The Annoying Phone Call

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…”

“Chitra, Sir”

“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.

 

~Trilok~

 

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)

 

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Very Short Stories – Part 2

Fallen Flowers

Everyday evening, Meera would get off 278E, the bus from Shivaji Nagar and would religiously buy flowers from the flower vendor sitting outside the temple. The florist woman would measure the artfully strung flowers placing the free end to the tip of the middle finger measuring it up to the elbow joint – ”Oru Muzham – Patthu Roopa!’’ After buying the flowers, she would quietly take the road next to the Krishna temple. One day, the curious woman asked, “Amma, whom are you buying these flowers for?” Her eyes were moist with tears as she bravely replied, “For my husband. He died in the valley of flowers fighting for the country”. Meera’s answer lingered in the air for her Krishna to respond…

Diwali

To see unfeigned happiness is a rarity. On that Diwali day, I was lucky enough to witness unadulterated joy. Crackers were going off in all directions, diyas lined the walls of houses and the balconies, joy filled the bright faces. I was bursting crackers and that was when, “Anna, anna oru pattaas kudukkaraengala?” (Brother, would you give me a Cracker?), a feeble but excited voice asked. Turning around, I saw a shabby looking kid probably from the nearby slums. Before even he could have completed the sentence, my mouth had uttered an unpleasant “No”. It took me just a few seconds to realize my mistake but by then the kid had disappeared into the festive crowd. Later in the night, I saw him digging into the cracker rubbish. He was collecting crackers that had failed to fire. With remorse, I approached him and tried to make it up for my inglorious act of the evening. I gifted him a small box full of sparklers and crackers. I also gave him a few unused T-Shirts of my nephew hoping that they would fit his frail frame. He quietly collected the packet and ran away without expressing any visible signs of gratitude. Five minutes later, I saw his cheerful eyes lit up with joy as he held the color sparklers wearing one of the T-shirts that I had gifted, which drooped halfway down his forearms! Happy Diwali, I told myself.

Naranga Mittayi

Stopping his car at the Pettikada the Man asked, “Naranga muttai undo? Randu Roopaikku!” (The cheapest sweet that one can get in the villages and pettikada is the small shop by the roadside esp. in villages). The Man looked at the glass jar filled with colorful sweets. Shopkeeper looked quizzically at the man and took a handful, wrapped it in a newspaper and handed the pack to the Man. As the windows of his BMW rolled up, he popped one mittai into his mouth and closed his eyes slipping into a trance. There, he became “Anthonikutty” wearing “Valli” trouser and wheeling a punctured cycle tyre through the mud roads.

Lost and Found

“Enji mittai, Enji mittaai”, “Choodulla vartha Choodulla vartha Mullaperiyar Anakettilil Villal, Vyapari Vyavasayi sammelanithil sangattenum 5 paerku parikku”. Varghese double checked the zip of his bag. The private bus to Pariyaram was about to start. 15 minutes of incident free journey to Pariyaram from Chalakudy, he prayed. He heard a whistle and the engine came to life… **** “Pariyaram…” He woke up startled. The bag was gone. His heart skipped a few beats and he felt short of breath. He had two lakhs of cash in that bag taken as loan for his daughter’s marriage. “Chetta… Here, your bag. You had slept off and the bag had fallen off.” He did not know how to thank that man. He just said, “Thanks…”

Unanswered Questions

“Heeeyya.. Heeyya…” Ramu hid behind his dad’s Mundu tightly gripping his hands. It was his first week in India. The Oracle clad in a red cloth and a waist-let of jingling bells (aramani) paced in frenzy in and out of the temple courtyard. He carried a sword in his right hand and an anklet in his left. His family and other devotees stood in a circle. In the red oil lamps of the Bhagavathi temple, the Oracle resembled a mad man, jumping and dancing hysterically to the sounds of drum and illathalam. Then all of a sudden, he hit his head with the sword and blood oozed out of his head. Ramu’s grip on his dad’s fingers tightened. Then the drumbeats eased and his pace slowed. He approached Ramu’s grandmother and murmured something in her ears.

On their way back home, munching the tasty Prasadam, Ramu inquired his dad, “Acha, who was that? That was pretty frightening!!!” “Kuttaa, athaanu Velichappadu. Bhagavathi, through him answers all the questions we have in our minds. Once he gets possessed he speaks god’s voice”, his Dad explained to a wide-eyed Ramu.

