Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Professional - Part6 - All is well that ends well

I woke up with a start next morning. I had a bad dream in which I saw Rajat’s and Meera’s kid puking on me. My confidence from last night was gone. I began to wonder about a possibility of Meera accepting Rajat’s proposal. No sane girl would accept a proposal from a guy whom she barely knew, but from my experiences I had come to realise that girls were fickle and unpredictable.

Rajat also seemed subdued. He checked his Orkut account and there were no messages.
“Dude, no messages... What does this mean?” Rajat asked. He was looking like a lost puppy.
“I don’t know, Rajat” I said and it was true. I was as confused and concerned as Rajat.

The bus ride to office seemed slower than usual for me. But for Rajat, the bus must have seemed to be in supersonic flight, because I noticed him look at our office building with pure dread when we reached our office.

He was already a bundle of nerves by the time we reached our cubicles.
We found Meera already in her seat. With a kick of her heels she revolved her chair around to face us when we approached.

My eyes darted to her hair immediately. I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw no flower in her hair. In fact she had not even bothered to tie up her hair and it fell on her shoulders making a lustrously black outline for her fair, round face.

She was looking past me and I followed her gaze to find my friend, Rajat, diving into his cubicle. I turned to look at Meera.

She was looking appraisingly at me. Her eyes were like sharp needles boring into mine without mercy. I averted my gaze and quickly sat down. I wanted to switch on my computer, but for some reason my hands were shaking.

“Did you have any part in it?” I heard Meera’s voice behind me.
I froze. I did not know how to answer.

After a long pause that seemed like a decade, I answered in a feeble voice, “I don’t know what you are talking about”

“Sure you do. You are his roommate and I am sure roommates discuss such things”

I searched my brain frantically for an answer that could paint me as an ignorant, innocent bystander, but I found none.

So I asked, “Are you referring to the message in Orkut?”

“No. I am talking about Obama’s election” said Meera in a mocking tone. She added, “Of course I am talking about the message and now I know that you are also involved since you identified the issue so accurately”

I gulped and tried to form some words but nothing came out.

“Will you please turn towards me and tell me what the meaning of that message was?” Meera asked. I could tell that she was angry because she had raised her voice to a high pitch. I was sure that Rajat was listening to the exchange, sitting in the next cubicle.

I slowly turned and even then I made no attempt to meet her eyes. I was suddenly interested in the way my shoe laces were tied.

Sensing that she would get nothing out of me, she said, “Come with me.”
Then she jumped up and swept past me and marched into Rajat’s cubicle. I followed her like a dutiful dog.
I found Rajat crumpled in his seat and he seemed to shrink under the glare of Meera.
Meera repeated her question, “What was the meaning of that message, Rajat?”

On any other occasion it would have been funny to see the sight of six foot tall, well-built Rajat cowering in front of a girl. But Meera was fuming and Rajat could be forgiven for his fear.

“Rajat, what century are you living in? What do you know about me to fall in love with me? We know each other for just three weeks. It is childish, you know that? I didn’t think you would be like this. I took a special interest in you thinking that you are a friend who did not know how to behave in a society. And yeah...that is what you have shown. A lack of understanding of how the society functions”

Rajat looked at me beseechingly to interject and stop the tirade. But I was helpless. Meera seemed to flare in anger and I was not going to get my hands burned. I had expected a negative reaction from Meera, but not such a forceful one. Neither had I thought that she would react in the cubicle. All my hopes of ever becoming Meera’s bosom friend were lost. I would have been glad to get out of that situation with all my limbs intact because Meera looked ready to rip Rajat and me apart.

A few heads popped from nearby cubicles, apparently interested to know the reason for the commotion.
Meera also seemed to notice the attention of others and lowered her voice.

She chuckled derisively, “It is typical, you know. A girl smiles and immediately you are making honeymoon plans. I feel sorry for you both.” With that she stormed out of the development bay, leaving Rajat and me staring at each other.

We were lost for words. Rajat looked ready to dig a hole and bury himself and as for me, I was quite willing to join him then.

I saw Bharath walking towards us and I thought I saw a glimmer of a triumphant smile on his face.
He came towards us and said, “Boys, what is all this? I heard some bits of the conversation. I am gathering that one of you gentlemen proposed to Meera. Bad, bad, bad business.”

Bharath shook his head from side to side so much so that I hoped that it would just unhinge from his neck and fall down. But nothing was going my way that day.

