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Back To Bliss: A Journey To Zero by Santosh Jha - HTML preview

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He was sure he wanted to confront the question which his anger kept alive and kicking. He looked at his watch and it was 7 pm. In the balcony of his flat where he lived alone, he could feel the evening’s youthfulness entering his breathe and he was ready to move to the next step of his plan.

 

Mayank’s call at 7 pm had made him understand that he would have to cancel his next morning’s meeting. Whenever Mayank wanted him for a talk, it would start late evening and end by the break of dawn. He agreed on the phone that he would head home straight away. Curious as usual, he had asked Mayank what was the occasion for celebration and he had replied, ‘I am quitting my job next morning and whole night we will celebrate’. He had no choice but to rush home. Before starting his car he called Utkarsh but he was out of town. Utkarsh, he and Mayank were school friends and formed a trio complementing each other so well for the last 24 years. He desperately wanted Utkarsh to be with him now and was sure that Mayank too would love to have him with them. Mayank had indeed called Utkarsh to tell him to join them and knowing that he was out of town, he had briefed him about his decision to quit his job.

Ashish Sinha, Deputy General Manager, Marketing, Tantra Tele Services. His business card would read. On his profile, on a social networking site, he had uploaded long paragraphs about him which he could not understand as Mayank had written them for him to attract single girls. Being a friend of a person like Mayank was not very easy but it came as a package. Mayank would do a lot of things for him, which he would flaunt as his own and this somehow compensated the trouble his friendship with Mayank created for him. Five companies, four ex-girl friends and a journey from assistant manager in an FMCG company to Deputy General Manager in a telecom company in ten years was not a bad CV for Ashish.

 

“So, angry young man! Finally you have found the villain of your life and you want your anger to sustain so that you could battle it out with him. But how can your resignation do any harm to your editor”, Ashish asked, picking up the conversation as he finished his first glass of whisky.

“Who said the editor is my villain and I’m quitting to harm him?”

“No, I mean what I perceive is that you are angry that the editor did not own the crisis and instead of protecting his reporter he took action against him. I presume this is double standards...stark hypocrisy.”

“I would rather say my editor is not a habitual hypocrite. Usually, he is very true to what he is; a single personality at most times.”

“Oh, hypocrisy is out, then what?”

“No, it is not out. I am not trivializing the issue by confining it to an individual. I am talking about the broad-based system of hypocrisy that has percolated deep down in the thought processes and even general work culture of media in particular and all organized human endeavors in general.”

Ashish knew it was best for him to listen as Mayank unfolded his heart and all he could do is to pick up any inconsistency and contradiction in his view point.

“You know, hypocrisy no doubt is the greatest malaise of humanity. I mean, people of all mental levels know well what is good, ideal and godly. It is in fact such a huge benefit for humanity that universal goodness and ideals are so simple to see and understand that even an illiterate can know them. The learning processes devised by humans and all acquired knowledge actually facilitate avenues to circumvent and obfuscate the practice of good. Most men and women would speak of good and ideal of life but they would not put them into action. As a broad rule, more learned and academically attained a person, more skilled he will be in practicing hypocrisy”.

“Good then; the larger picture you have sketched, leaves nothing very concrete for people like you and me to do to make a difference”.

Ashish regretted having said that. Thank God, Utkarsh was not there for he had time and again advised him not to throw blanket statements aiming to kill a conversation when someone, especially Mayank would be making a point. He remembered Utkarsh telling him one evening, ‘When an in-form batsman is scoring runs, the batsman on the other end should just concentrate on running hard on his call so that the in-form batsman retains most of the strike and does not get run out before he hits a century’. Little was lost as Mayank probably did not listen to Ashish as he continued.

“I can say with lots of confidence that hypocrisy is the mother of most ills of our society. It is hypocrisy that breeds crisis of faith among men and women. It is this huge gap between what we say and what we actually do that creates the first seed of mistrust. The seed of mistrust bears the fruit of anger, rivalry, jealousy and a spectrum of negative feelings. It is a vicious cycle; anger and rivalry in turn feed the mistrust and growing mistrust forces people to become greater and smarter hypocrites. I am not blaming anyone. My generation is bigger hypocrites than previous generation because they bequeathed us greater mistrust than what they inherited from their previous generations.”

Ashish made second glass of whisky for himself as part of his resolve to be a supportive non-striking batsman and keeping quiet, he kept his eyes fixed on Mayank’s face.

“You know, sundry hypocrisy that many people often practice because of sheer foolishness is not dangerous. What I am angry about is the street-smart cunningness of people, especially those who are authoritatively positioned in society. It is tragic that most people practice hypocrisy on the name of being practical and in the name of practicality become cunning and justify their wrong actions. It angers me no end when people boast of being practical and use it as a license to unleash a series of wrong against humanity and society in general.”

“And the bigger trouble is that such people often land at top positions in society and even the society makes them its idol”, Ashish added making a philosophical face in an attempt to match the countenance of Mayank and continued, “Most often, such people become your bosses; my boss, the general manager is also one such big cunning fox. The amount of intentional lies he has told in his career so far should be more than the GDP of USA.”

Mayank could not resist a smile and quipped, “What about you?”

“Lo..! What about me! And what can I do? You know it’s a lateral stupidity. I mean, it’s like driving on an expressway and you have to drive to the prescribed high speed. You stop and your ass-bone is splintered into smithereens. It’s a war out there and you make a killing for surviving and not for fun. You said it yourself that it is a vicious cycle; why blame me?”

