Lights flickered to life inside the 9.30 p.m. express from Velachery MRTS Terminus to Beach. Two young men boarded the empty compartment; their shoulder weighed down by the laptop bags; their faces were dreary and exhausted; Economic Times and The Hindu peeped out of the outside pockets of the bags; their office tags like loose dog collars hung from the sweat-stained collars; they sat down on the seat closest to the exit like school kids hoping to jump off the bus even before it reached the destination. Their office ID cards had a big logo of System Tech International and a grim-looking official picture, which reminded you of the felony convicts under life sentence. Near to that, in a customized font were their names printed in black, “Vikram Kumar Software Consultant’’ and ‘’Rahul Krishnan Software Engineer”.
“Vikram, usually you are pretty lively once on the train. What’s the matter today? Anything wrong?”
“Oh, nothing, Rahul.” Blame it on our regular day job, my manager and that pestering phone call.” Vikram sighed. He took a long, deep breath until his lungs could hold no more. He liked the smell of fresh paint; its peculiar odour soothed him a bit. The renovated coach looked bright in the light of the newly fitted fluorescent lamps.
Seats filled in pretty fast. Bored engineers, tired workers, withered fruit and flower vendors, and ever-energetic beggars made their way into the suburban rail. A few I.T. and B.P.O. folks squeezed their oversized asses on to the seat much to Vikram’s and Rahul’s displeasure.
“A Phone call?”
“Dude, don’t ask. A credit card girl, one Chitra called me up today morning, just ten minutes before my presentation to the team. Remember the one I was talking about the other day – the quarterly presentation on strategy for our new business. I was doing the last-minute check on the strategy slide and she…” “How could she spoil my entire day?” Vikram’s voice rose in anger and helplessness as the train blew its deafening horn and picked up speed.
“Yeah. I had asked her to give me a ring later sometime. But who in the world had imagined that she would end up calling me at the worst possible time of the day.”
“And, what happened?” Rahul pushed him to tell hoping Vikram’s mood would improve if he shared it with someone.
* — * 10 hours back * — *
The phone rang. An irritated Vikram picked it up after eight painful rings. An uncaring hello escaped his mouth. His eyes remained fixated on the data on the slide. Microsoft Outlook popped up a meeting reminder. He had only 10 more minutes for the meeting, which meant only 5 more minutes to adjust the software delivery projections and complete future strategy slide. Another 5 to rush to the booked room.
A bubbly lady’s voice played a rehearsed line on the receiver, “Sir, I am Chitra calling on behalf of IDIDI Bank. As you are an esteemed customer of our bank you have been selected for a pre-approved personal loan of 5 lakhs. Could you please confirm and give me your details so that I can process it further?”
“When did I ask you for a personal loan? Who told you to approve the loan? Who gave you my number?” screamed a furious Vikram at the defenceless voice as punishment for disturbing him smack in the middle of his work.
“But sir, you only no asked me to call today!” Her voice stuttered.
“Is it? You have all my details, right? Why didn’t you process it yourself?”
“But, Sir, you will have to confirm it for us to proceed ahead.”
“Well, here take down the details. I am a manual labourer. I earn Rs.100 per day. I do not own any property and I may or may not repay the loan. O.K.?”
“Sir, why are you trying to fool me? Our records say that you work for System Tech as a consultant and you also have an F.D. in our bank.”
“Now you will tell me my wife’s nickname, my ex-girlfriend’s address and what not! What else do you know about me? Tell me what is that you do not know about me! I guess, you will even know what I had for my breakfast also!”
“No….Sir!” Her words broke and began sounding heavy.
“If you know all of my details then why are you bothering me, Miss… whatever yeah…”
“Why don’t you just send me the cash? Remember, the next time I get a sales call from your bank I am going to file a complaint in the consumer court.”
Vikram had completely lost his temper by then. He banged the phone almost breaking the receiver. The coffee cup near the phone got disturbed in the process and a drop or two spilt on his painfully jotted notes. He was running five minutes late and his work of two days was undone. He cursed the credit card girl. Using his MBA skills, he quickly cooked up some good-looking numbers and ran to the meeting room with his laptop. He entered the meeting room hurriedly with the smudged notes decorated with coffee brown stains. The entire team with his impatient manager, Ashish was waiting for him.
The presentation was projected on the big screen and the numbers fleshed out. A veteran of Excel sheets and PowerPoint presentations himself, Ashish was left unsatisfied with some of Vikram’s ingenious yet impossible numbers. He asked Vikram to work on it again and give a new projection by E.O.D. (End of Day).
A frustrated Vikram got back to his cubicle and sank in his chair, glaring at the phone furiously. His eyes wandered to the table calendar. 25th January was circled with a red marker. The footnote read –“Wedding Anniversary – Movie – Book tickets”. He had promised his wife that he would be early enough to catch a late night movie at City Centre Mall. He rang up home and pacified his disappointed wife. Looking up from his phone, he saw a nearly deserted office. Returning to the messed up slides, he started making fresh calculations all the while murmuring, “That stupid phone call and the wasted minutes! I will kill her if I ever meet her.”
* — *Mobile Buzzed – A Screech sound* — *
Brakes were applied. “Screech……” The slowing train neared Thiruvanmiyur Station.
“That was a really rough day, Vikram!!!” Rahul tried to sympathize with Vikram, “Take Care”.
Vikram suspired, “That one phone call screwed up my entire day!!!” Balancing the laptop bag on his left shoulder, Vikram took a few steps towards the exit.
“Sorry, Sir…” suddenly came a shockingly familiar voice. Vikram, with dazed face, turned around to notice the chocolate coloured, pinkish salwar-clad lady, who was sitting right opposite to them all the while, silently listening to their conversation. “I too had a phone call that screwed up my day!!!” Her office identity card dangled from the neck. It read – “Chitra – Cambridge Solutions, Business Process Outsourcing, Velachery.”
Before Vikram could respond, he was sucked in to the determined crowd moving to the exit, like a purposeful escalator, throwing him to the platform. By the time he steadied himself and moved to the window of the compartment, the train had started moving. For a second or a little more, his eyes met those of Chitra’s staring through the window. Vikram looked on as the train left the platform and its red tail light dissolved into the night. Inside him remained the weight of an unoffered apology.
Dedicated to the B.P.O Folks – those telemarketing calls, the voices and the real people on the other end of the phone calls!
Velachery – a place in Chennai, India
MRTS – Elevated suburban train system in Chennai (Mass Rapid Transit System)