Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sketch--Czechoslovakia*

My cheeks burn as I sat there, grappling with conflicting emotions. I took a deep breath. “It will keep happening”, I told myself, “So better get used to it”.

I was happy for her. I truly was. This was not about her. It was only about me.

The chatter around me was getting louder… Or was that my imagination? I looked around. Nobody was saying a word. The voices were in my head. I pressed my hands to my ears, but they would not stop. Mocking, jeering voices of a hundred imps that live in my head. They laugh at me because I kept believing. And waiting.

I realized she was saying something to me. About suitcases. About what she would need. I tried to say something, but nothing meaningful would come out. I needed to make sense of the chaos in my mind as my feelings battled it out. “Just a min”, I said and got to the ladies room. I stared at myself in the mirror and opened the tap. First splash. “I’m happy for her. We have been partners in distress for too long.” Second splash.” I’m envious. She escaped. I didn’t.” Third splash. “She’s my friend and she just got a good break. Forget about this and get back there.” I obeyed myself and got back there.

But I could not forget.

My cheeks burned again as we got together to bid her farewell. Eulogies. Leg pulling. Best wishes. Old jokes aired one last time. Forgotten nicknames revived for old times’ sake. Laughter.

“It could have been me”

“It isn’t.”

“It may be me next.”

“There I go again.” The imps in my head were cracking up with laughter.

I went back and checked my mail. Photographs from my old roommate who is now onsite. I clicked on it, but after the first photo, I closed the window. I did not want to bring on another round of might-have-been-me’s.

The tingling was still there as the day ended. Sitting in the bus, I thought of what my friend had written. ‘Good things will happen to good people’. “Maybe that was it. Maybe I am not among the good people.”

These imps were really irritating me.

“My turn will come.” I tell them sternly. Cackle cackle.

“That’s number 18”.

“Number 18 of what?”

“The number of times I’ve said that already.”

I wish the imps would not refer to me in first person.

I wish they weren’t right.

“Well, I’ll do something about it.” I said, trying to hold on to my determination, but sounding unsure, even to myself.

“Like what?”

Why do they always have a point?

“Something”

“Number…”

“Just shut up.”

Cackle cackle.

I took up a book and resolutely ignored them. Not that it stopped them of course.

My mobile rang just as I finally managed to get them to shut up.

“Hi Ma”

“Are you Ok? You don’t sound too good.”

How is it that she always knows from my voice?

“I’m fine. Just a headache and touch of flu.”

“Liar, liar…” went the imps in my head.

“Took any medicine?”

“Hmmm-mm”

“What other news?”

“ Nothing much. Er..mmm… Deepa is going onsite tomorrow.”

“OK.”

Loud pause. I knew what was coming next. Strike one. I should not have mentioned that.

“What is happening with yours?”

“Hmmm…they are saying it will take more time.”

“We should really be thinking of your marriage. If you are not going, we could have it in August or something”

Not again.

“Ma, it will happen…”

“You are not getting any younger, you know”

“Ma, I’m just 24. I have time”

“Most girls your age are married. At your age, I had already had you”

“Ma, PLEASE.”

“Well, think about it. There is no use delaying things if…”

“Ok ok. How’s dad?” I needed a change of topic.

“Worried about you. He was talking about it last night. He says if something happens to us… He wants to see you settled while we are still hale and healthy.”

OK, that was strike two.

“Ma, you both are perfectly fine and there’s nothing to worry about. Hmm…my stop is nearing; I’ll call you later”

Liar, Liar…

“OK. Take care of your health. Eat well”

“Hmmm.”

One of these days, I would strike out.

I needed to talk to someone. I dialed my fiancé.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nauseous with envy”

“Who is it this time?”

“Deepa.”

“When?”

“This weekend.”

“Hmmm…Well…forget it, sweetheart. Don’t let your feelings be affected by things beyond your control.”

That’s easier said than done. I sighed.

Home sweet home. My roommate took one look at my face and asked “Bad day?”

“You have no idea.”

“Dinner?”

“I think I’ll skip. Not hungry.”

Oh, so we’re gonna lie down and think about this, are we? Cackle cackle…Can’t wait…

“On second thoughts…. What are we making?”

“Sambar and Rice”

“Ok. Lemme cut the vegetables.”

She raised one eyebrow.

“I’m in a mood to cut up some people into very small pieces.”

“People?”

“Hmm… I’ll just pretend the carrots and potatoes are among those.”

“Er….Ok...I guess.”

I cracked open two coconuts, and started on the carrots.

“Er…the pieces don’t need to be that finely cut, you know.”

I looked at her. She smiled.
“Fine, ma’am. Let me know once you are finished with all the murders. I need the…er...bodies.”

“Almost done”

Dinner time. I still didn’t have an appetite.

“So, who all are we eating?”

“I think almost half of the management at my office.”

She smiled.

“Did they deserve it?”

“Hmmm…Well, no…But I am in no mood to be fair.”