“Ashu, I’m not blaming. I understand we all need to be practical. However, just open up to my humble request that please be alive and alert to each compromise we do. It is practical to make a compromise out of compulsion but often, people make compromises out of sheer convenience. And this people make a smart habit and try to sound virtuous, the society very willingly tailing up to stamp its seal of approval. I firmly believe, if we prune them on the basis of sound moral auditing points, half of the compromises we make will be found as being made as sheer out of convenience and not compulsion. If we do away with it, much of the lost faith will be restored. All we need to do is stop being self-possessed and be open to questions that others have for you.”

There wasn’t much for Ashish to say as he knew it well that Mayank was right. He felt uneasiness at his heart. This was not unusual as being with Mayank often unleashed such feelings as he would instill a conflict in him. He wished Mayank would end the conversation or at least change the topic. That was not to be as Mayank was preparing to deliver more.

“You know Ashu; hypocrisy hits hard the sanity of the system. In the media, we have a crisis at hand. Why media, all corporations are facing it. Media faces it the most. We are besieged with the shortage of good human resource. There are few good hands who know their work well and they are assets. But they keep moving. Rival houses lure them with better salaries. So, we have serious sessions on building what they call institutional loyalty. Sermons are issued and workshops are conducted on enhancing loyalty of human resource towards the company. And on the other hand, high ups treat them as disposable syringes. Worse off, talent and work commitment has become cheaper than loyalty. Personal loyalties start getting preferences over institutional one. And still workshops on loyalty building and enhancing human resource quality go on. This hypocrisy is so manifest, so crudely and cruelly practiced that all employees can understand it and that is why they work in complete mistrust. The faith over goodness, especially at the work places has been lost ages back. Worst still is that there is a reactionary reluctance among the leadership to the admittance that this trend is annihilating the basic premise of human resource and sanity of institutionalized work processes.”

Ashish could not resist himself, “You know Monku, I cannot express myself well but I actually understand this trend better than you. Actually, economics is far greater congregation of idiots than politics or society. Someone had told me that wherever eight economists would gather, there will be nine opinions. And if these economists were Indians, you never know; worse off it they were Americans. I can tell you with conviction because I am also part of the idiosyncrasies of economics.”

Mayank knew that after three glasses of whisky Ashish would start talking nineteen to the dozen. As he would start calling him Monk or Monku, it was sure sign of his inhibitions waning away. He was usually all ears to him on such occasions as he would say things others may label as trash but Mayank knew, he talked straight out of his heart. He encouraged him to take the crease and was pleased to see him bat from the non-striker’s end.

“Monk dear, you are a journalist but you are a good man. I am not, I am a beast. I have to be. I have to see things differently. You have to see things only this way in corporate jungle to survive. You know, when I see a beautiful woman, I fix my target. I approach her, make all right investments on her; may be, use a bit of tricks and manly pranks on her and I am not even ashamed to admit that some of them may not be morally as correct as a man like you could approve of. But, my target is to take her to the bed as early as possible. And, I am not bothered about whether I can do that or not. I can do that and that’s why I am in the business since all these years. I’ve done that often. However, my success rating depends on how much time I save reaching the target. This is naked economics. Do it whatever way it takes, but do it fast. You must have heard, in economics they say, all realities exist in short run only as in the long run we are all dead.”

Mayank wanted Ashish to play some more swashbuckling strokes and continue his joy at the non-striking end of the batting pitch.

“Ashu, you are jumping your lines. Are you okay? Take a break. Take some fresh air.”

“No, I’m fine…I am fine”.

“I appreciate your approach to the idea but you need to take one step at a time”.

“Yup Monku…I realize that. See, my point is; we are here for making profit and it’s a hugely competitive stuff out there. In economics, all realities are countable and we run our companies on the clear cut operative philosophy of counting it faster than others. We cannot afford long run aims and ambitions. That is where society and economy see differently. Human Resource idealism and institutional ethics etc are all long run things. But in the short run you have to ensure that you survive to remain alive in the long run.”

As Mayank did not interrupt him, Ashish felt encouraged to go ahead with his views.

“That was why I used this beautiful woman analogy. What society thinks as proper is that the father of the woman will find a suitable boy for her and he will spend unnecessary money on her dowry and marriage. And what the suitable boy will do is finally take the woman to the bed. Or, the woman would waste her youth days finding a lovable guy and struggling to get her family accept him and the vice versa. After big trouble the love will result in a marriage and even then the woman would land herself on the bed. Even the law admits that a marriage is de jure and complete only when it is consummated. The countable reality, the pragmatic exactness is; though it sounds offensive, that the beautiful woman has to be ultimately taken to the bed. Economics sees the countable end and does not waste time and energy on those processes which society prescribes as human and just. So, if you see from a different point of view, the hypocrisy has its origin and support in society. Economics does exactly what it thinks, sees and says. But then, within economics there is a small society and whatever hypocrisy is being associated with economics is actually because of this small society within. This human resource bullshit is actually a confused society within.”

Mayank did not wish to bat longer. He had already decided to declare the innings. He only wished Ashu could see the larger picture. But he understood that mindset issues were hard to trickle down fast on the perceptional platform.

Economy globally was facing new process benchmarks and operative principles. Liberalization changed everything fast. Survival in the open competitive environment was tough and often cruel. This toughness and cruelty percolated in the work environment within.

He remembered, when he had joined media, both technology and profits were in bad shape but the work environment was great. Within two-three years, investment made everything at par with global benchmark but then, the mood and work milieu in the newsroom worsened. The joy of work was squeezed out gradually even as sales and profits touched new heights. Ashish said it right. Economics found its short-term agenda and happily buried the long-term issues of human resource. Who cares! The girl after all had to land on the bed and it happened fast. Quite as what the operative prudence of economics prescribed!

