Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Good Wash

Rolling up the pink synthetic yoga mat, Girish started walking out of the office health club.

His colleagues also availed of these ‘free yoga classes’ the company had started. They discussed everything. From workplace romance to fancy health kits. They even made fun of his mathematically precise yet fluid gait.

He washed his mat everyday. He was obsessed with spotlessness.

Immaculate bearing and a pristine life style ruled anything he ever did. People called him a pain but it didn’t bother him. Earning modest wages, it was not a luxury to be squeaky clean. It was hard work and he was willing. Personal assistant to the commercial director of the company, he knew that Boss had hand picked him over many other pretty ones that came for the interview. It spoke volumes about his work.

‘Wise men say....only fools rush in...but I can’t help....’  is the point when he would unfailingly pick up his cell phone. Why have such a ringtone if you are never going to let poor Elvis reach ‘falling in love with you’, teased his colleagues. He liked the song. It calmed him before picking up the phone, invariably from irate callers. They either wanted to bark orders or were distressed about salary, payslips or leave. This song made him attend to all calls with a smile. He avoided the ‘falling in love’ ending of it though.

It was raining that day. Dark grey clouds. It was time to go home. He came back to his work station to pick up his belongings. It would be wise to leave early. Boss was going out of town and the next day was a holiday.

He put the double decker lunchbox in his bag and was about to latch it up when a faint jingle of anklets distracted him. Who could be wearing clinking anklets to office, he wondered. Some people just don’t know when they are overstepping the elementary code of decorum. The sound was gentle but it didn’t belong to a company like theirs with stern governance norms.

He continued to pack the rest of his things.

In a flash, he saw a brown envelope  flung across his cubicle. He looked up and saw Somy standing right in front. These girls, they can be so intimidating if you don’t know them. He stopped in motion. She looked angry. Very cross. His mind became a virtual flashback panel. Trying to think what he could have done to offend her. Young emotional girls, in your personal space at odd hours, can be quite a nerve racking proposition. Especially keeping in mind the new stringent ‘sexual harassment policies’. She charged on with “what does your boss think of himself”. Girish sighed in relief. It wasn’t about him.

She was from the travel desk. Last minute spoilers weren’t new to her. But this was too much, she complained. Girish's boss was leaving for Budapest for a conference and wanted her to do a file on the city in next 24 hours. It would ruin her evening. She had plans. Blah blah blah...

Mouthful of defiance later, she came to the point. She wanted to know a few things about his Boss. Was he into art or science? Did he like his spirits? Would he be interested in seeing vineyards? Etc. Etc.

Not wanting to get into a long conversation, Girish gave a broad outline, shut his computer, locked the drawers and tossed the keys into his pocket. All is a single swift stroke.

“Leaving?”, asked Somy “I was hoping you’d sit with me and help out. After all, it is for your boss. I need inputs from you”.

He looked at his soft board, trying to find something he could fix his gaze upon, while he spoke with her. He did that often. Whenever he wanted to avoid someone, he never looked them in the eye while talking. He found a picture of a mobile phone ad to stare at. “What do you want to know? “, he asked.

 “Oh come on. Sit with me. I will make the file and give it to you. You can have it sent to your boss in the morning. It’s your job you know. Let me call the despatch department. You can tie it up with them”, she picked up the phone.

He looked at her. Directly into her eyes. She was about to ruin his holiday, following up on a file.

“I will treat you. Evening snacks are on me!”, she laughed.

She spoke louder than the noise her anklets made as she  walked back to her desk. He got a glimpse of her ankles. Rough, thick skin which had blackened just above the arches.

“Desperate, loud and dirty”, he was quick to make a snap judgement. He picked up the phone and started wiping it clean. She had breathed into it, almost spray smearing it.

She reminded him of his mother.

Father didn’t talk  much. A few times that Girish had tried asking him years ago, he was slapped and told “don’t ever ask about her. Your mother was a dirty woman and she left us. I don’t know where she is now”. As a child he didn’t know dirty people meant anything other than the filthy, foul smelling ones he saw on his way to school, on the pavement.  

He would look at every beggar or rag picker closely. Wondering if he looked like any one of them and if one of them was his mother. He sure didn’t look like his father. Many years went by in this quiet search. These were people shunned by the society. As he grew older, he understood what 'dirty' meant. But by then it was too late to cure him of his fixation for all things clean. It stuck on. Just like all the memories of those women he had stared directly in the eye, trying to see if they had his eye colour.

He and his father lived a life of limited means devoid of any kind of expression. Love or hatred. A numb, calm life where everything went on with clockwork precision, free of emotional excesses.

‘Wise men say....only fools rush in...but I can’t help....’  sang his phone. Somy was calling. He looked up across the hall. She was waving frantically for him to pick it up. He ignored the ring and started walking towards her. Elvis got a chance to complete the whole song.

“You are lost. What happened? The samosas are here. They are getting cold. This AC I tell you. It is freezing in here. The company will kill us of pneumonia if not workload. Nobody does anything about it. Look at me. I sit right under the vent.... ” she was blabbering on as he tried to get his thoughts back to office and the work ahead.

