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.