Through a half-opened side window of the bus, Karan looked out. An unusual quietness gripped the surroundings. The streets, which otherwise would be flooded with young software professionals like him, wore a deserted look. Biting his nails in frustration, he cursed his stars for making him go to the office on a weekend. He fully opened the window. A gentle breeze came to his rescue, kissed him all over his face and brushed his hair. The passion between them increased with each passing moment. His eyelids were slowly drawing the curtains to further enjoy this romantic tryst when suddenly, he felt a strong jerk. He instantly pressed his hands against the seat in front of him and managed to stave off a certain collision. But the kiss was broken, a reason enough for him to get pissed off.
He moved up from the seat and looked out through the front windshield. His annoyance turned at first into astonishment and subsequently into admiration. A stray dog had brought this mighty machine down on its knees. Out of the blue, that filthy little animal had come in front of the bus, wagging his tail graciously, walking with an elegant charm, as if the city roads belonged to him. The driver was extremely furious, threw a stream of expletives at the dog in the local dialect. To his surprise, neither did the dog run away, nor did he bother to look up. He continued his walk to the other side of the road where his comrades were waiting for him. The driver had largely underestimated 21st century Bangalore; even stray dogs here understand only one language –English.
“I salute you sir”, Karan exclaimed waving at the dog as the bus passed by him. The co-passengers looked at him weirdly for this sudden display of absurdity. He ignored the glances, took a diary out from his bag and wrote ‘Street Dog – master of his fate, captain of his soul. Had I been the leader of this country, I would have definitely bestowed upon him one of those bravery awards’.
He put the diary back in the bag. He searched for earphones in his pocket and disentangled them. Tuning to Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ he plugged them in. The surreal music appealed his soul. In the next few moments, he felt his conscious slowly ebbing away, and then, all his thoughts came to rest. His mouth was wide open and drooling. His body was oscillating with each movement of the bus, rejuvenating itself before the onset of another day of hard labour at his workplace.
This trip to the better world ended when he half-heard the word ‘Garepalya’ in his sleep. He opened his eyes, blinked, and blinked again. He gazed outside. Yes, the conductor indeed had called out Garepalya, short for ‘Garvebhaviplaya’, a suburb in south Bangalore where Karan’s office was located. He immediately got up from the seat and stretched his arms to take a deep yawn. He moved his hand across his face to wipe off the spittle.
“Ten minutes late”, he observed as he checked his watch after getting down from the bus. His forehead wrinkles looked more prominently than ever before. He held his bag tightly and ran towards the entry gate when suddenly his eyes narrowed upon the small paan kiosk that stood in front of the office.
“I am going in that shit-hole only after having a couple of fags”, he declared and proceeded towards the shop.
He was one of the nine analysts hired to monitor and improve the Customer Service unit of a large multinational firm, a job he hated to the core.
“Gold-flake King – Full Packet”- he demanded and handed a crisp green coloured note to Billa Kaka, the paan kiosk owner, a bespectacled man in his early fifties.
“One whole packet in the morning”, Kaka inquired. His yellow teeth gleamed as he spoke.
“Just give me the box”, Karan responded in a slightly irritable tone. He snatched the box and lighted the first cigarette right away. He took a puff and immersed himself in the smoke to find a temporary relief from a terrible stench that saluted his nostrils from the pile of garbage right adjacent to the office building.
“What a beautiful place for photojournalists”, he imagined as he took another puff. The photographer only had to take a few photos of rag pickers, women and children, publish them in a magazine and live merrily. This is what photojournalists survive on, poor people, hungry people.
He had emptied half the packet when his lungs declared themselves full for the morning. He decided to smoke the rest of pack later. He bought a chewing gum from the kiosk and headed towards the office lift. The liftman had already seen his identity card and even before he hinted anything, pushed the button for 7th floor.
“Good job mate, your boss would be so proud of you”, he said in his mind and chuckled at the thought. The lift system in the office was pathetic. They ascended with such an aching slowness that made one certain that they would get stuck between floors.
“One two three … eighty-seven eighty eight … Ah, Survived again”, he sighed as the lift opened in front of his office.
He swiped his access card, opened the door to find a vibrant twittering and chattering from the two hundred odd call center executives charge into his ears. His workstation was all the way in the last row. He advanced speedily, exchanging brief pleasantries with the people he knew on the way through. He put the bag on his desk. He removed his laptop and charger. He got up to plug in the charger when his eyes stumbled upon Payal Banerjee, a fellow analyst in his team. Her workstation stood diagonally to his desk.
