There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Room With a View

By Arghya Saha

It was August and raining extremely heavy all over Assam. I asked the taxi driver to park the taxi as close as possible to the door so that I could hop out of the taxi without getting wet in the rain. I had already paid him with a liberal tip – it was after all quite late in the night. I scuttled into the airport lobby of Guwahati Airport with the laptop clutched close to my chest and the small overnighter in the other hand. The heavy rains for the last few days had taken its toll on the telephone lines and I just could not get to know the status of flights at the airport. So I rushed to the information desk but no body was there. Then I walked to the departure indication board only to see that my flight was delayed indefinitely.
 I wiped the water off my salt and pepper hair with my handkerchief, took out the pocket comb and struggled with my hair to give it a semblance of shape and order. The lobby was unusually empty and I wondered how people got to know that flights are delayed. This flight to Delhi was possibly the last flight from this airport before flights commenced the next morning. A small airport it was with only a few lines of seats along the wall. Three security guards manned the security check section with stony look in their eyes.
 I sauntered wearily towards the glass panes overlooking the runway. It was still raining heavily and the glass was frosted with the condensation due to the air-conditioning inside the building. I wiped off an area with my palm and attempted to see outside. The rain water was a thick sheet over the glass on the other side and it was a big blur beyond that. The door of the departure gate opened briefly as one of the security men sneaked inside. The view through the door was nothing better. I could hardly see the apron and the silhouette of some aircraft light beams wavering through the sheet of rain.
 I was convinced. I had to spend the night here. I dipped into my pockets to get my mobile. Need to tell Ashwin about this wonderful night! Bad luck again. The mobile had run out of charge and had gone off to sleep. Nothing was going right this night – I had left the charger in the Hotel, I remembered having charged the telephone in the morning and had not put the charger back into my bag. I looked around for a charging kiosk and rushed to the one near the cafeteria. I plugged the charger coil into the mobile and sat down on the row of chairs beside it.
 The sound of the rain was pouring down in some sort of abstracted indulgence and had settled into some form of rhythm which my ears had got accustomed to by now. I slumped into the seat and raised my weary legs over the overnighter and tried to recollect the events of the last few days.
 “What a hectic time it was”, I thought almost aloud.
 It was after all my last chance to get to the mahogany paneled room of the CEO. I slipped into a day dream and looked around the room at the lavish German Leather sofa set in the room. I sank into the opulence of the room to look out through the glazed wall overlooking the splendid beauty of the splendid blue sea, waves lashing at the tetra pods, stretching the white foamy crown all over the place.  The raunchy voice of Jeremy still reverberated in my head, “Get this one through and you own this room”.
 Raj has been eying this room too. We had started off together and had moved up the ladder to reach to a point now, when only one of us could get into this room. He was the Head of Engineering and was tipped to walk into Jeremy’s shoes when he would leave the country in a month’s time to hand over the reins of this fantastic growing German BPO to the local management. This project was the cherry on the cake for Jeremy’s last few years of relentless pursuit to lead the market. He must be reflecting on a grand welcome back home where he will be admitted to the main Board of the company, a privilege only for a select few, but none before from any international division.
 A sheer stroke of providence landed this opportunity on my lap, as Raj was down with sudden surgery and had to be on hiatus for a while.  I, for one, could not afford to miss this opportunity. I got immediately immersed into a frenzy of activities and tried to recall all the available “jargons’ of Management classics related to getting things done – Client relation ships, market information, bidding strategy, et all.  In effect it meant among the other “white tasks”, surreptitious enquiries, clandestine meetings – getting bits and pieces of the jigsaw in place; no options for any loose strings at all.
 Jeremy, too, was extremely high aspirations and I had to match up to his needs.
 “This is an enormous budget” he grumpily remarked when I had laid out the spreadsheet of ‘grey costs”
 “Yes, but the stakes are high enough” I replied
 “You are heading the Finance, so better ensure you can answer to the Audit queries later” he said as he folded the sheets and handed them back to me.
 “Jeremy, you do not have a choice, do you? Somebody will be in this room, anyway after a month. If only you do not make it to the Board Room, you lose. You need the “brownie points” more than me” I sounded a bit caustic, careful enough not to invite his derision
 Jeremy nodded and gave a sly smile and expressed his camaraderie, “You get this one for me and you own this room – you have my word for it. I hope it is a fair bargain, yeah?”
 I handpicked my team for this bid, sedulous and even pedantic guys from the office. Knowing Raj, I was aware that he would certainly follow all of this with his own coterie, so I applied a bit of restraint to ensure no solecism creeps in. The bid got ready in two weeks, well in time for submission at Guwahati. I showed the final draft to Jeremy before printing it off.
 “Technically, I would be inclined to call it excellent, if not perfect” Jeremy remarked, characteristic of his pun, albeit rarely with such candor.
 “How do you intend to “manage” the quote, particularly with the Yankees around the corner?’ he replied, referring to his obvious competitor from the US based company, who have been apparently humbled in the recent bids, but were never out.
 “I have a plan. Leave it to me”, I replied, still apprehensive of any last minute glitches that might pop up.
 Buddy, you are either in or out, ………….of this room. I have just been nominated to the main Board. No comebacks here”, Jeremy gestured to get an apple from the fruit basket on his desk. He bit into the red apple and said, “These are from California, Quite good and juicy, you know?”  I left the room with a shiver down my spine, not sure of the color of Jeremy’s words.
