by Sharmila Ramnani
Siddhanth Sharma, a newly qualified MBA, is like all new MBAs – he is unsure about what he wants to do in life. He is sure about just one thing – he wants to be wealthy and live the good life.
In the year that he qualifies as an MBA, campus recruitments are dismal with the recession in full bloom. His only opportunity is a bank job which he opts for without any thought.
However, from the time he joins the bank as a commercial trainee, he goes through a series of hilarious goof ups.
The only good thing that happens to Sid during his one year term is Namita, whom he is attracted to from the moment he sets eyes on her.
Will Sid stay on at the bank after the one year term? Will Sid and Namita get hooked up?
Enjoy Sid’s amusing experiences and find out about the outcome of his banking stint to know whether you should tell yourself, ‘Don’t Bank on Sid!’
It was the day of the campus recruitments. A few days back, our MBA final year exam results had been announced. I saw my name ‘Siddhanth Sharma’ on the notice board under the list of successful students. I was elated but not euphoric; it was no big deal that I had passed because the success rate was nearly 100 percent. What was important was the percentage scored. That’s where I was not that successful. I’ve always been an average-to-below average student. Studying never interested me. What really excited me was meeting people, which was the reason why I chose marketing as my major subject for my MBA course.
I was dressed in a full suit as all the other students were. Although our MBA institute was not one of the premier league ones, it was acceptable. We were hoping for a decent number of companies visiting campus on that day and hiring us. But we were apprehensive. With the global recession in full bloom, we were worried.
Mumbai weather is hot and humid. It is not suitable for full suits. However, it was a norm to wear one for campus recruitment day. And I was feeling extremely uncomfortable. I had my handkerchief in my hand and was wiping my forehead every few minutes.
I was waiting for my call to be interviewed by BNZ Bank, a foreign bank, which I hoped to get into as a commercial trainee. There were a number of students who were lined up before me. Finally, my name was called. I got up, adjusted my suit, wiped my face, smoothened my hair, licked my lips, checked my shoes and then started towards the interview room. I knew I was pleasant looking but I was unsure about my power of speech and lacked confidence where giving interviews was concerned.
I knocked softly and entered. Inside the cabin, I found a man who looked more like a gorilla, waiting for me in anticipation. He was huge, dark, had a moustache, a seriously receding hairline, which he tried to compensate with growing the little hair he still had up to his shoulders. I wondered how the bank could allow this kind of appearance… after all, aren’t banks supposed to be conservative, manned by men who looked stiff, perfect, uptight… almost like they were permanently constipated?
I entered the cabin with trepidation, forced a smile on my face and extended my hand introducing myself, “Hello sir, I’m Siddhanth…”
Gorilla smiled showing his huge, white teeth and responded by introducing himself, “Satish; have a seat, Siddhanth.”
“Would you like to have a cup of tea?”
“No, thank you.”
At the suggestion of water, I realized how dry my mouth and throat had become. It usually happened when I was under extreme stress. Gorilla grunted instructions to bring water to his cabin on his phone and then turned back to me. I almost recoiled when I saw the expression on his face. He looked like he was ready to pounce. “So tell me… what made you decide to apply to BNZ Bank?”
I was ready with the answer, thanks to the previous interviews I had taken. “I believe the bank is an ideal place for me to build my knowledge and experience of banking. Its heritage, clientele, reach and high level of services make it superior to the other banks. I have always wanted to be a banker and would like to start my career in the best bank.”
My answer was pre-planned and I hoped Gorilla would not realize it. I had given two interviews earlier during the day where I had used the same dialogue.
The first interview was with a leading telecom company where, upon being asked why I wanted to join the company, I said that I always aspired to be a telecom specialist. The interviewer had not seemed very impressed and appeared to see through my fib. All in all, I wasn’t expecting a positive response from the company.
The second interview was with a shipping company where I announced that I always aspired to be on ship. But unfortunately, I gravely erred when I told the interviewer that I would be proud to work as a naval officer. I realized this later while discussing with my friends about what transpired during the interview. Naval officers work for the Indian Navy while the shipping company which interviewed me was in the merchant navy. Besides they were looking for commercial trainees to work as ground staff. I knew this interview was doomed.
Gorilla offered me his big-toothed smile again and said, “Thank you, Siddhanth. Please wait outside.” We shook hands. I found that my white hand completely disappeared into his black one; it looked like my hand had been swallowed. I felt like a rabbit trapped in his burrow. Finally when he released my hand, I started breathing again; I thanked him for the opportunity (to be interviewed, I suppose; that was why I guess interviewees usually thank ‘for the opportunity’ without stating what they mean) and quickly made my exit.
It’s true that I was not sure about what I wanted to excel in professionally, but I was very sure about one thing – I wanted to be rich. I wanted to have the good life – a fancy house, a limited edition car, gizmos, a wardrobe full of top-of-the-line brands, a club membership and a credit card with a huge spending limit… and of course, a bloated bank account.
I waited in anticipation for the responses from the three companies. Finally the inbox of my email showed a new message. It was the bank! The subject line read, ‘Your application as commercial trainee’. I quickly clicked on the message. It said, “Dear Siddhanth, This is with reference to your application as commercial trainee with BNZ bank. We are ‘appy’ (happy misspelt) to inform you that you have been accepted for this position. Please contact the undersigned for details.” It was signed Sunanda Mehta and a cell number was given. I was thrilled. I could have jumped with joy. However, I controlled myself and promptly pulled out my cell phone and made the call. The caller tune was the Bollywood hit ‘Garam Masala’. I suffered this in silence. Soon I heard a very feminine voice answer, “Hello.” The voice was wonderfully melodious and transported me to the hills and the fresh breeze, the green grass and beautiful flowers. I abruptly pulled myself back to reality. “Hello, is this Sunanda?”
“Hi, this is Siddhanth.”
“Hi Siddhanth.” There was immediate acknowledgement. She continued, “I guess you received the mail.” Then without waiting for an answer, she said, “Congrats for getting the job.”
“Siddhanth, please report to work on Monday at 8 am. Come to my office. It’s on the first floor. I will give you all the details then and of course, your appointment letter too.”
“Sure Sunanda. Thank you. See you then. Bye.”
I hung up, elated. Finally a job! I quickly called my mom and dad to inform them about the good news.
Monday was just two days away. I decided to do some shopping for new shirts, trousers and ties. I called up Mohit, my best friend. He and I had been through college and the MBA course together. “Yaar, I’m through,” I said enthusiastically.
“Great. Which company?”
“What about you?” I asked Mohit.
“I’m still waiting.”
“Hey, I need to buy some clothes. Coming to Bandra with me?”
“Sure. What time?”
“I’ll pick you up in half hour.”
I bought two pairs of formal trousers, two shirts and two ties. The ties were the most fun to buy. One tie, blue in colour, had Mickey Mouse printed all across while the other one, a yellow one, had a large picture of Donald Duck printed on the centre. Mohit was unsure about my selection but I simply loved the ties.
I then decided that I needed a haircut and a shave. Mohit knew of a good beauty salon at Bandra called ‘Vous’ which I knew was a French word which meant ‘you’. When we entered, I saw the interiors were done up in hues of blue. It was very soothing. What got me excited was that the salon was ‘manned’ by only women. I turned to Mohit and said, “Good choice!” He smirked back at me. I asked for a haircut and a shave. While I was waiting, a completely bald man entered the salon and announced to the receptionist, “I need a haircut.” She gave him a strange look and didn’t know how to respond. He noticed her apprehension and pointing to his thick moustache, clarified, “Of my moustache.” “Oh,” she responded embarrassed. It was obvious that the man had deliberately stated that he needed a haircut knowing that it would mislead the poor girl. I guess he got some kind of personal satisfaction doing this.
A pretty girl who looked Chinese was deputed for my work. She spoke in a ‘Chinky’ accent. She smiled at me and started feeling my hair with her fingers (I guess it was to assess its texture and length in order to decide how to cut it, and not for any other reason!). I liked the feel of her fingers caressing my head. Then she looked at me and asked, “How would you like your hair cut?” With her accent, it sounded like, “How wou’d’u like yo’hai cuth?” I replied, “What would you suggest?” My counter question put her in a contemplative mood and she started ‘assessing’ my hair once again. I always had trouble with my hair. My hair would never stay flat on my head. It always stood poker straight no matter how much I oiled it. In fact, oiling made it look worse; my scalp was visible and the strands of my hair could be seen from their roots to the ends. I was constantly trying to flatten my hair in vain. I observed that when I was tensed or excited, my hair stood even more erect. After a moment, she said, “How about a punk look?” I wanted to make her feel good so I accepted her suggestion without considering the fact that I was soon entering the corporate world where punk looks would not work. She had a satisfied smile on her face with my response. She immediately got to work. She took a water spray and sprayed my hair trying in vain to press it down. When she failed, she decided to make it stand erect like it was naturally. Then she started cutting it expertly. Her fingers in my hair were so soothing that I nearly fell asleep. “Done!” she suddenly said startling me awake. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a monkey with his hair standing straight up and a curl on his forehead. My expression of shock took the girl aback. She asked, “You didn’t like it?” I managed to smile uncertainly and say, “It’s good.” She was happy. She left me to gather her tools for my shave. Meanwhile I looked at Mohit from the mirror and saw the amused look on his face. I wished I could wring his neck! She returned with a basket full of shaving things. She lifted up my chin and placed my head on the chair’s backrest. Then again the question, “Any specifications?” I had a two-day stubble which had grown evenly. “Nope.” “Should I leave a goatee?” “Okay,” I responded now very unsure about her tastes but yet not wanting to upset her. After a fifteen minute shaving session, the mirror told me a very strange story. There was a monkey with a goat’s shock of hair just below his mouth. Again she looked at me and asked, “You like it?” “I love it,” I blatantly lied. I decided to go home and undo whatever she had done. After paying for my haircut and shave and giving her a healthy tip for which she thanked me profusely, we left the salon. As soon as we were outside, Mohit burst out laughing and said sarcastically, “Man, you look slick!” “Thanks,” I responded back as sarcastically.
After shopping and my personal grooming session, Mohit and I called our other friends, Rajiv and Suketu. We met at the Lido Bar at Ritz Hotel at Churchgate for a drink. It was my treat to celebrate my new job. We ordered beer. The cold, bubbly liquid felt wonderful going down my throat. I was on cloud 9. Mohit asked, “So what do you have to do at the bank?”
“No idea. I’ve been told to report to work on Monday at 8 am.”
“Wow… so early?”
“Yeah, that will be painful. I’m not a morning person. It takes effort for me to wake up, finish my ‘big business’, bathe and get dressed. But I guess I’ll get used to it.”
“But for ‘big business’ one needs to be calm and unhurried, especially for people who have constipation as a perennial problem.”
I replied, “Hey, I’m one of them. I need to sit on the pot and think about exciting things to make my bowels function.” “Such as?” asked Mohit. “Oh, I visualize myself bungee jumping or sky diving and the thought makes me so nervous that my bowels overreact and free themselves of the burden.”
“So these adventure sports scare you?”
“Oh yeah they do! They scared the ‘shit’ out of me, literally!”
“Hey man, congrats for getting the job anyway,” said Suketu.
