Chapter 1: Beginning (or End)?
(April 15, 2006. Gurgaon)
“So, is this your final decision to leave the company?”
“Yes, without doubts.”
Neeta, Assistant HR Manager, gave Gautam a meaningful glance. Perhaps, for the first time, she felt a little uneasy while taking an exit interview. As an HR Manager, she always sticked to a belief that the company must not try to retain someone who wanted to exit. Also, she disliked probing the employees on their exit interview, except of the formal questions required to be asked.
However, there was something in the eyes of the person sitting in front of her - this 28-year-old man. His moist eyes caught her attention. Though she was only one or two years older to him, she could see through his face. As they say, maturity and understanding arises from honest intentions. She thought, “If life can give another chance to all of us, then why I can’t?”
In those anxious moments, she unknowingly started biting her pen. She had no past connection with him, but still she felt something for him- the need to know the reason for he had to resign. She had understood that he is not jumping to another lucrative offer.
She again looked at him. His gaze was fixed on the floor. Perhaps, he was contemplating and looking for something he had not yet got in past years. Neeta cleared her throat to get his attention, bent forward a bit in his direction, and asked (This question was not in her list of questions).
“May I know the real reason?”
Gautam looked at her with disbelief. He did not expect that she will ask such questions to him. He thought for a while before uttering a brief reply, “Salary issues.” His eyes returned to the floor.
She was disappointed at his flat answer, but still hoped that he will open up a bit.
“Is there something more?”
There was a small pause before Gautam retorted.
“No. I don’t feel the need to tell you, Sorry.” His flat and grim voice signaled her to stop.
Human mind is very complex. It divulges as much as it hides. Sometimes, people are not sure what to hide and what to show.
Neeta was taken aback. She thought, “Why I am getting concerned for him? This is not my job to solve whatever problems he might have. He is perhaps becoming uncomfortable also due to my questions.” She said in a resigned tone, “Fine. I am done and going to submit the report to our department. ... All the best Mr. Gautam for your future.”
She rose from her chair and extended her hand towards him. He shook hands with her, looking into her eyes, as if he wanted to say something to her. Neeta gave him a smile and left the conference room.
Gautam’s gaze followed her until she opened the door and went away. He felt ashamed for his rude behaviour. He thought, “I should have been more patient.” Sitting at a corner of the conference room, he felt as if life had cornered him and pushed against the wall. Ironically, this was the same room where, three years ago, he wrote his joining report.
Only a few hours before, he had sent an email to Debu, his TL (team leader), declaring immediate resignation from his BPO job, without any notice period.
For a while, he sat there staring blankly, in nowhere. His eyes were not sure of what to see. An office peon entered in the room.
“Sir? Sir, are you waiting for someone?” The peon had to speak aloud to get his attention.
“No, no. My interview just finished. I am going.” Startled, he replied. His train of thoughts had halted now. He got up and came out of the conference room. The office of Technet Business Solutions Ltd. (TBSL) - the BPO where he worked had four floors on the 16-story DLF Building tower. His process team works on sixth floor. Gautam used stairs to reach to his floor.
Feeling exhausted, he threw himself on his revolving chair. He looked at his watch-11:45 p.m. There still were around two hours left before evening shift was to end. His other team members were busy in replying to customers’ queries. He glanced at the whole bay for a while.
“I am no longer required to spend more of sleepless nights trying to satisfy a customer sitting at the other part of the world, who perhaps never wants to be happy.” he thought and smiled to himself in a relaxed manner.
One of his team members, Charles, came to him. His small eyes on his long face appeared like a dot on a page. It was hard to confirm from a distance if there were any eyes at place. He sat in front of him.
“Hello Charles.” Gautam did a fishy handshake with him.
“What did they ask or told you in the interview?” Charles asked him in a cautious voice. It was pointless to ask ‘How was the interview?’
“It was a standard interview. They wanted to gather information about your job experience, job profile, problems you faced, etc.” Gautam replied with a forced smile and in a reluctant voice.
Charles was interested in asking more but he wanted to talk to none and interrupted him in a hurried voice. “If you don’t mind, can we talk after the shift? I am feeling very tired, please.”
’Yes, sure. Never mind.” Charles said smiling, though he was a little angry. He went back to his seat.
Gautam rested his head on the desk - on the pillow formed using his own arms, and closed his eyes.
“Gautam, how many mails?”
