learning another language – ABAP that runs SAP. The new general manager was not ready to listen to any of his arguments, stuck to his own idea of making employees learn two or more skills and later pushed him to application implementation project after a short ABAP training.
Rajesh felt like a fish out of water, then tried his best to accept the new responsibilities blaming own fate. However even his best efforts could not help him reaching the skill similar to managers who work with various application projects. He is not an egoist male partner; did not regret being the husband of safer Riya who always worked with different application support projects; only sank into a sea of dismal thinking. His company’s attitude about his loyalty did hurt him. Rajesh is a person who feels miserable in unfavourable weather condition, but does not believe in met office’s predictions. The day his VP communicated to him the GM’s decision of sending him into bench citing his inefficiency in guiding SAP application project and unavailability of adequate Fortran projects in the world, he was still confident about finding an island in the same company – spent two valuable months searching for it in the same company imagining himself to be a good swimmer. Being delivered the ultimate pink slip along with a meager amount of retirement benefits, he shed a few teardrops in hiding. His VP was replaced by another new guy in the meantime. The ex-VP found an option for himself as a VP of a Business process service company.
Cloud has been already in. Nevertheless Rajesh is still not convinced about the security of software hosted on a shared space, especially when maintenance is done by a third party. At least a dozen of quotations from local software companies are stacked in his cabin – some provided quotation for cloud service, some only for maintenance. They say the advantage of cloud lies in paying for the exact amount of server space used. Also further cost reduction is possible as one doesn’t need to pay for idle infrastructure when it is not in use. But should cost reduction be only criteria when one looks at business growth? True with dedicated server the business will have to retain IT capacity and expertise to manage them, but if cloud is in consideration, why not cloud service of big brands? He has heard of successful roll-out of particular software in their Abu-Dhabi office; cannot understand why the same should not be implemented for their London establishment too. If cloud was only consideration then cloud service of same globally acclaimed software company could be consulted, in which case managing maintenance, patches and upgrades could be done through only that company or as shared service.
To his astonishment few colleagues in the company wants to outsource maintenance activities to firms other than hosting company – cost reduction is the main advantage they are showing to senior management. Rajesh knows another advantage that is not shown – commission – an open secret in any corporate environment. Lobbies are created to hand contracts to friendly companies so that some extra amount comes to bank accounts. He did not need to bother about these contracts while working in previous company, they were happy utilizing his technical know-how in implementing pre-decided software. Here he is given the role of one decision maker among four to decide which one to acquire to the best benefit of a certain operation. He is also the newest in the company – a scapegoat at hand. He smells rotten eggs in the proposal of assigning different hosting and maintenance companies for same process implementation, that too without keeping global integration in mind. He does not even know Monalisa’s stand about this. It is she who got him in the job, it is her opinion that matters the most. He doesn’t want to lose the contractual job soon acting a way that annoys Mona. Only if it was easy to understand her! Who is her ally in office, who the trusted one? He cannot make a guess from Mona’s behaviour. She doesn’t utter a word revealing personal preference for any of her juniors. Moreover, the professional shell she has built around herself, Rajesh doesn’t know since how long, seems unbreakable.
He was overwhelmed the day Akruti, his five-year old daughter asked him, “Papa, shall we come there for Diwali holidays?” Rajesh had no wish to spend much so soon. Mona arranged his job. However, payment in this company was not very good to spend lavishly in the costly city by inviting family for holidaying. He replied, “I will come to you during Christmas dear, with lot many chocolates. You will come here next year.” Akruti found the proposition satisfactory. Meeting her father was more important to her than visiting London.
Despite of having initial reservation about cost, he is moved by his daughter’s eagerness to visit him. He begins considering to invite his family during Indian Diwali leave after turning her proposition down. At the end of an official discussion session, as they are walking through the corridor towards their cabins, he reveals his mind to Mona. “I think I would invite my family here during Christmas this year. What about your plan?”
Mona replies, “You want your family to enjoy here while you are away?”
– “You mean?”
– “We are planning to send you to Abu-Dhabi to get an overview of the MM rollout process around that time. Now it’s too early to give you details of the travel plan.”
Her authoritative tone seals the discussion. The new manager is not bold enough to ask anything else. Recalling the failure of initiating a dialogue with her in past brings a slightly bitter taste in mouth – he fails to gather the courage of asking her opinion about the MM software as well.
Finally he crosses the hurdle once again after another review meeting, “May I talk to you about a matter of desperate importance to me?”
– “Yes, please.” As usual Mona shows nothing but professional curiosity.
– “Suhail is probably leaning to local software for MM.”
– “He has right to express own opinion. You let me know the decision taken – you are four to decide together.”
– “Yes, but four may have four different opinions.”
– “Unanimous may not be possible but I need a decision” – Mona clarifies without giving Rajesh a hint of her preference.
The answer encouraged him to pursue. “Does management have any preference?”
– “Decision makers are enough.”
She shifts her gaze indicating her preference of not talking more about this.
To Be Continued in Part 10…
There was absolutely no secret between Rajesh and Riya. In London, Rajesh realises the absurdity in discussing each and every move in his office with his wife. Not that he didn’t try – but lost the trace of words in the serpentine trail of narratives within minutes after beginning a long description of the complex relationship between Suhail and Dharmaraj, or possible connection of one of Dharmaraj’s girlfriends with a vendor company. Riya seems reluctant to hear his stories these days – like a mother of a grown up but dependent son, she suggests, “You should be more observant dear – Be patient, try to handle the situations yourself.”
Rajesh continues observing everyone. In office he observes colleagues with cautious anxiety of a caged dog. And in home, as he stands beside the window of his fifth floor bedroom, he observes movements of people on the pavement below. One man in overcoat crossing the road makes him remember Sherlock Holmes, two women walking under one umbrella – their gender revealed by their legs and stilettos – he makes an effort to determine their relationship – mother and daughter? Sisters? Friends? Couple? –– he hopes to improve own observation skill – he would not survive without it in a friendless land. He continues to watch the sky, hoping to find some colour in the unending dark tapestry covering the earth, unable to look away as if moving the gaze would take away his chance of finding some.
Rajesh lived his life safe so far. He was never very ambitious; reason why high-flying Monalisa never caught his fancy. He was happy with his adequately tall, slim and fair software engineer wife in his adequately furnished apartment in the tall Bangalore building. Familiar and predicable gave him the feeling of safety; reason he never changed company like most software engineers who change workplaces every couple of years. Company rewarded him with short-term onsite opportunities so that he could save adequately without risking a change in his familiar environment. Management to him meant managing few software applications, dealing with a known set of software engineers and clients with a couple of inclusions and exclusions once a year and conversing with quality and HR departments of own company. For him it is not easy to escape from the clutches of habit.
To Be Continued in Next Part…
With every passing day during his new assignment he realizes he is no more expected to fix a secular failure which would mean only a couple of presumably long phone calls or looking at possible mistakes a developer has committed. With fading excitement about staying in a foreign land, he discovers own horror of facing the unknown. None of his colleague’s behaviour makes sense to him. He feels like he is given the responsibility of driving a ship through the Arctic where he sees the tip of the icebergs scattered around but left without a tool to manage them.
A crumpled anxiety grabs him tight within six months after joining. Autumn London rain makes him gloomier. Every morning while driving to office he basically sits in the driver’s seat clueless about the multiple universes he would have to run through entire day. Somewhere he senses doubt about his steadiness, somewhere he senses doubt about his sensitivity, somewhere about his reputation – every doubt hurts him. Had it been doubts in the minds of prospective customers, he could have tried to unravel those. But the doubts concern him when it brews inside his own team.
On a gray autumn morning, he meets Peter in the corridor, the later grinning at him. The software engineer in his late-twenties, with his gingerish hair and square jaws seems a reliable resource in his team. His saying “All the best for your tour” extending his broad hand brought him to the same uneasy emotional state that he experienced the day Suhail broke to him the news of Abu-Dhabi tour. Here plans about him are known to everyone else before a message is delivered to him. If this happened unintentionally in his old company he would have met his senior asking for an explanation. Here he is confused. His expectation of friendly help from Monalisa shrunk to nothing in last few months. She stopped showing distinctive attention to him after giving valuable information about the process and people on the very first day they met here. His reporting boss Brunda is another lady who loves to talk about family affairs than work it seems. Rajesh once listened to her song of lamentation about her demanding mother-in-law for an hour, hoping to be able to sing own song after that. But the treacherous lady didn’t give him a chance to open up. Only thing he assessed from her stray dialogues is that she has an inclination to listen to Suhail.