On Monday morning at 8 o’clock sharp, I entered the bank and found an attractive girl sitting at a desk facing the entrance. She had a placard hung on her desk which said, ‘Reception’. Due to the humid Mumbai weather, I was sweating beneath the thick (but trendy) shirt that I had donned. I had my Mickey Mouse tie on. I went up to her and asked, “I would like to meet Ms. Sunanda, your HR manager.” The girl looked at me for a second longer than necessary and said, “Sure.” She picked up the phone and spoke softly. Then she waited for the response. I stood in front of her all the while. I felt as if the entire bank was watching me. I was feeling very self-conscious. I looked furtively at the pool of tables at the centre of the hall which had employees manning each desk. My eyes met those of a girl who appeared to be pretty – fair, light brown eyes, sharp features and long, wavy hair flowing up to her waist, which she had left untied. She was wearing a pair of trousers, shirt and a jacket. She looked away the moment our eyes met. The receptionist suddenly said, “Excuse me; please go this way.” She was pointing towards her right. “Thanks.” I started walking uncertainly and unsure about exactly where her finger wanted me to go. I walked till the end of the corridor and found a door. I pushed it open and found myself outside the bank. It was the back entrance. I realized I had missed a turn. So I turned around and returned back in and found a guy walking past. “Excuse me.” The guy turned around, “Yes?” “Where can I find Ms. Sunanda?” The guy pointed to his left and said, “There she is.” Without waiting for an answer, he walked away. When I turned, I was faced with three ‘shes’. In my mind, I pictured Sunanda to be a very pretty, young girl based on the melodious voice I heard on the phone. So when I turned to the three ‘shes’ I looked for the best-looking one, but all three looked pretty average. So, unsure about who was Sunanda, I did an ‘eeni, meeni, minee, mo’ in my head to select the girl whom I should approach. My selection resulted in a girl in a pink top with a pair of black trousers. She was average looking and appeared to have a pleasant personality. I walked up to her and said, “Excuse me; where can I find Ms. Sunanda?”
“That’s her,” said the girl pointing to a woman sitting a table away from her. When I turned, I was overwhelmed to realize that the dowdiest of them, a woman in her early 40s, wearing a yellow sari with a big red bindi on her forehead, plump, with very big eyes, was ‘my Sunanda’. She had enhanced the size of her eyes by applying a thick layer of kajal around her eyes. Her eyes looked large and black like that of a witch. I winced inside but courageously approached her and said, “Excuse me; are you Ms. Sunanda?” “Yes?” she looked up and replied. I extended my hand and said, “I’m Siddhanth. We spoke on the phone. You asked me to report today for work.” Without offering her hand, Black Eyes said, “Oh yes, please have a seat.” I withdrew my hand feeling a bit stupid and sat on the chair opposite her. She then picked up her phone and spoke to someone.
Once done, Black Eyes looked at me for a second longer and then said, “Siddhanth, my boss, Mr. Choudhary will meet you shortly.”
All the tension that I was carrying made me want to pee. I was getting pretty desperate. I was sure I would not be able to go through the meeting with Mr. Choudhary without relieving myself. But how should I ask Black Eyes? I started feeling extremely self-conscious. But I could hold it no longer. Suddenly I looked up and said, “Where can I find a restroom?” Black Eyes appeared to be startled. Then she indicated behind her and said, “Go from there,” pointing towards her right. Putting the two gestures together, I figured that she wanted me to take the right and walk till the end of the corridor and then turn left and then left again and walk back till I was parallel to her desk at the back where I would find the restroom. So I rose and started walking. I was having difficulty in controlling my bladder. The pee was desperate for release. I tried keeping my discomfort in check while walking. When I finally reached behind Black Eyes’ desk, I opened the door quickly in desperation to see the commode; but when the door opened, there was no commode in sight. Instead, a man was sitting at his desk and a woman was sitting opposite him. He appeared to be dictating while she was making notes. His eyes were focused on her cleavage which was staring back at him invitingly. She had big boobs which half hung out of her brassiere. He appeared mesmerized. When I opened the door, both of them looked up with an expression of guilt. I felt terribly embarrassed. “Sorry,” I said and banged the door shut. By then, the pee was threatening to release itself on the carpet on the floor. I saw a peon approaching and asked him, “Toilet kahan hai?”
He turned around and pointed to a door which was just two doors away from the cabin door that I had just opened. I rushed towards it, opened the swinging door and went inside. To my enormous relief, I saw what I was looking for more than even God – a commode. Quickly I pulled open my belt, pulled down my trousers and underwear and… relief! And a big fart! I could feel my bladder contracting and my stomach deflating. Once done, I zipped up, flushed and turned to inspect myself in front of the mirror. I was extremely embarrassed to see a piece of snot hanging from my right nostril. No wonder the receptionist and Black Eyes were looking at me more than required. I pulled it out, washed my face and flashed a smile at myself to check if there was anything stuck in my teeth. Satisfied with the results, I opened the toilet door and headed back to Black Eyes feeling like a new person.
This time, Black Eyes gave me a genuine smile… I guess getting rid of the snot helped. “Mr. Choudhary has called you. Go this way.” This time she pointed to the direction opposite the toilet. “Sure.” I started walking, again unsure where to find Mr. Choudhary. Fortunately, she sent a peon behind me who directed me without any incident to the correct cabin.
I knocked on the door and entered. I found Gorilla there! Oh, so Mr. Choudhary was Satish Choudhary! He flashed his big white teeth and greeted, “Hello.”
I responded, “Good morning, sir.”
“Sit down, Siddhanth.” I sat and looked at him with a fake smile plastered on my face. His big, black hands were on the table playing with a rubber band. I was mesmerized for a couple of seconds and finally tore my eyes back up to his face. He was still grinning with a kind of a malicious expression on his face. “So, Siddhanth, you are all set for your new job?”
“Yes, sir.” I said this with as much of confidence as I could muster.
“Good. I just wanted to meet you and wish you all the very best. Ms. Sunanda will send you for an induction program to help you understand how our bank works. She will then introduce you around and direct you about your placement. Is that all right? Any questions?”
“No, sir. Thank you so much.” With that, I rose and shook hands with him watching how my white hand again disappeared into his big black ones. I quickly extricated my hand and turned around to leave his cabin.
Once I was out of the cabin, suddenly I was lost. I have a terrible sense of direction. Once I went to a restaurant which the architect had decided to design in the form of the figure 8. I was with my friends. We were students with limited cash. The restaurant looked posh and expensive. We had heard that the food was good. So we gathered all the cash we had, which was very sparse, and entered the restaurant. We found a table and made ourselves comfortable. When the waiter brought the menus, we opened them gingerly and promptly looked towards the right where the prices were printed for each dish. We found the prices to be sky high. “Let’s leave,” said one of my friends. So we got up and unfortunately, I found myself leading my friends towards the exit. I got confused. I didn’t know the way in… I had simply followed my friends. So I started walking straight hoping the exit would appear by miracle. I could feel all eyes staring at us… it made me feel flustered. I started walking faster. Suddenly I found a door. I just pushed it open and entered without thinking. I felt a lot of steam on my face. I halted in trepidation. When the steam cleared, I faced a mountain of dirty dishes in a sink. There were men at work, cleaning, cooking and cutting fruits and vegetables. We were in the kitchen! I suddenly turned around and almost ran out in embarrassment. Fortunately my friends realized my folly and were waiting outside for me. As soon as I charged out, the friend standing right behind turned around and led the way towards the exit. When we finally made it, I heaved a great sigh of relief.
I shook myself and brought my mind back at the bank; I was flustered. Where did Ms. Sunanda sit? So I started looking for someone to ask. A peon was walking past with a tray filled with cups and a flask of tea. I asked him for directions. Fortunately he was going the same way so I simply followed him and soon found myself standing in front of Black Eyes once again.
I noticed four more people sitting across the table from Ms. Sunanda. There were three guys and a girl. All four looked up at me when I approached the table. Ms. Sunanda looked up and noticed me. She said, “Did you meet Mr. Choudhary?” “Yes.” She then introduced me to the other four and vice versa. The three guys were Vikrant Malik, Sauren Shah and Srikant Surve. The girl was Vibha Bakshi. All the three guys were dressed similar to me while the girl, Vibha, was wearing a salwar khameez.
Ms. Sunanda then announced, “All of you will now be taken to the auditorium to view a short documentary about the bank. Please proceed.” Saying this she turned to a peon and asked him to lead us to the auditorium.
The auditorium was similar to a mini theatre. It was cool, had yellow lights and the interiors were plush. It had a seating capacity of about 50 people. We sat together on the fifth row. There was a stage which had a podium with a mike, a desk and a chair. Behind this was a curtain which was drawn.
Once we were seated, there was nothing to do. I turned to Vikrant who was seated next to me and said, “Hey, isn’t the auditorium nice?” Vikrant realized that I was making small talk in order to start a dialogue with him and he responded enthusiastically, “Yeah, it’s great. By the way, where are you from?” I understood that he meant to ask about my background. So I said, “I finished my MBA from Jawahar Institute of Management Studies. I’ve majored in marketing. What about you?” “I’m from Model Institute. My major is finance.” The others had turned towards us and were listening to our conversation. Soon, they introduced themselves again and each of us shared our backgrounds. All of us were MBA students. Sauren and Srikant, like Vikrant, had majored in finance while Vibha, like me, had majored in marketing.
Suddenly the auditorium door opened and in walked the most beautiful creature I have ever laid my eyes on. She was fair, of medium height, had long, straight black hair which she had left open. She had pink lips, a pretty nose and lovely eyes. She was wearing a short black skirt with a white shirt over which she had worn a black blazer. Her skirt was much above her knees from where came out a pair of shapely legs which ended in black stilettos. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I sensed that the other guys were in a similar predicament.
She confidently walked up to the stage, took the podium and tested the mike. She greeted us ‘Good morning’. Her voice was smooth and rich. We responded likewise. “I’m Lara Gonsalves. I’m here to brief you about BNZ Bank, its genesis and how it functions. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” we replied in unison.
Ms. Gorgeous walked up to the chair where she had kept her laptop, pulled it out of the case, turned around and went back to the podium to connect it to the projector. She had a sexy walk. She then wanted to connect the laptop plug point to the power supply connection. She started bending gingerly to find the plug point. Her short skirt rose to forbidden heights and unconsciously, all three of us guys watched in eager anticipation. And we were not disappointed. There peeked out a hint of pink underwear but before we could get more, she found the plug point, connected the laptop and rose. Disappointment! She switched on her laptop and the presentation began. I switched off right away. My eyes glazed over and soon sleep took over. In the darkness and the air-conditioned room, I slept like a baby. Suddenly the lights came on and I woke with a start. Time for a tea break.
I quickly got my bearings together and looked at the others. They looked as sleepy as me except for Vibha who was a picture of seriousness and concentration. We rose to approach the counter where a large flask of tea and another of coffee was placed. Besides the flasks were cups and a plate with biscuits. We helped ourselves. Ms. Gorgeous decided to mingle among us. We smiled at her and introduced ourselves to her. She turned to me and while I was telling her about my background, she winked! I forgot my lines and started stammering. She was waiting for me to continue, so I quickly recollected what I was telling her and started again… wink! Again! I couldn’t focus anymore… and another wink! Then realization dawned! She appeared to have a problem with her eyes which made her get the perpetual wink.
After tea, she resumed the presentation which put me to deep sleep. At the end of it, I was well rested.
After the presentation, the five of us headed back to Ms. Sunanda to collect our appointment letters and for further instructions. When we reached, she looked up with a benign smile plastered on her face and said, “So, how did it go?” We collectively replied in a very mechanical way, “Good.”