Debu asked from his seat in a voice loud enough to wake up other Reps (Customer Service Representatives) who were napping secretly.
“You are missing by 14.” Debu was terse.
“Does it matter now? I am leaving Debu.” Gautam exclaimed. (As per the company policy, employees were not required to address their seniors or bosses with terms like ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’).
“Not much, but professionalism asks for.” Debu looked at him sharply.
Gautam did not reply and turned his gaze sideways. He smirked and said to himself in a low voice, “Who cares of this rubbish when leaving?” He thought and preferred sleep over professionalism. He again placed his head down on his pillow.
“Wake up bhai. Our cabs are ready.”
Gautam’s teammate and buddy Pramod was shaking him by his shoulder.
“Eh? Shift is over?” Gautam asked in a sleepy voice. He rubbed the corners of his lips to wipe the slobber and stretched his arms. After Ramneet’s resignation from the company, Pramod was his best friend. They always ensured to stay in a single team whenever team shuffling was done. Pramod had a medium height. His face was like a perfect circle with a constant smile. Gautam once jokingly asked him whether he cried with the same smile. Contrary to his weight, he would speak in a low voice.
Gautam took his bag and accompanied him. They both came to the ground floor using stairs. They both preferred stairs than to lifts due to health benefits as well as to avoid waiting time for the lifts.
The ground floor area, where office cabs were parked, was well crowded. Employees were waiting for their cabs after another busy workday. Both located their cab from the daily route chart and took seats in the middle row. These seats were best for taking a nap. Other co-passengers had not yet come. Pramod turned his face towards Gautam.
“Now tell me. Why you are leaving?”
“This is a story I’ll tell you in free time.” Gautam spoke in a philosophical manner and offered a fake smile.
“Mr. Script writer, I know you well. That time will never come.”
Before Pramod could ask more, their co-passengers joined them along with the cab driver. The driver started the engine and set-off the vehicle.
“I will call you tomorrow afternoon and tell me everything otherwise...”
“Your resignation will be reverted and you will have to join again.”
“No sir, never in my dreams. I will tell you, for sure.” Gautam laughed.
Gautam’s residence was the nearest from the office and he had the first drop. The driver stopped the cab on the road near to his home.
“Sa’ab, I am getting late today. Please bear with me.” He pleaded.
“Never mind, I can go.” Gautam said and alighted from the cab. He wished ‘Good Night’ to all. All had fallen asleep except Pramod.
“Good night and Good luck, bhai.”
“Thanks a lot, bhai. Good Night.”
Gautam waved his hand at him and turned towards his street. He looked around the locality. Everything was quiet at this hour of the night. He checked his watch-1:50 a.m. On a traffic-free road, it took just 10 minutes from his office to reach home. One stray dog at the other end of the street ran towards him barking. Perhaps it was feeling bored and found something interesting to do. He shooed it with a stick which he always carried in his bag. The terrified dog ran away. He shortened the adjustable stick and kept it back in his bag. His home was just a few feet away.
Thinking of his last day in the office, Gautam realised he had reached near the front gate of his house. It was locked from inside but he had the keys. He opened the lock and quietly entered the gate. He then locked it again from inside cautiously. He did not want to be chided by the tenants on the ground floor for disturbing their sleep.
He climbed to the first floor and pressed the doorbell. Behind the door he heard the sound of running footsteps of his wife - Sanjeevani.
“Kaun hai (Who is this)?” She asked in a special tone which was reserved for him only. Gautam had warned her never to open the door without asking.
Gautam preferred the shorter and sweet version of her name. She opened the door just after the ‘open’ word and welcomed him with a broad smile. She never failed to recognise Gautam’s voice. She was, as usual, awake. TV was on inside the room.
Gautam looked at her from top to bottom. Even at this late hour, she appeared as if she was getting ready to go somewhere. She wore a Salwar suit and was not in her night dress. He knew she wanted to look pretty to him and always made herself ready like this before he returned from the office. On other days, he would give her a compliment or would tease her for this. But today he quietly entered the home. Sanjeevani felt a bit disappointed. She consoled herself, “Perhaps something happened in office today.”
“You should not wait for me like this and get to sleep. I have your mobile number. I will ring you on your phone if the doorbell fails to wake you up.” Sarcastically, Gautam reminded her and sat on a chair to loosen strings of his shoes.