“Thank you – let’s meet for coffee after office someday before I leave.” He suddenly feels the need to turn sociable.
To Be Continued in Part 12…
Arriving at the same terminal 5 brought the vision of Mona’s car again in his mind. People generally associate a location with their first experience there. Miraculously his previous arrivals faded out from his memories, as if his life in London began with Mona’s picking him up from Heathrow. He completes his ritual of entering coffee shop before check in. His option this time is Carluccio’s where he can enjoy the distinct aroma of Italian coffee. Meeting Suhail long before departure is not his idea. Given that Diwali is only four days away, he would love to call his wife. He gave Riya a hint of his visit to Abu Dhabi, but didn’t communicate date and time. Today morning he gave her the news of his flying, promising her to call back again before departure. Her voice from the other part of the world sweetens his coffee even better.
“I feel bad to keep you awake till 1am”- he tries to joke.
Riya replies, “Is it?”
He enjoys the warmth in her voice, hears her pride bubbling, agrees with all her suggestions to shop a few luxury-items for her and children. Love is easiest to express through gifts. Rajesh is no miser who holds himself back from expressing it. Last few month’s experience taught him to be cautious about sharing information about own anxiety, own understanding of workplace environment with his wife. Why to disturb the pleasing moments with the love of his life, communicating his fear about the trip? The responsible man in him supports him to end the pleasant conversation in a satisfying way.
And as soon as he finishes his heart turns heavy again; sixth sense warns him about the outcome of the visit. He doesn’t believe any of his team-members would support him to take an honest decision but anticipates the responsibility of decision making would be passed on him. He checks in, takes the elevator to reach the departure gate, and finally meets Suhail near gate C62. He pretends to be tired, waiting to have a good night’s sleep in the flight. His acting works. Suhail maintains silence even during dinner.
Rajesh anticipates he is being sent to Abu Dhabi just for eyewash. All that stuff about learning and inspecting the requirement for a dedicated server based MM software implementation would turn out to be a six month long blether. He had heard about these kinds of situations from friends in purchase or strategic managerial role but never handled by himself. An air of despondency surrounds him in the flight. Keeping the eyes closed finally helps him fall asleep.
The luxurious hotel is 3 minutes drive from their Al Gaith Tower office. His presumption of the Abu Dhabi office came to be true when he found people in this office work well, but less workaholic. He and Suhail are supposed to only rest and enjoy on the very first day of their arrival. Hotels in middle-east are lavish in comparison with those in west. Had Rajesh came here for holidaying, he would have spent some time at the rooftop pool, cherished moments with Riya in any of the bars, or played with kids in the spacious suit. On contrary he spent the entire day sleeping. In the evening he decided to have a discussion with Suhail – something he avoided so long. He discovered his travel-partner already enjoying with his old friends outside hotel. Anyway Suhail promised coming back before dinner.
To Be Continued in Part 13…
“How small globe has become, no?” – Rajesh tries to indulge in small talk which he almost never does.
“Credit goes to globalization.” Suhail replies, his mouth is full. He elaborates after swallowing a big chunk of chicken, “Many of my classmates from school and college settled here. You can name any of the middle-east cities here and I will tell how many friends I have to have fun with.”
– “Great – you didn’t want to stay close to your friends?”
– “Probably Allah wants me to come via London.” Suhail laughs lighthearted.
-“Are you trying to quit London?”
-“Not really, but you never know where you get a better option and when. All depends on him.”
Rajesh wonders what made Suhail so religious all on a sudden. Is it the impact of Abu-Dhabi visit? Murmures as if he is talking to himself, “Wondering what would happen to due diligence if you leave now.”
-“You know what diligence is, right?” Suhail still sounds not serious.
– “You mean?”
-“You know diligence means persistent effort.”
-“Well in the other sense.”
-“Sense is always same brother. Its persistent effort that is due – done! We have to take an effort but result is not in our hand. You Hindus would know that well.”
– “True, we should try hard to screen this well.”
– “You mean I am not trying?”
– “Not that – I think we need to discuss certain points once again.”
– “Don’t worry, let’s enjoy now – rest we will see tomorrow.”
Rajesh doesn’t pursue. He understands the limit of persuasion. He settles on observing Suhail’s moves. He sees a cheerful Suhail, waiting for his friends to join him in the hotel’s nightclub. As four them enter the lounge together, Rajesh quits; having the Soho episode still fresh in mind, he doesn’t want himself tagged with any fresh scandal.
Outside the glass-window, the city sparkles like the long gem-studded round skirt of a dancing girl. He wished he could see some illuminated palm trees from his eighth floor like he had seen in the picture. But this Sheikh Hamdan Street hotel at the city centre does have a space to nurture a plush garden on the ground. Even the swimming pool is on rooftop of the tall building. The blueness of the busy city view through the glass window creates an atmosphere of paradise – a world that can be dreamt of but never touched.
Techie Rajesh found a philosopher in himself all of a sudden – isn’t the world he lives in all illusion like that turquoise blue water of the rooftop pool? Isn’t the grandeur of his life all momentary? What would happen after three years when his contract gets over? Or in a worse case, what would happen if the contract is broken in the middle by his company for any of his mistakes? Mona assured him a job; not safety. Riya assured him safety once – is that assurance still intact? Doesn’t her promise of safety depend on his professional performance now? Doesn’t the whisky in the glass in his hand look unusually golden? Is the color obtained from the smoky wooden barrels since ages or from his ego bloated by his own thoughts?
To Be Continued in Part 14…
An unprecedented opportunity arrived in his life to establish himself in an unknown environment, or he is going to be doomed by own thoughts and feelings? How easily Suhail referred to Karma – as if he tracks all information about him. Sleepless in the wee hours of night, he is trying to understand the nature of the mess he is in. The women he loves is his wife, the women who had affection over him provided him a lucrative job when he most needed it. Anyway he is not in a position to live with any of them – both want him to be professionally successful forgetting his desire for love. He is not wild – cannot take a drastic decision to please himself. He avoided the nightclub in fear of being ridiculed in office again, but the sight of beautiful women everywhere in the lounge and dining hall made him desire for a woman’s body. He imagines himself to be an overgrown boy suppressing own lust eternally to remain in the good book of society. Finishing fourth peg he pours the fifth – in trembling hands. The face of the big Vishal floats in his mind – his mischievous smiles, vulgar hand gesture before disappearing in the corridor of the Soho brothel.
“Scoundrel!” – he mutters, before falling asleep sitting in the sofa.
By the time Rajesh struggled to get the technical explanation of the migration process given by Kalimi, a technical reviewer, Suhail continued to nod, occasionally frowning and at times tightening his jaws; his expressionless tiny eyes revealing his lackadaisical attitude. He looked cheerful during lunch, which extended three hours and spent only in discussion about food, especially the delicacy of Persian food. By the evening, at the end of their day’s job Rajesh recognizes own blurry vision of colleagues, things he ignored abut Suhail so far. Suhail has leaped to a conclusive decision long before arriving at Abu Dhabi. It’s his time to enjoy the hospitality of middle east-office, nourish his friendship with old acquaintances and rummage the job-opportunities that offer sky-high package. None of his purposes fit the requirement of the company. He understands his partner would not listen to the detail of system requirements Kalimi described; instead depend on his listening skill, ask for explanation from the side of the board members after reaching London – and finally establish the pre-conceived decision cutting his logic, point by point. The temperature of the hotel corridor is not too low; still he feels a chill going down his spine while walking towards his room.
Two days pass the same way – on the third he comes to know of an officially unofficial desert trip in the middle of the week. He could not resist asking Kalimi, “Do you effectively work four days a week here?”
-“No Sir, trip is planned only for you. You are our guest.”
-“I could not imagine a tour plan even for guests in the middle of work.”
Kalimi looks at him, smiles and says: “Enjoy Sir – desert trip is something for which tourists visit our city.”
Rajesh resists asking further.
He receives an answer from Ameen, the delivery manager in charge of Abu-Dhabi system migration without even asking.
-“Hope your mind is still not in whirling around the system migration?” – Ameen throws the quest as soon as he appears in the lounge receiving his call in late evening. “Let’s go for dinner if you aren’t already done, we need to discuss tomorrows travel plan. Suhail went out to meet friends, I spoke to him over phone.” – Ameen continues.