“Your appointment letters are ready. I’m going to give each of you two copies. You will need to sign one copy and return it to me. This will indicate that you have received the appointment letter and have accepted all the terms it contains.” Saying this, she handed over an envelope to each of us. I opened mine and read,
“Dear Mr. Sharma,
We are happy to offer you the position of “Commercial Trainee” with BNZ Bank with effect from the date of this letter. Your appointment is for a period of one ear…”
I knew I was to be appointed as a commercial trainee for one year. However, the ‘y’ of the word ‘year’ was missing. I turned back to Ms. Sunanda and said, “M’am, please read this sentence.” I indicated the sentence starting with ‘Your appointment…’ She took the letter and started reading; then she looked up at me with an embarrassed expression on her face and said, “Please wait a moment. I’ll insert the ‘y’ and give you a fresh print.”
“Thanks,” I replied with relief.
After we signed the letters and returned them to Ms. Sunanda, she instructed us further. “Each of you will be placed in a department for one quarter, which is a period of three months, in case you don’t know. At the end of each quarter, you will be sent to another department. Over a year, you will have rotated across four departments, which are the key departments of the bank. At the end of the year, you will get to select the department that you wish to be placed in on a permanent basis provided the bank wants to retain you. Am I clear?”
“Yes,” we responded together.
She continued, “Siddhanth and Vibha, you two are deputed to the loans department. Sauren, you will go to the investments department, Srikant, you will start with the deposits department and Vikrant, you will go to the credit cards department.”
All of us stood in front of her like dummies with vacant expressions on our faces. We were still waiting for her next set of instructions. We were not disappointed. She gave us the names of our new bosses and directed us to our respective departments. I was lucky that I didn’t need to find the way since Vibha was with me. We were on our way to meet our new boss, colleagues and start work.
We reached the loans department which consisted of a cabin and seven work stations. There were five people sitting and two work stations were vacant. We immediately realized that Vibha and I would be occupying them. The cabin door was closed and we assumed that it belonged to the head of loans. There were three guys and two girls at the work stations. Two of the guys looked in their 20s while the third looked older, around the 30s. They were average looking. Of the girls, one of them appeared to be in her 20s. She was petite with an ordinary face. She was wearing a salwar, had tied up her hair in a pony tail and wore spectacles. The other female looked older, in her late 20s, perhaps. She was tall, dark, had acne on her face and was wearing a pair of trousers and a shirt. She looked like a typical marketing person. Vibha and I decided to approach her. We walked up to her desk and I said, “Excuse me. We are the new commercial trainees and have been deputed to the loans department. We are supposed to meet the head of loans. Where can we find him?”
She looked up and said without preamble, “He sits in the cabin,” and pointed towards the cabin.
“Can we go in?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she said abruptly and returned back to her work.
We turned towards the cabin, walked up to it and knocked at the door. I gingerly opened the door and saw a pair of eyes staring at me. Oh no! It was the same man who was giving dictation to the secretary with the big boobs! I froze. Fortunately after a moment, I realized that he did not recognize me.
“Come in,” he said. Vibha and I entered the cabin. We introduced ourselves. I saw him eyeing Vibha from head to toe. I could sense her discomfort. I timidly tried to divert his attention to me by speaking on both our behalves. But he continuously shifted his gaze to her. He said to her boobs, “I understand you will be in my department for this quarter.”
“Yes,” we both stated.
“I want you to learn everything you can. I also want you to meet some of our clients and understand how business is conducted.” This too was addressed to her boobs. We nodded vigorously. He then picked up his intercom and asked someone to come to his cabin. There was a knock on the door. “Come in.” The guy who walked in was one of the three guys we saw sitting outside at the workstations.
“This is Girish Nadkarni. He will guide you. Please go with him.”
“Thank you, sir.” We left his cabin. On the way out, I turned around to read the nameplate on the cabin door. It read ‘Rakesh Gupta – Head of Loans’. At least I knew my boss’ name.
Girish led us out to his desk. We sat across from him. He introduced us to the rest of the team. None of them were too enthusiastic about meeting us. Vibha and I felt like outsiders. Girish gave both of us a corporate brochure and some brochures of the loan products being offered by the bank and asked us to settle down at our work stations and go through them. Clearly, he wanted us off his back.
We went to our workstations and sat down. Both of us inspected the desk and the drawers. There was a computer at the desk. I had nothing to put in the drawers. With nothing to do, I started reading the brochures. There was a brochure about the bank stating its genesis, its services, its worldwide reach and other things, all of which we had heard in the induction program. Even though I had been asleep, I had heard some of it since the audio was loud. I then looked at the other brochures. There were five other brochures for different loan products – home loans, personal loans, car loans, education loans and professional loans. Each of these loan brochures carried information about the product. For example, the home loan brochure carried information about the amount of loan the bank would give, the period for which it would grant the loan, the documents required and other things. I needed a cup of tea desperately. I wasn’t sure how to ask for it. Fortunately, a peon walked into our department with a tray carrying tea. I was relieved. He offered me a cup which I nearly grabbed greedily.
The girl wearing the spectacles suddenly rose and approached us. She introduced herself as Ria. She had a serious expression on her face. She stood in front of my desk, turned to Vibha and said, “I need to get visiting cards made for both of you. Please spell out your full names.” We did so. Now this was exciting. My first visiting card!
After that, there was nothing to do. Vibha and I were twiddling our fingers and looking at the rest at work. Vibha was looking very embarrassed. She appeared to be a little shy and introverted. We were seated next to each other. I leaned over to her and whispered, “What should we do now?”
She replied, “I think we should ask Girish sir for some work.”
“Okay.” We both got up and walked up to Girish’s desk. He was busy with some paperwork. He looked up and had a questioning look on his face. I spoke, “Sir, we have gone through the brochures. What should we do now?” He looked uncertain. After a pause, he glanced at his watch which showed it was nearly 5 pm and said, “You may leave for the day.”
Vibha and I exchanged glances of surprise and enthusiastically thanked Girish. On the way out, I asked Vibha where she was living. She stated that she resided at the girls’ hostel at Chowpatty. Since I had nothing better to do, I offered her a lift. Surprisingly she agreed. My car, a second hand Maruti Alto, was nothing that I could be proud of. But with no real income, except pocket money from dad, this was all I could afford presently. I had parked my car right outside the bank. It had been giving me problems lately. I hoped it would not let me down now. I said a silent prayer before opening the door for Vibha. I got into the driver’s seat and inserted the key into the ignition. The car sputtered like it wanted to vomit on me and died. Vibha looked at me but said nothing. I pretended to concentrate on starting the car. I could already feel the sweat in the palms of my hands. I turned the key in the ignition again and the engine came to life. Thank god! There was very little traffic on the road, which was surprising considering the traffic problems one faced on a daily basis in the city.
I dropped Vibha to the hostel and bid her farewell. When I tried starting the car again, it stubbornly refused. Now I was stuck right outside a girls’ hostel. There was a girl standing with her friend at the hostel gate. She had noticed me dropping Vibha. She came up to me and said, “Do you need any help?”
“My car’s not starting.”
“Wait, I’ll get you some help.” Within five minutes, there were four girls surrounding my car ready to push! I was supremely embarrassed. I put the car on neutral gear and they pushed. After they had pushed for about half a metre, the engine finally came to life. I was just so thankful. I poked my head out of my window and thanked the girls. One of them was rather good looking. She gave me a sweet smile and said, “Anytime.” Meanwhile the security guard came out at the gate to inspect the activity outside the hostel. When he saw girls surrounding my car, he immediately became suspicious. He came towards my car and was about to bend to speak to me, when I decided to leave because I sensed trouble. I revved up my car and zoomed away. I realized I would have looked like a nincompoop in the eyes of the girls but I really didn’t want to get into trouble.
The next morning, the folk in the loans department were a wee bit friendlier than the previous day. Ria came up to my desk and handed over a box to me saying, “Here are your visiting cards.” I accepted the box and thanked her. She did the same with Vibha. I quickly opened my box of visiting cards in enthusiasm. I took out a card to see it. My heart sank. The name and designation read as:
I noticed that there were a hundred cards printed. A hundred cards with my name and designation incorrectly spelt! I picked up the box of cards and went up to Ria and announced, “Ma’m, my visiting cards have spelling errors on them.” She looked up and took one card from my hand and looked at it. She read my name aloud, “Siddhanth H..a..ram.” “Ma’m its Sharma and not Haram. Also the word commercial has been incorrectly spelt.”
“Oh dear! Let me see what I can do,” she replied.
I went back to my seat disappointed. I saw her on the phone. She hung up and came to my desk and said, “Siddhanth, sorry, but you will have to make do with the cards. The bank is not willing to spend on printing them again.” I simply nodded. She was feeling bad for me. She tried being helpful. She said, “You can rectify the spelling mistakes with a pen.” I nodded again without saying anything. I took a black ball pen and changed my card like this:
Considering that I had a hundred cards, I realized that I would have to live with these cards for the rest of the year.
Girish approached me one morning and said, “Siddhanth, you need to visit a client who needs a large home loan. David will accompany you.” David was also part of the loans department. I replied, “Sure. Please call me Sid.” Girish smiled and returned to his desk.
David called out to me from across saying “Siddhanth, we’ll leave in the next half hour.”
I got a little nervous. I picked up the brochure on home loans and started reading it again. Then I decided to head to the rest room, take a pee and adjust my tie. I had worn my Donald Duck tie. It looked good with my blue shirt and black trousers. I knew I looked good. The only problem was my hair. After my visit to the salon, my hair had become even more stubborn. The strands stood straight up skyward like as if they were perpetually sexually excited. I had once tried wearing a hair band but it didn’t help. My hair emerged from below the hair band through the cloth. In fact, it looked awful. So I decided to just let it be. That morning, l had one more concern while looking in the mirror. I had developed a pimple right on the centre of my nose. Not only did it look weird but it also looked dirty because it had collected some puss. Now I had two options – let the pimple be as it is and let the client see the puss or burst the pimple and take out the puss and let the client see the hole which would be formed from where the puss would ooze out. I decided to let the puss be exhibited to the client. Pimple nose went with Dashing David for a meeting. David really and truly looked dashing on that day. He was wearing a formal light blue shirt with a dark blue pair of trousers and a black tie. He was average looking but his looks were enhanced because of his ‘gym-created’ muscular body and his good dressing sense.
We reached the client’s office. Chinubhai appeared to be a businessman in his early 60s whose office was a cubby hole filled with people and papers. He sat in a cubicle the size of a cupboard. We managed to squeeze in and were made to sit on stools. We introduced ourselves and gave him our visiting cards. He looked at mine for a moment longer and then gave me a funny look. David then started discussing the deal.
“Sir, where is the property?”
“It’s at Chembur,” he replied.
“How much are you looking for?”
“I have been offered the property for Rs 5 crore. How much can your bank provide me?”
“Sir, please provide us with your tax returns for the last three years. Based on this, we can let you know how much loan we can offer you.” While the discussions were going on, a young girl in her 20s walked in. Chinubhai and she had a discussion which made no sense to me. Suddenly Chinubhai turned his head, the girl bent and kissed him on his cheek! Then she nonchalantly left the room and Chinubhai turned back to David to continue the conversation. David had lost his string of thought and started badly stammering. He simply could not get his bearings together. I decided to save the situation. I said, “Sir, we hope you avail of our loan. We assure you our best service.”
