Please Call Again Later

“Your call is waiting…the person you are trying to reach is speaking to someone else…”

I have heard this recorded voice so  many times over the years that it’s almost as if I have formed a strange kinship with the woman saying it. I saw her today, in a little cafe. No, I didn’t recognize her by how she looks. But by her inimitable voice as she ordered a coffee. And I think, a sandwich.

So many times I have found the line busy, her voice my only companion. So many times, as I heard her repeat the same lines over and over, I have thought of her. Wondered how she looked. What she liked eating. Who all were there in her family. So many times, being unable to reach my friends over the phone, I have poured out my heart to her. And only her. She seemed so distant. So nonjudgmental. So mechanically comforting.

And there she sat in front of me. Having a cup of coffee. Probably waiting for someone.

It was an early wintry morning in Calcutta. A slight drizzle, a bit of fog.

What I really wanted was to sit down with her over a cup of coffee. But she was on her phone, trying to call someone. Over and over. Not getting through.

What fun! She must have been hearing her own voice, over and over. Telling herself to wait. Like we all often say. Just that we don’t get to hear it in our own voice.

There was a slight drizzle outside, a bit of fog.

P’s first day at work: G&G Enterprise

“That’s your desk,” the portly man announced with some authority. He fished in his black trouser pockets and pulled a blue and white handkerchief from it, blew his nose in a slow, deliberate manner, and shoved it back into his pocket after a perfunctory peek into it to check whether he had gotten anything interesting.

“Thank you,” I cleared my throat. He blinked at me. Once, twice.
“Well, you better start. We at G&G Enterprise, believe in quality along with quantity.” The fluorescent light made the bald patch on his head gleam. Sleek. He would have looked like a seal, had his face not been pinched into a perpetual scowl. He seemed deeply rueful of the general incompetence of his staff and humanity in general.

He didn’t return my half smile.

He took out a stack of paper from under an exceptionally dusty desk and slammed it on my would-be work space which was equally, cringeworthily dusty. An alarmingly stuffy room in a basement stacked with garbage. Piles of paper staggering ominously on crumbling, wooden desks and tables. One locked steel almirah. A lopsided calendar from two years back on a damp wall. A chair that was to be my seat of honour. And a remarkably stupid painting of flowers in a vase right in front of my desk. It was so ironic that I had to stifle a chuckle. A wastepaper basket filled to the brim with crumpled paper. A pen stand, a diary, a paper weight, a blotter. A telephone that I soon discovered was dead. These were to be my companions for Idon’tknowhowlong.

“Of course we don’t allow smoking under any circumstances. It is against our ethics. We believe in having a strong moral foundation.”

“Of course,” I quietly felt the pack of cigarettes in my pocket.
Officious, bald bastard. I threw my fakest smile at him.

“G&G Enterprise has 15 stellar employees. We are a small family with a solid core,” he said in a proud, scholarly 
voice. “Dedicated to Deadlines. That is our motto,” he paused. Probably for some response from my end.

What shit was he on? What’s with the speech?
“That is rather inspiring Mr K.”

“Very well. I understand you are aware of your work scope and been assigned your daily tasks? I do not tolerate lackadaisical loafers, mind you. I take daily updates and conduct surprise checks. Your generation is all about fast food, fast talking and foolery. Remember, nobody gets a free lunch,” he snickered maliciously at his own little wisecrack.”Anyhow, haven’t got all day to waste. We are very busy people. Any questions?”

“No,” I quietly shook my head.
“Well then! I shall be off now,” he waddled towards the door.
“Uh, Mr K?”
“Who do I ask for a cup of tea?”
“Tea? Why, there’s a tea stall ride downstairs, across the road. Wonderful stuff for Rs 5/-”

Great. I sat down on my chair and sifted through the pile of yellow papers that I was expected to edit/salvage/study/puke over/burn. How wonderful.

The Umbrella Girl



Dee had seen the leaves falling outside her large, glass window. The leaves were a warm shade of autumn as they fell into piles in her backyard. As a quiet girl of 14, Dee did not have too many friends. What she did have was a lovely, silken umbrella of many, many colours. And it was magical. Each time Dee opened the umbrella, the world changed around her. It’s true. Through its shade, everything around seemed just a shade brighter, the smiles a bit wider, and flowers more fragrant. So whenever Dee went out, she always carried it with her and happiness rushed in, quickening all her senses, as her long legs took big strides and she disappeared around some corner.

(This is something I had sketched, some time back. I was playing around with patterns. My sketches tends to automatically veer towards childhood for some odd reason.)