“Drat!”, he cursed with a feeling, even as the 6th autorickshaw denied him a ride.
“What am I going to do with these?” He looked at the two 1000 Rupee bills and the lone 500 Rupee bill he had in his hand. He felt like trashing them.
The night before, the Prime Minister had announced that 1000’s and 500’s would not be legal tender in India anymore. Now here he was, standing on the sweltering, dusty and dirty pavement, just outside the railway station, cashless inspite of being a well-endowed businessman. He eyed the few hundreds and tenners lying in the bowl of the beggar a few paces away longingly. The beggar caught his gaze and covered the bowl with his gnarled hand. Even he’s richer than me today, he thought abysmally.
He felt like an idiot. His secretary had told him last night that he ought to arrange for some hundreds and other denominations before he left for the city, just in case, because in a train station, he won’t have many options but to pay by cash. And how had he answered? “I’m Ram Krishna Bhatt. I don’t need cash. Banks come to me, I don’t go to a bank.“
Yes, the name was synonymous with power & money, but today, when his driver hadn’t shown up at the station for some reason, and sadly enough he had left his jacket which contained his phone AND wallet on the train itself, there was no way he could pay for even a cab ride or book one online. His name was just that – his name.
He lugged his overnight bag to the nearby bus stop and regarded the occupants of the single rusty bench there. There was a louty man with a huge moustache, a wrinkled Amma, and a young man in formals sitting down. The young man stood up immediately and offered him his seat courteously.
He waved his hand, turning down the offer but he asked the young man for another sort of help, “Young man, may I use your phone? I am in a bad situation today and I need to book a cab online.”
The young man smiled cordially and shrugged his shoulders, “I would have, Sir, but I don’t have talk-time for you to be able to make a call or do anything.” He offered Bhatt his phone to show him what he meant. What luck! Bhatt shook his head and gave him a defeated smile. The other two occupants of the bench looked at Bhatt. The Amma shook her head, telling him she had no phone, and the lout huffed at him, “I need talk-time. This ban on currency has left me with no money.”
Aah, a fellow-sufferer, Bhatt thought nonchalantly.
“Sir, do you need to go somewhere?”, the young man asked Bhatt.
“Yes, I needed to get back to my office. I’m returning from a weekend getaway in the hills and I don’t know why my driver hasn’t shown up; I’ve been waiting here for more than an hour… I knew taking the train was a mistake, should have booked a taxi…” This he said more to himself than to the young man. “Unfortunately, I forgot my wallet and phone on the train. And…” he laughed at his luck and scratched his ear sheepishly, “I don’t remember anyone’s number…can’t call anyone for help.”
The three in the bus stop looked at him oddly, as if not being able to remember a single number in his WHOLE LIFE was the silliest thing ever. How could Bhatt explain to him just how much he relied on technology? He never even carried cash because he paid by cards, or one of his men did the paying for him. This sudden turn of events and train of unlucky coincidences had left him monetarily crippled.
“It’s alright. I’ll give you some money for a rickshaw ride”, the young man smiled at Bhatt.
“No, I can’t accept that. I would never be able to repay you…”
“It’s ok, really. It’ll only be a few hundreds. I have that much.”
“No, no, young man. If things are going to continue the way they have been since the PM announced this ban, those few hundreds might be all you’re left with for quite sometime.”
“Vikram, call me Vikram please, and its not an issue. Where do you have to go, if I may ask?”
Bhatt looked doubtful but answered, “It’s really far from here. Gurgaon”.
The young man hesitated only a second and then offered again, “I have to go to Gurgaon anyway for an interview. I could book a cab for us from the station, and I’ll drop you at wherever you need to go in Gurgaon. Or, we could take a bus to the nearest Metro station and then take the Metro to Gurgaon. How does that sound to you?”
Bhatt considered this for sometime. He had never shared his car with his own wife or children. They had their own. He was so used to having things his way. But today things had to be done differently, so he shrugged his shoulders and answered in the affirmative.
“Then let’s leave without further ado”, Vikram smiled at him and urged him to lead the way.
This boy sure smiles a lot, Bhatt thought to himself. He liked it. He liked the Boy.
The next 15 or so minutes were spent going back to the station and booking a cab to Gurgaon. Bhatt thanked Vikram profusely and the latter kept telling him it was no big deal. He had said, ‘Its what’s I would have done for anyone. It’s what everyone should do…’.
I wouldn’t have, Bhatt thought to himself, not without embarrassment.
They took a battered down cab which Bhatt instantly hated, but this wasn’t a day to be fussy so he launched into a conversation with Vikram instead. At first it was all about the demonetization and what it meant for the common man. Bhatt told him just how many Lemony Snicket-ish unfortunate events had occurred in his life in the span of just 12 hours, and Vikram told him that some of his neighbours were hit hard by the demonetization because they were small traders who mostly dealt in cash.
Then it got personal. “So why were you at the Train Station?” Bhatt asked Vikram.
“I live close by. I was waiting for a bus to go to the Metro Station. The Metro would have taken me to IFFCO Chowk. I have an interview in the afternoon at a firm near there. So…” he trailed off.
“You’re a few hundreds poorer today, thanks to me”, Bhatt said regretfully. Vikram reiterated his request – not to feel sorry on his account. But Bhatt couldn’t help but notice that the shoes Vikram wore were tattered at the soles; the belt frayed at the tops from overuse; the shirt faded from frequent washing and the watch-strap’s leather cracked at places. This was a man struggling in life for a decent job. And Bhatt felt the burden of Vikram’s generosity even more. He vowed to help him out in some way, any way possible.
