Travels through India

This is a story about three great cities, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore

Chapter 8

Vile Parle station was built somewhere around 1906 and the look justified its age. The station, at most times of the day, was a mess of people, children and confused cattle; and in consonance with most stations on the Western line, the West side was more posh and somewhat better-maintained than the east. Tarun and his friends were joining I-Clarix, a firm which made software for banks. Tarun frequently suffered from bouts of disillusionment when he wondered why the majority of students after four years of grinding struggle in the premier institutes of the country went to myriad software firms and planted their ass on reclining chairs in comfortable cubicles, not to move and seemingly never to falter. Sometimes, the answers presented themselves with unnatural certainty in his wonderings, sometimes it just left him depressed and totally and absolutely disillusioned. Today, however, the three of them were ebullient. The first day in a white-collar job for many is a momentous occasion, and though it was nothing as great for them; they did feel twangs of excitement every now and then.

“The place’s on Subhash Road. Guess we need to take an auto”, said Subho. “Anyone of you know any landmarks?”

“Nope”, said Tarun. “But the lady who I called yesterday told me that we should take an auto-rickshaw (yeah she actually said auto-rickshaw, long time since we heard someone speak of autos that way, huh). Anyway, she told me to take an auto-rickshaw from the station, and tell him Subhash Road, close to the highway.”

The auto-driver turned out to be a person with an clearly palpable liking for Hindi numbers, and the latest and heavily popular ones at that. Tere Naam was the latest rage in the country. Its music was strange and raucous, faintly claustrophobic, and stunk of dingy drinking holes and made a show of exquisite beauty at the same time. This driver had two big speakers that looked and sounded as if they were made of throwaway material, fitted in the back of his auto. These two speakers were blaring out an Udit Narayan song from the same movie at full blast. Needless to say, there was little conversation on the way to the office.

“What shit is this?” asked Anup, shouting over the sound of a male voice literally dripping with pathos and emotional angst.

“I’ll tell you when we get off”, shouted Tarun. “I can barely hear myself over this din.”

Vile Parle is a place steeped in history, and the houses, lanes and by-lanes of this suburban housing colony in Mumbai speak in hushed overtones of a glorious past. Tarun could see glimpses of the crowded lanes of Kolkata’s Lake Market as the auto-rickshaw negotiated men, women and screaming children through a market selling everything from yellow marigold flowers to shady-looking audio amplifiers. BSA cycles and Scooters with red and blue paint peeling off were parked everywhere, leaving a tiny portion in the middle of the road for to-and-fro traffic.

Wow, this place is as dingy as South Kolkata, muttered Tarun to himself, as the auto-driver screamed at a woman who comfortably crossed the road looking the other way, and trotted off gaily, as the auto-rickshaw screeched to a grinding halt just short of a dirty looking puddle of water mixed with mud and cow-dung. Muttering the choicest expletives which would put five students from KGP to shame, the driver carefully negotiated the puddle and drove on, as Udit Narayan continued his melancholic drone with a sad violin punctuating his poignant pauses.

It took them close to half-an-hour through the mindless traffic to reach the end of Subhash Road, which connected with the Western Express highway running through the western suburbs of Mumbai from North to South. The three got down, delighted at the meager fare of twenty rupees on the rickshaw, and crossed the road to the other side, where they could see a sad-looking building with a lackluster board on its roof, which said ‘I-Clarix empowering banks everywhere’. The building was creamy-brown in color with a paneling of dark tinted glass, and a desperate desire to look impressive was written on every coat of faded paint. Several cars parked in and around the building gave an impression of well-fed and satisfied, but workaholic employees. A depressed looking security guard sporting a bushy yesteryear mustache from a company called Topoline was sitting on the little counter by the gate.

“ID-card please”, said the man, in a squeaky, mildly authoritative voice.

“We are here for induction. All of us are new joinees”, said Subho.

“You have letter?” Tarun was, for a moment, reminded of a Bad-English contest they had held in college once, just for the sheer heck of it. Quite surprisingly, it had turned out to be an overwhelming success, with entries streaming in by the minute. He unzipped his bag, and handed over his offer-letter to the guard.

Having completed the preliminary formalities, the three of them were given temporary cards with red bands, which they were told to wear at all times in the office. The three were told to enter by the front gate and wait at the reception.

The reception presented a stark difference from the exterior of the building. Tastefully decorated with minimalist décor, the place had three plush sofas, grayish-black in color, with a light velvety finish. A winding circular staircase made its way just over the seat of the receptionist to the floor above, and a corridor led the way to the elevator at the end of the building. The receptionist was a good-looking girl (Tarun felt she was distinctly horny) with excessive streaks of sparkling red in her hair, and looked like the kind which Prashant would have called a naughty bitch.