**

CHAPTER 4

At 11.45 am the owner made two calls. He rang up the editor first and asked him whether Mayank was going to the rival newspaper? The editor as usual had not checked the mails in the morning and was rather taken aback. He could not answer the owner’s query.

“Editor Saheb, at least open the laptop sometimes when the company has invested on it”, a visibly irritated owner said adding, “see the mail first and report me in half an hour which newspaper Mayank is joining and what’s the package.  Also send me an explanatory mail why your trusted Colonel left your army”.

The general manager smiled as the owner called him and asked to report him in all possible details whether the editor mishandled Mayank and what impact his resignation could have on the editorial team spirit as he was very popular among them.

The first thing both the editor and general manager did after receiving the owner’s call was to call Mayank but he would not respond. The editor was quick to perceive the seriousness of the situation. He was in for big trouble as the resignation issue would revive all dormant issues against him and his detractors within would leave little to embarrass him taking advantage of the situation. He hastened to read his mail to be in control of things.

The general manager checked that the deputy general manager, sales had arrived in his chamber and ordered two strong coffees. The deputy general manager, marketing had left his home and would be joining him soon.

“So early in the day you have invited me for coffee that means somebody’s ass has gone for a toss and shock me if it is not him”, the sales head blabbered, almost barging into general manager’s room.

“Genius...stupendously genius…such a gross wastage of talent here…if I were the owner of the newspaper I would have promoted you to vice-president for guessing it right.”

“How bad is the ground situation... is it out of control?”

“Not yet…but we will make it. Don’t have to do much this time.”

“Sir Ji, give me the whole lead story. You know we sales people are basically hawkers; only when I read the whole story I can decide which way to sell it.”

“Oh! The story is simple. A man was cuddling his dear baby boy in his lap. The boy was very happy to get his father’s attention. In sheer joy the baby kicked his limbs in the air to express his feelings. One of his kicks landed on the balls of his dad. As the dad screamed in pain, the terrified boy pissed in his lap. The story is as simple as this.”

The coffee arrived. A visibly happy general manager asked for some snacks and by the time the attendant could come up with it from the office canteen, general manager had narrated to the sales head the entire story from the resignation mail of Mayank to the owners phone calls.

The sales head was about to say something when the deputy general manager, marketing entered the room, as usual in a disturbed state of affairs.

“The condom ad is missing today as you had instructed us not to negotiate beyond 45 per cent discount and the rival stooped far below to lick their ass”, he shot before he settled on the chair.

“To hell with the ad…do you regret about the ‘missing condoms’ even when you are in the bed with your wife? Anyway, this news is stale. I knew about the deal late evening itself. I had called you for different reason. Have your coffee first.”

The sales head smiled in the side chair. He said to himself, ‘is this man really as stupid as he presents himself to be or he does it purposely to counter the devilish mechanisms of the general manager?’ He put his bet on the latter. The sales head enjoyed his snacks as the general manager enquired about what the latest development in government advertisement case was and whether there was any change of mind.

“How long this will go? You know Boss asks me the same question and you do not seem to have any answer as yet”, general manager said annoyingly.

“Sir Ji, the problem is, the chief minister does not want to talk anything on this issue. His personal secretary has told me that chief minister is very upset. And I think his point is justified. He says chief minister also knew there was something wrong with the medical exam results and he had been thinking of setting up a probe when we hit the headlines. The chief minister is angry that even when he has now announced enquiry into the matter, it is just because we chose to run the story that the opposition has gained upper hand. The opposition is now making a hue and cry and misleading the people by saying that the enquiry is a cover up exercise”.

“Yeah…I know this too but tell me what is the way out? I am going to tell the Boss that from next time, it should be made mandatory for the editorial team to consult the management before going ahead with such stories. Bloody who will feed these wide mouthed beggars if we don’t earn for them. Right now, we have to make right moves to ensure that the ban on government ads is lifted as soon as possible.”

“Sir, if you could accept my humble suggestion, I would say that this is beyond us. The officials have clearly said they could not help as the chief minister has himself ordered the ban. Only he can lift it. The problem is we cannot even go to the chief minister. Only the editorial people can save the day, as chief minister would meet only them. And why not they, after all they have landed us in this trouble?”

“My dear brother, first time in so many years I am not regretting that I made you the deputy general manager. Genius…stupendous genius; you have prescribed the winning formula. Why should we lose our sleeps, those who have brought the Tsunami should also foot the bill of rehabilitation, ain’t it?”

The general manager looked at the sales head for support and confirmation. He smiled as usual and offered him a cigarette which the general manager took and gave it to the marketing head who kept it in his shirt pocket as if it was a trophy of victory.

As the marketing head moved out of the room, the general manager worked out his strategies and assigned the sales head his little part in his game plan.

“You can use the services of my personal secretary; her English is as beautiful as she is. Ask her to draft a mail to the Boss. In the mail, you only express your concern that newspaper looked weak in the last one week and though the sales were not down yet but the unsold percentage had gone up on account of poor cash sale. Do not mention anything about editorial and shoot the mail within half an hour so that it should sound to the Boss that you are still unaware about the resignation of Mayank”.

As the sales head moved out of his room, the general manager picked up the phone to call the chief reporter.

“General Manager here... got the news? What news? Lo… a journalist asks me what news. Your dear friend Mayank has been fired and you don’t know yet.”

“Fired…? But he has resigned! Editor Saheb had phoned me half an hour back and he told me Mayank resigned citing personal reasons. He even asked me to go to his place and ask him to talk to Editor Saheb as he was not picking up the call”, the chief reporter replied to the general manager in utter confusion.