Chinubhai looked at me and sarcastically said, “I’ve met people from five other banks and I’ve heard this line the same number of times.”
Fortunately, David meanwhile recovered and resumed his sales talk.
I later got to know that Chinubhai did not avail of the loan from BNZ Bank.
Rakesh Gupta, my boss called me into his cabin one day.
“Siddhanth, there is a client in Pune who is looking for a large home loan for a house in Mumbai. I want you to make a trip to Pune, meet the client and close the deal.”
I was immediately apprehensive. I wasn’t very confident about the home loan product offered by the bank. I decided to study it. Nevertheless, a trip out of town was always fun. It was a break from the monotony of coming to work each day.
“Okay, sir,” I answered.
“Siddhanth I hope you are well versed with our home loan product.”
“Yes sir,” I lied.
Mr. Gupta appeared to doubt my answer. He looked at me in a probing manner and then said, “Please ask Girish to brief you on what you are supposed to do.”
I left Mr. Gupta’s cabin and straight away went to meet Girish. He was on the phone and indicated to me to take a seat. I sat across him and listened in to the conversation. He wasn’t saying a word, just listening. Then without any closure such as ‘bye’ or ‘thank you or ‘see you’ he just hung up. I was surprised. Girish noticed my surprise. He merely shrugged and said, “Wife throwing tantrums. I usually let her rant for just five minutes and then hang up. She’ll call back once she’s let out steam,” he smiled. I smiled politely. Then he asked “What can I do for you?”
“Girish, I’m supposed to go to Pune to meet a client for a home loan deal. I need your help on how to handle the interaction.”
Girish looked at me and then said, “Sid, honestly, there is nothing to it. Simply carry the home loan application form with you, request him to fill it up and submit it to us. This trip is just a formality to make him feel good. I was nodding sagely. He continued, “By the way, do you know who you are meeting?” I had a stupid expression on my face. When I was told that I had to go to Pune, the only thing on my mind was what kind of fun I would have, where I would have my meals, what I would read, etc. My silence made Girish realize that I didn’t know. Without waiting for my reply, he said, “You are meeting Mr. Surve.” I started getting tense.
“Who?” I asked apprehensively.
“Shashikant Surve,” he said expecting me to react. But the name had no meaning for me.
Sheepishly I asked, “Who’s he?”
Girish looked at me as if I was insane. “You don’t know?” he asked.
I wanted to tell him sarcastically that that was the reason I was asking him. But I kept my sarcasm to myself and waited for him to reveal the biggest secret of the universe.
“He is Pune’s Mayor,” he declared as if he was enlightening me about the truth behind man’s existence.
“Oh, okay,” I said not knowing how to react.
Then he briefed me on what I was required to do, handed over the documents and the client’s contact details. I bade him goodbye to head for home to pack for the trip. I was to leave the next morning. I was told to buy my train ticket and do my hotel booking and claim a reimbursement from the bank. I was given strict instructions to live in a ‘budget’ hotel, preferably the cheapest hotel in Pune and to travel by second class.
I took the morning train, Deccan Express, and reached Pune by late morning after a four hour journey. I booked myself in a hotel that was functional – no frills, and freshened up. My mind was filled with ideas for fun. I wanted to go for a movie, do some shopping, I wanted to eat chatni sandwich at Marzorin, a famous eating place on MG road, I wanted to simply walk the streets and observe the people. But I knew all this would come only after I finished the dreaded meeting. I grabbed some breakfast and then apprehensively made the call.
“Hello, I’m Siddhanth from BNZ Bank,” I announced to the person who answered my call. I continued, “I have an appointment with Mr. Surve today.”
The person on the line responded, “Just a minute.”
Then a pleasant female voice came on the line. “Hello,” she said.
I repeated myself.
“Mr. Surve had to leave town for an urgent meeting. He will return only after a week.”
My heart rose in joy but I feigned surprise, “Oh. Please can you inform him that I had come to Pune to meet him?”
“Sure,” she responded.
I gave her my contact details and disconnected. Now it was time for fun! I had a great day in the city, went to a bar in the evening, got high on vodka and returned to my hotel room and slept like a baby. I returned to Mumbai the next day refreshed after my short, fully-funded holiday.
One morning, Vibha came to my desk and said, “Hey, Sid. It’s Girish’s birthday today.”
“Oh, how did you know?”
“I heard David wishing him.”
“Oh, okay. Let’s both of us wish him too.”
I rose and Vibha and I went to Girish’s desk and said, “Hi Girish. Happy birthday!” I shook his hand and Vibha followed suit.
Girish was in a particularly good mood and replied, “Hey, thanks guys. Would you like to join us for a drink at the Lido Bar at Ritz Hotel?”
I was surprised to receive this invitation because so far, Girish had not been particularly friendly to either of us.
“Sure,” I agreed.
“Please count me out. I have a girls’ night out today at my hostel,” replied Vibha.
Girish turned to me and said, “Great. We’ll leave from the bank at around 7 pm. Fine with you?”
“Yup,” I replied.
Promptly at seven, Girish, Ramesh, one of the other guys in the loans department, David, Ria and Sangeeta were ready to hit the bar. Girish called me and we set off in two cars. Fortunately, I did not get my car that day. I had sent it to the garage for servicing. We reached the Lido Bar within fifteen minutes. Girish seemed to be a regular there. The bartender greeted him and asked, “The usual? Kingfisher?”
“Yup,” Girish replied and then turned to the rest of us and asked, “What about you guys?”
All of us decided to have Kingfisher.
I took a long sip of my drink. The cool liquid slid smoothly down my throat. It felt good. Soon the number of beers increased. I was on my guard and was still on my second glass. However, Girish, David and Ramesh were on their fourth. I decided to check about that girl I saw on my first day at the bank. I asked Girish, “Hey Girish. Who is that fair and slim girl with light eyes, and long, wavy hair?”
Girish promptly replied, “Oh, she’s Namita Khanna. She joined the bank about a year ago. She is very reserved. A number of guys have tried to approach her but she does not respond. Her nickname is Ms. Ice Maiden.”
I felt a kind of tingle in my heart. I decided I had to get to know Ms. Ice Maiden.
I was now in my second quarter as a commercial trainee. The department that I was enlisted to was the credit cards department. When I entered the department, my eyes fell on the person who I fancied from the day I entered the bank – Namita (aka Ms. Ice Maiden). She was on the phone apparently speaking to a customer, addressing him as ‘sir’. She glanced at me and there was a slight smile in her eyes. My heart rose. We had been encountering each other in the canteen, the lobby, the passages, etc. but neither of us had greeted the other. I turned to a guy sitting at a desk busy at work and asked for the boss. I was directed to a cabin where the nameplate read, ‘Devdutt Neogi’. I knocked and entered. My new boss was a dark, bald man with a weight problem – a big weight problem. He probably weighed more than a hundred kilos. He filled his chair completely and portions of his flesh stuck out from the sides.
He greeted me and asked me to be seated across from him. “So, Siddhanth, how has your experience at the bank been so far?”
“Good sir. I’m learning a lot,” I gave the model answer.
“That’s great. Siddhanth, what do you know about credit cards? Do you use one?”
“Sir, I use a credit card. I understand how it works.”
“Great. So can you tell me about the credit card payment cycle?”
“No idea, sir. My dad pays for the credit card.”
Mr. Neogi (whom I started addressing as Mr. Giant in my mind) looked at me with a queer expression on his face. After a pause, he asked, “How do you use your credit card?”
“Sir, I use it whenever I want to spend. I carry very little cash. Most of my expenses are paid by credit card.”
Mr. Giant turned to me with a slightly exasperated look on his face and said, “Siddhanth, I meant to ask, how the card is actually used.”
“Oh, okay. Sir, when I go to a restaurant, after the meal, I get the bill. I place my credit card in the bill jacket. The waiter takes it away and returns with a printed slip of paper which I sign and then he returns my card. It is similar when I make a purchase. Oh yes, I have noticed the cashier swiping my card in a machine before returning it to me.”
I noticed that Mr. Giant was turning red under his dark skin. After a pause, he simply said, “Siddhanth, thank you. You may go. Please meet Namita and ask her to explain to you about credit cards.”
My heart rose. Namita! Great! “Okay sir, thank you!”
When I left his cabin, I noticed that Namita had finished her phone call and was at her desk looking at some papers. I walked up to her and introduced myself. “Hi Namita.”
She looked up and said, “Hi.”
“I’m Siddhanth, the new commercial trainee. I’ve been deputed to the credit cards department for this quarter. I met Mr. Neogi. He has asked me to take a brief from you about credit cards.”
“Sure,” she said, “Sit down.”
I sat down eagerly opposite her.
She started, “Siddhanth, we have two kinds of cards – there are credit cards and debit cards…” After that, I stopped paying attention. While she was speaking, all I could focus on was her lips, her eyes and her face. Not a word of what she said sank in. Before I knew it, she was done. “Was I clear?” she asked.
“Yes… very clear. Thanks,” I replied.
She excused herself and left the desk to go to the restroom. Suddenly I noticed all the other people of the department staring at me. Then Shrishail Dutta, one of the employees in the credit cards department whom I had briefly met at the canteen and had gotten friendly with, said, “Hey Sid, Namita seems to have cast her magic on you.” By then, everyone in the bank had started addressing me as ‘Sid’.
I turned beetroot red. “What are you talking about?” I tried to pretend that I didn’t understand.
“Come on, Sid! Tell us the truth!”
Then Shrishail made a suggestion, “Sid, why don’t you ask her out?”
I looked up at him in surprise. Then I said, “She’ll never agree.”
“Sid, I’m sure she will. Why don’t we bet? If you ask her out and she agrees, you win. What say?”
I smiled but said nothing. Shrishail again asked, “Are you game?”
I looked at him and simply nodded my head. Shrishail, looking excited, then announced, “The stake is a drink at the Ritz Bar, okay?”
“Sure,” I replied.
The very next day, Shrishail took me aside and prodded me, “Sid, ask her out today itself.”
I hesitated and turned around to look at Namita. She was busy with a customer.
“Later,” I replied.
At lunch time, I gingerly walked up to Namita’s desk and said, “Namita, would you care to have lunch with me in the canteen?”
She looked up and I saw a surprised expression on her face. Then she answered, “Sure.”
We went to the canteen walking side by side. We walked silently till we reached the canteen entrance. I opened the door for her and let her in first. We found a corner table and I ordered food for both of us. When the food was on the table, I said, “Hey Namita, is this your first job?”
“No, Sid. I did my course in banking and joined CLS Bank as a commercial trainee. I was there for a year. I then got an offer from BNZ to work in the credit cards department. I enjoy dealing in credit cards and the pay offered was good. So here I am.”
“Great,” I replied. Then I said, “Tell me about your family.”
Namita smiled and said, “I’m the only child. My mom is a housewife and my dad works for ONGC. Nothing spectacular about my life.”
I smiled. Then she said, “What about you Sid?”
I replied, “Just like you, I’m the only child – the only difference is that I’m a guy and you are a girl.”
My joke had its desired effect. She laughed. After the meal, I ventured to ask her out, “Namita, would you care to have coffee with me this evening?”
She smiled, paused and then said, “Sure, Sid.”
I could have jumped up in the air but had to contain myself. “Great,” I said.
When we returned to the department, Shrishail almost pounced on me and said, “What happened?”
I replied, “She agreed.”
Shrishail pretended to be crestfallen and said with a smile, “You won. My treat.”