“Nice”, muttered Anup, as they sat down and reclined on the sofas. Tarun pulled out a copy of the latest edition of Business Today from the center-table, flipped a few pages, found it vague and totally uninteresting, and dropped it back on the table.

Four people entered – two guys and two girls. Tarun, from their inquisitive glances, could make out that they were among the few others who were supposed to join the organization with them. One of the guys was bespectacled, looked well-groomed and Tarun felt easy accessibility and suaveness in him. The other person was a tall swarthy fellow, with (Tarun felt), a monstrous overbearing ego. The girls were shy and demure; one of them actually looked not more than twelve years of age. But she is definitely an adult, else why would she be here, thought Tarun, and smiled. The other girl looked mature, shy, and totally unconfident, but tried her best to carry herself in a manner which belied her shyness. Tarun smiled sweetly at the girls and wondered if he should take the initiative and introduce himself and his friends. It might seem like I am inordinately interested in company, he thought, let’s wait till the induction starts. Surely, the instructor will do the introductions.

Clearly, Subho was thinking about introducing himself, but abandoned his intentions on a soft stare from Tarun. Anup, a big fan of the English Premier League, was busy reading about Manchester United and its latest player-acquisitions in the newspaper. A smart lady dressed in a spotless white salwar-kameez, and carrying a huge bundle of folders entered the reception area, and smiled sweetly at the congregated group –

“You must be the new joinees". The four of them nodded concurrently. "Your training room is just about getting ready, in the meantime, why don’t you fill up these forms?”

One folder was handed to each person, as Tarun muttered under his breath – “Officialdom at its best.”

“Shhhhh”, hissed Anup. “She's not gone yet.”

“Doesn’t this seem worse than college?” whispered Subho. “There’s such a lot to write. And most of it is tripe. I mean – what are they gonna do with my percentage in tenth grade?” Subho paused, and murmured with a sly smile: “I don’t even know what percentage I got in tenth grade.”

Half-way through the induction forms, the freshers were interrupted by the same lady. “Your training room and your instructor is ready.” Folders bunched under their arms, the seven youngsters followed the lady to an elevator which was small enough to hold just four people at a time. “Should we take the stairs?” asked Subho. “No”, replied Anup, “do I look like a person who likes climbing stairs. We shall wait for the lift to come down.”

The two girls and the swarthy chap took the elevator leaving the bespectacled guy with Tarun and co. Obviously the guy was quite tired of looking at the notices on the board, and nodding formally, when he introduced himself – “Hi, I am Souvik.”

Tarun, Anup and Subho introduced themselves. Souvik was from the Government College of Engineering (COEP), housed in the small town of Pune, around eighty miles from Mumbai. The other three who had already gone upstairs were his batch-mates, and the three friends learnt with considerable angst that COEP, like most other colleges in the state of Maharashtra, boasted of a healthy boy-girl ratio, unlike most of the IITs. Souvik’s appearance was in consonance with his voice and diction, and Tarun felt an instant liking towards him. If only the two girls are as open and friendly as this guy, this training won’t be that bad, thought Tarun silently. The elevator returned, and the four guys crowded into the little space inside studded with mirrors on the side walls (God knows why? thought Subho).

“So are you the only guys from KGP in this fresher-batch?” asked Souvik.

“No, I think there are four other guys”, replied Subho. “I guess they have already come. They reached Mumbai some time before we guys did, so I assume they have already found a place to stay. Have you noticed how spotless these mirrors are? I wonder if they clean them everyday. It’s the latest fad nowadays, most elevators have mirrors.”

“Perhaps because most people find the lift and ideal place to put the finishing touches to their look”, said Tarun sarcastically, and then wondered if it actually made perfect sense.

The office-space of I-Clarix was no different from the picture conjured up by Tarun’s imagination. Rows and rows of cubicles, some were empty, some had depressed people reading mails and typing away with sad nonchalance. Wood paneling in brown separated one cubicle from another, and a gray carpet (with a velvety feel to it, Tarun noticed) covered the floor. The training room was at the end of the row of cubicles, and around twenty chairs had been neatly arranged in front of a large desk with an overhead computer projector. A cold blast greeted the four as the entered the room; they realized that the room was definitely a lot colder than the outer office space. Tarun wanted to complain to the lady who had brought them in, but she was nowhere to be seen, so he went and took a seat, with Anup and Subho on either side. Souvik took a seat next to the tall swarthy chap, who, they had come to know, was called Mukesh.

