Happy Holi! May colors stay bright in your lives always!
4 months later
Bangalore, late January 2016
“Happy new year!”
Khushi looked up and bit her teeth as she saw Arjun literally waltz into the large team room that was her “seat” in the office. “It is the almost the end of January.” She said wryly even as she forced her eyes back to the spreadsheet model that she was building.
“Well, how would you know given you missed the New Year’s Eve party. And every other celebration – no, make that you’ve missed every little non-work related session and celebration.” Arjun said as he sat himself down on the seat in front of hers across the table and put his elbows up to hold his face between his palms. “Seriously, Kavi. RDX is killing you. I mean you don’t have a life beyond this team room…”
She placed her palm on the table, a little too forcefully she realized when the slap rang out aloud in the empty room. “Do you want to see me cry?” She interjected. “No seriously. Is that what you want? First things first, despite all the shit that has happened, you miss no opportunity to tell me just how awesome your project with “him” is. And then to make matters worse, you are rubbing in my face, rather shamelessly, the fact that my life has been a shit-hole for the last three months?”
Khushi couldn’t help the little quiver in her voice even as she kept her volume muted despite the rising frustration in her blood-stream. None of which had anything to do with Arjun, of course. Or the absolutely baseless argument that she had just levelled at him.
He leaned in and pulled her other hand away from the mouse she was holding on to as if to dear life itself. “I asked you if my talking about AV was bothering you. I wasn’t talking at all till you asked me questions.” He pointed out firmly. This was part of their deal. Neither of them got to walk all over the other anymore. “I really thought you were okay with all that. And I think you still are. How much have you slept in the last week?”
Khushi’s shoulders slumped as she allowed her face to crumple. Arjun was right. It had been she who had forced him to tell her stories about his project despite it being liberally peppered with Arnav references. Arjun, on his part, had been too cautious initially, even hesitant in his mention of his assignment to an AV project. It had been so stupid especially given Arnav was for all practical purposes just a name. The man had been in the US for four months and she hadn’t seen or heard him except in one brief practice “huddle” about two months ago.
“No, it’s not…” She took a deep breath and slumped back in her chair. “I’m so tired. I haven’t slept properly in three weeks, not just this one. This project just won’t end. I feel like I am all done and then the requirement changes. Data is all screwed up. Everytime I think we are set to start building the model, someone comes up with an issue. I am…Sometimes, I think this is just a ploy for RDX to keep something churning, whether it adds any value or not.”
Arjun looked at her with a small, sad smile. Theirs was a profession of extremes and Khushi was stuck in the wrong end. Everyone knew it. The only silver lining was that it couldn’t get much worse. Not that Khushi would allow herself to challenge fate by sauing that aloud.
“Chal, we’ll go get coffee. And not the breakout area-wala stupid machine coffee. Tell you what,” He said, his eyes shining, “We’ll get hot chocolate from the Café. Your favorite.” Arjun offered.
It was so tempting. But there was so much to be done…
“Come on, Kavi. You haven’t taken a proper break in days. And I miss you….”
Khushi rolled her eyes and whispered “Nautanki” under her breath. But not without smiling. Taking a deep breath. She hit Ctrl+Alt+Del on her laptop forcefully and got up much to the evident surprise in Arjun’s face. But she was almost done with her deliverable and a small break wasn’t going to kill her. “You are paying.” She said as she walked out of the team room. “You owe me one anyway.”
“That bet was not counted,” Arjun protested as he rose too. “I got confused between Vishwatma and Tridev. It’s an honest mistake.”
“Honest-wonest, I don’t care. The question was about Sonam being Rajiv Rai’s wife. That had nothing to do with either films.”
“On the contrary,” Arjun said as he caught up with her as she entered the elevator, already feeling refreshed just having gotten up from her seat. “The question has everything to do with both films. I mean who else would cast Sonam – tell me do you remember her from any other movie?”
“Ajooba. She is better than her namesake of the modern times.” She quipped. “And do you want to lose some more? How many times have I asked you to not challenge my Bollywood knowledge?”
“Seriously, Kavi. How did you manage to come first all those years in school? We really thought that with IT-profs for parents and those grades, Bollywood was the last thing on your mind.”
“Kya faayda hua? I lost the gold medal to you in college of all people.”
“Such a terrible loser, tch tch.” Arjun mocked even as they walked out of the elevator and walked briskly to the adjoining building which housed the café.