His eyes were fixed at the peacock blue bindi decorating her forehead. Perhaps for the first time in days, he found an interest to watch another person. He looked up at her little unkempt hair. He had sometimes seen her riding to office. “Helmet’s doing” he affirmed as he scanned her down. She had applied mascara over her eyelashes, which made her charming eyes look even more dramatically glamourized. She wore a plain white kurti. The peacock blue of the bindi matched with the patiala and the flats.
“An ethnic diva”, he muttered, smitten, lost completely in her charisma.
He put his hands at the back of his head and looked at her again, this time concentrating on the finer details. Two bright chandeliers dangled from her ears, radiating such alluring appeal that would get even the toughest of hearts flattened on her. A swan pendant glittered over her chest, the swan dancing in a rhythmic motion with each breath she took in and exhaled. His eyes were glued on the pendant, following its trace when she suddenly looked up. He was caught staring at her breasts. She looked at him with sheer disgust. It was too late for him to turn away. He had to get the matter straight. He had to talk to her. Bullshit.
“Hey, you look good today?” he remarked and immediately regretted striking a conversation with her.
There are only two things in the world that Payal is interested in – Shopping and talks about shopping. She got up from her chair and sat on his desk, cross-legged.
“Hey, you noticed. Thank you. You know, I was looking up online for a wardrobe to keep my shoes. There is a sale going on. I am so tempted. But I am a little worried too; these E-commerce companies sell such sub-standard items nowadays. I ordered a perfume a few days back worth 4000 rupees only to find that it smelled like washing powder”, her blabbering went on and on. She had a glow in in her eyes as she talked about her shopping endeavours.
“Did you apply it today?” He interrupted as he couldn’t take this nonsense anymore. This was the least offensive line he could come up with.
“What? No. Why would you say that? Do I smell bad today?” She blurted all these concerns at once and came very near to his chair. There were just a few inches of gap between them. The aroma around was enriched with sparkles of lavender and jasmine. For the next few seconds, he remained mesmerized by her sensuous persona. But he quickly jolted back to reality. He had to get rid of her.
“Well I wouldn’t say it is bad. I am just a little confused. Is it Surf Excel or Ariel?” he inquired trying to look as stern as possible.
“What? You are such an ass, go to hell” she ranted and slapped him lightly on his shoulders.
“Where do you think I am now?” he smirked. There was no turning back now. Just one more sentence and she would definitely leave him for good.
“Fuck you Mr. Karan. Excuse me, I have to work now”, she yelled, her eyes wider and redder than he had ever seen.
“You were excused all this time. But …”, he shrieked as she pinched him. For a woman for her size, she was tremendously good at this activity. There was no stopping once her fingers grabbed his shoulders. Men are expected to be alien to feelings like pain and suffering. He tried to maintain a straight face all the time. But the snob look soon had changed into a-goat-going-to-be-slaughtered look. He could not take it anymore. He moaned loudly and tapped his left hand over the desk. She finally let him off.
“Don’t try so hard to be an asshole you can never become” she barked and left to her workstation. Her eyes were a little moist. She took a paper napkin and carefully cleared off the tears, making sure that the mascara remained intact. Meanwhile, his shoulder hurt badly. He caressed the area smoothly with his other hand. When he felt a little better, he took his diary out and wrote,” Women are the most fearsome creatures on this planet. Lizards come at distant second”.
He started with his work for the day. A pile of spreadsheets opened up in his system. His job included preparing three daily reports for the management. Each report took about three to four hours. This was just the fixed part of his job. The variable part included meetings with managers, senior managers and various other clients to provide them with insights on the business performance.
“If only they’d pay me more, I could have easily made software that could do all this things. But then, I’d have nothing to do here”, he thought. Staring at Payal was one option of enthusiastic appeal. But he immediately discarded the idea and proclaimed, “I am not wasting any more of my time on her”.
“No software”, he concluded and continued his romance with numbers.
He engrossed himself deeply into his work. To save some time, he brought his lunch plate at the workstation. It was already evening when he finished the second report. By the time he completed his work, it was nine in the night. The office was all deserted except for a dozen odd consultants doing the night shift. Unlike in the morning, his took slow small steps while walking out. He did not have the patience to wait for the lift. Instead, he took the stairs. As soon as he came out, he opened up the pack of cigarettes and started smoking the remaining ones.