He was revelling in the moment. He continued, “You both should just hope that Meera doesn’t take this issue up with the HR. If she does, I will have no choice but to support her. Anyways, I am having lunch with Meera today. I will try to put in a good word about you both. Ease things off a bit, you know”

He went back to his cubicle. I envisioned him giving Meera a pen to write a complaint to the HR.

I went back to my place and slumped down in my chair. All my plans were down the drain. I was devastated. I stretched back in my chair and remained staring at the ceiling for a long time.

I must have remained like that for over twenty minutes when Meera walked into the cubicle. Seeing her, I quickly sat up and switched on my computer.

Meera hesitated for a moment and then said, “I am sorry for the earlier outburst. I don’t know what came over me. I had come in the morning thinking that I would talk to you people calmly and make you both understand my situation. But then after coming to office, I called my fiance and he got very angry and that got me also all riled up and...”

“Your what?” I cut her off.

“Yeah, I am engaged and getting married next month. I should have told you before. But I did not want to say anything without the invitation card” She took out an ornate cover out of her bag and extended it to me.

I was lost for words and looked at her with a hapless look on my face.

“His name is Sujith. We were schoolmates. Now both our families have agreed. We were waiting for him to get a job. He still has some back papers from engineering college. But he got a job with a bank last month. He interacts with the people who default on the loans. He has such great convincing skills. He is doing pretty well in his new job.” Meera was beaming with pride while she was talking about Sujith.

“Oh? He is a collection agent?” I asked while praying in my mind for it to be not true.

“Collection agent? Yeah, I think that is the title of his job. Isn’t it great? He is just perfect except for his temper. You know, he was going to come over here from Kerala when I told him about the message that Rajat sent yesterday”

I gulped and asked in a squeaky voice, “You told him about Rajat only right? You would not have mentioned anything about me, right? I mean, why would you? Did you?”

“Yeah. I told him about you also. I told him that you would have helped Rajat in the whole business”

I just hoped at that moment that I would be alive to see my next birthday.

“Meera, I would like to apologise for all our mistakes. We did not know that you were engaged. I don’t blame you for getting angry. And know that I am truly sorry. Please tell Sujith also that I am sorry.” I was genuinely apologetic.

Meera smiled and said, “Apology accepted. Please tell Rajat also about my marriage and both of you should come for my marriage.”

“I think I am going to be busy that day”

“But you don’t even know the marriage date”

“Oh. What is the date?” I asked.

“18th of next month”

“Yeah, I am busy that day. Sorry. May be Rajat will be able to make it.”

Meera decided not to push it. She said, “Please explain the situation to Rajat. You are a good friend to him. One in a million”

She went to her place and started off with her work. My mind was too agitated to work.

 I was merely going through the motions when I saw Bharath coming to take Meera out for lunch.

“Hey Meera, May be you should invite Bharath to your marriage during the lunch.” I suggested.

“Yeah. Good idea. I need to talk to him about my transfer also.” Meera agreed.

After I saw Bharath and Meera walk away for lunch, I went over to Rajat’s cubicle. I gave him the invitation card, patted his shoulder and said, “She is not angry anymore. And let it go. It is too late.”
I saw genuine sorrow on Rajat’s face then. I stayed with him and soothed him for a while. We finally got up to leave for lunch when I saw Bharath and Meera returning from lunch.

Bharath looked at me and I saw an invitation card in his hand. I did not feel elated. I felt a kinship with Bharath. We both were losers in the battle. I nodded at Bharath and he returned it.

Meera came forward and shook Rajat’s hand and said, “Sorry”

Rajat stood staring after her for a while.

I finally took his arm and guided him towards the elevator.


Meera eventually got a transfer to the Trivandrum centre of our company.
She got married to Sujith and as far as I know, is still happy in her marriage. I did not attend the marriage, neither did Rajat.
Rajat moved to Chennai and he found someone interesting, who found him also interesting. I hear that they are planning to tie the knot soon.
Bharath never invited anyone ever again for lunch. He eventually got married.
As for me, well I continue to be a damn good professional...

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Professional - Chapter - 5 - The Leap of Faith

“Hi Buddy” I said with an apologetic smile. I was the first one to wish Rajat as we approached him.
Meera had not noticed him until then. She turned around and smiled at him and asked, “Hi Rajat. How are you? Had your lunch?”

Rajat was still staring at me. Meera’s smile softened his features a little bit. Still his voice was gruff when he spoke, “Yeah I had lunch. You two had lunch together?”

