… And while some would go ahead and become best sellers and master story-tellers, few would continue to go through the daily grind of their current jobs, pouring out, their so called thoughts and words on some random blog portal, gallantly flaunting it in their inner circles. And I, of everybody, would probably be lying drunk on the floor of a dingy flat in a rundown building in some slum like corner of this city, celebrating the nth rejection of my manuscript.”  

Sitting in his 4’x4’ cubicle, Shiva Prasad Mishra, 35, continued to scribble away in his black diary.

Aspirations never see limitations; their wings are seamless and they can take flight to anywhere, without bothering about the improbable or the impossible. It was the same with Shiva’s aspirations too. This middle aged, grubby looking, lean call centre employee, was once an enigma amongst the girls in his college. Girls swooned over his dreamy looks and flocked around him, while he was busy carving out the one love of his life, “Manifestations of An Extraordinary Mind”. Yes, that was the name of the book Shiva had scripted.

He still remembered the day his literature professor had returned him his work, with tears in his eyes, showering praises at the beauty of his work.  It had filled Shiva with ecstasy, hopes and a dream. But today, all that seemed like an unreal scene from a long forgotten déjà vu.
Anyone who comes in this world has to survive, and the foremost rule for the survival is to keep the bellies filled. It is agitating, how few morsels of grains can conceive in them so much power that they can make humans, quit chasing their dreams and chase money instead, just so that they can buy few pounds of grains. Shiva was also one of the many victims of this power game.

After numerous rejections, freelancing, part-time jobs and squandering away his prime youth in chasing the dream of getting his book published, Shiva had come to terms with the reality that however mightier the pen may be from the sword, the real power lies in the stench of those bundles of paper, stamped with the face of a man long gone. And thus, Shiva had grabbed whatever had come his way and here he was today, toiling away, at 10 o’clock, on a Monday night, in this dump of shit which boasted itself to be a call centre.
“Hey Shiva… your cab is here dude.” one of his colleagues called out.

“Finally…” muttered Shiva, getting up from his chair and picking up his things. He had just lifted his bag, when there was a gentle tap on his shoulder.

“Excuse me?” came a little voice.

 Shiva turned and saw a mousy looking, girl, dressed in starched cotton salwar suit standing and looking at him anxiously.

“Excuse me?” she repeated. “You are Mr. Shivaprasad , right? Sir… I am Mitali. I have recently joined and it has just been a week. Actually… Sir… I was wondering… would you mind, dropping me to my place in your cab?” blurted out the girl as fast as she could, fidgeting with the corner of her dupatta at the same time.

Shiva gave her a “Do-I-Even-Know-You” look.

She started again, “Sir actually, my shift usually gets over at 5.30 but today due to some reasons I had to stay back. Most of the times, the other female colleagues of my team accompany me, but they are already gone today.” She rattled on. “Shipra, my team-mate… since she knew that it would be late for me, she had suggested me to ask you to accompany me in the cab, while going back home.”

A throbbing pain had already started to rise in Shiva’s head. He was almost on the verge of losing his temper, but somehow he contained it within himself. With utmost disinterest he asked her, “Where do you live?”

“Sir… Shankar Nagar”

“But it is completely opposite to the place where I am going.”

“Sir… I am sorry to be causing this inconvenience, but sir, I am a little scared to go back alone at this hour and as I am new I don’t know anyone whom I can ask to accompany me. If Shipra wouldn’t have suggested me your name I wouldn’t have bothered you sir… I am really sorry sir… But I would…”

“Ok, Fine…” snapped Shiva, interrupting her midway. “See I am leaving now, so, if you want me to accompany you, please pack your stuff soon and meet me near the entrance lobby of the building.”

Hearing so, the girl scurried away.

