Roshan met Maya through a common friend. She had that thing about her. Long after you met her, her smiling eyes and shy smile stayed with you. She was staying at Malviya Nagar with a few friends and preparing for “IAS”. He was a senior in the field and introduced to her as somebody who could guide her. So for one whole year, she came to his room every day and studied as well as did other things with him. He told her about his not much adventurous lower middle class life in a joint family in a small town; and she told him about her childhood sweetheart Pawan and how she pined for him every day, separated as they were by continents. He was in the United States for close to a decade now, pursued a Master’s in engineering there and stayed on for a job. To Maya, he was beginning to seem like a virtual character, yet she had warned Roshan, “Don’t ever forget I belong to Pawan.” He understood. “I will marry Pawan.” He said, yes. “You comfort me, this is a practical arrangement between us, but once Pawan is back, you will have to move out of my life and never be in touch again.” He had said, yes.
Neither of them cleared the Prelims that year. The next year, Roshan joined this call centre at Delhi City Teleshopping and since he was available only in the nights, Maya started living in with him.
Roshan had come to Delhi in 2007. “To prepare for IAS,” his father had announced proudly to his relatives who questioned the whole purpose of sending a son away when he could have helped with the family General Store. Not exceptional but decently good in his studies, the father always regarded this child of his as brilliant. The rest of the kids in the family, actually, were partially responsible for this since they failed to provide any kind of exemplary precedence when it came to studies. Roshan stayed on in Delhi for several years, preparing for IAS and never making it. Finally he became a family joke and a time came when he stopped going home. Nobody back home even knew where he was staying any more although they worried a lot about him. As his father stopped supporting him, he moved from his Ber Sarai accommodation, where he shared the room with another guy from his hometown, and took up the shabby one-room apartment in Munirka Village on paltry rent. Any relative visiting Delhi who wanted to meet him would be given the slip with some excuse or the other. And if the relative persisted with a “You don’t have to come, let me come and see you”, he would say, “Ok then. I’ll just call back to let you know of a time”. And then, neither would he call nor would he take calls.
After all, how could he let any one come and see him? His home was a small one-room apartment on rent with attached bath and kitchen in Munirka village which seemed like some busy, ugly undergrowth by the swanky Vasant Kunj neighbourhood. The web-like narrow lanes took Roshan to his home on the fourth floor of a damp, poorly-lit building. The building was so damp that you could smell it as you took the stairs upstairs and it inhabited every corner of his small room. Besides, for over two years in Delhi, Maya was with him.
“I am getting married. My boyfriend is coming back from the States,” Maya told him casually one evening in his damp room, they smelling damp too in the bed. “So please, like a matured guy that you are, take it in your stride.”
Roshan was not even thinking when his hand rendered a tight slap on her face. It was as if time stood still. Roshan stunned at his own action, and Maya’s eyes popping out in disbelief. “Nobody has insulted me like this before!” she muttered, and still muttering that to herself, she put on her clothes and exited his room and life. He kept pleading with her, “Maya, please… Maya, please…” Not quite knowing what to say beyond those few words.
At work he went on to make 60 calls, where at least 45 men barked at him, another 15 disconnected the phone as soon as they heard ‘Delhi City Teleshopping’, and he spoke to four “ill-tempered bitches” in his words. Towards the day closing, he got a sound verbal beating from his team leader at his “dismal performance”. With fresh targets slapped at him, he left for home late in the evening on his tattered bike (a second-hand motorcycle that he bought from a friend). On the way, he stopped at the roadside stall by his office for chole-kulcha, his dinner. Then he picked up some beer from the local beer shop and went home.
Back in his damp room, he dropped his bag on the floor by the door and walked over to the mattress lying in the centre. All around the mattress were strewn clothes and shoes and magazines and papers and utensils with leftover food that had fungus and dust growing on them.