I smiled back. The last thing on my mind was the bet.
We left the bank and headed towards Barista. By the time we reached, it was 6 pm. We sat at a corner table. I ordered two cappuccinos for us. At first, there was a bit of discomfort between us. Then suddenly, Namita spoke, “Hey, Sid. Are you enjoying your stint with the bank?”
“It’s okay. I can’t say that I’m having a great time. I’m not so sure about pursuing a career in banking. I don’t think it’s for me.”
I continued, “You know, Namita, I’ve always wanted to do something of my own; like running my own business. My father works for the railways. That was his first job and he will retire from there. I’ve seen how the job has restricted his growth as a human being with diverse interests. I don’t want to go down the same path. I love and value my time. In fact, I have the belief that one’s time is the only thing that truly belongs to one and I’m not willing to give it away for a job just for the pay. And Namita, I’ll also admit to you that I want to become rich, really rich. And I don’t think a job can get me there.”
She was listening to me intently. She said, “Sid, I agree with you about a job robbing you of your time but are you willing to take the risk that comes with your own venture?”
To this I replied, “I’m confident that I can make it work, Namita.”
She smiled, “That’s good Sid.”
I dropped her home in my car. Fortunately it did not break down on the way and the journey from Barista to her house was uneventful.
My intercom buzzed. “Hello?”
“Hi Sid. This is Vibha.”
“Hi Vibha. What’s up?”
“There is a picnic organized by the bank for the employees at Gorai beach. You coming?”
“When is it?”
“Sure, I’ll come. Are Sauren, Vikrant and Srikant coming too?”
I had not met or spoken to these guys since the day of the induction program. Vibha was the only one I had kept in touch with because of the stint we did together in the loans department.
“Yes, they are coming.”
“Great, see you then. Bye.”
I decided to find out if Namita was coming for the picnic. But I was too embarrassed to ask her directly. So I worked out a strategy. I went to her desk. She was busy, as usual, pouring over some credit card documents. I stood in front of her desk and said, “Hi Namita. I need to ask you for a favour.”
She looked up, smiled and said, “Sure.”
“I need to understand more about how credit cards work. Is there any good website that I can refer to? I can do surfing over the weekend, especially on Sunday when I have a lot of time. I really want to understand the intricacies of credit cards.”
Namita smiled and said, “That’s great. You can visit www.creditcards.com. Hey but aren’t you coming for the picnic this Sunday?”
Yes! My strategy had worked!
“Oh yes! I almost forgot about that. Yes, I’m coming for the picnic.”
However I still wanted to make sure that she was there even though she had used the word ‘coming’ and not ‘going’.
I asked, “What time does the bus leave?”
“7 am. I suggest you reach fifteen minutes earlier.”
Yes, she would be there! Now I was looking forward to the picnic!
I reached the bus stand half an hour before. I was one of the first ones there. I had worn a pair of Dockers and a black T-shirt. I knew I looked good. I wore my Adidas sneakers. Suddenly I saw Namita emerging out of a taxi a little distance away from the bus stand. She looked stunning in a pair of pink shorts and a white T-shirt. She had on a pink pair of Nike sneakers.
“Hi!” I greeted her.
“Hi there!” she responded with a smile.
The rest of the people came in droves and we were ready to leave. Namita sat in front with her boss. Due to his weight, Mr. Giant occupied about ninety percent of the seat and Namita sat in about eight percent of the seat leaving about two percent space between them. I sat behind with Vibha. I was constantly eyeing her and Vibha started noticing. We were making small talk. Then suddenly I saw Mr. Giant put his arm around the seat almost touching Namita’s shoulders. I froze. What was his intention? I had no idea about Mr. Giant’s background. I asked Vibha about him since she had worked with him.
“Vibha, how is Devdutt Neogi?”
Vibha immediately made a face and said, “He’s a creep. He stares at women and tries to make a pass whenever opportunity permits.”
My brain became on red alert.
Vibha continued, “In fact Neogi has a major soft corner for Namita.”
This got me completely flustered. I decided to keep him away from her. That would be my sole motive during the picnic.
When we reached, everyone changed into swimming trunks and started moving towards the water. I saw Mr. Giant wearing a pair of red swimming trunks. He had a huge belly, flabby thighs, breasts like a woman and a huge ass. When he walked, his entire body vibrated in different directions.
Namita appeared from her cottage wearing a two piece pink swimming costume. She had a superb figure and a firm body. I saw Mr. Giant turning and heading towards her. I too started walking towards her. On the way, I grabbed a beach towel. I reached her before Mr. Giant.
“Hi Namita. I think pink is your favourite colour.”
“Hi Sid. Yes in fact it is,” she said with a shy expression on her face.
Mr. Giant was just half a foot away now. I could see him eyeing her from head to toe with a hungry look in his eyes.
I quickly turned to Namita and said, “Namita, here, I got you a beach towel. Why don’t you wrap it around you? There’s a chill in the breeze. You may catch a cold.” I offered her the towel.
“Thanks,” she said gratefully and put the towel around her shoulders.
Mr. Giant reached and greeted her ignoring me completely. “Hey Namita, coming for a swim?”
Namita look a little uncomfortable but agreed. I decided to follow them into the water. I had my blue Nike swimming trunks on. As they reached the water, Mr. Giant grabbed Namita’s hand and pulled her in. She exclaimed, “No!”
However Mr. Giant didn’t let go of her hand. I ran forward and called her, “Hey Namita! Coming for a walk?”
She turned and accepted. She looked at Mr. Giant and said, “I’ll join you later.”
She had a grateful expression on her face. After walking a short distance, Sauren came up to me and said, “Hey Sid. We are planning to play volleyball. Joining us? Namita, you too. It’s girls versus guys.”
I looked at Namita for her response. She happily agreed, “Sure!”
The game was very lively. There were four girls in one team and four guys in the other. Smitha, one of the girls, was very athletic. She covered most of the court with her speed and height. Thanks to her, the girls won with a clear victory.
By then, all of us were hot and sweaty. “Let’s go for a swim!” suggested Vikrant.
All of us ran to the sea and started playing with the waves. Mr. Giant was sitting on the sand and watching Namita. She was unaware and was enjoying the water splashing around with her pal Vidhi who had also played volleyball with us. Suddenly Mr. Giant rose and walked up to Namita, and caught her arm. He turned her around and splashed some water on her face. She jerked back and exclaimed at the same time. I was chatting with Vikrant when I heard her. I saw the danger. I immediately left Vikrant and quickly reached Namita. I said, “Hey Namita, let’s go get some lunch.”
Mr. Giant had realized my intention and was glaring at me. I stood next to him. The moment he took a step ahead, I put my foot in front of his leg in the water. His leg hit my foot and he tripped and fell in the water on his face. There was a huge splash. Everyone turned around and witnessed his fall. His round buttocks were jutting out of the water in the red trunks. There was an embarrassed silence and then people (including me) approached to help him up. He did not seem to have realized that he tripped on my foot.
“Are you okay sir?” we asked.
“Fine,” he answered abruptly with embarrassment. Then without any further ado, we headed for lunch.
There was a buffet spread for lunch with a huge variety of dishes. I offered Namita an empty plate and took one for myself. Then Vibha, Srikant, Sauren, Vikrant, Namita and I started circulating around the buffet table filling our plates. Meanwhile, Rakesh Gupta, head of the loans department, had engaged Mr. Giant in conversation. I was constantly keeping a watch on them. Soon waiters started serving beer. Mr. Giant took a mug and was gulping down the beer as if he couldn’t get enough of it. We all helped ourselves to beer too. After lunch, we sat under a tree and chatted. I was so happy to have Namita with us. Then suddenly we heard a brawl breaking out. When I turned around, I saw Mr. Giant shouting on top of his voice at Rakesh Gupta saying, “You don’t interfere. This is my decision.”
His voice was slurring. The beer seemed to have had its effect on his big head. Rakesh was trying to calm him down unsuccessfully.
We got up and told Vibha and Namita to stay put. Meanwhile Mr. Giant had raised his hand to hit Rakesh. We quickly reached him and caught hold of his hand. All four of us were needed to control Mr. Giant because of his size and strength. Suddenly there was a huge sound of wind being expelled and then came the smell. We were unable to breathe for a full second. Mr. Giant had let out a gigantic fart right on our faces. When we were able to get our breath back, we dragged him to his room and managed to place him on the bed. He was sound asleep before his head touched the pillow.
The rest of the picnic passed uneventfully. I was satisfied with Mr. Giant being out of the way. The journey back was a subdued one for Mr. Giant who, by then, was suffering from a severe hangover. He occupied a hundred percent of the seat in the bus. I felt like a victor with Namita seated next to me in the bus.
We chatted about inconsequential things at first. Then suddenly she turned towards me and said, “Sid, what do you want from me?”
I was taken aback with her question. “What do you mean? I didn’t understand…” I asked her.
She had a very serious expression on her face and I could see a hint of wetness in her eyes when she said, “Every guy I’ve come across has tried to use me in some way or the other. What do you need from me, Sid?”
I decided to be honest with her. “Namita, I like you and want to get to know you better. That’s all.”
After a moment, a glimmer of a smile came on her face and she simply said, “Thanks.”
Her statement got me thinking. What had Namita gone through that she believed that every guy tried to use her? I decided to ask her when I got the opportunity.
The second quarter of my commercial trainee position was over. I was asked to join the Insurance and Investments department. I met the head of Bancassurance to understand what the department did and what was expected out of me. Mr. Ajit Joshi who was the head, decided to test me so he asked me, “Siddhanth, what do you understand by the term Bancassurance?”
I was taken aback with his question. It had not even occurred to me to ask what the term ‘Bancassurance’ meant. I really didn’t want to appear dumb so I decided to answer to the best of my knowledge. I wanted to impress my new boss. Besides I believed that the term was self explanatory. So I said, “Sir, Bancassurance means an assurance given by the bank to the customer…”
Mr. Joshi gave me a strange look and asked, “Assurance of what?”
Now that came as a knock on my head. I had absolutely no clue but I felt slightly encouraged because I believed that my answer was correct and that was the reason why Mr. Joshi had asked me the next question. So I started thinking for a logical answer and came up with, “The bank assures the customer that the insurance company’s product, which the bank is marketing to him, is very good.”
Mr. Joshi had a very strange expression on his face. He simply said, “Please meet Ravindra. He will brief you. You may leave.”
I felt unsure about myself but did as I was told. On meeting Ravindra, who was a senior manager in the investments department, I realized how wrong and idiotic my answers were. But was this my fault? I didn’t believe my MBA course had covered Bancassurance and even if it had, I must have skipped it while studying for my exams.
I was shifted to the mutual funds department. Niraj Bhattacharji who was the senior manager, started questioning me about my knowledge on mutual funds. Honestly, I really didn’t know. Again I didn’t blame myself. How would I know about any form of investing when I never had money to invest? So I decided to play smart. I threw the question back at him. “Niraj, why don’t you tell me about mutual funds; I’m a good listener.”
Niraj didn’t look too pleased about my rejoinder but launched into a lecture about mutual funds anyway. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t stay focused. It all sounded so very dull! I merely managed to catch a few words such as SIP, DIP, FLIP, skip, equity, debt and fund (which was the most frequently repeated word). I decided to take things as they came. A few days later, I was told to attend to a ‘walk in’ customer who wanted to invest in mutual funds.