“No, not just us… Bharath had plans of having lunch with Meera. I went along with them.” I stressed on Bharath’s name and looked at Rajat meaningfully.

“Why would Bharath have lunch with Meera? He never invited any of us for lunch before.” Rajat was not getting the picture yet.

“I guess he is being friendly”, I said with an extra stress on ‘friendly’, and to drive home the point, I winked at Rajat without Meera noticing.

It finally dawned on Rajat. He said, “Oh. Ok. I see. Yeah, he is becoming very friendly nowadays.”

With that he walked back to his cubicle. Meera entered our cubicle and I was about to follow when I heard a low whistle.
I looked at Rajat, he mouthed, “Thank you”, gave me thumbs up and went into his cubicle.

I was in high spirits. My plans had worked extremely well until then. I had to get a little bit more close to Meera and then the culmination of my plans would arrive. I would propose. Meanwhile I would have to get Rajat out of the picture. That would be tricky. I didn’t want Rajat to know what my true intentions were all that while. I couldn’t come up with any ideas as I sat down in my place and logged in.

As expected, I found six new tickets in my queue and a mail from Bharath asking me to give an update the same day. I smiled, put the problem of Rajat out of my mind for the time being and started off with the tickets.

I left office very late that day. Rajat had taken an earlier bus. He was waiting for me when I reached home.

“Dude, you did well today. Thanks for not letting Meera go alone with that p****” Rajat must have been extremely agitated; else he would not have used an invective.

I was modest, “Yeah, I am just happy to help buddy”

“No. You are a true friend. One in a million”, Rajat was showering me with praises.
“Well I try”

“Ok, my friend. I am going to tell you something important. I have decided, dude. I am going to do it.”

Rajat had a very serious expression. His breathing was heavy. His whole demeanour was like that of a man who had taken a tough but inevitable decision; intensity emanated from all parts of his six foot frame.

I did not respond. I waited for Rajat to make his announcement.

“I am going to propose to Meera”, Rajat announced in a defiant tone.

He looked at me searching for any expression on my face.
All that he would have seen on my face would have been surprise. Not anger, not pity, just pure surprise. I was not imagining such a development. It was so soon. Rajat knew Meera for a little over 3 weeks and he was already contemplating professing his love to her. It was stupid and sure to result in failure.

I said, “Good. I think you should do that”

It was Rajat’s turn to be surprised, “Really? You are not going to ask me to wait?”

“No no. I think it has to be spontaneous and soon. Otherwise, Bharath or someone else might make a move on her. You are right in this case. You have to propose.”

In my mind I was playing out the outcome. Meera would obviously reject the proposal. There would be future awkwardness. So she would have to clear her doubts with me, opening up a route for me to be a bosom friend of hers, thereby making it impossible for her to reject me when I made my proposal. I was thankful to Rajat. He had solved the problem that was troubling me in the afternoon. Once he is rejected, I would be free to make a move on Meera and that too without the fear of Rajat’s ire.

“So when and how are you planning to do it, Rajat?”
“I am planning to send a message”


“Yeah, I don’t have the guts to go and tell her face to face. I cannot send the mail from office id. What if she escalates it to the HR? So I have decided to send it as a message in Orkut. How is my idea?”

It was a very bad idea. It removed any remaining doubts about Meera rejecting the proposal.

So I said, “Ok man. Draft the message and let me take a look at it before you send it.”

Rajat hurried to his laptop like a caged animal which found its cage door open. He immediately set to work on his love message.

Meanwhile I freshened up and I was already in a good mood. All the troubles of the office work were left behind. Rajat was digging his own grave and I didn’t have to move a muscle to goad him to do it.

When I came out from a cold shower, I found Rajat waiting for me.

“How is the love letter coming along, buddy? I have to say it is a bit old school but girls usually fall for such age old methods”, I was enjoying myself.

“That is the problem, dude. I don’t know what to write”

“Ok let me do it for you” I was at my helpful best.

I sat down at Rajat’s laptop and found a blank message window already open.

I began to write,

Hi Meera,
Roses are red, violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet, and so are you.
Meera, I have wanted to tell you how much I love you ever since I met you. I just didn’t find the courage. That is why I am professing my undying love and devotion to you by this message. I will take care of you till my last breath and will stand by you in the toughest of times.
I love you. If you feel the same about me, please wear a flower in your hair tomorrow to office.

With Lots of Love,

“Come on, Rajat. Read and learn from the master”, I told Rajat.

