'So, further to your meeting with the panel yest’day I’d like to inform you that we are considering you for an opening that we have', the voice over the phone informs me with trained, almost bored-yet-made-to-sound-as-if-filled-with-oh-so-much-enthu overtures.
I am half asleep in the middle of an afternoon with February about to pass away in three days’ time. I have been sitting at home without a job for 5 straight months now. The excuses are slipping out of the palm of the calm and cool façade that I have managed to maintain over these rough weeks in front of my family.
'And?' I ask the HR personnel sleepily. 'So are you interested?' That suffocating enthu again. 'You haven’t told me what the profile is', I remind her holding back a yawn although I admit that half my brain cells are now awake with the false sense of excitement that her tone has showered so quickly and so effectively into my earlobe.
'Its in Resources depa’ment. You know its all about numbers and data and stuff. You know, very interesting profile'.
I am suddenly reminded of myself sitting in that tiny room with the two interviewers on the fifth floor of the company’s corporate office, telling them so clearly that I am not meant for a client facing job and that I enjoy playing with numbers and data which would be the ideal work for me, given the fact that I am more useful with data than with people.
Heck! They must’ve jotted it down in their writing pads and now she is just reading it out in front of me without expecting me to recognize my own words.
But who am I but an overgrown kid to try and put sense into her. I look down at my bulging tummy and scratch it nice and easy pondering over the decision that has presented itself in front of me, and which is now whispering into my ears with an enticing so what will it be Mr. Ravinutala? and a teasing shall I consider it as a yes then Mr. Ravinutala? And all of this is done to me as if I have a fucking choice in the matter.
Take away the money that my dad and brother earn, then take away my laptop and walah! What do you have? Ans: An unemployed, shabby looking, overweight 23 year old ‘Qualified Professional’ whose bank account is as empty as a beggar’s wardrobe on the most generous of days.
Where exactly is there a decision in this to make?
'Yes' I respond. 'I am definitely interested' she is now receiving a taste of her own fake zeal but I doubt if she even gives a damn as I know I might be one among atleast twenty others to whom she is going to make the exact same call and repeat the exact same lines that she has said to me albeit with a change here and a change there, just so that it doesn't bore her. 'Excellent', she concludes.
'You will be receiving the offer letter in two days time. Pls respond with the date from which you would like to begin. The sooner the better.'
I agree with her on that.
I break the news. Family, both existing and prospective, is thrilled. Chalo! They must be thinking-especially my mother-now his life is set.
But life has other plans for me. Because, unaware of the blinder that the news of finally getting a job has drawn on my eyes, I look straight in front with unblinking retinas into what I think are the colours of a smooth and effortless future when in fact what I am staring at is only one single, singularly distinguishable colour and that colour is the colour of shit.
'What are the general office timings?' I ask with the nervousness of a junior sitting in front of someone belonging to senior management in an empty conference room filled with black, cushioned 360 degree rotatable chairs because this is the situation that I find myself in, two days from the afternoon that I received the call.
'We generally begin at 9.15 in the morning', the portly middle aged man wearing expensive yet simple looking spectacles and sporting a grayish t-shirt (it is Saturday) answers with his hands playing a light tabla tune on the glass table between us.
'And? In the evening?'
He looks into my eyes, his own twinkling impishly,
'Shaam ko? Aur kya? Bas baithe raho!'
Perhaps the faint register of discomfort in me is visible to him on my person and so he quickly adds, 'people usually start to leave by 7.30'.
We shake hands ten minutes later and seal-what according to the hundreds of my fellow Chartereds sitting at home with no jobs is-the deal of a lifetime for me.
I am taken in as a Management Trainee in a fairly well established and allegedly aggressive finance company on what could be considered as fair pay for a CA with no prior experience.
As a celebratory event, I visit Crosswords and buy two books more than what I can actually afford, perhaps already having imagined the forty odd grand that will be sitting nice and fat in my bank account in a month’s time.
The Hungry Tide reaches into my hand from its place on the rack. I do not feel the need to read the little insight on the story that is given at the back of the cover as I have begun to consider Amitav Ghosh another silent mentor for the writer in me. And so I open the last page and stare down at the author’s photograph instead. A shock of white hair and a confident, almost glowing smile greet me from below. I smile back.
