ftsl it tdPWA,t ~~~kt at

batt. eM. ,kl S~'4hL hit, set 5'f'P',~~lt',te; Pr~41\~4J t~e~(rlt ~M,I~j~t IdUnLp ,him., ltJ I~~tt de4' 'w£:tl gQJc5h,L ~l5 t,flbuffer4btt as, S;1,ttPI~rv'~5a~" (l,ft tkLs tt~kt 6t g(ltt lttkliM.54fLd C4tl6, w,keh.. Ute c£;utdn.mt ['oak mort ttft,itL5~ir~tt~ 't(1lr51Ik~A"AkA kis trie~~:)1it IUtlrLq.t.tt c4£kr j'It3 fitt t'ke "ttei' ,a"k~Ck4t\~'e,~ eVlryt7hl'~-f5r' ever,
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t

fl,ttd, ~s 'f t~t

O~1 c(mtp,kttl,ttlA~ Ctt5,t;o,hlie,r

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41~6tkerj
ltiIighttmiwwa~ tbe m,os'tin~mnol'al)]e jOUl'1l]ey' a,r lillY Hlfe. Fin;I,'~y. ~tgave me tJ11~ 'idea, (O~~ my book. SCJcond~y~ is it 1~llt~very ,d:ay you sit ill sn 'cm,pty COMp'atr[lll'i,llUli. and a young rn-etty ~I,rl walks 111.. ..,' ", . . ~t!."i.you see ~'Iiu~he mn·' ies, ytJu, hear abc)flu it fi'!Ol1~friends' ff~ends, ~)lll i~ never n~ppens [0 you. In rnu{)~st cases ~,shared ~1Ily cempartment '" hh l!al.tative aunties, snoring m,en a:nd w3J'wling infanfs. But this
r . he Kanpur-Delhi
l,

III ~

l~h~'\\18::;'di lIerenL Fj ~stly~ C0,il1'i~'lrbllJel~Jtwn..~ en~:pty: tins lIlew niy ~u mmer Lnli III had, onTy j !l41SI:s~a,rt.ed nmuil'll ruF:ldrnlo'body kl'lle\Y about it. ~t'cOJ1dly~ 1 WIDIi, unab,I~f!to ~lc:ep,. I had been to UllC tndin[u ms'ti,1t1rte of Technology in Kanpul'" l'o'glv'!3 ~~ tulk. B(r(omh~O!,ving:~ sal in the CtmleeJJ (lh~tt~ng'\\V~Um, Stl.l.ael1ts, ] the lin,~drsuk f,qlU ,CUPl? of eoffee which 1:1)0 oubt led ;)0' myi,ns@ll1luj,a. I d IwLi uo l"n:u,£:azincs or books to read and could han:Uy SC{'; :anythiLlg till. oftb€: windowin the darkness, ~ P!'CplJ.',cd myself'fer a du~11and

lent nigbt She' walked l1tlfive Ininutes aft!e,f [be train h(ld ~,~ftthe station, She 'Ipcncdm'he cnrtains afmy enelosure and i,o,Qlic:ed around IlU!;~1ed.
tU

,ls Ihis coach A4~ seat 63E?~' he-asked, s l'he yellow Hg,ht bulb in my (;om.partme·En Ikkc1'1cd as ~ looked up

,It

j ~\\

is. My seat is~igl1t in trent or Y01.it.'~ She answefied her 11 ques]();[1 and beaV'ed her -tiJeu.vy suitcase onto the u:pp~;wberth, '"'tIll: '~~l dUlYD o:p:~)osite'olefllt1d s:ighcdwith relief 'I, got ]rl1to the wrong Icoa,ci~~,~ said, adjusting ]~er ,or)untleiis fih~ o"cfuaUy,it

•~ILLh? ~1 said. U was ddficu ~t~iJ) wi t~ dr,i;I,\¥ from l he g~,ze ,of 'her eyes,

her;

riJ~,gletsL She was young, perhaps early ito mid-tweeties, and. [tell' wa1ist-length hair had a, lif~ of iL'Sown. Lcouldn t yet see her face in ~he bad Iight, but I could 10011ne thing-she o was pretty, And her e~s--once you looked into them, you couldn't turn away_ 1 kept my
gaze down, 'So, this is a p.retty empty train,' she said after tell minutes, 'Yes,' 1 said. 'Its the new holiday special They'vejust started it.' I leaned forward, .H~. all] Chetan, by the way> Chetan Bhagat,' I 'Hi; she said. 'Chetan your name sounds familiar.' Now this was coot It me'aJnt she had het(rd of my first book. J rn rarely recognised and never by a girl on a nighttrain, 'You migbthave heard of my 'book. Five Point Someone. I'm
> " -

she laughed, I r 0 oked at her. Heir smile was as arresting as her eyes. I knew she was laugh:ing at me, but I wanted her to keep smning. 'Listen, I know y,our book. did. well. You are lit sort of ynl.l.nrnwriter
and everything. But at one Jevel ... ' 'At one level, you are hardly a youth writer;' ill looked at her for a few seconds, Her eyes had a soft: but insistent gaze. _
!~ 1

t\Vba~T r said.

'Oh yes/ She pnused, -Oh yes, uf course. I've read y.olIf Iboo~+ About the three underperformers and the professor's daughter, right?'

the author:

'Yes. So; did you Ji~{)e~tT 'H as all right I was taken aback, .J: could have done with a little more of a
j

thought I wrote a book about college kids. Isn 'twt youth? 1:said ~¥eah. right. So you Mote a beok on the Indian Institute of 'Iechnology, an elite place where few people get to' go, You t-hink. tl131 represents. Ole youth T she asked. .' 'H(l what are you trying to- ,say? I had 'to storlsomcwhere. so 1 "",,~ol-e about my college expm'iences .. And the story isn't all about nT. U could have happened anywher-e·, Is that why you're tTIlShEllgmy book?' Il.1.1"l not trashing it. I'm just saying it hardly represeuts Indian
YO\lr1h"~ "So what represen s youth exactly?" I said. 'I don't know. You're the writer, You figure it out/ she sold. "That's nat fair,"] said .. I sounded like a fi:ve-year~old throwing a

'''Wen ... ' she 'aid, and paused, 'WeU what?" r said after fen seconds, 'WeU, yeah.just all tight. An OK-,OK type of'book,' f kept q~iet. She noticed ;uhe expression of JB[ld disappointment my face. 'Yes,' I said, my voice Jess friendlythan talk there.' ~Ob really'] About what?'
'Nice no meet Kanpur?'
YOUl'

compIDilment •Just a U right?' [ said, f shing a bit toe Obv'i'OlUs1y.

tantrum. She saw me gn~ud)]ine; to myself and smiled. ".AI,e; Y(lU go~ngto write another book?' she said afew seconds later,
01'11

Chelan. Wbere are you corning from?

nT

before. 'I had to give u

do want to hear about it,' I said, using ,3. sweet tone to coat my sarcasm, 'Interesting;,' she sa.iC\ and went quiet again, [ was quiet too. Ididn ~t antto speak: to her a.ny more. 1wanted my w empty compartment back, ·Is everything-Ok?' she asked soft~y,

·About 111)'book-you know, the OK-OK~type one. Some people

'Yes, -wmy?~] said,

'You 're upset about what .1said about your book aren't you?' ~ Notreally,' 1 said,

~What is tile; subject of'your second novel?' I turned to look at her carefully for the first time, Maybe it was tbe time of ~ugbt.but she was one of the mostlbeau~iful women I had ever seen Everything about her was, perfect I tried to concentrate on her question. 'Second novel? I haven ~t thought "d' a subject yet: I said. 'Really'? Don't yon have any ideas? "1do ..But nothing certain,' . ~~nte_ .. resting,' she drawled. ["Ven~j ust bask in. the success of your first book.jhen.' We kept quiet for the next halfan hour, ] took out the COJ)'ients of my overnight bag and rearranged theD1 for no. particular reason. 1 WOllde.r,tid~f wt even wade sense to change -into nig;h.twear, I wasn't going to fan asleep, - 'Imtght havea story idea for yeu,' she said, st.al1Ji]1g me·,,_ 'Hull. • I was wary of what sbe was going to say. '''Vhat is iCl' 'It's a. story about a call centre,'

-rn try to.'

centres"? ,

'Really?' .1 said.. 'Call

centres, as in "business process ou~s(}unrciiD1g

~ Yes..Do you mow anything about them?' I '~lIlougblabout it. I did know about can centres, mostly from my cousins who workedl.~n one,
4

Yes~I know somethisg,"I

said, ~Some three bundred thousend

I ahrugged ill the semi-darkness, 'Can~tsay. Don't 'tel] me the story yet). just tel [ mewhat lit's about.' She salt up. Folding her legs beneath her, she began talking, "All dgj[t/ she said, ~H'sa story about sixpeople ina call centre on ene night.'
~ Just one night? Like this one'?' 1 interrupted.
night. ~ ~Are'you Slue that could fill a. whole book?' ]meH~. w~at~s so specialabouttbis night?' She heaved a sigh and tooka sip from. her bottle of mineral water. 'You see,' she sa~~·it wasn't like any ethernight, ltwas the il~.ght~ of the phone cain.' 'What?' I said, and burst out laughing. 'So a call centre gets a phone call ..That's lite special parr?'

·wm. you do it then?'

people work in the' industry ..They help US and European compani es

in 'the sales) service and maintenance 'of their operasicns, U sually
younger people work there in night shifts. QIl.ti1&ein~eresling, actually.' 'Just interesting? Halve you ever thought of what they all have

~Yes, one

to face?' ~ not real ly,' I said, Uh,

~Why?' AJ~n~rt they tile

youth?

Don't

yOU! v..ranl [0 write about

them?' She was almost scoldingme. 'Listen, ~e1lt1;: start arguing again,' not ~. not ar:guLlliing.told you that I have a call-centre story 'for you.' I'm J I looked. atmy watch, Irwas [2.30 a.m, A story would not be such a bad idea. to ki 11.11 time. 'Let's hear it, then,' I said. 'I'1] tell you, but .~have acondition,' she said. Condition? !What? That I don 't tell it to anyone else?' I asked. 'No. ,JUSlt tile opposite, You have topromise to use it for your second book,' 4WhatT I said, 'Are you kidding? 1:can't prornisethat." It's up to you.' she said a[ld turned :1; ilent, 'Can tt Idecide after you've told me the story?' lasked. 'If ifs interestlng, I may do it. But how coon decide wimmlt beanng i~ :first?' 'No. This. is not about choice. If] rell you, youhave to use it," !';hl: said, '.As ifit's your own story. ]'11 give you. thecontacts of rhe people ill! the story. You can meet them, do yourresearch, but make 1m youi secondbook.'
<

She did not smile back. She waited for me to stop laughing and then eoneinued as ifI hadn't eaid ~nything.. tyou see, "h, wasn't an :pho.ne e81]1 from God.' Her words made me spring to attention. ~What? <You heard me. That night there was a phone call from God,'
j

ordinary phone can. It was the night,

.. i'~ wasthe

night then) was a.

Ishe said .. •W'hat exacdyare yousalkmg abou t? ~ 'F'm not telling you any:more, Now you know what it's about, if
YQU ,.

want. to hear the story. you know my condition,' 'It '8 a.tough condi bon,' ~. aid. s 'I k1iJi~ow. U'S!lPI to YQU~'she saidand lay dawn and. ·closed. her eyes.
.

Six people. One night Cal ~Icentre. CaU ~immGod. The phrases

kept repeatingthemselves inmy head as another hour passed. At 2.(m a.m ..she woke up to have a sip of water,

~·Wen,then, I ,think it's better if you don't tell me,' I said .. 'OK~' she said and turned quiet again, She got up to spread a bell sheet on her berth, and. then arranged her pillow and blanket I checkedmy watch again .. It was tOO a 111., and I was still w~d~ awake. She' switched orffftID.e flickering yellow light, Now the only

·Listen/ [ said. 'Get up.'

light in the compartment was. an eerieblue one; I couldn't

ftgllre' QUI

where thebulb WdS, As she was sliding under her blanket, I asked ·W.~at is the story about? At least tell me 3: h.tOe bit more,'

~ you ~ write it?' So 11 ~YeB,," said witha slight hesitation, I 'Good,' she said, andsat 'MPagain. in her cross-legged position, For the rest of the niglit, she told me the story that begins below. I chose to, tell the stO'J'y througb Shyam ~yes because, afrer I nlet him~ I realised he was the most similar to me as .at person ..The rest of the people, and.what happened that night, well! I'll let Shy<;tm.'lellyou,

~. Huh'?' she said, rubbing her eyes. ~\Vhy?' "Iell me the story, ~I said.

s

:ljU,6. I tri ed 'my best to w riggle out of it but he wutd.dn It I et go, J wudly relented and t[:m:t~'~:yby I'm stuck with this assigranent, while yOiU .alIC

]oud beeps i.[!) the disf911:ce. My niglnmare ended as, my 9cl1_p11o~l:~ la:nn nU1:g Hard in. "~jlen a ear andI wolfJeIIlp to its "Last L'1riS~hlJ.as'ring tone, The ~ingt()Ile was a ~Jfl, am Sherali, :m~~ & new 5emi-g~:dfriend.. I Squillflt;~1 tJlftl:ugh a hfJW:f: htlteye to see i'L12 p.rn, surrounded by Jitrr.lebe.~ls t:'i.a$hing On ..s '~hescreen. ;namn.'· I g,aiq and jUllijled OI1J.t().fbBd. .. I. "~u.1d baV:f!Joved t? aFJaj~5~my d(ea~lTIarid it~ signHieancem l1Iy UlslgfluDcant J]fe~ but r h:~dto set dtt\s··~ed \Vork. far lYJa:mf1. th.leQua1is wOlbe here ill twent)' ItliIUltes" .~ tbmrght. Qua] is Was the make of 'car ibai pieked us all J1P.indjvjduolJy -aud drovv us to the c~l1tr,e,11 'I.\'3S, sri1r 'ti'red; bilt l'frai,d{)f stayins in bed iifny lon,~'erin ease r was lab'i!,. . By th,e way~ J am Sl1yam 1VItltta. Of Sam 1arcy,aS UteY.l;aU me. at my 'W'Orkp1tlccj the CUHuexiotns can .cel~tfeci~l :G~lrgacm~ American tongues have trouble saying-my rea! nRII:nc~.nd 11[~ferS!lm.. Any,"vfty, 1;lU a call-centre agent. There.ar13 hundreds ('If ·tllOUSflnds. prola.abJy :tni.:I,HQns·of [E!.gen~s,Hire: me. Hut this 'to'a.~pa.iP",.lI!I-the'· neck author chosarne, .c;.fa.M ~ge:f:1ts in tht tqUf1~jf. He matftJe.@nd-tol!.l the mC/to h~'~p hil:,nwith hls second: bodk. TIl fact" he·pretty ~m.LICI1wanted me to 'Yfite the !book for him, ] decJilled. &aying I'ean '~.even write m~' OWl1l_ C'/1 so.there' 1'W.i,s,r10 way I could W'~te a wtro~e kino]!::. I explained to' bmrl how 't'OCl;}'promOI{1oill ttl fuepo.sition of[.~'1 ileader had b-een postp(ll1ed for-one year because myrnrH1Jlagc'J" .Bakshi. bad told me ~ha~ 1 don't have' tbe ~req:Qired sJtilJil set yet. rIiI.my review.. J3akshiwrcHc
that 1 was "'ndt' iii, gb-getter~.. I dO.ill~t even know X:\That "go-getter" me~ns, so. Igu~~s I'm (kJini(;~]y not one, But ·thts a:UHltlT Bait!: J1.-e di M ):t care. He' had p!:Q'ID.i.sed 80meDneite 'd Vi/rille this StDryo Pd bi}'tter c.Q(jPUttte of he WDElJq. keep.on l~sltetihg

.I 'W~ .s:plash~'ljg my l\ru,')ds .heIp.l!essJy in ·tbe :se:a.,J can't even s~m in a pond., Jet alo]1e~n theI ndian Oceatl.While: 1 was h,: the w,a·ret1 my boss~aksbj "'\is 'in a boat :rn~t U". me. He was I~u5hiug 'my' h,e.1d duwn in th.c: wa~¢l. I saw Prlyanka drin'ing alway if1 a lit'etJuat I screamed as Balcsl;d used bmll j:lis hands to .k~~jJIlly heaa submerled. Sal€- Wa:ler was fiUil.'lg l"ll)l m.:JrUlh abd nostrils when .J beard

1.,ll P:.BI•

stuck wwth ltl.-e, .' ow let's gerbaek 'fa the s,~ry. IfyOtlromemoor~ J bail just w!4lken up. in tbe.living.I'OOtll. Somerelatives-were
cousin was getting married to his

uc:igitbour. But I liaidlto' work. so ]: couldn t goto the weddJng. It di~'t LUaUe1~l(Hlgit; ~u U marriiilg~ are the sarne, more ur 1'e:-;,, 1 r~aGll:ed :fhe' bathr,pam ~t.mhalf-asleep, It'was occupied. The bathroom door was open I saW fiv~ of my ij:unts.sc.raLmbling ·tQ ,get enfew square Inches of'tlm w~1Sihb.milin minor. nne ,8.001 had lost thelittleserew urhe[g'qld·'ea.rrin~ ~nd 'W8:'flip;ping out 'Ifs pure gold, wher-e.:is it'r 'She screamed,

·~tttnd a faD1Hy wedding_My

THERE ~l(AS N01SE A

in town to

'Aut.lti~ can I use the bathroom fer five minutes? 1 DOOO"tO ,get ready for thffl(rtnt;fl, , 1 said. 'Oh, hello, SIlyal1l(l. WgJ....-;e llJl 'iinaUy? l my nl1):eb..er:s sister said. ~Qffice'?Aren'tyoa -eoming to th,t'; weddingt 'No, I haveto wutdc Can I havethe barh->'

'Leok how big Sh:ym11has become,' my maternal eunt .said, "We
need to' find a .Jgi,rL forhjm 5Q0ft. ~ E\re:ryOlIe: burst ]ntogigglrcs. It wa~ fb"iI;-lbigg¢st jok.e i,jf't~,1eday. '~C3Ln. 'p,]ease--"] said. I -ShyalfJl, leave the ladies alone, one of 'D'Iy eeusms mrerrupted, iWhal are you doiug 'here with the women? 'VVCMe MIDe:a,dy late fOI tlI~ \.Vcddi,Jl$. if'But J ha'Vc to go to work, I need t.o gi.jf dt\tS3~d'l I pretested, ~US1f:: the kitchen sink,' au a nt suggested. and banded me my

J:ooJhblush. l gave' thOOt all a.dirty lo()k.hb('ltiyti.otic.~. I p,assed by tbe Hvi.ng room on my way 'lO the kitchen. The uneles were on their second whi ky'"rod sodiit\. ·One..uncle S'aj~ sqme,thing about how it wouJd be b.etrer if my fatherwere still alive' ana around this ~I,?JJing. I reached the kitchen. 'Thete was nohot wwterso my 'face froze as I washed it wi~h 'old Wi.lter.W:inteJ; in Delhi is, a bitch, 1 bmS:hed: my teetll and combed my hair: Shyam bad turned inw Sam and Sam's d,ay had jus.t 'begun" 1 <was hUJilgry; butthere was notliilbg til' ear, TheY"d be getting food at the wedding, 80 UlY mother felt there was 110 need to cook at home, The Q!LmJis."8110m screamed at 8.5:5 p.m.

500

Chera« Bhagat

OneNigh:

at th« Call Centre

501

I tried to find my mother, She was in her bedroom, lost among aunties, saris and jewellery sets. I waved a. goodbye to everyone but 110 one acknowledged me, It wasn't surprising, My C0US,[l1S are all. on the-ir way to' becoming doctors or engineers. You could. say I am tile black sheep of my family. You see, 1 used to work in the website department of an ad agency before this call-centre job. However, the ad agency paid really badly; and all the people therewere pseudos more interested in office politics than websites, I left and ali hell broke loose at home. That's when 1. became the black sheep. I saved myself by joining Connexions, WUh money in your wallet the world gives you. serae respect, Connexions was also the natural choice for me as Priyanka worked there, Of 'C01Jrse~ that reason was no 'longer

door. Uncle climbed IDIl and sat at the back, He gave me an it-mustbe-your-fault look, I looked away. The driver rook a: If-turn to go to
Radhika 1; house,

One of the unique features about my team is that we not only work together, we also share the same Qualls. Through a bit of route planning and the recruitment of an agreeable driver, we ensured that my Western Appliances Strategic Group all came and loft together. There are six: of us: Military Uncle, Radhika, Esha, Vroom, Priyanka and me. The: Quali . moved on to Radhika 111 , or agent Regina Jones's a

house, As usual, Radhika was late.
'Radhika 111adalJ1 is too much,' the driver said, hoJdiIl!g the horn

relevant.

down, I looked at my watch anxiously,
Six minutes later Radhika carne running towards us, clutching the

The Qualis's horn screamed again. 'Trn coming,' I shouted as I ran out of the house.

"What, sahib, Late again?' the driver said as I took the front seat. 'Sorry, sorry; Shall we go to, Military Uncle's first?' .~ panted to the

9.05 p.m.

'ends of her maroon shawl inher right hand. ISorI'Y, sorry sorry ... ~she said before we could say anything.
~What?~]:asked her as the Qualis moved on again. Nothing. 1 was making almond milk for my mother-in-law and it took longer than I thought to CIW3h the almonds,' she said, leaning back exhausted in her eat in the middle.
'Ask Mother-in-law to make her OV!/11 milk, I suggested,

driver,

•Yes: he replied, looking at his watch, 'Can we get to the' call centre by ten p.m.? I have to meet someone
before their shift ends/ ~said. 'Depends if yow' colleagues are on time,' the driver replied ~aCOIl]cally. 'Anyway, lees pick up the old man first.' Military Uncle hates it if we are late. I prepared myself for some dirty looks. His tough manner comes from. hjs days in the Army, from
]:111

which he retired ,f& DeW years 9.g0. At fifty plus he is the oldest person the ca~[ centre. I don't know him wen, bur I do know that he used

"Nothing new from what Vroom told. me, Call volumes are' at an all-time ]ow-Conn. .xions is doomed. Its just a question of when •
I said.

'Yeah, right; I shrugged. Just [bat and cooking three meals at day and household chores andworking all night and. , .' "Don't talk about it," she said. 'Any news on tbe call centre? I'm nervous .. "

'C'rnon, Shyam, she said, 'she's so old. it's. the Ieast I can do.'

to live with his son and daughter-in-law before he moved out-for which read thrown out-to be on his ownHis pension was meagre. and. he tried. to supplement i1 by working in thecaU (entre. However,
he haws to 'alk and is not a voice agent He sits on the solitary online chat and email station, His desk is in a far corner near the fax machine .. Most of his interactions with us .are limited to giving LIS condescending 'you young people" glances. The Qualis stopped outside his house, He was waiting at the

entrance.

'YOll~re late.' Uncle said; looking at the driver. 'Without answering, the driver got out to open the Qualls's back

Rumours that thecall centre would collapse floated around every day. The Qualls moved painfully slowly. It was a heavy wedding day in peD]] and on every street there was (1 procession, We edged forward as the driver dodged several fat grooms on their over-burdened horses. ~l need this job. Anuj and 1 need to save,' Radhika said! more to
.
-

It 'was true. You might have heard of those swanky, new-age call centres where everything is hunky-dory, there are plenty of clients and. agents get arornatherapy massages Well, Connexions was not one of them.We were sustained by our one and only client, Western Computers and Appliances, and even their call flow had dwindled.

'Really?'

Her eyes widened.

herself, Anuj was Ra.d'bikn~:SIhusband .. She mat'fied hhn

j,illdr_,e.t •

ago after a whirlwjnd. COUl'S~ltp,and nl)W th- li· ed \- itht-illuj1i ultra .• traditienal parents. The driver dre e to E s ha Singir'l"s nr agent Hlliza Si~ger!s) place next, She was alli{".-a:dy outside hIM· house, As Esha got 'in~'he S1lltU ,of e~pensive pOFfimJli:ti,U~d.d]e veklicle., She ~a~ ne,xJ tQ IRadhika ill 'tlli:l'li~1\lidtne rm'V mild rreniD\led bel' suede '~~ nie . \V1I1at ils it? Rtldhika said. 'You notirc;ed.' ESI111 was plea ed, 'Escape by Calvin Klein.' be

UU'Cc y _ars,

agent Victo'l' Me.l[. bul'e eryone taUs hirm,Vroom because of his l(We [(l.1" I:llyrl1J!ingon wheels, .. . . The QUrllis,tw'Ded in~tl'Vroom's road to find him be ide his motor ..

bi~e.waitmng,

..,djusted the M!lsels at the end of herlong, darl hr, _r..'-!JfI !'.dun,. 'OOO~l. Hfl,VC yQL~been ,sboppingT Radhika said, • . all it 8, momentary lap. e of reason,' - aha said, T 'j,cloikerJ a:t EslHIJ. ag~lltt Her dress :l">ensern' '. impeccabk~ •. ,He~'s,tG.'t:V~ 'less coffcc""culom:c~ ~op'conb:S'h!d perfecUywith her skirt and she wore chunl!r:y bro\ivn earrings. that looked ecHble .-nd l:iplttick as thi'ck
a coeea,

"What's, 'the.bj~e fo¥?~I said ctllTling out oh1:te w.[odow. ~.' ~11.going, on m;~lO'1N1'l.'· Vroom said, adjusting liIi,s WC3Jthcr ~l!JoiVe!. I He wDre black jeans and trdck~ng shoes lhi'l'( made hi thin legs~oDl~ extra long. FI>i'sdark blue ",,",,catIlt'in had the Fen iri bor:sc_ Logo on it. 'Arc you cl'azy?" said. ~mtl :sOl co:M..Get in, .. C"re late alrc.ad.y.~ Q. [, fee~.stressed today. ] need to ie1 it QUE ~r'my system whh a a t ride.' He was ~blrnclifilg fwghtbes,~denu~ and onl:· I could hear him . '\~fbatbappened,?' _ ~Nodililll1Jg., ad called, ]Ie OO'g;:ued with. Mum for two h01!JTs. 'M~y D did they seIl~'li'a'le1The.YC:ll1 ~ live without screru11~ftg 1he~r,glll.tSout at
e:Ulch .other.'

IOOiImodel'. But PriY,rmka doesn't know ,c:rap. "shai five"five owly two 'inches shorb-,r 'tha.1flme I and one inch taller in her heels '. T thinl that's pretty taU fQr a girt isba is only ~'WClIty-t~ o. gw e her a chalice. ~think Priyar11lul i · jiea'lou&. Priyanka wasn t even OOD5idu d Jor just tbe hottest ehle __award. PI'iyal!lkn is niee-l 01 inJg. and she didge a nommatkm for' the: 'call-ceatre cune HIW.,lrd· but , he dlidn't win. erne ,Iirl in l-JRWOIil that

thfl.t. D.Qifhing big I:,a.,some I~!er \va" :!MJ far. c Prlnyanlka once ~o~dme tJ~,1.I1he th.Qu.gbtE ha ·\W.S ~t()O gbor'l'~o be s

'The Lak.m.,~India ~ril hion Woo'[c is, in forur month. My agent is frying to ~t me an as,!i,iQlungn~" K ha said 'ttl Radhika,. sha wants to become a model, Sbe hOlllGj'l least accerding to peopl e at the calli. C(UUI"C. 1\~() months ago, .orne .agenls. in tll Wos~cm COmplJl~T$ bay conducted a srupid peU around tb,e' ,officc.. Pe·ap1evotedfa'f \~3;FUluustt'ide;o, lLke '111(1is ho'~~ who ~S1hl1:wd50:rne W1.d w'bo ls ,Pretty. Esha '\VOn the Ude Oflho ·:h,·ottestcbict at C('tnn~i·cms , Sbe '\\125 very d,ismi ·si of [b~ poJ~ results. but from that ,dri.y on there's been just a tiny hi!nt of ':anit,Y ab'ut her" Otherwiis(!.j tholtilgh hc·~slne. She mo~ed to De]hi from landigarh a year ~lg0.!aga]I1iI'-l her parents" wishes, TIl call-centre jnbgivi' s her a r0'Jl.lIlar income but during jhe day she tries (0. geT mndelllng .s :signm'O'D11.S;. SM's. taken 1 part in some lo,W-My rasl1~on show,:. rn 'Vest DteU i, but apart. from
I

~nobl'Qtnj i said. ~ Vroom's dad waa a. bllsi:ne:sman 'Wbo part'ed from hi wi&: two yea " ,ago. He preferred hi eCl'etary ·~O,beiJl'I.g 11'ilh hi famUy. so VroOlll.m:tdhis mother now livd without him. I cou.Mm"t sleep at all, Just lay in bed all d81yall1d nmv I feel sick, I need, to get some ~!1crgy baek,' Vroom $i3,id.a5, h :'ttaddl,ed bis bike. 'But it s flllcezil1.g •.. I began. ~'Whot\:, g.O.in.8.'OLl Shyanl Sla]J~b,?'he driver ru;kcd. ltw:nedroutldl. t The driver locikt7d at me with puzzled e.x..pte:$sli(ll1i'l and 1 sI'lrugg~d. m,Y shoulders, "'.Hc S ,oing 00,1his bil~e ~ I told everyone, _. 'Come with m.e; Vroom sa:id ~o me. ~I]) get us there in hldr
f

"'It's OK

mM)" .• omyour

the nme,'
'0\

ii

We had to pk;l;~up VroCHlI'll next~ ltirsreal n~mleis Vamn Ma~hoka (or

thtulks~-15aid, and .fold~d my hands. 1 wmm'tleavin;g the eI.Jgy QlmJis te ge on H,bike,_ Vreem bentever 'E!~]gl-eet the driver, "Helle, driver sahib,' he said .. "Vroom sahlb, dou·"t. you like my Qualms?" the dri cr slid. "No,. Dn'\',e'l ji;ol'm 'ill me: mood for riding my motorbike,' Vroom said . . I'ley Vroom. Any aews OD Oo:nI1CXmolls? Anytbing happening?' Radlnkn asked; .adjust.lug her hBiir. Ap8rL fro n he dark ciecles around h er eyes YO'tiJ 'could ~y Ra~hika wss pretty. She b~1 high cheekbones and her fair sl-in go~ well with heir '\yi:spyeyebrows and scot-black ~s. She \ ore a plain mush'lrd sari, as saiis, were an~he,.vas aUo\ved towear :in her in-lawsJ
I

was d'iffer;erJJ\ app,;:~{dfrom rhc jeans and skit1 RaclMka p1fefe:rn:d b ~fore bar m.m;ragc. ·-0 upchue". WHl dig for s!uft~tl!ld(~y., I Ihil!l'l~ BnlrsM ~~Llit\Clle'lY bu~ . us nIL 11ey. Shy,am the ~Je'bsiLe m'nua~ Is all done by Ithe '!Nay, (
[t

b()l~S•

ema~h~d iJ'I\I) the offi,cc.• Vroom :sa~da.Fld s~,arte:dhis bike. ~ 01, fh~,iiny.LC1's send i,t h'litoday,,' I said, pcrkil,l~, up. "re feft Vwcm and moved 'to our last '(litk~up ~:[P'riyankn-s pla~o.tt was 9.JO p.m.. s.til'l.anJwu.1'" ~way :from our shUt. Hc,wey"e..r, ,Iw~r worded ·as Shefali finished her sltift ,and ]cfi hy 10.20.
'orttmatc]y, .Pti)"i1mka was ut her Illick-ull' p()'~nt\'Vhe[l we J~c_bcd

Jound iteasie stto talk "[,{) him, Radh ika \ ho u etic Id 'rn~ k'v~s~tNJ' dten ro~ _~~ha"modelling u~ip ~asElI,tmiNyond me and frlY~Ulla had me, heen a l'Ol nlCftC' 'than a ft;j,fHld until recltl1Uy.. Four mmdi[l~ a~or \"'~' bl'Okie !JIP' (rriyaflka~ erslon) or she dumpod l1U! (my¥ersuJ~ .~Sol was, trytllg t('1' do what sb ,wanted] I'S, 'to dD-~lnove o]l'-wlnch was \vhy 1 hum:;: OUJ~ w~th ji}.. t;Io,li,. . .' ' 1'wo pair' of Woudbeep's- ft'Orn Illy ~sllll pocket ~.b£tlcd everyone, ·Wlu:r';s, 't]ulf7" .P.f.iyaru::a said. 'US my text,' t ~ ,.dlall'ldopened the ne\~me 'age'. Whe'ie . u my ed,dy ,eddy? Come soon-<url wurly n
,\:lit

he"rplaoe, ·Hi"~ Priyanka said as she sat U_'Xf to &ha lin the roid',cUe row' of seeis, Sh~ carrted a large'" white plasric Ifi~gaswell as her usual giant ham ILUI!i!;"
~Hi" everyone: ,lieplied ex(ep~ me, If, .fd hi, S,hY8Jll~Pdya.nka ~id. II. pretended not to ht:8 fo E er .s~rnec \\13 broke Up!, I've found il difHcull ,o1'l31Ik to' her, e -en Lhouglrl 11 mus, think abol~t her thirty timesa day~ ~ looked ;(fi;'l her, SheadjlsL,'>,d her dupatta round he[' neck, he forest ..green sil~"~ar lit: meez he was \vearing was 'new, :1 noticed, The eelours §uil~dher ~ighl. bf\m~1\ skin, I Joo~ed al her ~lO_C and du~ nostti :1:5lhat fliilwd up' every ~me she W,flS up set, I ~wear tiny .Ibfncs upp~,oredin li1em, Whetl sh - got ,tJllgJ'Y. ·Shyarr~.,I s,(JJi,d ,bi~,"h,e: said ~ll1. s
l
o_

ShcfaU. SbCWil. into ehee y ll'i,d.!i:namcs .• replied tithe [ext

Qua'l,ls stlJd:: in tr,affic. W~IIIb 'there soon

·"\iVbn~s hufr Ish, ,Mk.cd '~'II'I,e:.'·Shcfa~~"'!· l No/ J said and eivcrybQdiy looked: at me. . ·Yes. it is, Ilfs.he"-ali., i 110tItT Esba and R",dlitii,ka s l'idllCg the'r and
~a.ughed. . ., o,Vhy does Sbcn Ii ~lways _babytalk~ I heard EdUi
Wlll.Pf!F to

.

~No datt,es. I'm sti"U so' sing.le, Suhubieguys are an endangered speci s,"'sha said and, Ill:! I the gir]s manghed. It wasn~t Ih:n 'unny if you ask me, l\V!Jshed 'Vroom was in the Qmud1 . 1100. ~fc wa .tlu only perslon j" Irny[.¢:~uIj1I ,~olll claim as a
"dedd. At twent -1\\10' h
'1,1"

ru, saio. ~'\lVhere~ Vn.Hlm,'?' Priyanka'sarid. 'Vro()iJ:f is rj!dimg . o. roem,' Esh.a' a~c:l n~a'lfllig motorbike nD~'eo a. ~Nice perfume, E~ha. Sh{lppilog auain. chT r~riy _,nku said ,in_ .!miffed. -ape' 'alvin Klein,' Esha announced and struck apose, 'Wow. Snn1:CDfle 'is going dsigg.er;·' Priy.mnka ,aid and both offheni lAl]lIghed. Thls is omctbing I will never undeffitamll about l1er• .P'riyanka hlMibitched fifty tim~!i ,about Esha te me, Y' '~ when fhcy w.~ U)ge-th~l't,hey behave ~iikelonllHcst ~~st'e:r:s. •E!Sba. big date 'comh~g·.; Radhika aid,
• ILl'· ." .

".;11

Radlhika, More uners fiollowed. __. '·Wha.rever,l' I . aid and iouked ' ,t n~ '(:atch, Th ~ Quails,:i; as lillU 01" the .n:·; road. We were ten 'I11'lllllllh.::s ;l, .. 'from Conne-xj'UJi,:S. . rIY CooL IIU ml:!Ci Slit '(ali by lrOJO, I ~hought (Call we Ofg,p, -[0'1' qUli 'K . eel Illtlnderje;et'? Wc'U sriU {fluke U by len ~hi:ny~lP'riyankn said. ,._ .. '. _ (ode'IiTeet dha.ba on NUS. 'was ftllnou.S 3'utl.Cmg U'U k dn' ers fm us aU-:niahllcH IU'ld snacks" °w~n'lwe be hiu!:''?' Radlrika crink'ed her fnrehead, ·OfcQI.[('s¢ nO·i. [IF'ive'rJi sIwcd u L~lel1t)' rniau e .. in the 11,a'1;En::~.ch . OJIUe" Uri er II. my U'e;at.~ Pri .anka said.
iC;

The drive'!' :stowed thli:' Qml.lis andptirked
~Otmtif.lT.

"(Juod 'id.ea; It will kep 'IDe'awake,' Esba said. ncar the !nc[cijelet dlJ:iab3
0

'Hey, guys. til) we have, to stop'!'yc'·lrc.~~i,'l]g _beJw~.!;,. J Pl'O~C~'te, 10 ~. We won" be tate .. Le s treat Dris cr JII' 1'0.1' glJ· nng U 5J here so fa t~,

.

d

Priy-lr'Ullm "aid and g~odtoH.h~JQ La'.... ,

s:four ye,an Yllung,'r tl1M me but J ti.11

. ._'. _. "He Wtlnbi to be \~HJt. Shef~h., dude. E-9ha elbowecl RruLluka .. !t.ey gullt~ ed again, \\Vlla. • 6 damn funny'? I w.ru.ned 'to llS~: .. _, •No, I j U.sl [j'ke te reD.. h my .shift :Dr~! mt~ut~s .early; 1 S3:u!l and @o( e out oftbe QUHI~5.Mi~i'nry nele :illild the driver 'fOlllowl:tI. us.

The dd\lm' arratllge:d p~astic cha~r5' or us, ,Indede f'g minions eelleoted tea '1JIrdI~;r,~. The' 't-3 3,Ullved in tbflcc l'I1'inutes.

"So

\1

hat " the gDss,ip7' lP:dy,mka mCL cupping hi r hamd l\o'lUld

Wha.e 1WlF(mg w,idl Shefd'." I said, 1he ot'hcr.

Elldfling from oae fbot to

~he'g~ass.

·\Vb:O.t?~ Radhika unci E ~l~excllai!l'IU}(itCig~fher. r'l) It,cl'l you whea C"(;C gette the ooy. 11''5 big "'riY~Flka said. "Tell us now' &ha :said.loikillg Priyank11-s sh ,.ulder; 'Tb,ere:""s no lin ..~, Someone is,im ill de:s,c:rale hUn'Yt~ P,'1yanklll: Mid glandng mcmnngfillUy at rna 1 turned away.

teH lJ~~ wha{T6 harpenlng 11'1 tm::.' Radhika ~i!I_hit j\mw or actu It do hav~ SOil-thing iG 1~~1"Priymka a.tel w:ith a :d 111i1e.
Q§~p.YOUI

'No

thing, It _'usUhal .,rg, nm(: tc,l\,,_v_ ,ll girmi.Clld·lI!th 'half~ br in. \Vhy woeyou wa~~1 your tinllc' 1l1111l(uT , 'I'm weaning mysclfo,n- P,ri,yankm. ~';m lTyiDg, to move ul4~ atd. m ~Wha happe u;:d 1'0' lhe re-propo a~ ph~n \Vi~h PriY,lmka.?' 'mom said. or"", told you~ rnol uruim 1 beoo,m@ ~Ct'ln1 ·t~de'r~W'hich sbeuld b~ soon-liIlIayb~ lOnicght a.nCE" '''IC s'IlbmilHlc web he manual, " ow can

we ,pkra e I'~T

'V~h. right Som ho~

you lh~~on:

l'UOlI~

~itl~ bpI n-loved

·,0 K. ,i have S{lM,eth ,n18 to ~11'iJUru Dtmtden 'tte'll an)"Qif1~I, E5 wo.
'\Vlmt?' bdh'ika. said.
1

no said,

rSihru. up, Illh'llO. She' ~'1i1S10 catch 'Ell!',)' QUlliS,IlIItcr hC!I" shUt. T,ll'i11 i ' the Dn~ylitne I get\iV.ith her,' '01:1 __ ' you In·d Priyanka. and nor )'Oll ink !lof'lef4lU lie cls,' Vr;CQm said, ,lIrulb~:II! b.ES,cJbow to i ~ti~ h:i~ ~m-~~oot-'~,\\ro-i~H;h fl111I1!1:e'
on dIe dhaba (loonter.

'·Soo. 'Ii ha said md toad UPI. Sill! rat,,- 11 ~f fOP' (0 ,expos a Hal mh:lrwft ow ,vhich therewas a nCi.vibom rl'ng~ ·Coo:l. check i,1 out.' Pnyslilka said, '."OnleOl'lle 'lllrning hip," MmUI y Ul't,l: ' !il,Earcd as if il1 a ~r" ,c or sheck, ] l:iu~,pec~, was, lilt: never y{lyn~ ,and was jusl tJ om 8 ~1I:niJ]gII1 (c1rty-year..,old. ~,Did imhud~.,• Radhik said, "011 )f'C=. 'ma, said. 'Im gil1c someone .iUlpU[lg yom ummy hard,' Esba"'s· statemeru chulI'noo my ..\"O'mach. ·Sh.an we go? I sotd . ulpjng dow~'1m.y lett. ~. et' go, gJrl -. Of Mf onscienrieus r in get upset,' 'riy~ul1kn supp~"tS8eda mh-'k. I hated her. . Iwen,'t Ito the COlU'lel~ Ill) pay the bill, Vroom wa " watching 'T~ ·Hii..Wh ~ are' you guys tlu,~nl,hf:re?'i h said, ~bold him abnu'[ rhe l:iF~15'i,[c~ 'idea. "larn ed t~ nty minutll:'s ago. man,' Toom sa.d. I e e Wtglili~hOOl his cilll'ettle' 'U'ld sho\\'_d me t11.ebun. 'This wa 81Y fine VmOl'lil '"ws ~rying I[Q, lin d,o",rD Ito f'our cigar,_'mtes a night. Hol' c;vet with Baksbi in O:UiC ,life itwas iml,o~ibJ~. • . fin you rD. h me ,:~ the ,Ct!nb:l!:'?he~li \lIJ in b leav iInig :soon / ~saidL 'Sh"611L Ob you mean CUr'i)f Wur1y: Vroon iughcll.