We both laughed at that.

But it still stung…

*****************


The mail sat in my mailbox and I stared at it. I scanned it once more to be sure of what it said. Nothing. There was nothing in it that warranted a second glance. Except the list of people it had been sent to.

Even a cursory glance told me that all the recipients were in the same situation as I was. Did that mean anything? Probably nothing at all.

But it was a tantalizingly suggestive “nothing”, a million possibilities hidden in the very ordinariness of that mail, in its generality.

My glance kept running to that row in my inbox. I took up the phone and called my friend, another recipient of that mail.

“You saw it?”

“Hmmm.”

“Well?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yeah.”

The silence implied that it was the same for her. A choice—whether to hope and be disappointed again, or ignore it and—But it was impossible to ignore it.

“Well, we’ll know at 3:00”

“Yeah.”

“It’s probably nothing.”

Silence. Then I heard her sigh.

“Yeah, probably.”

“Let’s see.”

“Hmmm”

I looked at it again. It was going to be a long wait.

Not that I was unused to that.


Lunch buzzed with the discussion about the mail. Apparently, my observation of the mailing list was on target. The mail was from a biggie. Lunch was punctuated by debates on why some were in that list and some were not.

I listened. Nausea was flooding me and a vague ache hovered in my head. Apprehension? Or acidity? Or both?

Cackle cackle. "Think it is gonna be different this time? When will I learn?"

The imps were in form again and my head was buzzing.

A pacification. That would be it, I knew. Just another ego-soothener. Too mild for ego wounds that ran deep. Insignificant in the context. “No changes, but this is why.”; “We just wanted to let you know.”; “As soon as possible” “We are definitely looking into it”; “We have strategies in place which will come into effect soon”.

At least they would have made an effort, I told the imps.

Cackle cackle. “The sweet, loyal, employee who wants to fall for it again? Wow, they really have it good with me.”

Why do I put up with this?

Because they may be mean, they may drive me crazy, but they are invariably right. They are just voices in my head, but they are not hypocrites.

H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E-S. I spelt the word out idly. I imagined the letters hanging from the ceiling. I counted them forward and then I counted them backward.

It didn’t make me feel much better, but at least the imps were quiet.

At 4:00 pm, I was staring at the monitor with a triumphantly bitter smile. I’m getting good at this. Predictability is a good thing. I ought to write the scripts for the management. I know exactly what they want to say. And how they would say it.

Then my PM called me.

I felt sorry for him. He was almost as much a victim as I was. I wondered how it would feel if I had to sit there. Knowing what had to be done. And having no choice.

Yes, I did feel sorry for him.

He spoke. I smiled at him. I nodded. Yes , I understood.

The imps stopped buzzing in my head. Instead, there was an eerie quiet. I heard the verdict loud and clear.

All the better to accept it. Move on.

The light weight in my heart must be a trick of my mind. It was quite fine. I could laugh as we walked to the canteen. Yes, the book was quite nice. Film this weekend? Maybe. Hmmm… no, not going home this weekend.

Then something imploded near the center of my chest. For a moment, the world darkened.

Impact. Even when you expect it, it takes some time to hit you that you’ve reached a dead end. The End. No more hope. No more dreams.

The rest of the evening was a dream. Or as hazy as one.

And the next few days. Physical impact? Maybe it was the weather. The heat wave had been horrible. Maybe that would explain the sudden fever and nausea attack that drained all my energy in the next few days.

No, it probably had nothing to do with dying dreams at all.


* Czechoslovakia - a term my friends and I use to signify the vagaries of management; based on a joke that we once got in a mail.

5 Comments:

At July 23, 2005 5:31 AM, Blogger Phil Johnson said...

I am certain by next year I will be in your shoes! Wondering what excuses i wud give..suggestions are always welcome! And cutting carrots and thinking it was ur boss was something i liked...shud try that next time! :)

 
At July 25, 2005 8:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Fareen ...
this happens regularly in ur company ;-)
and trust me .. some ppl really go to Czechoslovakia!!!!
to feel bad .yes, its one thing .. to think that "Mera Number aayega " is another..
but yes ..true to ur words - they are hypocrites..
did u think of counting those words in the SDB1 FC or somewhere else.. i have done it manytimes while sitting beside that Pizza Corner...
really struck a cord...

but come to think of it.. its all a game u are a part of..
and u are recording ur part too well for fellow mortals to read on . thats good..
. Also poor carrots....
i will try that next time too...

 
At December 20, 2005 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good one fareen, but u are already in US arent you ???

 
At March 25, 2006 7:04 AM, Blogger Bindu said...

Hello Fareen:)Lloong-time;)

amazingly well-captured... esp the mom-daughter conv:))

have literally had and heard friends having the same talk !

my case:) i finally left the company for an overseas based one..

 
At December 26, 2006 12:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is she ill?
hydrocodone

 

Post a Comment

<< Home