Rajat read the whole passage and said, “It is good, but isn’t the flower in the hair a little too much? It sounds very cheesy, like it is coming out of some very old movie”

“No no. That is how these things go. Romance is always a bit weird, dude”

“Ok. Alright, I will take your word for it. So here it goes”, Rajat took a deep breath and hit the send button.

There was a chill in the room after that. Neither of us spoke much that night. Even when we went to bed, we were lost in our own thoughts. I kept twisting and turning on my bed wondering what would happen next day and at some unknown late hour succumbed to sleep.

The Professional - Chapter 4 - Two is company, three’s a crowd

Those days, going to office was a very interesting affair. Not because of the work. The work was boring, but the thought of sitting in a cubicle with Meera, made the journey worth its while.

Couple of days since I gave my new directions to Rajat, my plans seemed to really take off.
The days that I spent in an engineering college were not completely wasted. I had perfected technique of sleeping with my eyes open during the engineering lectures. I had continued to employ that technique in my office as well.

So when Meera tapped me on the shoulder, I jumped.

“Were you sleeping?” Meera asked with a curious smile.

“No no, no, nooooo.  I was just lost in thought. I always think a lot.”

“OK. Anyways, I wanted to tell you that, I think my efforts with Rajat are really making a difference”, Meera said in a proud tone.

“Really? How can you say that?” I feigned surprise.

“Well, it is this and that, you know. He is very nice to me nowadays. He does almost all my work for me and he even drafts the mails for me.”

“Oh that is great. You are really helping him and me. Thank you.”

“I just feel for Rajat, you know. He is such a good guy deep down.” Meera said.

I didn’t like what I was hearing. Rajat was overdoing it. I made a mental note to tell him to back off a little. “Meera thinks that you are smothering her. Give her space dude.” I could tell him that at night.
With that note safely stored away, I decided to take my plan a step forward. It was lunch time.

So I asked, “Say Meera, have you had lunch?”

“No I haven’t” she replied.

“Mm… Err… Ok… So I was thinking of going to the cafeteria for lunch; and Mmmm… Err… I was wondering, I mean, if we could have lunch together. I mean, have lunch from separate plates of course, but together, as in sitting at a table together, I mean, on opposite sides of the table.” A lot of blood had rushed to my head and I grabbed on to my chair for support.

Any guy who saw me then would have understood that I had a crush on Meera. But girls seem to have the ability to ignore the obvious. Meera didn’t seem to notice my stammer or may be all guys stammer when they talk to her.

Meera frowned apologetically and said, “Oh I am sorry. Bharath asked me to join him for lunch.”


Of course, Bharath...That snivelling, whiny man who made my life miserable. Our team lead…

Now it all made sense to me. The plan of bringing Meera into the team; Taking her out on lunch; Oh he was a piece of work. The brilliance of his plan hit me and I smiled admiringly.

I added in a sad tone, “Oh ok. Alright”

But my mind was racing furiously. All along I was concentrating on Rajat and I had failed to see the threat from other quarters.

Meera did notice my sad tone and suddenly she said in an excited tone, as though she had made an important discovery, “Oh I know. Why don’t you come along with us? We all can have lunch together”

I smiled. It was a genuine smile. Nothing gave me more pleasure than irritating Bharath.

I didn’t have to think twice about answering, “Yes. What a good idea. Come on. Let us go find Bharath and tell him the good news.”

Bharath was busy assigning the tickets in our team’s queue, when we reached his cubicle. He smiled at Meera and said, “I am coming, Meera; Just give me a minute.” Then he noticed me and his smile faded.

“Hi, any problem?” He was abrupt.

“Lunch” I said with a broad smile on my face.

“What?” Bharath was confused

“He is joining us for lunch” Meera said noticing Bharath’s confusion.

Bharath looked at me and then at Meera and back at me. Then without a word he turned and assigned two more tickets to my queue.

During lunch, Meera proved to be a good conversationalist. She spoke about weather and her training days and college days and a host of other things. Bharath and I, we were great listeners, oohing and aahing at appropriate moments and laughing at every joke that she said. But even while laughing, Bharath would glance at me and suddenly become serious. Watching him doing it, gave me a great deal of happiness. The feeling was worth the two extra tickets in my queue.

After lunch we went back to our cubicles. Bharath was apparently more irritable than usual. I decided to push my luck a little further.

I told Meera, “You know Bharath was in the first standard when Indira Gandhi’s assassination took place. Isn’t it, Bharath? He got to experience that dark day”
Bharath looked at me with murder written all over his face. If eyes could pierce, I would have had two giant holes in my head.