~ .he~d lQiIll tight [1S he ,zipped!. Eh:roIJ,gh NHI ,m 11U k;:lo1l1jU~Uio.s an hour. ~clo.... m eye', an Iprilyt."'I.i Shcfnli \'!itluldn"t be iJJ1;b'l)1' and that ed I wouM get there ali\ll.:. ~ jbUllP ~d tiff U\.,eb~kc as VroolU ~ea.ebed rhO' eali ecmtre.,TIm.a bikl(! ierked forwmrd and Vrioom Itad IIIl usa b{)'l,h biis legs '10 Imd'Rllce. • , ',";I. man,' Vroom, said in an irritated oi'f;e.' an you ju " let
'II.'!~· me 11!~rll!.,

-:~va~w n1 the c OUiQLr. 'fi

~s·,f y. l'm re-i ny ~at ,,"I sa:id land, mn ins,.d_.
III 1

'I'm

IOJ8,~m.

ralklill! 'to you

'I

hcfaH

lll'id

and stan;d playi ,g with one a:

her ]a~1t: silver earrings, ·S·CJi'II"Y. SheI111:i.My b~ pe.opl!l held me UP'.' 1 stood nex'L to ltel. leanill,S against her d sk, 'beat on her swwvel I;b: ,if 3lld rou'[ca E'f riJi~:t~\'Yegrees "..~y Ih)l:W me shewe se 1r1~r·ldkir::lg.The dozense d \ ark sta~iol1.s in her ba)~were lnpty as, ,~~!t h Dltiher ag'. I1b:i had iell.

"0
"I

'.an

'Wm~l ·ver. I Ul0Ut:tU you \ IJr;e lhl.:ir tlJmrI leader,' ht! 'tliJ.J. '1 am net theteam le:)dw. II will bURO(Ul~ but fm mil one yeL.1 sai:di. ·Why don"ll tl ~'t ake )Iou [._·anlllcadl.::r?'~She 'nuUcn:d IDlercyda I 08. m ~J don't kml\'L Bak~hi said h ~~tr inl'l bnt l b~ e '0, bri[lg m lend,ersl'lilP skins up ~o SP€!!,ul." • .0 you guy don'lt ha e a taam b:ader.· Bl3 tshl ' '" \.V,.,; have nI8.nl!l,ge ~ idlUI one', ] he1p ,v1'd up n.risory stu Iff"' JOrnow.. But. 'Bat 'I~i lold me I. ba.'v,cS.trunl [uh.llre
.·1. ~I
!

pmcntiat~ ·f.ddyT~ddy'.·

her, ~.·!iI~CstO]1pC:d,,:\ mng HeJlD Kin), IllairpiI1B ~h~ c-ould be paSl>"~'bb~ute. ".Did you Uke ~~ygift?' c ~\ hal gIft. •
al
1

'. IUl, ,11 said. I looked

'The lI'ilWgi!OfltS. [ gWr!lC you six 'FulgtomCS. SEC. rOil don.'r even remember, . 'I do, Sj;H:'1 I put ··Lul CI~dstli11l~~" n~~ f,Q'I\C/ I :S{lidmild p:i~k;etill p, as u my P~H)ll1JCIO play ~it ~SD' cut,C':_.· ~1J:fa Ii 51lid "So cute i~sounds~ lrry E ddy Thdd)'",~ S ·Sm~fi.1'1i~ Y'8l1 RO'Jl caUi'l'ilg me nun'? Jus't C!lU me S11y,orin.t 'elm •Don·~ Y01i,1 like m'he nan~e I ga~e; youT~he~~ .,ct, hG~" 'Vol,ce rran,sc,e,nliliDflgfriom &ad, 10 '[f,ag;ic. ~ kept quiet Vau ,nev<cr~,d~ women yOIlJ don"t lik.e ,:;;'lCIlllcthingrhey have done. However, th~y p~(lk 1II~ on du:.lsi lence, -'Vou efl!:l choose ,aru:'fthelt n'lm~'i'ryou wan~",Pm nc't ~jilkitlyQur other &idfr,ie'nuJs~" .sJiJCs3~d.lear'S appearing ~,Il'her eyes .• looked at my
\w~ch. T11m2:£: II'Iuu"ocmimues rund, rlme \mlllid heal cvm-y'lhiug" m ~hough'l. J t(lf.!k (I, ~e(;'Pb~fh. iWbat kind ClrgJrlfn,enlb~r ~ s~rud. 'Lib1~,' sh~ sni.rflet~ 'hossy girr~g wlm ~1npCl~c ~lei;r\~~4')r you:' m on. I Wlln? What are you. hInp],ying7' .~~li:dmy \roiuc getting flfl1l1ef. It \WIS k1JC; PlriY11Jnka could be bOSS)f, bun only ify.[l'I. did1'il~t Ijslo~1lo her, .~ O~'Iet lit But ",",'i U )IOUghM;' inca, FlOntt ilf ~SfOp (:ryi Ilg'r

c li!I!itornc]".!:rIeul I a I,CI~ and a:rc too .:sluprud, to filw:etlunas

the

hlUOT

We Ibd 's;I~d:am 1]"as \VIZ' H.1I',en·ul'Irt.o f fhc fill hl' com[lII!J'ters bay. The p mMiinbay has overa ihousand agents and handles '~le huge WC5terJ1i COFl]~u.tcrs DC!lctnJlllli" \'Vlli.ih~ dlcCal]S are IB:SiS:\\rei.fd tl1.efi.? they 1l1~158 Ulu:: privaey \~e cmj'DY inWASU" [took Illy ~~t3t the:lomg' rectnng,u1ar 'table" I~~n'ea flxedl ~t:a(~ng arrn~~n~!f!~n: I. sh. ne'xl WI Vro01n~ whlle P'riy:rnk~isopp(lf;[tc me; Es.hn 1.s, mdjacclrtt to f'.riYllIuku and .Rucll,ika sits ncxllhl E:shIB. The bay

appli cs '~Oa lot of CaneR.

OliJ:I-a:~llllla]y I

'~e

is open pl~n so we can oU !iCe ei),ch i()~hel:" il.nd M~~i'ta!li1Ulilch':'~i,chart ~~aboll1is iilll (be (:Dn-~cr'b,f thC' r'Oom. At cHJ~h of't:llu: other three corner'S

dl;ere are,. ~.·e~:lleclively,h.e- I~S;C mOMS,. a t sw.uonery SUffil,pi i.e, reeui.
~rJ.",~a-~lr. .

COmfeli€lIlOe

room. and a

IUnG~eWBlS ~t It~cif~eul willen I ~i~t QQWfiI. E'v.ii;.ryone lUld;athmd~'round frmYilnka. 'Whul ~ lhielllElw:!) l' J;e'~1~~!l. If'IO\V,,~ES~'1:JlW,~~ saying. ~OK~ OK.. Buton one: 'Gondilio:n. ~'t(I0l!Sf]·I~t.m,\1cWAgG.· rdynnka said. siltin,G, dO\,VIIL She puil~cd out a hUl'IC ,~Iasti(: bugicnl1. umulc'f
frsm

no OJiliCnIJan

•Yes." .~said. I'd relil~Ul'lC ths rest of herf~l:Inly ~r she Sb)prJ!.!id thh; i drama. 'OK~! she said 3I'I1dbecame nOlm~i,d.Gil"'rcm a name,' ] 'tnO:!Jghl hard. 'Sheff~·! liO\y flhfm'lSheff)f'r I said firna]ly. -Ncoo. ~'wam sOlucUdng tCIlIlHiltCI': ~hc.$aid. S!h~'r~diIOl!j,les to dmg
out W(lll~S. 'I can 't '~liIiink0 f anytwmg, c l1I~erig,ih~n£:Dl:l.r_ I have to 'ri\roll'k, hl,1iiI 't yow-

~cat. .(h.lY~: I' said, inte rrrUr'l.i Mg. llh,e rur banter; Every,ooc ~llLmed~()moC)~ :U me. I I)ointed a.t the dl2.sk and the 'lilil1mamlnmi phones, :[ lGo:ked HI[ mywateh, b ':vas 1O..29p,lTIl .. fhe CilIlI! '~Js;l-emmutille back-tip, \'!I'Mabout t~finhdl iIU::Jd ourcaUs "NCIuld hegin
bl;T

~n 'one 1n:~m'I'te.

Q~lali~ lecavi,ng

SOO:I,

too'I" I said,

5Mn::~ooked ,(11 her w,llItclil and s~!cod lll)'.

~Yc.s",~'d beuer Ica.\t,c,law. \!rIfillJ;you. m].'hin1i~..I,~.. name 'tly h1Iuorro\,.!l?' of 'I \V i1'1.by,c now.) .~pecked her 'lUll til1,ccheek, and turned to ,~(J back to nlybay. •By~bye. Eddy '1cd~y.,'h~r YOWC~ [(It Ig,\:vc·d! 'm~, Tho Qthers were ,dre(td(}l (It lhl:: de'sk\lIprilern ~~oj- back fmm SbcfaH::!s bay.

common ~witcn~)arfd as ''!I~pi,ck'Cd U]l cons one ;1IAc'l' Ute ,other. "Good aJlcl1loon. \~r~"=tem Alppm~alnces. Vlictoll' spcrd~·.ilu~"how'may m 'hc~JI'you'?" Vrt~J!jm.said. ~VCS. ac{:ording [0 my rc~ol1:1s I am SJHo':flkil]g kD< Smith. rnul you ~b have the WAF200 disb\wmer. hi ~'hatdght?'!Eshii said, E~l~fl ~nemory ih,ll'lp:~essed the c~ller" h y\1j!i FilO~. '5 ;~bi,~d.~~l.'Ivcn !

E\"ef}~OlU~ returned ~tll hdr chairs and. pu~ tOiLl their headsets, t Calls bcgIlIl!l at 10.3·~ p..m. NiUIn1ocrs, stlrled fti1Lhifl.g on l

0111:[

]U.21:IUlIJJ ..

fhat

OUlr 3ulOIl'l:1~Ued

system

~ht'l~~1~d ~\.fery c,~H~rN records.
>

We also

Our bays mime is tlfle~~tt.llin, App'!~anee5i 'Strategic Gmup O~ WASG. Unltke the ('I~her Imy IhrUlII'0l1bh3Shtmfs flJlr e''')fnpllIt.er eus~omCls. we dC311l;V~,th clIJ;s~omlC" f honu:: ;,~,,]i.TI.c'~s such IU;f-efrigero aters, oven:il, and VaCUUlI1l1 c:!eane ['S. V/lfeareca Ued flu: strflte.gic b~y bec~l~I:~e e :spe<:iaUse ill (r,ou'bru~omc ~~t~tomcrs. ThC"S~ ·slr:~le:gic· w

c&nliuuc rOI IiUl1 ~m.oothly. Sometimes wehad rus~(limters,lhat\\rer~ oddballs even by\VASG standards, ~ 'Iii\jOO'~tg() lDJl'tOilU of them. bu~ Vrocms ]0.,3,7 p.m, caU wem sO'lnC'thhllg I:ike 'tl1is:

had lilIct.mi1s when they'd '~asl al ~cd I!t.~ fac~ the reasnn why-her Q>I1I c .Jn callhed come hi our desk-the Wcs~crlll ApJlinJiccs S1'nJItegic de~k\\~Mbecause she w'as,.IlI pemruS:'lell1't caller, lbisw~)r the mlJ!'Ln,btfy cO:uJhJ

gnnng~ I hope you trc J'Q3st!ingm iJ'ig [urkcY[]1 oUIWA 1(HJ model 0\('&11," Vroom said. t"eillding ftnJiJ]l ~4 'Script t'hat !'cmindled us about '~he An)}~J'i,c~ljilJ Ie..'{tiv~~f'~he day. D I couldn't hear [htl cus~omc:l"~ side ,af 'tlwcon'!rlm~I.i:l)l[on. btl'l. ,~~..
p~[I~1Hnl was o bvi ousty c:Jii.pl ~ti1hll h~rp:mb]c;m\",iUI1t~~e fJ
OV~!). .

,'~:e~,N:l~ P~ulsoil1.,

fl,'

CJ(Hm~e \~e remelnb'el'