In no particular order I then pick up three other novels from the fiction aisles at random without putting any thought into which book I have selected to live with over the coming days. When I finally take stock of what I have purchased after coming out, to no surprise I find that Stephen King has authored three out of the six books in my bag. I have grown up reading Stephen King.
In a sense, he is God to me. What little imagination that I have is mostly on account of the vividly disturbing and the disturbingly vivid stories penned down by him which I lapped up as a kid even before I had reached adolescence. He is also-in a completely different sense-what can be termed as a manufacturing unit, not a human being. Year after year I find the uniformity with which he publishes a minimum of two books every year to be genuinely inspiring.
Moving on then . . .
My first day at work. I yawn with watery eyes as I sit cramped for space behind the person who I am being trained to replace. He is busy, I am informed by the line manager and I am to just observe and learn as much as possible till the time he is free enough to coach me. I nod when I am being watched and when not, I nod off.
The Hungry Tide is resting in my back pack, unopened, unread, unexplored.
I yawn and rub my eyes. Two weeks pass by.
My mind is caught up in ideas again. I cannot help but smile looking outside the train from amidst the hostile crowd of office goers, my pack of fellow white collared comrades who may or may not share a common office space, but definitely share a common destiny. They are-every single one of them-bound, tied and their voices muffled; because they are-every single one of them-cogs in a giant mechanical structure of parts meshed together to serve the purpose of the whole machinery, the bigger entity, the bigger picture. They are supports, in short. Or a better way to put it would perhaps be the inverse- They are shorts, giving support. To whom you ask? To the shrunken but lavender talc laced, the shriveled albeit generously powdered up you-know-whats placed at the coveted corporate ladder foundation stone and the storeys that have come to be built on them over time.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not the reason that I am smiling, looking out of the train. Please don’t think that, as it is merely in an attempt at making my narrative sound more philosophically equipped that I may have wandered off a little from the tracks.
So where was I? Yes, indeed.
Do you want to know why?
I smile because I am foolish enough to think of myself as a sword standing amidst all these cogs who are happily transforming into office drones devoid of any personal goals outside the structure laid out for them in which they are allowed to enter, to sit, to saunter and to leave freely, all for the mere price of wearing cards of identity around their necks at all times and refraining from speaking ill of the structure which pays them. Much like a domesticated dog, wont you agree? With the belt around its neck; the ever wagging tail and the lolling, licking tongue that knows not to bite the hand that feeds it?
I smile because, despite the fact that it has been many days since I have actually set pen on paper, I know fully well that it is only a matter of time before the thoughts inside me are pressed against each other with such an overwhelming pressure that they pour out of the top of my head, flowing down the length of my arm and reach the tip of my fingers, making them itch, urging them until submission is received and the words are finally typed. I know I can never stop writing.
I know. And so I smile looking out at the horizon of a water body that runs parallel to the tracks of the train, whizzing by so quickly.
I know even as a month passes by.
I know even as I have almost reached the end of The Hungry Tide, which is by no means a small book.
I know even as the novel is finished and my head is positively whirring with new plots and styles to experiment with, even as my mind is revving to have a go at an empty word document.
I know. . . I smile. . . and I smile even as with the passing of another month I am still swaying with the train’s rhythmic chug or is it not the train at all. . . Is it my life’s circular loop of daily customs and habits that is making me swing along like a hypnotized victim who feels at peace even as the ever eroding concept of time is eating its way into the depths of his hopes and dreams?
But I know that I will write soon. . . And I smile staring outside; oblivious of the fact I am no longer the sword that I pride myself to be. . . Oblivious of the fact that the metal I am made of is fast melting owing to neglect and re-moulding by itself into something that I have always mocked; despised even. Something round in shape, something with a hole in the centre and spikes at the edge, to help it grip the edge of another and another and another until it is only in the oneness and similarity of task and in the equality of load and in the unidirectional nature of pre-planned movement that I am able to find meaning and purpose.
It is at this moment when I am at the verge of a deeply distressing realization of me being no better than the cogs I silently mock, that I pick up Midnight’s Children as my next adventure.
And it is at this moment, where I feel I have long reached the tolerable limit of word count a personal post should avoid breaching, that I take your leave with the promise of continuing my ode to a disastrous year in my subsequent musings.