I was late again! I missed the bus and had to hire Uber to reach office. I knew I would get dirty glances from my boss and other colleagues…but then I always had a way to wriggle out of any situation – thanks to my creativity! I am capable of creatively wriggling out of supposedly difficult situations that life had to offer.
But today was different. I was supposed to be at office before time because I was to welcome some Mr. Prakash Mehra, a motivational speaker arriving from New York the same morning. I was to introduce him to our office culture and give him a summary of the things we were looking into for increasing employee participation and productivity. Although I had sent him an elaborate email regarding the same but still it was the minimum courtesy to be there at the office to receive him! Had check his Facebook profile and he kind of looked pretty strict! I even wondered how someone with such stern looks can actually motivate people! He certainly looked unapproachable! Anyway that was not my lookout. I was late by 20 minutes and just kept my fingers crossed hoping that boss does not reach before me!
I opened the door and quickly looked for Sneha, my friend, philosopher and guide – much younger to me but extremely mature in handling worldly things with great ease! She had already been married twice and was bringing up 2 kids from 2 different marriages. Her first marriage was a disaster and after the divorce, she got married to her childhood sweetheart and was actually living ‘happily ever after’!
Sneha nodded ever so subtly – meaning situation was under control. I tried to peep into my Boss’s cabin, he was laughing loudly with the stern looking spectacled man – probably Prakash Mehra!
Me: Boss is laughing! Thank God…was he asking for me?
Sneha: Of course he was Arpita! You were supposed to receive Mr. Mehra! Anyway, I did your job, brought him coffee, offered cookies, smiled more than necessary and covered you up.
Me: You are a gem honey! So how is he…this Mr. Mehra?
Sneha: He is single…never married – just like you!
Me: oof! Is that all you observed about him?!
Sneha: uh huh! What else is there to observe? He is quite a smarty by the way…and has a million dollar smile – sparkling white teeth…
Me: Wow! So why did you not tell him about me – we can fix the marriage date also plus the auditorium we have – we can hire that…I will tell boss to let me hire it for free….
Sneha: yeah! sure why not! You have been working here for last 8 years after all – this much Boss will surely do for you…
Me: Okay now – can we talk about work for a change? When will His Highness start his motivational lectures!?
Sneha: Why…are you already jealous of him!? He is coming from abroad…
Me: yea yea….of course – whoever comes from abroad have motivational skills inbuilt in them…we learn things from them only after all! The fact that I have been a senior HR Executive and daily motivate people to work has no value….what was the need to get him by paying so much!
Sneha: So you should be telling this to boss – or do one thing, listen to what he says and how he says it…then let Boss know that you can do it as well…simple huh!
Me: No thanks! If I have to motivate, I will do it for another company…..or this will just be an added responsibility with thanklessness in return!
Sneha : gosh! You are such a cribber…! Really – if I ever get my talons on that Arnab fellow…I will throttle him for ruining such a beautiful soul like you!
Arnab! The name that my heart still ached for! The first boy of the school, 2 years senior to me – every girl was crazy for him…and he showed interest in me! It was a fairy tale happening in my life – we had even dated for 3 years…and then everything got over! Apparently his mother did not like me – I belonged to a different religion after all! I was a non-vegetarian and they were strict vegetarians. Although Arnab always had non-veg whenever we were eating out – but did not have the guts to reveal this to his parents! Later, much later of course, I came to know that he had met a very rich and beautiful girl at a wedding party of his cousin and they had started going around too – while he was still dating me…and made up a quick story of how obedient he was to his mother and he will only marry where his parents will want him to!
In spite of knowing the fact that he cheated on me, I still could not get over him….after all the first feeling of love was through him – it is rather difficult to erase such fond memories!
Sneha : Hullo Madam…come out of your reverie, Boss is calling you inside.
I went inside and was introduced to Prakash. Yea, he did have sparkling white teeth!
Later we all assembled at the auditorium and Prakash took over the mike……and everyone was mesmerised by his speech! He made us play games, made the session interactive and fun filled. During tea break Prakash came over and asked me to give him some details of usual employee complaints and grievances.
Me: Employee complaints…are you sure you want to handle them? I mean ..it may mar your entire effort till now….you know people are so touchy about grievances…no matter what you do and how you try to satisfy them…they will remain dissatisfied!
Prakash: But that is what I am here for Mam…this entire session will fail if I don’t address their grievances and give a viable solution…..trust me, nothing will get marred!
He left after giving his million dollar smile.
Sneha had been observing us talk. She came quickly.
Sneha: What was he asking for….
Me: He just proposed me!
Sneha: I hope you said ‘Yes’!