}"ou.. Hlappy

Thanks-

~~~Ip:~.Ihe :gonlild.of th.@;fM l'l,M!lcll~.nerillad~ I!l~e1fiok \1,p .. T wenrto ' lhe macllili ne and C:h(j{;k1e.dth~ inctlJuilJg fax, n\<Wlis.fi'Om B-{IksJm, The "FaN: adlh~e~l1ok threett]inutre·s ·~OI churn eut the seven pages, m
he: tl;l~ !:i~~L. [ fir~1t heet up. s
tere

ttb.c

Inc~::;a:gr.;,~htlc!~ l!h~ iIIDJJ'I;:.b~,l3.c ~fT

.und

held

tb,1,;

~No" M::..~ [P,Aldson, you ~1110lil~dl'll'thave 1ia.icl. as pDIDrutc])' as pnssibte.'
M S PiJi'U 1~on~,ok(:

LlJ'iI~cr'e1i\'f;dlh~ eO\i'er.~

Vroom

from: Sub~om Bakshl Subl!!C.l: IK:lI n IF!9 ,lni'liOfiV!9S
Deall $hyom,
.J

fbt <tnO'lhe1f milulIJt(l.•OU:r 'SlnJite::g ie Ihay hardb~.had: ~ re~u~oJ'ilQnfbr effidency, bu(: ~'O'J\g 'C~JI5 Ili:l.t'c tihese ,co]J:~d scre"w up: \l1'Oo['n\ relii'l'0ml(!: time~, .

W Ilh an A:m~ncG.n 8.(lt(;~erH UI'l.d !:;t'llu~dl!,ti ,d~ff¢reJl~Iilr,f,.'l'1'!l 'the ~1y UiJe)1 11otln~~Hr spoke .. ~tofJl:ca break ;1:[011]1 (be calls ~o COiIlflP!h~ th~ C1ilU sta-

·No. IlifilHy madam, An 'OJcth:mcal appliance m~e:the \VAUH} shou][1 only be' _~.e'F1lk~~d trawned pm,fest)~ofiahl. So lei I 'WH~••• yes ,... 'D<h !by l~il-~lyll?'~ VI'O!l.m cQn'inu~l. ta.l!d:ng liGep breaihs, P~,1 ienee d~d not aDIll~e naJufaHy to :lJi~ll" . Ifhdllik~ he.lp~DIsomeone delfoi:l her fri:dgc~ ,sshfl l&tI5,i,Hifiisl .. was In~ 3 CIJSlij!m'e~ UIl1~lack.ilil,g.2ish~nsher. Everymn: was speaking in d
l

~iF¥~. I ~lIQJVe focom mended YOUii' nome io o~,'S I 11'1 oeCanl I'rai1'1 ~l'1g cs IheycJ'e s~¢r~ of loockers I Qrn 5lJre you tQ~ spore- s.o.me'lime f~, this, A~ clvroys. 'aim rylng to gem you more relevanl and ::\'Im~egic
~~posure·.
YOI.Wll1

Sub-kosh Boks~i
N\oflCl(jer,

ConnexioFls
V1ia~

W're~d 'the west '~rfth~ [ax 'lud ,g-a~,ped, Bak$hl

~ucking me wn'lo

No .. I don"L h~!,Iea dial-a-turkey ·1'Ulmb~r.Thal'1.k YOl1. fo:r call'!in~J M~ Paulsca, b'ytJ.~Vroom ended the ,c~lJ..~·J·e'~Mgedhis iSI'[)li! Ihe'~ablc" 'Ev,e-rythh1g OK'?" ~ ~a~,' net ~!!)ok~ng up from my pa.:pcrs,.
'LYcah. JU;$'t a ]:)~,}fcho customer;' he munl'J.lbled.

d;idn'[ fill nllJid~'QU didn't W,DlUEto cum ~t.b(;~tyou shouldaot ha.vc8 'Olpeu,ed u~ (!h.C c~ujpmenl .. , • ~$ug~:it y:ouf~ke Lhcoro.1eJ1 to yOtUllrl de~~er"- Vroom said firmly, ·~.AndFU\::,X[ Ili.lue. gel. fa. smaller mrk.~y, " and ye~. are,i1idY-lfluuie 'Iurke)" \Y01ll.~cll}(:a gO\ld idcu fOIi uon~gh~ . , .

tistic~ ~o,fthe ~~'e:V'i()~IIl'l day. I diolJ1 pan-icU'~:ady~I'ike doing [hi&\ b. B~l,kshl hmd ~cftme lrtUt~ ,ehoic~, 'Yo~ see, madarn,' VI'oum was .stil:11 with Ms POI.J1s{)]:rI, 1 ~ uU'IIclerstand
[

yourtur.k.ey

_'l.m~c~I.·al bOILH'S()lI,~s.jdellilIY :s~t.i~ftto>t~nch~II;ew l"£c:rufiIS" .. •W tUlJt\i lID,p'r Vroom !ia.i~ com irng UiP io me, II l~~~ed the faxto Vmol1l~. 1.-1"1:: read.itand $11111( rked, • ill hlt~ at:eefl~ lmi.ning •. [I. ~ajd. ··¥ou ean 'It ~e:,,~'~Dt:]hi peo]J!II.e~iJi ~ S'PC!:IIk: Hk.c AnlGE']C;~M in a ,\~C:(JIL· • !J U sta s yOUCii:'IllI 'I· tr;Jflil.Am crica ns W S'lOC.il k w ith 8. prllmj a b~ accent,' Vmom saidand thl1cklled. ·Anyway. g"1J' £min~·lmilll.~.e(;lve your br:r~il1 .. ~ 'WllIat wm] do?" J s~id lb.eginnhlg 10 w~~lt ha:~k tOMVd.B our desk. '00 mru.l ..train, h,:awyulJJ ~ram.: V[omm. s3id.atld lallgbt:ciL He
Ilhe

checking the other aii1leEli1~' et]qlu:U~. Every now m1d· t~len ~ wou~(!] listen iin on S()~l\~oody'S c~IIL At 10.47 Jun. ~:eenneeted to iB$ha's line,

~'.~~ork:ed~ill'llY t;u]~pu~er r'Or ~l'C' .ncx'[ ten [rn~J1W~~~ ' o cOlnp'uw.ng 'llIn~i c~lIIl s·t~h~l'ics.,Babhi had! ifIbo as..'l,rngncdrn~ Ute rcspOJllsib:iJity of'
YO!!L

liked 11he rhyme. ~.ml.djlepea;~e.,d tt-s¢'Veral~il'1t~ aswe '\:van~edb~'!k~(J DWY. Hajek a l my 'se:l'.~ VliIlOITI:t·g. ,\\rcrds- ~'I:fain-train ~ .......echoed j III my hC31~, bli'~:n.b~lilg b.filc:Jkmemeries gof'rho Natiomll Roil l\1~lJ!iIlCum.where II had a. (~~:l!'le ~lh iPFi!yan~.{i'l\;1 YC:[lf ~J,g(l. w

'YCJ1.. s~:r:.I seund m~c yfJU.r d~uglll'(;lr? Dill, thank Wfong Wllti~li the wcuu~lliI,dleanet'?' :ihev.~~IS :;;ayin,g.

So wha~ is

lEscha.'s, '~QI!iC :llCirli~et-ju.:.,~the rigl:",. mlx of politeness and firnlw,a~ Tle~s: Marna~C:ln~nl ·moni~(,H'eid lJ~ifl {11:1 .. a\~efuglC caJI-hnndling times, Jrn' were higb.er aL (WO and
A~~l s, As WASQ got 'I' be' ll'lCk~\:r \:ustmLners, our MIT benchmarks
(1

Na~ii01UJI1'?Jm·1Mt'~mj ChafliaiyQP«F~:~~ .11mf ,earlier Sllt:3nived tb~r[y ~flilJ:utes.hl~:~! had been round thewhole museum 1 t\-V'.itct'l.I WetlT 'tllJthc 1111;llS€U~n. 'C9nte-ennnd w~~ ,o.F:~ltl1tlg: a h~wrn;.m, Ookewhcn 5hcnmlJ:b-l" filn+"oo. 'OK, Dun"'t ~ay .a:mydIJing. Sorry. [Om ~ale, I[ knmv.~ she said ,and
~at dt)\\~n.

M, PtlRDfJte& wi~' n,fJ,d;-a~l P

half

m~nll~e.'i

l)em'C~U.

a.UowediUil ~1:o~Gh Wllyge'il.

T didn

t 'SaJY llfJ:ytlIllll!.

'n

locked

,31

her tiny
filve

",1J1Se.

I \\londered

llQ.\.V ~1

.,[~ l[baugJu yniu told me to be quiet,' I s~td.

~Muu? SQ,y sumething,," ~l1iha d. afler !lCl'j

seoond~,.

tJ!on'Iit need fu.el. jU~l :~ $,~uk ~IS, 'enou!;~, Just as ID \;!m;S leave ~o C011lil.C' here, she made ,3 Dom.Jl~en'f an my dres~.~
. ~\VC

"My mo~helr needs pmfes:siom:Jal hcllp "I,;!lriy~nmJ;:a said. ",Vhat ~l~pr}el1 '\Vh:at was, the ed? I ~Qday:?·

fbe

I.~tillyflrll

"Whiilit

;uul tmernoli€tl:n~J rc~on :1have metin my ,eMim ~ire,:PriJiMlka :s.mo. tNo hu is:n"t':-I SIJld, as Ihe lPopcorman'ibwcd ,II[ f.llJf"I;ilbh;l, . '~Wcll~ look at Idn~ jeans. phones, ~iz~~ md bikes. Tb;afs aU he lives r~:n" .And thiEl wholcRewB,gmrlfrFtcnd-evcf1 ..l)lCloo~·mnn~th:slWElg~ . CQrrlilC on, am.some poillit ,YOIIJ"""'egot to stop Ihal") 'fiSkE?' 'We,mi,.1 'tn ha,py to stick to the 'lJt:ie ; have. ~~ ;fiji d, ~¥CI:u.a~~113 'Clltc~·Priyn!lka. said. Sb~ bllushed and smi~ed+ ~o

~jrt~ arnd a ";"5ihill"~ wE'lh apeace l'll,gfII on it. ~f W,i):5i [ypk~ll,l .Pri.yMk,1 stu ft, She. \¥CI'J,~ earri ngs w~Ih b~ IU~ beads. wh 1,0-1111taK:hed her necklace, :lind ~he h:l!ld:fl bhrl of kohl !'O~U] ~i~er ey~ •.~Y~hch f '\\v.i!lS, 'CF!lZf ';;lb~u,t. ~'II.'Was fI~mo'.5t ~'~tlilcdoor whe11l .s:tu::sajd "'Why don't you'l.~ar tile gold It'I~ek~jOJee gn,v,t:' you. r~r your 1a_5~: I b,irthd~'r~ Pri\Yanka said. ~'A;mdtih,en'?" She obviously was!l"~ ~ye8ring I ,gl;)~dmc.ckb.oo as fill)' gilzcrumed tD the he,llItlw of her fleck. which I reh~1~k!eI~O'IllC]I]:ing. ;.AlId r \!i."a!l> like. no. M1,uJn. ~twon't ~o""viEh my dress, ''ieHI(}w rrt~el11 is 'tfJfaU.y '1:.'1110<101, on~.Y'aUliJri~ \War il. Buon)., next ~hi,:n,! '-\\Ie ,M,!,1: 'havi~g this big~l,on:!3''fPI.m.~nt:. J.bflt~ what n1ade- me ~ate, :Sor.m-y~'she :laid. ~vou didn"t h@,ve to IIrgue • .l'mu 'WU'I" 'thu tho in finnt ,O!rhcr Md talc i,:l oA" Iffu:er/ f ~id ~:S the '\.1faiL:er eame to take our on:l.e-t: 'But, ljhtlit~ not the pobn. AJIlIYWa1/she ~kHlidillnd 'lurned~Q 'the \-1'Ifa:i~tn" '·g~t me :EJj p,iate of .m!mo.~n&. ACIWJJU'j, waiL [hey ,!Ire tno l"aUenillly.. lOU ha'ilc pOpcuM. PCJpt:OID'lll!is li,gllllerJ ri~J1:t'rSbtl lcn"Kcd, 31, Ih~ \'lIllllitc:r as i:f he ,:vas: a lUI m1lionhd. ~ 'I Sill:: '11 have PO;PCOf11l•.l! I sa id ~o the \vll'irJtil'~ ' ~SfJ" what elise I'S, haprpen~n!?'rril~l'\I"(;:~oufnet Imp with Vroom? she t1~dl. ~I 'tViJ:!i:s u,ppllse(l,~O'. hut he cou1dn·~come. :He' hind ,1.'1 IWJ,IIG': IWitb who? It mew g,!r~,T iOf «nlIl'Se. He Ilt:ve.r :s1lJ.eksIto one,' I :said.. ·1 000'[ u;ndiilrs tand tile ~'11 W'i~1lJ V:rroom. J me is tb:~'must n'l~(ieria]sHc i

'tie-d.ye

did dl-c

si'I,i?"'[ aqkc~ tooling 'Ill her clothes.

S"u~\MOrC

'I'~hme

·Vroom has rchnflsed: ~ said. "He "'~sn'tijk:t:, thiswhen he firn~~ j on nod fronlfl is previe us j ob," 'The one: at ~lrl,e:1~e.~sl~afJ,er?'·' 'Yeab jl!llunull.is~ trainee. u@ ~SI11llf'~ed cur:rentoffnilf's. DOl rou in kNO\\1 what 'One uf.his ·CamoUiS ,~i~(:es MtS ciI![ed ?" ·No. \vhat'? 0111cmp~' Priyalnka Sll).~~~oaki.ng nl, someene behind me. Wh~tn1!I~,I'~ned,?' 'NOllitri'llIg, jlllHil d:DO"1 look buck So:m.e r~8!lIv;es;ofrn~jne' oro 'Inue w~th liJ,clf kids. 0 111no,' she !>laid.ooking dlo\Vll ~I[ nUT f,abk:!, i , .~IOWwhen someonetells )"!JU JIi{J~ to lock ai ~nt~~h~ng. you ~b~'a.ys, fee~ :liIn.i~'1.e["f\cl,ibl,e rg.i~to do jllSt 'tilat, f'J'Oiill the: eeraer .olf ,~llY eye 1 U saw a [un]ly ~i,tl1 t'~o,lt~dsin tl.e cemer of the 100m. ~'''Vho,ei~~~ doyuu eJ\p~(:'t~oeame hen: :bul:kid· 11 I said. Shut: Up' andi loo:k: dmvlll. AI11Y\l;·ny. te[l~ 1,'Ifill:a1oo'Ut VroOlln ~~; pieee,'
l
J I 1 I

she said, 'Oh yooh. H. was; ctlmled '~~rtl)' non "II, 'oHm~ciums Ev~r Goml11Jh StricideT"Thtc Wi'~:icle9,~dl3Uki·nds: olfp:eo,'!~s:l:l;[dcrnts. hous'Q\vive~ s b'usine;.~sn"lcn, 'CllllIJlI'o:yee:;j, and leo/en film SI!illlrs~Griilrnit .s.ui:dde.BllIt "V/h{l.t? :S1h~ said, sHU :ke..epinl her eyes d{\Wll. 'j\\"'eU. his: peinrwas that sl;IDi,cide Is a li:Jo;rri,b~e thllgund petlpta do it only ~im'Selh cy are rei! UJ I~ urf. 'JOb~~ In~llTh3i dley 'Peel ~omleth ~ns) bu~ J1iOhli.ciaii1~, o.nl"L. So. b~;sjcan.Y.h:i$ '06~!Mr1is rUlf!1 ~y pco,pic, who d t d(ulJ II fee I oo!)ll.hi I'~g.'

'p~lmcttJjns,ne;\~~r o. That tens you .smtleth.ing," d

only

i~m'il" The tJdit:Ofr itU hen broke ~,oose.Vi'00~'l~ some .. h~w sive,(l hiis job., btu his bosses 'mo~cI hilflr to COV@f '[he soe~cty
,jYOI!1I 'bet it dI'idm''t, H0'WeV,:er. Vtoom ha,d ~n~ked
S8'1l\f

'WQ\!'!d rCID1'iIl i~liiI:3:gin~'LlrIat ,!,o;ing do~vn "'''leU

'w~m.ms edt~or.~

it ififter

~l'\)1,11

:pri.It(~dIllld

pa~. page '~li1r~c. rho)'" ~1J,~dim hewas good-:kHlki Ig so he ,"lOu~dfH h ~n, ln addition, lluftl done ~ :ph{]:[lIJsr~llhy!;au'rse and t(lu'ld 't3!b; the pi~l.liI'rc~ him~~U: • ", r;J.T I,DtI.~. " .~C ,over pa.ge t1 1.fQeas ynu "..II r'I'il'~o.uWi-.'I I"~ ? '"'.~Im(1 :ril,!i.l,~CU ,OO~lllIg. 1'"1

"It i,sll'idiclJ.dous. BIn Vroom 'took his r,jilWlll·e. He' u,ok uDJfi:a:tte'fing pictures of the i,litWrati-" faoes '~ruff~d'i.iVidi) fQod, chJS"c-up of cellulhe 011 '[hilh~'tdrunk people tbro\.vin,t up-aU shfJlr\~d talP in the' pal:).ef'~the nexl duy.1 . 'Om my gud,' PriyuUkcl!l hIl"pcd. "fIe 50umds m<0 an tllJ'i\lis~. [ oan'·'l ufldeTS~Inild his swi'h:hi'I~Q~o 'tb~'C;;d~t\iJlItliie! f!!l[l" IIt1fI£Hlt'Y.· "Welt a,ccordin.g to ~~I~m" ther,c is~tCthri~m in (:ha~~lfWl nlOtley ~}oo .. "And haw dces, i~al '1Ii' ork?"
I

514

Chelan Bhaga»
BAKSfU WAS IN IUS OVERSIZED

One Nigktat

the Call Centre

515

"Wel1~his point is that the on]y reason Americans have a say inth: world is because they have cash ..So, the first thing we have t-o do :

cdlice, staringat his computer with his. mouth open. As I came in, he rapidly closed the windows. He was

earnmoney'

slog at night J could, have done my B.:Edl.[ight after college, but

'Interesting, ~Priyanka said and let out a. sigh. '\VeIl,. that is why ~

probably surfing the Internet for bikini babes or something. "Good evening, sir,"] said,
'Oh bello, Sam .. Please come in.' Bakshi liked to cal]

wanted to save some money first .1 can't open my dream nurser scboo] without cash. So until then, its two hundred. calls a nigh night after night.' Priyanka .rested her elbows on the table and leane her chin en her hands. I looked at her. I think she would make: th cutest nursery-school principal ever. 'Priyanka dideeee,' The five-year-old boy running toward Priyanka had a model train set and a .glass of Coke precaricusl balaaced in his hands. He-tripped near our table and I lunged. to sav him ..I succeeded, but his Coke went ell over my shirt, 'Oh no,' I said even as. I saw' a three-year-old girl with 8\ hug lollipop in her mouth running towards IlS .. I moved aside from th tornado to save another collision. She landed straight on Priyanka lap. I went to the rest room to clean my shirt. 'Shyam,' Priyanka said when I returne-d, 'meet my cousin, D Anurag,' The entire family had shifted. to our table, Priyanka intrc duced me to everyone, Priyanka told, her doctor cousin I workedar call centre and I think he -was less interested. in taUcmg to me afte that. The kids ate half the popcorn. an.d,spilttfu:e rest of it The boy wa running his mode] train set through popcorn, fields on the table an

Western names,

tIS

by our

I walked into his office s~owly, to give; him time to close his favourite websites .. 'Come, come, Sam, don't worry; I believe jim beingan open-door manager,' Bakshi said. I looked art his b~g square face" which was unusuaUy large for his five-foot-six inch body, His, face shone as usual. It was tbe first thing you noticed about Bakshi=-the oil, fields on his face. If you could immerse Bakshi's skin in OUIr landscape, you'd solve India's oilprob-e-

fifty.. He had worked in Connexions for three years. Before that, he did an MBA in some university in south India .. He loved to talk in
manager's language or 'Managese", which is another language like English and American. 'So, how are the resources doing?" Bakshi said, swi'V'eUing on his chair, He never referred to us as people; we were all 'resourees'.

lems for' ever, Bakshiwas about thirty butlooked forty and behaved as ifhe was

screaming a mock siren with his sister.
'Sit. Shyam, ~Priyanka said.

Systems, ... '

'Fine, sir'. I wanted to discuss aprobliem.. 'Ute phone lines aren't working properly-e-there's a 10,t of static during calls, Can, you asJI;: -.

'No, actually I have an. early shift today,' I said. 'Hut want-t Priyaaka said. '~NQ~ have to go,' I said and ran out oftllle museum. I

how to approach problems?'

'Sam,' Bakshi said, pointing a pen at me. 'What. did I tell you about
~Idon't remember, sir=Bolve them?'

I thoughthard, but. nothing carnie:to mind"
'No, I saidt'bjg picture". A~ways start with. the big picture,' m was puzzled. mat was the big: pictare here? There was static

1'0.50,.m.
'Dud]

scream during her call broke my train of reminiscence 'What?' I said. I could hear loud. static ... 'res a really bad line ... Hello, yes, madam/ Esha said.
I

r' Esha's

'Freaking he) ~'Vroom said as he pulled offhis headset.

'W·-t... . , gomg on,; t I sa(~ • ? . ."d.. ... nats . "There's shrill static coming every few seconds now ..ABk.Bakshi ti
his ears .. an hour,

coming through the phones and we bad to ask. Systems to fix it, I could have called them myself, but Bakshi's intervention would get 3. taster respome. . 'Sir, it is a s.peci:ficissue. Customers are hearing disturbance ... '~
'Sam,' Bakshi signalled me to sit down, 'what makes a good manager?"

send someone,' Vroom said-rubbing

the time. It was 10.51 p.m, The first break wasin lessthan

'I'll goto his office ..You guys cover the calls,' I said. and looked a

~WhatT I sat down and surreptitiously Iooked at my watch, It was Iij,.57 p.m, 1 hoped. the call flow was moderate soibe others woulda't have a tough time when they were one down on the desk.

516

Ckt:,tan 11llagal'
I

One l\r~gntas the Call CeTJ:trc

517

~B'i;~' picturre[, BakS:hii sai,d, 'Fecus on the "b~g':pi!;ll~~ Learn to identify the ,suategmc wr:iable~-,Sam,' Before] could speak, he: bad 'out his lien mld was, draWU]g 8] diagram of a box dividiedintofou~
1

,utr~'

~Tfu'wngs ,aTe bad around here.' Vroom sai(j. ) Sma news .may be
co;mhm:g.
j .. ' _ ,

squares, "Maybe I C91'J e:<p,j,a,in this 0 y,ou with the help Qf a itWo-by ..:h:vO matrix,' he said and, 'ben:t down 'to \vrjb, "High aoo 'ILo'W'~ along the boxes. ' ~'lr:o l[)l!ea!le~~ s,ai~ placin_g, beth :my b_ands, do\VIl 'to. COiV~r the shceL I ~ Wllat? 1 he said with ilrritatio,m. ~Sir~, i.s really interesdng bur right now my ream is, w,a~t1og:.· this ~So?'Baksbj said. 4Tihle phones,;-Sfl'. Please Ite1l. Systems '[h.ey shoeld cheek 'th,e WAS(i b~ urgCll:UY,-I sai4 witho~t pausing ito bIieatbe. Just eall Systems; sit I EH1~dand stood U:P;, using tba~." -pointed,all I his. 'wmephone ,and rushed back to :Ilzy hay, l
j

"Wbat do you 'mean'?' Ale they oolillgjobs"]" 1 ,a~kedb,POW a. llUe wonred and ,WJJ.igus as well! ,iii frus1;tllt,ed. Jt'lsl ',lm2l!ring bcn~'allthese

mas\j' emotions d0cide to vis,jltDle lloJ~~;,etll!er;, ~I'm trying tefindout,' Vroom.'Sai~ctioking .open a wi~1.~g.wOJ} his screen, "The We'$,lte:J:D C0111ptlters aceeunt is rcaUy suffermg~ If WIO lose.that aeconnr, the can centre wilJl 'ink: A visitorin our hay interruptedus; ..] knew' he was the Syst,&ltlS ~lY as be bad. three 'pagers, 011 bis belt andtwc memory ealds hanging

round h~sne·Gk.
f'dyauka the static,

kI,ld him :abcHlt' the probm,em ~rad made-biDl Us.ren to

',Hill?' Baksbi said.

11.,00 p.m.
(,Nj,celEire~, ,eh'? VrOO'M saiid when J reiumed 1'0 our bay.

Tile Systemt) guy asked 'Us, o disconnect our .lines, ,fur ~ten:~intlte.s:, t Eve~o:nleretnovledl their headsets, 1 s,aw Esh.a a;qJIlIl.stlug' ~e1r hal],,: sWte does it at leastten times anipt, Radb.ilka. took some pmk wool out f~omher bag, ,a;LrW started tot-nit MUitary Unde~ system was stUl
'YQ:d:;:iill\g~ SIO 'be myed ,glued to
Ie

cC~m.on'j man, I just

we'lliilt to.

Ba]k;shi~.,; office :a:bclt)t tile stalioj~I scald

~EI:I he sending so,m,eone'?' Vr;oom asked as, he un,UtBg~ed his phOM wrres,

"A sc;arf
at D.ig1h:t.
[1Il.pted

Wbat.,ar,e .you km.tilting~l'Eslla turne,d! to, bdhika.

nis,monjtor,

fOr

R'i:Y lliJlothc.t--i'n..1aw. S,be''S v~e:rysweet, she t:~-e.l5' ,cold
sWle.t-" Vro!om

.. '..
I .,'

.' .

~She!is not

began

to

say

bl1t.

. .. . . Radblu uuer ..

at me.

"He sa(id 1 should idel1~ify the ~trate,gic variable ,filf&t ~J said Sll1d sat down an my se~uJrestiin,g my faee m, my h,ands. 'S:tm,te,gic: variables,'? W[1at M'O fu:ey?'-VI"Oom $aid'} with(t:'ll.t lOOk.i.!:1J! "tIowil:hs heU do]' kn(f!i?\f.?"'j sno'Jr~(t'~lfl dkl!!I"d be team leao,e,r. H_eJ
1

him .. "'SI111, V1l0om. She is:Un .,Just traditional,'
lU'ldi,

also drew ~,dia;gram.

little bit old·JashiQl1ed" Radhika said

And itbat sucts, right ~"Vf\oom said. . 'No,tl at ,all. In i.ct. IBke !the G,osy f'a;mily feeling. TheYTe '01~ya?

~Wha't diagram?)' Vroom said as he took out SQme;· 'che;'''o!jng pm ~om his &aw.t:'f and,o"ff,erodJ,]n~: to me. ,! Some two":by.:two matrix or something, I said, declini.q~'"hlrt of,ler.

oods,thex wm;tId fum ~b.epho:ftt ,awHfy'from their ears to avoirll.~h~1 loud static, I wished tbe Syste.ms &,lUy would come by SOO,D ..

RaQ:hik.Jl!" sha and Friyanka were b~ E

on calls, E'very Fewe,c~

,smill~was ge:nllJlime hut iItW'3l:51 ,fJOl1ltJ of lily business, _ ., 'i.Yeah, dght Otdy a 1,~tt'~Et im ~dways;;.cover"yollr-bead;-,wlfuAs" - .. .·jv"",",~, ..... ";","" .au ,'" om your-san tvt'l~C! '~V'r .... """"1' d

smiled. [ didn't thmk her

be . aeout ."him, "V'. ,:[Oom.said,

~"oor Ba1blhi be's just 8' silly: harmle-s,s; creature, Don't

'WO:fW

,_

They.hadn"t yet re!l:leive-d a tiaUfhJm B~{sbi "Can ,you please c,o;mel llOW •. , • yes; we bJaI,;r;e &0 'cmCIgency •.• yes" Olll" m3l1age'li bo~'

'Wh,ere'tbe beU is the S.y.s:tem,.,guy?' I called ,~.y9J~eom8myself:

'Tm1ey ma1ke you cover YODI head?" Bsha asked, _ 'Tlle.y don 't -m~ke me do, anything" Esha. I am wUUng. '00 fQDow tbeir CLiIltt:u"e. AU 'wa.rr.iedwamen ia the ir house d!o it" Radhlkasaid. 'S 1tli~], it is a. b:i1 'Wtrir,d;~'Bsha said ouu:btfuHy. . ~Anyway I loo,k on jl as a ch9JUenQie.I ~ ve A-uuj and he s,a:id he' 'Clme .1& ,apQ.6bge. But y,ea~ 'sometw 13:s I miss ~a.ring, l,ow-wrusted jleitDS '~ike y'ou "'ltII'C y,e~wrday,' _ J w,asamazeB.1ladmb Iiamembered what Esba bad worn yeslerd.ay.
l

about it." .

-,

~yi(!llU ,Hke t11!oJ~e

'Llove diem,. But

Jr,eMS~rlEiJha.sai~ ber ~,es:,lghtmg up. l

i g~slli

..'

you need the ri,~ht figote for 'them"

~ s.a~d. ~A:I1yway,' orry te !chang@tbe.top'~c~. ut we're forge~ s b ting sotlle,t~jng: , '\Vhat? SY.stems? ~I Mke:CL.as I looked ullderthf; t'able Iw-bere the

'd~' nee . ten nnnutes, . '1 didn~t mean the static~; Radbika s'aj,(iliacs'she put her knitting as:i'dfe~ ~M~&S Pn·Y·w:k~.has 'some big news, far us, remember?" 'Dh yes. C"mOJl;Priyatilql,~eU us!' Bsha screamed ..'WUlitary Unde loo:kedQ<p iborn his screen for a second and then weilt back-to w~lrk! .':OK, I d(llmlVe·'S(ilDl~thm.gto ten yO!U,"·Pr.iy,~ 'Said \Voifllf.l sh'2ep.~,
'1 '.' ~"" ' <

SYB~etTI:S'g~yllJI"ikledwithirw ajnngle

of tangledwires,

He told me be'd

ish grin. She hrou,g.hf out a box of sweets from her .Jarge plastic ·bag and. started to !c~retuUy Qpecn the redcelJop.han0'~ppi1l1:g: on the box, I hate U when she'], so meHtodical Just tip the darnn,\v:rappl.~n;g. o:ff~ J 't1nought. Vroom jumped ·tograb tihe.ijrst piece .. ~ru you". but you g:~¥,B have to lrwear it 'WOrn .le:arveWASG~~ ~eH :Priy,ank'a, 8~W. She oife,red. the box to Radbika and 'Esha. Radhlkl took two pieces, while RdBa broke off.1ftb~,tirue8;t piece pos.sibl,(} w~tb human.flngers, I guess the low-cut-jeans figure ccmes.at a price. "Of course we. won"t· tell aayoae, N0W rellus, please,' Esha sarnd
!,~.!!, ~ . ~'''.

'So, W~nj tip? Oob~ niilk cake) -

roy fav(;uri~/

Radhilrn

sa'~du
.'

Workl Cup or .someti'r]lIg, .. Peoph'f ge~ married, ev:ery day.. Did these gi~;-]~ :realJy have to Cffi"eflte .~. scene? ] looked ~at:my comp~ter~ screen and sawth~t Microsoft Word was ,open ..Angnly I d0sed all wm.dows with the .M~orosoft logo onit, " ·O)n;gmfu]a:dons~ Priyanla.' Vroom said, "thafs big news.' Eyen .Mni1tary Ifncle got ~pand came to shake. hands wwfb. Priyanka, :Hisg(ilner!il1tion like it ''When yOiljlilg. people decideto g~t married. Of o(f~e;,.h~>was batCit,at his de·sk within ·twefIlty S~COi)~$ .. ~'You\re.met th~ guy'l~'Vroom asked. . 'No., 'he's. in. Seitde" .But we spoke tOI' hours on, the phsne, and eve seenhis picrure.He~s cute. DQ 'you want to see' the photo?' P.l:iyamru 8~d... .' . . .', .., ~N(I) li1;arik8~~ b'J.1Jtted O[l~ p!&nw~, I 'oou1dn"& be[iev:e edt $a~d, tha't l By s:heex tuck I b,adm't saidit Iond enough fur Priytmoca t? he~l[~ .. '~Do ;~w want SOn1!e cake?' ·Priy.a:tlIka. ~d, shunhng'the box towards me, "NQ~ tha:11.kB,' I sakI amd s.~.·~d the·lP~xb(,l!c:k. '~ tjbolJlgh':£milk c.a.le W:81S,YOur faiVourite,.' '~Not ~'more .. Mym~gte~ :~avi® cbanged,'J said .. '.And I'm trying to
cut dewn,' 'Not even .a.small I}~ece?~she, asked. andtilted her head" Atcne. stage in my life I tis6d.~off1]d ~ha't .btrud tilt cute, butteday I remained · ..

and wiped. her lO11lgfingers with a tissue; ~'l·~']'ell. y, know...... " •.~.~_u "" _ u "'.r' obsess 10. .&:..,., •... match ......t.·1i. an,. • fficV""ll"l·~nd·.·t.. .... ,._ . ~-n ·tl WI . .,.v' 'J VA".' ..... ' "''''';,;) )l.ur a expat Tnd~~l]or .ber rebeUious daughterte take .h~f·a.way from India? i f 'U. 'b.-Uu, t ~ Jl~Jl 11(,) ,' eu i8!S,..;~ ate .J.let' rru'1'~I~ ' .'~ ur~Al "I,. '. dd· '.'~. ~.~.h _ ~,iJe , K. ,~e. .~. these family ft1:fMlds of {HUS brougbt a pnJ'pOSll~ far inc .. It CmTI.C So fmm one oftlhefr relatives in Se'~t~e. I wouldhave, said l1IlO as m al:tvays. guy 'on .the'phone and he sounded ~eOOllit He work.& at Microsoft and his parents 'are in Delhi and I met them 'to&!.y~They are nice people,'

do. B:nt this tbne. I saw the photQs" ~ch

were :c~t~. spoke. ·~o' ] '!he

PriYimk'a. said,
~. .....•.

~Andt£Sua said; 11(M'eyes
.. _·~l·

f.ofmy decision up-front atld r said .•• yes,' , 'WaaMooffi~t! Oh wowt~ the girls screamed at: t'behighest pr~cb ·i'ilOt'l"'l·t.r,le. Jl,U..., ~~l"'t:!~\E>.'m"<" IV tl"' Uh,,, ... }Id·:t..~ r·"'''' .!J' .. Tb", ".,,,,..,. ~ e'v i~bl,""d'"''u.lL.""o! ..1t,r..... ~+ :--~=. Ii'."OiL Hllm:.... V""'.'pv.II. thing was. fine -and ,a!Sk~d'him to oontinue. At leaSt everythini was nne outside.J!tlside Lhsda burnh:'Jj~gfeeling:.\qs.if.smtI~olle h~ tossed aboe coal 'in my stomach, Ra.dhi~a and Esha ,gpt up te- hug Priyanka as iflndia.haJd wtin ..~he
ITll.'

I don t kJlOW~ someul1l'i.g Just cbcJ{~

. ':.'

o'penin~wide and s~.ar~ng Pri~~ {l'f
. ...04'

Priyanka sm.dL Tbey asked
I. ...'

.' .,

. .'

.".,

bl,."'.w.L~.

'"

uo..I,J!jt:i

e;.",,&,J'

adamant, I shook fi!lyhe81d and OQt eyes kll;::k!ed..Wh.en you 've shared a relat]OllStnp with. SIQUteOn,e, fu~ first change is in bo~. yen] look jl~~:q 'e:a~h' othrer~ ey~s. The gaZie beeomes mere fixed and l.fS hard to. p~ II .l:BIWay from TIlt Aren~t you. .goiag~i~}say -anything?' Pdy~~ seid, \V'ben g~r~ .say ~t,]t:S nor really 3.question; It m.~1.UiUwtheywantyouJO say snl~ething: "About what? The phorne. lines? They~Hbe- fixed in ltteu' minates,' I said. ~NJ:lthat I'm getting mMde~ Shyam/ t <Good/l saki and 'nltrted!' to my screen, '·Sh.Qw us the :p]ctu.re!' Esha screamed, .as W'f it was Bead Pitt naked' or [1om~thmg. Pdyanka roolle.Qiutaphotogriipb from her handbag and. passed it round, 1:sa.w it' frorn a ·d~staDW. e looked nk_e' a regular .8~~h ware g~k. 'He stood str~ightwith .his~sromach pulled'llil-' an ?ld trick .any ,g~]ywit~ a paunch am>Pllefi wke.n he ,gets, ~~,~ picli1U1e ta;ken:fF.:~, ~~l)r.eg'~asS!es, [fad.a $np~r~n.eath{l]{~trle U~i d' hlsm~. combed, h:ts and. .h,airfWery morning. H~ was ~mnding'\'Yltlt tbe' Statue ,o;rL~berty ~nthe

52{)

C"he:trl!l, Bha:gat

One Nigh'!,' at the Call Centre:

.521

background and his forced smile made him looklike a total loser; if' you asked me. However; now he washot, and girls with dimples wm:,e' ready to marry him with~out even meeting him. 'He's so cute, like a teddybear,' Esha said, passing the picture to Radaika, \\'hoo. girls call ,1.\ guy't'eddy bear', they just mean he's a nice guy but they'dnever be attracted [0 him. Girls may say they Hike such guYSt but '~ddy bears never get to sleep wi~h .anyone, Unless of

course their. mums .hunt the: neighbourhocd for them, " 'Are you OK?' Priyanka said to me, The others were analysing the picture ..
c•.

'V:e·.ahJ1~..

• Why.. _

.?" I.,

We~ve'known each other for .fonf yearn" mote 'man. anybody else on the desk.' , Radhfka, Esha and Vr-oom turnedtoloo]; at us.. 'Reaction?' I said.'] thought I: said goad r "That's all 1" Priyanka said. Her smile had left the building .. Everyone was, staring at met 'O'K ~I,8ru~· ·O···K p" nyan.~a" -I(._;: lISgreat Il-:eWS. 1Ir·. am SQ happy.for, 'A '.., ", .'1. . '.. JIl ..... :.wS . you. OK?' 'You could have; used a. betterjone,' Priyanka muttered, and walked aw,iY quickly towards .fue.ladies' room, "What? Why is everyone staring "at me?' J said as they ,aU turned. away. The Systems guy finally came' out from underthe tabW.e ..
't .'., ~

'IJust expected a little morereactien,

phone. Normally agents couldn't use cellpbcnes in the bay; but it was OK to do 80 when the: system was ·d.own. 'Does Ganesh like to talk? Sometimes the software ~pei:rare really qaiet •Radhika said. .. '. _ , .'Oh yes, hetalks ~:lot, In fact, I might get a. can from him tonight,' Priyanka said and smil-ed: 'You sound sooo'happy,' ES.h.asaid, Her 'so' lasted four seconds, '1 ,am bappy+ I can see what Ra\dhik~ says no",' abont gettilJ~ a new family, Ganesh's mum came round today and, gave lne a big gold chain and hugged me and kissed me,' •Sounds 'll1or!l',~b1e,';Vroom said. •Shut up, Vroom," Esha said. 'Oh, Priyanka, you're so lucky." Vroom sensed hat J wasn't exactly jumping wi th j~ at the couversation. "CigaretteT be said. . . _ .. I looked at UIY watch, It was ill 1.30" ourusual tune for taking ~. smoke, In any case, Lpreferred burning. my lungs to sticking around to find out Ganesh ~hobbies. Vroom and I went to tile call-centre pa:dcing lot. He; leaned -against his bike quO!lit two cmgarett.es withone match.Lloekedat lris.tal], thin frame, If he weren't so skinny you'd say be was a stud, Still, a. eigarene looked out of place on his bo~h face, Perimpsc,onsdous of the people who had caned him Ba:by·Face before, he. always wore one.~ day-old stubble", He passeda lit~igarette to me, I took a puff and letit out in the cold night air, , We stayed quiet· 'for a moment and I was thankful to Vroom for that, One thing guys do know is when to shut, up. Vroom. fina.n, sp-oke", starting wi tb. a neutraltopic, '1: need. a break, Good thing. goingto MaOi~li next weekend,' '·Cool, Manali is really nice/ I said, .' 'Pm goillngwith my school buddies, We might ride up there 011 bikess, 'Hrave:,you 'b' ., ....... .")' t .1 0011 mere ~ 'Last year: We W611t by bus, tbough,~ I samet 'Wbo did you. go-with?' Vroomsaid, .' 'Pdyanika,~ I said .. Ii was gr-eat. We tool: a bus, ~t f:'Our in&e lllorning, Priyanka was hi heranti-snob phase, so she insisted "We take !he ordinary 8100'" bus, andnot the deluxe fast one, 8h~ wantedto oo.j oy the scenery slowly.'

11.31 p.m.

he said, 'Wiping sweat off his, forehead, "The pro blem could be external. Bui~·ders ate digging

. 11 need signal-testingequipment,'

"Fixed? I said .

over this suburb tight now, some contractor may have dug over our lines, Justtake a break mlii1tH come back. 'Get yOW' managerhere as I '1;IIrem,,'" he said ami left. I called Bakshi, but the-fine was busy so I left a voieemail. Priyanka returned ftom the rest room and I noticed that she had. washed her face. Her nose still had a drop of water on it ' 'Sounds. like all easy .night. I hope it ne-ver gets fixed;' Radhika said. "There's nothing betiltl;iJr than a call-centre job when the phones, aren't working,' Priyanka said and closed the box of sweets" 'So, tell us more. \Vhat's he:like?··Esha said.
''\V]J}o~~ anesh'?' Priyankaasked, G

,an

rm

c

11

'His name is Ganesh? Nice,' Esha said and switched on her mobile

522

Chetan Bh:agat

On.e Night at the Call Centre

521

'The moment the bus .~eacboo the: highway, she leaned on :my shoulder and. fell asleep. My shoulder cramped, but apaet from that it was great fU11I.' 'She's a sillily gid~' Vroom said. letting out a big puff, his face smiling behind the smoke ring. 'She is..You should have seen her back then, She used to wear all

'And then'?'

He waited while I continued 10 laugh e:xagg,e·r1Uedlliy. When I'd stopped he! said; 'O~ don't bullshit me. What happened to your re-

proposal plans?'

these beads and earthy clothes she bought from Fabindia all 'tbe time.
And. them. she'd sit with ~e truck dlmivers and drink tea.'
'1llTW",' Vroom said. wild side,' I said, and. paused as, her face 'came to mind. 'Anyway, it's, history now. Girls change,'

~WOW.I

can't imagine Priyanka Uke that
He

"Irust me, the girl has

. I sighed. f WeU~of course I feel for henbut they '.re just vestigia] feelings.' 'Vesti 'what?' 'Like vestigial Of§WlS. They serve no purpose or value. Bllltthey can give yOIll -a pain in ~he appendix, Itsthe same with my feelings for Priyanka. I'm supposed to have moved on, .bu~ obvl!ous~~ I haven't. Meanvihi~e, Mr Indian in Seattle comes and grves me H. kick ~nthe rear end,' I said. "Ialk to Iter..Don't ten. me you're not going to,' Vroom, said.

.

.

. "·Vou.bet. She's III setnow,' I nodded. I d~dn't want 1ft:o about hmyanit.a any more. At ~east talk one part of me didn't, The rest of me always wanted to talk about her. 'An expat Indian catch, Microsoft and all. Not b81d,'Vroom. eontin .. ned as he litanother cigarette. I narrowed my eyes at him, ~n~s,I Htt].etoo fu~, is.mJ:tt it?' 1 said. 'Don't you. think she's moving too. ,quickly?,'1 ~C1mon~man, you don't get matches Hire that everyday, He's in freakin' Microsoft, As. good as they gel He ~B' MS Gloom E ..1~deluxe edition,' ~What~sthe deal with Microsoft?

"Twas planning to'. I thought we'd. submit the website user manua] and that would make it easier for Boston to approve my promotion,' I said; referring to' the company headquarters in Amenca ~How did I know there would. be milk cake tonight? How was it? I didn't
t." touch it,'•

~TIDl,e cake was great. Never sulk when food is at stake, dude. milk Anywaylisten~ YOllstin have some time. She's onlyjust said yes,' "'I, hope so. Though it '8 hard to compete with My Microsoft, ~I said. We remained silell1!t fora few more seconds, Vroom spoke again. 'Yeah~ m,aln. Gids me strategic. They talk about love and romance but when it comes to doing ~h.e deal, they'll choose the fattest
chicken,' he said.

"Dude, I'm sure he packs close to a hundred grand a year,' 'What? A hundred thousand US dollars a year?' Vroom nodded, I tried. to convest one hundred thousand US dollars to rupeesand divide it by twelve to get the :mon;th~ysalary, but there were too many zeros and it was a tough calculation to do in :ruy head.
'Stopcalculating in rupees,' Vroom said and smned."Priyanka~ got a catch, J'rntelling you.'

He paused and, looked at me. His eyes werewet.brewn and. kind of like a poppy"s. I could see why girls Hocked to him. It was the eye-s" "I'm going to ask you a question. WiU you answer it honestly?' he said, ~OK.' ~ Ar-e yOln upset she's gettingmarried? I know you. have feelings
for her,'

~ No,' I said and started laughing, 'I just find it a. bit strange .. But I wouldn't'say I'm upset. Thars too strong a wordi. It is not like we're together ,!mY more, No, I'm not upset upset,'

41 guess 1'can only become, fat not a, fat chicken/ I said, _ .. ~Yeab."you need to be fat, freshand fluffy, Thatswhy you "shouldn't: feel so upset, We~renot good husband material, ju~tlcc~t it.' ,. ~ThanJks, Vroom; that 'really makes, my day,' I said, I did agree WIth him though.Jt was evolution. Maybe nature wanted dimple-cheeked ~~oft~rare-geek,mini-Ganesh babies. They were of fM more value to society than depressed, good- for-nothing junior 8hyams. "And anyway, it's the girl who always gets t,o choose.Men propose and women accept Of as in many cases, reject it.' _ It'8 true, Oir~;s go around rejecting men like it's their birthright, They have no idea, how much it hurts us, . 'But who knows?"~rlnJom said. "Priyanka isn't like otbe.!!' girls, or maybe she is after all, Either way, don'tgive up; man. Try to get hJewback. ~
11

,

~S~eak.ing of getting herback, shooldli"lw-ebe heading backto the bay?' I said and looked at my watch. 'It's eteven forty-five p.m,'

524

C,4e:t,tJ,1l B'IM;Cat

h:wukeds ofj obs here 11' -~'like tllley care,' He ahrlugg.ed hisbmky s11Qu.:lders. "Shit happens, in Ufe~Ft couldhappen tonight.r' Vroom . ai~. as we reached the VlASG 'b2l:l~~ The SY.stems, guy \\\<1lS, underthe tabic again, "N;o! JI';,aUsyet, TheY)'llic asked. for-a senior engiIJ,lcer"i'Pliy,nnka said,

Computers main '!bay;,Themain bay sounded, like a noisy schoel, ¢"X!cepthe kids werruil't ·taiking to one another; but to customers, t Monl~ol'tDg proble-:ms, viruses, strange er.ror messages-a-there was n~dd,ng ·Oo:nil~o:ns· c;·o:W.dnot :be~pyO'll wi'~b~ ~StiUlooks bWlj!;·~1said, '~Not at all, :People 'have told me esll f(rafficis down tony pet!' ceat .. I think they _U cut. a. 101 of staff Of, worst-esse scenario, cnt.evezyone; close tJu's, P()o:rly ma~l:ged madhouse d(Y~ "nil shift the cl~enll,to, ~he ceetrebased hlBruo.ga]!Or-e:,~ [OO~ s,id ..BaJliIgalo:re was the moca:riQfl.of V the secondWesrem qonlputet'S andApplicances call centre ~riifniia. -Close' dow,or' l~echoed. "Are ypu serious, wha't wi~1 happ·en ito the

As

M3 lJEl'iLJRNED l"IIDM tllep1arking

i.qt, we passed th~Western-

12~15' I..IL

said. 'It's,,an 1W{'tetnal fa.lllt.. Some cables are d3!:mi!ged I think. TbiJS,-are:.a of Glnrgaon ~~ gO:iJ1·lllUfS wi~11,an 't]1l;Bbpi~dl[n8' work/ 'the; Syst'EltnS (Does 8akstll know?' I said. 'I don';{ know,' 'riyaruca sa~(l -VlelO]:» and J.,S8Dt downat o-urd~k.~lt1:,'not too bad. Nice break, 'Esha said as she fned her nails, Priy,~.ka.'s ·qeHpbo.!.?le begml to ring, sta.rtUn,g ,e:VeI)'on~. ~-WtH:>')S; calling you so l,ate:'?;Radhika said. 8,tH! biiIft;in,g hEIr searf ~U~,loln:~ (U:stal1tCi.e') 1 tb:'Enic,- Prliyat1~a sa'id ,aud !)n~:i'~ed, 'Ooeohl Esha squealed, m~e. tWQ-yea-r-..'Otd a bouneycastle, a OJ). 'Hi, Ganesh. J've just: sWltched my phone Ion'!' Priy,a:nka ,saw" I Icmd_du: 't hearGanesh S response, ~lmrnk.god. . "fifteen times?' I oan'l 'believe Y'\)U tilled :t)1.Ynumber fiftee'il times ;, . . :SiO so:rry;, P.dYEI,nka said, Hooking idiotic wiidiJ h~p'ines,s. i¥es." I'm at.·"ro:d~iBut ,ijfs reafly chaotic "oday. The systems are doVID, .. How com,e<you~re worting oro.Tbanksgiving? Oh nice of. the Iimlians, to otrtt'$o .woif·k.. '.Hello?, . , He.Uo?~1Priya.nka said, ·~Wbat·happened?\'. sha said, E 'There's barcUy any netw01~k.' P:dya.nka sai~ shaking her phone,
gJaiY

Nodih:.g comes into this bJ:mck hole/ Vroom .said. He was, SUll"M.g "the Internet, and 'WaS, om 'the For,mtda One website . . 'Use 'the land].,' Bsbtiil ,sQ,id; pointing !Q "th~ spare"phone 011 our qe~ltEy~ -~:eantin' ··Gom~e.'xio:rni, had .3 s;pBre independent Jandlil1Je:. at their desk for etRe'rgency use." Tell him 10· :can..on the landtine.~' 'Here?' f.ri'Y~J1ka asl~ed"looking.to me for pennissiou Normany this would 'be"lll1tbrinka:ble, but oursYS"ems'were'do'WB~O it didln,'t rea~bt m~;Uer.·Also, I didn';'t want ®o'look like.a SID'fa loser, preventing a new ceuple frO~tl8tarting.their romseee. I nodded. ,~nd:prerended to 'be absorbed h~ my-computer scree~. As the ,ad hoc team 1eader, IDoould ,appl'ove personal caill ,and listen in 011 any Uue on: the desk thAA~gbmry l~ea,d.set:,Hol\\!!eveF"[,:couldlnlli~ep inaD,~he' ,imd,ependent omeigency pnnne. N(}I~ ess I wt,mt: under tile 1.1111 table andtapped it. Tap the l'andline. a.faint'V()'~i(~4e,cboedin y head. m . _. '; '0, ~t~s, rOt1g;J'~ I sa.w,d!. B'ut 1 eould still beal' one sid,e of the W conversation. ~Hen • . • Ganesh, caU the Iandline • . . )"es,,, 224-634(}3, and ill 1 for 0 Delhi . • . leaU atWr ten minute .., our boss ~nigl1!t ,be do iug hi.s rennds s-obn '"_,. I kriC(w ten nlmu~esis si~,.hulJd.red. aecends, I.i'm sure you 'Ill$"U!rIV1ve,' She' laul_hedunconlTollajj~y' au,d, bURl op'., WbJ£m Women laugh ri~onsiop~ they're flittin:g. , 'He sounds 80 c-uzl~lirt, Bs:ha said. ~rm, going to' see Baksihi. We .need ~,o. -!l.xthe: systems~: [said and 'stood up ..I ·c'Ould.m~~ear ,6(lO..;second$i-withClut~you SRr:v'iva1 sfur:m!es:. b I was wamki rig towaljds e,a:kBbi's o,ffice when I saw bir:n conmng .·"A.Ie-nt:Sam, why ,are:ri'~tyou ,at 'YQ,pr desk?" Bakshii said. ~I ''l<vas 'Ili(~ok.itlg, 'fOr to'tw" $Iwt~'~' ~dd" I lOrman yours,' Bakshi said.as hisface broke into' at smile. . B,abhi and 11;~ttwrDedt(liWA:SO. Bakshi ~sheavy steps wei·e· p'h~inJy heard 'by everyone. Rad.hika hid her bUtt:ing under tile.1a!ble. Vroon1 opel1oo·i1is"Syc·ree.ntocall·,eJj(l:PtY :~IS wOrm document, _ 'Jhe Sy:rems !,uy carne out from under tbe tab1!e fmd, called his boss" 'the'~head 'oftbe IT department, 'JAlOks, like w~ have tevfrn,¢)logy issnes here,' Bakslti s,aid a.tuJ the System$:gt~:y n~oddledhis bead. tlhe head of IT srrived $oon_afteli<and~ lu:: and .the SY$tcmsguyms~ ,t;us'5'ed geek st1.1ffbetween ~h.elnse1'¥es in so-called Eng~]sh. the'J1l ~he

~We're: to the basement.

tow.a.Ws me .

IT head ranted 01JJt mcomprehenslble technical detailsto 'Us.'~under. s~ood that 'the system was under strain: ;80 ~pe[coot of the WASG ' capacity was 'dama:ged" and the rema)ini:ng 20 per cent could' l'}Qr~ handle the current load. ~Hmmm~' Bakshi said.~hmmm, .•. '~tli real[y ba~~,R 't it'r So, what do you w~ntus®o do?t the IT head asked. An eyes turned to B.akshi. lt was a situation Bakshi muded~where he wasbe:.wn..gasked to take a dledsion or reeemmendaetion. 'Hmmm,~Babbi sm:~ j]~ed hiaknees siowly to buy time. ~wo and really need ~l ethodica~game plan here.' m ' ~We can shut down the \VASG system tcm,~ght. W~.stern Compu;len main bay lsmnning fine anyway/ the junior ~T;guy suggested. , •But WASG h:ll,f;i:no:t mO$~aU its capacity. Boston won ~:~ it ~fwe like shutthe bay: the IT head saM." , ', ~Hmlnmt.· Bakshi said. ctl,snin and pressed ,a. swelJty palm on my desk. ~,~pseitt~ngBeston isn't a. goedidea at this trume.were alii€,ad, on llJ. ..dqjpery smope at Cennexi OIl1S.. Let's try to be pwooctiveJyenl¢d .here,' . Vmmn coaldn't resist a sn1gg)~r a.m, .B.aksbi'S jax:gon. "Sir, call I nu=tk~ a s1i1,ggeslion?~ I said.
,!

on-

"..Ii' ", na 'f" "n~.~~'h . sah.ll. ,f .Q~S -1

·'w··t.

,

'But that's what ,Shyam-'tltejuflior IT gmy b~gM"but Bakshi interrupted him. Poor jlwor.IT guy~he, ifm\ faJmil[j~r With,Baks'hi\ w~s, " ~See~ sounds unusual, but sometimes you hav~~o tJh~nk,outside wt the box,' Bskshi said and tapped his head in. self -adlm.iiraJltiotn. ~Yes,slr,' I said. "TImfs, a great :i.de:a.Wehav~ i~all sortednow,' '''Good;;' the iT guys said 'M.d.beganplay~ng with the CClimJjpUtel1' menus, Before the IT gll1YS left they told usthat the WASG call volnme would. be g~pe[Tl1ght. We were overjoy'eo"but ~p,t a" straigllilt face before B.akshi. 'Soo, problem solved" Bakshi said, "That's. what I'm Iberirfor." ~~uckyus, .sir,' P,dya:nka said. We thought B'akshi wouJId leave, but he had Q,thes' plaas, •Shyam~as you. are free tonight, can you h~lp me willi some strategic dooumenms?'h willgive you some1eX'QSur~.~ , 'Whut'js it, sir?' I said, not happy ab0l!l,t sa.crifi.cing my night. 'I've ]IUS[ printed (lUlU ten copies, !Of monthly datal sheets~' Bakshi Ba~~ hold~ng 'Up 'some documents, ~:For$om.~NOOSOn. the sheets areno longer in erder, There are ten page onea then pa,g~twos and EO 00. Can you. help' 'rnx this'?' ''You haven "t: collated them. YOtl canchoose [C~ .option when you
print,' Vroom said ..

'We could enlist Bangalores help/ I said. 'Bangalore?' 8aocshi. a.rmdthe.IT head sald inunison, ~Yes, sir, n~ Than.\:sgiv]I1I:gallld the call vo]uH1.e is low, so B:lfHgalolle will be runninglight a,s''W'eU. f'we PISS most olotu cruIsther.e,., it win I get bugler for th~1L, but it won ~tQv~hJadth.e:m,. Meanwhile" we can handle a :~imited.fIow~'ere.· I said, , 'That makes ,~enS@i, \Vecan. easily switch the flow fora few hours, w~C~l~xthe.~~ste~~ ~~re .•. ~nthem,o. rn.i.fl$"',.~e Jun:i.~rIT :gtly .S.~·I1.·.'~. . TJIt?l~ . finei I sarud.. 'Arnd. people will ~aI1~herr ThOOlbgl'v,mg S dinner liI1 the States soon, SQ, eall volumes wUI fa]~e:ven more .. ~ Eve.ryone at the desk looked at me: and nodded.fhrilled at the. idea of'an easy slriA. Bakshi, howeve[~ ,fwd faUen fnto Sii1ent pOlDl$emplation. 1 wollild.llY\fe toklliJow what hes fhiJ:i;ki:tlIigabout ill these,mOO1ents. ~~'ee,the thing i~~Bakshi said and paused a~ain, 'aren't '\Ve :COIDn
parmg app'i~8to oranges bere?' ~'VhatT V~r.oorll1ook~d ,at Bflkshi with a.disgll$.wd expression.

Lwondered what Bakshi was taJking about, \Vas Itbe appJe?' Who was die o(an:ge?What fn1it was Baij,g;iIol(l'/ . ~I have an idea ..Why don 'twe e:md:istBangaWore? "Bakshi said.