The little break was exactly what Khushi needed. The inane banter with Arjun, his stories from projects not just his own that he was working with Arnav on but also from around the practice, eased her mind and made her wonder why she hadn’t done this more often. As always, she had needed Arjun to forcibly help. And yet, unlike before, she was assured in the knowledge that she in her own way, was to Arjun what he was to her. She listened when he talked about things – everything and nothing in equal measure. She offered her opinions without filtering them based on her expected reception of her comments. She even pointed out her disagreements with equal candor just like he did his. The only aspect of his life that she wasn’t fully aware of was his romantic situation. While they both knew that she was aware of something bubbling in the background, neither pushed to bring it out in the open. Arjun had lightly indicated he needed time and space to be able to talk to her about it and Khushi had acknowledged that this time he was serious and possibly finally taking very defined steps towards completely putting his romantic feelings for her behind. Her own love life, however,…
“What happened to the ladka dekho program?” Arjun asked as they were sipping their final dregs of hot chocolate down.
Khushi shook her head with a smile. “On hold. I don’t have the time to meet or write to anyone.”
“But that person – what was his name?”
“Haan, Rajat Garg. Waise naam hi boring hai if you ask me but…You spoke to him a few times? What happened after that?”
Khushi shrugged. “I spoke to him twice – five minutes each time and perhaps texted a couple of more times. But…” She took a deep breath as she recalled her conversation with her mother about the Rajat-issue. Gayatri Gupta, broad-minded as she was in most matters, wasn’t quite sure of what Khushi was looking for. Unfortunately for both mother and daughter, Khushi herself wasn’t sure what she was looking for either. And hence any conversation in the matrimonial vein, augured only failure.
“Look, I don’t know but….is there any chance…”
“No, Arjun.” She said softly, knowing what Arjun was about to say.
“He is not married, you know.”
“Yes. I know given you were very clear you wanted me to know that. But that topic is closed. And I know I said his presence at Week Zero made me uncomfortable but that’s not because I still have feelings for…”
“You never stop having feelings for someone you love, Kavi. They may change in nature. But they stay unless you resolve them.” Arjun said as he drained his hot chocolate.
Khushi looked at him with fondness that on occasion, still surprised her with its intensity.
“I had the luxury of having you around – even if not physically then just a phone call away. We worked to be where we are. Knowing and being reminded – even if just subtly – on a daily basis that you didn’t love me the way I thought I loved you, was a big help.”
“Maybe…and don’t freak out…but maybe you should just get a project with him. Avoiding him for all these years hasn’t worked. Maybe the trick is to be around him and let yourself realize that it is not going to work.”
Yeah, right. Khushi said wryly to herself. Because he will magically turn out to be the person who picks his nose, burps in public, is a cruel, insensitive manager. Even contemplating possible character flaws was ludicrous. “No. Absolutely not. I am okay with Raghuranjan Dixit and his ridiculously crude ways. I do not…and Arjun – I am telling you – if I end up on a project with him, I will murder you.”
“Arre see this is why I put the disclaimer with you every time. It was just an idea. And I think we have established that I am not particularly sensible when it comes to thinking of plans.”
Khushi smiled and shook her head. “Particularly sensible is a gross understatement.”
The two of them put their paper cups away and walked back to their respective day-jobs, the conversation easily shifting back to more mundane topics.
The universe, however, had apparently made a note of Arjun’s suggestion.
Khushi was shutting down her laptop, ending her day for the first time in days before ten in the evening – RDX was finally pleased with the output – both spreadsheet model and PowerPoint document; when her phone rang. Seeing the A&M board number flashing on the screen, she immediately answered only to be stumped by Shyam Anandraman’s voice on the other end. While A&M was a relatively flat organization and Partners and Senior Managers were very accessible and unlike equivalent levels at Speed Motors, Khushi knew that Shyam Anandraman calling her late on a Thursday, was a big deal.
“I am so sorry for calling this late in the evening, Kaveri. Can we chat for a few minutes?”
Khushi was almost tempted to tell him that she had been working way beyond the current hour of day for months now. That this was, at least in RDX’s world, just side effects of being part of a global firm where someone, somewhere was always in front of a client and hence always waiting for output to be delivered by the “worker-bees” (she hated it when he referred to them like that). Theirs was after all an organization that had recognized the “talent” arbitrage where others were still hung up on mediocre issues like cost.
“Of course, Shyam. Please tell me.” She offered softly.
“You aren’t by any chance in the office right now, are you?”
Khushi winced and then sighed inaudibly. “I am, Shyam. Would you like me to come over to your office?”
“If you don’t mind, Kaveri. Please do.”
Khushi disconnected with a quick yes, stuffed her laptop into her bag, keeping her diary and pen ready in her hand and headed to Shyam’s office. As the head of A&M’s management consulting division, Shyam’s office – a corner one – was separated from the rest of the practice by a couple of floors vertically – upwards of course. Khushi had only been in his cabin once before – the day they had landed in Bangalore for the first time to get settled into their jobs. Riding the elevator in relative silence at this time of day, Khushi felt a flutter of nervous excitement.