“What else the poor man could do? He was demoralized so much. And what was his fault? What a simple and honest man like Mayank can do but tender his resignation when you push him that hard against the wall? I know the inside thing; there were efforts to influence the Boss against Mayank and all sorts of wrong information were being fed to the Boss so that he fired Mayank. He took the right decision and well in time to save his career. And I tell you, you may be next in line as you are being publicized as a man of Mayank’s lobby. But do not worry; I am the general manager here. Mayank should have come to me but he trusted someone who did him in. Bad choices always make people pay for it. I hope you understand”.

Satisfied that he had made best use of his resources to attain what he wanted, the general manager started writing the mail to the owner.

Dear Sir,

I’m writing to you in utmost confidentiality.

It is truly unfortunate chain of events that we find ourselves into. No doubt, there is an immense need of caution and care in handling the situation. Prima facie it seems that somewhere, this important point has been missed.

As Mayank is not responding to anyone right now, we have reasons to believe that he looks hurt and down. What I have gathered from editorial team is that he had not taken things too kindly and had some sort of run down with Editor Saheb (Details awaited).

In the past too, I had pleaded with Editor Saheb to go easy with his penchant for office time booze bouts as often it affects his judgment and handling. This new development may unsettle many in editorial but I will see to it that nothing untoward happens.

Sincerely yours.

General Manager.

PS: I’ll call as and when I get to talk to Mayank.

 

Prakash Pandey, the sales head had to take a tough decision. He smiled at his own predicament. The choice between the devil and deep sea! He was himself a living predicament. A man of high academic credentials but he was onto a profession which demanded street smart levels of hawking and at times, extents of cunningness which his heart would not approve of. He hated the autocratic and closed door mannerisms of the editor and was equally at war with the ‘me-only’ attitude of the general manager who technically was his boss. The editor would make serious efforts to boss around him but with little success. The editorial and sales war was always on.

The sales head had amazing gift of putting self-made quotations in the mouth of historical figures and he would do it with such seriousness and aplomb that it would be impossible to disbelieve. This he would do intentionally to embarrass his rivals. Once in the chamber of the editor, he had said to Mayank, ‘Winston Churchill had told Roosevelt in 1943 that the chief curse of humanity was that superior intelligence was always ruled over by inferior intelligence and that was because God Almighty believed in the theory of balance of power’. Mayank had understood his jibe and had prodded him to add more by asking, ‘how do you know of this historical fact’ to which he had said, ‘Joseph Stalin has written the full account of the conversation between Churchill and Roosevelt in his autobiography’. Mayank had a hearty laugh as he knew it too well that to whom it was directed. The editor had neither doubted the story nor did he understand and had continued watching live cricket on his desktop computer.

This was however unusual, as often, the sales head would credit Marco Polo and his accounts to most of the quotes he would muster up. He would say it with a dead face, ‘I admire Marco Polo as he was an obedient husband like me and had left home on the advice of his wife to find and write about all those living people on earth who were superior stupid than him. I will too do the same someday.’

The sales head weighed his options on the basis of long-term mileage and arrived at a decision on the basis of the old corporate wisdom of balance of power. He rubbed his hands in sheer joy to visualize the end result of his game plan.

 

The editor was almost done with the morning meeting with the reporters when the sales head entered his room. He gestured him to have a seat.

“So, what’s the bad news from your side this morning”, the editor initiated the talk.

“Why bad one…I think it is a usual day of business!”

“Pandey Ji, it suggests you do not seem to know the full story. Everyone today is interested in grabbing a slice of my precious ass. But they don’t know that like a lizard, I can grow my ass as many times they chop it off.”

The sales head laughed heartily correcting him that lizards were more fortunate than humans as God had chosen not to trouble them by giving them a protruded ass and instead gave them a tail. He then told him in a manner of earnest inquisitiveness, “Yeah…morning birds were talking about a rebellion in your army.”

“Rebellion…! And in my army! You need to see it differently. This is battleground of life. This is men’s war. Do we invite these pigeon-hearted boys to join the battle? We don’t. We face the enemies upfront. Losing or winning is part of the game but your destined part is to fight like a man…a true warrior with a lion-heart. Sad it is that at times, some soldiers join the ranks whose best place to breathe is in their mothers’ lap. These cowards are deserters when the first shot of enemies’ artillery rends the air in the battleground. For the general and the army, it is often a good riddance. The general is saved of the unnecessary burden of footing the bill of their coffins.”

“I presume; this is an overreaction and circumstantial assessment of reality.”

“So be it.”

“It should not be it. All wars are not won in the battleground and all enemies need not be taken to war to win against them. Some gentleman said somewhere at sometime that more muscles, more hurdles in peace and that’s why brain has the least of both.”

The editor calmed a bit and threw a circumspect gaze towards the sales head. His instinct warned him against it but he felt he was getting inclined to listen to what the sales head was saying. He didn’t trust him, no doubt about it but the way the sales head sat relaxed and spoke with authoritative composure, making constant eye contacts with him, he thought it was not bad actually to pay heed to what he was attempting to hint at. The sales head realized that his words had succeeded in doing what they were intended to and he quickly changed the tack.