“Pure bliss!” he exclaimed as he took the last drag for the day.
He looked up. The night was still young. He gave up the idea of taking a bus and decided to walk all the way to his home. He advanced speedily. The road was empty except for an occasional honking by cars and auto rickshaws. The air was corroded with the emissions from vehicles and nearby factories. He was well used to it. His lungs were far worse. He passed three temples, two signals, a coffeehouse and numerous street vendors. After having covered just halfway through the distance, he was down on his knees, panting, yearning for a glass of water. He had largely overestimated his athleticism.Luckily for him, there was a park nearby. He got a bottle of mineral water and headed inside the park.
The park was well lit and lively, with families and couples occupying most of it. Luckily, he found an empty seat. He kept his bag beside him and sat there, looking at small kids run, fall, laugh and cry. A sudden vacuum gushed through his heart. He tried to remember the last time he felt happy. He could not. Maybe he had embraced this monotonous life so much that happiness seemed a distant dream now. He took out his diary and pen and started scribbling.
It has been eight long months since I’ve started working. I took this job so that I wouldn’t have to bother my parents with unnecessary worry about my future. I do not know what is next in line for me. But neither would I know if I slog in office for twelve hours a day.
The fact of the matter is all of us, the pan kiosk owner, the lift-man, Payal and the other teammates, even my boss, are dogs, tamed to serve a more powerful dog. The only difference between us is that some dogs were more privileged than others. But hell, we are all slaves. I am 22 now, more than a quarter of my life is done and I don’t think I’ve lived my dreams for one single day. I’ve always lived other people’s dreams, first my parents, then the teachers, relatives, friends, ex-girlfriend and now my boss.
I envy the stray dog of the morning; wish I could live his life. Sleep when I want to. Fuck when I want to. Eat when and what I want to, from KFC bones to pile of shit. The pressure of a belt around my neck is too much to bear. I am sick of pretending of being someone I am not. I am lost. I am tired. I wish I had the guts to walk freely and not give a damn about what society thinks of me. I wish I could just leave this stupid job and do something I like. I wish I knew what I am good at, what I should try my hands on. I wish for live in which I am hero and not one of the side characters. I wish to be the master of my fate. I wish to be the captain of my soul.
P.S: I’ll resign tomorrow.
He finished up the passage, rested the pen in his shirt, held the diary in his hand and started walking towards the exit of the park. He came out and advanced slowly, breathing deeply with each step. The road was dead. Out in the corner, he saw a stray dog roaming around. “Lucky bastard”, he said as he passed by him.
In the very next moment, a speeding car came from the other side of the road and hit the dog. The driver didn’t even bother to apply brakes to check upon the damage that was done. Instead, he accelerated the car and swiftly moved out of the sight. The car had passed through the dog right through his abdomen area. Such strong was the impact that the whine of the dog lasted barely for a second. Post that, a pin drop silence. On the spot death. The body was cold. At peace. The eyes of the dog were still wide open, staring forever at nothing in the distance. His face was distorted with the tongue hanging out. Blood was continuously oozing out from his mouth filling the potholes of the road. How much of blood could come out through one’s body?
Karan looked at him for a long time. He was holding his breath all this while. As he slowly eased the air out of his lungs , a putrid scent invaded his nostrils. He covered his nose with his hands. The road around the body had turned carmine. There were a few other dogs at the end of the road. None of them bothered to pay their last respects to their mate. They walked in the other direction, exchanging a few barks between them every now and then. No one looked back. Karan had never been so close to death in his entire life. He looked horrified. But he had to see this other side of life, where solitude was not a choice but the only option. He stood there, gazing at the eyes of the dog. Something hit him, real hard, penetrated deeply in his soul.
He turned and started walking away from the scene. At the end of the road, he found an auto standing. The auto driver, sensing his helplessness, asked for double price than the meter reading. Karan did not have the energy to argue. He agreed. As the auto proceeded, he opened his diary once again and scratched the passage he wrote just a few moments back. He then opened a fresh page and wrote “It’s better to die a little each day than to see an abrupt end to your dreams”. He took a deep sigh and looked out. A sweet expectation of unknown happiness took possession of him. The joy, the vigour, the beauty of this madness called life succeeded in getting a faint smile on his lips. He loved his job. He loved his life.