When she walked into Shyam’s cabin which was open, as it was rumored to be at all times of day except during annual performance reviews, Shyam was on the phone going by the red light that was blinking quietly on the machine by his side.
“Come,” Shyam said as he half rose from his chair, surprising Khushi will the gesture before he took his seat and spoke into the phone. “She’s here with me now AV. Let me just give her context and we’ll pick up the discussion.”
“Sure. Hi Kaveri.”
Khushi’s chest rumbled as something within flipped and turned on its head, sudden and unexpected. She muttered a quick hi at the machine without calling him by his name and settled into the chair in front of Shyam’s. She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and looked at Shyam, consciously ignoring the red light on the phone – which now for her was AV himself for all practical purposes.
“So, AV is on the verge of selling his first big deal as Senior Manager.”
“Let’s not jinx it yet, Shyam.” The voice on the other side intruded into Khushi’s quickly constructed invisible fortress of detachment.
“You better get Jen to sign the Statement of Work in four weeks from now, AV.”
Arnav chuckled on the other end but said nothing. Shyam, however, went on to describe the nature of the opportunity with one of the world’s largest car manufacturers. “The client – Wyatt Inc. – has indicated in the past they we are their preferred partners for any operations consulting work, given our past performance. However, this time it is a China market entry strategy piece – which typically has been Murphy’s domain. AV has convinced them, we can do a better job. We need to put together a quick proposal document to take to Jen – she is VP of strategic planning based out of the company headquarters in Detroit. We need someone to hold the proposal together. Wyatt is very particular about the people who work on the account. Given your Speed Motors background, you have the right skill and credentials. Send AV an updated profile for him to share with the client. For the proposal, you will need to coordinate with a number of folks. Both AV and I will work with you to identify who you need to reach out for content, pricing, etc. We’ll need morning evening checkpoints so that we can stay productive around the clock till we get this done.”
Khushi nodded even as the volley of information Shyam was throwing at her settled down in her brain.
“If we win the deal, this will also mean travel to Detroit. I assume you are visa ready and have no travel constraints?”
The entire batch joining A&M in the current fiscal had applied for their work-visas before they joined and while only fifty percent had their applications come through in the lottery, Khushi had been one of them.
“Ok. Then that’s settled. AV, send Kaveri the client communication and deliverable from the project we did for America Motors. I’ll share the latest pricing toolkit with both of you. Put a storyboard and send by the end of your day. We’ll pick it up and let’s start reviewing progress starting tomorrow evening in India.”
“Sure, Shyam. Khushi, I’ll send you the material tonight. And I’ll also send you my conference bridge details. Can you please set up the calls?”
Taken aback that he had called her Khushi, she once again muttered a quick “sure” and hoped fervently that Shyam had missed Arnav’s lapse.
No such luck.
“It is my middle name.”
“It’s her middle name.”
Both Khushi and Arnav spoke at the same time, cutting Shyam off hilariously enough for the older man to chuckle out loudly.
“Ah! Are we all supposed to call you Khushi, then?” Shyam asked her to which Khushi smiled but shrugged, unsure of what to say especially given…
“Shyam, I have to hang up. I can see Jen in her office. Let me call you back.”
“Ok. Bye.” Shyam said as he disconnected and then turned to look at her. “This will be interesting but high burn. I know you are already getting killed by Raghu…”
Khushi smiled but said nothing. Clearly RDX was RDX for a reason and everyone in the practice seemed to know. Why that was good enough for the man to act like a jerk, she didn’t know but clearly it took all kinds of people to make up a firm. And given everyone else she had had the chance to work with so far, RDX was more of an exception than the norm. “Should I tell him that I will be required to work on this?” She asked.
“Let me handle him. I know AV has already dropped him a note.”
“The model I was building with him is finally done.” She said and then added a caveat, “Or so I think. I guess, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Knowing RDX, it is always a problem when one of his resources is pulled away for something else. If he hasn’t rolled you off his project in the first four days, it means he expects you to be on his team for a lifetime.” Shyam said with a smile. “He is intense but he knows his work. And he takes care of those he likes. AV is his protégé too.”
She had no idea what to feel about that so she stayed silent.
“Okay, Kaveri – or should I call you Khushi now?”
She shook her head. “Kaveri is fine.”
“It is definitely more suited for Bangalore.” Shyam chuckled. “Anyway, I’ll let you go now. Set up the calls in your morning and let’s see how this goes.”
