Give me a break, Bappa
by Srivatsan G
‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’, the chanting of Mumbai’s favourite prayer signified something auspicious was about to begin.
Swapna’s parents had moved to Bombay in the early 1990s and rented a 152 sq ft room in a chawl in Dadar. Now tall, lanky, all of 22 years, she was all excited to begin a new phase of her life.
“Kya hua beta? Shaadi fix ho gaya kya?,” enquired Hemant Kaka while brushing his paan stained teeth with his fingers.
“Nahin kaka… Job milala… Aaj first day hai,” replied Swapna with a broad smile.
The smell of incense sticks and the decoration of flowers outside her kholi brought a festive spirit to the whole chawl. Everyone greeted Swapna from their balconies. She checked the wall clock on the entrance of their first floor. She had 10 minutes to catch her bus.
She quickly kept her resume, a couple of passport sized photos, educational certificates and bunch of other required documents in a paper bag. The bus stop was exactly 480 metres from her kholi. She started jogging towards it.
As she was about to reach, she saw the bus taking a U-turn near the bus stop. She started running fast and jumped the divider to reach the other side of the road. The speeding car on the other side came to a screeching halt.
The driver rolled the window down and asked, “Madam, meri gaadi hi mili kya?”
She was in no mood to answer – her attention was fully on catching the BEST bus. As she acrobatically got into the bus, she saw two bulky men sitting in the designated Ladies seat.
‘Welcome to the real world,’ her inner voice taunted her. The conductor tried speaking to the two men, who were in no mood to vacate their seats.
‘How full of themselves these men are!’ Swapna thought to herself. After 15 mins of waiting, she finally got her seat once the two men got down.
As the warm breeze blew on her face, she looked out of the window and memories of her childhood came rushing back.
“Swapna…. get up soon… Mumma needs to go out for work…”
As a five-year-old kid, she never understood why her mom had to leave the house at 5:30 in the morning. Years later, she got to know that rich people needed maids to do all their household chores. Her dad was a construction worker, who spent most of his time discussing politics with neighbours than working. Swapna attended school, mainly because of the mid-day meals scheme and the tasty boiled eggs. Every year she got just enough marks to get to the next class.
“Tickets… Tickets…,” the conductor came asking for the tickets. “One MIDC, Andheri,” said Swapna and gave a 100 rupees note to the conductor. The conductor got irritated and said, “Subah ka time hai.. Chutta chahiye … 22 rupees.”
Swapna tried her luck but that was the only piece of Gandhi she had in her purse. After 5 minutes, the conductor came back to collect the 100 rupees and said, “Utarte time baaki deta hoon”. Her problem was solved for the time being and her memories wandered back.
Ganpati was one festival which the entire chawl celebrated with gusto. Swapna loved Ganpati as He visited every year irrespective of one’s status. Those five days were the most eagerly awaited days of the year. But there was one year, when He didn’t visit. It was the morning of Ganpati and the whole chawl woke up to the cries of Satish Kaka’s family. Satish Kaka who was supposed to bring the Ganpati idol that morning closed his eyes forever.
‘Baba gele’ were the words of crying 10-year-old Pratik, only son of Satish kaka and Swapna’s best friend in chawl.
Unlike Swapna, Pratik never went to school and had to join the manual scavenging job after his father’s death. That incident changed the outlook of Swapna towards life, school and everything. There was only one person in the entire chawl who had a 9 am to 6 pm job. He worked as an Accounts Executive in the SJB Co-Operative Bank. He was the one who suggested Commerce group to Swapna after her board exams.
‘Maybe my way to a better life,’ she thought.
“Marol … Marol…,” the shouts of conductor brought her back to reality.
“Kaka… MIDC stop kabhi aayega?,” asked Swapna innocently.
“Arey madam… Woh last stop tha… Utro.. utro…,” said the conductor while whistling to the driver. She hastily got down from the bus.
After 5 minutes, she got a share rickshaw. She told ‘MIDC’ and got in and adjusted herself between 3 people. Just a few minutes before reaching MIDC, the rickshaw driver started collecting fare from everyone and that was when Swapna realized that she forgot to collect the balance from the bus conductor.
“Kaka… I forgot to collect my change from the bus conductor. I don’t have any cash,” said Swapna with a worried face.