'You. can choose to conm~r Bakshi asked, as if we~dtold him about an option for braintrensplanes, •Yes.', Vmom, said, ~AnyvJaY!)it is easier to take one pr.~.t1i.t"'uul asci. photocopythe rest It comes out stapled too,' . 'ill need te upgrade my teclmicam skills. 1Iechnology changes 80 :t'~s;t~' Bakshi said. 'But, ShY'a~ can you help reorder and smple them this time?" , , Sure,' I said" Bakshi :placed th'e.'sheets: on my 'table: and left the room. Pdyan1ro.~ook.e(t~t w~fhhermoath-epen, me ~Wbaut'rLsaid, •I c:an~t believe it,' She s.book her beadle. ~Wby do you lei him do that to you?' . 'C'mon, Ptiyamlka,.~eave SJ:wam alone. Babhi runs hrs life,' Vroom said. 'Exac:t'ly. Because he lets him, "\Thy can 't 'pwp,~e stand! Up' for ~Jlems:e~mves? ' I don't kll:0\V why I c:n."~:stand iUp"fnrInyself~but md.e:finit{l;~y can't

O,U; Niglu: et th·e CaU Ct!ntre

529

stand Priyanka's rhe~odcal questions, I tried :1;0 ignore her; However, her words had. affected me. It was ,difficult to, fQCl~S on the sheets, I stacked the first set ready to staple them when Vroom said, 'He can't take on Bakshi right now: Not at this time, Priyanka, vihHe th~y in 're IDe moodfor firing people." ,"Yes. thanks, Vroom. Can someone explain the reality? I need to make a .!iving. I don't have 11r Microsoft PowerPo,unt waiting for me in Seattle; I said and pressed the stapler hard, ill missed and the staple pi n pierced my finger, 'Owwl I screamed loud enough to uproot Military Uncle 'from his desk, '~Wbat happened?' Priyanka said. and stood up. I lifted my finger to show the streaks of blood, A couple of drops Bpilt ontoBekshi 's document.
The girls squealed 'eews' in rapid succession, ~Symbo~imll.~man, G~vjng your lifeblood to ilii,s, job,' Vroom

said. ~ Can someone give this guy a Band ..Aid before be makes me
throw up?'

'J have one,' Esha said, taking out a Band-Aid from her-bag .. "That Jooks bad/ she saidas the girls came up and. surrounded me..Women Iove to repair an injury. as long as it's not too gruesome, . 'Its nothing, Just a minor cut,' I said. I elenehed my teeth hard. Priyanka took outa few tissues from her hag. She held my fin~er and cleaned the blood around ..it. ~ Ouch! i! I screamed. ;;Oh, the staple ~ stirn]in there,' she said, "We need tweezers.' Bsha had ~eezlers in her handbag. Girls' handbags hoid enough to make a survival kit for Antarctica, Prwyanlta. he~d.tb,e tweezers and went to work on my finger with. a surgeon's concentration, 'Here's the culprit,' she said as she pulled out a staplepin drenched :mnblood. Priyanka wiped my finger and then stuck the Band-AId. on . it With no more bloodletting to see, everyone returned to their seats and. I went back to collaring sheets. Esha and Radhika began talking about Bakshi. 'He 'had no' idea what IT was s,a~ing'"Radhika said. 'Yealltbut did you see his face?' Esha said.~He.1Qoked like he was doing a CBI invlest~gatiolil.· I looked at PJ;iyallika. The letters CE,} bro!llgh~:back memories. Even as I collated Bakshi ~s- heets, my mind. drifted *0 Pandara Road. s

said as,she tried to push me away. "I'his is not ·the placeto do these tiliri,gs. This is Pandara Road," 'Ohreally,' I said, refusing to move away. We were sitting at a. corner table, partially hidden by a carved wooden screen .. ~Wbat-'s wrong with Pandara Road?' I said, co.ntrunuing to kiss her. •This is at family place,' she said, pushing me back again. 'So." families get .n..-ta!.de doing thesethings,' by 'Very :51lllfiY. nyway~ you chose this place, I hope the food is as A good. as, you said it was, ~ 'It's the best in Delhi/ I Slid. We were im Have More Restaurant, one of the half-dozen overpriced hut excellent restaurants on Pandars Road. 'A hundred and thirty bucks for dhal!' Priyanka exclaimedas she opened the menu. U W'aS embarrassing, especially as the waiter was alreadyat our-table to' take theorder, ,~ JllS~order" OK T I said in a hushed voice, Priyanka tonk five more minutesto place the order. Here is how she decides .. Step one; sort: all 'the d~.he8 on the IDemJI according to price, Step two; re-sort the cheaper ones based on calories .. 'One naan, no buster, Yellow d.ha~/ sb.e sa..wd as r glared at her. ~OK, not yellow, black dhal,' she sai.d.~And... ~'And one shahi paneer,' :1said. 'You alw8\ys order the same thing, black dhal and shahi paneer,' "Yes; same girl, same food. Why bother experimenting when you already have the ~e8tT [ said, 'You ,1Feso cute,' she said smiling, She pinched my Cheeks and fed me a little vinegar ..onion from thetabte, Hardly romantic, but I liked. it. Sbe movedher hand. away quickly when she saw a family being led to the table adjacent to us. The family consisted of ,ru young married couple, their two little daughters and, an old lady, The daughters were twins, probably fool; years ,ol(.t The entire family had morose faces and no. one said aword to each other. 1 wondered why 'they bad bothered to go our when they could be grumpy for free at home. 'Anyway," P.riyu.ollkasaid, 'wha'fs the news?" 'Not much, VroOl1]1 and I are busy'w.ith. the troubleshooting website,' 'Cool, how's it coming along?' 'Really well Noilii:!.!g fancy: though, the best websites ate simple,' The waiter arrived with our food.

My Past Date8' 'wilA Priyan.k~ll Have'·More Restaurant~ p(m(/araRoad: Nine months earlier
~Shyam/Pnyanka

530

Clutan Bhagal.

Priy.anka put: micro-portions of food on. her p1ate, ~EatprQPedy,,"1 said. 'S't,op dieting.,a,ll' the time like Esha .. ' 'Pm not thULE. hungry;' she saidas Lgave herhrenanporrions of food. ,;He.)', didi 't.ell y:01;1 about Esha 't ,0011"[ tell anyo~~e'/ ~h~ said, I shook my lwead. '=Yon Jove to gossip., Dbm''f yO[J~t Yo~u' name should be .Miss GOM,rup ];'M 98.S?': 1 said, ~..r never. gos .. sbe said. •Oh my god; the fbod is ~o good here.' S1·p,· My C]1.e.81 inflated with pride as if 1 had spent .al ~ night CQoking, it nry-$elf. ~6f course yen] liJ¥e.logossLp. V\'~hellf;v,e.t someOj1e starts with ~·'do].l·'t f.eUanyone;' ~that to. me showsajuiey titmt ofgos,sip,ws corning,' f said. Priyanka blushed .and the lip of her nose turned tomato red. She. looked cute as hell, J would havekissed ber ri..gbt ,.then, butll!!e> gru~py famny was beginnhl~1 to a:rgue and r didn't w~nt to spoil 'the sombre .ambiance -·61' them~6K:;so-maybe Lgossip, but only .a m~]e b~t:' Priy;allika relented. 'But I read. ·sorne-where, :·goss,ip is good i'9f yo_~-. Itis ·il sign you're .intereil:oocLin peopk:,'a:fJd car~ fht them.' "Ihatis.so larile.' J burst.out laughing. "Anyway, what about Esha? I Imm~YrOOIIDl,·has the hots for ber, but doe$·s.he like him?' "Shyam, that is.oldnews, She's. rej~cted Vr{ldm~propesal before .. Tll£'.~~l·e.8t tll1;~tsb:rdlmd. s~gncd up Tor 'the Fem1M. Mi~B India con'j8· test, Last week she got a :rejec'tkm letter. because she wa,fiaet tall enough, She is five-five and the minimum is five-six, Radbika saw her CF}'1ng in ·the toi~et' '0·-· -.wow" r ·M' ..~s_s·Jlt:lll~J, - .•.... [ ..ll' .p' . h. ~'COdle(¥n.~dle>sJlotlfha~ pre~ty. She should really .stDP~S mo4e~Jing thing. God,·sheia so tbin •.though .. OK I' nt Dol·eat] ng.any more, ~ .. 'Ea,!; stupid" Do you want to 'be happyor thin?' I said.pushing her plate .hack fowards her,
- "'Thin:

'O~ one knlf please,' !'sriid to the ·waiter. ~No~order gulab jamun,' she-said. ..' ·Hlib?· I thought you di&YW:3.tl.t ..• (X[C. one. gulab jarmm, p~ease,' The waiter went back irtitohj~magk botale, q r;.,w"· j Dc", . fi vour mum .?' ..[ said w· . ~. 'The same ..·Wehaven 't had a·cry fest since last week's showdown, so that alone isa reason to- ce1'e:bdlte.Ma:ybe I will have half ,a gulab
ra- : . .. ,•• <'I' •

Ja~lnl.· . .. ·~·A· 'W' hat h'lp· ~'.:f\-_' .l!I,.,~_ nd ·,nene·...aj lastweek?" .. 'Last ,,'eek? 011 yes, my uncles, were over for dinn.~. So picture tbis; we:are all having buuerscoteh .ice cream at the.dining table ..One
, • ., '." r ~~,;;:~

..

.

~

i\,~-"""

Shli~tup, -eat properly. And ~.s- fur ESJlfl,wdJ top bad Miss India didn't work ou·t+ However; try~ng doesn't hurt," I sai d. ·'VeH:o.she ~5f cryin g. So ithurt her..A £tiercalle. s11e)8i come to D,e-lhi against her paf~::n~s': wishes, Jt"s,not easy smlggHng alone,' she.said,
i·'fwd\ded.

Vv'efimshed eathlg. and the waiter reappeared like a genie to clear "the plates. 'De:,s$erflls-aid, ~:~,to l'm.too fuU/ Priyanka'ssid, 'wa.y.

uncle. mentinned 'that roy cousin was getting mar-ried to' ·a··car:diia:c snr:ge:on .. The-waiter came and g:a.ve·.us:tbe gl.dabj;;a.mun.ltook a bite, ~Ouch.careful, the.se.are·hot; I said .. "Anyway, whathappened then?' ~,So~J']':nea:til~g my wee cream and Ul!y J;:nodler screams "Priyanka, make sure. you marrY' sQ~n~one;w:ell s~Lted~',,} 'I'm geing to he· ·tl team leader soon." 1. said and. fed her a slice of dessert. •Relax, Shyarn, ~ Priyanka said ·ilS sbe took .tl bite: and l"~Nlt:ted my arm, 'It has, not~hlng:·o do with ymID. The point is, .h'ow could ..she t .spiring it on me in front of' everyon~? Like.~why 'can II ju~,t ha:v;~~.~e cree n 1ike tile others?' T~k:e my·brother n.ohody. says anything 'to him while he stuffs his face, ,.. I laughed·i1nd·~iw.~ruledfor the bill. ~'S{)wi1a,t .did you. do then?" If -said. ·'Nothing.l slammed my ~poiJndown onme plate and··hd'f the mom: ~yotfre·· major drama qaeen,' Is3iid. a ,. 'Guesswhat SJ:'Ie'says ·to everyone then? ··'OI]S,.is what m get for bringing her up and loving her-so mnch. 'Sl:red!)~sn·'u.cafi~:~·'·' r .Ia!)ghed as Priyanka nmitatcll her, mother ..The billarrived and n~y ey,ebrQws shot up for a seeondas 1 paid the 463 rupees . . ·\Vestood up to. leave :fUld'. the' grumpy family '5 voices. reacbed US~ ~ \~rnatt{Jr do? Srnce,·the day this woman came lO our house, our fam ily's fortunes have been ruined •. th e old woman was sflyin~. . ' "fhe dt,lught,er:..in-Jaw had te,a:l'3 in her eyes, She ha.dri l touched her food whi~e the man was eating nonchalantly 'Look <athie[ now, sitting theF'y wfrth 3. stiff' face, Go, .,~Q to heU now Not only did you .iio~· ring alnything, now you hllve dml}peq these b "tYlo'O girls like two curses ,oni me,' the. incther-in-law said ..

532,

Ch.eia'fl Bha,gtli

J looked 'at the Httle girls, They had identical plaits with cute pink ribbons in them, The' girls were leach holding one of their motli1.er;s. hands and they loo~ed really scared, •Say something no-w"you silent statue; the mother-in-law said and shook the daugbter-in-Iaw's shoulders. "Why doesn t she sa~ anything?" Priyanka whispered to me. 'She .can't,' I said. 'When you have a bad "boss you can 't s~
anything.'

"Hello? Sinha here ..Please retrieve record on DGl 46~ .. , Yes ,... Santro ,.. , Thtanks,,~ 'Madam, what is going O1IT the husband said 'his, voice qui eriag. 'Three ye~rs.Harassing women is punishable by three 'years. A quick trial, no appeal/ Priy,run:t:asaid .and stared at the m other-in-law, The old woman pulled-one of the twin granddaughters onso ber, ~3!p. "What? Madam this its, just a f-f-f-family affair->' the' hushand
stammered,

mother-in-law said as the' daughter-in-law's tears came down faster and faster. T·U say something,' Pdyank<l, shouted, facing the mother-in-law The gnm~y :f1:l!mi1y turned ·to' look at 1Il8 in astonishment, I looked for a deep hole to hide myself from the embarrassment, 'Who are.you?' the husband asked, "\Ve'U worry about tb.~t la.ter;PriyanJlta said, 'but who the hen are .d.you.? H' ,II.. us b' a.o . pt esume " . er u <HtLh?Y~~I am, Madam, this is a family matter,' he said.
c

"Who. will pay for these two curses? Say something now/~he

"Don't say family!' Priyanka S~L£\ her voice Loud.

'Madam,' the. mother-in-law said, her tone now sweet, 'we are just here to have a 'meal I don't even lether cook see.we just had-' 'Shut up! We have your records now We will keep' track If you mess around, y,our son and you will have p~enty of meals tog,ethell"'~'
mjail.' -

«s-

-

-,

') ~

'Oh really? YOQ 4¥aU this a family? Doesn't look like a familyto 'me.' r.dyankrJI, said, "I just se-ean old shrew and a,loser wimp upsetting these girls. Don't you haveany shame? Is this what you married

"Sorry, .rnad.~m/~c husband said. with foldedarms, He asked for the bill and fumbled for cash. Withln a minute tbey had paid and left Hooked at Priyanka with ilIn)' aud] open. ~CBI?"l said. m 'Don't say anything,' sh'e said, 'let's go.' '\Ve :sat in' the Qualis l 'had borrowed from the call-centre driver, "I love you • I said. ~"\\(hat?\Vby this now?' 'Because _[love it when you stand up for something you fed strongly about, And that you do such a horrible job of acting like a eBl lnspeetoe m .love the kohl round y'OUIf eyes" I love it when your eyes l.mgblurI' when you have gossip tor me, I love it that you say you don 't want dessert and then ask me. to change: mille so you pan 'have half, I love it that you believe in me and are patient about my career. ActuaUy" you know wlud:~Priya.nka?·1 said, •What?" 'I may not be a heart surgeon, but. the one little heart 1 have.J have given it to you.' Priyanka Iaughed aloud and. put.her hand Om}her face. '~So.rry,' she said and shook her head. still laughing, <Sorry; you were doing so wen, except for the heart surgeon line. NIJ'w,. thatis
seriously cheesy; • 'Stupid old witch:Priyarika later, Priyanka turned! tome.

11,(:r- for?"

.

'

'.oK. you

said.

r

started to drive. Fhl(l minutes can say "vt.J,1:l(t. you want 1l10\\1~

another one,' the mather-in-law said, 'Look alE the-girls .o~' h:nday: they dun 'tknow hewto tal k, Look at her, eyes 'made lip like

'8ee~.he's s

"TIle' young girlsknow how to talk and behave. It's you 0].(1 people who need to be taught a lesson. These are yourgeanddaughters and. .you are' calling them a curse?" Priyanka said, her nose, a.n even cuter red than before .. 'Wllo are YOIll"l:iJnaciam? W]],~\t is YOl1r business heJ:"13?~he husband t said, this time in a. firmer voice. -rn en you who I am/ Priyanka said and fumbledin herhandbeg. She-took out beecall-cerere Il) card and flashed it for a nanosecond" om nyailJ:U:li ',Inl!a . C''Bi ''il1" '. ~I_ •• s' ] ." .Ii" """oimen So ,'C e'J]' . .• 'What?" ilia husband said ill half-dis belief 'What is your number plateTPri;yanka said, talking-in a flat voice,
t •. ' '.. •

a heroine's.'

'What? Why?' the bewildered husband asked. She glanced at the keys onUI.C table, 'Irs a Smrti1'O, isn't iit?' "DOl 463,Wby'r the husband said. Priyank.a took out her cellphone andpretended to calla number;

'You know what?'} said and removed one hand from the steering wheel to tweak her nose. ~'Tbey should put you in jail for killing romantic lines
,j

··"lcav.~tbe1ieve thi~/'&.adh·ika said and thJe\V·benliobdle phone.Inl bet Eyerym:re, 'turned to 'loo'k IIi her. She. covered her race wtthber ba~1'& and fopk;·,a.'conp'eordeep breaths ..
~1t1lAnI!j. 8om~times he can be RO' uttreas.onable/ Radhika said, 8J:IdpasseQ' ber phon~. to 'Bsha. On: the. screen '''WI~ ~. text tn.esS:ilge. ~J3:,ead Qu:t;~she said as' she fumbled ifl:ifoug~ her b.~g for her antiIt

12~30 ·.a.IIL

desk, breaking up n;ry PMdara. Road d~~am:Sbe'J()oke9 upset. .. iWhaes. up?' Priyanka said.

mote ~6ne,ry:.'Can yo·ubeHeye·~r? I \ovafJ, rllnnl~~.rlo catch the. Qualig . aJijd sWl"'mad~ t~m·e.to prepa,l~ ~her ull1k/ Rad}lika s\a]'f:L~lnd, sh1nect to press .be~forehea~. '"And then she' toldhim, amo~d ifthe pi,ec.~g are totd)[g;they wmUchok-e.,myJoodpilJe.M~1YbeJGiLdh~ka.i~ tryiQ.g to .kill me.M'Whywould sbe ySfJy .somefuing sohQITiMe?; .

niigta~.ne pmt3. :O~mm..~ Q]lJ~I']1aveone' pill'left,' 'R(lal~j'1 O~· EsJia %u\id and started ·t:~ad.ii'lg 'M).emessage: 'ShQW elders respect Act likea i1.etlJgJ1ter-in~;~awhould, Good. f.twght. s "Wilil~did I do Wl{OJ]Jg.? J W;fj:S in a .burry"lbat?s. IU)' ll.:adbNka umm bled to he:rse~fas she ;to~k her pill 'W~d~ .sip ofwfltet a: Bs]m;putahand)on her-arm. 'What lm.ppe~led?~·tSb~ asked softly. "An'llJ isin Ko:l.k2l.ta. He.ealled bnnIe aJlcl l11Y mot:h~f,jn-l~w ;tij,~t!iI him.; "Radhlla1lmade fI, face when I ~o:~d 'ller crus-h the a]mends
I<

~Ye's. sit. Vroom <and 1 finished' it yesterda!~~ J ·said ·an.d,rook out COjJ!)' ·frfl.m ltty drHwer, ~flmmi; Baksbi said as "be scanned. the: cover sheet,
~stetn C(mtp.~,,-ers·Troubleshoolmg lft'lis:Ue

the' report to Boston,'

too thick to tU111,thetiny kn.ob wWen, activa.~s the defrostingmechanism. I suggtste,d. that 'he use. a screwddver and fortunately timt .solution 'wotked after seven attempts. 'Thank you' f6r calling' Western Appliances, S:ir;t I said and.·.epd¢cJ the call.. 'More P9i~it:eness.t agentSam. B~ more courteous,' Iheard B,akshl's y voice. and felt his heavy breath on: my neck. ~:Sh~ a:g:ain?' I 3~1d. nd rurro:ed-oourld. y~1Il a "Sorry,. 1 t:O_tg0't som.eth.i)1J):g·uliIportant.. "he said. "H-aw,eyuu ~·?ys done th® West·etll COt]]l~nrtelS, website manual? J am nllaUy sendiDg;
\V¢i7e
-e,

I

to

User Manual and Project ·Det{l:ii& Dew.lope.d by C(m,I'lm;~an.s Delhi
v,

t~t

S!{JtI1;m Mi2.hru alId H,rj1"W~ Mall~otnl'
(Scrfl.'l"Ma"f'Cy

Glnd'Vie-1m lvtell)

rAnii yo.u;~<stin khoottitIg:.a,s.carf for',her?' Vi'Ollln 8-1:l!iij. "Trust mel being-a dal;lghte.r~i11-~awis h~der thau. b~in.g:J1J.Jm'adel; Radhika~aid. ~:AnYw.~~~,enough my bndllg life.' of "Are Y9iU 01\t?"BSffiiasaid ..still hoJd:in.~ Radbika's.. arm.
~Ye~~ rrnfine,
.S(}tTY~ g1..lYJ>"

muniu~tion between Anllj .~ndl.me." . "Louks like y(!luf'm(b~h:er-jrl-~awlikes '~leIDdF.ilma. She Il!hOl~lhi meet m~ moth.er,' Priy:ani.ca said!. ·ReaUy·r Ra~iHka s;wiiID. 'UtI yes, 'SheJsthe Miss- U1Mi\r,erse 9f:1ndOOrallin··We cn' togetaer ~n
least once
a;. week

J' ,ovetm~ac~e~" just. a.ljti[e misoomIfs

Thoug~ today she~s.on doud nine,' PriYflnka: said,

Ms(a~~ntion \\ta~{div,grted by. a canflas,hing OJlmy sere en. 'lm take it/' I said" r.using my hand. "Wes,tetn Appliances~ .Sam .speaking; p,ow JDRy fbetp you?;' .It was one qf ·.my we-ud calls of .the night The caller was frOom Virginia and ,was I]BVlngtnluhJe defmstltlghis, ftidg<;',. It took me font long': minut-;s,tiJ 'Iigu:re ·ou('the.··te:ason. Ir'turned nutthe caller was· a '<big person', whieh.ls what AnJ_e.riC{lUS call fatp¢Ople, an~ Jlis·futgers

~['h~re' re rumours.in the Western 'Computer.> main ba:y.We JUSt a vmntto ',~ow if'wewil1'be fine,' Vroom said. ' B~shi took. a deepttroo:tli ,anA sa:id, ~lcan't ,Say 111uoh .. AU] ean s~y is we are underpressure to.dghtsize:omslves.'

l'ue.rm.ingful .

'Her.€L·S·a popy/Bakshi. sajJC;{·andg!')ly~.rn~,a ftve~p<:'1ge doenment. ''Can youpho~l1cctp:y~ea c;opjes fO~nl~1plea~:? My s.~cwtatyi8 (Iffto~y:~ ,Si~~Vroom said,. ~NV~laifs board meeting fO[\) , .. the~Nothing. just"ri()un:n.e·man.a.geme:tl.tissu:es~· Bakshi said. ~.f\D<people going {'a· get ,fired?~Vroom"a$kect "Er ... } Bales-hi said, ,as usual, lost forwords whenask~(r S..omeiliing

·D~t-you havea soft OUP],.- fuat 'YO]].' can email me?' Bakshi said . •Boston wants it urgently.~ 'Yes~sir,' Vroom: s.ai4 •I'll. setl.dj~·t(}·Y.OtL~ 'A[so~ did. you do fbe.Qorulatkftl. Sam;?; :t;Ye~1t:ir~'l said and p((s:sed.hLm·thete:.n. sets. 'Ex,ct~lieirt.I emp~ered )'[~~~ you delivered the' OUq:n.Ul~~Actua)Jy, and [ have-anerher dOClI:lruJJ!9nt" dle baalu meetr]]'£; invite. Can YOH help~ ~ ~\Vhillt o iha\~e.'to do'?" I said, d

536

CIUl41ic

1Jhag:tll

01'leNiq/H

at

t.he Cali Cf-ntre

537

Rightsize?' Radhlks asked in gooull1.e confusion, 'That means peop~e are-getting fired doesn't. itT Vroom said .. Bakshi didnot respond. 'Sir, we need to increase our sales, fome to get new clients. Firing people is not the answer,' Vroo:r.u said boldly. Bakshi hOO.I smirk onhis face as he turned to Vroom. Heput bis f

My PastDates with Priy;anka-Ill
I shouldn
"t

32'nd Milestane,. Gurgaon Highway: SfWf!n mo,nths earlier

really call this one

3

date, since this time i~ was a. gt{)lll)

shoulder .• I like' your excitement, 1\I[r Vieeor,' he said; "but a seasoned management has to study aJI underlying variables and come up with 8:1:1 optimal solution, It's not so simple." He patted Vmom s shoulder and Ieft. Vroom. waited until Bakahi was OUl.~ of the room 'before he spoke again, 'This is insanity ..Bakshi's f--kedl. up, so they're.frring innocenr
hand on Vroom's

and started! assembling the sheets, "Yes stay calm. Like ~h' Photocopy Boy here. who "finds, acceptance [~ everything,' Priyanka said, . 'Excuse 1Ut\· I said, 1!Qok1n;gup, 'Are youta.1tiJ1Ig·a.1mu~ me?' Priyanka kept quiet . ~What is your problem? I come here, make' fifteen grand a month and gel borne ..It sucks that people are being fired and I'm tryhtg my best to' save myjoh Overal], yes.. I accept my situation, And, Vroom, before I forget, can you-email Bakshi ~heuser manual, please?' "I'm doicg it,' Vroom said as. 'he clkl:ed his. m(HJ.S-e, 'though. whaCs going ·OIl here is sti n wrong.' 'Ucin't Vl'U"fIl'Y, We've flnished the website. We should be safe/ 1 said, ~ill hope SOl •. Damn, it MJ1 suck if Llose my tidle:e.n grand a. month .. If .1 don't get: m,y pi za three times ,n week rn die, •Vroom said. "You have pizza that often?' Esha said, 'Isn lit unheahhy?' Radhilca asked. Despiteher recent text, she
was back to knitting her scarf KnittiliIJg habits die hard I guess.

agents!' he shouted

;'Stay calm,'

r said

because the disco doesn't have ,i:I'door:..bitch'. According to Priy,anka, a deor-bitch is .[1 hostess \iV.hOl stands outside the' disco, screening every ghl who goes in; and if' you aren't wearing some.tliing cool Ul,edoor- bitch will raise ali eyebrow all you like you're a Iifty·-year-oldl auntie. "Really? I've never noticed those door-girls before,' lli said as we sat on ·S(:QI}¥S at the b.Iu~
'gorgeous, you

thing with Vroom and Eshajoining 'us. I argued earlier w~fh Priyanka about: going ·OU"J with work people". but she toldme J should be Jess anti-social, Vroom picked. 32m,:! Milestone and the gids agreed

trousers thaJ were so tight she'd probably have take "them oft:"

ning she 'looked in her make-up. Sl1ewore a black ftUedtop and. black ~O' roll them down to •LOongnsland? Want to get drunk quick or wha,t?;I said,

'It's a giri thing, They size you \]P~and unless you're drop-dead ,get thatmental smirk: Priyanka said. 'So why should you. care? Yo'u are gorgeous,' I said. S.he smiled and pinched my cheek, 'Mental smirk? Girls and. their coded communication, Anyw:ty. drink, anyone?' Vroom said. . •Long Island Iced Tea, please,' Esha said, and .~noticed how sum-

~Noway. Pizzas are tire ultimate balanced. diiel. Look at the contents: grain in the. crust, milk protein in ~he cheese, vegetables and. meat as toppings, "It. has all the food groups. I read it on rhe Interaet;

pizza ~:sgood -for you.."

P:rwyankasaid 'especially with my li:fe8~·[e. I hardly get d me to exercise and on top- ofthat I work ill a confined space.' P:riyanka '3 last two words made my heart skip a. beat. 'Confined space' means .oo.e;"thing to me: that.night at the' 32:nd MiWestone disco,

. Vroom got allhis information off the Internet. 'Pizzas are not he~t[thy. I gain 'weight really fast if I eat a lot of H.'

hundred customers, 1 noticed some stick-thin models on the dance' 80 flat, if they swallowed a pHI 'you'd probably see an outline of it when ~tlanded inside. Eshas looks are similar, Vroom came back ,"vitTI. drinks and we saidcheel"Sj. tryiug to our sound ]jvcIy a.n.dhaprpy, 'a~ people at a disco should,

·t!h.edisco. A remixed version of 'Oil Chahta Hal' pfayed in the back= ground, A.s i t wa S Saturday Iili ght, the disco. had more than three

have LOJ~gIsbnds:' . . 'Long Island ked Tea for me, please,' Priy.an:ka said. She ware camei-coloured trousers snd a pistacbio-green sequinned kurti, VOOf':Hij went tothe bartender to collectour drinks while] scanned

week's' one thousand calls,' Bsha said, "Thaf$ right, Twe~vehundred calls for me; Vroom .sald, "Let's aU

•Com e on. 1 need to de-stress, I ran around like mad last month chas,lllg modelling agencies, Besldes, ] have to wash down Ia"S~

Hoot Their stomachs were

expecta:utly,
.cOU11t.

sip. The webs:d:e is coot, l' Vroem said... "Ibetest customers tove it. No more dialling, .And 'Ws so simple,' 'SQ,a pr-OU1o~ion finaHy for Mr Shyam here, Priyanka said. J noticed she M.d finished.a thied of her drink in just two sjps .. 'NQW Mr Shy,am's promotion is. anorhec ···stOl16; Vr.00111 said. 'Maybe MI' .S11!yail11 would like to tell iit himself" 'PJ¢ase~,mall Some other time,' I .sflid as, Priyanka looked: a:t me'
f1,

'Congrats on the website. guys', I 'beard· it's g()o<t~Esha sail :kddug

lIS burgerboy makes' intwo 'hcurs. Not bad for my ool[ege degree. Not bad at aU. Neat~y double what Lmade asajoumalis; a:uyway,' Everyone 1NaS s,ilenf :fOf a minute, Vroom on a temper trip 'is Llbl " . uneearsr e. 'Stop being so depressed .. 'Let's dance, Esha said; tugging ·at Vroom 'shand, , ·OK". b:~t if anyone teases you, Tm· nO,lI getthlllg into. a fight,.
VrOOlJ:l

said,

.

·OK, well Baks.IIi sai,~~ is talking to Boston to release a headhe But it win. take a while." 'Y{hy can't you j:Gst be- firm with.him?' PrI:Yfullikasa.~d. ~£ike boW"? 'low CUR you 'be 111m. withy,olllf own boss?' [ samc\ irritated. 'Cool iit,. guys." Vroom said. 'It'sa part,Y.ynight ~fIId-·1 A big noise interrnptedour conversatien. We·ilot.icl7da commotion ·on·me dan,oe ffiOio'r'asthe DJilturned' off·the music .. ~W·bal's. up? Vroom said" and. we· all went to:w,!ilrds, U'I"e :~auce floor where a fi,ght .had broken out. i\.g;U'lg of' drunken friends .had accused someone of pawin.g_{lne oftb e girls. v.<ith·them. au d grabbed his. ooUa:r. Soon; Mr.Accused's friends .had.come b) 11fs defence. The l1).ustc"hadstopped when someone knocked one g.liI,lY: flat OTl the floor, ~eyeral others were On. mp of eac-h other $uG. bouncers fil1aUy restored peace while astretcher emergedto tarry aw,3IY the knockedout ,gJly. Five minutes later :tIle music resumed and the anorexic 'g-ids.~brigade were back onthe flour. "Thats what happens tokids with deb dads and too much money,'
L

V]:oonr'Said as. ~.hcywent to the dance floor. The -song playmng was 'Sharara Sharara \ one of Esha.~
favourites ..

~l dO)l~U:bjnk so ..AJiJ)'Vlfay

'Don't worry-no onewill.The

ret~ go:

e are prettier girls here,' Bsh.asaid.

Pt'iyankaand Iwatcbed them Janice from our seats "\",mt to.go fera walk?"'friyanka said-after a fewminutes, Slue/ ~ said, ·\V~-.heJd"ha,nd~and w~Jk<ed out of 32nd, Milestone, \V~ headed to the IJ'~u~kilJg where the rnu sic was softer. lot~ 'It's. 0\10 calm here,' Pdya~~ said, •Tdon 't like it. when Vroom gets all worked-up, Tbe boy needs to control his temper}
I

'shape. J ~hiok be reg~ts rno'Vi.1~gto Connexions som_etimes,-B.esidi.es-, he.hasn't taken .bi~rda,G{ nd mum's separation so we~l. It. ~flQ\<v$ow a n .audthen.' . {S~m,"he 81~O'tdd ge~·a .grip on himself. Get a steady g:idfcicnd nJayb{;)~lila:! wIU.heJp h~IU relax." "~Ihink he 1ikes Bsha,' 1- said. t ~] don't know if 'Es.ha is, interested .. She~S'really focused 011 her model ~ing,,' . ~\Vhat's that?' she. asked, "Some. Bacardi '~e keep handy:' lF8Umre~···hu:ndredlbucks foradrink j aside the cost of ~his·Whole bottle. Let 'Sd1o a .hoot. " '"[be bottre:'s . lid another, We poured Bacardi illhJ both and warmth itJ:;ai\'CUed down :fhnm .my lips.tomy jns,kles., '.I'm sorry aboa t .fll€: Bakshi cornmentI madeinside,' she. said. ~It's rut rigl,It .Doesn ~t srter,' I sa.:id., m 'I '~'l'l bea bifGhisemetimes, "i}J;tt I do -make it "Up.~o YOu. I'm a IQ'VI,ogperson, no?' slu:.S8:iq, higl1 from mixingher driI11(s.~ . 'Y01l.L~reusrfme,' J said.li\l;\d''looked ather moist eyes. Her nose j puckered up a bit and J oould~lta:vClooked at it for ever.

'He's young and confused, Don't worry, life will slap him into

Vroom said.
'Cdmeon;

We reached our Qualls and r opened the door

~Qtake

:oui:'a" bottle,

Priyanka said willi the confidence that comes from dririk.ing a Long Island Iced·Tea. :Ye5}. doesn't money pay for your mobile, pizzas and discos?'
1asked. 'Y~s')'but die difference is ~hat.I've earned ill. These rich kids" they don't have a clue howhard i~.i~,o. make cash,' Vroom .said, t . 'C~(tIlOll. you-get g~)odmoD.ey.. Si.'gn~ficantl}!more dum the 'eight grand yo~ made as a. joumalis! traine .. , m. sai~:. e .'Yes",~ Vroom said, ~'Weget paid weU~ fifteen-thousand a month. That's. ahnost twelve dollars a day, WOW~ f tnake·,tu; much a day as a
I

Vroom,

r

thought you said! mon~y"s, a go'od

thil1,g;'

acted as .one 'cup" .aDf~I broke tb~ top; off a c:jga.riette.. pa.cl{et for

54-a

Clu:um 13hagdt

One 1\1igit/

ill;

'llu Call Centre

541

•Why ate you looking at me Eke that?' she said and smiled,

•Like what?' 'The come-hither look. I see mischief in your eyes, mister; she
said playfully, grabbing ·Wet].] see,' she said and! came up close, We hugged as she kissed me on my neck. 'Have you ever made love in a confined space?'

talk tor a while?'

'My pleasure, sir,' she said and winked at me. Can we lie here and "Sure, I said, reaching for my clothes.
She cuddled meagain after We had dressed. 'Do you love me?' she asked, Hervoice was serious,

"There's

]],0

mischief, that's just your imagination,' 1. said ..

both my hands.

she asked. ..What?' I said loudly, right into her ear, 'Ouch!' she said, rubbing her ear, ·Heno? You heard me right? We have the time, soft music and a desolate spot.' 'So?' 'So, step into the QU3Jis~ my friend,' she said and opened the door. ] climbedonro the back seat and she followedme. The song changed to 'Mahi Ve' fromthe movie Kaante. '1 love this song,' she said and sat astride my lap.Jacing me ..'1 like fhe lyrics. Their love is true, but fate has something else in store.' 'I never focus on the lyrics ... ' ~you just notice the scantily dad girls in the video,' she said and ran her fingers thwUl:gh :my hair: I stayed sllenr, 'Se,!,-you didn't answer my questioa-> have you made love in a confined space?' she said, 'Priyanka, are you crazy or me you drunk?'
Vt,le were quiet, apart from our breathing.

a. picture of me when I was three: I'm sitting on a tricycle and my

'More than anybody else on. this planet/ I said; caressing her hair, ~yolll. hink I'm a caring person?" she said, She was close to tears. t '\Vhy do. you keep asking me that?' " said. ~My mother was looking at our familyalbum today, She stopped all

mother is pushing me".She saw that picture, and she said that 1 "WaS so
cute when I was three."

'Yon 're cute now.' _I said and. pressed her nose like a button,
'And she said I
+

\VaS

loving any more, She said she always wondered. what had made me soheartless,' Pi' yan Ita said and burst ]111.0 tears, I held bell tight and felt her body shake ...1 thought hard about what I could say. Guys can never figure out what to say in such emotional moments and. always end up saying something stupid. Your mother is .cmzy ... " "Don't say anythirug about my mother. I lave her. Can you just listen tome for five minutes?" Privanka said ..
•Of course, Sorry . . ." I said asher sobs grew 1ouder, 1 swore to myself 10 stay quiet for the .next fiveminutes .. I started counting my breath to pass. time. Sixteen a minute ·s my average.eighry breaths would meanI had listened to her for five minutes, We weren't always like this.r¥Iy mum and I were best friends

so lovingand caring then

and tha~ J wasn't

so

She unbuttoned the toll' Few buttons of my shirt. 'Both,' she said.

She confirmed that the wmdows were shut and ordered me to remove my shirt. She took off her kurti .first,. and then slowly unhooked her bra. 'Are YOIll mad?" 1 gasped, raising my aIIiIlS so she could pull my shirt overmy head, She moved to kick my shirt aside and her foot landed on my left baby toe. 'Ouch!" T screamed. 'Oops, sorry,' she said In a naugh ty-apologetictone ..As she moved her foot away~her head] hit the roof 'Ouch,' she said. 'Sorry, this isn't as elegant as in the, Ti'tal'1ic ttlovme .." 'It's all right.' I said as Ipulled her close. She started kissingme on ~liIrIyface, and in a few moments, I forgot 1 was in thecompany Oualis, Twenty minutes later we collapsed in each other's anus 0111 the

once-until
crazier,' Iwondered

class eight Lthink, 'Then as I became older" she became

if l shouldpeint out that she had just told me not. to can her mum ,crazy. However, I had promised myself I would keep qniet. "She had. different rules for me and my brother, She would commens on everything I wore, everywhere 1 went. whereas my brother ... she would never say anything to him. I tried to' explain. ~t to her, but she just became more Irritating, and by the time I reached
college J couldn 't wai t to get away.' "Uh-huh,' I said, calculating t:haf: almost half my time must have passed, "AH through college I .~gr.mred.her and did what 1 wanted, But

back seat, 'Amazing, That was simply ,anl~ing~Ms Priyanka,'

at one level I felt so gillli~ty. I tried again to connect with her after

542·

ene/art Bkagat

Qiie

Night at tR,e Call C (!1~tte 543

college, but she had a problem with everything: my ·thin:kJ:ng.my friends, rr~y boyfriend .. The last word caught my attention. I had to speak, even tb,ough only fifty-seven bre~;1hs had passed. • S.··.€lay; 1- d_1'Ol! you say "1",. ..r:' .;il'p .. ' . .". v:ul 'A tJlOY:l~lenu. ,cWe1syeah" She [mows I'm with you. And she has th.is thiu,g about me finding someone settled,' Settle.d? The word rewound ~mdrepeated itsel fin my head several times. What doe» tlmr mean anytmy? Just someone rich, or somenne who gets predictable cash 'flows ar .the end of every month. E".cep,t parents do not say it thrnlt way llJec3Lus~il sounds like they're ·trading theirdaughter to the highest bidder~ which in some ways they are, They don"t grnve a damn about love Of Feelings or crap .i.i~e·hat t ~'Sh~wme ~e:.·~tnmtey and keep our dau.ghter for IDeres~ of YOlK life,' That); the d~11 in an ar,ranged':rnarriage. 'What are yon tbir':Id.ng about?' she said, 'I'm a lose!' accordi ng to your mum, aren't 11~' said. I '11:1at~not w.hat 1 said,' 'Don't you bring up nafcsJ1t~ and my promctien very time we have a'conversation?"! said, moving away: "Why do yon get so defensive? Anyway,. if'Baksh] doesn ~~ promote you. yO~lcan ioij;k for- another] db. • •I'm tired of job-hunting ..The:re:"s,nothing good cut there-And I'rn tired of rejections, Moreover.wher.is the poi~ntofjoining another eall eentre? I'd just have to startas ajunior agent all over again-without you, without my friends. And let metell you this, I may notbe team leader, but I am happy; I'm content Do you realise that? And tell your drama-queen mum to come and! teU me: to my face that I'm a loser, And she can sead you. off with whichever settled-annuityincome earner-she Jikes. I am what ~am,' 1 said. 111)" face beetrcot-red. ~Shyam. please can. yCllth":y andunderstand? 'Understand what? V(:Iurmother? NO'. [ GalJl~t. But I suspect deep down you might agree -with her. Like, what am I doing with this ··Stop taiklIJJ.g nonsense ..~ P:riyanka shouted, ·1just made Jove to you, for God's salk-!e. And stop sayin~ loser,' she said and burst into tears again .. Two brief'knocks on the window disturbed our conversation. Itwas VroQ:IU, and Esha 'was stand;ing ll~Xr to h~lll" ~ Helle? 'You lovebirds tire inseparable, ·eb? t· he. samet
loser?'

12,.45 am,
The loud ring ofthe landfnetelepJ1o.ne brought m e back from 32:r1d Milestone, Priyanka grabbed the phone. 'Hiiiii, Ganesh,' she said, hell' stretcl:ll}d tone too fiirty,if youasik me, I wondered what his ·toll.a 'iN'3,S like, Gct under the table. Tap thephone; Shyam~ a.voice ~(IIldme . I iU1med"iatcly seolded m,yse1f for such a..horrible thougbt. •Ofcourse 1 knew it was you . No one el se ealls. on this, emergency 1inc.P.riyanka said and ran ,hler fingers through her hair. \Vomenp'laying -with their hair while talking to a guy Is. an' automatic femalepreening gesture' I saw it once on the Discovery' Channel. ~Yeah.'Priyanka said after a few seconds. 'J like cars. "\Vbidu:me are you pia~lhn.g.b1buy1 ... A Lexus?" ~'ALexus! The dude'is bl1.yi~ga. Lexus!' VrClam screamed .. 'Ask him which InQ<Le]~ ask him, please,' Vroom said, and Pdyam.la J o()ke<lat bim. startled. Sh~ shook her head' at Vroom, 'What colO'~n"? 'mon, it?s your car..How can I decide for you?' C Priyanka s.aid..OVer t.henext five minutes Ganesh did 1I1l0St ofthe talking, while Priyanka kept-saying mcm:osyUalic yeses. or tile equivalent, 1"(.~phe phone, the voice kept banging in roy head. I hated myself t for it, but r wanted to do it. I' wondered wilen. Priyanka would. B.tep 8\"Y':a:y from the desk 'No, no, Ganesh.Its fine, go for your meetlng, 1''11 be.here, can me later.' Priyanka said as she-ended ber.ca1l 'Vroom, is the Lexus a nice ,car?' Priyanka.said, Vroom was 'already on the 'Nett surfing Lexus pictures, He turned his monitor to Priyanka, 'Cheek tbI~·Oltt. The Lexus is, one of the
coolest cars; The.guy mustbe loaded: Priyanka looked Vroom}) screen ffIr a few seconds and then

turned tothe girls .. ·H~·wants me
should, t]1:(),y~h./

at

t6

choose the colour ..I dOH1" thiuk I
. .

1said.

Vroom pushed. himself back in his swivel cha im;, 'Go for black or silver. Nothing is as cool as-the classic colours, Or the dark blue mica," he said. 'Andtel! him the interiors have to be dark leather,'
Meanwhile:" my inside' were on fi e. I felt liik,e throwing up,

I wondered when ~could' tap the phone. It was totally wrong, and Priyankawould kin me ifshe found out, bur I had to do it;. . tried to set the stage so i had an excuse to get. under the table, 1 "Why have there be-en.no calls in the Jast ten minutes?' I said, 'l should check if'rhe connectiens are fine.' 'Leave it alone,' Esha said. ·ill\llle~foying ~he break.'

Otu:'Nighi:

(it

l.n.eCa.ll Gcntn

545

·Bio?>;Prj:y,~iJ:k{L said to Esll&. It Wf,fS .Weireode· won~l t~r a vJsit~() the tQ'[h~~togethel for. apl!'ivate (conver~tjo!t}, ~ Sure,' Bs'ha sensed. the need forgolSsip and got up .fi:om her rih,a.lr. 'I'Ilcome too,,' Rildb:iikaS"aid and .stoodnn. Sh.t; tlIDNH~d~{)Im11e: 'The .girls 'Want a bib break.teasn .lelldet;· ·¥ou.'re aN going?' I said, pretending to be relillH}tane~ but :!~Ni:clli'etly thri]Jed.- Thts 'was my chaJ~.oe.·~Welt OK, since ll.Qthingnu:lch. is hap'As seon as the girls wer,e,o)u!,t of s~:gJuTd~Ved,under th,eta,ble. ~Whatm"'f y:ou:doipg?~'Vrcmn s.aid. 'Nothing, m dOri~til:ll~n·k.rUhe connections are firm,' 1 said. ·.And Whfit the !leU (1) you know .aho)!: tbe cQIIDecti.o~n3 2' Vl'OOm t3;a~.d"I-:Lebent: dQwn~o lo.Ok'llInder the table. "Iellme honestly what
youJre doing~~'" ' I ~old hkll 'abQ~t my urge tO~1iIP pffoxut lie! seclded me fo.1' Jive the seconda, but then gotexcited by the ehallenge and joined me under the table, almost done ]Jenj]l~ right now."

\'imom and I squeezed int~the corner stall <Q:f the WASGlUen'~ to~Uet. We pressed our eart.s. a:g~r]Js~':~]1e." ~aU until I could b,e.a,1: Radhika's voice, 'Yes, he ooJ.md~~ike i),"fealiy t1ic¢~I~~ shewas saying. ~But:Isliorildn'~' t.el~him what colour to'£et~ .rIi:j? I~ihis ca't~and it's :S00 expensive. But: d'O,you. knew '!i¥bat he said?' Prrnyan ka said,

~oVrQonL

'He·.said.'"No, it is. (JYJr car," and. then hesaid ·~Yo.u. ave brought h Qoknu: to my life, SiC) you get to olmHs:e'Urue colo]1r.'''' . 'Qh~ he .$Qund~$.go ,1'Oma(lJtjo~~ Esha said.. "That ~5 sucb a lame loser mine, Colour to my life, m.y ass,' 'j s!lid
' .

~WIi''''?~'Ra.cllnr;.a SRI. " '],.. . .d .. ~.Ldt.·

"Ihegirlswlll kill us i'ftiiey find Qut/ Vromn ~id. ~Th.ey 'IA'DU't have-a clue,' t said, connectinguie wirefl"'Lo:ok~ ifs
.j,

Vroom picked. l.1rl}· l(uidHne <bid we resred d~e ,iillTlallJ~efl1'cnL I the c(mM .select tm option on ]]lY computer and li,st~!1'itl,on'1h~ 1afid}in~~ via, n,y headset; ~\V1.~yre you doing this?" Vroom said. a
~Idon"t'.'know D·on. ask,]," r't _ ',L)e.; ....... U '., .~ '1\", _:I •• ]' . "1"" ~;i",..., "'r~" taki .'.\.I~lJ!.W ])I'~ ."" ..... nl ·,g1 .. '" ~~~I]je "'0.' '~V]l!:l.l ~.. ·~1......,y?' ~you know them, theybaeethcirgirl talki]] the toiler.
'{f

!stu:pid.~e~} et,' Vrootn tiaiCt qui 'Excuse me,' Esha sa~d,.'bnt 1 ha'Y~~ochange tMs " .. Quc,h!' 'What's gOing onTl said. Y'room. ~hru'gged brn~ .shoulders·, ~Bsha~,yO~t:al wOlmdhaJs'IJ;'t l]ealed' for days, Just it .Band-Aid ,isn't enough,' Priynnka said, 1 guess.edEsha. was. .cJl.aligimg tbe Ba-tH:f-A~d " on 11 s ]Hi. 1e~ "I'm fine. As fO~l:f .as i~11eal s b~fQre the lakme f-asfuiop week /
'U!&·.

'S~b; They'H hear

Esha ~~d,

the boy~ Win gttlITl,bJe:' ~.sha said, 'But today
&a.:ij:ffi.

"Let's go back, gjrls, it ·~S'~bl102.t 9ne·.a.m..!'·RaCllhik:3, ~9tb.erwl:Se ~d.
3\

.

'They always .grumble. Like they never have
tb~ym~~trtl

cigarettebreak,'

,gnlniJ.bJy:. At ie!l.st someone is,' m:;l1,~ika.

~And you 'd'on~t"V,\i;~~, ~,ear\¥.h"Utthcy'jr~ ·to ,$ayingi? I'm sure 'ln~y~~e discussing MrMicrogo,ft'there;,~ . ~Oh no," I $aid. worded' about what I could be mi~si~l,g. 'Altbough how wo~Jdw~ be able to eavesdrop?' '"FrD:111i:1Jt3orner stall.of tllt.: men'!s. toi~e~~' c VrOQll1 said.. 'U shares ·a~ wall with (he,i[ toilet, U you. press, yeur e:aragoin;st the wall. youcan ]1:eSJl: them. ' 'R',ea !:y;, ~ sa~!J~ ".A· Iuyey!es ·I·"r : ... .l~{)"" ..lgl1tU.lg up ..
111"

Vroom 1?9int~d a fjD.g~"·,,n me. YeB,{be.iPrl~: ·wl'!lre.t;allking 'ab~n;t me.
~YolJll fhitik Sh~a:Pl is nor takil~g>tll:{~ew's \\Wm?' PrjYa!nka said. n ~y~u teU us, You kr'nlow bjm"betterti];ruflil \v!e do,' Eslia,/~a~,it. ·1 wish i knew himnow I don't ~:mowwhy he sulks andacts 80 C.h1rdi&h~ sometimes,' .Pi[iy~k21 said as ther left·t:heJo~let "ChiJdish?· Me? 1 ~chih:1i~h:'?'i said tQVIl'~Olm. <Wh~lt 016 hell, Mt I MiCFO'5ofi Bays his cheesy lines and ]H}'S,cute and romautic. I $4ly noili[ng:md I'm childish,' I banged: ;~fifst on the.sff~m door ' 'S11yam~dan tt ,be1u~velike a ,kid/ V1<omn said, \V"cCfllll£ out of thessal ~and I jumped back as I sawB;~lkshi ~y f~,eshlk.

1 grum bled, mlip-sync,

am

Vrnom nodded.
~'!;.§; .

~It<!Llbe wrong, IthQu.gh,

eave·scilliDppjjt~.g rhn:mgh a

'!.'J~!j res, 1[ W] ], <!.1I8ut who cares? Let's

stan,> I sa:]d.
off fU,«

go,? I 8~4 find VroOl1l and] jumped

CllilI'Il:I1L

'rlrmugh the mirror, Bakshi saw.both of ue, Hisjlffi\V umpped,