“Not without you and 1:30 is not very late.” She said and sat beside him. Her smile and a glow in her eyes told him she was ready for exchanging the daily news. They both would share their eventful day with each other after Guatam’s return from the office. He smiled and looked at her face for a while before telling the latest news to her. He threw the socks on the floor after removing these from his feet and said in a low, thrilled voice.
“Amm?” She was startled for a moment. She was aware that Gautam was unsatisfied from his job for last a few weeks but she did not expect he will resign.
“Yes, without any notice.” Gautam said while slipping into his pyjamas.
“What next?” She asked in a manner as if she was already aware of it.
“Not sure. But for now, I am a free soul.” Gautam said while struggling with his vest to remove it. Her reaction was not very enthusiastic though.
“Let’s have dinner before anything. You fresh yourself.”
On dinner, Gautam narrated the whole story of the appraisal report and the final interview to her. She listened patiently and occasionally smiled. Her face did not reveal how she felt about his taking this enlightened step, but eyes were telling it. A big question - “What next?”
Gautam’s narrative was over. Sanjeevani said in a soothing voice, “It’s rather good to leave a job one doesn’t like. I am sure you will find a better one soon.” Gautam smiled in response.
Before turning the lights off, Sanjeevani came over his shoulders- rubbing her chin with those.
“Today I was really busy. You know Neelima….”
He knew it well that Sanjeevani wanted to discuss many small or big things that happened in the day. But, tonight, Gautam wanted to stay awake for long - thinking, analysing, and deciding his next move. He liked to think over the situations and his problems on his bed. He believed that bedtime was the best time to think as there will be no one around to distract him.
“Neelima is very weird. She was well aware I was tired after returning from office. Still, she forced me to accompany her to Sadar Bazar. She was keen to buy a top for her daughter and, literally, pushed me on the back seat of her scooter. I even….”
Gautam took her face in his hands and said lovingly, interrupting her in-between, “Sanju, I am feeling very tired. We will spend much of time together for coming days. Is it okay if we talk tomorrow?”
“Okay.” She smiled and kissed his cheeks.
“Good night.” Gautam reciprocated.
“She is so much adjusting and never complains.” Gautam thought. He turned his face in the other direction and closed his eyes. But he was awake and recalling all what happened in last 3 years - beginning from the day when he was in the interview to get this very post he resigned from.
(25 April, 2003. New Delhi)
“Mr. Gautam Mehra!”
The young HR executive called my name again. His eyes didn’t have to work hard to find me. He must have remembered my handsome face.
I was, however, surprised. My interview was already done. He gestured me to follow him.
“A second call means you are selected man!”
One of the already selected guys said and showed his thumbs up. He knew I was already interviewed. Feeling encouraged, I acknowledged his gesture and paced towards the interview room.
Ms. Rekha, the HR manager, and Mr. Ajeet, an Operations Manager, who took my interview, were present there.
“Welcome again, Mr. Gautam.” The lady smiled.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
I replied with a professional smile and took a seat with their permission. I was thrilled and was sure that I was called to inform me of my selection. But I was wrong.
“Mr. Gautam, from your Bio-data, I see that you belong to a small town and all your education was restricted to that place only. How you will adjust in a city like Gurgaon if we select you?”
Mr Ajeet wanted to grill me more. I felt a little disappointed when he questioned me rather than congratulating me. Did they forget to prepare their full questionnaire. Do they now want to take another interview?
However, when you are in interview as a candidate, it’s better to answer in a professional manner. I was dying for this break and didn’t want to miss it due to a momentary reflex.
“Sir, it was my dream to work in an MNC like yours and grow in a city like Gurgaon and this is my opportunity.”
I gave a pat to myself in my thoughts for a good answer.
“But this is a BPO.”
Mr. Ajeet was not to relent. Was he suffering from BPO complex? I wanted to jump at the top of his table, pull him by his necktie and yell at him -“You are also working in a BPO company. Why?” But I answered in a polite manner.
“Sir, are BPO not offering professional growth? I believe I will grow in this culture even more than any other MNC.” He seemed to be impressed.
“What if we don’t hire you?”
This was Ms. Rekha, the lady with brown hair, who asked me. I felt annoyed again. I imagined myself standing near to her, pulling out a strand of her shining hair and shouting in her ear, “Rather than getting concerned about my career, you better worry of your smoke-infected lungs.”
My friend Rajan had seen her smoking and had told me about it. I restrained myself again and felt a little ashamed for my wayward thoughts. My impatient reactions happening within me were due to the delay in my final selection, which I was sure of. I could bet that I was already shortlisted by the company. I held my breath and replied in a confident manner.