-“Not really” – Rajesh shrugs, “but migration is truly a headache.”
– “Don’t bother much. Things depend on God, not on you.”
-“We should try to work hard as God wishes, right?”
-“How do you know what God wishes?”
-“You mean God may wish migration to local software?”
-“Anything possible Mr. Rajesh. Who are we to decide? Please give us some scope to serve you.” – Last sentence uttered in friendly manner. Rajesh sensed Ameen’s good intension. He is not dumb. He regrets own short-sightedness in silence, he should have sensed it long back – a conspiracy in the making.
To Be Continued in Part 15…
The Evening Desert safari is a six hour long adventure through the naked sand dunes. The tour guide starts the day narrating the man-made concrete marvels standing tall on both sides of the street. When there is dollar, there is a way. Would it be possible to build such a splendid city in the unending territory of sand unless they could purchase billions of dollars in exchange of some liquid gold from their immense reserve underground? Rajesh hasn’t been in middle-east cities before; feels inferior before the grandeur around.
The luxurious BMW would take them close to the desert and the same guide would describe the deserts, its flora and fauna, unpredictable climate conditions and folk stories that keep the desert people alive; after an elaborate evening snack they would sit in a jeep instead of BMW. The jeep would climb the top of a dune; then roll down quickly to give them a roller coaster feel which would make Suhail recall the merry-go-round rides in their childhood. Suhail would share his experience of visiting village fairs, food that attracted him the most those days, girls who caught his attention. Rajesh would compare the jeep’s fast moving, it’s sudden halt, making a whirlwind of sand using its rear-wheel with his own life’s course. He was a good student from an urban upper middle class family; didn’t have scope to visit village fairs or those wooden merry-go-rounds, the girls that caught his attention were no way comparable to Suhail’s rustic beauties.
His MNC executive father once told him – knowing own colleagues is like knowing own tools in a system. Better one knows, better he is equipped to run the machine. Rajesh believed his father but sitting in a Jeep crossing the perpetual sand dunes and having a nostalgic Suhail beside him, he would sink in an emotion called disappointment – isn’t it bad luck that he has to share space with Suhail’s kind of a colleague, for whom life is all about making money and seeking a position in the social strata which he was never a part of? The middle-class conservatism would roar inside Rajesh till they reach a Bedouin camp – converted to a tourist attraction for many dollar heavy pockets.
They would relax there for a while inside a lavish tent, then come out in the open for a memorably mouth-watering dinner while watching a group of heavenly nymphs dancing in the desert sand – under the cold and starry desert night. Suhail would fill the empty space in his stomach with unlimited whiskey while Rajesh would settle on enjoying the beauty of the night queen while coming back – but finally reach the city in a bad temper having heard Suhail’s loud snoring throughout the return journey. As they would enter the city, Rajesh would notice illuminated palm trees on both sides of the roads looking like from Arabian night stories; same looked dull under the pale sunlight in the afternoon.
The water-bottle in his lap would remain half-full.
To Be Continued in Part 16….
“This is something I never heard of – I mean in that case we are going to do something that is unheard in application management systems!” He cannot suppress excitement overtaking own voice.
Suhail yawns. They are returning to London after a week; this is first time in a week’s time when Rajesh hears his partner opening up to talk about what they were supposed to. Tightening his seat belt Suhail began chewing words. He looks tired after too many fun activities for a week; says, “There lies fun. I mean, in doing something unprecedented.”
-“You mean our learning doesn’t make any difference?”
-“Who learnt? You did – fine – may be it will be of some use someday. I don’t think management is going to ask you what you learnt.”
-“Spending this hefty amount for an eye wash?” – Rajesh is still not being able to get the meaning of the whole game.”
-“Weren’t you happy being in Abu-dhabi? Don’t tell me you couldn’t do good shopping. I know you went out on Friday and Saturday evening for shopping. I thought you would enjoy your first time in the desert city.”
-“Yes, my first time. None can stay unhappy being in this magnificent city. It’s nothing personal. You tell me how you feel if one fine day you find out you are in a globe-trotter’s role in your workplace.” – Bitterness doesn’t remain hidden in his voice.
-“What makes you so upset, brother? Do you still remember all your chemistry lessons you learnt in tenth standard? Are they of any use now? Take it like that.”
-“You know the risk involved in migration to one companies system and outsourcing maintenance to another vendor!”
-“What’ risk when you know both the vendors like your palm?”
-“I am not sure whether you know what you are doing. Think about legal risk.”
Suhail asks wearing a half-smile – “What will happen? – Some frivolous lawsuits maximum? I don’t see that even that is going to happen. Master craftsmen know their palms very well.”
During their half an hour long chat Rajesh deciphers that the company wouldn’t file a lawsuit against its own senior managers including SVP even if some altered decision is taken from their part – unless it goes too far to expose company secrets before media. And media doesn’t deal with such petty affairs. Nothing would creep up even if some company data go to some other hands, presumably same hands – profit too would be shared with those safe hands along with data.
“I just hope not to be a scapegoat!” – He heaved deep sigh.
“Tell me when you need a change. I have plenty of friends in middle-east. I can assure life is much better here than in London.” Suhail winked.
A strikingly beautiful airhostess arrives with dinner. Suhail smiles at her. Sour-faced Rajesh concludes the formality of accepting the platter with dry thanks. Almost after one week, he remembers Riya’s voice. He was not in mood of calling her for entire week. They only texted each other. Messages look long enough, but actually those speak very little. The desire to tell her everything overwhelmed him; at the same time he recalls the absurdity of fulfillment of such a wish.
At the end of Diwali-week, Rajesh enters office to discover his workplace preparing for Christmas. A little more than three weeks are left before Christmas holidays. That none would bother asking him anything about the process of due diligence, is difficult for him to believe in the beginning. Queries from senior management are expected after a business trip like that, even if the entire plan is pretentious. He spent the whole morning worrying about the questions he would have to face, and the points he would need to establish. The silence about his task drives him mad inside. What do bosses want? Everyone he meets since morning talked about Christmas celebrations. He takes an attempt to initiate a dialogue about his visit with Brunda – she avoids the point showing the excuse of her being busy with Christmas tree decoration. It takes him hours to digest the fact that nothing in his office could be considered more important an event than upcoming Christmas.
During lunch he sits at a table facing the window, setting his eyes at the grey afternoon sky as much as visible through the melancholic buildings. Rejected since morning, he prefers avoiding company now. It’s drizzling outside – typical to London in end November. Under an almost barren walnut tree just opposite to his office, he sees a blind person standing, trying to cross the zebra, sensing the direction with a stick. Rajesh feels himself inferior – does that blind person see better than he does?
His appointment as a strategic manager for consulting division is not because he is fantastic at his work. Company offered that role as they had it vacant when he was looking for a job. He came empty handed having nothing to be proud of, none of his previous experiences could be considered suitable to their requirement if company was not in a hurry to provide him with a job. Since last eight months he was trying to prove his worth doing something good for the company. Now he realizes that Butler Longman doesn’t even need his good job. Suhail, the man with a cheesy smile tends to support decision makers much better than him. What is the value Rajesh K Penmetsa carries in the company? Having worked as a technical manager throughout his professional tenure, he has developed habit of finding meaning in his work. Being able to do his work well gives him satisfaction. Being in a safe environment, both professionally and personally, he never had scope to develop instinct to estimate situations or evaluate own position. Realizing the embarrassing truth shakes him from inside. He takes much longer than usual to finish his lunch, gets up from the cafeteria seat, and coming back to office.
The moment he sets his eyes at each of the cubicles, he figures out how detached he has been from the realities of the company. The nameplates on every cabin doors tell him how happy his colleagues are. Sarah and Patrick and Brunda and Michael – all of them live own life. Some Asians along with a handful of British, Irish and other European employees, who probably didn’t find a better placement for some or other reason, keep themselves happy with the pay-packet and superior’s whims. None of them came here to prove own capability, but to earn a livelihood, and have better savings in bank. He finds himself to be a stranger eight months after joining the company.