546

Chetan 13hagat

One N,~ght at tlu.' Call Centre

547

'Hello, sirj'VL"O01l11 said and. went up to the sink next to' him. 'Sir, it's not what you think:' 1 said pointing back at the stall, I'm not thinking anything. WhaJt Y'(YU do in your personallives is up to you. But why aren't you at the desk?' Bakshi said." "Sir, we just tooka short break. The call traffic is very lO1(1Vtoday," I said 'DOd you Jog your break?' The girls are missing from the bay as
well," Balcshi said", His

1.,00 a.m .. ,
We returned from the men's room to fmdthe C4:'l1l had resumed. flow Radhiks explained to a caner how to open his vacuum cleaner, Esha taught an old man to preheat an even and dodged his telephonic
your ~VOl~6~1 s-se-sexy pass, Another can flashed on my screen. 'I know this guy..CanI take this. cal]?" Vroom said, 'Who is it? I raised my eyebrows.

'Really? Where did the girls goT Vmom said. Bakshi walked to the urinal stalls, I went to the stall adjacent 'Didn't you just use the toilet?' Bakshi said, 'Sir,' l said and hesitated. 'Sir, that was different, with Vroom. 'Please. I don't want to know.' Bakshi said .. 'Sir no/~. said ...'Sir, how' come you're using this rest room?' W said. 'I didn't Inean to. 1 always use U1C executive toilet,' Bakshi said. 'Yes. 3111'/ 1 said and nodded my head. J had acknowledged his magnanimous gesture of'peemg rnnthe same bay ;1!ISU8. But 'lclifhiy was Anyway, I came to your desk to' drop off a courier delivery for Eliza, [ ve left theparcel on her desk,' Bakshi said as he zipped. up. 'And) Sam, can you tell tile voice agents to come to my office for a team meeting later, say two thirty a.rn., UK?' Bakshi said.

face was

turning from shiny pink to shiny red.

to him.

~Aprick caUedWiUiam Fox. Listen linif you want' Vroom said. l selected the option on my computer, "Good afternoon. 'Vestern Appliances, Victor speaking, How may I

he here'?

sell me crap hoovers?'

help you today Mr Fox'!' Vroom said .. ·You"dJbetter dam wen help me, smart-uss,' the man on tiThephone said, He sounded drunk. 'Who is he?' I whispered, but Vroom shushed me. 'Sir lf'I may confirm, 1 am speaking to NIr William Fox?' "rou bet you are. You think just •cos you know my name' jt'8 .oK ~o

'What is the probl em w~th your vacuum cleaner, sir? n's a VXI OO?"

\'1""''''''''' ""C IJI., saiAI . 'u
,,"UJI

'U doesn't suck dust any more, It just doesn't' 'Sir, do you remember when you last changed the dust bags?' "like f--k I remember when .1 changed the bags. U~g just a crap

'What's up, sir?' Vroom said. 'Nothing. 1 want to share some pertinent insighta with 'the resources,' Bakshi said, 'Anyway, thanks '[or the user manual, I've
already sent it to Boston/ Bakshi said, 'You <clid'l"both of us said in unison. •Si • if you could have copied us in on the email ....! .. e :d like to be v kept in the loop,' Vroom said.. Good one. . 'Oh, didn't ill? I'm so sorry, I'mnot good. with emails, IOU just {Of= ward wt to you. Bufr you guys man the bay now- OK?' .Of course. sir .'~said,
'And have you finished the ad hoc task I gave you?' Bakshi said. 'What, sir?' I said, ,M1dthen realisedhe meant the photocopying of the board meeting invite. 'Almost done, sir.' Bakshi nodded and left us behind. in the rest morn.

machine, you dumb-ass.' V room took tbree deep breaths and remembered the suggested line
to use in such situations,

'Is he a total moron or what'? Can't cc people on an email?'

Vroom said, 'Easy, [11.a11.. Let's bwe~, hack to the bt'ly~'1 said.

~Sin.',T request you notto use that language! "Oh really? Then make your f=king hoover work.' Vroom pressed a button on his phone before he spoke again, 'YOU! son of a bitch,' he said. ·\~rhat are you doing?' I said, panicking .. "Just venting don't worry, if's om mute:' he smirked, He pressed the button again and said, 'Sn, you need to change the dust bags when they are full.' 'Who am I speaking to?' The voice on the phone became agitated .. .:Victor, sir,' 'Ten me your name, You're some kid in Indiaain't ya, boy?' 'Yes, sir; I am in India." 'So wn,at did you have to do to get th~s job? Degree in nuclear physics?'

548

Chetan Shag-at

One .Night as the Call Centre

549

'Sir, do you need help with your cleaner or not?'
'C'mon,

son" answer me, J don't need your help, Yeah, I'Il change

worried about the wires tapping the emergency phone, However, they
were intact.
'Shyam, wait,' Esha said, 'we have a great excuse for not taking

the dust bag •. What about you guys? When will you change .your
dusty connrry?' said.

'Excuse me, sir; but ill want you to stop, talking like that,' Vroom

'Oh really.now some brown kid's teUi.ng me wharto dO---'Willirn:ll Fox's voice stopped abruptly as I 'cut off the call, Vroom didn 1t 111(iJ¥e for a fewseconds. His whole body trembled and he was breatbing 'heavily, then he placedhis elbows 011 the table andcovered his face with hishands,
~'¥[m don't have to talk to those people. Y.ou know that,' I said

calls, Leave it like it is forawhile.' Everyone agreed. We decided to cam Systems after twenty minutes .. •Why was Bakshi bere?' Priyanka asked. '] saw him leave the
men '8 toiler.'

'To drop off a courier de~ivewyfor IEsha/ I said ..'He told me there's
:21..

team meeting at two thirty a.m, Oh man, I, stillhave
j

to photocopy

the invite.'

'What cillehvcry'! Esha said, "Ihis?' She lifted a packet near her
computer,

teoVroom" The girfs glanced a~us while ~.heywere still on their calls.
'Vroom, I'm talking to you," msaid;

He raised his faceand slowly turned to look at me, Then he banged his fist om the table .. 'Damn!' he. screamed and kicked hard under the table. " 'WIlal lite ... ' Priyanka. said, 'M y can just got: c ut off .. '
Vroom's kick had dislodged thepower y!~res. disconnecting all our

'Must be,' Vroom said, 'though what courier firm delivers atthis time of lilight?; Esha . opened the. packet and took out F\\1(iI bundles of hun,dm:ld~ rupee notes. One bundle had a small yellow f()st~it Note on it She read the Post-it BJlJi~ her face went p'a~e. ·Wow. someone's rich:
<Not bad. Whars the
Vro0111

said ..
said,

IIThQl1i(lY

fhrTRadhika

calls. He stood up and his six-foot-plus frame tcweredabcveus. 'Guys, thereare twotihings 1. cannot stand,' he said and showed us two fingers, •Racists. And Americans .. ' Priyanka 'started laughing. 'What IS there to laugh at!' I said, 'Becausethere is. a. contradiction, He doesn't like racists, bUl~ can't stand Americans,' Priyanka said. f.'WIDY?~ Vroom said, ignorjng Priyanka, 'Why do some dim-witted Americans get to act superior' to us? Do you know why? Not because they are smarter, Not because they arebetuer people ..
BUiltbecause their countryis richand ours is poor. That is the ol1!ly

.: t\ nothing. Just a friend returning lrJ.oney she borrowed ~Esha said. r She dumped the packet in her drawer and took out her mobile phone. Her face \'VUS pensive. as. if she w-as debating: whether or l1.0~.to make 1iI call. ~collected my sheets to go to the photocopying room. ~Wa.nlto' help me?' J called. OU~ to Vroom. 'No, thanks. People ~used to work with are' becoming national TV reporters, but lookat me. I'm taking calls from losers and being
asked to help with loser jobs,' Vroom said and looked away,

damn reason. Because the losers who have run our country fo r the last fi fty years couldn't do better than make lndi a one 6 f the poorest countries on.earth.'

I switched on the: photocopier in the supplies mom andput Bakshi's stack in the docum ent feeder. ~'d.j ust pressed ~he •starr' button on the "Paper Jam; Tray 2.' appeared irr big, bold letters on the screen, TIThe opier in our suppliesroom is not a machine, it's a person, A c person with apsyehoric souland a grumpy attitude.Whenever you, copy J.TIPTe than two sheets, there's a paper jam. After that, the machine teases you: it gives you systematic instructions on how to unjarn it----.open cover, remove. tray, pull lever-but if it knows so much. why doesn't it fix itself? ,;Damn;' I mumbled to myself as I bent down to open the paper
agenda document when the copier creakedand groaned to a halt,

l.jOa.m.

(Stop overreacting, Vroom. Some stupid guy-calls and-' Radhika
said. •Loek, you've blank screens. broken down the entire system} Lpointed to the

"No more calls for now; Priyanka said, roiling her eyes. •Let me take a look;' I said and 'Went under the table. I \VaS mare

One Night en .r.lu Call Ceatre
lIFa:ys,

551

pressed ~. start' again, not realising tllat my ID was resting un Bakshi's original dOCUITIe:nt. Asche machine restarted i~ sucked in my ID along withthe paper. The ID pulled ,lilt, its strap. which tightened. round :my neck. 'Aargh,' ill. said as Lchoked .. The: strap curled tighter round my neck, I screamedloudly andpulled atmy mD~ but the machine was str-onger. Lwas sure it wanted to km. W11e.I started kicking 'the
machinehard,

1turned.a few levers and pulled out whatever paper W:H!S in Right. [ stood U;P, rearranged the documents, on tl~e feeder tray and

'I'm sorry I was rude." F~f8t there are these: rumoursabour
centre dosing down, then rny oldworkmate
you semetimes. ~
BOOil1t00

the ca.m makes .itto

NDTV and Bakshi sends the document without 'copy~ng us. in. Me1IDnw:&1j~,e, some psycho caller screams curses, at me. It just gets to "Wba[: gets to you.'?' ~ asked. I was trying to copy Bakshi's docu!'tl:entagairtbut dillephotocopier WZ!shurling abusive messages atrhe screen every time Ipressed. a. button, SO(jJ.l1!. it sel f-detected a crack wn tlll!(~ glass, It switched ~tse'lfoff altogether .. 1 think it had committed suicide, 'Life,' Vroom Sa]di~~ife gets to Y011L You think you're perfectly "happy-you knC)w~g():odsalary, nice friends, life's apa r ty~but an of a sudden, in one tiny snap, everything can crack, like the glass pane ofrhi s photocopi er.~ I di.dtliJ'tfuHy understand Vroom's glass-pane theory of life, b ut his face toldme he W1=lS upset. l decided. to soothethe man who had. just
saved Ill)! life ..

Vroom came rumring into the room. 'What rhe , .. ~He appeared nonplussed, He: saw A4 sheds spread all over ~he fOOI')], a groaning photccopierand melying down: on top ofit, desperately ~ugging at
my ID strap, -

'Do something,' [said. in at .muffled. voice,
<Like what?' he said and bent QVer to. 100k at the machine, The

machine,

screen

W;(lIS

flashing 'Paper Jam 'I while ~my[0 st[2l!!JlI right into the ran

Vroom klol:ed around. the supplies. mom and found a pair of scissors. "Should H' he said and smiled atme, 'I reallywant the others to see this,' ~Sh1!jt. , . up ... and, .. cut,' I said. Snap! And my breath came hack .'!OK novl?·VrOOl1"D. asked throwing the scissors brld{ in the supplies tray. ill nodded .~;S I rubbed my neck 'and took wheezing breaths ..I rested. myhead on the 'I,¥aJ]'m~ soothingglass of the photocopier, but m 'mlIst !fti.\verested. it too hsrd, or maybe my head is too heavy, because I heard a crack 'Get otl/ Vroom said and pulled rue offth.e machine. ·Vall broke the glass, Wfu,a;[s it with you" man'? Having a bndo1ffi:ce supplies day?' i ~Vlho knows?" I said, collecting Bakshi's document, 'I really 'am good fen' not bing ... can't even do these loser Jobs, I almost died ..Can I YOtI ima~gine the headline: corlER DECAPHATE8 MAN, AND DUf'"l]CA1"ES
DOC1JMENT:

'Vroom, you know whSlt yourproblem is?'
"What?'

'You dan 't have real love in your life. You needto fall in love, be in love and stay in leve, Thars the void. in your life,' I said nrm[y.
'You think so?' Vroom. said, 'I've had girtfriends, 1;1] 'A.l1Id another one S.OOll-jfQU know that," 'Not those kind. of girls. Som eoue you really care about. And I

think we £IIIknow who that is,'
> 'E· 1.

.S.~la{ ne

q, IL..

.~;d sa.IUI.

I kept quiet.

her, She has her modelling and says she has [10 time 'for a. relatioeship. Besides. she says I don't know what love is. Tcare for cars ,Vlll1rdJ bikes more than girls,' Nlaughed, 'You do,' 'That's SIJch an unfair companson. It's .Iike .askjng women what

'She isn it interested. .~ 'veasked

theyprefer;

nice shoes or men. There's no easy answer:
to footwear?'

'Really? So we are benchmarked

'Trust me, women can ignore men tor sexy snoes. .....Il. .

Vroom laughedand put his armroundmy shoulder, ~Chill (HlIl.t, man. Lapologise.' <Forwhat?' I said, Nobody bas ever apologised to me in thepast twenty-six years o;fnlJ,~ HT-e. .

'But do you think you .1(JIveEshaT I said, I
'Can't
SEll)!,

But I've felt somerhing

for her fur ever a year now.'

~ 11~yO;l!1 dated other girl s ~8I!s.tyear,' B surf while looking for 'the programme you reallywautao
~ThijJs~ girlsweren ~~. important, Tl:ley were like Tvchannels you

'see. You're

552

Cheta.n Bhagtu

'Win you help me? he said. '.Me?you~:re the expert with girls,' J said. 'This one is different, he stakesarehigher, Can you be around when I talk to her? Just listen to OUI! conversation, then we can analyse it 1ater, •

should ask Esha again for a real relationship, Do Vroom looked a.t me for a few seconds,

Priyanka.' 'Shefali is thereto help me move on: I said. 'Screw moving all That girl is enough to pat you off women for ever, Maybe that will help you, get over Priyanka,' Vroom said. 'Don't change the subject We're talking about you .. I think you
it)

with that Curly Wuriy cbic.k,eveJ]J though you still have fee~in;g:sfor

food, again for motivational reasons-on his tray and sat at one of'the tables, Esha took a soda water and. sat opposite Vroom. I think she
I sat at the adjacent table, took out my phone and started typing fake text messages. 'Why isn't Shyam sitting with us?" Esha said [0 Vroom. 'Privatetexting,' Vroom said, Esha rolled her-eyes and nodded, 'Actually, Esha, T wanted. to ten you something,' Vroom said, '¥eaill"t?"Esha said to Vroom.un eyebrow rising in suspicion. The invisible female antennae were out and suggesting caution.v''Iatk about

eats once every three days. I took an unhealthily larg: slice of'chocotate cake".

man.'

~()K~ sure .. So, Let's do [I now. \Ve have free time. Afterwards. the cans will begin and we 'J] be busy again/ I said. ~OK,,\\'1terc do we do iC" \fOO.OlD said! ashe put his hand on his forehead to think. "Ihe din.ing room?' . The dining room. made sense, 1 could be nearby, but mcenspicuous,

'Esha,' Vroom said, 'I've been thinking: about-yo 111 a lot lately.' 'Really?' she said and looked sideways llO see if I was eavesdr-opping, I made an ex tnt effort to show that Twas focusing onmy cake. "res, really. Esha, m may have met a lot of girls, but. no one is lilk:,e

w hat?'

1045 am,
"Is everything o.K? J heard a noise; Esha said" as we returned. "I'he photocopier died. Anyone for a snack?' I said. 'Yes, lees go...1 need a walk. Come on; Priyanka,' Esha said and tried to pun Prjyanka up by her L1ppe'l" ann .. 'No, I'll stwy here/ Priyanka said and smiled .. 'Ganesh might call.' A scoop of hot molten lead entered through illy head and left from UIY toes, n'T to move on, Lreminded myself Radhikawas about to getup when Istopped her, ~Actually) Radhika, can you stay here? If Bakshi walks by atleast he'U see some peopleat tne desk,' I said. Radhika sat down puzzled as .1\\>'0 left the room ...
THE DI [HG AREA-at

you. And. I think r-ather than fool around .1could do with a real relationship, So I'm asking you again. will you go out with me?" Esha was. quiet for a few minutes. "I've told you before. I have to focus on my .model 1ing career. lean 't afford the luxu ry of halving a boyfriend, she said, her voice unusually cold. 'What is with you, Esha? l1on't you want someone to support
you'? Vroom said .. "That'sright, with three different girlfriends last year I'm sure you. will always he there for me, Esha said .. 'The other girls were just for fun, They meant nothing, they're like pizza or movies .. They're channel surfing, you're more serious,' Vroom said. 'So what serious channel am 17 The -SHeT Esha said. just wanted to take it to the next level .. ."Vroom said. "Please stop it,' Esha said, and covered her eyes with her hands. ~youchose the worst time to talk about this.' 'What's wrong) Esha? Can J help?'Vwom said, hi voice now fum of concern rather than the nervousnessof'romanee,

,.l've known you for more than a year:. 1 thought we were friends" 1

a college hostel mess. There are three rows of loug tables, with. seatManagement recently renovated the place when some overpriced consulting firm recommended that a bright dining morn would be good for employee motivation ... much cheaper option 'Would have: A been to just fire Bakshi, if you ask me, Vroom took a cheese sandwich and chips-they don't serve Indian
ing on both sidles. The tables have a small vase every three feet.

Connexions

is a cross

between

a restaurant

and

She shook her head frantically,
Ilknew Vroom had failed miserably. Esha wasn't mterested and was in a really strange mood, I fmished my chocolate cake' atld went

to the counterto dining room.

get water'. By the time m returned, they had left the

55'4

Clu:tan 13hagat

~returned to the WASG hay with the taste ofchoeolate cake lingering In my mouth.I sat down at :my desk and began surfing irrelevant websites. Radhika was giving Priyanka recommendations onihe best shops in Delhi for bridaldresses, while Esha and. Vroom were silent, I called IT to fL1{, our desk. They were busy. bu~promised to come in ten minutes. The spare landline 's ring startled us all "Ganesh,' Priyanka said a she scrambled to pick up the phone. I kept a calm face while I selected the option to listen ]11 on the call, 'MU1Jl1,' Priyanka Siaid,'whyaren't you asleep? Who gave you this number? ; 'Sleeping? No one has slepta wink today~' er mother said. h The tapped line was exceptionally dear. Her mother sounded elated, which was unusual for a woman wno.accordi ng to Priyanka, depression. _Priyanka's mother explained how Ganesh had. just called her and given h er the emergency line number. He had to ld her that he was ~ on top of the world' .
Inother

t.ss a.m,

"Mum, I'mnot worried about organising: a party, I have to be ready get married. I hardly know Ganesh,' Priyanka said, 'Huh? Of course you're ready for it. When the families have fixed the: match and bride and groom are happy: why delay? And the boy can't keep visiting again and again. He's in an important position
tiO

grand event,'

"Oh, you don't have to worry about that .. I am there to organise everyihing. You wait and see, I'Il work druy and Right to make it a

after all:

Yeah, dgl1t~ I thought He was probablyone of the thousands of indian geeks coding away at Microsoft, But to his in-laws, he was

had spent most of her life in self-imposed, obsess . ve-cempulsive i

Bi'IJ Gates himself. 'Mum, please, [ can) go ahead with it next month. Sony. but no. ~ can't marry anyone [ have only known for five weeks.' Priyanka's mother stayed silent for a while, 1 thought shewould retaliate, but then I figured (lU~;that the silence wasmore [effective than words. "]\1Jlli11~are you there?' Priyanka asked after ten seconds, "Yes,; I'm still here. rn be dead soon, but unfortunately I'm just by chance/ Priyanka's mother said. Whata killer line, J thought. 1 almost applauded, •Mum; please" Don't do this .. " 'You know I [prayed for one hour today. " . praying you stay happy .... for ever,' Priyanka'smother said as. she broke into tears. Whoever starts crying first always has an advantage in an arguhaJl[D[Y

'Trn : ohappy today. Look how God sentsuch a perfect match right to our door. And .~used to worry about you so much,' Priyanka's

still here: 'Mum, c'mon now" .:

said.

'Don't even make me

a few hours, How come you. caned here?'

"That's great.Mum, butwhat's up?' Priyanka said, 'TIl be home ill

That's Im:~sh~l1l1 t five weeks

'What p;~ail1s.?~ <He is coming to Indifl next monsh. Originally he'd planned the trip so he Gould see girls. but now that he has made. his choice, he wants to get married instead on the same tl~ip,'Priyanka's mum announced, 'What?' Priyanka said, 'L1e t month?" and looked around at an of us with a shocked expression, Everyone returned. puzzled looks I' as jfthey didrn1~~ know what was going on. l alsopretended to look confused. . 'Mum, no! ,.Priyanka wailed, 'How can ill germarried next month?

couple of times today,' <Anddid he tell you his plans?'

'Can't a mother call her daughter?' Priyanka's mum saki. 'Can't a. mother' is one of her classic lines, 'No, Mum. ill just wondered .. Anyway, Ganesh and I have spoken a

rnent, This works for Priyanka's mother, who at least has obedient tear glands. it not an obedient daughter. 'Mum, don't create a scene. I'm at work. What do you want from.

me? I have agreed to the boy. Now 'wIThY everyone pushingme?' is
"Isn't Ganesh nice? What's the problem'?" her mother 'aid. in a tragic tone that could put any Bollywood hero'S mother to shame. ~Mum, I didn't say he j sn't nice, Ij ust need time.' . 'You aren't distracted, ar-e you? Are you still talking to that useless catl-cemreclrap, what's his name? Shyam?'

away. ~

I jumped. 'No, Mum. That's over. I've agreed to Ganesh, right?' 'So, 'why can 't you agree to next ~non.th-fo'r everyone's happiness? Can't a mother beg her daughter for this?"

" OJUf NiglV at

1: ',' it ,trtC C'tJ.'," <e1,H,'U!

c

557 ,

" 'f '.r..t,'-' said, "S ee tr "I'Vecan get. some l1:a.I.'dC, agam, • Priytm ka 's, rnother and her wo rd s-~ tlUvt useless cal l-ccntre chap '_ resounded in Illy head, l remembered the time when frJYUDka lb)~d 'me her mother's views a.bmrt rne, lt waS, onone of '()tLi· dates, at' •" ~

Tl~ere you ,gO:C~,]:l'{-a~mother,N'o. Z for the night" Priyanka dosed her eyes to compose herself vCanI think about it?" 'Of course, 'fhink about it, Hut think fora I,I:(lf us, not j fist, yourself" ~OK"I will, Jus~,"" .just give me some time." Priyankahuag up. '~'Can yon be lieveit? Sh~ wants metoget marriednext month" Nextntonth!' Priyanka said. and stood up. They brought me up r,'orhve.:nty-!lvc years, and now they can't waitmore dum twe:nty-f!ve days to get I"iid of me. What i~it with these people? Am ,I such a burae11Tf'riy.anl{rt repeated her conversation'to Eshaand Radhika. 'I.;J' ,(~oesn't rnau:tn~ ng L W''J1.y drag [I Q,utr R dh'l'uca saro W '''h' ") ,'," ", ... ',a, A' L Priyanka. '~s.. you, _get to drive the Lexus sooner, tQD~' Vroom £ai[j:. ~,gave him a firm NJaTe out of the Corner of my eye. ' ~1'l1I1.so not ready for this .. In one 1110ntb PH be: somauThc'l:; wife, (io, 'h~ little kids will call me auntie,' Priyanka said, Evctyone discussed the pros and (~OJ1Sof ~Priya.nkHgetringmsrried in four weeks' time, Most ofthem fe! ~twasn"t such a big deal once she had chosen the glLiy., Of course. most peop~e didn ~tgive a damn about me, In the midst OfU1C' discussions the: SystG!ms guy returned to our desk. "Vhtd, happt~ncd .1.1Je(e?~ :;a'id' fron] under the table, • Looks I1k(; he someone ripped these wires apart.'
'J d •t I, ~ ',', '.on ~IO!i;\".

friend, if Lcouki still call her that, was ~ate. P~n5 I could sense she was, It'chrng todump me. Priyanka andI had ended eight of om! last ten phone calls with one of us hanging up on t~e other, ] had n 't sl ep:t theentire day, wh ich hadn ::t '1en me, feeli 11,1; too good. My job was.gning nowhere. with Bakshibem 011 ~,u'cl~ing evety last drop of my blood M~ybe he was r:ight---I just didn't have the .strategic vision or managerial leadership (H' whatever you '!lOO supposed to h;JV~ to dowellin life. Maybe Priyanka'smum was light EOO~ and
herdaughter was stuos with a loser. These thoughts enveloped me as she 'Came in, She had just lm41a hakcu.tltnd her waist-length hair-was now justa few inches 'below heir shoulders. r liked!'her \l,iith lons, hair but she never Ilistened to me" Anyway, her hair still 1~0Ql[ed nice, She \",UJ'e a white l.inen ,top~ and a l1o,vving Iavender skirt with lots of crinkly edges, I stared at my watc1iJJ as a sign 00 'protest

"Sorrv, Shvam,' she saffidas she putagiant 'brown bag on the table. 'that h,aifdre~s'sej~' so 'J6ng.( I told hinl':Ibail ~o leave em:1y,' ~oo~k 'No big-deal. A haircut has to be more important than me,' J said. 1 thought we-said no sarcasm,' she said, "and J" did say-sorry, We promised not to tight Saturday is the -oniy day J ger time for a haircut: '1 'told. you tokeep your hair long,' J said, ~:Id~!dtOOl' a long time, but :it's sohard ~,O malntain, Shyam, I'rn sorry, but you have to understand, I bad the most: boring hair and J couldrn·do,anynthiug with It..And its:, 80 hot inthe Delhi heat.' 'Whatever;' .I., said dIs~ussive!i.y, looking at the menu, • What do
you want?' 'J wfI,nt my ShY~,J:n' to be .iu a good mood, she said and held rny hmjd.Wedirln, ~t'intertwine fingers, though, , •My' Shyam, J guess J stilleoun t, J thought

'Mocha elite.

rn;t

\Ve promised to, meet (:In. one' condition: we \'\>'ouJd,n' fight. No blame t games no &!;"IJC·a comments and no j udgmental remarks." She was stic late.again,l flddlad with the menu fJJlId rooked around. Mocha;Os decor had a M~ddie Eastern twist, witb hookahs, velvet cushions 'and coloured-glass lamps everyw}1ere",JVJany ofthetables were occupied by-couples sitting with ~l1tel·t.w~n~d fingers, obv!ously deeply in Iove, the silly deiusiens wnth~ jniHal stage .ofa relationship amazing? My' life was nowhere near; perfect, of course, For 'stnt~er''Sjmy girl~
It was perfect. like al lthey .netx,1f'd to behappy wa s each other, Aren ~t

J/y.Post Dat'BBwith P1'iyanka~I'Y ,MnchJl C(ife;_ (}remer KaiJash 1: Five months earlier,

'Hrnm,' m said and let oct a big sigh. Ifshe was trying-to nl.ak~ peace. ]' guess I had to 00 n~y.bit, '-\Ve can have.their special Magg: 'Maggi? You've come, all this, way to eat Maggi?' she said, and took the menu from rne. 'And check this out: ninety bucks, 'to]' Maggi?" S11e s:aid the last phrase ,so loudly that the tables and a few w.aJteJf.~ 1]e;'{I~to us heard. 'Priyanka, we earn-now. \Me ca~lafford it,' 1 said 'Order chocolate brownie and ice cream: shesajd. ·1 thougM you, said you'll have 'wbate.vef I wa,lflt;· I sai d.

noodles;'

'YeS;, but Maggf!" she said and made

it

quirky face. Her nostrils

558

Chelan Bhagat

(hu lVight

{f,t

the Call Centra

559

contracted for a second, I had seen that face before, and .I couldn't help but smile. I saved myself time by orderingth e· brownie. The walter "brought the clrocolate brownie and placed! it: in front of P:riyanka--balfr a litre of chocolate sauce dripping over a blob of vanilla ice cream on top ofa huge slice of rich chocolate C@iKC', It was a heart: attack served on aplate ..Priyanka had ~WQ SpOOTilS and slid the eli sb towards 111 e. ''Did you halve a heart-to-heart with your mum?"] said. Priyanka wipedher chocolate-lined hps with tissue. I feltlike kissiug her right then. However, I hesitated. When you hesitate mn' love, you ~k~10W' something is wroug, 'Meartd my mum,' she said, 'are incapable of having a rational sane conversation. 11: triedto talk to her about you andmyplans to study furthe r,'

'And what do you want?' I said.
'I don't know;' she told the tablecloth. What tile hell? I thought All I get after four years of togetherness '. . .' lS3n . "IIi..1l uOll t 11. . . . ')', .Ill .~now 'You want to dump me, don't you? I'm. not good enough for your fanjily.~ 'It isn't like that, Shyam. She married my dad, who wasjust a government employee, because he seemed like a. decent human being.

But her sisters waited and married better-qualified boys" and they arericher-today. Her concern fOil me comes from that. She rnsmy mother .. It's not as if she doesn ':t know whaes good forme, I want someone doing wen in his career too.' 'So your mother is-lot the only cause: for the strain in our relationship. ~.t~s as you
"A relationship

'W'l'h appenea;d?' ... 11at "In seven minutes we were crying, Can you believe iit?' ~\V'i.thyour mother, 1 can, What exactly did she say?" 'She said she has never liked you because you aren't settled. and because sincethe day I started dating you I. have changed and
become an unaffectionate, cold person,' 'Unaffectionate? What the. , .' 1 5hou~cd, my face turning red.

wen:

never flounders

for one: reason alone, there ape

many issues; You don't take feedback. You 're sarcastic. You. don't understand my ambitions. Don't I always ten you to focus on your
career?"
•Just get Josr, OK," I said. My laud voice attracted theattention of

the neighbouring tables,
'Shyam, if's
Ul~S

attitude of

YO[lfS.

At home, my mother doesn't

'How the hen have 1 changed you?' The second comment cut me into slices. Su(C. I hated the ~Ino~; settled'! tag. but there' "vas some truth to that But how could she aC-Cl181e me of turning Priyanka into a. cold person'? She didn't say auyth.in:g but her face softened and J heard tiny sobs. It was so unfair. j was. the one being insulted: I should be the one 'getting to cry. 'Listen, Priyanka, your mum is a psycho,' .~said. 'No she's not It~3not because of yo ILl. but I have changed, Maybe: it is because I'm older and she confuses .it with my being with you, We used to be so. close, and now she doesn't like anything I do,' she said. and broke down into full-on crying .. I got some you-horrible-man looks from girls at other tables. 'Calm down, Priyanka .. What does she want? And tell me honestly, what do you want?' ill said, Priyanka shook her head and remained silent 'f'.~easie~ to me: I said. tafk She finally spoke. • She wants meto show that I love her, She wants me to make her happy and marry someone she chooses for me.'

understand, and now it' you who doesn't.Why first
met.'

have you become like

this? You've changed" Shyam, you are not the same happy personI 'Noth~ng has happened to me. It's you who finds new faults in me
every day, 1 have a bad boss and I'm trying to manage as. happily as possible. What has happened to you? YOIllI!JSlea to eat at truck drivers?

dhabas, now aU of a sudden you need to marry an expat cardiac surgeon to make ends meet?' . \Ve stared at each other for two seconds. ~OK~i,fs my fault That's what you want to prove"isn"~ it? Tm a confused, selfish. mean person, right?' she said, I coulda 't believe I bad loved her and. those flared nostril s for four years, and now it was difficult to s.ay four sentences without disagreeing. I sighed, "l thought there was to be no arguing, blaming or S,tll"casm, but that's all we've done.' '1 care for yo a lot,' she said and held my hand. 'Me, too,' ( said, 'but I think we need to take care of other things in.
our lives aswell,'

One Night at the Call Centre

56J

'We asked for the bill and. made cursory conversation about the
weatherand the ·cti'life decorWe f,aIked a lot. butwe wereu'tcomnnmieating at all. . 'Call mein the eveningif you're free,' 1 said as I paid and got.up
to leave ..

because.he

was too bossy with his daaghter-in-law=-a

piece of

h had come to this:I1lQW we had to tell each other to call Previously, nota waking hour had passedwithout one of ustexring or calling ~he other, f OK.) 01: I' ll text you,' she sai d. We had. a basic hug without reallytouching ..A kiss was out of the
question.

gossip Radhik:i1lhad once passed on to me. "You)[e:wekome: I said, 1 noticed Vroom signal ~o me to corne back, Hopillg the topic of Prsyanka's wedd1l1g was over; I returned to the desk. 'Bakshi has sent us a copy of the proposal,' Vroom. said .. I opened my inbox, Tbere was a message from Bakshi. 1 opened the mail to see who had belen the origins! recipients. It was like a. Who:'l Who of ,,\Vestern Computers and Appliances in
Boston: ~he sales manager, the ~Tmanager, the operations beadand several others. Bakshi had sent it to the entire directory ofpeoplein

'S1Ure,~Isaid, "it'salways nice to get your messages,' Sarcasm, Man, will ~never ~CRrll?
Mocha Cafe and its coloured ..Arabian lights faded aWEI!)I ftom my mind as. I returned to \VASG's tube-lit interiors. I c[~,edb~d time: it the was el ose to 2.00 a.m, ] got up to take; a short walk, I 'WOntto the corner of the room w~l,ereM ilitary Uncle sat and. we nodded to. each

ow: client bas-e.

1..59 a.m,

•He s copied in everyone. Senior management in Boston in the "~To"field4and India seniormanagement in the "ec' field,' m said. 'And yet somehow he fOl'~nt tocopy usin,' Vroom said,
1 read out the contents of his short 1]"1,311.1.:
AHdched pjeosehnd the much-awailed user rnonuol of the customer service website tho! has altered the poromelers of customer service a1 Weslern Appliances." I have only just compleled !his. ond would love ro discuss it funh@r on my imminent trlpio Boston " ."

'Dear All,

other, I lookedat his screen and saw pictures of animals-vchimps, rhinos, hippos, lions and. deer,
'Are~hose youI"' crnstomersTI said and laughed at my own unfunny joke, lVli]ita[y Uncle smiled back. lIe was ~n one ofhis rare good moods, 'These are pictures I took atthe zoo, 1 scanned. them to send to my

grandson.'

I ~:etout a silent whis tle, <Boston?Wh.yis Baksbi goingto Boston?' Vroom said, The girls beard us. 'What's going to Boston for?" Esha said, "To talk about our website. Must have swung a. trip, for~rumse:1f,'

he

'Cool. He likes animals?' I said and bent over to take a closer look

at die chimp, It bore an uncanny resemblanceto Bakshi. "res, f) m sending them. by email to mry&OrDI, But: .1 ~ en havi ng.trouble as our emails don'tallow more than four-megabyte attachments.'
to zip them} though that won't compress images much ..The other way

J decided to help Uncle .. 'These areIarge files,'
lQW

rn'

said, "I could try

~s to make the pictures
few animals oUrt.'

resolution, Otherwise, you could leave a

Isaid, "What the hell is going on hereanyway? On theone hand we're downsizing to save COSt8~ ofllilihe other hand there's cashta send. idiots like Bakshi 0]1 trips tothe US'?'~ Vroom said andthrew his stress ball on the table. mtltdt the pe.l"iI. stand, spillingthe conteats, 'Careful,' Esha said sounding irr~.tzrl:edas a few pens rolled toward s her. She had her mobile phone in herhand; she was gml trying to call someone,

Hewanted to keep them high resolution, 80 we agreed to leave out the deer and the hippos as tffiJ,(D<se weren't his grandson's favourite animals. "Thanks so nJ.1LLch,. Shyam,' Military Uncle said, as I successfully pressed 'send' 0]'1 his email. I looked at his: face and them was geauinegratimde. mt was hard to believe he had. boon boot-ed out

I was about to dose Bakshi's messagewhen V room stopped me, 'Open the document/ Vroom said, "jlus~open the file he sent.' :1 opened tfu·e; file containing our usermanual, "If's the same file we g.elJlJ~ him. The user marmal,' 1 said and. scrolled down ..As I reached the bottom of the DiI'st[n'.atge, my jaw dropped, partly in horror and partiy in pre~[)aration for some maier cursing.

562

Clu:.tan:.Bhagal
Western

Oru! Nig:ht at the Call Censre

563

Computers TmubJeS;l'Oo{fng MktM'ite User AIanu{:l1and Project Details ,Dellefo.ped by Com1:exiQns. Delhi .subhash. Bak.shi
,~Marlage1; Connexlons

'Just cool down. Vroom. There's no need to act like a. hero/ l
snapped ...

'Like f=k it's the same/Vroom said) his eyes fixed on my screen.Tt says it's by Suehash Bakshi, He tapped hw finger on Illy monitor, banged his fists on the table. 'W'li1at is.WIUIlIg with you?' Esha said, She got ulP and went to the conference room, desperately shaking the phone to get a connection. ,He passed off OUI" work, as his, Shyarn., Do you real ise that?' he sa mod. ] stared numbly at the first page OfOUf, or rather Bakshi's. manual. This timehe had surpassed himself My bead fernt dizzy and. r fought to breathe, ~Six mentas of work on this manual alone/ .I said and dosed. the file'. or never thought hed stoop this low.' 'And?' Vroom said. 'And what? m don't really know what to do. Il'm in shock. And OIl top of all this, there's the fear he 11ll,ay downs ize us,' I sa id. "Downsize us?' Vreom said and stood up. 'We've worked on it for six months, TIl:3!lL And all you can say is we can't do. :anything as "he may downsize lIS"'? That loser Bakshi is turning you into a loser. Priyanka, ten him to. say something ..Go. to Bakshi's office and have it out with him.... ~ Priyankalooked up at us, .and em' the second time that might our eyes met, She had ~ha~. look; that same gaze that used. to make, me feel 8:0 small, Like what was the poiut ofeveushouting at roe. She shook her head and .gave.a wry smile. I knew that wry smile, too, Iike she'd 'known this was coming all along. I had the urge to'
exus waitCheckthis out. Mr Moron. who can't tel] a computer from a piano, has created this websiteand this manual. Li ke crap he has.' Vroom

for a. meeting or some frustrated agent who claims. he did all the work? Get real, Mr Malhotra. You'n get firedand that's it.' 1 was so

~Oh really? So; who should we OCR like? Losers? Tell us, Shyam, you should he the expert on that,' Vroom said. . Anger choked me. ~.lIus~hut up and] sit down,' I said. "So you want s to send another email to tell them about the infighting: going on here'?' Who are they going to believe? Someone' who's on.his way 101 Boston caught up in the argument [ didn't even notice Radhika standing next to me wirh a bottleofwaterin her hand .. "Thenks,' 1 said andtook a few noisy sips:

'Feefjng better?" Radhika said. I raised my hand to' stop her from saying more. ~~don 't want to talk about thi So any more. This is between Bakshi and us. And .I don't need. tl e opinions of random people' hose Jives are just one big party: I

sat down and glared at Vroom. He opened a notepad and drew a two-by-two matrix.
'What is that?' ~said,

beJp of'a diagram,' Vroom said. Till notin titlemood for diagrams,' .~ sa~d. 'Just listen,' Vroom said. as he: labelled the matrix,

'1 ~h~nk I've finally figured Bakshi out

l,..d me explain with tThle

ing for you, T wanted to say, But: I didn't say anything, Bakshi's move had hurt me-s-it wasn l just the six months of toil. but that the p~spects for my' promotion were gone. And iIlha[meant-cpocfl-sPriyanka was gone. too. "rue you there.Mr Shyam?' Vroom said, Lees email all the recipient.")of this message and tell them what's going on."
,!

shake her, It'seasy to give those looks. when you have a

categol.y. He is stupid and he is evil,' Vroom said. "We've underestimated him. He's like a bltnd snake: you feel sorry for it; but it srill has a POiSOIIOUS bite. He is stupid, hence the call centre is so mismanaged, but he is also evil. so he'll make Slue an of us go down ~nste:Q1d
ofhim,'

On the horizontal axis he-wrote 'good;' and 'evil' next to each box. On the vertical axis; he wrote •smart' and 'stupid . 'OK, here is my theory about people like Bakshi,' Vroom said. "There arc four kinds of bosses in this world, based on. two dimensionstalhow smart or stupid they are, and b) whether they are good or evil, With extreme good luck you get a boss. who is S11Imrt and a good human being .. However. Bakshi falls into the IHOS! dangerous

1 shook my head, 'Forget it. Destiny bas put
'Sony
hope you weren't talking

an

asshole in. my path.'

to interrupt your discussion, guys,' Radhika said, 'but I about me whea you mentloacdpeople whose ~.ivesare one big party .. My life is not: a party, my friend. It really isn 't-~

564

Chetc/n Bli~gal

O"lteNiglu at .the Call Centr«

565

'It wasn't you, Radhika. Shyam most clearly meant me, Priyafilka
interrupted, 'all forger it; I 8~1]d and stood up. J moved from the desk, just to get away from everyone,

Something you. don 't likeabout yourself something that makes you angry or that you fear, Do youhave a dMk side, SlW:l111l.T 'Ever fell guilt, Shyam? Real, hard, painful guilt?" she said.

·O.h.,.Ie:t'snot go. there ..1have so many, like half a. dozen dark side'S. 1 am a dark-sided hexagon, Tsaid.

2.10 a.m,
As 1 walked away from the WASG desk, my mind Was still in turBakshi up into little bifl:l and feeding them to' every street do-gin Delhi. ] approached the conference mom to find t he door was shut. 1 knocked and waited for a few seconds before opening the door. Eshawas sitting on one of the conference-room chairs. Her right leg was bent and resting on another chair as she examined the wound
moil, l felt like chopping

·Whafs happened, Esha?' Tsaid, as I finally Found a position tbat allowed me to lookat her face but avoid at view of her wound, 'Do you promise no. to judge me :if I, tell you something'?'
Ofcourse,' I said, 'Tma terriblejudge of people anyway.' <I slept with someone,' she sarod. and s.~gh~d,'to win a modelling contract;' "WhatT I. said. as it ~,oakme a second to figure oul what shemeant, "res, Ill!y agent said this man was cormected and J just htld. to sleep with him once to get a break ~na major fashion show. Nobody forced rnc, ill chose to do it. But ever since, I've felt this awful guilt. Every single moment, And the painis so bad that this woundin my leg feels like a. tickle,' she said, and took the knife to her shin where she started scraping the skin around her wound. < S~Ol) ~t,Esha, what arc you do~ng?" .1said. and snatched the knife from her, 'Are you insane? You 'll get tetamu or gangrene or whatever other horrible things they show Oil TV I!l those 'vaccination ads.' "This is tame, J'll tell you what'sdangerous, My own brain, the

on her shin" She held a blood-tipped. knife in her hand and I noticed a used Band-Aidon the table" There was fresh blood coming out of the
wound on her shin, '-AJ:"e you OK?' l said, moving closer, Esha turned to lookat me with a. blank expression.

'Oh, hi, Shya:J111~,'she said. ~na calm

WIle"

blood nauseates me, I don't know how doctors. show up to work every ·day.. 'No, Shyam, [ like it like this, With letion it may stop hurting,' Esha said, '·What?,.I s,ftid. 'But you ~W.IJtto stop the pain, dOIi'f you?" "No.' Esha smiled sadly. She pointed 'to '(he: wound. 'This paiul,akes my mind away from the real paia, On you know what rea] pain is; Shyarn?' I had no idea what . he was Oil about, hut .1 knew that if she didn't