Later that night, Khushi was sitting in front of her laptop in the small one BHK she rented, staring at the unread email from Arnav Varun – clearly work related – and still disconcerting enough to make her forget about everything else. She had set up recurring calls with Shyam, AV and a business analyst from the US who was working in Arnav’s time zone. Arnav’s acceptance to the meeting invite had come almost as soon as she had sent it out. Now, there was a green dot against his name indicating that he was online on their internal messenger system and Khushi help but wonder what the universe and Shiv-ji had planned for her.
Shutting the laptop with a decision to look at the documents only in the morning, she picked up her phone and dialed Tripti’s number.
Thankfully her sister answered almost immediately.
“Arre how come you are calling at eleven today, Di? RDX pe police raid ho gayi kya?”
Khushi groaned with a smile. “Seriously Trip, your jokes are as bad Arjun’s”
Tripti cleared her throat. “I obviously take offense to that statement.”
“You are mad. And as much as he is. Offense or not.” She countered wryly. “What are you doing?”
“Group Assignment. And the groups are selected at random. I hate mine. All idiots. No one wants to do anything. Everyone is ready to give gyaan.”
Khushi chuckled. “I am glad that phase is over, yes. Which subject is this?”
“Aur karo Finance mein major. Arjun ki unofficial chamchi”
“It’s not the subject. It’s just this idiot who interned with DB’s trading desk and thinks he is God’s gift to mankind. And obviously this assignment is child’s play. Talking about his big gamble that led to a huge payout is more fun.”
Tripti snorted. “He has a goatee and uses the F word in every sentence. So yeah by his own standards, he is God’s gift to womenkind.”
“Please tell me this is not your version of having a crush,”
“Di, grow up. I do not have a crush on this person of all people. I don’t like jerks. And speaking of crushes, when were you going to tell me that your guitar wala senior is at A&M too?”
Khushi blinked in surprise. “How did you know?”
“There is this friend of mine who really wants to join A&M. She was searching the alum database and saw Arnav Varun’s name and his current employer listed as A&M. I happened to be around. I mean, why wouldn’t you tell me? Your idiot friend didn’t tell me either.”
“What’s there to tell?”
“Your first louuuu that man is. Between the three of you, you guys had a achcha-khaasa love triangle. Saajan picture bana daali tum logon ne. And now he is back in the news. Why wouldn’t you tell me?”
“Kuch bhi, Trip. Saajan! Ridiculous. At least pick a better movie.” Khushi said as her cheeks flushed.
“All love triangle films are crap. Pick any.”
“There is no triangle. Arjun Agarwal, I am happy to report is I am sure involved with someone and super secretive about it.”
Khushi shrugged. “Toh nothing. I am just telling you. GK improvement. Ammunition for your next fight.”
“I have enough material to work with as it is,” Tripti muttered.
Khushi chuckled. Somedays, she really wished that innocent crush Tripti had once had on Arjun had morphed into something concrete. The two of them were so…matched – for the lack of a better word. If only Arjun hadn’t been in love with her….Now the idea just seemed wrong. No…not wrong…just weird. Isn’t that why she had never actively tried her hand at match-making despite permanently being a state of temptation to do something about sparks she was sure she could see around them. Every single time. She shook her head to clear her mind. “Is your trip final? I haven’t seen a debit on my card yet?”
“Not yet. I am not going to use your card this time, Di. I’ll use the Papa’s.”
“One, you have already funded my Bangalore trip once. Two, you are not my parent. Don’t fund my necessities. Buy frivolous stuff for me. Plus, don’t let the parents forget that they have two children. Not one.”
“Don’t be silly. Like anyone can ever forget about you. And I earn and I have nothing to spend on…”
“Which is exactly the problem. Why aren’t you partying and buying clothes and new phones…achcha at least buy that car you said you wanted to buy”
“At least buy the car? It’s not a packet of Maggi noodles, you know?”
“Well, you asked me to remind you that Maggi is poison.”
“Trip, this conversation is boring me. So I am going to hang up.”
“Haan haan, as soon as I start talking about important stuff you start getting bored.”
River Song, Music and Lyrics:
Song Title: Yun Hi Chala Chal Rahi
Singer(s): Udit Narayan, Hariharan, Kailash Kher
Music: A. R. Rahman
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Dekhoon Jidhar Bhi In Raahon Mein,
Rang Pighalte Hain Nigaahon Mein
Thandi Hawa Hai, Thandi Chaanv Hai,
Door Woh Jaane Kiska Gaanv Hai?
Badal Yeh Kaisa Chaya? Dil Yeh Kahan Le Aaya?
Sapna Yeh Kya Dikhlaya Hai Mujhko?
- And we are back to Monday updates! Thank you for waiting last week
- Next Update: Monday, Mar 20, 2017