It is generally reckoned that people with a cheesy smile are revengeful, or at least they try to fulfill own ambition disgracing others whenever they get scope. Rajesh too had the same belief. He was surprised to discover Suhail not fitting his assumption. Two weeks passed, none of the bosses called a meeting asking for a presentation, nor Brunda asked him to send a report. None called him inside meeting-room to check his knowledge of migration or mock at him, though he noticed Suhail sneak into the room couple of times. In fact, none of his colleagues tried to pull his leg about the visit or the outcome. His checking with his teammates including Suhail yielded no result. Finally on the third week, Suhail breaks the news of the success of their mission to him. He drags a chair at his table during lunch, takes seat without asking permission and makes an announcement wearing the trademark cheesy smile,
-“Everything settled. They decided to migrate to Blossoms, and maintenance will be done by Paranjape’s nephew.”
-“Without asking us!”
– “Not really – I and Peter Dharmaraj had to meet Bulter and Paranjape yesterday.”
– “And I was not intimated.”
– “Don’t take things personally, Man.”
– “What’s personal in office?”
-“Even Brian was not invited.”
– “Brian did not visit UAE.”
– “You are fortunate.”
-“You were sent to business trip on Diwali so that you can enjoy London Christmas.”
Rajesh doesn’t reply. He feels heat in his ears. Suhail probably senses it; tells,
-“I told you decision making is not in our hand – they only needed an impartial report.”
-“Which you two gave them.”
-“I am not revolutionary. We Bangladeshis revolted last in 1971, against Pakistan. I don’t have enmity against Butler or Paranjape.”
– “Also you know Paranjape’s nephew.”
-“No I don’t. Butler knows.” – then adds lowering his voice, “Apart from Bulter, SVP knows – her husband.”
Rajesh’ vision blurs for a moment – he feels the world around him spinning. He knew Monalisa Dave changed to Monalisa Mhatre sometime in last decade but was not interested to collect more information about her husband. She did not tell him anything but mentioning her husband’s being a Puna-based businessman once. He could not imagine that her husband could have an association with the company. He feels bad – more than the company’s assigning the responsibility of maintenance to some Mhatre what hurts him is Mona’s mistrusting him with information. The information that can be passed to Suhail, but not to him!
Suhail’s voice pulls him back to reality. He realizes that Suhail interpreted his silence own way, “Mrs. Mhatre is going to director’s board soon.”
Rajesh somehow mumbles, “You have that information too?” – He still senses own knees wobbling.
– “I can predict better than any of Indian astrologers, you see!” – He hears Suhail laughing loud for the first time. The laughter resurrects Rajesh like life-giver medicine. He smiles.
Suhail taps own head, says, “Intuition, brother! You have to develop this if you want to want a raise here. Collect as much information as possible about bosses and keep them happy using your intuition – that’s enough! However, don’t worry much about these petty affairs. Enjoy life.”
He takes a small pause before jumping to the next sentence, “Don’t live life of a hermit man!”
Rajesh regains own voice, “My wife is joining me this Christmas. Children have vacation now.”
– “Oh great! Happy reunion! Call us for dinner someday.”
– “Sure – if you are fine with vegetarian food. We are strictly veg.”
– “Not an issue – we can manage once in a while.” Suhail laughs again, bends forwards and whispers again “Please don’t take things personally here – none of us matter” before leaving.
To Be Continued in Part 19…
He never loved her; doesn’t have regret for not having her by his side. Humans are not machines. Each one has own choice. He was not the first suitable boy having opinion about suitable girls. Every normal man does his best to develop and nurture a romantic relationship. However none has infinite patience and energy to spend for an undesirable one. That is reason every man selects the type of a girl he is most comfortable with. His reflection shifted almost nearly two decades back – what happened in a waiting room in his previous company when he was signing loads of papers – an introductory ritual for large software establishments. His hand was sweating, he became impatient inside. A girl who he didn’t look at since he had entered the room, suddenly said, “It’s too much, no?”
-“O yes, but that’s norm.” He tried to express his rule-abiding nature while taking a glance at her. Quite unimpressive a girl of about twenty four or twenty five, very fair yet short and thin like every other neighbourhood girl was sitting beside him. Had he seen her before, he wouldn’t have selected this seat for sure. He concentrated in the bunch of papers. The girl seemed talkative, “If this is norm for software companies, I think I wouldn’t change the job again.” Young Rajesh couldn’t help smiling; answered again without looking at her: “It’s better not to change. Lucky we are who have an entry to this company. I am campus recruit, still need to complete formalities.”
-“True. I am too campus recruit.” said the round-faced girl; continued, “I am Monalisa Dave from Mumbai University, IT from K.G. Somaiya, you?”
Rajesh gave an elaborate answer mentioning his Alma Mater and marks in B.Tech final exam – without shifting the gaze of his eyes from the bunch of papers. He sensed the appreciation in the girl’s voice, “Wow, you are an IITian?” Rajesh knew how much awe the name of IIT KGP inspires in common engineering graduates of India. The divine smile on his lips showed how much he enjoyed the admiration. Like an accustomed superior, he left that day without bidding the admiring girl a goodbye.
Within a couple of weeks after the induction program he realized that the girl is sent to the same project with him.
He is not habituated to look back much unless it involves sweet memories with Riya. So glamorous she was! Her glowing beauty enhanced day by day with her aging. On the contrary, he remembers Monalisa’s sparkling brown eyes looking at him, but nothing special about her. She was sincere yet too ordinary. Talking to her for long helped in getting nitty-gritty of algorithms and process particulars, not in raising passion in the solitary nights at home.
He is not able to decipher why Images of Monalisa flood his mind like a tidal wave today. Snippets of memories embarrass him, yet he is not able to stop them from coming. His cabin is closed from all sides – the glass door is opened at the corridor – opposite to his cabin is the one where Peter sits. There is no reason some poetic juice’s spilling into his cabin through an open window towards the barren November road and pale old buildings. Still he remembers Monalisa’s catching him up for lunch, waiting for him in the end of office hours – she managed to purchase a Maruti Zen whereas he didn’t have a vehicle till then, though he doesn’t recall now how and when he first agreed to commute to office with her. He recognized the girl’s fascination about him. Being a handsome young man and having an IIT electronics background, he had always attracted women’s attention. Monalisa didn’t add new dimension in that aspect. Moreover her constant attempts to push him to higher achievements proved her to be an ambitious woman – as harmful as a crocodile to him. She seemed to have already a bright career assigned to her. Her suggesting him to prepare for GATE, suggesting him coaching options to go through, wanting him to grow taller – all turned irritating.
It was one rainy evening. He came out from office building, and sat in Mona’s car waiting for him in parking as usual. He was not in best of mood but the day was romantic, so he expected her to ease his mood by romanticizing the fifteen minutes long journey to home. Women should be able to charm men they admire. Rupturing his expectation she suddenly asked. “Don’t you think moving to Texas for at least two years would help you to get rid of all these nonsense?”
-“Why Mona? You don’t want me to live at home?”
-“You can come back after two years, no?”
-“I love my home.”
-“Its two years only.”
To Be Continued in Part 20…
That day he didn’t reply, Mona’s non-romantic approach to life annoyed him. Her constantly referring to an MS course in a Texas University for sometime seemed incomprehensible; probably he found it more annoying than the delivery manager’s scolding him for not being able to analyze a simple code. After ages, now he is looking for an answer to how the same unromantic Mona could win the heart of a man.
He recalls the day he first shouted at her.
Mona’s words butchered him. His ego was hurt when the GM questioned his project handling skill in front of his colleagues. Big things and little things happen every day in life; yet when a man’s ego is hurt, his fury flames like a god’s. The rascal General Manager, an engineering graduate from a local college dared rebuking him – he had to tolerate that, but when an admirer woman dared advising him to find a solution, he could not accept it any longer. He hissed, “What is your problem Mona? You don’t need to bother about the nonsense I am facing in office. An IIT KGP student knows how to handle them!”
-“Sorry I did not want to disturb you, but –“
Before she finished, he shouted, “Please don’t!” He needed to vent his anger on a listener, “And if you think, you are going to influence me, no – I am not the person. I have seen girls thousand times more beautiful than you, I had girlfriends in IIT who are thousand time more brilliant than you. Don’t act smart with me.” – He thought he had said enough; taking a pause he finished, “Thank you for your good advices but I follow my own plans.”
He got down that day assuring that he would not deny if she would come to pick up next morning. No superhero wants to disappoint fans.
Another day – on the way back home she said, “These kinds of jobs make us complacent. That proves fatal in the long run.”
– “You have liberty to find out your kind of job that will keep you alive.”