want some lotion ora bandage?' ~said and looked away, The sight of

What are you doing here? And your wound is bleeding, do you

dclusiona] voice 'i.hat S~'y:S II have it in meto become a model. You knowwhat the msn said afterwards?' 'Which man?' I said 3S ., shoved the knife to the other side of
the table,
'TJ.1Cl :guy l.s~eptw.i~h--a forty-year-old designer. He told my agent ~was too short to' bea catwalk model, "Esha said. "Like the bastard d~dn't know that before he slept WWi me.' She begun crying, I don. 't knO\\1" what's WOfHe,. a shouting girl or ,:] cryingone, I'm awfulat handling either. I placed my hands On Esha's shoulders, ready for a, hug in case she needed it. 'And that son of a bitch sends some; cash as eonrpensstion afterwards, she said, sobbing. "Give me tII1,eknife back, Shyam,' 'No, f won't, Listen, now I'm not really sure what to do in this situation, but j ust take it <..\181',;' ~ said, 'I hate myself, Shya.m. {just hate myself. And I hate my face, and the stupid mirror that shotvs me my face. J hate nl.ysdf for believing people who told me 1 could be a model, Can I get II.lY face altered? J don't know of an].' plastic surgeons who specialise in making

cover the wound mp soon, 1'd throw up

In), recently

consumed choco-

next t,o her. 'Ever felt mental pain. Shyam?' J don']; know if I nave. I'm shallow, you see. There are lots of things r don't feet' "Everyone feels pain, 'because everyone has ,at dark side to their Iife,

late cake, ~.] on't know, what IS it?' I sal d. d 'Real. pain is mental pain,' Esha said, 'Ri'ght; "I said, hying to sound intelligent.

r sat

down on a chair

566

Clu:tcw BIUl_gat 'What?' Radhika said.
'Let's play radio jockey;' Vroom said. Radhika was baffled ..

pretty girls ugly; so I kept quiet. After ninety seconds she stopped crying and took a tissue from her bag and wiped her eyes. •Sh~dl we go? They must be waiting,' ~said, "Thanks for listening to me,' Esha said. On~ly women think ~here is areason to thank people when S0Jl11eOJlf.N~ listensto them,

"I'll call Anuj and pretend I'm c-alling from a radio show. Then I'll tell him he's won a prize, a large bouquet, of roses, and a bDl:. of Swiss chccolates '\iVlfficb he can send to anyone be loves with a loving message, Sofhen, we'll all get to hear the romantic lines be has for you, 'C'mon, it will never work' Priyanka said. You can't SOUI!ld lite 3, OJ.' 'Trust me, I'm a call-centre agent, I can be a convincing DJ/ Vroom sai d.

2 ..20 a.m,

To my' disgust Priyankas wedding was stjU the topic of discussion. when EsJui and I returned to the hay ..Esha sat down quietly,

'I'm taking mother-in-law tips fromRadhika,' Priyanka said. "I'm. so not looking forward to that part She seems nice nQWJ but who knows".,: 'C'mon, you're getting so mucb.more in return, Ganesh is such a nice guy;' Radhika said, Td take three mothers-in-law for a Lexus, Br~ng It on. man," Vroom said.

J was curious to see how Vroom would do. ·'OK.' Vroom said as hegot ready. 'Its show time, f0I1,(8. Take line five~ everyone, and no noise. Bf'eathefruw.a.y from themouthpiece, OK?t RE~dhika gave him the Dum ber and. Vroom dialled Anuj 'smobi ie.
We glued the earpieces to our ears, The relephone rang five times then we heard someone pick up. 'Hello,'?' Annj said in. a s1lcel)Y . oice. 'Hello there: my friend is ihis 98101 46301 T Vroom said in an insanely cheerful, DJ's voice. 'Yes, who is it?' Anui said.
lt's yo lIT lucky call for tonight. This is, DJ Max calling frum t{ajdi,o City 98.5 FM. and you, my friend, havejust 'IMJ,11 a prize.' 'Radio City'? Are you trying to sen me something?' Anuj said .
.~ 0" my friend. Pm OO~ selling anything; I'm just offering you a small prize from our' sponsor In. erflora and YOlL can requess a song, too, if you want to. Man people doubt me so much these days,'

Radluka and. Priyanka started laughing". TIl miss you Vroom,' Priyanka said, still laughing, 'I really will:
Priyanka shifled, on her seat: Vroom had put her 0)1 the spot. 'Db. Il! miss all of you:' she said, diplomacy queen that she is when she wants to be. 'Don't wish Cor three mothers-in-law, Vroom. h would be like .asking for three Bakshis,' said Radbika, 'Or at least it cal"!be for some women: "So your mother-in-law is evil?' Vroom said. ' "~never said that But she did say those things to Anuj .. What will he think?' 'Nothing. He: won't think anything. He knows how lucky he is VO have you.,,'friyanka. said. firmly, 'Oh, don'tgo. there, r can get-along with anyone else's mum better
neurosis has made me mother-in-law proof/ Priyanka said, and everyone on the desk laughed. 1 didn't, though as there's, nothing funny about P:riY311ka1s mum to me. than my own. My mum's 'Who else will :yOU miss?' Vroom, said and all of us fell silent.

Vroom said. "Sorry, I just wasn't sure/ Anuj said, 'Max. is the name. \Vhat's yours?' Vroom said.

•It's hard sometimes. She isn'tmy

Ull111l1!

after an.'

°A uuJ. .• .

"Nice talking to you, Anuj .. Where: are you right now?'

"Kolkata,'

'AlltU win be OK now, right? TeU me, guys: he won't hate me?' Radhika said, 'No,' Priyanka got up and went ~o Radfuik:a. 'He loves you, he will be fine.'
")YYOtm want '00 check ifhes OK.'!'~ Vroom said. Ihar,ve an idea.'

'Oil, the Laud of sweets.excellent. Anyway, Anu], you get ~o'send a do.zen red roses.with your message, to anyone in India. This service is. broughttoyau by Interflora, 'Oneof the world s largest flower defivery companies.' 'And I don't pay anything? Thanks. Interflora,' Auuj said. "No. my friend, no payment at all. So. do you. have the name and

address of you:r special persen?'

"Yes, sure. ~'dlike to send it to my girlfriend, Payaf.'

01U'

N£ght at the Cet! Centre

569

I think the, earth shook beneath us. I looked at Vroom's face: his mouthwas open and. hewaswaving a hand in confusion, 'Payal?' 'Yes, she's :my girlfriend. She lives in. Delhi Shes a modern type of

~\.'!irl· 'sth a.t . . .. ') R'a·, Ul~:f]... '}~ <ldl '1, .''o! tost + ~Yes,Radhika, Your wife, Radliika.' ~Wlha.t~s oing on here? Who is this Max guy hey, Max? Anu] said .. g [ think the Max guy just died. Vroom put his. hand onhis head. 'You talk tome. you asshole,' Radhika said, probably cursing for the first time since sh.e'd got married ... What message were you going to send this P',ayaJ?~ 'Radhika, honey, listen, this is a prank. Ma 'f lax? "There i.sno ~ fax. It's Vroom here,' Vroom said. in a blank voice. ...
~YOUlbastat-

girl, so please. make the botlquelt fashionable.' Radhika couldn't, stay silent any longer. •Payal? W'hat did '-ay AnuJ? Your girl friend'?'

.yiOU Just

'We have ourprivete stuff to discuss,' Priyanka said, ftrmly to Vroom and left the desk. "What's up with Esha?' Vroom said to me after the girls were out of sight <Nothing/ l said .. 'Come on, ten me, he musthave told you in theconference room.' "I can'ttell you,"] said and looked tit my screen. I tried to change the topic. 'Do you think Bakshi expects UB to prepare for his. team ' meeting?.,..' "J think Esha is feel ing sorry for having said no to me,'
.

r smirked.

'Then what is. if?;

I shrugged my shoul ders. 'Fine. I'll use our earlier technique. Trn going to the toilet to find
out/ Vroom said. ·'No,Vroom, no;' I said, trviugtograb his shirt, but hepulled away and went to the men ~8room . .I didn "t chase after him. l didlll't care if he: found out, I figured he ought to. know what hislove interest was. up to anyway \Vhh 110 one at the desk and the systems down, I decided tootake a walk around the room .. l passed by Military Uncle's station and noticed him slouched at his desk. •Everything .oK'?' [ said, Military Uncle raised his head. I looked at his face: his wrinkles seemed more pronounced making him

back down on her chair, stunned ..A few seconds later she broke down in tears. Vroom ]()ok,ed at Radhika. 'Damn, Radhika, ~am so sorry,' he said, Radhika didn't answer, she just cried and cried. In between" she lifted the half-knitted scarf to wipe away her tears. Something told me Radhika would never finish rhe scarf. Esha held Radhika's hand. Maybe the tear bug passed through their bands, because Esha started crying as well, Priyanka went 10 fetch some water, then Radhiks cried a glassful of rears, and drank the 'It's probably 3. misunderstanding;' Priyanka said She looked at Esha, puzzled as to vAhy she:was so upset. I guessed Esha's 'real pain' was back Radhika rifled through her bag looking for her headache pills, She

-~ Anu] began before Radhika cut the nne. She sat

look older,

g~a8sof water.

"My son replied to tbe emailI

sent,' he said. "1 think the file' was desk. The

too big.' 'Re,aHy"l'What did he S,llY?' I said,

Military Uncle shook his head and put it back onthe

could only find an empty blister pack, cursed silently and ihrew it aside. 'Radhika?' Priyanka said, 'Just Ieave me alone for a few mimutes/R,a.dhik'.(!! said, 'Girls, l really need to talk,' Esha said as she wipedher tears ,away.
~Wha.f·s up?' Priyanka said as.she looked at Bsha, They exchanged glances: Bshausedthe female telepathic network to ask Priyanka to Dome to the toilet, Priyanka tapped Radhika's boulder and the girls stood up.

message on his, screen caught my eye..
I do not know what come over me tha1 I allowed communication betvveen you end my son. I don't wont yoor shodow on him, Please stay away and do not send him any more ernoils. rnollbox,

Dod" You hove cluttered my life enough" nowslop ,llJltering my

'Uncle said, as he closed ,alB ~he windows on his screen, 'I should get back to work. What's happened? Your systems
are down again?' 'A lot is doom. tonight, not just the systems,' ~said and returned to
my 8JeaL

"U's ncthing,'

'Now where are you girlsgoing?' Vroom said. 'I created this situarion ..Can't you talk here?'

570

Cfu;tan Bhagaz

One Nightttt

the Call Centre

571

2.25 a.m,

excited. They keep asking me; "So when is the date?' and "Where i.

Did you know Esha 's big, bad. story?' V room whisperedwhen . he returned ..

•I 'd rather not discussit, It's her prW\~ate matter,' "No wonder she won't go out with me. She needs to romp her w~y to the ramp, doesn't she? Bitch.' " 'Mind your language,' I said, 'and where are the girls?' •Coming back soon, Your chi ck was con soling Radhjka when Jl eft ~ 'Priyanka is not my chick, Vroom. Will you just shut up?' I said. -ox, Pll shut up. hat is what a good call-centre agent does, right? Cr.l,'tphappens around him and he just smiles and says; "How can m helpyou?' Like someones just slept with the one girl ~care for, hut it's OK., right? Pass me thenext dumb customer,' I saw-the girls on theirway back to the desk" <The girls arecoming,

the ioneymoon?" "Yeah" Ganesh, about the date,' Priyanka said, my
,!

mUlTI.

's- just

called,' 'She did. Ohno ..I thought I'd give-you the good newsmyself"

~'V\1/hatgood news'?'

-

Pretend you know nothing. about Esha.' The desk was, silent as the girls took their seats. The Systems guy finally showed up with new kick-proof wires and reinstalled OiU systems. ~"vas relieved as calls began to trickle in. Sorting Americans' wen and fridge problems waseasier theu solving our Iife problems. I looked over at Priyanka once; she was busywith a caller. "My chick' [ smirked to myself at VroOlU'S comment. She was no longer my chick, She was going to marry a rich, successful ,guy. But had I .given up? Did I slit] feel tOITher? 1 shook my head at the irrelevant questions, '\.Vhat did it matter-if J still felt something for her? I didn't deserve her and.l wasn't going to have her, That was reality and, asis often the casewith me, realitysucks, The landl ine telephone 'srin g caughteveryone's attention, . "This is my call. J know the: system is live. but can [take it?' Priyanka said. 'Sure. he' call flow is so light anyway.'Vroom said..

"That I'm ccming to India next month. Let'sge ' married then and have om honeymoon straight from there .. People say the Bah amas is amazing, but I've always wantedto go to Paris. 'Vllat could be more romantic than Paris? ~ 'Ganesh "Priyanka said, her voice frantic. 'Can I say something?' •Sure. But firsttell me. Paris or the Bahamas?" 'Paris, Now can I say something?" Priyanka said. Esha and Radhika raised their eyebrowswhen they heard tile word Paris, it wasn't difficuJt to guess that honeymoon planning was in
progress,

'Don't you think it~sa, little rushed?"

'Sure, What do you want to say?' Ganesh said.

.P-~:]yanka's hand reached for the telepboIile:. 1 casually switched the option on my screen to listen Lnto the conversation. 'H:,ello;;my centre ofattention,' Ganesh's beaming voice came over
theph ones.

'What?" 'Our marriage. We~"e only talked to each other for a week. l know we 've spoken quite a. bit. but still.' ··v ;ve ..salid v ...." .. • rou yes to me, righf ~~.--;. h Sal!JI Ganes .. .",-li . 'Yes~,but .... 1 'Thenwhy wait? r don't get muchleave here, and considering I. now spend 111)' every living mornent thinking about y'O'U, l'd rather bring you over at the earliest opportunity:' 'Butthis is, marriage, Ganesh, not just a vacation, \Ve have: to give each other time to prepare,' Priyanka said, 'Hut: Ganesh said. 'you've spoken to your mother, right? ·¥m.!! heard how }1app'yshe is about us, getting married next month, My family i8 excited as well. Marriage is a,family occasioutco, isn't it?" '1 know, Listen, maybe I'm just having a. rough night. Let me sleep'

on it
o

<H5,Ganesh,' Priyanka said edately,
•N ethmg, Just havi ng a rough d.ay " . . sony, night. And please call
'What's up, Priya? You sound serious,' Ganesh said,

me Priyanka,' she said. Priyanka hates it when people shorten her uameto Priya. 'Well I'm having a r-ocking day_ Everyone in ,the office is so.

·Yeail, W'UI going to pay the deposit tomorrow so it's here when you arrive, assuming you agree to next month, of course ..' 'I can't .S:ay~'iVa it,. I heard dark blue mica is nice." 'Really? I kind of like black; Ganesh said. 'Wel~ then take black, Don't let me-;' Priysnka said.

"F . w I·? 'Tik Gar' "or . tat. ..ue . l'

Sure, Take

YCHIDf

time," But h.ave you thought of a colour?'

Oru NigJu at tJu Cali Centre:

57}

'No. dark blue mica it is..ru tell the dealer irs my wife's choke: The words, "my wife" sizzled my insides fhe way they fry French fries atMeDonald~s. I couldn't bear to hear another man talklike this to: Prj yam ka, 'Hey~ Ganesh, it's two twenty-five a.I11. here. I have to get ready for a two-thirty meeting with the boss ..Can we talk later?' Priyanka said ..

Sure, ]'IJ call you when 1 get home: from work, OK'?'
'Bye. Ganesh.' Priyanka hung up. 'J heard Paris,' sha said as she filed hernails. 'Yes, as a honeymoon destination, And, of COUJse" more pressure to get married next rnonth. ~don't want to. but I justm ..ght have to i
give in,'

Atleast I'd. achieved the heights in. something, I 'thought Radhika and. Esba looked at me. I threw up my hands, pretending to be ignorane ofthe situation, . Vroom stood and went up to Priyanka. He put his ann round her shoulder ~C'l11IOlll, Priyanka, take it easy. 'We~T"tl an having a rough night' 'Sbur up, This is insane,' she said and turned to rile. 'How could you tap lnro my personal calls? I could report this and get you fired.' "Then do it,' 1 said, 'what are you waiting for? Get meftred. Do
.

whatever.'

VI'Oom looked at Priyanka and then at me. Realising there wasn't much he could do to help, he returned to his seat
he .. " Priyanka said, angier and impending tears show in g in her yoke. "Can't one: expect j 1!.1S<tali ttl e dec-en c:y from our colleagues?' I guess J \V(hS J list a colleague lmw~ A rII in decent col league at that. 'Say something,' Priyanka said to me, ~stayed silent mild disconnected the tapped wire, [ showed herthe unhooked cable' and threw it onthe table. Oureyes met. Even though we were silent, our eyes communicated, My eyes asked, Why are yon humiliating me") Her eyes said, Why are you doing thls, Shyam? .1 think eye-talk is more effective than word-talk .. But Priyanka WJJi, in
no ITI.Oodto be silent,

··Wen, if it means seeing

Paris sooner rather than later .. ,' Esha

'What the ...

Stupidass, ] hale Vroom. . 'MeT r said as everyone looked round, I d-tttn'~ want to come, across as a sulker=-or childish~my new tag for the 1i11gcht--&(} 1 responded, •Might as well get ~t done. TIH.~n go to Paris or the Bahamas or whatever, n~mn, II kicked myself as the words left my mouth. Priyanka looked ait tne and her nose twitched as she thought hard, 'Whet did you Just say. Shyarn?' Priyanka said slowly, "Nothing,'] said. '~ju.st said ge~married and go to Paris sooner,'

said! and looked over at us", 'Right, guys'!' ·Slm::/Vrool111-said. "What do you think, Shvam?'

No, you also said the Bahamas, How did you kl'llml¥' Ganesn men-

tioncdthe Bahamas?' she asked, ~ 1 kepi]: quiet. 'Answer me, Shyarn. Ganesh also suggested tile Bahamas, but I didn't tell U13t to you -, guys. How did you know what he said?'
"1 don't know anything,

'Were you; , . listening to my conversation? Shyam, have you plajed around wit~h_ rhe phone?' Priyanka said and got up. She lifted
the Iandl ine phone and pulled it away fromme table, The wire followed her..She looked down under the table and rugged at the wires again. A little wire tensed up allthe way back to .my seat Damn,

r just

randomly said [1,'1 replied,

'Why, Shyam, why? Why do YDU. do SUtch childish, immature things? We said we would conrinue "to work together, and ~hat just because we:li ended our relationship. it didn't mean we had to end OUI' friendship, But this .. , .1' she said and-miRed. the wire CI.n the table, 'then threw it down again, 'Sorry: I said. or ratherwhispered, ··-W··1 .~J' s~esall..r h .. id . 'lla~; Sorry," ] said. this time loud and clear. r hate it when she does this to humiliate me. If'you've heard an apology. just accept it. ~Do me. a lunge: favour" Stay out of my life. please, ~Will you?'

busted" I thought 'Shyam!" Priyanka screamed at the top of'her voice. 'Yes: J saidascalmly as possible, 'What is. going on here? r cannot believe you could sink so This is the height ofjndeceney,' she said.

].Ot\V.

Priyanka said, her voice heavy with Ilhe sarcasm she had picked up from me. Hooked up id her and nodded. Vroom sniggered, A smile rippled Over Esh,~.and Radhika as well, 'What's so funny']' Priyanka said, her face red. It's OK. Priyanka, C'mon, can't you take it in: a bit .0-) good humour?' VrOO1tl said" .

574

Cheun« Bhagat

OjU~

.Night at tlu Call Centr«

575

j'VollHhumour isn't: funny to me at all.'

'It's two thirty, guys/ Esha said, 'time to go to Bak hi's office ' to leave, 'Is. Military Uncle needed?' Esha said, .' ,0. Just the voice agents. ~J said. J looked at Military Uncle atthe end ofihe room. I could see he was busy at the chat helpline. "Let's go; Vroom said,
•You.OK~ Radhika?' ill said.
T" IL ..

Priyanka and I gave each other one final glare before we go~ up

.'T. Co .' res, m nne ....[' m surpnseo ~
011

1'1 that

1f I

m.1'1I .•

.

.•. I~hmk I must be in shock,

My husband is cheating
Cry?What?~

me. What am I supposedto do? Scream?

'Do nothing for now. Let's just go to the meeting: Vroom said. My brainwas still fumbling with Priyanka's words. Every moment of our last dat '''V~lS replaying itself in my mind as [walked. to Bakshi s office" '\Ve had gone to a Pizza Hui, and pizzas have never tasted the same since,

~Perh.a"s you forget that we work tog,ether. That makes it a little more complicated' Priyanka said. 'If there's tension between us it will make it difficult to focus on work-for lIDS and forthe others,' she said. 'So what do you suggest? Should I resign?' I said'I didn "nsay that, Anyway, I'm only going to be at Connexions for another nine months. Then] will have saved enough to fund my REd. ~f we can agree to certain terms and conditiens, if we Gall remain friendly in the i.I'II~·eri:J:n-'~ ·1 cam 't force myself to he friendly,' I interrupted her. 'illCaJl~t fake if' •em nat telling you to fake it,' she said, 'Good, Because you are past the stage of telling me \vhat 1:0 do .. Now~let's just getthis over with. What arewe supposed to say? ~now pronounce usbroken up?' I pushed U1Y plate away, r'd completely lost

my appetite,

.MY Prust Dates

P:tZZQ Hut, San',Q.ra Mal' .Gurgraon:Four months earlier She arrived on time that day. After all ~she:had a purpose, This wasn't a date: we were meeting to formally break up. She a1sI0 wanted to discuss how we were to' interact with each other and move forward. Pizza Hut was convenient 'Hi,' she said, 'How are YOll T She held her shirt collar and shook ~t for ventilation ..~Ican~t believe it's so hot in July: 'It's Delhi. What else do you expect?"] said, The waiter came and. took our order. I ordered two separate sinal} thee e and mushroom pizzas .. •ill' m not g(»od at this break -up stuff, so let '8 not drag- this out/ I said, 'So now what? Js.ihere a break-up line I'm supposed w say?' She .. arcd all:me for two seconds. •Well ~I jus~ thought we' could do u it ina pleasantmanner, Wee-an still be friends, right'?' she said, What is. it with women wanting to be friends for ever? Why C3!1't

'Jvith Prlyanka-V

'What? Say omething,"] said. She bad ,gone silent for ten seconds. •~doo't know w hat to say/ she said.her voice cracking, 'Really? No words of advice, JH} last-minute preaching, 00 moral high ground in these final moments for your good-for-nothing unsettied boyfriend? Come on. Priyanka, don't lose your chance to slam

the Loser:

She collected herbagand stood u:p. She took out a I 00 rupee note and rut ~tem the table-s-her contribution for the pizza. ~OK she leaves in silence again. Once again l get to be the prick: I mumbled; loud enougbfor bel' t,o hear. 'Shyam,' she said, slinging her bag onto her shoulder. 'You know how youalways say you "re not good at anything? I don "tthink that's true, because there is something you are very good at," she said. 'What?' 1 said. Perhaps she wanted to. give me S01ne last-minute praise to make Inc feel better, I thought. '~YOlJ are damn good at hurting people, Keep it up.'
W~th tlhut~rny ex-girlfriend. turned rotund and ~eR,

.2..30 a.m,
We reached Bakshi's office at 2.30 a.m. The size of a one-bedroom flat, it's probably the largest unproductive office in the world" Iis desk. is in one corner, and behind the desk is a shelffull of'thick management books. The thought of slam rning one hard 0.11 Bakshi s head had often crossed my mind, At another comer of the room is a conference table and s ix chairs,

they make a clear decision between a boyfriend and no-friend? 'I don't think so'. Both of 1I1S have enough. friends/ 'See, this. is. what I don't. like about you•.That tone of v oice,' she said. 'J thought we decided not 1:00 discuss, 'each ofher's flaws today, I havecome here to break up, not to get an analysis of m:y behaviour:
She kept silent until the pizzas arrived, I bit ]111:0 a slice.

576

Chelan B!Jag.at

One Nigh.t at the Call C~~IU.,.,e 57.7

and ~nthe ceatre of the table is a speakerphone for mukiparty calls, Bakshi was not in his office when we got there. 'Volesat TO-UD d.

Bakshi's conference table. 'Where the hell is he?' Vroom said,
'Maybe he's in the toilet?' I said, 'E tecutive toilet, ,ifs, a different feeling: Vr-OOll1 said, He stood up, 'Hey, want to check out Bakshi's computer?' He walked over to Bakshi's desk.

"Vole never want ~ofire people, But we have to rightsize sometimes.' ·,Vhy are we 'firing when clearly there are things we call do?' Vroom said. '\Ve have carefully evaluated all the plausible and feasible alternarives, 1'm afrai d,' Bakshi said and! took: out a 1Pen.~'e retreated net ..
vously The Isst thing we needed 'i\IH,S another Bakshi diagram. 'Cost-cutting is 'lilt! only alternative,' Bakshi said and began to draw something, However, his pen wasn't working. despite his attempts to shake mt into action. Bakshi continued to lecture UI;'iL Hespoke: nonstop 'for six minutes; going into various management philosophies. His pOfnt was, thatwe should make the company more effici ent, He just didn't have an efficient way to say it, V room had promised he wouldn 't raenti on the we bsite to Baks hi, at ~cast until ~he layoffs were oven However, thi So didn't stoph im from taking him on. 'Sir, but cost-cutting' is useless ifwe have no sales gn iwth. We need .. more clients, not nonstop cuts until there 's :[1.0 company left; Vroom said after Bakshi .had finished his ~,edure, r guess somewhere within him was a. die-hard optimist who really thought Bakshi would listen to him. ~Asales force is too expensive,' Bakshi said, 'Sir, we can create a, sales. farce. 'We: have thousands of agents. I'm sure some of them are good at selling. We talk to Gus-tamers every day, so we know what they want ... " ~ But our clients are in the US. we have to sen there.' 'So what? Why derr't we sc:nid SOUle agenrsto the US '~O try and. increase our client base, Why not, guys'?' Vroom said and. looked at us! I was the only one listening, but 1 remained quiet, Radluka was doodling 011 her pad. Priyanka was maldng a table of numbers on her notepad. Esha 'was digging the nib ofheil: pen deep into hers. 'Send agentsto the US? Move them to Boston?' Bakshi Iaughed, "Well~ a' fe-w of them, at least on a. trial basis .. So-me of them are really smart. Who knows. they may get that one client tbat could save a hundred jobs, Right, Shyam?' Vroom said, ·Huh?' I said, startled tohear my name, 'Mr Victor, as a feedback-oriented manager ~ appreciate your 'input, However, I don't think itt such a good idea,' Bakshi said. "Why not?' Vroom demanded with the innocence of a school kid. 'Because if itwas web. a good idea, someonewonld have thought of it before.Why didn't i~ strike me. for instance?' Bakshi said.

"Wha~?~][said. 'Are you. crazy? He;U be here any minute."
"Do you want to know whaa website

Bakshi visits?' Vroom said.

and opened up Internet Explorer to' pun outthe

history of visited

we bsites . . Have you gone nuts? You 'II get into tmubl.t':,· I s,SI.id,.
'OK" I'vejust fired a print-cue,' Vroom said, He fetched the printout from Bakshi's printer and leapt back to the conference table, ·OK. guys, check this out; Vroom said as he held tho A4 sheet ,[0 fmnt of him .. "Fimesofindsa.com, rediff.com, .and then we have Harvard Bssiness .R:eviewVi!"Y;::!t!site Boston places to see, Boston • rea 1 estate-s- ~ "What's with him and Boston?' Esha said. "He'sgoing there on a business trip soon: Radhika reminded her, 'There are more. Aha.Jrere's what I wss looking for: awesomeindia.com+the best porn site for' Indian gi.r~s-e3iharedounge.lcom_'_
.a strip club in Boston----porn-i,uspector.com-beIJo. the list goes 0,0

in this department,' What s with him and Boston?' trepeated Esha's 'wordls.

'Who knows?' Vroom said. and laughed,

We heard Bakshi s footsteps and Vroom quickly folded up the sheet of paper, We' turned quiet and opened our not-ebooks to fresh 'blank pages.

Bakshi too k qui ek steps as heeneered 11 om ee. is

"Sorry; team. I had to viait the computers bay team leaders for some pertinent managerial affairs. So, how is everyene doing tonight?" Bakshi said as he took the last empty seat at his conference No one responded. I nodded my bead to show 1. was doingfine. "Ieam, I've called you today 00 tell you about a few <changes that are about to take place at Connexions.We need to dgbitsize: people. So, peopleare getting fired; [t waS-II1··t rumour,' Vroom said. a Radllika's face turned. white, Priyanka and ES]13. looked shocked.

table.

578

Chelan Blmga,t

On.f! iVight at the CaU Censre

579'

'H~bT Vroom said, completely

flabbergasted,

I'd heard i~ all

before so it didn't move me.
'What's the plan. sir, when do we find out who gets fif-I mean rightsized?' J said. ·Soon.,We·te 'J1:MJis]]),g the list, but we 'I] let you know by this morning or tomorrow night," Bakshi . aid, looking relieved that 1 had" 't challenged him. ~How ma1)Y people will ]ORe the if j ob So ir? What percentage 7' Radhika &aid. her ~fi:rst ords in the meeting. w 'Thirty to forty is the plan, as of now;' Bakshl said in a calm voice. That's hundreds of people,' Vroom aid. ,At; if it was. a difficultcalculation. 'Such is, corporate life, my friend,' Bakshi said aedgot up, indicating that the meeti ng was over. ~ \'ot!, know wh at they say: it's iii j ung le
out there.'

map of the US on it, lore held upa pen and tapped It a. point on the east coast. "This is Boston/ he: said and. clenched his D.. t tmg;1:itt round the pen. 'This is where Olin boss will be while 'we are on the road looking forjobs,' Everyone stayed quiet. <J think 'we should start picking up ,3 few cans,' m said. <Like f--k we should,' Vroom said and jabbed his pen hard at the monitor, A loudping startled everyone. Shattered glass made a nineinch-wide spider's web pattern OIl Vroom 's monitorwhile the rest of his screencontined rowork, "What happened? the girls said and cam">' round to Vroom's

us

The girls stood up..'Thank you. sir/ Esha said, "rou're welcome. 1\8 you know .. ~ am an ever-approachable
ager. Here O~·in Boston, you call contact-me

man-

any time.'
1'111 trans-

ferring to Boston soon. M~ry'he in a month or &0.' ~ ransferring?" Vrooru, Radhika, Esha, Priyanka and 1 an spoke together. 'Yes. 1 don't like to blow my own trumpet, but it seems they have recognisedmy contribution to the value-addition cycle of the company,' Bakshi said" a smug smile .sliding across his shiny face, 'But details. wHI come later, Anyway, if you don't mind I.need to make a
call. I 11keep you posted .. '

\\te 'Were at the door when Priyanka asked a question. •Sir, 'Me you going to Boston soon?" Bakshi was back at his desk. "Oh yes" lnced to tell you,

~Dam:1"1t: Vroom said throwing hispen on the ground, i 'Oh no. Til e monitor L totally gone)' Esha said, Sheput her hand 0111 Vroom s shoulder; 'Are you OK?' 'Don't you. dare touch me, you slut,' Vroom said pushing her hand away.
'What?' Esha said. 'What did youjust say?" 'Nothing ..Just leave me alone. aU r~ght? Go and pray for your job or whatever. Bloody bitch will be a hooker soon.' he girls stood there, stunned, Then, sluwly, they walked back 110

computer.

their seats. whisper, 'Maybe he's not tOlting my rejection so well,' Esha said to Priyanka, '011 really?' Vroom shouted, 'You think this is about thaJ'lLike 1 don't know about your escapades. Everyone knows. 'You thought
I wouldn't find out? ~ wish I'd known before [ proposed to a slut who 'Il bang 'for bucks.' Esha looked at all of 'Us; shocked, and tears appeared lin her eyes. She started shaking and Radhika helped her sit down, Priyanka went up 'to Vroom's seat and staredat him, her face red. Slapl She deposited a band across Vroom's fsce, "Learn how to-talk to women. Yo,u say one more nasty ~hl:l]gand I'll screw yon}'happiness, underseand?' Priyanka said. 'What's wong with him?' Pnyanka asked Esha in an audible

Bakshi signalled us to shut the door as we left As [ closed it. 1 felt like someone had slapped. my face. We walked slowly away from
his office.

2.45 a.m.

'When wereturned

to the \VASG bay after our meeting, calls were

and 'Opened my email, I couldn't read 3,:]wthing·-my mind was, havin lEi' a svstem S overload. rr Vroom sar at his desk and mumhled inaudible curses, He opened the internal web page of Connexions on his computer. It: had the
iii!

Bashing. on the screen, but no Ollie attended to them. [ sat atmy seat

Vroom :Stared at Priyanka, his hand covering

hU3

cheek. He was too

shocked to retaliate. I msersed myselfbetween the two of them. "Guys, .ean we have some peacehere?' I staid. 'Things are already messy. Please let's sit down and get some work done.'

S80

CJutan. Bh4gat

One Night at the Ctil/Centre

5tH'

~I can't work. I don't know ifI'll still have a job in a few hours,' Priyanka said. 'Lwant him to apologise' 1:0 Esha, The idiot h8!sto w1iltch what he says.' Esha continued tll cry as Radhika tried to.ccnsole her; ~'\\lhat do yotl care ahout a job? You'r-e getting married .. Women have H easy,' VroOU1. said .. ~lJ..ol1i>t you start that with menew;' Priyanka said. •You.think this is easy?' She,.pointed at Esha .and. Radhika, 'Radhika has, found out her husband is cheating {J11 her when she W(}:rb for hirn !;lnd his fam Hy day and night, and Esha can't get a fair break unless she sleeps with creepy men. Butt 'they aren't hreakin:g 1110Ill]tOrs and yelling: curses, VI"Oom. Just because '\1!Ie don't make a noise doesn't mean it's easy;' she said at dl.e top ofb.e.r voice, Radhika gave Bsha ·a.gl 3S$ ,of w~Jerand she stopped cryi ng.. VJ':OOIllH looked atthe shattered glass on Ihis desk. 'I'm sorry,' be mumbled, ~:~'Insorrj; Esha,' Vroum said} clearinghisthroat. ~l said horrible and hurtful thh'~,gs. Mwag upset abour s{)metlling., Please forgive me.' ~lt's OK. Vroom. It on,~yhurts because 'there's some truth in ir,' ~EBb.asaid, 'I meant to say those horrible thingsto nryself Because; Vroom said and banged his fists on thetable, 'because the real hooker is me. not you,' ~Wi.L1t?·I said, ~ Yes, th is salary has hooked rne. Every night leome here and let people f-~k me: Vroom said and picked 1I..ip'~heteleJlh01li}~beadset, ·And. the fum])" thing is, 1 let them. do it. For money, for security) J let it happen.' Vroom threw the headset on tile tsble, ' 'Do Y;OUi'Writ some water?' Radhika said and handed hima glass, Vroom Itook ~tand drank the contents in one gnip 'Thanks,' he. said. '1 needed that ~.I:l.eed.a bf;eR~ otherwise I'll go mad, I can'ttake

'Ac'UlaIlY1 if someone is ,g;oing:"cfW you please get some pills for me frown thetwemy-four-hons chemist?' Radhika said, 'No, all of us are going,' Vroom said .. I paused fora second. 'OK, let's go. Bur. we have to be back soon,' m said, 'Where are we going?' Esha sa:ilid..~Tbe new lounge bar Bed is close by.~ "No way. we're just going rOif f!I: drive,' I said, but Vroom inter-

[upte>d me,

'Great idea, Let's go to Bed; it's a.d~nm cool!place.'

~W.bart'?"Esha said.

We decided h) 1ea(ve:individually to prevent suspicion. 'Come OU~ MHH:ary Uncle,' Vroom said as 'he went. to his desk. 'H~hT Uncle sa.id, getting 'up. NotInatUy he wouldhsve scoffed at Vroom, hut I guess be wasin too much pain over his son's email ~Q give ft. conscious 1"S3!cHon. ~We're an going fOI~a drive. The others will te'uyolti everything, ru get the Qua~li$">Vroomsaid and switched cffUnele s monitor,
AT J.O:OA. ..M. SHARP'; '\V!eVi!ef,e oU~$~de the main entrance of C0'l1neX.im18 wbeJTh a whf~e QlH1Hs dmve 'Up and stopped beside us. "Get iI:D.~"Vroom said, reaching over ~'Qopen the doors. 'h~ so cold. What took you so lOlllgT Esha said, getting in the front. 'You try sIM:ft:ing a sound-asleep driver to another Qualis,: Vroom said. Radhika, Prlym1:k~. and I took the m~ddWerow~while Military Unde sat'byhi:I]'1sdfat the back, JH~ looked slightlydezed, Maybe weall did. Vroom started the engine arid ~ur.ned towards theexitgate, TIle hi.ghway was empty apart from a few trucks. India has a billion people, but at night, 99 percent ofthem are fSnst a.sl.c:ep.ll1en this. land belcngsto a chosen few: truck drivers. late-shift workers. doctors, hotel staff and call -centre agents, We~thenoctnrn a], temporarily rule i[he roads and the country, ~Chern] stfirst, It)]ease~~. Radbika requested, mass3;g1llg her head. Vroom took a. s]urrp rj:gh1:turn to a twenty-four-hour chemist A

thi.s[wgnt now.' few more

.

~.~ need a break, too/ Priyanka said. 'It's all right, Vroom ..Only a h(UDl[S left and the shif] will be over;' 'No. Lwenta break now; ~ want to go fora drive. C}1TIon~people, ]efs all go for a drive. I °Wl.ge~ Qualis,' Vroom said and stood up. the ol"Now'?Its close to UI1:eea.m.,' Lsaid, ~Yes,now, Who gives a damnabout the calls? You may i10~even halve ajob soon. Let1ii go,'

sleep-deprived boy, no more than seventeen, manned the shop ..A fe\\( medical entranc~ exam guides lay on {]]:ecounter in fmn t of him. He 100ked bored a.mdgrateful to .see us .. VrO{H.n and Radhika got out of the Qualis. J stepped nut to stretch IllY legs as wel t Radh ika wa [ked up to the boy qui ckJy and said; 'Three strips of

582

Chesa» Bhag(lt'

On« NigM at. the C(IU Centr«

583

strips each of Sertraline and Paroxetine, Urgently, please.' She began to tap on thecounter anxiously, her red bangles j ingling.
Fluoxetine, lve

and

<\Vhat the hell do l know? I'm not a doctor,' Vroom said. <Everything OKT Esha said 38 we got into the Qualis .. ·We heard
arguing,'

The boy looked at Radhika, then started rifling through the shelves.
He remrned with a stack of tablets and placed themon the eounter. Radh.1kareached out to grab them, but he put his right hand on top of the pile of medicines and slid them away fi:'OUI her, 'This is pretty strong stuff madam ..Do you have a prescription?" he: asked.
'It's throe in the morning,' Radhika said in an irritated voice .. ~J ran

"Nothing. As Bakshi would say, only a. few comrnuuioation issues, Hut now, ]efs get to Bed,.'Vroom said as he turned the Qua-lis round, H .pushed the Qualis 10 one hundred and ten . .Slow down, Vroom; "shu said .. •Don't uSC the words slowand Vroom in one: sentence.' Vroom said. .Sorry; guys: Radhika s-aid;ber voice becoming more .normal as
the drugs took effect "I apologise for creating: a 8C,e;11I(' back there,' 'What did. you buy? Why did the chemist make such a fuss?' t said. 'Anti depressants, Chemists ask questions beca use they 're prescrip-

om of pills at work. Where the: he! do you expect roe to find a. preseri prion?' 'Sorry. madam, It's.just that sometimes y0U11g kids come here to
pick up strange medicines before going to discos .. : 'Look at me,' Radhika said, 'do 1 'look like a. teenager lin the mood. to party?" Radhika did not look like a party-hard teenager 10 mo-e-she looked "it with dark circles under her eyes. 'But thes arc still very strong drugs; madam, Wha do you need them for? I mean, what's wrong with you?' tile 100,.- said, Radhil ca banged her fist hard on the gl ass counter, The glass shook but survived the impact. 'You want to know what's wrong WitJ11 11'1Cl, you little plink?' she said. "Calm down, Radhika,' 1 said, but she didn't hem' 'me. 'Everythingis vifwng with me. you moron. My husband is shagging some bitch whi .Ie[ slog my guts out Happy now?' Radhika said,

tion drugs" but most ofthe time they don't care.' ~\Vow!' Vroom said. 'You mean happy drugs like Prozac and stuff?' 'Yes~ Fluoxetine is Prozac, Excerpt it's the Indian version, so it's
I cl1ealJ<cr. ~ ._ . 'But it's dangerous 1:0 take it without medical supervision: Priyanka said, • 511 '1 it addictive?' 'h's legal addiction, J can't livewithout it and, yes, it's really bad for vou, But it's stil I better than having to deal with miy life _.,

"Leave them, Radhika, they'll harmyou,'

Military Uncle said,

her face red. She grabbed tbe medicines. The. boy at the counter
didn't protest this time. 'Water, Can] have some water?' Radhika said. The boy ran to theback of the shop and. returned with .a glass of water. Radhika tom' a few pills out of her new stack, One, ~WO. three] think she popped illl three of t tem. Some migraine cure this was, I thought, 'Four hundred and sixty-three rupees, madam,' the boy said, his voice soundinz iii liltde feat lul, < lam alive because of this stuff. I need it to survive, not to party,'

~1have cut down. Uncle. Bot someti sues you need a bigger dose, Can wcjust talk about something else? How far is this Heel place?' 'Just two kilometres from hero. Ninety second" if'I'm driving; a Jot more if Shyam is: Vroom said. :1ignored his comment, as I preferred him to keep his. eyes OIl the road.
"I heard Bed is really snooty "Priyanka said, •I'm not dressed up at

all.' She adjusted her salwar kameez, Lnoeiccd theborder of glittering 'Ybu. look TIllie: Eshareassured her; 'the chiffon look is really in, I should be worried, I [(10k so grungy" '\Ve[l~ if you girls am in doubt, they definnely \VOfl't allow in H
boring housewife Iike me,' Radhika said. 'Don't \;t"forry. AI) long as we've got cash to spend. we'll all be welcome, Plus, the OJ at Bed is my classmate. from school,' Vroom said. 'AU YOliT school classmates have such funky jobs,' 1 said. '·We]]. that's the problem: they all have rich dad. have to work hard tomatch their lifestyle, If only my dad hadn't walked out on us,'
Vroom said. ~ Anyway, 'guys, welcome b) Bed." He flashed the headlights at a sign. It said 'Bed Lounge and Bar: Your Personal SIJ2lCf;·'. stone-work

em.her dark green chiffon dnpatta,

Radhika sa]d.
She paid fer the medicines and walked back. to the Qualls ..Vroom and ill fo]lo"Wed a few steps behind heir: 'What sort ofmedicine is it?; I said,

Vile followed Vroom towards the. huge b~ack door rhat was the entrance to Bed. An ultra-beefy bouncer and. a skinny woman stood
beside it. 'Are ya~. a member, sir?' the underfed woman addressed Vroom. Shewasthe hostess-cor door-bitch, as Priyanka called them .. 'N01 we'vejust COI1l1.C for a quick drink;·Vr-oo.lft said. 'I'm sorry, sir, tonight is '~or members only,." she replied. The

3.3.0 am

bouncer Iooked at us with a blank, daft glare, •How do you become a member?' I said.

Vroom turned to the bouncer. Wbat's, dIe dean Is OJ Jas inside? .~ know him,' The bouncer looked at ILlS anxiously, Itwas obviously the· most challengingquestion anyone had asked him in months. 'You know Jas?' the hostess said, her voice warmer now. "School buddy of seven years. Ten him Vroom is here,' Vroom said. 'Cool. Why didn't you tellrne that before, Vro0111'?' the hostess said endflashed him. a :t1[ftatiOU$ smile, She: leaned over to release the velvet ropes.' 'Call we go in now?' Eshas sked °ili.ehostess ina monotone. •Yes..Though, V room,l.liext time, please leU your friends to dress up for Bed,' the hostess said andglanced meaningful ]yat Priyanka
