“Hey, there! What’s up? I am Kunal. You first year too, I presume”
“Hi. Avinash. Yes, first year. Where you from?”
The introductory conversation is broken by the sight of a female, of not inconsiderable physical presence, a few dozen meters from us.
“Ah” Avinash mumbles, which I gather to be an attempt at suggestive non verbal communication (picked up the term later in one of the multitudes of irrelevant hours spent in class).
“Must have a boyfriend of particularly voracious inclinations” I observe and look at him with high hopes of reciprocation of the smirk that has so effortlessly appeared on my countenance.
“Oh, nothing. Pretty face though…”
“Hey! I am Avinash. You? Nice campus, no?”
“Pooja. Yeah, great place. I am going to love it…”
He turns to me.
“Hey, alright Kunal. Will catch ya some other time.”
Not that we had had much in common to encourage contact.
He loved politics. All I cared for was sports. He read the Economic Times and the Business Week. I read Filmfare. He watched CNBC on TV. I watched porn on my laptop. During his spare time, he was often found on companionable walks, on the campus's many picteresque paths, with some female or the other. I masturbated.
Fate did try to play spoilsport once when we were assigned to the same group project. But a series of intelligently and energetically pursued maneuvers had helped keep the direly requisite interaction limited to curt gtalk exchanges.
Unfortunately though, fate wasn’t finished yet. At the end of two years, it placed us in the same office.
“Yeah. Unless one of us loses his eyesight”
“Nothing. See ya in office”
The first week in office had not been so bad. The two of us, along with another dozen new joinees from various institutes in the country, were subjected to one of the worst endurance tests that corporate life can conjure – the induction program. For some strange reason, every employee in the organization above the designation of ‘Sr. Janitor’ addresses the incumbents and advises them on the road ahead. On most occasions, this is the only time the incumbents ever get to see these propagators of wisdom.
For the first couple of days, most of us pretended to listen to them. By the fourth day, most were either reading popcorn fiction or sleeping. By the time it ended, we were all sleeping.
The problem had started on the first day of regular work.
“Hi Kunal, welcome to work!”
“Hi Preet! Yeah, really looking forward to it. In fact looking past it to some booze in the evening!”
The last bit, an effort at breaking the ice. I was always one for friendly, informal workplaces. Preet’s unchanged expression lets me know that the ice just froze thicker.
“Yes, whatever. Listen Kunal, I already got you assigned to a project. You gotta blah blah blah …you will be working with Avinash on this. You guys from the same institute, so I figured you will be more comfortable working together. Do well! We are really banking on you guys on this!”
I was still struggling to come to terms with the far reaching implications of this announcement, when I had found myself standing next to him in the office urinal.
“Hey Avinash! Heard we’ve been assigned to the same project”
“Yeah, I heard that too”
“Well, should be fun!”
“I think Sulekha (the washing powder brand we were supposed to build marketing strategies for) has got the potential to be chartbuster!” he tells me
“With a name like that, it stands of better chance of being thought of as an oral contraceptive pill”
This is the first time the hatred has been expressed aloud.
“I wasn’t aware your powers of appreciation are dependent for expression upon the existence of suitable circumstances.”
We get down to discussing details. I find most of his ideas silly and unpractical, excepting one or two which could be worked upon for them to attain some semblance of feasibility. We work upon them.
Preet had loved our plan, the very first time we had discussed it with him. After a couple of slight modifications (which Avinash had handled quite well, I must confess), it had been okayed.
We came out of the cabin, deservedly elated.
“Good job mate!” I slap him on the back
“Yeah, very good indeed! Hey listen Kunal, how about a couple of shots at the bar round the corner after office today? On me.”
“Err. Yes, of course. Will be there!”
That evening, he turns up at the bar with a girl called Neha. It pisses me off no end. But I reign in my urge to comment.
The first couple of shots, we discuss various odds and ends. The girl turns out to be quite decent actually, not as dumb as one generally finds them. But that doesn’t make me feel any better.
A few more shots down, I start talking.
“You know Avinash, this idea of yours was a load of shit. You know it don’t you?”
He looks up from his glass
“It got us through”
“Yeah, it did. But that’s because I made them workable, you know. Otherwise, they were zilch. Absolutely.”
He starts to say something but then stops himself. The silence hangs for a while. Then he starts again.
“I suppose you are right Kunal. Your inputs were crucial. We couldn’t have made it without you”
For the first time in my life, I find myself feeling grateful to the guy for what he’s just said. It makes me feel better. And slightly ashamed.
We talk for a while longer. Neha seems a sport. She even gives me her number and makes me promise I’d call her back.
Of course, I don’t.
The next few weeks had been largely uneventful. I had made some new friends. He had made some of his own. Life had borne an exciting look.
At the time, both of us had probably expected our forced time together to have ended. The plan had been approved and there did not seem any further need for us to work together on it. We had been wrong.
A few weeks later, we had been informed of our joint tour to Karnataka for the first rollout of the strategy we had formulated.
The evening at the bar notwithstanding, we were still happier away from each other than otherwise.
We found ourselves in Bangalore the week after. For one whole week.
For the first part of the week, we followed a simple plan. We worked together the whole day, the excitement and responsibility of our first assignment keeping us united. In the evenings, we parted ways, did whatever each of us wanted to, and returned to our hotel late at night. By that time, the earlier arriver was already asleep.
On the fourth day, he asked me if I’d care to join him for a movie. I hadn’t planned anything specific myself and found myself responding in the affirmative.
I met him, at the pre-decided hour, outside the multiplex. He had a girl with him again.
The movie turned out to be a complete bore, which for some inexplicable reason whetted our appetite, and after it had ended, we proceeded to have a sumptuous dinner at a nearby restaurant. Thankfully, the girl left (a ridiculously talkative creature and a complete piece of ass, one way and the other) early and allowed scope for some much needed silence.
The remainder of the week, we again went back to parting ways. All in all, it went off quite well, including the work.
Our efforts were widely appreciated (a fact that became the cause of some regret to us when we realized it must lead to future projects together).
Over the next year, we worked on another couple of assignments. We went to the bar a few times; on each of those occasions, he had a girl, whom I had not met previously, with him. And we made a bit of a name for ourselves in office.
In time, we had our increments. The good work we’d done was rewarded graciously.
In the evening, Avinash comes up to me again.
“Hey, congrats Kunal! Fatter paycheck now on!”
“Yeah! Its got to keep up with my own self, you know!”
“Oh, nothing. By the way, congratulations to you too!”
“Thanks dude! Tell you what, how about a couple of shots?”
“Excellent, same place at nine then”
“Yup. Hey Avinash, please don’t get one of your females along. You know how I detest them” I say it as lightly as I possibly can, then look at him to gauge how he’d taken it.
He thinks for a second and then replies
“You got it boss! But hey, at least we’ll raise a toast to them, yes?”We share a good laugh.
Its tonight. I am sitting with Avinash at the bar, raising a toast to his girls.