The rickshaw driver got irritated and said, “Paise dya, nahitar utara,” and stopped the auto in a corner. She got down not knowing what to do.
She asked the passers by the route to MIDC, Andheri and finally reached the office after 15 minutes of walking. She looked for the exact address from her documents. It was mentioned as third floor and reporting time – 9:30 am. She ran up the stairs and met the receptionist on the third floor. The receptionist was on phone and asked her to wait.
While she was waiting outside, Ravi, a stylish looking youngster, approached Swapna and said, “Hi… I’ Ravi from the HR team. Why are you waiting?”. Swapna gave him the offer letter and apologized for being late.
Ravi told, “No issues. Please go to second floor and wait near the cafeteria.”
Swapna religiously followed his words and went to the second floor. After half an hour of waiting, she felt something was amiss. She again approached the third-floor receptionist and checked.
The receptionist replied, “I have been looking out for you for the last 20 minutes. Where have you been?”
Swapna replied innocently, “Oh.. Is it? I was told to wait in the second floor by a HR person.”
The receptionist said, “I think someone played a prank on you. Anyhow, the induction for new employees has started already. Go straight and take the second left. You will find ‘Mars’ meeting room.”
Swapna didn’t have time to reflect on why the hell someone would play a prank on her. She followed the instructions and reached the room with ‘Mars’ embellished on the door. She knocked the door and entered, “Excuse me. I am Swapna. Sorry for the delay. I got lost somehow… ”
“Yeah, people from earth often get lost in Mars,’” replied Prabhu sarcastically, who was taking the session.
“See… this is what I was talking about a couple of minutes earlier. This company values time and commitment from every employee. This is not a theatre to walk in anytime you want,” remarked Prabhu looking at Swapna.
“Sir.. It’s because of …. ,” Swapna tried saying something.
“See… I don’t want any excuses. Only losers give excuses,” replied Prabhu angrily.
Swapna controlled the tears which had welled up in her eyes. She was not able to concentrate for the rest of the session. Finally, after 2 hours, they broke for lunch.
Everyone was told about their team and seating place. Swapna’s offer letter said, ‘Graduate Trainee, Accounts Dept’. Before leaving, Prabhu specifically gave her an assignment to submit the training session’s summary and the learning feedback.
Swapna spent the second half of the day adjusting to the so called ‘corporate etiquettes and culture’. “
What is wrong with me? Why no one seems to help me out?,” she asked herself while summarizing the training lessons.
By 7:30 pm, she submitted her first day’s assignment to Prabhu. He kept the papers aside and asked Swapna to sit.
“Ms.Swapna, what I am going to tell now might shatter you. We have got the background verification done for all the new employees. As an organization, we have a policy of rejecting anyone scoring less than 5 out of 10 in various parameters. The agency has highlighted a couple of instances in your college history, wherein you had an altercation with the authorities. I hope you remember those instances.”
“But sir, that professor failed my friend deliberately, for which I stood up and fought for her rights. It’s a misunderstanding… Give me 2 minutes … I can explain you my side of things…”
“Look Swapna, It’s already late. I don’t want to hear your stories. We do not believe in any kind of activism in this organization. And I saw your indifferent behaviour throughout the training session today.”
“But sir.. I got lost and was late because….”
“Please Swapna, stop giving those excuses. Please take your files, documents and leave the place. This is our final decision.”
Prabhu got up from his desk and gave her Rs.100/- as a token of sympathy.
“Sorry for bothering you today. This is our one-day travel allowance for trainees,” he said.
“Jeez… It’s my first day … Give me a break Bappa,” she shouted out loud while coming out of Prabhu’s cabin.
The return journey to Dadar lacked the excitement of the morning. The skies were dark and it was windy. Strong monsoon clouds gathered over the Mumbai skies. As she sat in the ladies’ seat, her resume flew out of the paper bag, as if to tell her that her corporate dreams were way out of her reach. She closed her eyes trying to forget the horrid day.
Her nap was cut short by a flying pamphlet which landed straight on her nose. She opened her tired eyes slowly. It read: Teacher required for training underprivileged kids. Salary Rs.10,000/month. No previous experience required. If interested, apply to [email protected]
The first drops of Mumbai monsoon drenched her when she got down at Dadar finally. Swapna smiled for the first time since morning and started dancing happily.
This story was written as part of the Writer’s Gym program open to those who complete the Short Story Writing Workshop.