and Radhika, or could wring her tiny neck. One twist and it would snap like a chicken bone.' Priyanka said, as wewalked inside, he interior design of Bed W'"'IS.:3I CI'OSS between Star Trek and a debauched ~dng's harem, illuminated by ultraviolet bulbs and candles. As. my eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness I noticed. two rows of six beds. o.o!y five were occupied, $.0' I 'couldn't understand the big fuss .at the entrance .. .I guess ifs never easy to get people into bedL We chose a bed in ~.hecorner. -Why is the hostess so nasty?' Esha said as she hoisted herself'onto it, She toot two cushions ~o rest her elbows on. ~ Did you hear heir? "Go somewhere else," Is that how ~ treat customers?' vou . ~
.

'You have tofill in a form and pay the armual membership fee of .fifty thousand/ the hostess said. as calmly as if she'd asked us for small change. 'What'! Fifty grand 'fb~ this place in '[he middle of nowhere?' Priyanka said and pointed her fingertorhe door. OJ suggest you. go somewhere eJ Sf then,' the hOSti6SS :said!. She ~ot'}ked Priyanka scornfully A .filUy clad female is a no-no at discos. at

shots:J\tWitary Uncle declined, and Vroom took Uncle's extra shots, and drank them in quick succession, We had barely finished. when it woman came up 0' illS with another six drinks. 'Long Island. Iced Teas,' she said, 'courtesy of DJ Jas.'
'Nice. You have friends. in the right places/ Radhika said as she started gulping Inter Long Island like .h was ~ glass of water. "These Long Islands ate very strong,"] said aftera few sips ... could I feel my bead ·spit). •Easy; guys, our shift. j sn't over ~We. said 0]1e quirk drink, so ~efs make our way hack soon.' 'Just 01:1eIas t d-r]nk: Vroom said, ordering more cocktails, 'I'm feeling high .... Priyanka said. 'J'rn gOil.lg to miss this. I'm.

'They're paid to he nasty. It gives the place.attjtude,' Vroom s8.id carelessly, ~1want ajob that paysnse to be nasty, AU they tell us inthe call centre ls, "Be nice be polite be helpful", but being mean is so much more fun/ Radhika said reclining along one. the cushions. For someone who had j ust had a tough night she looked good. I wondered. how Arlujl could ehea; on her. Vroom went to say hi to DJ Jas' and returned wifh twelve kamikaze

or

going h) miss, you guys,' 'Yeah, right.We'l] see when youmove to Seattle .. " There were: too flat LCD screens in front of our bed, one tuned to.
MTV and the other to CNN. A (1,oUyw{'I{)d number WllIS being played on MTV; as part of its 'Younl Special" programme Tae lTIC'Yvs reakb ing 011 CNN 'Wa5 about the US invasion of Iraq. r noticed Vroom. staring at the nev.... 's.. Vroom pointed. to a US politic-ian who had spoken ou~ in support ·~Jfhe war. 'Look at him ...He'd nuke the w[loie \vodd -j f be-could have t "No; not the whole world .. I don't thinktheyd blow up China,' rriyanka said, sounding high. 'They need the cheap laboar,' "Then 1 guess. they won't blow up Gurgaon either: they need. the call centres,' Radhika said. '.,So we're safe;' Esha said. •Welc{)me to G u rgaoWl. 'tih.,e safest city on earth.' the girls starred laughing and evenMilitary Uncle smiled ... 'It's not °.ruUUIY~. girls. Our government doesn't realise this, bnlt Americans are using us: We;re··sa,c:rifL·ing an entire generation to service their call centres,' VJ'O(1Iirn said, convincing me that one day he could be apolitician.

his way."

586

C!u:~tl:n IJkagat

One lVigfl,t at the Call Centre

587

'C'mon, Vroom, Call centres are useful to us, too,' Esha said. ~1::0U know how hard it lS to rnake fifteen grand a month outside. And here we arc. sitting in: an air-conditioned office, talkinz on the phone, collecting our p..ay and going horne, \iYh,afs wrong with ~hatT
'An air-conditioned sweatshop is still a sweatshop: Vroom said ..

good ..But we don't have jobs that allow us to show our potentlat.' 'So'! What other kinds of jobs are there?' Esha said, 'Well, we should be building roads fora start Power plants, airports, phone networks, metro trains. And if the government move'S i~s rear end i.11 the right direction young PCOI)lt) in this country willfind jobs. BelJ, I would work day and. [light for that, aslong as I knew that what I was doing was helping build something for my country's
future. But the government doesn ~[believe in doing any real work.
SIO

~ .hen why don't you leave? WIlY are you still here?' 1 said, 'Because l need the money,' Vroom said. 'And I agree the money is

'Corne on, guys. You two not only hate each other, you hate the same <things. too?' VI"iOQn1. said and smiled. He put the tape in and turned on the 1111Llsi c. A song called 'Rabba' started playing. I was sitting nextto Priyanka. Witt! every beat ofthe song" J could fed her body along my entire right side, Wile soft electric sparks, 1 had the UI.rgc. to grab her hand, but restrained mysel f I opened the parking lot

window tor so ne fresh ail". r Wag worried about th~ next song .. ltwas 'Mahi '\ie', which would bring back memorie-s of the 32:nd Milestone

they allow these Business Process Outsourcing places to be opened and. think they have taken care of the youth. Just like stupid .MTV thinks showing a demented chick dancing 'will turn the programme into a youth special, DQ YO'lJIHtillk they really care'!" 'Who?' I said. ']'he government or ·N.1TVT J got lip and] signalled for the check , " ,.in bars you always asik for thet'check", never the "bill" .. It was 3.50 a•. , and 1 had had enough of Vroom's lecture. I m wanted to get back 11:0 the call centre soon .. Vroom paid the bill with his credit card and we promised to split it later. The door-bitch and the bouncer gave us a puzzled look as we
walked out, Vroom drove us mvay frorn Bed and we were soon back on the high= way. EVlcry now and then the Qualls would swayeo the left Or right of the road, '.C'are,,' 1,"E 1.. sal, • '.1' 0' K' 'V - nrn? ' fu ,jSlI{1j, ' • d [om,' ,,11)0111.' , "I'm fine, Man, I love driving; Vroom said dreamily, !I can drive '[fyOTt:.l-' I said" 'I said I'm fine,' Vroom interrupted ina firm voice. 'Did you like Bed?' hoe said. to change the topic froJ1l~ inebriated state. his Great place,' Bsha said, 'Hey, Vroom, have you got any music?'

I saw Priyanka ~ face change from the 'comer of UDY eye. She lookednervous ..'Yes-this was going to be hard. "I love: this song.'Vroom declaredas it fil.led the Qualis. 1 pressed ~he rewind-and-play button ~11 the. privacy of my head. Every moment of that night at 32nd Milestone replayed itself. 1 recalled .every second ofher careful, slow andamazing lovemaking. i wished Priyanka bad never left me. ~ wished my world were a happier place. 'I turned to look outside. The breeze felt cold, particularly along two lines on my cheeks, I touched my face, Damn. I couldn't believe I was crying, 'Canwe please close thewindow? It's ruining my hair: Esha said. I sfid the window shut and 1 triedto keep my eye') shut as well. but 1 couldn't hold back the tears. ] never realised I "vas sue sa WU8S, I looked at Priyanka, Maybe it 'WaS lrry imagination but her eyes couldn
seemed wet. too. She turned towards me and then quickly looked away, J. couldn't bear-to meet her eyes, right now, and J certainly
t look

4.00 am.

at that nose,

Vroom. pull ed out two tissues from the tissue box in front and swunghis arm back to hand them over to us. ~ What?' I Sit id, ~1have a rearview mirror, Lcan see everything,' he said,

'We can .aU see,' Radhlka and Esha said together and burst out.
laughing,

IQf wiping my nOISe, then wiped my eyes. Priyanka took one and swabbed
her eyes. too ..

'You keep driving" OK?' I said.

r took the tissue on '[be pretext

'Of'course, let me see,'Vroom shuffled through the glove box. He took out a tape-and held it up.. ~it'l~sqfirLmmge'?" he asked,
'No, P[;iYH11ka and I replied at the, same time.

Esha reached behind her seat and rubbed Privanka's ann. Priyanka composed herselfand Changed the~topic, "How far away are we?~'she said. 1 looked at my watch. ~ICspast four a.m ..How much further?'

588

Chetu11 Bhaga«

"Around five kilometres from the cal] centre. ~~m driving more stowly now. Do you wantme to drive faster?' 'N 0/ we cried, 'We're going to he late. Bakshi willflip,' I said, "Loan take a shod cut,' Vroom said, "Next left there's an untarred readcIt was. made for construction projects, It cuts through some

the foundation. hole of a. building. The foundation censisted of a pit that was maybe fifty feet deep, andthe rods were an that supported us above it. Every time we moved, the Qualls bounced. as the rods acted ,IS springs .. I could see fear in everyone's face, including

'fields and saves us about two kilometres. I've used it. before. Let's,
take: it.'
After-a kilometre, he took a sharpleft.

bumpy.' 'Just Ell few minutes.tVroom said. 'Actually the groUlild is wet today from yesterday's rain.' . ..... 'We pl unged on in to the: darkness of the unlit road, til e head I~gtilltS. trying hard to show us "tile way, \Ve pas" ed fields, and construction .sites filled with! cement, bricks and steel rods, Ina few places there were deep holes as builders oenstructedthe foundations. for super= bigh-nse apartments. . "There, just one final cut through and we'll be back om the high .. ",-vay,' Vroom said.taking a sharp right, Suddenly the Qual. is sl idded and slid down an inclined path. "Careful,' everyone shouted,' holding on to anything they could find. The Qualis went off road into -a slushy downblU 'patch. Vroom desperately tried to control the steering, but the wheels wouldn't grip the ground. The.slope flattened out but the Qualls was still rolling forward. only slowing: down when .it. hit a mesh of s~eel construction rods. Vroom braked hard; and the Qualis halted on the
SQ

'Ouch," Esha saddl, ~you didn't tell us this road. would be

Military Uncle's, 'We're hanging above a hole, supported only by tootltpieks. We'f,e screwed,' Radhika said summingup the situation. for all of us. 'What are we going to do?' Esha said panic inher voice. 'Whatever you do, don't move.t Vroom said, A few minutes passed where the.only sound was the heavy breath-

Vroom nodded, naked fear showing on his face . "Dam n, 110 reception,' Esha said. 'Does anyone have a mobile that works?'
Priyanka and Radhika's ceil phones didn't work eitber, Military Uncle didn 't have a mobile, so Vroom took out his phone. ,; o network,' he said, N I took out my phone from my pocket and gave it to Esha 'Your phone isn't working 'either. Esha said, placing it on the dashboard. 'So wecan't reach. anyone in the' world?' Radhika said. . A rod snapped under us. and the Qualis tilteda few degrees to the light. I felltowards Radhika; Vroomheld the steering 'wheel tight to keep his balance. Another rod snapped and then another. The Qualls tilted around thirty degrees and came. to a halt, AU of us were tOO scared to scream. 'Does anyone have anyideas?' Vroom said. ~ dosed my eyes for a second and. visualised my death .. My life could end, 'just like this" ill. oblivion .. I wondered when and how people would find us, M,i:11lybe labourers the next day; or even ,Rri1l:e.r a couple of days. six lRRESFONSI'BI ..E l)trUNKEN AGENTS FOUND DEAD would be the

ing of six people. 'Should we call for help? The police? Fire brigade? Call centre?' Esha said as she took her mobilephone out of her bag.

nle-

rods wwtha metallic clang. bounced twice and carne to a stop. "Damn!' Vroom said .. Everyone sat in stunned sil ence. ~Don't wouy,guys' Vroom said and started. the ignition, The
Qualis shook violently .

. "Iurn . , . off ... the .. , . ignition . .. Vroom" . " I said. There was. a

floor of s:teel below us that was shakiog. Vroom's hands shook too 8US he turned off the engine. ~ think alny alcohol in his body had evaporated in fear.

"Where are 'we?' Esha said and openedthe window. She looked out and] screamed, 'Oh no!'! "Vt,i'hat'r I said and looked outagain. This time I Iooked around more carefully, V¢haJ T saw was terrifying:' 'we had landed on a
frame of exposed steel rods for reinforcing concrete that covered

headline.

'Try to open rhe door, Vroom,' Milita:II"Y Uncle said. Vroom opened his door. but the Qualls wobbled so he sh1]l~ it immediately "Can 't,' Vroom said, •Messes urpthe balance, And what's the poi nt? We can't step out; we'd fall right through. ifove towards the left. No

590

Chef,

17

Bhag.a/.;
SOm.COll.C

weight on.the right. We have to stay balanced until

spots us

in the moming,' l checked mywatc.h. U was only 4.14 a.rn, Themorning was three hours a:~ray ..A.li fetime, And. people raight turn up even later than that. 'Otherwise?' Esha said. We stayed quiet for a minute. 'Everyene dies one day,' 1 said.just to break the silence. 'Maybe it's simpler this way, End life rather than deal with

"Who is this? Is thjs ajokez'Vroom asked in a more C·OllfidJeJU voice. 'Why? Am 1 being funny?' the voice said. _'God doesn't normallyeall, Prove that you're God. Otherwise, you should get some help,' Vroom said.
'I

•Otherw ise we die •Vroorn sai d.

it/

Iow- do ill prove I'm God? Do I create min and lightning on demand? Or would you prefer a magic trick? A tew special effects, maybe?' God said. 'wen, ~Jdon't know, but yeah something like that.' Vroom said. 'So to impress you 1 ~a:veto break the very same ~awscf'physies r

Vroom said, I.nodded. I was nervous and [ was glad Vroom was making small
'My 1UJi:n question is, what 'if no one finds 1,IS even after we die. \Vhat happens then?" Vroom said, '1 he vuttures will find us. They always do. 1 saw it on the Discoi .. ry Channel,' I said. c Beneath us there were two sharp 'l}.mgs' as another two. rods

created?

p'rn SOrT}\ ~';;mnot into that these days, And 1 have plenty of believers. ~thought 1 couldhelp, but I can hang up. See you then .. !

taJk.

God said,

'No, no wait. Please help us .... G ... God," Esha said and turned slightly so she could hoM the cellphone between all of us. 'OK, 1 11 stay,' God said cheerfully, "Ibll me, how's it going? How's liFe?1 I m very bad at tough; open-ended questieas [ike that I hate to
admit the extent: to which l1iliY life is screwed up. "VeU. right now we're trapped. If a few mor-e rods break we'll am die,' I said and God interrupted 111(;, Don't worry, the Qual is isn't going anywhere, Just relax ... ' • I let out a deep sigh. Everyone W.r.JiS silent "So back ~o the question, how's life going? Do yon want to start? Radhika?' God said, 'Ifyou are God you must already know everything, Life is miserable,' Radhika said. 'I do kuov..;• God said. •[ just want to find out how you fee I about it.' ~JTI tell you how Vile feel, Life suo+sorry,' Vroom said, checking himself. "U's,~onib~e.W~hat have we done wreng? Why are OUI Iives in the pits, literally and figur.ativdy? That pretty much sums it up tor an of us. [ think.' . We' all 'made noises of agreement and God sighed, 'Let me ask you ti. question, How many phone calls do you take iA hundred; on busy days two. hnndred+Vroom said.

snapped, 'Oh no,' Priyanka said as:we hear: I another ping just below her, A
flicker of light appeared on the dashboard. My cellphnne was vibrating, We sprang. to attention. 'That's my phone,' [ said" ~t started rklging. 'How did it ring without a network?' Esha said, her voice nervous,

"\\rho is it?' Radhika said.
'Pick it up' I said, Esha liftedthe phone. She looked: at the screen and. gasped.

'Do Y(I'!l know someone called ... Esha said ..

~Who is -itT! said,

God? U says God calling,'

4.30 a.m.
Esha

the phone,

•Hi,

~singers f

trembled as she pressed the button for speaker mode. everyone. Sorry to call so late,' a cheerful voice carne from

each day?" God said.

'Er, who 18 it? 'Bsha said, "It's Godthe voice said. 'God.'! God as ~n ,., .- Radhika said BS aU of us looked at the brightly lit phone in fright, 'As ill! God. I noticed all! unusual situation here. so I thought Hi. just

'OK. Now do you know which is the most important call im the world'!' 'No,' Vroom. said and we all shook OUt head .. <The inner caU/ God said. The inner call? everyone said in unison.

check on you gllllYs.."

592

Chetan Bhagat

-Yes" the little voiceinside thar wants to talk to you, but you can only bear it when you are at peace) and even then it'shard to hear. The voice that tells you what you really want. Do you know ~~1a1' ~ ~_mean '7" .. 'Sort of~~Priyanka said, 11m" yes. darting away from the phone. e 'That voice is mine,' God. said, 'Yes, Andthe VQi~Ceis easy to ignore, because you are distracted or busy or just too comfortable in your life. Go on" ignore it-until you get tangled in your own web of comfort. And then when you reach ;81 point like today, where life brings you to a. dead end, there is nothing
ahead buta dark hole.' and bites me,~Vroom said, •A nd what does the oice :=say, V room!' God sa id.. •Really?' Esha said" her mouth wide open.

W,e opened. our eyes. Everyone's faces seemed a lotcalmer. 'Lett go around the Qualls one by one. Vroom, you first: God said, 'I want to have a life with meaning, even. if it means a life without Bed or da]~y 'trips to Pizza Hut ill need to leave the can centre for good ..Calling is nor my calling,' Vroom said. I thought .his last .~ waspretty clever, but wt d idn 'r seem. like the ine

'You're making sense,' j conceded, more to myself, 'I knowthat voice, But it isn't subtle in me. Sometimes it shouts

"That I should not havetaken a jobjustfarmoney, There are better jobs that pay less ...Jobs: that give me identity, make me learn or help my country .. 1justified itto myself by saying money is progress but it's not true. Progress is building something that ]asts: Vroom said sounding as ifthere \OV~lS a lump in his throat, ] le pressed his face into hishands. Esha put herhand on Vroom 's shoulder, 'Come on, guys. This is getting far-too sentimental. You can do a. lot better than this, You are all capable people,' God said. It vilas the first time someone had used the word 'capable to describe me.
ii

"We can?' I said. 'Of 'COIJrse, Listen, let me make a deal with you. m will save your lives tonight; hut in return yOIlll must give me 00 mething, Close ymJr eyes forthree minutes, Think about what you really want and what you needto change in your life to achieve it, Then. once YDU get outof here" act on those changes, Do as I say and I will help you get out of this pit, Is that 3. deal?'

"I want 'to be with my son and rny ·gralldSoll .. [ miss them all the time. Two years ago rn was living with them, but my daughter-in-law did things] didn't like-she went to late-night parties and got. a.job when I wanted her to stay at home; , J argued '\ i~h them before moving out. But 1 was wrong .. It's their life and J have no right to j udgedrem with. my outdated values, ~ W2I.nt ro visi t them j n the US to tatk it over,' Radhika's tum came next, She was fighting back tears as she spoke .. ~I want to. be myselfagain.just as was before I got married. I , want to divorce Anuj. I. don't ever want to 100k at my mother ..In-law's face again. To do this, I have to accept that! made a wrong decision when l married Ann].' Esha spoke after Radhlka. <I want my parents to love me again. J
T

right time to appreciate verbal tricks. Priyanka spoke after Vroom. My ears were on alert. 'I want my mother to be happy. But ~cannot kill myself for it My mother needs to realise a family is: a great suppon to have, but u]t~mately, she 'is responsible for her own happiness ..My focus should be 01:1 my own life and] what ~ want,' Priyanka said. I wished she had said. my name somewhere in her answer, but no such luck, M] Iitaly U ncle '8 turn came after Priyanka, and. he spoke for longer than .~had ever h earn him speak.
. .

- 'DeaJ/ I said. Everyone nodded. \\~e dosed our eyes and took a few deep breaths, [ tried [0 eoncentrate, but a:l~I could 'See was commotion: Priyanka Bakshi, my promotion and Ganesh=-my mind kept jumping frern one topic to. another. 'So tell me,' God said after three minutes,

don't want to become a stupid model, l'm SlJIIf,e Ican find a better use for my looks. Any career that makes you compromise yourmerals is not worth it.' People- now turned to ]onk at me as I was the only one left: 1.0 speak, 'Can l pass?' I said, I was given an even harder stare. 'OK. 11 "is will soundstupid, but I want to take a shot at my own business ..I.had this idea: if'Vroom and Lcollaborare, we could set up a web design company. It may never work, because most of the.
things I do never work, but-~ ~What else, Shy am? " God said. interrupting me. Uh, nothing,' ] said"

"Shyam,

YOlll

are not finished; you know tba~,' God said.

On« .. Nigla at the Ca.RCenu»
m guess you can't outsmart God! and I was beicg forced 00 come to the point. llooked around and spoke again. (And I want to be worthy of someone like Priyanka one day, Today ~don't deserve her, and 1 accept that=-" 'Shyam, I neversaid-' Priyanka said. 'Please, let me finish; Priyanka .. It's. about time people stoptrampling all over me,' I said.. Priyanka went silent. I could see she W'M in mild shock at my

595

God's wards shook my insideslike the vibrating Qualls bad ~ few minutes earlier" "God, I would like to get my confidence back,"I said. 'Good. Don't be scared and you will get it back; and then there'll be 1110 stopping you. ' I felt the blood rush to my ears, My heart 'Ij,\138, beating hard and aU m

wanted was to be back at thecall centre, Auger surgedin me when I pictured Bakshi. I wanted "to. get even with the man who had killed a. part of me, who had. put everyone'S job on the line. who had ruined
the call centre,

firmness ..

1 continued. 'But one day I U like to be worthy of someone like her, someone intelligent" witty. sensitive and. fun. And yes, I 'Want to be successful, too.' God. stayedsilent, "God? Say something now that we've poured out out deepest
secrets o you,' Esha said. 'I delft really have' to sey anythoong. I'mjust amazed, and delighted, at 'how well you have done, Knowing what you want is already a great start, Are you prepared to follow i~through?'
Everyone nodded except mc.. 'Are you ready, Shyam?' God said, I gave a small nod. "Shyam, may I say something persona]: in front of your friends,'

"What's the fourth ingredient for success?' V room. said, "The fourth ingredient is the most painful, It is something am of you still need to learn, Because itis often the most impcrtant thing;
God said.

~·Wh.atT[ said.

'"¥es~ but to be reany successful, you must first face failure, Voubave: ~o experience H, fee"] it taste it. suffer it. Only then can you shine,' God said,
"Why'r Priyanka said".

"But [ thnught you were talking about success,' Vroom said,

'Failure,' God said."

God said, •because it's important for everyone else. too?' 'Sure,' r said. Yeah, use me as Exhibit One for "how not to live
your life". "There are four things a person needs, for success, One, a medmm

'Once you've tasted failure you will have no more fear. You'll be able to take risks more easily; you will ~I10'longer want to- snuggle ~n

amount ofintelligence, and two, a: hH of imagination. And of you have those qualitie-s/ God said .. 'But the third is what Shyam has lost
•What's that'?' I said.

an

your comfort zone, you willbe ready to fly, And. success is aJhout flying. not snuggling. 'Good point,' Priyanka sai d. •So" never be afraid of fail ure, If it comes your way. it real ~ymeans
[ would like to give you. a proper chance later/ God said .. 'C' '00 •.. nyan.·k a said"II .. _. . ···I'P·

"Self.. onfidence, The third thing Y0i[w. eed for success is, selfc n confidence. But Shy am. bas lQsn ift. He is. convinced he is good for
nothing,'

I hung my head.
"You know h,()'IN yon became convinced? God. said. 'How?!' I said. 'Because of Bakshi, A bad boss is like a disease of the soul If you have one for long enough you will become convinced something is wrong with you, Even when you know Bakshi is the real loser, you start doubting yourself and that is when your confidence evaporates.'

•Thank you.' God said ... ':~f,oiJJI!you had given as much to India as America: Vroom said .. y ""Vhy; don't you. 1ike India?' God said. 'Of course, Just because india is poor doesn't mean yon stop loving it, It belongs tome. But even so. America has so much more. Vroom said, '\lilerl~, Americans may have many things, hut 'they are not the happiest people on Earth. Any country obsessed with. war can't he happy,' God said.
<;T rue; ~R' au .. .. a Sa.lid • . .... ..llh·'k -. w

'And many of t11JJem have serious mental issues. issues only callcentre agen ts know about And you can use them to save' your

596

Che.tan l1hagat
?

OJ1(;'lViglu

at th,e Call C ntre

59'7

tonight. Yes. Consider their weak spots and you might win/ God said. 'Let me give you a clue. What exactly lies behind all this war sentiment?' God said. • ear. It's obvious they are easily scared and paranoid people,' callcerare lsaid.
'We']! scare theminto calling us. Yes, that's how to retrieve
OIU_l'

call

volume,' Vroom said his voice excited, • ow you're thinking.Jn fact, you can figure out a way 'to _geteven with Bakshi too, Not completely 'fair andsquare, but 1. think you deserve to be ableto bend a few of the rules,' God said, and I thought
I heard a chuckle, "Remember Bakshi is not your boss; your ultimate: boss is me. And I am with you. So what are you afraid of?' God said. "Bxcuse me, but you are not always therewith us, otherwise how did we end up here?' Radhika said. God. sighed, ~m think yOI need to' understand how my system works. You see, I have a contract with all human beings, You.do your

Bye, God.' the girls said one after the other.. " ." 'Bye, everyone,' God said and disconnected the call Silence fell, •\;Vhat "" . was . . . that?' Priyanka said, '1 don~l know; Can I have the dupauas, please/ Veoom said. "'Military Uncle. can you open the re;8JI door and 'lie up-the rods.under the wheel. Tear up the dupatta if you want to.' Vroom and Military Uncle tied up the rods right under the wheel for the Qualis to do its ten-footjourney to fum ground .. ''OK people,' Vroom sat back on fheseat, wiping his: hands, 'hold

Hght

Vroom sterted the ignition and the Qualis vibrated as the- rods

We all smiled.

below us started quiveringagain. 'Vroom, I am sl ., . ipping,' Esha said, trying to. grip the glove-box handle. In a nanosecond, Vroom pull:the Qualis in reverse and drove backwards. The Qualls shook but we didn't fall. My upper and lowerjaws

best; and every nov and then ~.will come and give you a supporting

push. Bot it has to start with yon, otherwise how can 1. distinguish who most needs my help?' 'So 'if I listen to my inner can andpromise to domy best, win you be there for me?' 'I said. 'Absolutely. Hut I have to go now. Someone else else is trying to

chattered so hard I thought a couple of teeth would break loose. In six seconds, it was all over and we were OU~' of the pitt and 011 the ~"1~1"'\,1 m U1d' r.... on, -I· ad aga .... S·lIl... 'It's over. ] think I'm alive,' Vroom said with. a grin of rei ief He turned round, 'Areyou still there?'
",.I.,l ......
·W

(;1,1.1"

4.40 a.m,

reach me,' God said. ··WamtlHelp us get out of this pit first,' Esha said. "Oh yes. of course" God said. 'OK. Vroom, you re balanci ilg on a few rods, now. There are two tricks to get out of such a situation, One, remember the reverse gear. And two, make friends with. the rods-do not fight them .. Use th-e rods as rail [r.i:1JCIk.8 and they will guide you out; Vroom stuck his neck out of the 'Vi indow, •But these steelconstr uction rods are as thin as my fingers. How can we bunch them up?' ':Tie them,' God said, ·I~I.?">v"""room sale ,. . ·"1 :-lOW. "Do l need o tell you everything?' God said .. Dupatta. Use my dupatta,' Priyanka said. "Here, 1 have ~hi:s half-kmtred scarf in my handhag,' Radhika said. 'I think you can takeitfrom here. Bye now. Remember, ~am inside you whenyou need me,' God said.
-

We all released our breaths together. The girls hugged.and Vroom reached out and backslapped 'me so hard I thought ~'d broken my back. He did a U-tum and droe slowly in first gear until we reached

the highway.

We made it,' Esha said and w j ped away her tears. Priyanka folded her hands and: prayed a few nmes, 'I thought we we're going to die,' Radhika said. "Wh,at 'Was that call?" Esha said. 'Something ver.y strange-call we make a pact not to ralk about it?' 1 said. Everyone nodded. as if I had said exactly what was on all theirminds. It 'was true. The call feltso personal I didn't want to discus . it any more. 'Whatever it waa we're Oknow And we'll 'be back in the' office soon,' Priyanka said. on'S still only four forty. We're just two kilometres 3Jway/ Vr-oom said, Be; seen regained his coefidence and began drhdng at sixty kilometres anhour,

598

Ch.elan Bh,ag.at

One Nighsa: the Call Centre

599

'I feellucky to be alive, I don't care when we get there,' Esha said.

'People, let's go=four

forty-six,' Vroom said and jumped out of

'1 don't want to get back to find out about the layoffs. I'm leaving ].11 any case,' V room said. 'Enough 'senough,' ':\Vhal are you going to do?' Priyanka said. ~~ dOJ1l't know long- teem-e-maybe get hack into journalism ..But ,:i1)S an immediate short-term goal, .'1)] going to tryto save the call centre, ~he said, 'Hey, d'you want to open a web d-esign company with me?' I said .. ·With you?' Vroom said looking back at me. <I' III '.~, . " too;, I S:lmIlu •. "L teavmg, , . . "..:I 'Really?' Priyanka\'s eyes 'popped open, She looked at me as if a seven-year-old had just announced his decision to climb Mount Everest "res, J came dose: itodeath .~J1that pit, I could have died there withoutever having taken a risk in my ~ife. .II am tired of soft" comfortable options .. U's time to face the real world, even if it's harder and more
painful,'

tbe car.

Back at our bay [there was an A4-s.~zed sheet stuck to my monitor with big bold Ietters scrawled on it. 'Check this out,' I said; Itwas Bakshi ~swriting ..
WHEiRE [8 EVEJ~YONI.?PL,EASE .PEN!!!) TO CAU:JREPQItT TO MY 'OFFiCE }\SAP,WH.ERE WHAT 1-IA:I"MONIT'OK? ARE. THF- COPIES OF 'IfHi AGENDA FOR. MY BOA.RD MEETING'?'

'rus

.PI·mTOOOP~ER?AND AGENT '\flOUR'S

means less money. I 'can't spend mylife working for a moron.' "Not bad,' VroO]U said.'Looks like Shyam [las Just wised up.' 'I don't know if I'm wise 011' not. but at least I've madea choice, We 11see what happens. For now I have a short-term goal, too.' 'Like what?' Vroom said as he drove with utmost concentration. '1 have to take care of Bakshi. Since we have nothing to lose, lees teach h~m a lesson,' 1 said .. Vroom screeched the Qualis to a halt and we ten forward. 'N'. 'v'vl'!'l't ""F "'>li'1"'~?'~ s.ahJ .. "..,Q! ~ I've just had an idea for fixing Bakshi and! the call centre 31 the game time: Vroom s-aid. He leaned bade and whispered something in myear, ~No way" l mean ho\:,l?' I said. 'I'll tell you how'whe-n we get back. Let's meetin the WASG conferenee room,' he: said and pressed the accelerator hard as we drove the final stretch to the centre. We entered the Connexions main gate

Everyone nodded. 1 was. taken aback; it seemed people were really .Iwstentngto me fur the first time. 'Plus, I've made 011e' more promise to myself,' I said, 'What?"'VmoTB and Priyanka said eogether, 'I'm not going to work for an idiot any more, anywhere .. Even ifit

Vroom hooted a~ tbe note and .];~mghed,•Whatever. He"ll g.et:bis answers. Hut: first he'll answer us'. Guy. conference mom first,' Vr-oom said. We filed inside the con ference room and V room bolted the door. 'Guys, sony to sound Jike an MBA type, hut I think for the next few hours we have a.three-point agendatoconeider; One.•to save' this call centre. and two, to teach Bakshi a tess-on. Agreed?' ·"¥hafsc the third poin' 't ,.Radhika said, "That's between me and Sh'yam. Ifs private ..OK~ listen ... '
And that ~swhere Vroom revealed his plan. 'Wejumped in our seats when we first heard it" but slowly Vroom convinced us. Between laughter and intense concentration, e-veryone joined in to refine the plan further, At .5 .10 a.m., we concluded our meeting and Jeft the: W.ASG conference' room. {AU set? Vroom. said, 'Of course,' we said. "Good, Step One: Bringing Bakshi out of his office.tVroom said .. 'Esha, are you ready?'

an

'I·l-,

~

'Yes,' Esha said and winked 3lt us" She: picked up the phone, diaHed Bakshi's number and put on the votce of an older woman. ~Sir, this is Eliua calling from the: main bay. There's a call for you from Boston I think,' Esha said in a dUm:lb-hut-col1Sc_ientious secre-

tarial tone. 'No~,sit, I can't: seem to transfer it ,".. , Sir, I've already tried ... Sir, I'm a new assistanthere, SIO I'm not sure how the phones work .. '" Sir, sorry, but can you corne down, sir .,. . Yes, sw:r:," Esha said and hung up the phone.

81m

at 4.45 a .. ..Our driver was sleeping in another vehicle, so.we parked m
quietly nextto him. .

~D~d work'?' I said. it 'He's a total sucker for anything: to do with Boston. He's, coming

right now. But 11e'~1only he out for a few minutes, so let's rush.'

60{)

Chnan Rllagat

One Night. at th« CedI Cenrre

601

5.15 a.m,
As planned Bakshi.s office was empty when wearrived.

Vroom went straight to Baiksbi"lscomputer and opened his email,
Radhika, Priyanka, Esha and I sat at his conference table, Vroom typed furjously on Bakshi's keyboard .. 1 knew what we were doing was wrong, but semehow i.t felt good, Once he'd finished, Vroom printed out several copies .. 'Five copies,' he, said 'one for each of us. Fold it and keep it safe.' I folded UlY copy and put itin rny shirt pocket. Baksbi came in twenty seconds later, 'lean't believe wehave such outdated telephone systems,' Bakshi was talking to himself as he came into. his office ..then he noticed illS

Bakshis face turned while, 'W'ha1:is thisThe said, hisvoice shaking .. ·You ten us ..U"8an email from your inbox/ Vroom said. 'But I didn't write it,' Bakshi said, desperately "I did not write this .. " 'Really?' Vroom said. ~NO\·v ow can you prove you didn't write h it? Can you prove to the people in the Boston office that you didn't write HT 'What are you talking about? How is this connected to Boston?'
Bakshi said, his face spouting droplets.of sweat through theoilfields. 'Let's sec" Whal if we forward Boston a copy of this email? I'm sure theylove employees who do how did you put it'!"'Jaiif deals",' 1said, 'I did not wri te it,' B:fllshi said, una ble 'to ~bj nk of a better line. 'Or we could sen 1a copy to the police,' Vroom. said, 'and to some of my reporter friends, You want to be in the papers tomorrow, BaKshi?' Vroom took out his phone, 'Oh wait maybe ~ could even get you on TV." 'TV?' Bakshi SfIid. 'Yes, imagine the headline: CALL CENTRE !BOSS ASKS (HRL FOR SEXUAL fAVOURS IN .xn·IANGE PUR JOB. New Deihl TV could live on that for a week. Damn, "d make ,9;, good journalist,' Vroom said and laughed, 'But what did ~do?' Bakshi said and ran to hisdesk. He opened his

at the conference table, . . ., . 'There you all areWhere were you? And what happened to the photocopier. and agent Victor's monitor?' Bakshi said, 'Sit down for a second, will you. Bakshi?' vroom said. 'What?' a,aks.hi. said, shocked at Vroom referring to him by his meeti ug tabl c. 'Agent Victor, what (lid you say and what exactly do you think you
arc.doing?' Bakshi said, still standing, name. 'You should. learnhow to address seli1iors~' 'Whatever, Bskshi,' Vroom sa-id and put his 'teet up' on Bakshi.~s

'Ahh,' Vroom. said, 'this is so mueb more comfortable ..Why don't people always sir like this?' he crossed his skinny legs 011 the table, "What the hell is going 011 here?' Bakshi said and. Iookedet me blankly .. Vroom. pushed ,aprint-out towards UakshL 'Read it," Vroom said. The email read as follows: From: Subhosh Bokshi To: Esho Singn
Senl: 05.04-a.m.
Subjed: Just one F1ighl'

email and checkedthe • 'Sent Items'Tolder. "Who wrote this?' Bakshi said as -De saw the same email on his
screen, You didn't?' Priyanka said as if in genuine confusion. 'Mr Bakshi, l held you ill such highesteem ..Today my faith. in my role model is shattered, Esha saidand put her hands toher face. She was good--I thought she should try tor an acting career. ,,[ swear I didn't write this: Bakshi said, scrambling with his keyboard. ~Then who wrote it? Santa Claus? The tooth fairy?' Vroom shouted and stood up. 'Explain it to the police.journalists and to. our

Dear Eshor
Don',

Boston office,'

be

upset. M,y offer is very simple~iLF:s.1

spend one nighl with

Your odmi rer, Bckshi:

from the ri.ghlsizing opercllon, My pleasure for your securi~tf Ilhink H'so foir deal. And who knows, you miHhl' even enjoy ii, too. let me know your decision SOOrl.
}!OU

me. YOl) moke me

happy~lill pmlecl

'Hahl Look, I've deleted wt' Bakshi said with a smug smile .. 'Come OU~ Bakshi,' Vroom said "it's still in yourt'Deleted Items" folder,' 'Oh,' Bakshi saidand jeeked his, mouse ..A few clieks later he said, 'There, it: gone.' Vroom smiled. 'OJ1e: more tip for you; Bakshi. Go to. your deleted

602

Ch,t.'tcmHIMgat
worthwhile I want to do a deal with you. We bury this issue and in return YOIl do something for us." goals for
nOli,\1,.

items, select the tools: 1I11efllU and. choose the "Recover Deleted Items"

option ..The meilwill still be there.' Bakshi '8 face showed panic again as he tried to follow Vroom's instructions. He chckedhi s: mouse over and overagain, 'Oh, stop it, Bakshi, The mail is in my inbox as we]L And Vroom "HuhT Bakshi looked like a, scared rabbit ~¥O~LW~U never getaway with this .. Esha, you know I didn't do it You wear tight skirts and
tops, but I only Iook at ~hem. from a. distanoe. Even diose jeans that show yourwaist, ill only saw-~ ~ Stop right there, you si cleo)' Eshasaid, hasmany print-outs,' Esha said.

~'Whatkind of ~h[ng?'Bakshi said .. "One, .I wnn~ to have control 0- f the call centre for the next two hours, Lneed to. get on the T~oo{]iy,' aid Vroom. s
'Why? Will you announce this email?" Bakshi said. 'No, yUll 1110tU:OJ1, It'sto save jobs at the cal] centre ...Can I use the

Tanney?' ·Yes. What else?'

or wam~)r(}YI to write our a resignation IN~er for Shyam and me.
"Are you guys leaving right now?' the girls said,

Layoffs oruot, we are leaving Connexions.'
"res. Shyam and] are going to start a small website design business. Right, Shyam?' Vroom said.

'You can't get a\VdY with. this.~~Bak;h] sa id,
~We have five witresses, Bakshi, and all of them will support Esha 'stestimorry,' .1said. 'Oh, and. we have some other evidenceas wetl, In E.slha~s drawer there is a. packet full of cash) it has your fingerprints on it,' Vroom said, Bakshi ~s fingers trembled. es if he wasgeuing ready to play

~Yes./I s.aid.,Wowl [ thought, "Good...And this time, I[N)- one will takethe credit for our websites

the drums, PWe al so. have a print -eut of your visits [01 porn websites,' Radhika said. 'You know it's not me, Esha. 1')] be proven innoceat,' Ba.ks-hi said, his voice sounding like a h1WlPlessbeggar~." He looked as if he was about to cry. ~ Maybe. Bat the amazing publicity will be enough to screw your career, Goodbye, Boston,' .~.said and waved my illla:nd to indicate
farewell, Bakshi sat down, His whi.~e face had mow turned red, orr rather purple,

except ourselves,' Vroom sruld and. slapped Bakshi's face. Baks.hi3 'face turned. sixty degree-s from the impact. He held hischeek but remained silent; apart frcm one tiny, dry sob ...His facia] expression ltad a combination of 90 pelF eentpain and I o per CC!I1t shame. 'Mav rr '[said. . ..rBe my guest: Vroom sai d. . Slap! I gave Bakshi's face a good. slap too. and it swung sixty degrees in the other direction. "-Soyou'll write theresjgnation ktter~OK?'Vroomsaid. 'OK,;' Bakshi s~id,fUbbiID.g his cheek, 'But Bsha win delete the
.<

email. right?'
Vroom said,

·WaitV.le're not finished" Our business

will require

start-up

'Why are you doing thisto me? I'm be leaving you for ever to go to.
Boston soon,' Bakshi said,

capital, so "veeneed a aeverancepackage

of six months' salary,'

'Boston?' I said. 'You don't deserve a posting to Bhatinda. You"re not j"LI!St a bad boss, you're a parasite; to US~ to this company. to this
cOUl1try, Damn you.~

human too,'

~"Vhat de you. wa.nt? Do YDU want to destroy me?' Bak3h~ said. "I have a familyand two kids, Aner a lot of effortmy career is going fine. My wife wants to leave me anyway. Don't destroy me, I'm
. I disagreed with Bakshi \; last remark I didn't think he was, human

'I can't do, SEX. months. It's unprecedented for agents/ Baksai said, 'New Delhi TV or Times ofltJ~dia~you. pick, Vroom said, 'Six months is possible, Good. managers break. precedents,' Bakshi said, Lguess no :a!mO"U:IJJi~slaps could halt his jargon. of 'Nice, Lastly, :1 want yon to. retract the rightsizing proposal, Ask Bcston to' postpone the layoffs to try a Ue\V sales-driven recovery
plan for Connexions,' 'I Ca:I1~t do that,' Bakshi said. Vroom lifted his mobile phone and put nit ~n front of Bakshi's face, ~P11 make sure all of India knows yoUltfnlarl':te by tomorrow,' Vroom

at all. 'Destroying you is a.good option,' Vroom said 'butwe have mor-e

6 ()'4

C he tan Blwgllt You can ~t

One .!\light at the Call Cenrre

605

j list fire them +'

said. "There are agents with kids, families, responsibilities,

"res!' a collective voice carne back as Vroom paused to take

'Good. 'We'U bury the email But make sure YOu get the hell out of this conn tw:y as fast as, you can. We need, a new boss. a normal,
decent.tinspiring human being and not a slimy, bloodsucking ball with a fancy degree. goof-

"Give me half an bour, [11 set up a cell with Boston." Bakshi said.

wiping the sweat from his face. 'Good, Anything el 'e? Did you have something to ask me about my monitor?' V room s,aid. 'Monitor? What monitor?' Bakshi said,

Bakshi nodded whilecontinuously