Me: No…how could I, I needed your permission after all!
I observed Sneha looking behind me..with a very sombre expression….I turned around only to find Prakash standing right behind me!
Prakash: I want the complaint list now….because I want to address them immediately after this tea break……
Me: Oh! Okay – yeah sure, I already have an excel sheet ready, I will just email it to you.
Prakash: Thanks mam!
He left. Somehow I felt that he had heard our conversation…because this time his smile had a hint of mischief in it too!
Me: Gosh! I hope he did not hear us!
Sneha: Well…hope not!
The session started again after the tea break and Prakash did a wonderful job of addressing various complaints and grievances! I was really amazed at the ease with which he was giving solutions and even involved Boss into the interactive conversation! He ended up the session saying that he was ready to have a one to one session if anybody wanted to share something that he or she could not in the open session.
Me: Goodness gracious me! Look at his energy levels! He has been talking since 10am….it is 4pm now and he is inviting more people for a one to one session – some patience he has!
Sneha: Yea – I am going to talk to him…
Me: Really?! Regarding what?
Sneha: Actually Akash wants to switch to another job and I am not really very happy about his decision….we are having constant arguments about it…
Me: You are going to talk about your husband’s job changing decisions? Are you crazy – you should not ask him personal questions like this!
Sneha: But he said that you can come up with personal issues too – he can give his opinion!
Me: Well…do what you want! But I can’t understand why should you talk about your personal life with a perfect stranger!
Sneha: Anyway….I don’t mind getting a second opinion – he is a man, maybe he can tell me what is going on in Akash’s mind…
I got busy working and after about an hour I heard Sneha asking Raghu to get 2 cups of coffee.
Me: So you spoke to him? How was the session?
Sneha (all excited): Listen we are going out for dinner tonight.
Me: Really! That was fast huh! Akash is also going …or you are going alone with him?
Sneha: You are going with me! Three of us are going for dinner….
Me: Why on earth?! And hang on! He is catching a 10 pm flight because tomorrow he has the session at our Hyderabad branch…and he has to be at the airport by 8pm…so when do we meet for dinner?
Sneha: He is catching the early morning flight tomorrow…he cancelled the flight tonight…you just go home, get ready and be there at the Starlite Restaurant by 8 pm sharp.
Me: But why? What did you tell him that he suddenly cancelled his flight and got ready for dinner with us?!
Sneha: I didn’t’ tell him anything…he overheard our conversation….
Me: Shucks! What the hell are you talking about – gosh! This is so embarrassing! How do you know?!
Sneha: After we finished talking about Akash and me…..he suddenly said that if he was to propose to a lady, he would do it in a much more refined manner….
Me: Oh no! That means he heard us…..and what did you say!?
Sneha: Before I could say anything, he himself said whether my friend – you that is – will be interested in having dinner and get to know each other better…
Me: And you said Yes! How could you say ‘Yes’ to that! He will think that I am so desperate!
Sneha: I said ‘why should I not have the pleasure to have dinner with you?’ And I said it purposely because I know you – you will let go of this opportunity and sit thinking about why and how Arnab could dupe you…what was your fault….where did you go wrong and all that bah blah blah… something that you have been doing for the last 14 years or so – and I am not going to let you screw up things this time…..Prakash is a smart man – nice, sober, decent and he wants to date you – and you better get ready!
Sneha: I am not listening – just spend some time with him Arpita – you are just going out for dinner with him – I am not forcing you to marry him today…and I will be there – what is your problem?
I went home and got dressed. Well, Prakash was impressive no doubt..in fact he had the same mesmerising nuances that Arnab had! The mischievous smile and the know-all look in his eyes…yea – he was so much like him!
Sneha was scheming enough to back out at the last moment! When I reached the restaurant, Prakash was already seated and Sneha called me to say that she was unable to come! I knew she would do this!
We talked and talked and for the first time I felt that time should definitely stop. I wanted to speak to him more. Prakash was a very good listener indeed. He told me about his childhood crush but he could never muster enough courage to propose to her! I told him about Arnab and we both laughed about our past!
We parted after dinner. I came home smiling! Prakash had already purged Arnab from my system! My mind got engaged in Prakash’s thoughts……very overpowering thoughts I must confess!
I didn’t think I would ever fall in love again. I know that everyone says that after a heartbreak, but the difference is that I’m not heartbroken. I’m not cynical, or pessimistic, or sad. I’m just someone who once felt something bigger than anything else I’d ever felt and when I lost it, I honestly believed I would never have that again. But… I was 22 then and life is long. And I’m feeling things right now that I haven’t in a long, long time.
Author – Aparna Gangopadhyay
Salt Lake City, Kolkata