“No issues ma’am. As per your company policy, I will try again after three months. I am really keen to serve your company.”
The lady smiled and did not ask me further questions. One could easily guess that this was a pre-rehearsed answer. But flattery works, sometimes. After a few minutes, the same executive announced my name again.
“Mr. Gautam Mehra! You are selected. Congratulations.” He smiled this time.
I was on cloud nine. My friends gathered around me to congratulate me. I was beaming with joy. Rajan was excited and he lifted me from my waist in the air. He too was selected. We cheered in unison, “We did it!”
I then ran out to a nearby STD-PCO. I wanted to share this news with my father.
“I am selected papa.” I exclaimed with joy on hearing my father’s voice.
The flatness in my father’s words disappointed me. The curiosity in his voice was enough to tell me that he was happy but did not want to express it. Papa was not in much favour of my joining BPOs.
“Come on papa. You know it well, it’s a BPO.”
“You should have better tried in software industry.” He rued.
“Papa it is an MNC. This is a big break for me. And who stops me from switching whenever possible?”
“When is your joining?”
“In next three days. I will talk to you later. Bye.”
“Bye, son ...”
My eyes were on PCO monitor which was indicating the next pulse was about to start. I disconnected.
Lost in dreams of a bright future ahead, I was all smiles now. I could now tell my friends in my hometown that I was now going to live in the Millennium City - Gurgaon.
On our return journey, we ‘Lucky Seven’ from the training institute in Chandigarh - Rajan, Ramneet, Tejinder, Tanmay, Mohish, Disha, and I sat together in Toyota Qualis.
(It’s better to first know a bit about rest of the six persons)
Rajan: He loves what he does and does only what he loves. He is tall and has a matching long face. He has a carefree attitude, speaks in a low voice, and is easily pleased. But he is focused on achieving what he wants. He is passionate to make a career in BPOs.
Ramneet: He has the lowest height among all of us. But he is the sharpest person in our team. His friends nicknamed him “Schemy Boy” due to his planning skills and clever behaviour. His face always carries a mischievous expression. He speaks in a manner as if he himself enjoys his words more than others. He is in the habit of bringing both of his hands in front as if he is standing on stage and is declaring to others - “who cares?” From a distance, he resembles like a rugby ball because of the proportion of his height to his weight. He exudes more confidence in self then all of us.
Tejinder: He belongs to a Sikh family. His eyes are round like his face, which dance every time he says something. The way he wears his turban, he looks like a true Punjabi ‘gabhru’ boy. He is fond of wearing expensive dresses and carrying the latest gadgets.
Tanmay: He is the most silent among all of us. He speaks very less but not without sense. He has medium height and has a slim body. He wears glasses, keeps his head high, and looks around as if he is on a sea shore and is trying to look for something in distant sea. Two of his front teeth are bigger than the rest and remain partially visible even with closed mouth.
Mohish: He always speaks in a mature tone which is much in contrast to his boyish features. His face is fair and has blue eyes. He looks like a school student. He supposedly does not like his physical features and has found a solution to this problem by talking like a mature man. He is in the habit of adjusting his hair after every other sentence as if the effort to speak tousled his hair.
Disha: She has a dusky face and a friendly attitude. She is preparing for banking examination and joined BPO training only to hone her language skills and personality development.
We all were making plans to go. We exchanged each other’s fixed line phone number.
“You may note down my mobile number.”
Tejinder declared in a loud and proud voice then looked at others for their reactions. He was the only one among us who owned a mobile phone.
“See the expression on his face. Looks like Ambani himself gifted him the gadget.” Ramneet laughed loudly, snatching Tejinder’s pride from him.
“Only poor people like you who have never seen a mobile phone scream this way.” Tejinder threw the brick back on him.
“Stop him boys. I will never regret if he will be in ICU on the day of joining his new job.” Ramneet roared. His reddening eyes told as if he would kill him without the need of a stay in ICU.
“Friends, it’s time to celebrate and you are tussling over this!” Mohish tried to pacify both of them.
Rajan suggested, “We all should go together.” He waited for approval of his idea by others.
“Yes. We must start from Chandigarh a day before our joining. We must not reach late on the very first day of our office.” Tanmay opined.
“Disha, will you be ready to go with us?” Tejinder had all the doubts about a girl going with six boys.