I'll send YOLl a can script on email in the next five minutes ..hut until then, dig 'out thosenumbers,' Vroom said. Noiselevels rose in the main bay as hundreds of localised ccnversations

a breath, 'Good, then listen. This call centre will survive only if we can increase our call tta.ffic.,.and my plan is to scare the Americans into calling us. Tell them that terrorists have hit America 'wj'tih a new compuler virus that threatens to take their country dewn. The only way they can stay s-afe: is to keep calling: us 11(1 report their status ..We~]1do It like this: pull outeverycustomer number youhave and call them,

s".20 a.m,

Bakshi gave 'Vroom the key to the broadcast

room and then got

straight on the phone to Bostonto a.nange a management had never seen him work so efficiently,

meeting,

J

Vroom went to the broadcast room and switched on the mikes while J went to. the main computer bay to check for sound quality... 'I ello, everyone, May I have yourattention, please? This [:g Vroom,
from the strategic. group, His voice echoed through Connexions and all the agents looked up atthe speakers while still talking to their
C ustom

ers,

layoffs. Can you please disconnect run yomi' cal ls,' the speaker said .. Everyone heard the word layoffs. and a thousand calls ended at the . arne time, New call ~ flashed, but [10 one picked them up" Vroom continued: "Idiots have been managmg this place up until now and it's because
of their mistakes that more than a third of youwill lose
yOUiE'

'Sorry 'to bother you, but we have an emergency, This-is about the

took place simultaneously" Nobody was sure if the plan would work, but people were willing try anything to avoid. losing their jobs. Vroom and I returned to. our bay. He typed furiously on his com= puter and after a few minutes tapped on my shoulder. 'Check-your email,' Vroom said and pointed to ,lillY screen. f opel e(i my iobox. Vroom had sent the same email with a script to everyone in the call cemre. It. explained the problem with the virus and that customers could checkto see if it had affected them by carrying out a simple M:S Word test, They were asked to can in every four to six hours. Vl"OO1l1l grinned and winked aJ.measl 611i811.oo reading the email 'What's with the MS Word trick? I said.

to

• ry it, open a Word f.. Vroom said. le,
1 opened an emptyWord document and typed In =rand (200~9'9) . As oon as I pressed Enter, 200 pages of text popped. out. It was spooky, and wellit something Iike this: The quick brown fox jumps Olver the 1.3.2';Yog. The quick bw'iilffl fox d jum ps over the ]azy dog. The qu ick brown fo-xjumps over the Iazy clog;. The quick brown fox jumps QVCJ: the lazy dog. The quick brown ' .. 'This is unbelievable, What is it?" I asked. 'It's a bug in JY1S'''-lord ... othing j8 perfect.
J.

jobs

tonight. It doesn't seem fair tome, does it seem fair to you?' There: was no response.

•Come on, guys, [ want to hear you" Do 1 have your support to save yourjobs and this call centre?'

The agents all looked at each other. 5tH.1 in partial disbelief There was a weak 'yes'. 'Louder, guys, all together. Do r have your support?' V room said, Yes!' a collective scream rocked Conne ions. Vroom continued iu a firmer veice, 'Thank you. My friends, I need your support Tell me, are you ready '~~O work hard for the next two hours?"
!

ow just wait and.

Vroom's email reached I.000 mailboxes and agents read it. immediately. With in minutes" agents were doing a job they knew only too well: calling people to deliver amessage as fast as possible.Lleft In)l seat and passed by the main bay: Lpicked up random sentences from the conversations.

watch •Vroom said,

606

CheU1n BhagtJt sorry to disturb yO~1!J (In Thanksgiving, I am

One Night

.u

the Cedi Centre

607

'Hello" Mr Williams,

calling from We:stern Computers with an, urgent message. America is under a virus. attack,' one agent said, . •Yes, sir, According to out" records vourcomputer has been affected ... ;' said another, Just keep caning us. Every fOUI to six hours saki oneas she ended the can. The more aggressive agents went a.step further: 'And.] ~V'J.[Ityou to tell all your friends and relatives. Yes they cancall us too. Some customerspanicked and needed reassurance, No problem, \Ve wit] save this country. The evilforces will never succeed, " .
A thousand agents, four minutes to a call-s-we could do 30,.00.0 calls in. two hours .. If they caned us every six hours, we would bave over 100,000 cans a day; Even if it only lasted aweek, we would, hit our targets. for the next two months. Hopefully, witha new manager and extra sales effort, Connexions could be on it::; 'w,ay to reeov-

<At least she win know she isn't making the perfect trade-off,' Vroom said, I remained silent fbr two minutes. 'Yes, but how do we find Ganesh ~sflaw?' I said. and looked at my watch. It was 5.30 a.m "There must be a way.' Vroom said, 'The shift is over' oon.\Vhal are you. planning to do? Hire a detective in Seattle?' I said, my voice irritated, ~DOJ1't give UP. Shyam,/ Vroom said and patted my shoulder, "I'm trying to forget Priyanka, but if you search within me there is stillpain, Don't make it worse, Vroom:
~Wow"wb~t

dirama.

Search

w~fh!in me, there

is

pain,'

Vroom

l.aughed.

ery, and no one would lose their job. Vroom, carne looking for me ~n the main bay and we went back to. WASG. Vreom signalled me intothe conference room". 'The response is amazing .. Vle"ye only been calling forthirty minutes and traffic is up five times already,' Vroom sai d. 'Rocking, man,' I said". 'Butwhy've you called me here?' 'We have to discuss the third. privateagenda,'
"\Vhafs that?' I said .. "The third agenda is for you. Don~t you want Priyanka back?' "No". Prlyanka and I are over,' ] said. 'Be honest, dude. Yo:u spoke to God and everythi .ng,'

do a search on his name and see what comes out.' here may be a few
su rprises.'

"?' 'All W] 1)'. I S8I.H..l!L. 'Search. That'S what we can do ..Google will.be our detective. Lea's

"Let's go back to the bay/ I said, ~Hey~wait a minute, liowju.st said search." •Ye8,~ search within me, there is. still pain, Pretty cheesy. I know.

'~\Vha.t?You want to do a. search for Ganesh?' ·'Yes. but we need his fun name. Let's find out his college as well.J think he g-o~ his Masters in computers in the lJS~~be said." 'Come on,
let's go.'

'Where?' I said, even as I let myself get dragged along. 'To the WAS(j iJay~'Vroom said. Priyanka \\11$ on the phone. After she had ended a call Vroom
spoke to her.
computers

How am J going to succeed against M.r Perfect Match Ganesh?' 'See, that's the problem, '\Ve all think 'he's Mr Perfect. but nobody is.

i looked down. Vroom 'Waited until I said something. 'It doesn't matter if I want her or not Look at nlY competition.

~Hey'"Priyanka, quick question, My cousin also did a. Masters. mn in the US. Which co lege did Ganesh go to?' 'Huh? Wisconsin, 1 think "she said,.. 'Really, Let me email my cousin and fisk him if it's the same one.
full name by the \1I,'.1iIy'?~

What's Ganeshs

perfect' 'y~ijl:i right, A house, a car that costs more than teo years of my • salary, freaking working for the world's top company-> 1 don't see

another cali,
'Oooh.

"Gupta, Ganesh Gopta,' Priyanka said as she prepared to make

'much irnperfecrion in. that: 'Everyone has a flaw; dude. The trick is to find a flaw in Ganesh,' I said,

and laughing. Priyankas new name s,entt ripples of pain down .my
rib cage. "Coot Keep calling, Vroom said and went backto his seat. As Vroom's monitor was broken, he took control of my computer, Me searched for the following terms on google.com:

Mt;

Priyanka

Gnpra.t

Bsha

said, putting on

a

smart

voice

'1 WeU, how are 'we ever going to do fhat? And even if we find a flaw in him, what's the point? He '8 so good Pri yanka will still go for him,'

608

Chet~m JJhaga.t

One Night· at tik

cun Centn.>

609

qanesh qupta drUilk Wiscol1sin gane·sh gllpta fines 'Wisconslnr 9a nesh 9 u pta. g i rlfrie nd Severa]. Iinks popped out, hut there was nothing
\W

could make

much sense or use of.
'Damn, what a boring guy, Let me try again.tVroom qanesh gupta fail qanesh gupta party ga nesh gu pta dru 95 N othing interesting emerged. 'Forget it. marl. He was probably the head boy at school,' I said. Yon bet. one of those teacher's pet types,' Vroom said, letting out a frustrated breath .. 'I give up, T m sure if I type something Eke "ganesh gupta microsoft award" plenty of things. wm pop out achiever that he is.. ' said,

'Shhh!' Vroom said. 'Did you see that? He ha perfect hair in the Statue of Uberty picture,' 'Areall his photos in this album like this?' I said. ·Yes, sir,' Vroom said. and flicked through. the slideshow, One boring picsureafter another followed.but wherever Ganeshwas, so

was the shiny spot. Vroom reclined 0111 hi, chair with a proud expression, "As sir, no one is perfect. Apart from Google, of 'course:

1.

said

__

1:nre links popped out. \Ve clicked through a few, and then we hit
o 1 one with his picture, l~ \'!l3S G.arncsh·s online ailburn. 'Damn, H is him. with his mates;' Vroom said and clicked 011 the ~ink 'Let's check out how ugly his friends are.' The link opened to a web page timed •Microsoft Award party photos. The party was af Gane h's house, Ganesh had won some developer award at Micros-oft and a C(Hlp~e ofhis friends had come to hi s house to ce]e1Jmte:. 'Look at the slideshow,' 1 said. as Vroom selected the option. We looked up once to confirm the girls were s~mbusy with their calls, As the picture flicked onto the screen we saw a garden party fun of lndian peopl~e On the tables there '\\'38 enough food to feed a .. small town. "Hey. I think we've found something. Check out our man,' Vroom said, He pointed to one of the photos in which Ganesh held :ll beer glass, 'What's the big deal?' I said .. It was ha;n:dlJyscandalous to holda glass of beer. Priyanka herselfcould knock: hack ten if they were free. 'Check out Ganesh's head "Vroom said .. 'What?"! said ..1 looked closer and! then I saw it, 'Oh no,' I said ... Ganesh had: a bald spot ~nthe middle of his head. It WO'l~ the size of a Happy Meal burger and had caught the camera's Jlashhght "'IV ne -(J.e---- "l fUu. 'b-- .. .'.1

tlooked at the screen and back at VIiOOID .. 'So, now what:?' 1 said. 'Now· we ilTIlVite the ladies for a viewing, Vroom said and grinned. 'No? that's not figbt ... ' 1 said; but it was too late. _ 'Esha, Radhika, Priyanka. Do you want to see some more Ganesh pictures? Come here quickly,' Vroom said. . . The girl dropped men phone cans. Bsha and Rsdhika stood up. ',Vhat are you talking about?" Priyanka said and came over to us.. "The power of the internet We found an onfine album. Come and see what your new house is. like.' Vroom said, He kept quiet about the shiny spot so that the girls could see it for themselves. _ _ "Nice pad,' Esha said, "but where's Ganes Ill? Let me guess,' she said and touched the monitor with her finger, 'Here, this one, no. But wait; he's a baldie, Is he the elder brother?' _ Priyanka looked closer. 'I 0, that's Ganesh,' she said, her mo~th open, , could sense that the wind had been. knocked out of her sails, 'But 1 didn't notice the bald spot in the photo you showed. us, Priyanka,' IEsha said. Radhika squeezed Esba's arm. Esna stopped Priyanka began flipping through the images on the screen .. She didn't notice, but her hair was falling on my shoulders as she bent over, U felt nice. But Priyanka wa n't feeling nice .. She brought out the Statue of Liberty picture and vile looked at. it again. Ganesh had perfect hair. 'Maybe the guy i Ghi1eS~I~Sider-brother, Radhika said. e < Ganesh doesn 't have at brother. He only hes one sister,' Priyanka said, her face distraught at the fact that be had deceived her like that. Such a tiny Iie could lead. to bigger lies, There was silenee for a. few seconds, 'Wen, it doesn't really matter much, eh? What's a bit of smooth skin hetweenthe true love of two souls?' Vreom said. m clamped my jaws shut to prevent a. laugh escaping. •Lens. go back, people, enough fun, Don't forget to keep calling, ~V room. said.

talking,

0:

6UJ

Cheta« Bhogat

Om:',IVight at the' Call Centre

611

Priyanka retraced her steps in. slow motion. She 'went back toher seat and. rookcut bet mobile phone, She dialled a long number; probably long distance, "flus can wa going to he fun-· 1 only wished ill could tap into it. 'Hello, Ganesh,' Priyanka said in a direct veiee, 'Listen, I can 't talk for long. I just want to check on something . .. . yes, j ust one question . . . actually 1 was just surfing the Internet ., . ..' Priyanka said and got up from her seat. She moved to the corner of the room.
where I could no longer hear her.

around me as they gave me the news. The incoming calls had already shot up} even though we hadn't. expected the big boost for another six.

hours. Some cusaomers had caned usseverel times an hour,

Vreom and I went to Bakshi '8 office wjth some 'Of the senior. team

leaders" He bad arranged an urgent 'video conference call with the Boston office, Bakshi supported us as. we presented the new call
datal'}insights into the call. traffic and potential new sources .of revenue, After at twenty-minute video discussion, lBos.tm~.~,g;l:eed.to ,~ two-month reprieve before deciding on layoffs. They also agreed to evaluate the possibility of sending top te3UlJI leaders on a short-term

I made a few calls, Priyanka returned after ten minutes and tossed m'WI cellphone on the desk. Esba iiggled her eyebrows up and down, as if toask, '\Vlla.t"s up?' • t is h:mm in the online pictures,' Priyanka said. 'He didn't have marriage market,' Oh no,' Esha wailed. He apologised several time-s saying he'd been against tampering with the picture" but had to agree when his mother insisted,' "Did the apologies seem genume?' Radhika said" 'Yes, [.think so. He said he understood how l must fed and that he was ready to apologise in frlont of my family as wen.' ~ Well, then it '8 OK. Whar difference does it make? You don't reaUy c-are' about: him. being bald, do you?' Radhika said. 'Practically au'
men. become bald in a few ye~ anyway. It ~s· j ike yon can do anynot thing abou~'i~then.' "That's true' Prtyanka said in a mellow voice. I could see her

sales assignment to Boston.
Reassured-that Connexions

was safe for now, I returned to my desk

while Vroomwent outs;~detoclean the Quslis before the driver woke
up. I had told Vroom I wanted W slip away-no goodbyea no hugs and. no promises to meet, especially in front of Priyanka, Vroom agreed and said he wo\Lrnd be ready outside with his bike at 6.50 a.m, The girls stopped theircalls at 6.45 a.m, Everyone began to log nut sothey could be in time forthe Qualis, wllmchwould be waiting ar the

much to 881:)1. He said his mother asked h:im to touch up his hair slightly in the Statue of Uberty snap 3Jj it would help ill the arranged

gate at 7 J}IJ a.m .. 'J'U1 so excited, Radhika is moving into m,y place,' Esha Bawd.

"res, i am,' Radhika said. 'And Military Uncle is. going to recommend a bNvyer friend ..~need a good, tough divorce lawyer, ~
'Don't you want ~o'tryandwnrk

'Rea-nil"']' ~ said,

'We"ll see, I am in

]10

mood to compromise, And I'm not going
wiU be making

it out?' Priyanka said.

relenting. Yeah, it doesn't master, Just make sure he wears a cap .at the wedding-eunless you want to touch up all the wedding pictures;' VroOTI1. sa~d and chuckled, Esha and ~ kicked down to suppress
,I

back to his house now; for sure .. My mother-in-Iaw her own. breakfast'

"And after that, l'~ll1(1, taking Radhika to Chandigarh for the weekend,' Esha said and smiled, Everyone was busy making 'plans. I e-xcused myself on the pretext of going to thewater cooler for a drink, &0 ill,could leave the office
fi:0111

our grins,

'Sorry, Pm being mean .. Honestly, it's no big deal). Priyanka, one's perfec.1,we an know that, So, let's get back 10 our calls,'

'Shut up_,Vroom,' Radhika said.

them ..

No

6.00

For the next haU:'bo"lllllr we focused 0111 one activity: making caUs to save Cennexions, At 6..30 a.m. I went up tothe main bay: Team. leaders huddled

a.:m.

I reached Ole water cooler and bent towards the tap to take my last drink a~ the call centre . As I finished, 1: stood up to find Priyanka
behind m.e..

6.47 a.m,

'Hi ~she said, "Leaving?' "Oh, hi Yes~I'm going back my mouth.

OJ)

Vroom's bike,' I said and wiped

612

Chet0-11

Bhagat
to be?Yo'ut mum \v:~l1probably straightening up.

Om: l',lightat tlk Cell Centre

613

"1'11miss you: she said. 'I'm sorry about the way thmgs turned out,'
'Don't be sorry,' ru said, shaking my fingers dry. 'U's more my fault than yours. I understandthat, I acted like a loser.' 'Shyam, you know how Vroom said just because India ]5 poor it doesn't mean you stop loving it?' Priyanka said. ~What?' I blinked at the change of topic. 'Oh yes. And I agree, it is

blow all

her cash on a big gig,"] said,

'In some five-star hotel, I'm sure ..You'll come, won't you?"

'I don't know;' I said.
'What do you mean, you don't know? It'll be so strange if you aren't there: '1 don't want to be there and tee] sad. Anywaywhat's so strange if lm not there?' 'wen, it will be a litrle strange if the groomisn't there a.rIt. his own
wedding, Priyanka said. I froze as I heard those words, rewinding her last sentence three

our country after a1L
"Why'?'

•Yes, we love India because it's ours. But do you know the: other reason why we dlolft stop loving it?'
'Because it isn't completely

India's fault: that we are behind. '\{es, some of our past leaders could have done things differently, but now we have the potential and we know it.' 'Good point/ I said, I found it strange th.at she should talk about nationalism at what was possibly our last moment together. r. nodded and started walking away from her, 'Anyway, ~ think Vmom win be waitin g ,... ,' I said .. '~Tapplied the samelogic ~o something else,' Sh6 said. "f thought" this is the same as my Shyam, "1/110 n'ilaynot be successful now, but it doesn t mean he doesn't have the potentia]. and it sure as helldoesu't

'What ... 'what did you just say?' r said. She pinched 'my cheek and imitated me: ?What .. , what did. )lOll just say? I stood there speechless. < But don't think I'm going to letyou go that. easily; One day .1want my 800 with J\tC: she said and ~,BlMghed.

times in

JlI1Y

head.

~What'r I said.
You heard me, 1 want to marry you, Shyam,' Priyanka said" ] thought I would jump for joy, but mostly I was shocked. And even though I wanted to hug, cry and laugh at the same time, a 'firm voice,

mean I. ve stopped loving him.' ~ stood there dumbstruck, I: fumbled for words and finally spoke

shakily:

like a guard inside me, asked, What's this all about? HeU. [ didn't
wantpity,

"rou know what. Priyanka? You say such great lines that even though I've tried to hale you an night it's impossible. And] know ~. should hate you andthatl should move on" because I can't {lffer you what JVJJr Microsoftcan-' 'Ganesh,' she interrupted me. 'Not Mr Microsoft.' 'Yes, whatever; [kept talking, without pausing to breathe. "Ican -[ offer you what Ganesh can. No Viraycould ] ever buy a exus ..Maybe a Maruti .800 one day, but that's about it'

She smiled. 'Reully?; AnSOO'? ,\lith or vrithoutACT she said. "Shut up'. I'm trying to say something deep and. you find it funny." 1said. She laughed again, gently, I wiped a tear from l1f1Y right eye and she raised her hand to wipe the tear from my left: eye, ' 'Any""a;y. it's over between us, Priyanka, and I know it I'Ilget over
it
S;OO!1l1. m

'What are yO;\J sayi.ng~ Priyanka? That you would choose me over Ganesh? Is this a sympathy decision'? "My life s biggest decision can't be a symJlI,a.thy decision, I've thought about it Ganesh is great, but. . the who e touching liP of the photo bothers me. He s an achiever in his own right, so why did he have to. ~ieT' 'So you're rejecdng hjm because he's bald? My hair isn't reliable, either: I said 'No, 1'111 not rejecting rum because he's bald, Most men ,go bald. ooe.day, it's horrible, J know/ she said and ruffled my hair. 'He might be fine to most 'W:1WyS,' she contim .sed, 'hut the point is, he lied, And. tor me that's a due as to what sort of person he is, I don't want to
j

know, I know,' I said, talking more 'to myself

She "vaHeeduntil I had composed myself I bent over [0 splash my face with water at the cooler, 'Anyway, where's your weddmg going

roy life with a person [ don't know very well beforehand. That '5 One part ofmy decision. The other is. 'rile big part.' 'r'What1~ 1 said..

spend my lifewith a person like that. In fact, I don't want to spend

• ill love you, Because you arethe

only pers-on. in theeworld. 1 can

be myself with ..And because you are the only persUil who-knews all my flaws and sHU loves me completely. 1 hope,' she said,w.ith a qui vering voice, ~. idn't say anything. d 'And even iffhe world says. I'm. cold, there is a part ofme that's. seutimental, irrasional and romantic. Do I reallycare about money? OUJ]y because people te 11me ~ should, HeJ], ~ prefer truck driver

·Wha~ the hell kept you?' entrance.

6..59 a.m,

V1100lTI.

s~lm.d, sitting on his bike alt the main

•So.ny, man) Priyanka met line at the water cooler,' I said and sank

dhabas over Jive-star hotels, Deep inside, I am just a g~rl who wants to be w~tb her favanrlte boy, becanse like 'you, this girl is a person. who needs a Jot of Jove. ' ~Love? I need a lot oflove?' F said, "Of course you do .. Everyone does. H's funny that we never s,a\yit" lf~ OK to scream, "I'm starving," ifyouare hungry; it's OK to make a fuss and say, "I'm so 'sleepy," if yml are tired; but somehowwe cannot say, ~~T need some more Iove," Why can't we say it" Sb:yam?

onto the pillion seat. 'And?' Vroom said. 'Noifiling. Just goodbye· 8m13.1]., Oil, and she wanted toget back together and marry me, she said. Can you believe it?' Vroom mrned to me, ~R.ea:Uy?What did you. Bay?' <I said. no,' J said co;oHy. As we were talking, Radhika.Esha and. Mmhary Uncle came out of
the main •What?' Vroom said,

entrance intcthe

wintry sunshine ..

n's iust asbasic
be firm ...

'Hi, you guys still here?' Radhika said, 'Shyam jUs£ said no- to Priysnka She w~uted to marryhim, but he seidao,'
•What?' Radhika and Esha spoke in. UIII.1.SrOn.
..

aneed.'

~ looked at her. Whenever 'Priyanka?'
~Yes~~ said, sniffling. she

she delivers these deep, philosophical

lines, I get horribly attracted to her. The guard inside reminded me to

in my life. Stop bothering me,' Tsaid. The Qualls arrived and the driver presSJedthe-- hom ..

'Hey, guys". chill out I did. what I needed to, do tJO getsome respect

'I love YOlLl/ I said. 'I love you, too,' Priy~nka said, "Thanks .. However) Priyanka, ill can'tmarry you. Sorry to say this, but my answer to your mind-blowing proposal is no,' I said, ~MUllt?~Priyanka said. as her eyes opened wide in disbelief. The guard ins] de me was 1]1full charge, ~Ican't m~:rryyou, l'IU a new persontonight, and this ne-w person

needs to make a.new lifeand find new respect for himse-lf. You chose Ganesh, and 'he'Sfine. Ym.l have: au option for a new life and you don ~~ really need me, so maybe it's better this way/ ill said.
'1 still
'Sorry/
'~.fllVeyou,

Shyam, and OWl[Y you. Please don't do this,' she
not

said; corning closer to me.
I saki and moved three .steps backwards. "I can't.Tm

your spare wheel, I appreciate you coming back. blID~. I think I'm

rec.a:d.y to li1tIOV'e on.'

She just stoodthere and cried. My heart fe I.~ weak, but my head Was. strong. ~ Bye, Priyanka .. ill gIngerly paned her shou lder and len. '

~Wenren''tbotherll1g you-wn:; your life. Let's go, Esha.• Radhika ; saidand gave me a dirty look Sheturned to Esha as theywalked to the Qualis ... ··Where'8 Priyanka, madam? We are late,' the driver said, 'She'S comrung. She's 011 the' phone toher mosher, Ganesh's parents are g.oing over for breakfast and her motheri Slll.aki.lflg horparathas,' RBdlhika. .said, loud enough for me to [tear. The driver started the Qualis, Priyanka carne dashing out {l,f the main entrance, avoided me and went straight toifu!e front seat Then the driver turned the Qualis round .. As they began to move off, Mirnhary Uncle looked out from his window and said something. Lcould only lip-read but .l thoughs he saidl,!Yo1!J b~()odyidiot} Before lcoel d react, the Qualls was. gone.. Vroom stubbed. out his cigarette. "Oh..no...I am a bloody idiot J lether go/ I said. 'Ub-huh,' Vroom said ashe put on his Jleb1llet ~Is that a yes? You think 1 am a total idiot?'
·¥OU.rife

your best judge/ Vroom. said, as he dragged the bike with

his feet

616

Clu3tctn BhtJgut

'Vroom, what: have I done? If she reaches home and has parathas with Ganesh's family, it is all over, I'm such a moron,' [ said. 'Stop dancing around. I have to get going,' Vroom said. 'Vroom, 'we have to catch the Qualis, Can you go fast enough?' Vroom, removed, his helmet and Ianghed. 'Are you insulting me? Do you doubt that Ican catch that wreck of

'I'm an idiot/ 1 said. 'And?' pf]yanka said. Everyone in the Qualls rolled down their windowsto look ar me. ~rm·u moron. 1'Ill "tupid, insane and nuts. Please" I want us' to be
together;"

a: Qual is? 1 am, soh U.l1" man.'

'Oh reallyfWhat about the new man who needs, reBpec~?'IP{yanka~

'Vronru, Ief~ go. Please,' I said and pushed his shoulders, No. First you apologise for doubting my driving abilities. •I'm any, boss, I'm sorry/ 1said. 'Now move, Schumacher,' Vroom kick-started 'his bike, and in a few seconds we had zipped out ofthecall centre. The main road was getting busier as the mornin:gprogressed, but Vroom still managed a top speed of ninety On the mad into the city, we dodged cars, scooters, ,liI,UUOS, school buses

~J djdi'j,'~I now what I woo saying. What does one do \.\<;t11respect? I can't keep it :1111 mypocket,' I said. 'So you want to keep me wnyour pocket?' Priyanka said, ·you.~rt~lready in every pocket-of my life, IRy heart, my mind, a my soul-c-please come back. Will you come back? I said as the light turned yen ow.
'Hmm, Let's see. ".' Priyanka said, 'Priyanka pleaseanswer fast '1 don't know. Let me think Meet me at ~he next red light, OK? Let's go, Driverji,,' she said as the light turned green. The diriver took off at full speed, 'What,did she say?' Vroom said as I sat on the bike. ~Slfle'n answer at the next red light. Let's go.' There was a mini traffic jam at the next red light, so 1 got off the bike and ran past a few vehicles to reach the Qualis, I tapped the window again but Priyanka wasn't there. \Vhere is she?' I asked the driver, who shrugged his shoulders at me. J looked inside file Qualis, Radhika and. Esha shrugged their shoulj

said.

and newspaper hawkers.

Four minutes later, i noticed a", white Qualls at a 'distant traffic signal. "It must be that one: [ pointed ()ut. Just as Vroom moved ahead a herd of goats decidedto cross the road and fifty of them blocked our way. 'Damn, where did they come from?' I said; 'Thus urban jungle of Gurgaon was a village until recently: the goatsare probably asking v here did 1;1,18 come from,' Vroom eaid. "Shut up and do something,' I S31d. Vroom tried to move his bike, but bumped into a goat's horns. He considered taking the right side of the road where traffic flowed in the opposite direction, but it was full of trucks and we'd have been

mowed down in seconds.
"There's only one option,' Vroom said and smiled. 'Wba-'"I said as Vroom. lunged his bike up onto the road divider. 'Are you crazy?' I said. 'No, you're CUlZ)T to let her go,' Vroom said. and started riding along the divider, The goats and drivers looked ove-r at us in shock. Vroom dodged round the streetlights until. we'd. passed the herd, and once we were back on the mad he accelerated to WO.. One minute later our bike was level with the Qualls at a red light. I got off and tapped the front window. Priyanka looked a.way, so I banged 'the glass with my palm. "1f ~ ts "t?tH " antt , e wlUuuV!. ''1:'If!I, h at " 1 ; !f~e d " 't W,2m I~O b' .'~' " . ,,'_ ,.on ily any 81.Lle' opener"d' the ":"·.-:I~<Tr thing,'; Priyanka said tIS if 1was a roadsi de vendor.

ders. too; she wasn't in "there, Someone came up from. behind and hugged me. I 'I:mm;oo, round to
look ~t Pnyanka, 'I didn't know what I '!Na.S saying at the water cooter,"! said. 'Shut up andbug me,' Priyanka said andopened her ;arms, Oureyes met, andeven though J wanted '[0 sa~ so much, our eyes d~d.al 1the talking, I hugged her for a few seconds and then. she kissed me. Our l~ps]ocJved, and every passenger in the traffic Jam '~oo'k.ed on, enjoying the spectacle. After six months apart there was a lot of pentup feeling. Vroom. and everyone from the Qualis surrounded UB and began .to clap and whistle} then all the vehicles on the mad joined in, applauding with their horns. But f couldn't ' ee them .or hear them. A ll I could see was Pnyanka, andall I could hearwas my inner. voice S~IY~,l1g, ss her, k iss her andkiss her Inure: 'K.i

_-ooiii-

~F'

It
~w.··i
ow: I said, 'some st~,ry tha:t ~as.,! S~,e nodd.~c1 ~nd too~a .sip ~f .... water from her bottle; holding It 11ght so It didn't spill m the moving train. "Thank you/ I said, it made our night go by pretty quickly,' I checked the time; .[1. was close to 7.00. a.mand our journe-y was

WeH1 guys; that's how that night, and my story, ends, We couldn't know what, how or when things 'Would happen, but that's what life's m~e: uncertain, screwed up at-times but still fuuHowever, let me
tell you where we were one month after that night. Vmorn and I started our website design company withthe seed capital Bakshi had given ulS.We caned it the B ~ookSheep Weh Design Company. In 11 month" we had only managed to get one local order, but it helped us break even. Esha gave l~Pher modelling aspirationsand continued to work at the callcentre, but. now she works for ,a non-governmental organisatien during fhe day, Her j ob is to. fundraise from the 'corporate sector and '[heard she '8 doing well I guess male executives can't resist R hot
WOU1.aIl

asking for money for

a good

cause. Apart from that. Vroom's
that means-

next week and I think she said yes.

asked her out for a coffee on a semi-date+-whatever

with his on. He hasn't come back; so things, must be working out Radhika ]S fighting her divorce case with her husband and has moved in. with Esha. She is also planning to visit her own parents for a while ..Anuj has apologised, but Radhika is in no mood to relent yet
Priyanka still works at Connexiens, btlll in six months; time she plansto go. to college for an accelerated one-year B.J!d ..'We decided that marriage is at Jeast two years ,m;vay.'hTe meetoften, but. our fil'S~ fOiCUS is her career; Her mother faked three heart attacks, when

Military Uncle got a visa for the US and went over to make amends

almost over ..Delhi was less than an hour away, The train was tearing th 'ough the night) and on the horizon I could see a streak of saffron might up the sky, 'So, did you like i~-?!' •¥es, it was fun. But it also made me th j nk, I went through a similar phase 'to Shyam .at work and '~nmy personal life. lli ish I'd heard this story earlier+ it might have made me do things differently, or at least would have made me feel less bad.' "There YO'\l go. it's one of these rare stories times fua but can help you as well And that'S why I run asking you to share it. Are yon ready
to turn it into a book?' she said replacing thecal' on the water-bottle. "1 guess.It win make some time, though,' 1 said. "Of course, And 'nwm give you all the people's details .. Feel free to contact: them if you want. Through which character win you tell the story?' •Shyam. Like I said, his, story's a lot like mine. I can relate to him
because I had similar preblems=my own dark side ... >

Priyanka said no to Ganesh, but: Priyanka yawned every single time until her mum gave up and closed the Ganesh file. So it 100ks Jike things are: working out. As for me as. a person" I still.

boss a lesson, started my OWiII1 company, W~lS chosen over a big-catch Indian gl'Oo:m from Seattle by a wonderful ,~IIjr:1nd now I've even a written a whole book. This means ~hat i) I can do whatever J real ly want, ii) God is always with me and iii) there is no such thing as, a

feel the same for the most part. However, thereis a difference .. nus.ed to feel I \WaS a good-far-nothing non-achiever. But that's not true. After all, ] helped save a lot of jobs atthe cain centre" I taught .my

were silent until I spoke after a few minutes. 'Listen, sorry to say this but there's one issue I think readers may have with this story,'
"W'hat?'~

"Ihars fnteresting,' she said. 'It's true, we have a dark sidesomething we don't like, something that makes us. angry and something we want to change about ourselves ..The difference is how we: choose to face h.' _[nodded. The train rocked in a soothing, gentle motion and. we

an

loser after all.

'The conversation with God.' . She smiled. 'Where's the issue with that'?' she said. We]]~it's just that some people may not buy it One has to present

620
reality

CIUUH't

Bhag,at

Oee N'iglu at the C:dl Centre

62'1

in a Sb)fY.. Readers always 8a\y~·jThn me what really h!!ppened .. So in that centext.hew is God calling going to fj[ in?' " "'VlThy? Don't Y(}llI.~hEnkthatcould happen?' she said shiftingin her sear, Her blanket moved, uncovering a. book I hadn't noticed before, ~Wen) I don't know. It obviously doesn't happen very often. [ mean.fhings needto have a ratioaal, scientific explanation,'

'Yeah" the trip is over,' I said .. 'Thanks for everything, er, let me guess, Esha, righ t?' I stood up to shake her hand. ·C.~I.. ? · .CJudl. llTh·.·.· ul. .. n Y ~. d you ..u· k I was '1. .. ?' nun c '.' ner .. ··B'ecause you re~.Sogoo d-l (lQll.Jn_g. .. ., .. .- '~-' • ·Th~mk'S.'She laughed. ".But sOTry~ I'm not Esha:
~'S. ? .1.- nyan :k "r'" 0 .. [}.'... .a, <No:
m.
w.
.''';Jj salllu.

'Really? Does everything in life workthat way?" '1 guess. Please try and understand,' I said. 'Calls from God don't

happen oftea, How can Lwri te Ellbout H?'

'.oK~ Iisten, I'm going to give you 'all a~rerlJlati'Vero God's phone call, A ratienal one. OK?' she said and put her botde away. ~ Wha~. lternative? "1 said, a . (Lees, rewind" .~ bit So they drove into a pitand the Qualis was trapped, suspended by rods, right? Are you OK with that part?' '.Right, ] can Hve with ttD at, 1 Wi.dd..
'And then they felt the end W1l.S nemvTheee was no hopein Ute. literally andfiguratively, So let's just sU!)I that at that moment Mi~irary· Uncle spoke up saying, "I noticed an unusual situation here, so ~ thought l~djust check on you guys," "That's exactly what God said/ I said, 'Correct, And. from that" point on, wbatever God saki, you. <can reword as if M~I.itary Uncle had said it-. all the stuff about success, the inner can and an those other things.' ~ReaUy'!Is that what happened?' I said, 'No. I didn't say [hat. rn just said you havethe option to do that; so [b~t everything appeoarI"Smore rat1.O'l"1I..11. Do, you understand Jll11y point?'

"Wen then, wh~.)are you?' She just smiled. . That's when it struckme, She was a girl.• she knew the full story,
but shewasn't

'Don 'ttell me, Rl>1!dhikaT ~No. I'm not Radhika, either,' she said.

~ ..... that meal18 . " . Ohmy ... ' My whole body shook as I found So it difficult to balance, Herface .shone and our compartmentwas suddenly filled with bri.gfut sunlight, ~ Inoked at her and shoesmiled. Thien I saw that the open book next to her was the English translarion of a ho~y text, My eyes focused on a f~w lines an the page that lay open: A.~'WU.ys of Me, become My devotee, worship :Me and offer YOM think homage unto Me..Thus you win come te Me w~fhout fol~L Lpromise you thisbecause you are My very dear friend, 'Whal?"~ said as [ tel~.lny head spin, But she just smiled, raised her hand and placed it on. my head." ~~just: don't know what to say;' ~ said ~n~heblinding light. A sense of tiredness engulfed me al'JJ£llc.. osetiiny eyes, ~

was only one alternative left

Esha~Pr:iy:a.nk:m1 or Radhika. Which. meant that there

'Yes/ I said .. 'So, you choose whichever version you w.run~in the maim story. H will, alter all, be your story.' .
[ nodded,

When I opened them, the train had. stepped and I knelt on the floor

:Bu.t can Task you one question?"
'Sure/ I said, 'Which. ofHu~ twois a better story'?'

with. Illy head down. The train was at Ud.hi station, The cacophony of porters, tea sellers and passengers rang inmy ears, I slowly looked up at her seat, but she was. gone, 'Sir, arc you getting off (1) your own ordo you need help?' A porter tapped my sboulder,

I thought for a second,
"The one with God in it,' I said. ~Just like lfe, R.aH:()na:~~H· life is better wi.l~hGod j n .:itt.' 11J.(lt, r reflected onher words for a f~w minutes .. Sbebecame silent and I looked at her face. She, looked even lovelier in the light of dawn. "We]~~it ~(JQh like we're nearly in Delhi,' she said and looked out There were no more fields, only the hou .. in Delhi's border villages, ses

h e tr n B
Bid

gat

n: New

Delhi, 22 April 1972
bank.cr

T' ,b; Invesrment

\Vel ~ile!www.chetanhbagi.lt.(:om
RD: What in:>p'jl'ld YOll to wrire, novel in the midst of a successful, high-Hying business career? en! \:V1uile (he ir.. -esrmenr b~mkilnglife is'ddt1Bg and ch01lHen.glng!it is 'ilery [natr;ri~I.]I'Y motivated, I felt there has to be more to Hfe than .my next bonusand so ulcused on sonilething I IQve radler
than what earns
:t1:1(;

1:11most, And. ~,h<lt[show

my

fi~t book

was born.

Ln~'narure-c-nut ef leve, ]

write fiction hec;~useI love ent rt 'Ining peopITc, RD: Ha .....you wamed to write for d long timer 'C ( H: I have loved wclTitlng sirrccmy first four-line joke carne outin the school rtia~:L:(,ine" I w._~ soexeired seeing my name iri print, 1 would show the: magazine to random people un buses]
RD: 'Wh:;tt inspirc~drhis _~U: particular book?
.m in

RD:; The book has a lot of humour, Do you find that d:iffi,wlt to write? my natural. style Qf writing,. so it was not hard. -My ~itt':rary ITllknt_'\ 'an: moderate. but the humour l'S[]lY gift, I gILlC~:~, RD; ~lha;l inspired .vonto bri~lig·God in asa character? ( B. I fdt ~ ha:.d J message rhar was veryimportant to give ~'[J the ym.H'l.ger generation. Thus, it had to be given by an auehority figure. And wh bi;:;trcr dHlil C~}d far some fFiendl)" adv:ice? 1 have Guirt: a spij"]t'u.l1 bent as wen, so some of it may In ve come from there. RD: YCJUsay in OUt; in terv iew l hat yo u want your books to hav e apo itive impact on Indian society; G:"l!lld you explain a htdc m(J·fe·a!xmn.h~t? C D! Yes, this is a key goal. My fi.r!Stbook is ,] f1IJj.my look. at education str S$. J once he a rdfrom a kid who said that he had clec;;ided not kill himself'{because ofpoor gnlues} afto i"~~~dingnly book, som~~hing he wasplanning to do otherwise, That ki dof'sruff shakes you 11.P' Ewill alw.ay~~ rite to create sotne benefit for peop:ke. Hundreds have written to w me that th Call C~?'1Jtrebook restored their self-confid nee. Having lblS is fall mort: important than being internationally published or ;.,vinning
( Ii: It is
.1

t)(]

awards, ,RD: DC!you
f

share Vroom's negative-views

on call centres?

It ... the ~udden transforrnatiou of the j'otmg Indian !,Tl;JH:;rah vas

the last ten year}..Almost every 'middle-class person in India knO\II/S someone whn works in a call centre at n.i.ght" A nocturnal generation W:;'LS too inrerestinga topiceo miss, RD: Are the characters based on particular peopld ;,U; Nor r. any, rl').ol.lgh the main guy. Shyarn, is ba ed mlJ me.in a phase of my life where .J\O'l .. a~ stuck in my i b and my bOS$ \i as making' my i:if, miserable ..It's aU there In the book. Rn; ll{]'ve{~ t:l1e.cha.t~l{7tet Df tbe vnpJe:a.sfmt Bakshi. Was he based 011 1H1y{)ne:~ n. HC\,VC1:\i. based on Illy stupid, eviJ bO~:$1n t1L"Lyprevious job whoktlled nfy s-clf-coo6dence [or yc.,m;, .1 t1wiUJ;ht m;;~~'be maflJfI)l'iJE"1' bD..';(5(;'$ are doing this t you g pt':opl.el so lwunred tn warn my readers ag<1inst these
mc;:~111ryp8;.

RD: How did you set about [~~~tr'chingdrx:n(jlok? I .B: 1 visited several call centres and spent a lot oftiwe with call-centre ern ployr::{;$,U ud ing fi vc of my first co usi ns and both In y sisters- in-la w, eel They used l' td( interesting tales "lDom d]cir experiences, Finding (Hit . about this new industry .and the people involved in. it \i";,';,J.3 one of the most rew:ltding things about writing One Night (.U' tht: fall C(:ntT(1_

H: Yes, Call centres aregood in. the short term, bur the long-term effects fJll Jndia's sHU h... e may not be so positive ..Of course, I am not as s emotional about the issue as Vroom is.. RD: How long did it rake you to w.rin:eCall Centre and what is )lOllf wrhiog' sd1:~(hlJ~? f'B It tonk me' a year: towrite the book. Because I have a d~y lob, ] write 'niosdy on. weekends. RD;: You currentlylive in. I-long Kong ..Do you go back to India oft'{:12.~ And do you miss it? r.B: 1 am in India as we speak I Yes, I come here a lot-- +once a month. [Ught now I.am here in Mmnibai to see 'he shooting ofrhe BOl.lywodd film based on One N~ght at til Call Centre, ~ miss Indi.a a lot. RD:.! read that yo love cooking. What].$ ytlUt fav( urite mealj' l I\~J Jove aIJytl~irig consisting of gO-lJd bread and Jots of dips. Lebanese and haliao antipasti are great. ltD: Could you tell us . little more about your interest in yoga? U~ \:Vhil~ [ Wfl~ going through .bn",ing a bad b :SSl 1. tu.r.hed 'to y(jg~l. Ir
helped mea Iot in terms of self;_:tealis.ation and menta] peace. .R,D: Do }"olJt::n j oj you r new roleas a best -s~U i i1g au tho, (' B; Yes, Go -) has chosen me out of nowhere and given me this .gifL. 1

r

don't however, like tit pressure to ddh'er that

COn1(!;

with it.

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