“Really? I had one question in my mind. But, he didn’t answer that!” Ramu was sad as he said that. “What’s that?” asked his dad. “Where did Mom go?” Ramu looked at his dad’s gloomy face and his head drooped. Behind, in the rufescent lights of the flickering oil lamps, the exhausted oracle was stripping his makeup off.

Very Short Stories Part 1

From Land of Stories and Story-Tellers

Chennai is blessed for it has a beach, a long shoreline. It is here the rich and the poor walk the same wet soil, the water that washes the dirty feet laps and cleanses the rich legs too. They are one and same there by the side of the sea, for at least a few moments, breathing one another’s exhaled air…A kid came running and hugged me from behind, her grip tight around my legs. I turned around and her eyes narrowed failing to recognize me. Her grip loosened, eyes swelled, and words stammered. She is lost. She took me for someone else and now her eyes frantically searches for the faces she knew. I lifted her on my head so that she could see the crowd and search her loved ones. She found her father. A man richer than the earth. He thanked. Her brother hugged. Her mother nowhere to be seen. But she laughed again. Her laughs brought smile on my face. I walked back with a corn in my hand, the only gift I accepted, for my mother sold corn that I never knew the taste of…!

The Hindu Priest – Devan

I remembered that young temple priest. His head shaved, his forehead and body smeared with sandalwood paste , bathed in sweat coming out from the temple kitchen. His skin hugged his body like a tight brown cloth on a skeletal frame. A torn, yellow towel covered his lower half, hardly reaching his knees. His hands held the garlands for the his deity. White, Red, Yellow and green were the colors on a cotton thread, woven into a simple garland for the simpler deity from the simplest human. He smiled at me. His face glowed like the god behind him. Like the king of a hundred thousand lands. Standing there I saw the real god, outside the Sanctum Sanctorum – Devan, the priest.

The Half Open Window

She was coming back. I don’t know where from. Closing the gate, she turned around, short hair, shorter sleeves on her white Kurta, Sharp nose and sharper limbs, a compound wall between us…Our eyes met… Electric effect.. Thousands of tamil movies played… I felt my heart melt as she walked away. But nothing happened.. A cold stare remained…

The power was out. I felt my way through the messy roads to reach the gate. A nineties Yezdi roared, it’s silencer louder than normal for there was no sound. I could hear crickets sing and dog’s barking a mile away. My neighbour’s kid on that. The angry young man he was. unkept hair, long and in all directions. Gave me a threatening glance.

A moment later, I came out.  This time the sharp eyes and sharper angled body of that girl awaited me. She sat on the rear seat – the typical Indian way. Her eyes shone in the moon light. It smiled. It said, “SShhh….” Her hands pressed the young man’s shoulder. He got it. The bike roared and they were away.

Summer Rain

It rained here in Bangalore. Wind plays around with the blocking structures finding its way through my half-opened windows. It’s cool. It has that peculiar smell, of spring flowers and dried leaves, now all wet, and decorating the black roads, turned into a slippery mash, of neem and of Eucalyptus. Lightning streaked the distant horizons like a dream half- lived. They brought memories – Of Pilani and the summer rains…

Aging

I am torn between many a souls, split between many a realities, between people who cared. A handful of promises made waiting to be kept – I am that man in between, not a boy anymore !!!

Signs

It felt like a dream. I wanted to wake up. Realized there was no waking up. I was living it. Every second, every breath of it. Everything seemed unrealistically real. It was dark. There was light. I was walking towards it. Images blurred. I was not able to understand. Every scene played like a 35mm clip, parts of the dilapidated reels eaten away by time perhaps. Were they flashbacks, my present or the future seen from a future to come thereafter? No Idea. Vague. Mysterious. I was walking a thin line. It was not a question of life and death. It was about sanity and madness !

Love

He asked,”Can you sing for me?” “No, you better not hear me sing !”, she replied, “But I can dance for you”, she volunteered. “I can’t”, he shook his head. But still they danced to soft music hitting the table and chairs, singing till the dawn peeped into their room, the warmth of the morning filled their eyes and the room. (The couple were blind !)

Technology – Changing A Kid’s Life

Today, I saw my cousin’s five-year old kid using an iPad with ease. Not just looking at it, but browsing menus, interacting, playing keyboard, games and what not. Then he came to the Dell laptop that I was using, kept his finger on the screen and tried to do the same thing expecting my laptop to respond only to be disappointed. Disinterested he was at the clumsy keyboard, left quickly to pick up the iPhone to play “angry birds’. Now that is Technology Revolution !!! I had used a black slate, wet cloth and a chalk to study, look at today’s kids !

~ Trilok ~