“Yeah right! Now I am the last modest man, standing on this earth.” Shiva grumbled under his breath, while he moved towards the exit, knowing not whom to curse, the girl, her team-mate or his fate.

~~~~~~

Mitali returned to her seat and immediately started stuffing her things inside her handbag. Her table was a mess. Most of her things had automatically found their way out to her desk, during the longest day that she had spent in this place. “God! So much work in the second week itself.” she thought to herself. “Don’t know for how long I will have to stay in this job.” While her hands were busy choking her bag with her things, she ran a look over the cubicles on her office floor. “Freaking hell… This place looks so eerie at this time of the day.” She thought.

When she was done packing, she made her way towards the exit. Thoughts kept whizzing in her head while she climbed down the four floors of the building.

“Shit man, this is so awkward. Shipra has really pushed me into some shithole of a situation today. This Shivaprasad guy is just so weird and rude, arrogant too… But for this situation, I wouldn’t have even looked at him. Anyways, he looks like a devdas, as if he has not shaved or bathed in ages.”

Mitali Kumar, 22, was new to this kind of life. She had worked in a call centre before, but that was a completely different experience, more like visiting a college canteen and getting paid for the same.  After all who really works in the lazy, somber call centre of a small town, which on a whole was sleepy most of the times? She was born and brought up in the same small town which in her words “was difficult even to place on the map of India”.

She wasn’t extraordinarily beautiful to look at, but her face bore a sort of an innocent charm. Like every other young Indian girl of the present times, Mitali had grown up with stars twinkling in her eyes. She didn’t like the fact that she lived in a small town. She often complained to her parents that why didn’t they live in a big cosmopolitan city.  She hated her hometown and also the conservative mindset that people there possessed. She hated the restrictions. What she wanted most was to get out of that small town. She wanted to get away from all the narrow mindedness and the restrictions. She wanted freedom. And the best opportunity she knew would come to her way once she finishes her graduation. And the same did come.

Mitali graduated from the local girls’ college and after much sweet talk, temper tantrums and three days of food strike she had finally convinced her dad to send her to this big city where she would pursue her post-graduation. The terms were clear from her father’s side. Mitali was to receive only enough money that was needed to fulfill her basic necessities and she was supposed to report the account of each paisa spent to her dad every week. Her dad exactly knew how thrifty a person his daughter was.

But Mitali knew too, that the allowance that her dad provided was not enough to help her get rid of the tag of “small town girl” and so, she had taken up this call centre job without informing her parents. Even though she hated the work and the rules in this place, it was helping her earn enough money to get all those things that the girls from the cosmopolitans usually possessed. Her roommate, a veteran wannabe-cosmo girl, was being her guardian angel in this mission.

~~~~~~

Mitali was almost near the entrance lobby, when she spotted Shivaprasad. He was sitting on the front seat of a white Indica parked right outside the building entrance. There was one more guy sitting on the back seat of the car. Looking at her approaching the cab, the guy on the backseat, shifted to the other side. Mitali opened the back door of the cab and moved inside. She passed a smile to the guy sitting next to her as she settled inside the cab. As a response to her smile, the guy flinched slightly on his seat, adjusted his glasses back to their assigned position and turned his head to the other side and started looking out of the window.

“What a weirdo!” mumbled Mitali.

And the weirdo heard it. It wasn’t the first time that he had heard that word being used for him. He very well knew that none of the girls who had come across him have ever had a normal impression of him. He was always the weirdo, more commonly known as “CM” in this office.

CM aka Chashmish was the name by which Nandan Bodhi was famous in the call centre. Everyone from the Team Lead to the office boy was used to addressing him by those two letters “CM”. Very few people actually knew his real name.

It was his famous thick rimmed spectacles, which often kept slipping off his nose that had earned him the name. It was a name that had been tagged to him since his school days; the only different thing here was that now it had been shortened to “CM”, which was the coolest thing that had ever happened to Nandan.

Nandan, 28, was the replica of the dictionary definition of the word nerd. Eyes enclosed by thick, high powered glasses, Nandan had been the front bencher all along his life and had graduated as a chemical engineer. After getting placed in a famous research company, Nandan had thought that his life was set. He had started weaving dreams of getting promoted to the higher echelons of the company and turning into a famous scientist one day. It was a dream that he had harbored in his heart since he was a kid.

But little did he know that the company, whom he thought to be his alma mater, would turn on him so brutally. Three years into the job, Nandan, with lot of hard work, had made a breakthrough in the research on which he was working.  Ecstatically he had gone ahead and told it all to his boss, who had then, like a well-wishing mentor, advised Nandan to not disclose the same to anybody till he gets the proper instructions. His boss had congratulated him on his breakthrough and had lauded him, by hugging him. Nandan had been on cloud nine that day, only to fall back right into the gutter.

