Two Years

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Chapter 21

Free At Last?

Three months since I completed my course and started working as an interior designer… I feel so free! I had always loved numbers, but this gives me a sense of freedom, the creativity involved liberates me. The questions nag me less… Only, sometimes when I feel good about some idea, I automatically look for Karthik to share it with and then the disappointment steals some of the elation away. How many times have I reached out for the phone to call him. But the predominantly silent phone mocks me. Not once has he called to ask how I am doing, if I need anything… My pride or my guilt… An indescribable emotion makes me put the phone back every time. I have to wean myself away from him, I remind myself time and again.

The initial days went by in adjusting to the new environment – so different from an IT company. But slowly, it dawns on me that Madhuri is keeping me deliberately away from the more enjoyable bits of designing.

Getting the dimensions, drawing as per her instructions and dumbly accompanying her to different sites were all that I seem to be doing, and my initial euphoria gives way to gloom and confusion. In a struggle to keep myself afloat, I sometimes work on a copy of the blueprints I have created for her, experimenting with my own designs.

Pratap is puzzled about me, I can see that. He had expected wonders from me, but here I was, with not a single original idea coming from me. Even in discussions, Madhuri silently conveys that she wants me to keep my mouth shut. In all fairness, she has more experience and is brilliant in her work. But, maybe with time, she had become repetitive too. I could see that. Maybe Pratap could too. The customers didn’t, because it was unique for them. But they would catch up, and it Pratap keeps urging her to infuse fresh ideas. If he asks me anything, she sends me out of the room on some pretext or the other. In the last one week, she has stopped calling me for the meetings.

Pratap calls me aside one evening, when the office is nearly empty, to ask me about my progress. I hem and haw, torn between being honest and not betraying my senior.

He nods without comment. I am upset at his lack of will to push me for more, and upset that I cut a sorry figure.

A week later, Pratap and Madhuri have a meeting with a client. As usual, once the order came through, she took me to the site where I take the measurements and make a to-the-scale blueprint. She takes it and leaves for the day.

I sit in front of the system, trying to avoid the temptation of imagining what the room could look like. I start recreating the room on the system. I paint walls crazily, place shelves haphazardly, and furniture in a disorderly fashion. Lighting is splayed, bold flowers at odd angles, wall spaces covered with oddities. But soon, I get engrossed. An order starts emerging. I jump between paper and computer as I try out my ideas.

I am pleased with my own creation as I stare at my monitor intensely, when I hear, “Let me see that,” from behind me. I gasp and try to close the application, apologising at the same time.

Pratap ignores me and sits down in the chair I hastily vacate. He runs a 360 deg view on what I have created. He asks to see my hand-drawn sheet. He looks from one to the other.

He nods, and then asks me to copy what I have done on a memory stick. He takes the sheet and the stick and leaves without a word.

I wonder what breach I have committed now. I literally slink back home, wondering if I have overstepped a line, messed up something. I can bide my time normally; I am not an impatient person, or impulsive. Then why did I have to rush into this one? What was my hurry to experiment at this stage! Though I know what I have done was appealing, this is a subjective field, Pratap’s face had been inscrutable. Pratap also has a soft corner for Madhuri – though he had a formidable reputation, she had helped his flag fly higher.

What have I contributed? Zero. If I have offended either of them, I will be thrown out on my ear. I have no other job in hand! And if he blacklists me, what hope have I of getting another one? I fret all night, all the old confusions crowding me, and go to work early – better to be done with it quickly, I reason. It would be a relief, in a way. I wasn’t here to do the dirty work. Though it was fine as a learning experience, at my age and for my capabilities, to be treated like a rookie was not a pretty thought.

Madhuri is busy and does not need me. I browse some websites to kill time, and find an alternative job. But the suspense kills me, and to distract myself, I revisit my design and add some details …what the hell, if I am already in trouble, a bit more of it can’t harm.

Three days go by without any volcanic eruptions, and I decide to forget about it. It was a storm in the teacup, I decide. My overactive brain sending unnecessary alarm signals.

I normally have an idea when Madhuri submits her ideas for approval. She works quite intensely, and then she lets her hair down completely. She has a coterie she mingles with – the other two senior designers. If they are busy, then there are two more upcoming ones.

Today, she is out to tea when Pratap calls me in. I brace myself to face him, it could be anything – you are an utter waste to…I don’t even dare to hope.

He asks me to sit, and says in a kindly voice, “What you were working on that day…were you given the specifications – about what the customer wanted?”

I shake my head. I stammer, “I haven’t yet started working live…I help Madhuri with the basics. She normally doesn’t tell me the requirements. I am sorry if I did something wrong,” I say hesitantly. “I just like to keep trying out designs in spare time.”

He nods. He opens a file, Madhuri’s design in fact. “Actually, this is very close to what the customer wants. I mailed him both these versions - Madhuri’s and yours.”

My heart races. I wait, wondering what is coming. I can feel an excitement rising in me. “He likes yours, though he says Madhuri’s is what he had wanted, he thinks he would like to go with yours with elements from hers. This client,” he says, the tone of his voice changing to fond irritation, “does not indicate what elements. And, let me warn you, he is a tough customer. I am actually sorry to have you work with Madhuri and him at the same time…but I am sure you will live to tell the tale.” He smiles, maybe to reassure me, or to say welcome to your funeral. I just laugh, not knowing how deep I am going to get into this one.

Pratap raises his palm. He calls Madhuri on the intercom, but no one picks up. So he tells the receptionist to track her down. She comes within 10 minutes, while Pratap and I discuss how we can marry the two designs. That is not easy, I can see, because she has a completely modern outlook whereas mine has a lot of embellishments. Not exactly old, but ethnic.

I am still puzzling over this when Madhuri walks in. She looks confident, and is taken aback to see me there. She stares at the screen and her drawing peeps back at her. She frowns.

“What’s up?” she asks with unmasked suspicion.

Pratap does a tightrope walk as he explains the situation. Madhuri looks at me with open dislike. She frowns finally. “I didn’t ask you for options, did I?”

I look down. Pratap intervenes. “I am very glad you didn’t. Then there wouldn’t have been too much room for manoeuvring. Both would have looked similar. This way, we have actually given Vijay enough options.”

Madhuri purses her lips before replying. “I am sure if I explain to Vijay it cannot work, he will understand. We can use hers for the Rastogis or the Subramanians. They are less demanding.”

Under the belt.

But Pratap, for all his easy-going manner, is not one to take anything sitting down. He leans back, extremely relaxed, and says, “Excellent suggestion. She can take up the work for Subramanian. Meanwhile, she can also tell me how she is going to integrate the two elements to get a result Vijay will like. You must,” he turns to me before Madhuri can react, “meet him once, though, before you can start the work. He lets his true nature show once in a while, and if you can see that, you will know how to work on this…what do you say, Madhuri?”

She opens her mouth to speak, but he does not wait to hear and says to me, “You start working on what we discussed just now and make sure you cc me on whatever you are sending to Madhuri. Okay, clear? All the best.”

I am being dismissed. I leave and run out to have a hearty laugh. Mean of me? Yes, of course…

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