“Editor Saheb, Marco Polo once visited our town after his long journey to China. Outside the town gate he saw a man with a sword walking impatiently, looking every now and then towards the path, sitting hesitatingly and within seconds start walking again. Marco Polo thought he was a robber and he might even kill him. But, as he approached him, it was clear that the man with the sword was least interested in him. Marco Polo could not resist his curiosity and asked the man what he was doing there with a sword in hand and why was he so impatient. The man said in apparent anger that he was waiting here for his friend to come so that he could kill him before his unholy foot could disgrace his town. Marco Polo asked why he was ready to kill a person who he was calling a friend. He replied that his inevitable victim was once a friend and no more as he had said disgraceful things about his dear wife whom he loved more than anything in the world. Marco Polo asked how he could know that his friend had done such grave injustice to him to which he said his neighbor had said so a few moments before. Marco Polo asked how he was sure that what his neighbor said was true. The man said with confidence that his neighbor was a notorious thief and he had overheard his friend saying such nasty things against his wife’s integrity when he had gone late night at his friend’s house for committing theft. Marco Polo smiled and asked him to go home right then assuring him that he would hold his friend there till he returned from home after ensuring that his wife was well. The man reluctantly went home but Marco Polo knew the man had lost his wife to his neighbor who, after ensuring that he would be killed by his powerful friend would have fled away with his beautiful wife.”

“So, what is the moral of the story then?”

“It is subjective…it depends on your individual positioning…there may be more than one. One moral of the story, the objective and mandatory one is that since the age of Marco Polo, the truth remains that your neighbor always has the potential to be your worst enemy because he is the nearest and especially when you have a beautiful wife at home”, the sales head said closing the door behind him.

The editor promptly swung into action to rush to the facts. He called the attendant who was in the morning duty for the general manager’s cabin and asked him some straight questions. He smiled as the attendant answered his queries. He handed him a hundred rupee currency and lovingly enquired about the health of his ailing wife.

He recollected the story told by the sales head a few minutes back and made some mental calculations. There were some loose ends in the scene. He could not accept that the sales head would not align with his neighbor and instead look like being supportive to him even when he was in crisis. Hesitatingly, he picked up the intercom.

“Pandey Ji, as an afterthought; it might be possible that the friend of the man in your story had done something similar in the past or something wrong and that’s why this man was easily led to believe what his neighbor gossiped about his friend.”

“Editor Saheb, the important thing should not be missed in the mist of dark possibilities. The question in the core is a smart choice between probability and certainty. Whether you trust a friend, a strong one, who had probably turned against you or a certain thief who, unfortunately, was your neighbor?”

“And should it matter that the man’s wife was extremely beautiful?”

“It is indeed the crux of the matter. Marco Polo would not care if it were otherwise.”

“Your wife is beautiful too!”

“My neighbor has even better…!”

**

CHAPTER 5

Those were the best moments in his life when she would be around.

She was in the prime of her blossoming years of youthfulness. Was she beautiful…! A definitional conundrum! Beauty, especially of a woman is a deterministic realism. It is as localized or regional as weather preferences. Then, personal choices also create strong benchmarks. Rather difficult to have a universal yardstick of beauty. Mayank would remember how Ashish had extended a rare concurrence with this idea of beauty and had philosophically added, ‘That’s why I have never seen a poster of any Miss Universe or Miss World in the bedroom of any boy.’

Mayank would call her the most beautiful enterprise in his life. That kept him in constant fear. He knew most beautiful things in life were ephemeral. Strange though, he never thought beauty was the best thing about her. He loved her vitality and valued as a huge complement to his own personality for his own was rather low. When she would come close to him, he could feel the pink of her health and vitality in the millions of specks of her heavily moist breath. He found it strange but her breath would remind him of the moist and strangely aromatic air which he had breathed in when sitting beneath a very old banyan tree in the backyard of his native village. He related it to a clear sign of her superior health and took a lot of security and confidence from it.

He admired more the fact that she from her very presence would raise the bar of his potential and possibilities as a person. Mayank would always be indebted to her for a strange realization which dawned upon him only when she entered his life. She chiseled a man out of him; made him understand the multi-dimensionality of roles a man is invested with by the almighty or the nature. He could gain the importance of the pride of the burden of performances as well as the joy of actually performing these multi-dimensional roles.

Almost a year back, when he first met her, the first feeling he had was that of the protectiveness of a father. She looked so young and effervescent, almost like a college sophomore; capricious and vulnerable. It was one of the reader interactive programs organized by his newspaper and she was invited. There were other women in the program but she caught the attention of all men because of her spiritedness. Men are men and anywhere they will be too willing to extend ample proof of it. Men start speaking the language of their beneath the belt desire and even start picking up commensurate signals which may not actually be there but their accentuated and conditioned mind would see one. A bubbly woman, who does not wear a culturally self-imposed veil of nonchalance and pretentious aura of pre-eminence, automatically draws an ‘available’ label in the language of men. Mayank could see it happening with her. He promptly took her in his authoritative custody as if he were her dad. She took proper notice of his gesture. Later, though he got to know that she was no college girl but a professional, working for a private bank; his dad-like feelings for her didn’t change.

She, by her enigmatic persona and inexplicable mannerism would set personality benchmarks for him. Being with her opened such varied roles for him and he realized that doing them gave him such satisfying feelings which he could not clearly understand and name. One day, she would be preparing to go out with him and suddenly she would complain lovingly to Mayank, ‘I’m standing in front of the wardrobe for ten minutes….when would you decide which dress I should wear?’ He would smile and say, ‘the pink one…the color compliments you’. She will feel elated and wear the dress. He could never realize that she expected such a role from him which he would usually consider intrusive and a no no…! The very feeling that he was trusted by her so much that she actually delegated her right to make choices for herself to him, made him realize how much responsible and correct he always needed to be to stand up to her trust. He realized this was not a small thing. Often, men are trusted with loads of emotional gems by women they love but they are so self-obsessed that they don’t even understand how quickly they squander them. Men often pride and strive for what they give to their women but seldom value what they get from them. He was not scared but felt very humbled by this. His discretion for goodness was only sharpened. He was sure he would always cherish the wealth she entrusted to him and would never waste a dime, let alone a gem.