“Guys, I have no issues going with you. But I am not sure if I will join.”
“Disha, you must join.” Rajan couldn’t believe someone was ready to miss this break.
“She is very mature and knows more than any of us on what to do in her life.” Ramneet silenced him. Disha was his good friend.
“Anyways, what’s the plan? When we will go?” Mohish wanted to end this debate.
“Attention guys. Let’s meet on Sunday at ISBT at 1 p.m. We will reach Gurgaon by evening. How’s that?” Tanmay declared end of the meeting.
We all raised our hands in ‘Yes’ except of Disha.
“All the best boys!” She showed thumbs up, smiling.
(27 April, 2003. Chandigarh)
Ours bags were packed. My roommate Rajan and I both were ready to take off. We hired an auto-rickshaw to reach ISBT in Sector-17, where other four guys Mohish, Ramneet, Tanmay and Tejinder were waiting for us. We all had decided to leave together from Chandigarh.
Disha had decided to give it a miss. So, the only hope of a glamorous journey was dashed.
“Even if she had decided to join, her father would have never allowed her to go with us boys.” Tejinder gave his expert comments.
“Stop consoling yourself. We have more hopes in Gurgaon than in Chandigarh.” Ramneet said while slapping hard on Tejinder’s back. Rajan laughed in reaction. This was what he would do, sometimes, when his response was not required.
“Keep your stupid hopes with you only.” Tejinder retorted. He did not like Ramneet’s attack.
“Guys, our bus is coming. Occupy two rows of three seats only. Fast!” Tanmay saw a bus destined for New Delhi which was being parked. We liked Tanmay’s idea as it was better to stay together throughout the journey for any discussions and fun.
The bus soon was filled with passengers as there was no dearth of people going to New Delhi and around at any time of the day. Bus started in five minutes only. All my friends got busy in chatting but I was lost in my thoughts about my journey to BPO which had started six months ago.
(October 2002. Punjab)
I was sacked from my job in a school due to a tussle with the school principal, where I worked as a computer teacher. I was shocked as I considered my job promising. Disheartened, I returned to my hometown.
My cousin, Nipun, met me the next day I returned home. He was much older to me. He was married but looked like the most eligible bachelor of the town. He was doing an MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) business and had asked me on many occasions to join him. Though I always respected him for his mature attitude and calm nature, I considered unwise to do any such business. I always refused his offers. That day, he hit the right shot.
“Gautam, what you will do now? Jobs are nowadays very insecure. But my business offers long-term financial security.”
I looked into his eyes. He continued in an excited voice.
“Don’t you want to live a great life? Imagine, you can buy whatever you want, can live in a big house, can drive a cruise car, can travel in any part of the world, wherever you want - without thinking of the price for it!”
He spoke fast in a single breath. His eyes glowed as if he already was enjoying these luxuries. “And most important, you will be your own boss. Will you ever do a job then? Give this business a try, put some efforts on part-time basis. I bet you will start earning big in a few years. You will get rich soon.”
I was feeling agreeable to his words. He, without delay, discussed his business plan with me.
“Listen, this business is based on the concept of direct selling. We join this business and work as company distributor. We buy products from company store and sell them directly to our customers with a good margin. Whosoever likes this concept and want to join it, will need a sponsor like you. The business volume of the person who joins this business under you will be your volume. You and your team will sell some products every month and sponsor more people under them. In this way, your business grows, exponentially, every month.”
He explained the working of the business model with twinkling eyes as if it was something like ‘Eureka’. I was already aware of this business model, but that day, it appealed me. I thought to give the business a try and I decided to join.
Next day, Nipun came along with his senior, Mr. Gagandeep Singh. He was a successful lawyer and was running his own practice. He helped me to complete the formalities to start the business.
“Congratulations Mr. Gautam. You have taken a great decision.” Mr. Singh smiled and shook hands with me.
Before leaving, Nipun suggested, “Gautam, I think you should first search a good job.”
I looked at him as if he had cheated me. He clarified. “You will not start making money this soon from your business. You will need a job for long enough till you start getting good returns in the business.”
I understood his point. I decided to look for a job in Chandigarh, the city I always loved. Next week, I reached Chandigarh and started my job hunt. I had already decided that I will never work for small organisations. I thought, “I will work for an MNC. This will be a secure bet and will offer me a long-term career. But how?”
This was a million-dollar question. Given my qualifications, experience and pathetic academic scores, I was unsure about how it will be possible.