– “This job can be worse for you – you are an IITian.”
If the car was not moving, he would have got down – the woman colleague perforated his pain-point – after joining the software giant for a high package, he realized the absolute equality between a diploma-holder technician and an IITian B-tech in the industry. Experience and good analytical and designing skill may help a diploma holder to reach the level of an architect or senior delivery manager whereas IITians may be placed under an experienced diploma holder. His certificate’s undergoing such a humiliation saddened him, especially when the delivery manager found fault in his algorithm. Though he expected a Senior Manager’s chair, the company was pushing him towards a technical role – he is placed as Project Manager, only one step ahead of Mona. Mona’s referring to the same angered him like a tiger in front of a hunter’s spear. He screamed, “Stop it – how dare you are talking to me like this? I know where I am and what I am doing. I don’t need K.G. Somaaya’s advice to proceed in life. Fuck-off!”
He meant it – thankfully that was last day Mona spoke to him about career options.
He somehow managed to carry on formal relationship with Monalisa even after that day. But then came a point when he had to seriously think of staying away from her. In the meantime he had found out information about Riya, who he spotted in the pantry within few days of joining the company. Like a bright lightning in the thickly clouded sky, her splendor dazzled among the group of dark skinned girls. She was what they call exquisitely beautiful in matrimonial advertisements. He made up his mind. Over the next five months, he went on collecting information about her, her family, where she lived, and most important – whether she already had a boyfriend; she didn’t. She came from one orthodox Brahmin family from Uttar Pradesh who settled themselves in Mysuru. And that’s what he feared. Being a Telegu Kshatriya, he was aware of own unsuitability to a Brahmin’s daughter. When an Indian family is orthodox, they wouldn’t allow their daughter to marry a man outside the clan; a man from other caste is completely out of question. He knew the road to reach his love would be difficult one. Riya’s not having a boyfriend did not mean she was not already betrothed to any suitable family acquaintance abroad. He made friends with some of Riya’s project-team mates to dig out the truth.
His persistence bore fruit. Not only he was assured about the absence of a stumbling block on the way, also gained little confidence of his dream-girl; to her, friends had drawn a picture of him as well, obviously a colourful one.
To Be Continued in Part 21…
He did not have the energy to leave the company, search for another job or chose different profession following the path set by other disgruntled professionals. He wanted to find a route to some kind of achievement that would lift him at the doorstep of pride. Getting access to Riya became that much desired achievement; Riya’s companionship gave him the identity of proud suitor of the most desirable girl in the bachelor’s circle of the company. He forgot his professional ambition. He had higher pole to cross next – acceptance from Riya’s orthodox family. He thought of going slow and steady to impress them, appearing reliable groom rather than a revolutionary young-star to the traditional family. He concentrated in building stronger relationship with his potential bride.
Did he forget Monalisa Dave? No, parental pressure had driven him to the doorway of IIT, and in IIT he had learnt the value of competition. When several competitors fight to reach same destination, the best one reaches the target. With his academic performance, parental property and handsome look, he turned a precious groom, to own whom many beautiful women could run a race. He opted for Riya whom he fancied, setting Mona aside who presumably fancied him. He needed to demonstrate Mona her defeat, who he assumed to have begun ignoring him. He was sure of the grapevine about his and Riya’s togetherness spreading its branches in office. Even after so many years, Rajesh remembers how eager he was to know Mona’s reaction those days.
She disillusioned him once again. She did not pay attention to rumours, neither reportedly keen for his information. After another three months he bought his first car, a Honda city. His parents advised against buying an expensive one as first car. His father began with a second hand ambassador and then changed to a Standard. He picked a new Sedan only after that Standard became obsolete. Rajesh had reasons to ignore them – he had to impress many. He believed in safe driving – the car did not betray him. Within a month he and Riya began meeting outside office. He never missed dropping her near her home. However, none of them had courage to arrange a meeting with Riya’s parents. He began purchasing gifts for her. He brought those gift articles first in office – to let everyone know the depth of their relationship. Leaving office together became a ritual.
A late January evening. Riya didn’t come to office that day due to some family function, he noticed Monalisa in the corner of their plush food court – sitting alone at a table in front of Café Coffee Day’s stall with a book on programming in hand. He stepped forward,
-“O Hi,” – she looked at him – still engrossed in the book – still trying to come back to the reality of the cafeteria.
-“Alone today?” He took a chair to sit facing her. His intension was not to ask about her solitariness but to flaunt own fortune. However Monalisa simply replied,
“I come for coffee alone – don’t have time to read during office hours.”
-“Why do you need to read even beyond office hours? Not happy with us?”
-“Not that, continuous learning supports consistent work.”
– “As if we are not consistent!”
– “You are an IITan – you don’t need to brush up like us.”
-“Kurkarni says you are a good asset for company.”
-“Thank you, I am grateful.”
-“Life is not all about having a great career, Mona.” – His throat went dry though he wanted to come to the point as soon as possible. He had to bring a cup of coffee for himself before throwing a vital question, “Why don’t you enjoy life like all others of your age?”
-“Others are enjoying their way, I do mine.”
Acquaintance with her determined words stopped him from poking more; came straight to his point –“You know something wonderful happened to me.”
-“Good for you, congrats!”
-“You didn’t ask what it is?”
-“Your voice tells it’s something wonderful.”
-“I am in love.” – His voice almost choked visualizing Riya walking through the cafeteria- her skirt moving with the rhythm of her walk.
-“I understand love. It’s good for you. Wish you all happiness.”
Rajesh was not ready to bring to an end to the topic so soon. He had lot more to tell – as much as needed to light a spark of envy in her heart – continued, “She is so irresistibly beautiful you know – that day she was walking on the corridor in a green striped skirt – how mesmerizing she is! Who is luckier than a man whom she accepts?”
– “She must be beautiful.”
-“You don’t know who she is?”
-“You didn’t tell.”
-“Nobody told you? Oh, everyone knows by now – don’t tell me you don’t know Riya.”
Rajesh didn’t expect her to look so bright and cheerful with his uttering his fiancé’s name. “Wow, great news Rajesh – she is beautiful. I overheard conversations about you and Riya, but didn’t pay attention. Work pressure is really too high for me.” Taking a pause she said, now in a deep voice, “I am happy for you. May God shower you with his blessings. She will be a perfect match.”
Monalisa disappointed Rajesh once again by openly expressing delight and not showing any sign of remorse so far. Her last sentence pleased Rajesh – even a robotic woman-colleague acknowledges the fact that a handsome man like him deserves a fairy queen like Riya. He had nothing else to declare, excused himself after a few formal sentences.
A woman who could neither enchant him nor lament losing him could not be considered feminine. He forgot her.
To Be Continued in Part 22….
Riya went for her cousin’s marriage that day; came back with a threatening message – elders wanted her to marry next. Rajesh felt helpless for first two days; finally broke the update in front of his father. The experienced man comforted him explaining the value of money, positions and academic record in invoking admiration among people. His words did not succeed in converting his son into fully confident one; however Rajesh looked impressive next Sunday as he arrived in a blue suit at Riya’s gate driving his black Honda City. To his utter surprise, Riya’s parents welcomed him cordially, offered him coffee and spoke to him for about an hour before letting him know their readiness to discount old prejudices for the sake of their daughter’s happiness. Their only son, Riya’s elder brother settled in Canada marrying a girl there. The family did not have unmarried kids left any longer for whom they needed to maintain the caste lineage. At the end, they expressed desire to meet Rajesh’s parents.
In the winter evening, Rajesh felt like flying as high as a Chinese lantern kite – light, contented and glamorous. The Mysuru-Bengaluru highway opened itself straight at every curve; every crossing appeared hassle-free; the smooth wide road illuminated adequately by street lights. Like a chariot of a winner king, the efficient sedan carried the go-getter back home with good news.
He cannot recall the detail of the hustle and bustle they experienced in the next few months. What he remembers is both the families indulged themselves into wedding preparations. Both agreed to avoid traditional marriage in fear of criticism – breaking the caste barrier might not be welcomed by priests and orthodox older generation. Only engagement was done traditionally to ward off the evils. At the same time, they were determined not to spare any item of celebration in a posh palace hotel after a court marriage.