One of the most amazing and cherished memories with her was of an evening with her in her studio apartment flat. She was down with cold and as she lived alone, he visited her to enquire about her health and be a support. She had trouble breathing and all of a sudden, she asked him to rub the decongestant ointment on her chest and back. He unfastened the top two buttons of her shirt and was thinking of looking the other way when she started a conversation and he had to look in her eyes all the while he rubbed the ointment on her chest. He was very conscious that his hands should remain confined to the upper region but still he would unintentionally get the touch of the softness beneath. She turned back and half lifted her shirt to bare her back to him. He could see the marble of white and feel the silk in his hands. He carefully buttoned her up and tucked her in a thick blanket. He would clean her dripping nose with his hands as if she were a baby. He would watch her sleep comfortably. He felt a strange sense of satisfaction. It emanated out of his realization that childlike innocence and complete trust is the most potent and pious emotion of humanity. He felt resplendently elated that he was worthy of such an emotion. Nobody in his life had reposed such complete and colossal trust on him as she had, nor had he experienced such immaculate innocence ever. However, what gave him greater contentment was his internal knowledge that all throughout his physical intimacy with her; he had not for one moment felt sensuousness. He was not sure why and how his being responded truly and mutually to her childlike innocence and trust. He could actually feel the pride of paternal care still alive in him as he watched her sleep well; her chest undulating to the rhythm of deep breathe. He felt full…fulfilled…! He felt liberated…formless....infinite…!

 

It is because of her that he started doing things he never ever thought he would do. He started watching cookery shows and bought recipe books as he enjoyed cooking for her. He found the recipes too common and available in most restaurants he could visit. He added his imaginations to the recipes and created fusion food which would make her so happy. He would mix the styles and ingredients of south Indian recipes with Chinese, the Punjabi recipes with Italian and local dishes with Mexican to create unique tastes and looks of his food. She will be so happy and fight like a kid to reveal the recipes which he would protest naughtily and teasingly say, ‘the recipes are fond memories of my former wife who fled away with my driver and that’s why I cannot share them with anyone’.

He derived immense satisfaction in mothering her. He would feed her with his hands as she would playfully refuse to take her hands out of the pocket of her jacket. And, if she liked the taste of the food, she would insist making him eat it by joining her lips to his lips and move half of her munched morsel in his mouth. Keeping the lips entwined, she would ask him how the taste was. He knew; humanity had not created a word and a language which could help in answering her question. His moist eyes however would betray the gratitude to the almighty and the woman in his life!

 

His emotional and physical intimacies with her, as their relationship grew, would leave him exhausted, confused and even annoyed. For her, intimacy was as natural as for a child. When with him, she would actually not like to behave like an adult. As a kid never thinks before saying or demanding anything, she too would look least bothered about the practicality of it. She would hug him and sleep in his arms and lap. He would try to put her in the bed but she would insist he remained there with her in bed. She would clutch him, wrap herself around him and sleep for hours. He could not keep her away from him. Her breasts would remain softly pressed against his chest and she would wake up and groan complainingly if he tried to unlock himself. Once, he used slight force of hands, in a determined attempted to separate her from his embrace and she responded by crying like a baby. The tears would not stop despite thousand apologies and finally he had to pull her back into a tighter embrace to restore her usual peaceful sleep.

Initially, he found himself precariously poised handling her intimacy language. He would wonder how one could sleep when in such passionate proximity. He checked his doubts and once, when she looked like in sleep in his cuddle, he squeezed her closer. Her breast bones could rub against his. First time, he could feel the velvety traces of her chubby stomach as he pulled her close wrapping his arm around her waist. As he felt her abdomen neighborhood, he missed a heartbeat. He planted his lips against her softly and gently massaged her back. He felt an unexplainable buzz in his body; his muscles contracted, felt cold inside though he sweated and finally he could not breathe anymore. He let out a groan and pulled himself away. She stirred and opened her eyes in complete bewilderment. He could see a rather idiotic expression on her face which is usual when someone is abruptly jolted out of his sleep. She didn’t say anything, locked herself back in his hug and slept like a stupid.

He realized, not much to his amazement, that she actually slept in great peace in his embrace. To her, he and his hug was like a teddy bear comfort. He returned her, her childhood days. She would feel the teddy bear security and confidence when in his arms and would sleep well. That was pure child act but she was not a kid trapped in an adult body. He would repeat the act on her when he knew she was not sleeping and she would respond his groans, her body tweaking as her muscles contracted too. Once, she kissed him unusually long and he asked her whether she knew that a long and wet kiss like that was a sure sign of passion and sensuousness. She did not reply; thought for a moment and then almost munched his mouth, leaving scar marks on his lower lip.

 

He spent lots of time with her and more on analyzing his relationship with her. He could realize that affection was important...intimacy was important...more important was the person who would share them but...most important however was the power of wide and deep knowledge which makes realization of all goodness. A blind might throw a gold coin in his hand and a deaf would not pick it up even if the coin fell behind him. A monkey passing by would pick up the coin, try to chew it, find it tasteless and would throw it. A child playing nearby would pick up and would be dejected to see it twisted and would toss it in the well.