Mr. Patil appeared to be a senior citizen. He was brought to me by Niraj who introduced us and informed Mr. Patil that I would attend to him.
Mr. Patil had a genial personality. He started by informing me that he had some money that he had saved and needed some advice on what to do with it. In my mind, I was confused. Did he mean he didn’t need the money or did he imply that he wanted to ask me how to spend it? His statement didn’t show that he wanted to invest in mutual funds. So I decided to clarify the matter with him. I said, “Sir, what do you mean when you say you have saved some money and don’t know what to do with it?”
He answered with a little exasperation, “I mean exactly what I said.”
Now I was truly confused. So I decided to ask him point blank, “Do you not need the money?”
He answered strongly, “Of course I need the money! As you can see, I’m a senior citizen and retired. Every rupee is precious to me.”
Now I was clear about one thing. Then came my next question, “When was the last time you took a holiday?”
The old man looked at me for a moment and answered in confusion, “About five years ago when I went to Kanpur to meet my daughter.”
I immediately replied, “There you are! Life is too short. You need to enjoy each day. I suggest you take a good holiday. You deserve it!”
The old man’s eyes suddenly lit up and he looked at me as if I had passed on some pearls of wisdom to him and slowly said, “Actually that’s a good idea. I think I’ll do so.”
He got up quickly and shook my hand enthusiastically, thanked me profusely and left walking with a spring in his step. I had an immense feeling of satisfaction. After a while, Niraj came to ask me how the meeting went with the client to which I responded truthfully, “He didn’t want to invest in mutual funds.”
Namita and I met regularly at Barista, usually thrice a week after work. We were getting to know each other better but I could always feel her being on her guard. It felt like there was a shield she had placed in front of her that no one could go through. One evening, we decided to take a walk after our usual coffees. I turned to her and said, “Nami, why are you always on your guard with me? It feels like you don’t trust me.”
I liked calling her ‘Nami’; it felt more intimate. Also, she seemed to like it. For a while, she didn’t respond. We were walking down Marine Drive popularly called the Queen’s Necklace. She was gazing at the sea. Then she turned to me and said, “I’ve been betrayed too often and I have lost faith in relationships.”
“What happened, Nami? Please tell me.”
We sat down on the parapet facing the sea. She turned away and spoke softly, “Alok was in college with me. We went steady for our entire college term of five years and we were to get married after he set up his business. After college, he went abroad to find out about the market potential for his business. He wanted to get into exporting readymade garments. He was gone for six months. We were in touch on phone and through emails. Initially, the calls very regular and he was warm and constantly telling me how much he missed me. However, a month later, he started calling infrequently and his mails became abrupt. Even when he called, he was distant and we had very little to say.”
Then she turned to me and said, “Sid, I’m an introvert and not aggressive. So when Alok started becoming aloof, I thought he was probably involved in work and I decided to give him his space. So I didn’t demand any explanations for his attitude. It never even occurred to me to distrust him. In fact, the question of trust never even came up in our relationship. I believed marriage and settling down with him was inevitable.”
I was listening to her intently. She continued, “Then one day, I received an email from him which consisted of just one paragraph which was all I got for our being together for five years. I’ll never forget the words. It said, ‘Namita, I want to break off our relationship; I don’t think it’s necessary for me to give you any reasons. Please don’t try to contact me after this. Good bye.’”
A teardrop slid down from her face while she was recounting this to me. I put my arm around her shoulders and didn’t say anything. I just wanted to hold her and comfort her. I knew words were unnecessary. My heart went out to her. Alok, whoever he was, was a complete fool to have let go of her. Being with her was the most satisfying feeling I had ever had. She was such a wonderful person – kind, honest, fun to be with, beautiful… I simply could go on and on. Alok was an idiot. Good for me.
One morning my boss called me into his cabin and said, “Siddhanth, there is a class that is going to be held in the bank’s premises on the basics of investing. I want you to attend it. It is for just one full day.”
I felt my heart rise. One day of no work! “Sure sir.”
After saying this, he taunted, “I don’t think your MBA course has taught you much on investing. We have noticed that your level of knowledge on investing is nearly non-existent.”
I felt sheepish and it showed on my face but I didn’t blame myself. What could I do if the MBA course didn’t cover investing? Or did it? Maybe those pages were missing from my study book.
The class was on the next day. I was told to reach at 9 am sharp at the oval room which was one of the bank’s conference rooms. We were served tea first. There were about 20 of us attending the course. The course instructor was a man who seemed to have the habit of droning. The pitch of his voice remained unchanged throughout the lecture. He was a Gujarati gentleman which was apparent from his English accent. He pronounced ‘zero’ as ‘jeero’, ‘cash’ as ‘caise’, ‘hotel’ as ‘hotil’, ‘film’ as ‘filum’ and the like.
One of the girls attending was Shweta. The lecturer appeared to have the typical problem Gujaratis have of not being able to say ‘Sh’ – so ‘Shweta’ was ‘Sweta’ and a guy name ‘Shirish’ was ‘Siris’. I was simply unable to focus on the lecture because of disinterest. Instead my focus was on his pronunciations.
After tiring of that too, I started observing the back of people’s heads. I started observing hair styles. One of the girls had her hair cut very short and at the centre behind was a curl… suddenly I found something moving in the curl. I started staring closely. I couldn’t figure it out… I stared and stared. Suddenly she turned behind and caught my eye. I was still staring. She glared at me and turned back towards the front. I started focusing again on her curl. She seemed to feel my eyes on her back and turned again. The lecturer was droning while all this was happening. Suddenly in a loud voice she said, “Why are you staring?”
Everyone turned to look at me. Before I could reply, one of the guys looked at me and said, “You have no manners staring at a girl?”
I started to answer, “I… there is…” but before I could say anymore, the lecturer said, “Siddhanth, I think you are not interested in the class. You may leave.”
I tried again, “But sir…”
But he interrupted telling me to leave right away. So I got up and turned to leave. Just before walking out the door, I turned towards the girl and loudly said, “There is something moving in your hair.” And I left. A day off for me!
I decided to call Namita and tell her about the incident. Since our last date when she told me about Alok, we had not had the time to meet although we spoke intermittently on the phone. We decided to meet at Barista at the same time. She was to come from a client’s office directly to Barista. I reached a little early and eagerly awaited her arrival. She reached five minutes late. She was wearing a pink salwar. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She looked gorgeous. “Hi. How was your meeting?” I asked.
“Great. The client is taking our platinum card.”
“Good!” I replied.
I told her about the investments class and the thing moving on the girl’s hair. She laughed till she had tears in her eyes. It felt so good speaking to her. I could sense that our intimacy had increased after her revealing about Alok to me. I asked her playfully, “How important is Mr. Giant to you?”
She looked at me questioningly, “Mr. Giant?”
“That’s the name I’ve given your boss.”
She laughed and told me about Mr. Giant and his obsession for her.
“Why don’t you complain about him?” I asked.
She laughed again and said, “He’s harmless. He’s like a dog who loves wagging his tail when he finds something or someone he likes.”
“But doesn’t it bother you?” I asked her.
“Nope. I don’t give it a thought. I love my work and I hardly need to interact with him. Being in the bank for a year has made me well versed with the systems and I mostly work independently.”
I looked at her intimately and said teasingly, “So if Mr. Giant does not have any role to play, do I stand a chance?”
She blushed and laughed without responding.
We left Barista and got into my car. On the way to her house, she turned to me and said, “Sid, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Do you have anyone special in your life?”
I looked at her and in a teasing voice said, “Yes, I do.”
She didn’t answer and I could see from the corner of my eye her crestfallen face. I continued, “My mom. She is very special to me.”
Namita turned to me and gave the most beatific smile I have ever seen. We laughed together. When we reached her house, I turned and said, “Bye, Nami.”
Then, before she could open the door and get out of my car, I bent towards her cheek and gave her a peck. She gave me a shy smile, quickly opened the door and left. The lingering smell of her perfume was on my lips. I knew the perfume – Lily of the Valley.
I was by now nine months into my commercial traineeship and I was tiring out. Each day felt like a task in front of me and the end of the day brought temporary relief. I needed something to relax me. One morning, I came across an announcement on the notice board which read ‘Yoga classes will be conducted on the bank premises at the central hall at 6 pm in the evening. Interested persons may contact the reception for registering.’ I decided I would join up. Maybe yoga could help me feel better.
That day at lunchtime, I walked up to the reception and met Melanie, the bank’s receptionist and requested her to register me for the class. My first class was to start the next day in the evening. I was instructed to carry a track pant and a T shirt. I changed and went to the central hall. There were very few people there. It appeared that the turnout was not very enthusiastic. After waiting for a while, a man in his 40s walked in and introduced himself as the instructor. He lectured for about ten minutes about the benefits of yoga. Then he asked us to lie flat on our backs with our arms on our sides and simply stay still with our eyes closed. He called this ‘savasana’. I called it sleeping. He wanted us to remain like this for ten minutes. We were supposed to consciously focus on each part of our body and relax it starting from the toes and moving up to the head. I started with the toes. Mid way up my thigh, I lost consciousness and fell into deep sleep. After some time, I heard my name being called and people tapping me on my arms and legs. I woke up with a start and saw the instructor’s face first. He was smiling at me in a benign way and said, “You are awake, good.”
I was embarrassed with all the attention. I heard two girls sniggering among themselves stealing looks at me. Then one of them whispered, “He was snoring like an express train in heat.” The other girl was in splits. That was my last yoga class.
It was Friday night and the weekend loomed ahead of us. I dialled my intercom, “Hey Nami…”
“Hi,” she replied shyly.
“Wanna go for a drink tonight? I know a wonderful lounge which I want to take you to. We can have dinner after that, what say?”
There was pause after which she shyly answered, “Sure.”
I felt a shiver of thrill go through my spine. “Eight o’clock okay with you?”
“Yup,” she replied.
At six o’clock sharp I left the bank and headed home. I took a shower, pulled on a pair of jeans and a gray Reebok T-shirt, one of my favourites. I left home around seven thirty to fetch her. She lived about half hour away from me. I had just got my car back from servicing which gave me the confidence that it would not give me problems.
I reached on the dot of eight outside her house. She emerged wearing a pink T-shirt and a pair of light blue denims. She had left her long, wavy hair open and had applied light lipstick. She looked edible. I had to hold myself back from grabbing her and kissing her. “Hi,” I said with a smile on my face.
“Hi.” She smiled naughtily. She got into the car and we were on our way.
The lounge had the latest trance music playing with dim lighting. The tables looked old and the chairs were actually tree trunks. The setting was rustic and warm. “Like it?” I asked her after we were seated in a corner table.
“Yup, it’s nice. I like the décor,” she replied.
“What would you like to have?”
“A Bloody Mary, please.”
I called the waiter and ordered a Bloody Mary for her and a whisky for me. The drinks came and we sat quietly sipping and enjoying the music. There were very few tables occupied. A couple got up and started slow dancing on the small dance floor in front of the bar. Both the guy and the girl were in jeans and T shirts. They looked good together. They were clinging to each other. Namita and I were watching them. Then the guy bent down and kissed the girl on the lips. Namita looked away. I smiled inwardly. She pretended to be busy sipping her drink. “Hey, you like your drink?” I asked her.
She looked up and smiled, “Yes.”
“Do you like Thai food?” I asked her.
“That’s my favourite.”
“Great. There is a Thai restaurant just around the corner. You ready for dinner?”