Wanting to get it over with, he gave her ‘to the point’ answers explaining everything. She was good at what she did. It took her less than an hour to put everything together, take prints and zap...the file was in his hands.

The rain had turned into a deluge. He wondered how she was planning to go back. He wanted to ask if he could walk her to the bus or train station. How little did he know about her. Or for that matter, how little did he know about anybody he worked with!

She was ready to leave. He sat still with the file.

“ Don’t you want to go home? I thought you were in a hurry! My husband is waiting in the car downstairs. Do you need a lift?” she asked in one breath.

 “Oh” is all he could manage to say. He declined politely.

“Think about it. You might not get a bus in this weather”, she insisted.

He knew she was right.

He went back to his desk to leave the file for the despatch runner. The brown packet that she had hurled at him earlier was still there.

“You forgot your envelope”, he reminded her as they got into the elevator.

“It’s for you. You forgot?” she jogged his memory.

Her husband greeted them both on the ground floor and soon they were in the comfort of the car. Somy introduced the two cordially and started her usual nonsensical gibberish about how the day went. Unlike Girish, her husband seemed interested in catching every word of it. He didn’t find her ‘desperate, loud or dirty’. Girish was in the presence of love.

He opened the packet. There were travel brochures, postcards and discount coupons for Singapore. 

“You had told me once that you were not a very ‘Europe & museums’ kind of a person. I assumed you would be more of a ‘Singapore’ person. Look at how antiseptic you are...ha ha ha", she laughed at her own joke and continued "We had a conference and got some free goodies. I thought you might like them. I was coming to give them to you when your boss called!”, she grinned through the rear view mirror, "Enjoy!".

Someone had paid attention to one of his random ramblings. Girish wasn’t sure if he would avail of this generosity but it touched him.

They reached his building. He thanked them both and started walking home. The muddy slush on his trousers didn’t bother him much. Nor did the fact that he had forgotten his umbrella in the office. He was drenched. His shoes were soaked. In its own subtle way, his gait had changed a bit. 


  1. Nice one. Good to read on these rainy days. Keep 'em coming!!!

  2. Hey wow...u read it already :) thanks. It's my first and you are the first reader :)

  3. really WOW. a nice understanding of the subtleties of times. When I was reading it, I actually could see myself into it. My boss is a Canadian, he is full of neatness and cleanliness and I am very dirty and into my own world. Shobha

  4. thanks shobha :)am so happy you liked the story.

    it's just an interaction I conjured up between two people. din't mean to point at anyone. yes life is so full of subtleties...

  5. happens many times na... simple incident...and unknown person changes our point of view towards life....very good observation and very nice characterization. Keep writing Vandu. :)

  6. yes simple incidents bring about a small change. such small changes everyday make us the person we are today :) nobody evolves overnight :) hai na?

  7. Wow!!! the story is really weaved very well...very romantic :) You and your 'sister' both are blessed when it comes to narration

  8. thanks :)
    romance was just a fleeting moment in the whole story. it was more about how little things change you bit by bit....maybe for the better, maybe for glad u read through the whole thing :)

  9. if u have a receptive mind, then a small happening can light up ur life. and u have picked up that very nicely.

    the flow of the story is really holding u till the end anxiously to know what turn it takes....!

    very nice . liked it very much

  10. thanks :) i hope the subtle end didn't disappoint you.

  11. I loved your attention to detail on this one. Our past especially our childhood experiences leaves a much deeper impression on us than we realize.

  12. Yes it manifests itself in ways beyond our imagination. like i can never borrow things to wear...even for fun...i have to have my own things. something my father made sure he instilled in us coz he was ridiculed about having only one set of nickers when he was 10-12. See how long back some things go. thanks

  13. I like your writing Vandana. Are there more like this?

  14. Thanks anders :)
    yes you can read them on

  15. Hi Vandana,

    Vivek Nayak here. Nice story! I could relate to a lot of it!

    I remember a few of the milestones where I experienced a subtle change of gait! My first Bruce Lee movie! (Wanna be Bruce Lee)... ABBA the Movie in 1979! (Oooh! I'm in love with Agnetha!) ... My first `dance party' with the hip crowd in college!...(Must learn to dance like them)! Ayn Rand's Fountainhead! (Roar out my individuality like Roark) The Great Waltz - Biopic on Johann Strauss (Waltzed my heart into w. classical music) My first Crush (left my heart crushed like an empty Coke can) My first job (walk with your head held high!)

    Somewhere along the way, all these subtle changes in gait has resulted in the peacock strut I have today! And the gait changes with every new touch to the heart!

  16. :)glad u liked it Vivek. Yes step by step...over time...our gait changes into this confident stride that one has today. awww peacock strut u say... :)
    those are pretty important incidents u mention :) in the lives of a teenager ;)

  17. wow....amazing story...There was something I could empathise with in this story...but cant identify what...

  18. must be the current work environment and how everybody is ready to judge one another in a moment ...without giving anybody a benefit of doubt. thanks for dropping by n reading it :)

  19. real gud one...
    travelled with the story... beautifully narrated