It is individual knowledge of true joy, discretion of real goodness and the courage to pick up the right and righteous option which is most important. A beautiful woman on the street is a veritable goodness. Somebody goes out and molests her. He apparently gets some joy in it. In the language of economics, this act is what Ashish called as the countable joy and short-term operative goal. The same girl goes home and her father, seeing her pained huddles her in his embrace and caresses her long hair gently. The girl forgets her pain, gets assured of her well-being and turns the usual self. Both were touches, both had skin and flesh involved in the action but sense of purpose and emotions differed as the knowledge of goodness was in utter contrast. Life and its realism is like a beautiful woman but most humans in their stark ignorance opt the enjoyment of molesting life, without even caring that it pains life no end. Few geniuses pull life in their laps, hold it in tight embrace, cuddle her gently with the pure emotion of a creator and make her attain her true self. Unfortunate it is that there are only a few geniuses left and fewer are those among the geniuses who have the courage to sustain it as the normal society would either call them hypocrites, mad, idiots or a certain threat to a harmonious social order.

 

His realization landed him in trouble. He understood; she was important for him but only as a catalyst; so was he for her. She unleashed the potential and possibilities which were already there within him and he valued it more than she could realize. He even told her this but she would not register it the way he put it. He wanted her to understand that she needed to diversify her personality to derive better joy and satisfaction out of her love for him. He wished she could develop a better sense of reception, graduate to more meaningful roles in his life, as well as her own.

He knew in his relationship with her, both of them had reached a stage of mutual commitment. Their relationship could not be open-ended for long. He even understood that problem was in his side. He loved her truly and treasured her. He was sincerely indebted to her for lots of good her presence opened up for him in a short period of less than a year. Her qualities and dedication to him were unblemished. However, he stilled believed; she was not very receptive to some of the key areas of their relationship which he felt was crucial for the completeness of their union. He would hate to do it but he needed to objectively assess her as a complete person. He could not accept the theory that love means acceptance of what it is and how it is. He strongly believed that if he would commit to her, she would be the most important person in his life. She would be such a close and continuous presence in his life that she would have the power and potential to influence him and his future a great deal. Such an important person would have to be a complete person. She would have to be what it takes to perceive life in its entirety and enormity. She would have to be open to evolving as a person as life itself is an evolving reality.

The reality, a troubling one, remained for him that she was not very receptive to newer and wider things in life and would often be unwilling. More than often, she would be a single emotion person and very true at it. He would talk with her about myriad of higher issues of life and humanity and would ask her to share her views on them. At times, she would be patient and listen to all he had to say but when her turn came to respond, she would say, ‘what you say is absolutely right...just tell me what you want me to do. You know you won’t need a second call’. He would caution her that life is not as simple as she took it. She could not always take an easy ride of his perception and judgment and she would have to be geared up to make her own. She would think for a while and then say in an affected earnestness, ‘I know that you know the problems well and the solutions too...why do you think I am with you...you are my insurance policy...and am I a bad premium?’ He would ask her to be serious and would get a prompt rejoinder, ‘you be with me...you hold me in your arms for eternity... kiss me so that my eyes are closed in ecstasy and my being melts in your soul... let troubles come, am I there to feel what comes and goes!...do I fear!...I’m safe and smiling in the heart of my braveheart...I can walk on pebbles but I know for sure, your arms will take me to your embrace before my legs bleed…and am I scared of the blood!...not till you are with me and if not, let them leave my veins...do I care...!’

He would wish she could also learn languages other than that of intimacy and affection, which she spoke brilliantly. He wished to make her see the other side of life where emotions would not provide solutions even though it would help keeping the bond stronger and would add pep to the spirit of struggle against the odds. He could not do so as he could clearly see such persistence with his viewpoint and efforts would make her insecure. He would immediately realize that she would become unsettled and behave more childishly. She would perceive it as a sign of loss of love and would promptly start doing things to replenish it. She would take his face in both her hands and gently shove it to her soft breasts. As he would go breathless, she would kiss him passionately and deeply. She would croon sweet sounding moans in his ears and encourage him to hug her with all his might. She would accept the intensity and passion of his hug as the sign of his continued love and affection for her. As he did it to assure her, she would calm down and fall asleep in his lap.

He did not mind being a teddy bear for her, rather he loved being one for her but he wished, she could accept and appreciate that life outside teddy bear security was tough. There were attainments in life waiting for her attention outside the teddy bear fulfillment. And, the journeys are not so short that she could be carried in the lap. Moreover, everyone has to go through the individual pains. You cannot see the seven colors of rainbow through other’s eyes. You need to see it with your own eyes then only the beauty and joy of rainbow would be unraveled to you.

He regretted that she was a close door person on such matters. She would not receive and appreciate the fact that it was his immense love for her which made him pursue her to reach newer horizons and extend it every day. He wished she could understand that life; its beauties and pleasures, the pains which broadens and deepens perceptions, are unraveled to individuals in long and tedious journey of time and space. The journey has no meaning if you do not have the endowed and cultivated faculties to pick up experiences and ideas unraveled en route.

Love consumed her completely. He knew; she had run a deficit of it since childhood, like most girls and she prided it as ultimate virtue. Surrendering her being in all possible sense to him was her first desire, an instinctive one and the last attainment. Beyond that everything was his trouble and surely, his calling to deal with it. He had almost given up. Happy but not satisfied.

She was 28 and would remind him of her age whenever he would tease her that she still had baby flab around her waist and inside her brain. In one year of relationship with her, he had reached the level of intimacy with her which would have prompted any other girl to ask for the next best thing to institutionalize it. His irritation stemmed out of the fact that he realized he had traveled too far with her and it would not be easy for either of the two to go back. He also realized that she had gone beyond the level of doubts about his commitment for her. The question of commitment ceased to exist for her. It was from his side that the question was in limbo; she had not even realized that there could be such a question with him. He was irritated with himself as he was truly in love with her and could never ever think of giving her pain. This suffocation of optionlessness however irritated him.