He remembers the day they were engaged in the presence of three priests at his in-law’s home. Family members of both sides were introduced to each other. Only Riya’s grandparents had objection against their inter-caste alliance. Finally the family’s spiritual Guru pacified their anger citing Almighty’s will. Rajesh went to a globally known jeweler’s store during lunch previous day. It was Monalisa’s face that somehow flashed in his mind while purchasing the diamond ring for Riya. He decided to reveal the socio-economic status he belongs to before his ambitious colleague. Carrying the glossy paper bag on which the jeweler’s name was embossed in gold beside the picture of diamond jewelry, he stopped beside Monalisa’s cubicle – “Hi Mona.”
Monalisa was attentively watching her system-screen; looked as him curiously.
– “I will be out of office for three days. Hope your part of project won’t have a serious issue during this? Anyway I will be available over phone in the evenings.”
He noticed Mona’s eye fixed at his face – not shifting towards the paper bag. Resting his hand on the cubicle fence, he assured the full view of the bag to her before telling, “I am in a hurry today. Everything fine, right?”
-“Yes, yes – everything is fine. Clients doing good – I don’t expect a disaster here either. Please go enjoy your time.”
Rajesh did not find the glitter of envy in her eyes that he expected. Again disheartened, he turned back to return to own cubicle. On the corridor he met other female colleagues who gave him the expected pleasure. They greeted him, cheered looking at the packet, verbally expressed their envy at his to-be wife, wished him making earsplitting noise in the otherwise quiet software project area. Contented Rajesh rushed for home rebuking himself for testing a woman of questionable femininity again and again.
To Be Continued in Part 23….
Rajesh discovers he emptied his precious bottle of 21year old Royal Salute in the meantime. He is not able to recollect whether it was half full today when he began pouring from it. What he recollects now is his being too gloomy in the evening that led him try to cheer himself up with the help of the golden liquid. He switched on only the reading light to enjoy the charm of darkness sitting in the couch at the window, now that the inadequate light gives the bedroom a ghostly appearance. Nightfall made the city outside the window chill. Beginning of December sees snowfall – frosts made the window hazy; piles of snow created low walls on both sides of slippery roads. Vehicles used for essential services are moving on those greasy roads with utmost caution. He finds own legs too heavy to carry him to the dressing room to change cloths; they somehow drag him towards his bed instead.
After nine long months he meets Riya at the airport. His heart was thumping in anxious merriment in the morning. Riya showed up with his kids and an almost uncontrollable luggage-trolley which was losing balance due to an inappropriate weight of the luggage. He felt like running at them crossing the fence. Every moment of their taking a forward step seemed long. Hugging them after so many months soothed his pounding heart. He did not dare inviting them considering own salary whereas Riya not only purchased return air tickets, but also took the trouble to bring kids along. He had reasons to be grateful today.
It was raining at night, the roads are still slippery; yet the sun shows up bright now, quite unusually for London winter. He listens to his offspring attentively like a wanderer in a jungle who hadn’t heard human voice since ages. Excited Akash and Akruti continue chattering – he realizes his children’s apparently meaningless words have a gentle calming effect. Smell of Riya’s perfume relaxes his disturbed mind. How was it if entire family could really unite here together as per Suhail’s advice? He whispers the impossible, “Only if you could find a job here!” He sees sadness in Riya’s face through the mirror. After remaining silent for a minute she replies, “You know the reality Rajesh, is there a possibility of your permanently staying here? In that case I could try. Children’s school too is costly here.” She shows the reason for her hesitation as if Rajesh doesn’t know the truth. Her question brought him back to awareness. He felt an urgent need of telling Riya everything.
As children fall asleep after a day’s energetic activity, he enters his bedroom.
After how many days he is in the same bed with Riya? How is it possible that she takes this distance so easy? He looks at Riya’s happy face – it shows pleasure and satisfaction – no regret for sending him alone so far from home. He lies beside her like before. She moves her fingers through his thinning hair, says, “You are losing hair Raj – not taking care or what?”
He wants to tell Riya everything – what makes him careless about himself, why he feels restless all the time. He doesn’t know from where he should start – Suhail’s irrational behavior, or Sara’s flirting habit? Does Riya know about Monalisa’s husband; how she supports him flouting company’s data security? He embraces Riya, hides his face in her shoulder, smells her hair, says, “I was missing you, Riya” – his throat almost chokes in an unspeakable ecstasy.
They loved their bed in Bangalore. A different bed in London makes them remember their Bangalore days, their holidaying in Srilanka and Bali and Bangkok. She holds him tight as if trying to grasp her sweet memories with him together. Both feel blissful in the London bedroom while this brings them back their good memories; remove the bitterness they developed once in a while during phone calls in last months. They fall in love with each other again, make love so that fatigue or jet-lag cannot have any impact on them, as if love is the only bridge that joins them together.
To Be Continued in Part 24….
Riya listens to every word he utters – his face shows a new kind of grimace – she realizes how desperately he wants to recapitulate all of his Londonish nightmares. Nightmares may be terrifying but those are still nightmares. Why should a grown up man stay drowned under the abyss of nightmares in a lively city where everyone else enjoys. Riya knows the depth of homesickness of her husband, however absolutely no sign of improvement in his dependent behaviour frustrates her from inside. She does not want to be reminded the days when after receiving pink slip, her husband hid himself within the four walls of home, avoided facing the world as if none else had ever confronted the situation. Over the years of their togetherness she supported him all the ways she could.
The handsome and well-do-to IITian’s soulful longing moved her once. Sweet memories gave her necessary confidence to support him in post-marital days when he proved himself to be worthless in planning and managing family affairs. Her mother and mother-in-law told her stories of men being weaker than women; she too tried to embrace responsibilities of a married woman even before marriage. Rajesh began narrating about every single step of his, almost in the very beginning of their relationship. Yet the face which attracted her with a gentle smile once, upsets now showing its irrevocable creases. The little path they took together had split for some time, and the man doesn’t seem to have minimum strength to walk alone. True she enjoys her husband’s handsomeness, his palpable desire for her, his submission to her in bed, his polite gesture of making breakfast in some mornings when she had to look after children; on the other hand his never-ending dependence causes her reluctance to creep in. Women love to see addiction in a lover, not in a husband that much. She tries to deflect his attention: – “Which London site is your favourite these days, the same pavement at Thames? Nooo! take us to a new location today!”
-“Gardens are either closed or inaccessible now.”
-“Children won’t be happy if you lock them in home like this.”
-“Christmas is actually bad time. We can call Suhail with family and enjoy together.”
-“You were telling he might be a backbiter.”
-“May be a friend – I am not sure. He looks like a backbiter. Am not sure whether he had anything to do with the things done with me.”
-“That’s mistake in judgment – and you have to be sure first.”
Riya wouldn’t need to wait for perfect judgment from Rajesh. Her husband would take the family to Westfield for Christmas shopping after office. He purchased good perfumes and dresses for his wife from Abu-dhabi; purpose of this shopping trip would be to introduce children with different European chocolates. Children are knowledgeable and smarter these days. They know the names of all cars and chocolates and tourist destinations which were unknown to their parents in their age.
Children’s cheerful dialogues make the parents happy. Even Rajesh forgets Suhail and Monalisa and Peter and his office entire three hours of their shopping-plaza expedition. He faces children wanting to know more about London, Akash making fun of him for not knowing anything about British monarchy, Akruti accusing him of not inviting them in summer when the trees are green. He finds himself one of the crowd; one of the immeasurable number of loving men who try to keep their family happy spending the last penny from their pockets. They walk, they sit once in a while when they find space, they exchange nonsense dialogues, eat bellyful of cookies and pastries and candies which sane grown-ups never eat otherwise – eventually get tired.
Rajesh, on his driving wheel, comes back to his haunting reality when he spots Sarah with an unknown man crossing zebra before him. He alerts his wife about the presence of a potentially dangerous woman in office who tries to flirt with him, now crossing the road like a cat in maroon skirt carrying ill amen along with another man. The children chirping in the backseat don’t listen to their father chewing some words but Riya shows sign of attention.
-“Why do you need to bother?”
-“This girl is dangerous.”
-“You mean she calls you to sleep with her?”
-“Don’t know but I guess so.”
-“My question is whether she forces you.”
Rajesh remains silent. The silence irks Riya.
-“I cannot understand how come she pressurizes you in office. You told she is a junior team-mate. What are you upto?”
She takes a pause before continuing, “Raj, you know how to treat a junior employee, right? If you receive wicked phone-call or something like that, you can tell that to boss.”