Kicking off his shoes and tearing his shirt and trousers off him, Roshan lay in his bed in his underpants and a bottle of beer in his hand; a thin, bony frame that looked as sick as everything else in the room. He then picked up his phone and dialled Maya’s number even though she must have told him a hundred times not to. But he just couldn’t get over her. He still remembered the visits to her hostel, their frolicking in his this god forsaken room, meeting her at Dilli Haat, the Barista café at Vasant Kunj…
Now, he spent his days begging Maya to come back to him. She threatened to set the police upon him if he kept calling her. Yet, he called her every day. A month passed like that. Maya and he went through the same ordeal every evening. “Maya please listen to me. Don’t leave me like this. I can’t live without you!”
And Maya telling him coolly, “You will learn to live without me.”
He picked up the phone and dialled her number. It was one of those days when she didn’t take his call, out rightly ignored his smses and dozens of missed calls. His head throbbed with all the pain he had picked up in office. The chole kulche did no good to his raging gastritis and a burning hit the walls of his chest. His eyes hurt; he hadn’t slept well for quite some time now. He quickly gulped down bottles of beer to quench the fire within and to knock out all life off him.
Morning came and he hunched his way to the bathroom, the burning sensation in his stomach still raging. Splashing water on his face and quickly putting on a fresh shirt, he tore down the stairs. The bike didn’t start. After half an hour the engine finally throttled, he was late to work, the boss ….
In front of the whole office another humiliation, he sat on his desk red faced about to make his first call.
Thinking of Maya he dialled the number.
Manisha was frantically working on her laptop, trying to finish the document she had to send in before lunch. She was beginning to realize that work from home is actually lot more work than working from office. Here, she had to manage house, kids and her work. The document she was creating since the last few days had left no time for kids or the house. The house was in a mess and her kids were packed off to the neighbour’s from morning till evening. The husband didn’t notice much and she thanked the gods for such blessed neighbours in a place like Delhi and strove to wind up the document as soon as possible. Irritating her at such a moment was the phone that kept ringing with an unknown number flashing on the screen. Finally she picked it up. It could be some work related call.
“HaloAmIspeakingtoMs.Manisha?” spoke out a shrill male voice, letting the words sound like one very long word.
“Yes,” she said warily, “Who is this?”
“Ma’amIamfromDelhiCityteleshopping,” again it sounded like one very long word.
“Teleshopping, Ma’am. I am calling from Delhi City Teleshopping.”
“Ok,” drawled Manisha. What is this now, she thought.
“Did you order anything from us, Ma’am?”
“In that case, would you like to order something?”
“Oh no. Thank you so much.”
“OkMa’amHaveaGoodDay!” another long sounding word and then silence.
She had just kept the phone down when it buzzed again. The number began with 92 like the last one. “Halo?”
“Is this Ms. Manisha?” A different voice spoke this time.
“Halo Ma’am, this is Roshan from Delhi City Teleshopping.”
“Oh, thank you, Roshan. But I just had a call from your company, a second ago,” began Manisha politely when the voice at the other end cut her short cheekily with, “Ma’am, it takes me more than a second to dial a number, so how could you receive a call from my company a second ago?”
Manisha was stunned. “Uh… What do you mean? What is this?”
“Ma’am, I just want to tell you…”
“Aren’t you going to tell me – have you ordered anything from Teleshopping, if not would you like to order something?”
“How do I know this? Because somebody from your company just called!”
“Yes, Ma’am. But even then definitely not a second before I called!”
Manisha was stupefied. Irritation made her clench her fist. Why am I wasting time like this? She thought.
“Listen, kindly keep the phone down. I am through with this.”
“But Ma’am, you can at least spare some time for what I have to say?” the guy pushed aggressively. Manisha lost her composure. “Listen, is this the way you talk to a client?”
“Ma’am it’s not your business how I talk to a client!” spoke the voice sharply.
He seemed like a lunatic. “I can look your company up on Google and put in a complaint. Do you know that?”
“Please do, Ma’am,” the voice mocked her. “You are most welcome.”
“Wow! You will do very well in life! Idiot!”
Manisha, mad at him for wasting her time, briskly disconnected the phone.
It took her exactly fifteen minutes to put her mind back to the document she was working on. Yet it was difficult to shut off completely from the unnecessary, uncalled for distraction she had got into. Every now and then an irritation crept up.
Back at office Roshan was talking to his colleague.
“I am sure this bitch is not getting it from her guy anymore!” they guffawed. “She must be a nightmare for all those who know her!”