Meera asked with apparent interest, “Oh is it? That is so cool. It would have been pretty scary. As for me, I was born only in 1986. So I have only heard of those days.”

“Yeah, Bharath has lived out history. He is like a very wise old man. We all ask his advice from time to time” I added with a smirk.

Bharath quickly said bye and dove into his cubicle. I imagined him assigning two more tickets to me, if not all of them.

I was very happy with the outcome of the lunch. I had managed to deliver a stinging blow to Bharath’s approaches to Meera. Now I would have to tread carefully. I feelt pretty smug about my success.

Meera and I walked back to our cubicles chatting easily. As we reached our cubicle, I saw Rajat waiting there. He was looking at us walking towards him and I could tell that he was not enjoying the sight.
He kept glaring at me with a hurt expression as we approached him.

The Professional - Chapter - 3 All work and No play

Office is a place to work. But what comes under the purview of work is not well-defined. I am one among the many people who use this loophole to their advantage. I was trying to basket a piece of paper into the wastebasket kept at the farthest corner of the cubicle, when Meera walked in with a frown on her face.

Three days had passed since Rajat started acting rude to her, as per my directions. And by each day I had noticed Meera growing more and more agitated. I had watched these developments with a wicked smile.

Meera walked straight towards me and asked, “Rajat is your friend right?”
“Hmm… He is kind of an acquaintance.” I answered.

“But he is your roommate.”
“Yes that he is. But we talk very less and I never speak office matters with him and I definitely don’t give any advice to him”

“I can see that. He is sooooo rude and you are really nice.”
I was beaming with happiness. The happiness that one feels when a pretty girl tells you are nice is indescribable.

“Aah…Mm…Err… Thank you”

But Meera didn’t acknowledge my gratitude. Instead she asked, “Is Rajat always so bad in his behaviour?”

“Yeah, kind of… I don’t know… He is my roommate. I shouldn’t probably say anything.” I was given the opportunity to deliver more damage to Rajat and I was lapping it up like a hungry cat.

“Ok. I understand.” Meera said

I was not finished, “But I can tell you that he barely speaks at home and he is always angry towards the whole world and very pessimistic in his outlook. He sees a cute puppy and says that it is going to grow old and die. I mean what kind of a person says such a thing. He is… He is…” I was searching for an apt word to provide a crowning effect to the tirade against Rajat, when Meera thoughtfully completed the sentence, “He is damaged.”

I thought for a moment whether that word was sufficient.
 I felt that calling Rajat crazy or terming him as an alien or something more dramatic would have been appropriate; but I didn’t want to disagree with Meera.

So I also chimed, “Yes, he is damaged; damaged beyond repair. So damaged that…”

Meera cut me off, “But I can change him.”

“Say what?”

“I can change him. Oh this is so exciting. Rajat is the kind of guy who doesn’t understand what it means to be nice. I want to show him how to be nice. I want to help him. Oh the poor man. How sad that he had to grow up not knowing what it is like to be treated with respect and being gentle with others. I am sure he had a traumatic childhood.” Meera was so animated that she used her hands to gesture her joy. She was happy.

I stood rooted to the spot. The world was crashing around me. How could this happen? I had a perfect plan to paint Rajat in a very bad light in front of Meera and here she was ready to take him up as her pet project.

I finally found my voice, even then it was a squeak, “That is great.”

Meera left the cubicle, apparently to start working on her plans to change Rajat.

I didn’t move a muscle for the next 5 minutes. My brain was working overtime. Finally, I sighed and smiled. I had a plan. The situation was bad but not irredeemable.

That evening during the bus ride home, Rajat was going ballistic about Meera.
“Dude, you wouldn’t believe what happened today. Meera was very nice to me. She asked about my home. She asked about my studies. She was impressed with my academic achievements and even patted my shoulder. She patted my shoulder, man”

“Yeah, that is great, Rajat; that is great.” I was fuming.

“I have to thank you man. You are a genius.”
“Yes, I am a freaking genius.” I said through clenched teeth.

I kept to myself during the journey and Rajat didn’t ask me why. Why would he? He had received a pat on the shoulder from Meera.

At night, I casually brought up the subject of Meera again, with Rajat. I said, “So you think our plan is working, huh?”
“Yes, man. Working gloriously… Hats off to your brain” Rajat was full of praise for me.
“Yeah, yeah, now it is time to execute the second phase of our plan.” I said.
“Oh is it? Tell me what to do” Rajat was eager.