“So what line are you in?” He asked to keep the conversation flowing.
“I’m a Software Engineer, Programmer.”
“Oh, good. So you’ve been working for long?”
“Not very. Just three years.”
“Hmm, you look very young too. I had guessed as much…. Why are you applying for a new job? Something wrong with your firm?”
“There’s no growth there, Sir, and the pay is a pittance. I need a better paying job… I have six mouths to feed at home.”
“Six?! But you don’t look like you’re married…”
“No Sir, I’m not, but my widowed sister was. She has kids but she’s a teacher. She earns next to nothing. And my parents are too old to earn now. Besides, they made us into what we are. I owe them a lot. A comfortable life at the end of their days is the least I can give them.” He said it simply like it was his mission in life; as if it were as simple a statement as ‘I am a boy‘. Without pretenses, without regrets.
Bhatt’s admiration for Vikram was growing by the second. He wished, how he wished, his Cornell educated son had even a tenth of the humility and compassion this stranger had, who was unassumingly shouldering the responsibility of 6 people in his family. This young man must have his own desires, his own wishes. He was so young after all. But he was keeping all his desires in abeyance because he knew his family came first. In stark contrast, here he himself was – Ram Krishna Bhatt, the renowned businessman – who could not go a day without something as frivolous as his favourite coffee in his favourite mug, brewed at just the right temperature; or for that matter a ‘weekend getaway‘. Suddenly he found everything about himself frivolous.
Money has a way of complicating things.
“So why not apply to the best IT firms in the country?”, Bhatt asked Vikram.
He just laughed sourly, the only sign of incivility Bhatt had seen thus far in the young man, “Oh Sir! I don’t have the right resume for them. I’m not from the right universities, don’t have the right circle, haven’t interned at the right places, haven’t worked at the right places. I’m not ‘right‘, according to them. I’m mediocre and they don’t do mediocre… It doesn’t matter that I’m hard-working or willing to put in extra hours. I don’t… I don’t have the Right kind of Right in my CV.”
They both fell silent.
Bhatt flashed back to all those interviews he had overseen when he had turned down men and women for exactly those reasons. Some of the right candidates he had chosen had been grave disasters, but how could he have known that they would turn into black sheep? Weren’t these the pointers to a successful career – the right universities, the right backgrounds, the right internships or work ex.….
He fervently hoped this boy sitting next to him would get where he wanted to be, where he knew he deserved to be.
Neither talked on the subject again for the remainder of the journey. Just other things. Safe things.
When Vikram and Bhatt both gave the cab driver directions to the same building, Bhatt understood that he was appearing for an interview in either one of the 10 firms that had offices in the building. Vikram must have realised that too but he did not use their cab-drive as an excuse to extract a favour from Bhatt. The boy was a diamond!
Bhatt hoped Vikram was appearing at as his own firm. He didn’t do interviews anymore. HR handled that now. So he would have to have a word with them. He knew what he had to do.
They both alighted from the cab. Vikram paid the driver a total of 368 bucks, Bhatt noted. He also noted that Vikram was left with only a hundred and a few tenners, barely enough for a trip back home by Metro or by bus perhaps, but definitely not enough for a cab ride.
Vikram pocketed his wallet and turned to Bhatt with a genial hand extended towards him. Bhatt ignored the hand and pulled the boy into a bear hug, “You taught me a valuable lesson today, Son. Acts of kindness are independent of your bank balance.“
Poor Vikram turned beet red. “Please Sir, I only did…”
“I know, I know – what everyone should do. But still, you’re a remarkable man. Now give me your full name and number so I can repay you.”
After several minutes of cajoling, Vikram finally yielded and gave his number. Bhatt wished him good luck for his interview; Vikram gave him an affable smile and they parted ways.
Once in his office, Bhatt dialled an extension on his intercom and spoke into the microphone, “Good Afternoon. Are we still looking for a programmer?” There was babble at the other end. Then, “Oh, good. Then I need you to give me a list of the applicants appearing today for the interview, please. Now!” He hung up and busied himself with other things. Several minutes later someone from HR turned up, and she had a list in her hand. He scanned through the list and there he was, just as he had hoped –
Vikram Chowdhary. 26. Working with blah-blah-blah software firm in Nehru Place, Delhi.
Finally, luck, for once today, was on his side.
He asked her to pull up his CV from their emails. She did so and he scanned his CV cursorily. On any other day he would have trashed such a CV without a thought. But not today. Never again. He realised his preconceived notions were like blinkers on a race horse. Everyone should get a fair chance.
He told her, “The interviews are over. I’ve decided to place this man on the team.”
“But Sir, he doesn’t have the right…”
“The Right Resume? But he’s the Right man.”
He stood up, dismissing her appeals with a wave of his hand, and headed into the Board Room for his scheduled meeting. Then he remembered something and turned back to her, “Oh and, when you hand him the offer letter, give him 368… in cash. He’ll know who its from.”
He winked impishly at the confused girl and walked out of the cabin, marvelling over the kindness of strangers; thanking God for their acts of kindness.
Spread some festive cheer…
Merry Christmas Everyone!!
©Pradita Kapahi, 2016
Picture Credits: http://www.pixabay.com