I paid the bill and we left. After we ordered the food, I asked her, “Nami, you had told me that you have been betrayed often. I know about Alok, but who else has betrayed you?”
I really wanted to know and I decided to come out with it straightforward. She looked at me with a sad expression and said, “Sid, it happened in the bank itself. When I just joined the bank, I met this guy who I was supposed to learn under. He is no longer with the bank. During my training period, we got to know each other better. Soon we were dating and one thing led to another.”
She appeared to be more open after the drink. Then she hesitated, “I slept with him…”
She seemed to be struggling within. Gently I said, “Go on.”
“After a few months of being together, I found him in his cabin with his hands inside his secretary’s shirt.”
“Disgusting,” I said emotionally.
She did not respond. I took her hand in mine across the table. She didn’t seem to have anything else to say. I softly told her, “Nami, I understand how difficult it has been for you, but please don’t let it make you cynical or bitter.”
I meant to imply that she should give me a chance. She seemed to understand and gave me a smile. “Sid, I’ve learnt from these experiences but I have not let them make me judge everyone in the same light. I’m hoping there is some goodness in this world.”
Her last statement was said in a lightly humorous tone of voice but I knew that she meant it.
I had reached the last quarter of my stint as a commercial trainee with the bank. My last placement was with the deposits department. I met Akshat Parekh, the Head of Deposits. He said, “Siddhanth, remember, the type of deposit is not important; what is important is that the money once deposited, should remain with us. You need to offer the customer all types of deposit plans to convince him to retain his cash with us. Got that?”
“Now, come here and shake hands with me.”
I found his invitation and his expression a little repulsive. I gingerly went forward and extended my hand. He rose and came around his desk. He stood very close to me. Then he took my extended right hand in his right hand and he moved his left hand around to my bum and felt it. I nearly jumped back. Not only that, I also felt him kind of caressing the palm of my hand. I quickly pulled my hand away and took a step back. He had a queer smile on his face. He then said, “All the best, dear.”
I gave him a fake smile, turned around and left his cabin as quickly as my legs could take me.
When I left his cabin, the guy sitting at one of the work stations called me, “Hey, Siddhanth. Please come here.”
I went up to him and he extended his hand. We shook hands and he introduced himself. “I’m Terence Lobo. I’m the senior manager for deposits. Have a seat. Let me explain to you about the products we have.”
Terence then started a tirade about sweep in deposits, sweep out deposits, multi deposits, unfixed deposits, all in one, one in all deposits and many more kinds of deposits. After a continuous spiel of half an hour, I desperately needed a break. An idea occurred to me. Without Terence noticing, I messaged Vibha to call me. In the next minute, my mobile started ringing. I pretended to be surprised, looked at my mobile display and then looked up at Terence and said, “Sir, this is from my home. Please can I take the call?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
I rose and walked some distance away and answered. “What happened, Sid?”
“Thanks for saving me, Vibha. You just rescued me from the most aggravating lecture on deposits.”
Vibha started laughing. “Sid, when will you get serious?”
“Never! Thanks anyways, Vibha. Bye.”
When I returned, Terence was busy on the phone after which he seemed to have forgotten to complete his lecture. I was saved.
The work in the deposits division involved a whole load of paperwork. I had to help clients fill in their fixed deposit forms, check the completed forms, have the fixed deposit certificates prepared for submission to the clients and do other trivial work. By the end of the day, my eyes would feel fatigued and my head would hurt.
One day I was dreadfully bored filling in and checking the deposit forms. My eyes were feeling heavy with sleep. My mind went into sleep mode. My body felt limp. My chair, which was well cushioned, felt soft and cosy. I was gently swivelling myself from side to side on my chair when… thud! I found myself on the floor on my back with my legs up and spread open in spread eagle position, my trouser legs had risen up and my socks could be seen. My chair had broken. When I realized what had happened, I closed my mouth, which had opened with the impact, I reduced the size of my eyes to normal, brought my legs down, pulled my torso up and reached sitting position on the floor. Meanwhile, there were five people standing around me asking me if I was okay. “Yes, don’t worry,” I replied as firmly as possible.
I tried to act as athletic as possible by swinging my body up to standing position and much to my relief, my body didn’t let me down (literally!).
I met Namita that evening and recounted how my new boss tried to make a pass at me. I also told her how I fell off the chair. She was laughing so hard that all the people in Barista started staring at us. Finally when she quietened down, I told her, “Hey, I’m surely going to leave the bank even if they are stupid enough to offer me a permanent position. Nami, I’m quite sure this is not what I want to do with my life.”
Namita looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I understand, Sid.”
Then I took her hand in mine and said softly, “Nami, although we won’t meet everyday, I’ll be just a phone call away; you know that don’t you?”
“Sure, Sid,” she said smiling warmly.
Soon we were chatting about the people in the bank and mundane things before I dropped her home and wished her good night.
‘All are invited for a one-day trek to Matheran on Sunday 24 October. To register, please contact the reception.’ I was reading the notice board with Vibha. I love walking. A trek sounded like fun. “Want to go?” I turned to Vibha and asked.
“No, no. I’m not into treks. You?”
“I think I’ll go,” I replied.
I registered myself. I checked with Namita but she too was not going.
On Sunday morning, I reached CST station from where we were to take the Deccan Express to Neral. It was a one and half hour journey. There were six of us doing the trek; all guys. When the train reached the platform, all of us jumped into the unreserved compartment. The train was very crowded. I managed to sit on the edge of a seat. There were a number of people standing. There was a man sitting opposite me with a young boy (probably his son) of about ten years of age, sitting on his lap. He was staring at me as if I was some alien from outer space. I looked at him thinking he would look away but he didn’t. He continued to stare at me. Finally I thought that something must be on my face so I raised my hands and rubbed my face. The boy was still looking at me. Then I tried to ignore him but could not. I decided to divert his attention so I gave him a toffee. He took the toffee as if it was his birthright, unwrapped it, popped it into his mouth and continued staring at me. I didn’t know what else to do. Suddenly I felt a moving sensation on my head. There was something in my hair. I caught hold of the tuft of hair I was uncomfortable with and felt a tiny blob in my hands. When I took it out, I discovered it to be a caterpillar. I threw it on the floor of the compartment in disgust. So that was the reason why that boy had been staring at me! When I looked at him again, he gave me an impish grin. I wished I could pull his silly nose!
We finally reached Neral station and were glad to get off the train. Before commencing our trek, we ate a hearty brunch at a small dhaba. I ate two parathas and paneer sabji. We decided to trek along the road so that we don’t lose our way. The weather was pleasant and the landscape was lush and green. We reached Dasturi Gate which is about eight kilometres from Neral station and took a short break. Then we started walking. We came across farms, streams and beautiful flowers. We took the next stop at Janmapatti railway station where we had some tea and biscuits. From there, the trekking path got steeper and after a strenuous climb, we reached Matheran.
We stood at the top feeling like emperors who own the world. Looking down from the mountain top was fascinating. Suddenly, Hamid, one of the guys in our team, started crying and holding on to Asif, another of the trekkers. He was sweating profusely and speaking incoherently. He was looking down the mountain with a frightened expression on his face. “What’s wrong Hamid?” Asif asked.
Hamid started bawling like a baby. Then he exclaimed, “We’ll never be able to go back down. Let’s dig our graves and lie down in it and wait for death!”
All of us looked at each other in surprise. Then we made Hamid sit down on the grass and gave him some water. He was shaking with fear. Suddenly I realized what was wrong. I asked, “Hamid, are you scared of heights?”
He simply nodded his head.
I got an idea. We had some beer bottles that we had carried. I whispered to Asif to make Hamid have some beer. Asif brightened at the idea. He opened a bottle and told Hamid, “Have this. You’ll feel better.”
Hamid took a few large gulps of beer. After a while, he quietened down. Suddenly he started laughing hysterically… he sounded like a hyena. I knew what I had to do. SLAP! I whacked him on his cheek. That did the trick. He calmed down immediately. After that he didn’t say a word. We decided to start our downward trek immediately in case Hamid acted up again. Climbing down was quick and uneventful. Asif positioned himself right in front of Hamid and Hamid had his hand on Asif’s shoulder throughout the return trek. We reached down much faster – in just one and a half hours. We decided to rest and refresh ourselves. We found an udipi restaurant where we had idlis and dosas. After eating and relieving ourselves of all the accumulated pee, we decided to guzzle on the beer that we had carried. I drank two bottles. By the time we had finished our beer, all of us were slightly tipsy. We started singing and telling each other jokes. Suresh, one of the guys, asked us a riddle. “There was a black car driving very fast on a black road with no street lights on. Suddenly, a black cat came in the way but the car did not hit the cat. How?”
None of us could guess the answer. He answered with a smirk on his face, “Because it was day time stupid!”
I remembered a riddle, which I challenged them with. “There is an English word where the first two letters imply a male, the first three letters imply a female, the first four letters imply a great man, and the whole word describes a great woman. What is the word?”
“Is it ‘Dame…something’?” Asif tried to guess.
“Wrong. Heroine,” I gleefully announced.
The combined voices of the six of us sounded like an audience which had been connected to a mike hooked on to Panasonic speakers. The rest of the customers in the restaurant were staring at us as if we were dacoits who were holding the restaurant and them at ransom.
By then Hamid was totally drunk. All the excitement and the booze had got to him. Suddenly he bent over and whoosh! A whole bucketful of puke came out of his mouth. Fortunately we were standing just outside the restaurant and the puke landed on the road. We decided to make ourselves scarce. We took the next train back home.
The bank announced a year-end party which had a number of contests. There was a quiz show, a dance contest and a fashion show. Namita registered herself for the quiz show. I had noticed her level of general knowledge during our discussions at lunch in the canteen. She was a voracious reader and loved learning about things. The final list of participants in each contest was posted on the notice board. Each contest had five participants.
The annual day began at six in the evening. The quiz contest was the first contest followed by the fashion show and then the dance contest. Namita appeared to be a little tense. I was with her giving her encouragement and telling her to stay calm. Finally the announcement for the participants of the quiz contest to come on stage was made. I wished Namita all the best. She looked at me gratefully and went on stage. She looked stunning in her black gown which had silver sequence. The gown accentuated her gorgeous figure and her stunning face. She looked more like a model than an intellectual person taking part in a quiz contest.
The quiz contest was being hosted by Sujoy Das, a renowned quiz master. He explained the rules. There were five rounds – a music round where the participants had to listen to a music clip and recognize who the singer was, a sports round, a history round, a business round which was a visual round where the participants would be shown a picture of a business person and they would have to guess the name of the person and the company, and finally a general knowledge round, which would be conducted in the format of a rapid fire round where each participant would be asked as many questions as he/she could answer in 10 seconds. If the participant was unsure of the answer or did not know the answer, he/she would say ‘pass’ in order to save time. Each round (except the general knowledge rapid fire round) would have six questions. Each participant would be permitted to answer all the questions. Whoever pressed the buzzer first would be permitted to answer the question. If the answer given was wrong, then the participant who pressed the buzzer the second would be given the opportunity to answer. Each correct answer got ten points. Each wrong answer got minus ten points.
The quiz contest had five participants – there were four guys – Hari, Rahul, Dinesh and Prakash and just one girl – Namita. The whole crowd was pitching for Namita.
Sujoy announced the start of the quiz contest with the music round. He said, “Here is a music clip. Guess the name of the singer.” The music clip was played. Dinesh pressed the buzzer first. He was confident. He answered, “Lata Mangeshkar.” The song was Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya from the movie Mughal-E-Azam. “Correct,” confirmed Sujoy.