“Tomorrow onwards you are going to drop the act of being rude and behave nicely to Meera. You should be very convincing. Help her out in the support activities… Speak politely and just forget about being mean to her.”

“Phew. This is a good plan. You don’t know how difficult it was for me to be mean to her before. I mean, how can one look at her and say anything rude?” Rajat was obviously relieved.

“I like this plan of yours. I like it better than the previous plan of yours.” he continued.

I smiled. Not the smile of a victor, but a more cautious hopeful smile. I had read somewhere that girls always think that they can change guys and make them better. I figured that when Meera saw Rajat’s change in behaviour, she would think that she had succeeded and drop the whole issue. She would be happy with her success, but then Rajat would cease to be important to her.

I went to bed thinking about how Meera would run to me to announce her success with Rajat and how I would congratulate her, praise her people skills and then suggest that I give her a treat in CCD for improving my roommate thereby making my life better. I dreamed about us sipping coffee and talking while the guys passing by watched us in envy. I slowly fell asleep with a mischievous smile still playing on my lips.

The Professional - Chapter 2 - La Belle Dame

“Meera, Meera, Meera. Why oh God? Why? Why is this so? And you, Rajat, you didn’t find anyone else interesting in this whole world?” I wanted to shout out at Rajat.

But on the contrary, I surprised myself by remaining calm. It all made sense to me. Meera was the centre of attraction for several guys in office. She joined our team two weeks ago, a 2008 engineering graduate from some college in Kerala. She had told me the name of the college when we were first introduced but it did not register. I had been busy staring at her. I usually don’t ogle at people of the opposite sex (or same sex for that matter), but i believe the fault was not mine in that case. Why should somebody be so attractive and expect not to be ogled at?

I had my share of misunderstandings with my team lead. To put it mildly, I believed he belonged in a separate planet where apes ruled, but I had wanted to kiss his flabby cheeks and thank him for not only getting her in our team but also for seating her in my cubicle.

Since that fateful day two weeks ago, I had noticed a flurry of activity in my cubicle. Guys from other cubicles started to frequent my cubicle under several pretexts. People I had never spoken to had started to come and ask “How are you buddy? What is going on?” trying to pick up a conversation.

My team lead, a bachelor, had suddenly begun to take a sudden interest in my wellbeing. It had all resulted in my losing a quiet afternoon nap I used to enjoy in my cubicle.

But I myself was not immune to the effects of Meera. She had caused quite a flutter in the whole Development Bay, and I had to be inhuman to escape that.

She had a round face, with slightly chubby cheeks perfected by two dimples which sprang to life whenever she smiled. She was fair and the most noticeable feature on her face was her wide eyes which meandered beautifully in the corners. She accentuated the sensuous effect of her eyes by applying Kajal lightly on her eye lashes. She had a slight athletic build and even though she usually wore loose salwars, they could not completely diminish the grace of her body.

So when Rajat told me that he found Meera interesting, I was not surprised. I glanced at Rajat. He had been watching me trying to guage my reaction. It was dark in the bus; else he would have read murder in my eyes.

“Oh, that is cool Rajat. So you think Meera is interesting, huh? Why is that?” I had to make an effort to keep my voice level.

“She has a very charming personality. She talked to me the other day regarding the applications that she would have to support and all the while I couldn’t put two words together in front of her. Why is that?”

“Becuase you are dumb and belong in a museum”, I had to hold myself from blurting out. Instead I replied, “Dude that happens to almost every guy when they speak to a pretty lady.”
“Oh but I have seen you speak to her and I just wish I had your confidence.” Rajat said ruefully.

“Ah, well some people are naturally endowed with such confidence. But we are a very rare breed.” I felt slightly smug. The situation was under my control.

“By the way, do you like her?” I wanted to gather more information before I put my master plan into action.

“I don’t know. I mean… I feel my throat dry up when I try talking to her. I cannot keep myself from staring at her every once in a while. I don’t know. What does all this mean? Does it mean that I am in Love?” Rajat blurted all this in one breath.

“Now now, hold on. You have to think twice before using the ‘L’ word. Hmm… You know what I think? I think you have a crush on Meera. Crushes happen all the time to everyone.”

“Sure. Once in my college I had a crush on two or three ladies at the same time. I used to stare at them all the time and finally it all just vanished.” I was playing the role of a Love doctor with élan.
“Wow. How did it all go away?” I could tell that Rajat was impressed.
“Well, one of the girls told her boyfriend and we had a chat and then I… See that is not that important. What is important is that your crush for Meera will vanish in a while.” I said
“Ok.” Rajat was not that convinced.