-“Brunda will laugh at me. You have no idea how horrible office environment is. In fact you didn’t get even after my trying to explain it time and again. I suspect many of them are in touch with Sarah. And Brunda is useless.” – Rajesh replies; now little troubled.
How come he would tell Riya it was he who made couple of malicious calls to Sarah, not she? Had Sarah taken step like complaining to Brunda who in turn would rush to Monalisa, he would have been fired two months back. Fortunately these kinds of flirtatious girls don’t have courage to go against their bosses. He remembers of falling drunk one July night, dialing her number and shouting at her for being negligent at job. Thank god she didn’t react other than throwing a queer gaze at him couple of times in office next day. By August end he dialed once again in drunken state, anticipating her to be available for a sexy voice chat. He forgot the conversation next morning, rather could not recall it. But Sarah gazes at him weirdly since then. He turned teetotaler once again from September. Anyway stating all those to Riya would be dangerous for their marital relationship. He utters: “Anyway, don’t worry; I shouldn’t have told you, I will manage.”
His showing maturity comforts Riya. She goes back to gibberish chat.
To Be Continued in Part 25…
– “Grow up Rajesh, you have to manage alone another two years.” – Riya sounds caring, not grim – her left hand caressing his head.
They made love few minutes back – both sweating in each other’s embrace while Rajesh tries to explain his situation once again.
– “I don’t know whether I will be able to continue so long.”
– “You got something better?”
-“I may – anyway not comfortable with the environment. Moreover I am lonely here.”
-“What else could we do?”
-“Can’t you try to join me here?”
-“They don’t have onsite offers for our level these days, only for freshers – they are able to come with a backpack, stay in dorm or Asian hostel, work and go back. We became irrelevant.”
-“Hmm, at least your job is saved.”
-“As I am a poor single mother now!” – taking a deep breath she said: “Don’t you know how work-environment changed in India? You know how I am surviving these days. All of us had to accept reduced package. Most of the old-timers are gone. Bighnesh joined a real estate agency, Payel in call-centre management, last month Venkat joined Diego.”
– “Diego is perfect for Venkat, he is being paid in crates I guess?”- Names of old acquaintances rejoiced Rajesh enough to throw a joke about his once colleague Venkat, who earned fame in the circle for his Bacchusious drinking habit. Withdrawing from Riya’s arms, he lies on his back.
– “He was telling he is missing us. They don’t deal with software after all! You can call friends one in a while, can’t you?”
– “You know the call charge from here.”
– “Don’t tell me chatting is expensive too!”
– “Time doesn’t match. Moreover, they face different issues there. What I’m facing here is intolerable.”
His inner self prevents him from revealing own shape to old timers. That is reason behind his renouncing Indian circle of friends. He doesn’t feel comfortable with Indo-Bangladesh community culture he is supposed to mingle here. In last few months, he communicated only with friends in USA and Australia and New Zealand. After Suhail had introduced him with some of his friends, he began keeping in touch with them in UAE too. Not that he dislikes Indian circle of friends, still cannot get rid of an underlying resentment – all of his old friends found a job in some or other company near home; only he had to drift away making himself uncomfortable so many different ways.
-“Are you looking for options after this from Vishal’s side?”- She says expectantly.
Her uttering the name of Vishal displeases him, hence tries to distract her: “I feel lonely here.”
– “I am not responsible for that!”
– “You told me to talk to Mona.”
– “For your own good – I wouldn’t poke you if you had slightest of ambition in life.”
– “You mean I was unsuccessful throughout my career?” His jaws tightened.
-“I didn’t say that – if you tried a little harder, we could settle in California or at least in New Jersey by now. I have no reason to live alone either.”
– “Kids are with you.”
-“And your parents.”
-“Even your parents are in India – I am not a man to shed responsibilities.”
-“We could hire caregivers if we earned enough.”
Rajesh loses forbearance under great provocation. Since last one week he is dreaming a lovely family reunion. Today when he closed the bedroom door, he had imagined Riya in his arms melting as she melted before – two years back. He never envisioned entering this kind of warped alley of discussion. The rosy dream of pleasing Riya today is shattered. He hadn’t heard Riya talking like this before. She was little bossy – which married woman is not? He enjoyed her dominance once. It eased sharing all professional and personal issues with her. Whatever the complication was, he received an untold assurance from Riya that she would listen to him. How come she had changed so much within a year of separation? He doesn’t have a clue. Tears of bitterness well up in his eyes.
Moments with Riya and family crowds his thought – the same girl looked at him starry eyed once, wore the skirt he liked the most, how she eagerly listened to his each complain against office administration and colleagues before, how she tried to solve each of those with her sound advice. Every office gossip discussed with her made a matter of utter importance once; and now, when he is struggling alone in a foreign land, humiliated and suffocating, she simply tells him to solve it alone! How heartless she has been! Children are happy seeing him but don’t they love their mother more than him? He remembers an afternoon when he kept his head on her shoulder – the bright golden sun was glinting on the river Kavini. After he finished his story of an encounter with a competitor in the project, she kissed his forehead. Why can’t she remain same today?
Rajesh lost touch with his parents after he left for IIT hostel. While studying, he made friends one after another, charmed by a few girls but none offered him shoulder those days. He received offers from several companies at different locations but decided to come back to the safety of hometown with a job that was called lucrative. His father became his principal advisor barring a few topics in the beginning. Since he found Riya, he didn’t even need him so much. He couldn’t ever suspect such a poignant loneliness would cover his life.
He looks at Riya, sees her breathing solemn – her eyes and lips closed, the risk of his ignominious defeat didn’t inflict pain on her at all. How quietly she fell asleep! Familiarity excites him when it comes to sexual pleasure; not a voyage to the unknown, that people like Vishal call healthy way of life. Like every other innocent boy he believed his fidelity would work like magic-wand during intimate moments with Riya after long separation. In so many years of his marital life, how could he never imagine that his wife would compare his devotion to childishness?
Rajesh gets up from bed – he needs a shower to cool down himself.
Not aware of what might have hurt Rajesh so much, Riya found her husband inattentive to her children. In the beginning she sensed his hunger for her intact, after a long parting he acted like an estranged lover eager to express his indomitable desire for the woman in his life. Like a long lost baby keen to reveal all experiences to his mother, he began relieving all his pain to her. However he was not giving ear to children’s desire to go out or visit tourist-destinations in the city. One week passed, she found him still deeply engaged with new colleagues rather than family. She had taken trouble of travelling to London with children during Christmas bearing cost burden expecting her husband to be jovial all along. Change in his mood infuriated her from inside. She successfully suppressed own irritation knowing that the trip would last only another week. The mother of two kids continued pestering her husband for sightseeing trips. Rajesh too decided for a friendly cohabitation for the week ahead.
The city of London welcomed them covering itself in pale white sheet of snow, showing its barren trees mourning for sunlight spreading their branches upwards. Even though dressed in enough woolens, the children felt the cold while taking a walk on footpath – in front of the shop windows those had closed their glass shutters during Christmas holidays. Thames riverside was not crowded like it does in summer, only the sight of almost-frozen river chocked Riya inside. She had heard many chilling stories of merrily flowing relationships getting frozen – God forbid their family romance doesn’t meet same fate someday. They visited closed palaces and barely crowded parks, drove on illuminated yet deserted roads, entered thickly crowded pubs and children’s play areas in couple of hotels. One metro ride seemed more comfortable to them and then, they began packing again two nights before their departure. The husband and wife were not talking about their troubles any longer. Both opted to pretend to ignore the issues they had been facing alone in their respective locations – only their eyes showed anxiety when they met each other’s. Living in city devoid of sunlight for two weeks drove Akash and Akruti into monotony – even loads of chocolates and warm play areas failed to bring merriment. They had dreamt about cheerful discovery of the land of Harry Potter. Akruti had once fantasized facing cruel Voldemort and finally being saved by Harry and his brother Akash after a scuffle on London roads. London winter disillusioned them. Both realized that drizzling snows in cold dark nights look fascinating in movies, but fairies don’t really come down to play with children on those nights. Getting rid of the gloomy London environment, Elder Akash wanted to run away to find himself in the middle of his friends. As their mother busied herself into packing, they looked forward to the journey back home. They somehow sensed the tension between their parents too. On the day before departure, Akruti requested her father to go back with them. Her tiny mind found a solution of easing the tension – her father’s returning home soon. Among all kinds of emotional expressions those showed up in all four faces, most prominent one was helplessness.