In the next music clip, Namita pressed the buzzer first and gave the correct answer. Prakash got the third answer correct. The fourth question saw Rahul pressing the buzzer and answering, “Kumar Sanu.”
“Wrong,” announced Sujoy.
Namita had pressed the buzzer after Rahul so she got the chance to reply. She said confidently, “Shaan.” The song was Tune Mujhe Pehchaana Nahin from the movie Raju Chacha.
The fifth clip was won by Dinesh and the last clip was answered by Rahul, this time correctly. The end of the music round indicated Namita and Dinesh to be leading with equal scores of 20 each. Rahul and Hari were at zero while Prakash was at 10 points.
The second round was the sports round in which I knew Namita to be weak. In this round, Hari and Rahul scored over the other participants. The first two questions were answered correctly by Rahul with Hari answering the next two questions correctly. The fifth question was attempted by Namita but her answer was incorrect and Dinesh gave the correct answer. In the last question, Rahul gave the correct answer resulting in Rahul and Dinesh taking the lead at 30 points each, Hari at 20 points and Namita and Prakash trailing at 10 points each.
Namita appeared to be cool in spite of the setback.
The third round was the business round where Dinesh put up a good performance. He was the highest scorer answering 3 questions of the 6 questions correctly. Namita answered one question and Prakash answered two questions. The result was Dinesh being clearly ahead at 60 points with Rahul and Prakash at 30 points each and Namita and Hari trailing at 20 points each.
In the fourth round, which was the History round, Namita was simply superb scoring 40 points with Hari scoring 10 points and Prakash scoring the other 10. At the end of this round, Namita had caught up with Dinesh and both were at 60 points with Prakash at 40 points and Hari and Rahul at 30 points each.
The last round was the rapid fire round which consisted of general knowledge questions. Each participant would get 10 seconds to answer as many questions as possible. The first to go was Prakash, who managed to score 30 points in this round. Hari was next. He managed to answer 3 questions giving him 30 points more. After him was Rahul, who managed a dismal 20 points. Dinesh who was next gave a superb performance answering 5 questions correctly giving him a huge chunk of 50 points. Namita was last. She knew this round would be the clincher. Her face showed complete concentration. Sujoy started the stopwatch and fired the first question. The first question was, “To whom are the Dilwara Temples at Mount Abu dedicated?” Namita hesitated and said, “Pass.” My heart sank. Then she answered the next 4 questions correctly. The fifth question was, “Who is the author of the book ‘India from Midnight to Millennium’?” “Pass.” I knew the answer to be Shashi Tharoor. How I wished I could help Namita! I was clenching and unclenching my hands. The next question was, “Which Indian President got two consecutive terms in office?” “Dr Rajendra Prasad.” “Correct.”
The stop watch showed just 3 seconds left. The next question was, “Which country was Gautama Buddha born in?”
10 seconds were up. Namita had scored 60 points. She won by just 10 points! I jumped up in the air and shouted, “Congrats Namita!”
The audience roared and she got a standing ovation. The final scores were Namita with 120 points, Dinesh close behind with 110 points, Prakash with 70 points and Hari and Rahul with 60 and 50 points respectively.
Namita was awarded a huge bouquet of orchid flowers amid a huge round of applause.
After the contest, Namita and I went out of the auditorium for a breath of fresh air. It was nearly half past eight in the evening. The street outside the auditorium was quiet. We sat on the step of the auditorium’s back entrance side by side. For some time neither of us said anything. Then I took her hand in mine. She didn’t resist. I turned towards her, bent my head and our lips met. At first, I lightly grazed her lips; then I nudged her mouth open with mine and pushed my tongue inside. She didn’t resist. We started exploring each other’s mouths. I could feel a hard on coming. I wanted more. I could sense her also getting turned on. While we were still kissing, I moved my hand towards her shirt and cupped her breast. I slowly started caressing the nipple. She moaned. I then gently slipped my hand into her shirt and through her bra, and my fingers touched her nipple without any hindrance. I could feel her breast hardening. Then softly she said, “Stop, please stop.”
“Why? You don’t like it?” I asked.
“I do, but… no Sid… please…”
“Okay,” I took my hand out and hugged her and gently kissed her on her cheek and let go.
Fortunately, my hard on was subsiding.
“I love you, Nami.”
She turned to me and smiled and replied, “I love you too, Sid.”
Suddenly, we heard our names being called. It was Vikrant and Vibha. We got up and turned back. “Hey Sid, Namita… let’s grab a cup of coffee,” said Vikrant when he caught sight of us.
So, five of us commercial trainees and Namita went to Barista. All of us were in a jovial mood. Suddenly, Srikant turned to me and said, “Hey, Sid. Shrishail was telling us over drinks how you won your bet with him and his gang.”
Suddenly I froze. I didn’t reply. Namita saw my face and looked concerned. “Sid, are you all right?”
Srikant went on without waiting for my reply, “How did you get the courage to approach Namita? Please tell us about it.”
Namita looked startled. She turned to Srikant and said, “What are you talking about? What bet did Sid win? What has it got to do with me?”
Srikant enthusiastically said, “Oh, you don’t know? Sid had a bet with Shrishail that he would ask you out. Shrishail didn’t think he would have the courage. Besides, even if he did, he would win the bet only if you agreed to go out with him.”
I tried to kick Srikant from under the table but I could not reach his leg. I could see Namita’s face turning pink with anger. She looked at me and said, “So it is all about a bet? That’s all this relationship is about?”
“No, Namita… listen to me.”
Before I could continue, she got up and left. I turned to Srikant and said, “Why did you do this?”
Srikant looked confused and said, “But I thought she knew!”
I got up and went after her. When I reached the entrance of the coffee shop, there was no sign of her. I tried calling her cell but she disconnected.
Over the next few days, Namita refused to answer any of my calls. I saw her busy at work. She refused to greet me when I went to her and wished her ‘good morning’. I was miserable. I didn’t want to lose her. I was sitting at my desk pondering over my dilemma when my intercom started buzzing. “Hello?”
“Hey Siddhanth, it’s Sunanda.”
The musical voice that I first heard was on the phone.
“Siddhanth, please come over to my desk. I need to discuss something with you.”
“Okay, Sunanda. I’ll be there right away.”
I knew it was about the outcome of my one year stint. The bank had to decide whether to retain me or not. I headed towards Sunanda’s desk.
“Hi Siddhanth. Please sit down,” she said as soon as I reached.
She had been waiting for me. I sat down and waited for her to speak.
“Siddhanth, the bank has decided not to retain you… I’m sorry.”
I looked at her steadily; I wasn’t surprised by this.
“No problem, Sunanda.”
“I understand that the department heads feel that you are not cut out for banking; hence this decision.”
She continued, “I’ll hand over your termination letter by the end of the day. You will not need to come to the bank from Monday.”
“Okay, thanks Sunanda. Bye.”
Saying this, I rose and turned to leave. Suddenly, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders. I realized the truth in Sunanda’s words… I was not cut out for banking. In fact, this one year made me realize that I was not cut out for a job. I wanted to set up my own business. I planned to explore the possibility of sourcing Indian ethnic and traditional products and marketing them abroad. My passion for travelling and meeting new people would be satisfied.
What weighed in my heart was the loss of my love. In spite of Namita ignoring me, I would keep trying, I promised myself.
I messaged her about the management’s decision and bid her goodbye. As I expected, there was no reply.
Vibha called and gave me the news that she and the other four trainees had been retained by the bank. I congratulated her. I was really happy for her. She was sad about my leaving. We had become good friends over the year.
Namita was discussing with Shrishail about a particular case of a credit card customer. After the discussion, Shrishail started talking informally with her. “Hey Namita, do Sid and you plan to get engaged soon?”
Before Namita could answer or walk away, Shrishail said, “You know he had been trying to muster courage to ask you out for a long time. But he just could not do it. So I decided to prod him. I told him that I was sure you would agree if he asked you out. In fact, I deliberately had a bet with him to make it look like a game. The prize was a drink at the Ritz bar. Did he tell you about it?”
Namita looked shocked. She looked at Shrishail and said, “Are you telling me that you used the format of a bet just to give him the courage to ask me out?”
“Yes, Namita. He was just too scared to take the step. And we knew he was serious about you.”
Suddenly Namita’s eyes lit up. “Thanks Shrishail.”
“Oh, you won’t understand.”
Saying that, Namita turned around and quickly left the department in search of Sid. She had read his message. When she reached his desk, he was not there. The desk had been cleared out. Sid had emptied it for the next recruit.
“Where is Sid, Anu?” Namita asked Anu, one of the personnel in the deposits department.
“I don’t know. He was here some time ago clearing up his desk.”
Namita rushed out of the department, pulled out her phone and called his number. The phone rang. No response.
I turned back into the bank and quickly strode towards my department. I had my haversack filled with my things from my desk. She called! I didn’t want to speak to her on the phone. I wanted to see her. When I turned into the corridor, there she was, right outside my department with the phone still in her hand. I smiled at her. Her eyes lit up. I walked up to her and said, “Friends?”
She replied with tears in her eyes, “I’m sorry Sid. Shrishail told me the truth. I should have given you a chance to clarify. Please forgive me.”
I felt emotion overwhelming me but I could not even hold her hand since we were in the bank’s premises. I simply whispered into her ear, “My darling, love is much bigger than forgiveness. I love you more than life itself.”
All the bank employees received a richly designed envelope inside which was a wedding card which read:
‘We request you to grace the occasion of the wedding of
No gifts. Only blessings’.
I started my business in a small way exporting wooden artefacts made by small scale handicraft artisans to markets in the US. Mohit, my best friend, became my partner. Over time, we expanded our product offerings to include Indian jute garments, traditional costume jewellery and other Indian items for which there is a demand abroad. I also started exporting to the European markets. Business is good. Namita is no longer working. We have been blessed with a baby girl, my Barbie doll, who looks as beautiful as her mother.
— The End —
#fiction #read for free #story #humor #fun #Self-help books #Book excerpts #Personal growth #Self-improvement #Self-discovery #Motivation #Inspiration #Success #Happiness #Well-being #Personal development #Self-empowerment #Life coaching #Self-help book excerpts #Read book excerpts online #Free book excerpts #Preview self-help books #Discover new self-help books #Find the right self-help book for you #Get inspired by self-help books #Learn from self-help books #Improve your life with self-help books #Self-help book excerpts for personal growth #Book excerpts to motivate and inspire you #Find the perfect self-help book for your goals #Discover new and exciting self-help books #Read self-help book excerpts on the go #Get a taste of different self-help books #Find the right self-help book for your personality #Learn from the best self-help authors #Improve your life with self-help book excerpts #Self-esteem #Confidence #Relationships #Career #Money #Health #Fitness #Spirituality #Mindfulness #Stress management #Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) #Mindfulness meditation #Positive affirmations #Goal setting #Time management #Productivity #Communication #Conflict resolution #Problem-solving #Decision-making #Rachel Hollis #Brené Brown #Tony Robbins #Gretchen Rubin #David Allen #Mark Manson #Eckhart Tolle #Thich Nhat Hanh #Susan Jeffers #Stephen Covey #Paulo Coelho #Read free self-help book excerpts #Sign up for our self-help book newsletter #Get our free self-help book recommendations #Join our self-help book community