 Reaching Guwahati, I was greeted by this pounding rain. Augury of some sort, I wondered. I checked into my room, set down my overnighter and opened it to change into my casuals for the night. I switched on the laptop, incase I get any last moment tip from Jeremy or my team. My “outlook” showed no new message. The constant sound of the incessant rain created an eerie ambiance in this seeming repository. I switched on the TV to get some company of human voices in the room. The local channel showed images of landslides, uprooted trees, flooded streets, all of which seemed so very depressing. A rather cranky voiced woman announced that rains would continue for a few more days and there is likelihood of public services failing the city without any expression.
 I had made sure that I check into the same hotel where my competitor’s representative was staying.  I had paid a hefty price to be informed that one Mr. Rashid Ahmed will be coming to submit the tender. I even carried a picture of him, lest I miss out on him and had his entire itinerary with me. Before checking into my room, I ensured from the Reception that he was already there. I was told that the norm was for him to get a sms from his boss for the final figure to be put in the tender and it was now up to me to get that across.
 I scripted out several ways and means to do this – I had to get this out of him. Several plots from the various thrillers I had read, several film clips crossed my mind to form a labyrinth of ideas. The intensity seemed to increase and so was my trepidation. I realized with lament that this was an area where I should have given more thought. I rolled out of my bed and looked into my overnighter to check the bundles of currency notes placed between the folds of the towel. I pulled the chain and locked the zip. I walked out of the room and went towards the pub on the ground floor. A waiter nodded me into the pub and helped me to a seat in the extreme corner from where I could see the entire room as well as the door. I knew Rashid was a heavy drinker and would not miss this night anyway. Just then the door opened and Mr. Rashid Ahmed entered. He was a rather tall and lanky person in his early forties. As he approached closer I could see his chiseled face with dark black hair gelled tightly back giving him a look of a Don from some Italian movie. He certainly looked tough and sportingly fit for a person of his age, unlike the drunken wobble I had thought him to be. He walked straight to me and introduced himself,
 “I am Rashid, Rashid Ahmed”, in a tone quite in authority commensurate with his stature and build.
 After the introductions and exchange of business cards, it seemed that he was almost expecting me. I was taken a bit aback by his brash stormy entrance. I had always practiced the art of perseverance when dealing with such brusque and imposing personalities, providing them with sufficient conviction of their own superiority over me and then wait for the opportune moment for them to become over confident and hence careless. I wanted him to feel that I was docile enough for him to worry about my intentions. During our brief interactions I allowed him to do most of the talking, ordering drinks, asking for the ash tray………..acting like my boss tonight. I noticed he had kept his mobile on the table and was constantly eyeing it, seemingly waiting for that call or sms to arrive.  Just as he was getting up to go to the rest room, I feigned that I had left my mobile and immediately he said, “Left your mobile in the room? Use mine.”  I took the mobile hoping him to go to the toilet, but Rashid was smart and he stayed put as I fiddled with the keypad for some unknown number.
 “The keypad of Blackberry is real small. Let me try it for you. I have my glasses on”. It seemed he could look through my mind.
 He almost snatched the mobile from me and I noticed he was seeing the last number I had dialed. 9811505267 I blurted out impulsively. He dialed and waited for a while, “Busy” he said. Just then the phone rang and shifted to one side and looked intently at the screen.
 “Sorry, I need to leave now. It was nice meeting you. All the best for tomorrow’s submission. See you there, then”. He turned on his heels and briskly walked to the door with a nonchalant demeanor. On his way out he signed the check and nodded at me. Quite flabbergasted by this man, I wondered how I could get my hands on his mobile.  I walked out of the pub and walked up the stairs to his room. I saw a “do not disturb” board on his door. There was no way I could get into his room.
 I turned back and went to my room, which was surprisingly just across this room. I lay down on the bed feeling a bit dejected at my endeavor today and planned how to get into his room tomorrow morning. I must admit I was becoming a bit edgy by now and did not realize when I had slipped into a slumber. I woke up suddenly and saw that it was only 2.00 am in the watch. I got into my slippers, opened the zip and took out the bundle of currency notes and put it in my pockets. I rushed down to the reception and asked for the travel desk. After a long hour of coercing, I could strike a deal with the taxi driver. He will take Rashid tomorrow, but his taxi will break down on the deserted stretch of road to the Municipality. There will be no way for him to reach the Office in time.
 “If required I will start a brawl with him and throw the packet to the adjacent stream”, the money did work. The driver had not seen such money ever in his life and could change his life forever.
 “Simple country made tactics, why did it not dawn on me earlier?” I wondered. Assured of the veracity of the scheme, I went back to my room and slept well.
 Things worked out exactly as planned. Rashid could not submit the tender.
 I woke up at the announcement call for my flight. I stood up and straightened my rumpled jacket and saw the taxi driver grinning at me.
 “ I came to thank you, Sir. You made my life” he said. I patted him on his back and picked up my luggage to rush towards the check- in counter. After checking in I walked towards security and laid my laptop on the scanner tray and went through the metal detector. Suddenly I noticed a outbreak of movement by the security staff and I was whisked way to one side. The security officer clutched my hand and turned it behind me in a swift movement. Another officer held me by my neck.
 “This is marijuana, Sir. We got it from your laptop bag. Did you think Guwahati Airport Security is manned by morons?” I could hardly see the stern voice behind the words.
 I was half carried to a small room, where two security guards greeted me with a spiteful look, with a ting of sympathy. Just then my mobile rang
 Sms : Thanks for the keys to the room. Enjoy your stay as Government guest – Raj Mehra.
  I smashed the phone on the floor. End of the dream

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