“What’s with this place, man!” exclaimed Anup, irritably, “It’s colder than a meat-chamber. And what about the rest from KGP; it doesn't seem like they are here yet.”

“You’ve been inside a meat-chamber, have you?” asked Subho, interested, eyes widening just a little bit.

Anup’s irritation increased just a wee bit and he snapped – “What’s that got to do with what I said. It was supposed to be a simile, just a modicum of comparison.”

Tarun patted Subho gently, attempting to calm him down. Anup was normally a very soft-spoken giant, but he was easily irritated by bodily discomfort, and the temperature inside the room was definitely below the pleasing threshold. Tarun wasn’t feeling too great inside the room, and he was about to leave his seat and check outside the room if there was someone with whom he could register a complaint, when a tallish, bald man with a kindly, gentle face entered, and trotted with a funny sort of a gait to the middle of the room. Tarun immediately recognized him as the guy who had taken his interview during their campus-selections, and remembered with a sudden bout of nostalgia, the days of agonizing expectation, late nights with alcohol, marijuana and depression thrown in equal proportions, long-drawn interviews, irrelevant selection tests, pre-placement talks and whatnot. All that for a job in just another software firm, filled with people who knew three programming languages, and knew just how to fool gullible clients by making the look and feel of the website a little better, wondered Tarun silently, and felt faint disillusionment.

The man sat down on the edge of the white colored desk in front of the students, and started talking. Tarun, and the others, however could hear very little, not more than a few mumbled, incoherent words which seemed to make very little sense. A suitably-awed hushed silence descended upon the room, and Tarun noticed the lady who had escorted them into the training room had taken a seat at the back of the room. How motherly she looks, I am sure if we don’t keep quiet, she’ll be the first to actually chide us for improper behavior, thought Tarun and smiled silently. From the lecture of the bald man, Tarun and the others gathered that he was one of the many project managers in the organization and his name was Aveek, Tarun realized that he was undoubtedly Bengali. In the next agonizing hour, Aveek gave them a brief outline of the organization, the general structure and hierarchy, a little bit of pride-laced idea about the worthy clients which the company had, and finally a little idea of the technologies which they worked on. Tarun was pleasantly surprised with the subtle sense of humor which the man had, but his low voice coupled with a bad-night’s sleep soon ensured that Tarun was soon dozing off.

An hour and ten minutes later, Anup was gently prodding him in his belly. He hissed, “Get up! We got a break. Let’s have coffee.”

Rudely awakened, Tarun woke up with a dull throb in his forehead, left his seat with a sigh and crooked brows, and followed Anup and Subho (who was busy in conversation with Souvik, the bespectacled guy) to the pantry.

Subho lifted a cup from the pantry drawer and moved to the coffee machine. Tarun lingered around the drawer for half-a-minute and then told him, “Come down, I need a smoke.” As he left the pantry, he noticed the others from KGP standing outside, in animated conversation. When did these guys come in, he wondered. Must have been when I was in joyous slumber...

7 Responses to “Chapter 8”

  1. # Blogger EQUINOX

    i cannot stop grinning!!.. brought about a huge rush of nostalgia.. i think none of us will forget the cold training room!!!  

  2. # Anonymous Aru

    aahh !! reading this after a long time felt like having chilled beer after a long and hectic day in office :D.. adding on to wat Souvik ;) said , i just loved the names u chose .. i-clarix !! I mean ,man i cant help but think of asterix, cacophinix and obelix , in their first company i-clarix !! haha .. fully entertaining and nostalgic at the same time.. i wonder how come u remember every damn detail of each day ...keep up the good work and take care buddy...  

  3. # Anonymous Sandy

    Thank you guys.

    Those days formed us in many ways... It's good to keep a written account of those days...

    The amount of crap that is published in the name of literature gives me great hope that some day this would be published. :)

    Seriously :)  

  4. # Blogger NightWatchmen

    Why is it that every company has really cold conference rooms and training rooms, I have always wondered!!!

    At least you people had bandis for receptionists no such luck in my case :(  

  5. # Blogger Showknock

    Sandy, awesome!!

    Reminds me of the hazaar inducions I've had in my life ... nostalgia for me too. Keep posting!  

  6. # Anonymous -d-a-d-a-

    Keep it coming!!! Absolutely delightful to read.  

  7. # Anonymous Sandy

    Thanks Saunak and Dada, Chapter 9 is ready and posted  

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