Sometimes it happens your heart doesn’t answer or doesn’t know what to do. The visible options don’t appeal you or look beyond your reach.
I hated government jobs. I had seen the old and dingy buildings of different government departments and wondered how people survived working there. If building was not an issue, then I feared I will become a corrupt person there. I thought, “Soon, I will start earning big from my business and will never need a job.”
One day, I read a job article in a daily about jobs in BPO sector. It mentioned that many MNCs of USA, UK and other European countries were opening their Contact centres in India and other countries where labour was quite cheap. The article was full of promising terms like fast promotions, free office transport, great monthly performance incentives, overtime payments, and above all, five-day week.
I jumped out of my seat. Is it true? The only caveat was rotational shifts and non-fixed weekly off days. I thought about it. “Who cares? I am young, unemployed, and desperate to get a break in an MNC. What could be a better option than this?”
I then decided to give it a shot. I started reading ‘Walk-in interview’ advt. and appeared in one such interview. I was rejected citing ‘V&A’ (Voice & Accent) issues. I was puzzled. But the same issue was cited in some other interviews. I failed to understand what was wrong with my voice. It was as original and natural as it could be.
“You must get training for BPO jobs.” A candidate who was selected for the job advised me after an interview. I started inquiring different BPO training centers, which were mushrooming around the city. I visited one such institute - training mine.
“Sir, you are very lucky. For next three days we are offering discount on the fee.”
The fair-faced girl sitting on the reception said in a rehearsed excited tone with her eyes open wide. She looked like a fresh graduate. I hated to trust girls sitting in front office for their admission tactics. But I believed her as they were already minting big money in admissions. Perhaps it was written large on my face that I was cash-starved which prompted her to do some charity work.
“How much discount I can get?” Who would not like to save money?
“But it’s not a big discount.” I was a little disappointed. Their fee was still high.
“If you want more then you may appear for a scholarship test next Sunday.” Her face expression told she now hated me for my greed. Her desire for charity suddenly vanished. I still thanked her and registered for the test.
God too perhaps sympathised with me over my job lost. I scored well in the test and was offered 60% discount. I joined immediately.
“Congratulations, sir! You are welcome to the institute. Your batch will start day after tomorrow from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.”
This was the same girl who had offered me discount on the first day. Today, her tone was respectful towards me. I felt pride for my score in the test.
The atmosphere of the institute was very vibrant and informal. Most of the staff members, particularly trainers, appeared to be coming from a newfound planet. They spoke impeccable English which gave me jitters.
“Will I ever be able to make it to BPOs?” I doubted myself. I had started believing that BPO is the only option which can land me into an MNC job.
Sometimes, you start believing that your worth has been restricted to a particular zone. Out from there, you are nobody.
One Trainer for Voice and Accent (V&A) training, Shikhar, was answering queries related to BPO culture and its career options in his lecture. “Guys, be sure that job in a BPO is a sure shot ticket to a flying career. The best part is that you are not required to have a very high qualification for this.” His words gave hopes to many desperate souls like me.
Our class had around 20 students. Out of which I could relate to one boy - Rajan. He was very polite in his mannerism and had no airs like others. We had same kinds of qualifications and eagerness to make it to BPOs. We soon became good friends.
Sometimes your wits fail you and you think you are not doing right even if you are right.
It was Monday. All students had met after two-day weekly off and were chatting in different groups. I thought of this as an opportunity to build rapport with others. I chose a bunch of four boys who were standing in a corner. Rajan also was in that group. One boy, Jagmeet, was making some gestures and others were laughing. He was a Punjabi Jatt boy, around 21 in age. From his appearance, it looked like he belonged to a rich Punjabi family. His hair looked as if he was suddenly given electric shock and hair responded.
I was now standing close to them. Jagmeet was gesturing with his hands as if he was explaining something.
“She has perfect shape!”
I soon came to know he was describing the hourglass figure of one female trainer - Bhumika.
“What do you think Gautam?” Jagmeet winked at me and whistled. His face produced a creepy smile.
I uttered the last word in an analogous tone. I hated such obscene references to females. I gestured to leave them.
“It will take many years before you grow up, man!”
Jagmeet yelled behind me in a hurt tone. Others joined him in a big laugh. I didn’t turn back to see the yellow teeth of Jagmeet. But I sensed that Rajan silently supported my point as he too left them to join me.