During the rest of the bus ride, Rajat was quieter than usual. I knew it was only a matter of time before he sought me out again for some more advice. And that time I would be ready.

That night Rajat cornered me once again while I was slotting in a second goal past Real Madrid in FIFA08 in my PC.

“I cannot seem to get Meera out of my head. I don’t think it is just a crush. Dude, you have to help me.” Rajat said in a pleading tone.

I paused the game and sighed dramatically and turned to meet him with a bored expression. But my brain was playing out the different replies and suggestions that I should make.

Rajat said, “Sorry. You are the one who has experience in such situations. Please help me.”

I looked at the pleading face of Rajat and for a moment I felt bad for what I was about to do. But then I steeled myself and reminded myself that Rajat was a potential rival and I had to vanquish him.

“Ok Rajat. Listen to me carefully. If you believe you love Meera, you have to play the game with care.”

“What game?”

“The game of Love, my friend, the game of love… Girls like Meera are rare to come by and she will have several people swooning over her trying to impress her. So you are in for a tough fight.”

“So what do I do?” worry was written all over Rajat’s face.

“Rajat, let me complete. I was coming to that. As I was saying girls like Meera will have many guys around her trying to be very nice and friendly with her. So you should be mean towards her.”

There was silence in the room for a while. I let the idea sink in. He was sitting motionless on his bed and blinked his eyes in disbelief.

“I have to be mean to her?” Rajat seemed shocked by the very idea. He was always very polite to everybody and I could see that this idea was not to his liking. But the success of my plans depended on him taking my advice and acting upon it.

So I turned on my charm and said, “Look Rajat, Meera and you have common applications to support. So she will approach you with her doubts. You have to be rude to her. You have to behave as though you are tired of helping her.”

“But I…”
“It is all part of the plan, man. You keep this charade up for a week and we will then discuss further strategy. By then you will see Meera taking more interest in you”

Rajat was confused. But he seemed to trust my knowledge in such matters. For a moment I felt bad, but it was inevitable. He had to go down.

Finally Rajat spoke. “Alright man. I see your logic. I will do that.”

With a satisfied air of a victor, I turned my attention to the screen. Rajat was too busy thinking about Meera to notice the sly grin spreading across my face.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Professional - The Start

I had hit a roadblock in creativity and was struggling to find at least a tinge of the drive that I had earlier, to write stories or articles, when my fiancée said to me that she would personally come down to my apartment and put me to swords if I didn’t write anything within this week. Now, I am not easily scared by any threats; unless of course I know them to be true. In this particular case I knew that she would have been true to her words, had I not written this bit and so I have cooked this thing up. Read up and blame any mistakes that you find, on Ms. (soon to be Mrs.) Radhika for coaxing this unwilling soul to write.

The Professional

There was once a time, a decade ago or so, when a job in the software industry was the Holy Grail for most Indian engineers. Every engineering college in the country, with very few exceptions, solicited the presence of software companies to kick start their placement season, back then. Parents wanted their children to land a software job or marry a person who was a software engineer. The hysteria and the awe associated with a job in a software company were such that it seemed too good to last.

Now in 2011, the charm of software jobs have declined and it took a recession to bring everyone back to earth. Pragmatic people are aware of what a software job is; a way to step a rung of the ladder up from the middle class hoping that one day our kids will achieve the transition from middle to high class. We sport all kinds of branded accessories trying to show that we belong with the elite while secretly dreading that one day the company might show us the door and that, that day could be as near as the next. But I have observed that such pragmatism and a mildly sinister outlook to the profession usually sets in only after a few years in the industry. This is so because, most companies have a knack of impressing the fresh graduates with the smell of quick cash and making them feel important. It takes a while for reality to set in and by that time it is too late to do anything about it. The first one to three years in a company are the most dangerous. The new-found financial independence and also in most cases, life away from parents and relatives, tend to give people a false sense of immunity and an intoxicating confidence to take on the entire world.

It is also during this time that many love affairs spring to life. The professionals, young boys and girls, having made a transition into ladies and gentlemen, have to work in close quarters which when coupled with their sense of freedom and confidence can produce interesting scenarios. I was witness to such a very interesting development during my tenure in a software company.