Loaded with Christmas gifts and larger luggage, Riya and children left by their Mumbai bound flight fifteen minutes back. Rajesh experienced an emotional good bye at airport. He felt the warmth of his wife like he felt on the first day of their reunion. He had to comfort weeping Akruti, see teary face of Akash. Yet none of those could relieve him from his strongest fear – loneliness once again.
Riya liked the gifts he brought for her from Abu Dhabi, especially the surprise gift of a pair of descent gold bangles. Also the Christmas–gifts cheered up the children. Riya accused him of not taking care of children’s demands but how was it possible to gift them charming weather in London winter? At the same time he experienced his wife’s coldness, her stressful look for the first time in life. First it angered him, then made numb. He understood discussing own issues would no longer yield an expected result.
Today as he drives back home seeing his family off, he is absorbed in himself. The thought of Riya and children fades in fifteen twenty minutes. Mona, Paranjape, Suhail and the unseen Mhatre acquire the empty space once again. He no longer blames Riya for entire thing he goes through now, neither for fighting with him; dives deep within himself in search of redress instead.
When a person drives unusually slow on a busy road, he can expect honking from behind. Londoners don’t honk everywhere, only in some areas they do. In the winter Sunday Rajesh did not see many cars on the road to make noise. Snowfall ceased two and half days back. There is no chance of sun’s shining in the sky; however less slippery road gives him some comfort. He returns home earlier than expected. Last two days he anticipated about the purposelessness he would have to undergo after his family’s departure. True that the rooms look empty now, yet when the tranquility of the sitting room extends its cozy hands after his unlocking the door, he no longer stumbles on loneliness. Own feeling surprises him. He discovers his apartment to be an abode of peace, where he can concentrate on his duties and tasks without any interference. Suddenly he feels relieved that there is none to question his intention behind each of his silly acts, none to accuse him for not being able to perform his duties perfectly. He is no longer a childish brat seeking shelter of his wife, nor would he be considered uncaring.
He religiously calls his parents every Saturday. Today he craves to listen to his father’s voice once again. He calls his father, gives him the information of wife and children’s safe departure, and enquires about overall industry situation in India expressing his desire to come back. His father repeats what Riya told – informs him about the dull situation overall – his words don’t sound threatening to Rajesh. They chat for half an hour. He spends the rest of the day happily cleaning room, rearranging kitchen and wiping bathroom, as if handed over the ownership of own place after long.
A blanket of depression and melancholy covers him once after he receives Riya’s call at about 10 at night. They reached Mumbai as per schedule, would take rest in a hotel near airport as their morning flight for Bangalore is scheduled next day. Everything for them goes as per plan – excluding him.
He wonders about fragility of pure love. Riya’s cheerful voice from homeland convinces him about his irrelevance in his family’s life. Did he reduce to a companion of good time to Riya somewhere in last one year? Riya sounded similarly cheerful while giving him shopping advice before his visit to Abu Dhabi. She would perhaps sound nothing unusual if it was before. Now he analyses her voice, her way of speaking, how devoted she remains when he is away? Tricky queries keep on haunting him till he falls asleep.
Panic of losing family’s affection subsides by end-January. Weather too shows little sign of improvement. His interaction with Suhail became more cordial post Christmas days. Suhail really expected an invitation from him during Christmas holidays and a chance to be introduced with the Indian family. Coming to know of his expectation comforted Rajesh. That day when Suhail was rushing towards the elevator, he took few strides after him. It was difficult to say whether he was chasing him with an intension to talk to him or was hoping for some information about the SVP or was paranoid of being left behind. Suhail looked back probably instinctively – greeted him with his trademark cheesy smile, “Aree Sir, how are you? You forgot us after seeing your wife?”
-“Not only wife, it was my family together.”
-“You didn’t invite us, brother! At least we could meet at some restaurant. We love dosa too!”
-“Fifteen days was too less for them – I am really sorry.” – He somehow managed. Embarrassment pinched him inside. He tried to start up a conversation avoiding the discomforting issue, “How is the progress of migration?”
– “Let them bother. Do you think I don’t know what’s going to happen? Let’s meet for a beer someday – I would better discuss about friends in Dubai.”
Rajesh got the hint. He realized the need of grasping hints from people’s word in the world where he would have to live own life.
Next day they decided to go to Pilpel – a restaurant serving Falafel, for lunch. Their office went completely out of view. Suhail found a comfortable space taking time as if they didn’t need to go back to office soon, spent some more time in small talks till the Falafal wraps came prepared before opening up:
-“I am not at all interested in this company’s internal affairs. You might have understood by now.”
– “You are a trusted fellow.”
– “Because I comply.”
– “You mean they are not at all interested in business?”
– “Yes, in own business. They like me ‘cause I don’t interrupt their business. By the way, which company you worked for? You seem to be more interested in company’s benefit than yours?”
– “I worked in same company since I graduated – I was campus recruit – they picked people from various engineering colleges in India – I was from IIT, my wife from Vankateswaraiya. And we never changed the company – probably that’s why I developed the habit of getting involved with the company.” – After receiving pink slip, Rajesh began having a doubt about own strategy of living with same company and same technology. After Suhail, it was his time to open up.
Suhail replied, “Ok fine – I suggest you not to get much involved with this one at least. They don’t expect you to serve the company. Support the cause of your boss and leave with a ‘character certificate’. You understand? If you get extension, fine. If you don’t, you need the certificate of excellence to show your next company.”
-“You got extension by supporting?”
– “I didn’t ask for it. But when they wanted it, I agreed. My family came with me. Five years of stay was good to get British passport – it’s valuable.”
– “My wife has a good job, telling her to move is not possible unless I am settled here.”
– “I don’t understand long distance marriage.” Suhail suppressed a deep sigh it seemed, then said, “That is upto you. I have told you before as well – let me know if you want a job in Dubai or Abu Dhabi after this contract is over. That will be closer to your home.”
Finishing his plate he gazed at Rajesh for few seconds before uttering his final suggestion, “Learn to keep cool; they will let you leave happily. Trying to make them understand their good would bring you trouble.”
-“I tried to talk to Brunda couple of times.”
-“That won’t help either.” After taking a sip in coffee, grinning Suhail adds, “Talk to her about her family affairs to keep her happy. She is not interested in anything else.” He hesitated little before utter next sentence, “One thing brother, if you don’t mind.”
-“Calling Sarah after office creates a bad impression. She is with us since four years now – will not complain against you, I know. Still – I would say these rumors spread fast.”
-“I remember calling her once after office – I got drunk. Did she tell you that I regularly call her?” – Gut feeling told him to face not denying the truth, but reduce the gravity of the matter by partially accepting it.
-“She didn’t tell me anything against you. I overheard them discussing about your hyperactivity about business. Meaning changes from mouth to mouth you know.”
Rajesh could not comprehend whether he was completely safe. However the entire conversation at lunch was enough to make him understand the need to be all the more careful. That was the first day he realized the importance of living own life outside office.
Living own life needs creativity. Indian engineers successful in software companies rarely adopt that skill. Rajesh too didn’t develop habit of exploring life beyond office, family and own circle of friends. He stopped staying too long in office but not having an idea of activities apart from taking family to outing, meeting parents, in-laws, friends and occasionally, Gods, he became restless. To cure restlessness, he took up walking on the roads. One day, discovery of a roadside house where Vivekananda lived amused him. He had read about the Bengali monk in school textbooks. The information that he lived here in 1896 surprised him. He wondered why a road near Sussex Street is named Cambridge Street when the university in a different town is one and half hour’s drive via M11 route. Previously he never thought about the custom of naming of building as Rabindra Bhavan or roads as Mahatma Gandhi Road in every city and towns of India. Here he has time to ponder. Solitary living encourages one to deep thinking. Five days a week he immersed himself in daily office rites. Fully knowing the uselessness of his activities, he called meetings, went through the referrals, checked every weekly audit report with minute concentration, planned milestones in excel, sent mails to colleagues and vendors. After all at the end of his contract, management would assess his contribution to management initiatives. Unsure about his next option, he did not want to lose the opportunity of a contract renewal.
As for the rest of the week, he took up thinking – about job change, possibility of getting Riya and Kids to London, shifting to Abu Dhabi and all those that required lot of brain-storming.