“Wait dear, I am coming.” It was him.
“They are all stupid. They don’t know what they want to do or where they are heading.” He tried to console me.
“Perhaps sexual references are the only way of fun for them.” I said in a miffed tone. I was angry over their laughter attack.
“You are such an innocent person, I will call you ’pandit’. I hope you will not go for a life of celibacy. Ha ha!”
I did not mind him saying so. His tone was, as usual, polite. “Leave it! They might not be, but we are serious for our career.” Rajan said in a firm manner.
“Let’s go for tea.” I offered. I wanted to change my mood and the topic.
“Sure, but not without bread-pakora!” Rajan gave a pat on my back.
We both then went downstairs and sat on the makeshift chairs of a roadside tea shop. I ordered tea with two bread pakoras.
“Gautam, I don’t think we are prepared to get a break in an international BPO.”
“Right. But that’s why we are getting training here.”
The worker at the shop placed two cups of tea with pakoras in front of us.
“Along with our classes, we must do the homework also.”
“We are already doing whatever assignments we are given with.” I blew air into the teared morsel of hot pakora to make it biteable.
“I mean to say, we must practice at home to kick off this ‘V&A’ problem and this demon of English.” He said while biting the pakora as if it was that demon and he was killing it.
I thought that Rajan and I can work together to win over our common weaknesses. I felt encouraged and offered, “I got it. Why not we do this homework together, every evening?”
“Done, dear. I am more than ready for it.” He blushed and we shook our pakora stained oily hands.
“I will come to your room in the evening, at six.” Rajan confirmed to me while taking the last sip of the tea. I made the payment to the vendor.
The next day, I got a rude shock. This was Bhumika’s lecture. She was a pretty, slim girl and could be the next model of some fairness product. Why she was wasting her life in an institute? She mostly wore western outfits. That day, she was wearing a red top with blue trousers, which showed her curvy features. I found that I was staring at her figure. My eyes were not in my control and perhaps wanted to confirm Jagmeet’s absurd observations.
I was surprised at my own behaviour. I became tense. ”Has she sensed my behaviour?” This thought gave me shudders. Girls are good in observing the men who stare at them. I took her permission to sit in the back rows so that I could feel safe and away from her gaze. I could not understand most of her lecture that day.
After returning to my room that evening, I kept thinking for long about this incident. I tried to relate to Jagmeet’s judgement on me and my silent but rude behaviour in Bhumika’s lecture.
“What I was doing? Was I trying to prove that I am not a kid, but a grown-up?” I asked myself and kept thinking on it for long minutes.
“I think I have grown up now.” This was the conclusion I drew before I went to bed that night.
Next week, one more incident made me think of how much I know and how more I must ‘grow up’.
One of the trainers for grammar, Mr. Nitin, was on leave. It was a free time for next 40 minutes. Everyone decided to play a game. The entire batch was divided into two teams. One team was supposed to write taglines of famous TV advertisements and the other team will guess the product or the company for that advertisement. Rajan and I were part of one team.
A girl from the other team wrote on the board -
“Daag acche hain (Stains are good).”
This was a famous tagline of a washing detergent and was an easy guess for our team. She was scolded by her teammates for such an obvious tagline. Hence the game went on for another 10 minutes.
It was our turn. One of our team members wrote -
Immediately came responses from the other team.
One guy from the other team, whose name was Bharat, went to the board.
“I will complete it” He declared and wrote - “Open cock. Open happiness.” He then came back to his seat laughing hysterically.
I laughed and commented. “Stupid. He missspelt the name of the product.”
Rajan raised his eyebrows and looked at me with disbelief. He prodded my shoulder. “Boy! You are stupid or what? You really don’t know?”
“Means what?” I was now puzzled as well as hurt on Rajan’s behaviour towards me.
Rajan was now speaking bit by bit, stressing each word. He used to speak like this whenever he was about to make someone understand something important.
“He spelled all right. Cock is a vulgar reference to …our penis.” He spoke the last word in a whispering voice.
I was shocked; speechless. My mouth was open but no words coming out.
“Got it now?”
I then understood why the game ended abruptly as most of the girls had already left the classroom.
“I really did not know.” That was all I could say.
“You will know a lot pandit, once you reach Gurgaon.”
Rajan tapped on my arm laughing. I felt humiliated.
“Am I fit for going to a big city like Gurgaon?” I questioned myself. I was not sure that day but destiny knows how to fit one in its frame.