I met Rajat when he joined my project team in May, 2008 as a software engineer. He was picked from a very prestigious engineering college campus of Tamilnadu by our company. My first impression of him was that he had his nose so very high up in the air that it must be impossible for him to smell even his own moustache if it caught fire. But over the next few weeks, I came to interact with him and then I realised that the air of superiority was indeed the result of an inherent diffidence that prevented him from approaching people and engaging them in a conversation.

Since Rajat was new to Bangalore, he did not have many friends around and so I travelled with him during some weekends to the nearby places and we enjoyed each other’s company. It was not long before we became good friends and that was a welcome change for me too because until then I had only colleagues and no friends in my project.

Rajat was dark complexioned and had a disarming innocence that put anybody who talked to him at ease. But it was quite another thing that he did not know how to put that charm of his, to any use. Most people had a similar impression of him, like the one I had when I first laid eyes on him.

I told him about this one day. I said, “Rajat, look buddy, you do understand that you come across as a snob...err... initially, don’t you? You have to smile at people and open up to people more readily. You can have many more friends if you only talk to other people.”

It was lunch time and he was about to put a spoonful of rice in his mouth. He froze midway and gave me an incredulous look. “Why would I need more friends?” There was a hint of genuine bewilderment in his voice.

I was lost for words for a moment. I quickly put a spoonful of rice and pretended to savour it before answering him. “Rajat, we are all social animals. We need our friends and family around us to support us. And having more friends cannot hurt you... You scratch someone’s back today and they might scratch yours some other time.”

“Scratch some one? What are you talking about?”

“It is an expression... Never mind. What I am saying is that you should socialise more. Get to know people who seem interesting to you. Talk to them and try to befriend them.” I was not about to let up on him yet.

Rajat was thoughtful for a while. He had stopped eating, which was very unusual. Usually, he ate his food with a gusto that would have put starving hyenas to shame.

I smiled benignly. I knew I was getting through to him. I felt good about myself. Here I was, helping a friend to overcome his diffidence and being a true friend. “I should remember to pat myself on the back later”, I thought.

Rajat continued to be silent throughout the lunch. When we were washing our hands, I was genuinely concerned. I asked him, “What are you thinking about? You have been silent for a long time.”

“I was thinking about what you said. It is true I should get to know people whom I find interesting. I shouldn’t be shy.” his face was grave when he replied.

“Yes. Exactly. Come on let us go buy some juice and put our laundry bags in front of Laundromat. Now itself the queue would have reached the main gate.” I said.

Rajat was still thoughtful. We went to Laundromat and placed our bags in the queue and waited for a while to smirk at the people who were placing their bags behind ours. Even that didn’t seem to cheer Rajat up.

I didn’t push the issue any further. I knew that he would come around eventually and empty his heart out to me, not by any virtue of mine, but I was the only friend he had in Bangalore. I returned to my cubicle to attend to a client issue that was assigned to me some two months back, which I had efficiently procrastinated until then. Rajat, who sat in the opposite cubicle, was not his usual self. Normally, he would have dived headlong into his work and wouldn’t take a peek away from his monitor until his work was completed. But not that day. I caught him staring at the ceiling and also gnawing his finger nails once in a while. “Hmm, finally the boy is growing up.”, I thought.

In the evening, we sat in the company shuttle to go home. Rajat had moved in with me couple of weeks back when my ex-roomie went onsite. I didn’t like my ex-roommate, and his going onsite did not endear him to me in any way. But on the bright side, I now had Rajat as my roomie.

I finally decided to take the high road. I asked him, “What is troubling you, my friend, and my partner in crime?”


“Oh come on, dude. You have to learn these overdramatic statements of mine.” I sounded exasperated. Then I added in a mellow tone,”Anyways, I was merely asking you what is troubling you.”

Rajat looked at me and said,”I was thinking about what you said at lunch time... About how I should get to know people whom I find interesting.”

“Yes. It is true. I have been known to speak the truth from time to time.” I once again felt good about myself at being able to help a friend.

“There is someone I find very interesting and whom I would like to get to know. And I started thinking seriously about it, after the speech that you gave me in the afternoon.” Rajat was choosing his words carefully and was speaking in a panting tone. It was not easy for him to tell me.

I instantly realised where this was going. But since it was Rajat, I had to be sure.

“Who is it?” I asked. I couldn’t hide my amusement. Until then I hadn’t figured Rajat to be capable of finding anybody interesting.

Rajat opened his mouth and no sound came out. He opened and closed his mouth a few more times like a fish out of water and then said in a whisper, “Meera”

“WHAT?” It was my turn to gasp for air.