He understood; he had to take a decision about her, that too very soon. His resignation provided him the opportunity to do it. He had the leisure time and he wished to make the most out of it. He understood it quite well that it would take the courage of a clear and resolute mind to carry his decision vis-à-vis her as he knew the energy of her love and innocence was potent enough to melt the staunchest of his resolves. He also understood it well that he would have to be very meticulous and artistically dexterous in handling her and implementing his agenda on her as he could not afford to distress her original and instinctive qualities of innocence, trust and intimacy. The agenda was to add new dimensions to her personality without affecting the ones which made her the angel she was. He was very sure in his mind that if there was a conflict and if he had to choose between what she was and what more he wanted her to be, he would blindly choose her with what she was. That truly was the challenge. He had to plan his ways which could not only add the new personality traits in her but also enhance the intensity and range of her existing qualities. He decided, he would have a go at it, see how she responded to it and then decide his next course of action after assessing the first symptoms.

His love for her however would also try to make out a case against his own decision. ‘Don’t you love her too much...should not you ensure that all that you do should enhance her joys and satisfaction’, the lover inside him would ask him. It was not possible, he realized it. Calculating life’s worth in terms of pleasure and pain was certainly not his preference. He accepted that any decision that would help in making her a better person, more knowledgeable and more receptive to wider and deeper aspirations and attainments of life would be a clear choice. Love cannot be blind...being blind is never ideal…humans cannot be akin to puppy love. Love is not only care, protection, provision, intimacy and passion; it is a magical concoction of all pure human emotions. And, this magic gives lovers the kick of their lives to clinch the attainable; expand the confines of their potentials, stretch the horizons of possibilities and reach their not alone but together, hands in hand...as one soul.

The decision made, he called her the next morning of his resignation, didn’t tell about it and simply asked her to come home in the evening. She jocularly asked him had he quit his job as she knew his office hours started when her ended and that’s why they could meet only on Saturdays. He smiled and told her that he had taken leave and would be at home. She asked him to pick her up and as usual asked him to cook a nice and innovative dinner for her.

**

CHAPTER 6

“Boss is in your town, will see you in his hotel suite, sharp at 8.30 am”.

It was already 8.15 in the morning when Mayank saw the SMS of the personal secretary of the owner on his mobile along with his three missed calls. No time to rehearse his lines that he intended to say but did not expect it so soon. He picked up a piece of paper and a pen, jotted down something, read them and threw it in the dustbin in a clear sign of disapproval. Stood for a while in front of the mirror, reviewed some gestures and smiled. Picked the keys of his car and stepped out of his house.

As he locked his door, his neighbor commented, “Looks like it will rain today”. Mayank asked him did he like rains. “Does my liking or disliking matter to the rain God? You can’t choose your destiny, you can however choose your courage”, the neighbor shot back. As Mayank entered the lift, he just added for fun, “You can simply choose the size of your umbrella”. He could hear his neighbor saying it almost shouting, “...what umbrella..! The one your newspaper gave me for six-month subscription? It can’t even shield a dog’s piss, let alone rain”.

 

The Boss, the owner of the newspaper had a fixed suite in the seven star hotel. Mayank had been to his suite once before and knew it quite well where he would comfortably sit to face the boss. The suite attendant asked, as he ushered him in to the large hall like sitting room, if he liked the idea of having tea or coffee in the meantime as saheb was in the bathroom and might take a few minutes. He declined it and instead asked for a bottle of mineral water. He knew the Boss liked to sit on the large couch at the farthest end of the room, so he chose a seat opposite the Boss but slightly across to ensure he avoided direct eye contact.

He had occasions in the past to talk with the owner but it was first time that he was facing him one to one. The previous encounters were very formal, usually in group meetings where he would just respond to some queries he made or simply listened to what he said. There never was the need to know more about the Boss as he had no business with him. Anyway, the Boss would be guarded and made largely inaccessible by the editor and general manager whenever he would visit the office, once a month or so.

As is usual with all big people, there were rumors about the nature, lifestyle and habits of the owner which could interest a page three journalist but he never heeded to them. He firmly believed, gossiping is more about disproportionate smoke of the actual fire and he had no business with either of the two. Moreover, he believed, a person had multiple personalities and what one aspect of his personality did should ideally not be a benchmark for judging the actions by the other. He was associated with the owner in a professional capacity and what the Boss did in his personal capacity was neither his concern nor the yardstick of his judgment about him. As he had left home, he had made a firm resolve to receive him with an unburdened mind. He basically knew too little about the Boss, his ideas and mannerisms to create any presumption and premonition about him.

The owner, in his late forties, had seen the rise of the media empire he owned from its struggling days. He was known for his generosity with heart but miserly with his words. Mayank had known more about him through the manner in which he was talked about among top people of his newspaper. He could gather that the Boss was probably bit more amicable and approachable; at times even weak and supple than it would be befitting and professionally appropriate for him as an owner. Loose talk about bosses and owners are favorite pastime of people all over the globe but at times, he would be puzzled whether the owner was actually as submissive and pliant as he was taken as in the talks of the editor and general manager. He was very unsure, how he would put up with him. He had however decided, before leaving his house that he would be honest to his nature without caring what perception his owner would carry about him and whatever end the talks might achieve.

 

The Boss looked relaxed. He entered the room in shorts and tee-shirt which did not look very expensive. He held the pack of cigarette and a lighter in his hand. Mayank greeted him but he did not respond. He knew about this habit of the Boss and did not take it badly. He would hold it as a sign of the low self-esteem of the man who would not respond to the greetings or at best a one-up-manship ploy and would usually consider a waste of time and energy talking with such a person. He however did not mind it as he had made up his mind to give the occasion a full chance.

The Boss gestured him to sit on the sofa vertically in front of his usual couch. He moved in and was settling on the sofa when the question came.