A week later, when Nandan had picked up the newspaper, he saw the picture of his boss shaking hands with the MD of the company, for a miraculous breakthrough in his research. Nandan’s first thought on seeing the same was that, either he was dreaming or there had been a grave mistake. He had rushed to his office only to find his department toasting to the success of his boss for the breakthrough that Nandan had made. Nandan felt as if he was punched in the guts.

Later when he had confronted his boss, the so-called mentor easily dished him out the consequences that Nandan would face if he opens his mouth. The boss had laughed like a demon and had said, “Who would believe, that a rat like you could make this breakthrough, who remains absent from work, every other week?” Nandan had stood aghast, not believing that it was all really happening with him.

After mulling much over his bad luck, Nandan, had gathered enough courage to file a suit against the company and his boss, in return of which Nandan was slapped back with a notice of perjury and selling company secrets to the competition. After staying behind bars for one whole week, the realization had dawned on Nandan, that the people whom he had tried to mess with were powerful beyond imagination. He had to withdraw his case and had to pay heavily for getting the suit against him withdrawn, which had left him with an empty bank account and a resume containing qualification of a chemical enginner, which was now tainted for life.

~~~~~~

Nandan, was jerked out of his dreaded past as the cab started.

“Lal Ji Bhaiyya Shankar Nagar chaliye, pehle Madam ko drop karna hai, uske baad CM ko Patel Nagar” said Shiva to the cab driver, as the car exited the building premises.
The cab moved at a normal pace. The streets were fortunately not much crowded at this hour. There was enough traffic to sail past smoothly. It was cool outside and none of the passengers sitting in the car felt the need to turn up the windows and switch on the air conditioner. Infact the natural coolness came as a happy change from the artificially created winter that loomed in their office all throughout the day. Shiva had rested his head on the head rest of the seat, trying to evade his headache. Mitali was enjoying the cool breeze, while texting on her cell phone, and Nandan looked blankly outside the window, occasionally stealing glances at the girl sitting next to him, through the corner of his eyes.

An awkward silence hovered inside the cab. As seconds ticked by it made Mitali more and more uncomfortable. She was a fairly talkative girl, and was clearly not used to such long duration of silences.

“You people usually stay this silent on your way back home is it?” asked Mitali, attempting to break the silence.

Shiva ignored the question and closed his eyes, while Nandan shifted on his seat uncomfortably, looking at Mitali.

“Hi, I am Mitali” she said to Nandan offering him a handshake. Nandan gave her a sheepish look and shook her hand meekly, saying in an almost inaudible voice, “I am Nandan.”

“CM, she might not remember that name, you better tell her that you are CM.” came Shiva’s 
voice from the front seat.

“Oh!  So you are CM?” said Mitali in a tone louder than her usual.
Nandan gave her a questioning look.

“Yes, he is CM… and judging by that tone of yours, I guess your gang of girls has already updated you about him.”

“Oh No… nothing like that sir…”

“Shiva… my name is Shiva and you can call me that.”

“Yes Shiva, sorry… I was telling that I just happened to hear about him in quite a few office conversations, and so I knew about him.” said Mitali.

“I can bet on the kind of office conversations that you have heard his name in Miss, but FYKI I should tell you that CM is much more hard-working than 90% of those large mouthed gossip-mongers in our office.” said Shiva.

It was that moment, and Nandan had almost christened Shiva as his God.

Silence crept in again. But Mitali was not going to accept defeat so easily.

“You know what! I am new in this city too.” Mitali started again. “Actually… I am from Vasantpur.  Do you know where it is? I bet you won’t ever be able to find it on India’s map. It is a very small lazy town. There aren’t much great facilities over there like there are in this city. I am here to pursue my postgraduation. But I am working here just so that I can earn some pocket money. You people have been in this company for quite some time now, right? How has it been working here?” asked Mitali.

“I’ve been here 2 years.” said Nandan, “For me it is nice here.”

“Yeah, I know, for you it must be really nice right? I mean after all that has happened with you, this job must have been like real arse savior for you… Hai na?” blurted out Mitali in all her excitement, not realizing what she was actually saying.

Nandan’s eyes were almost in tears. He looked away from Mitali, nodded his head and said “Yes it is.”

It was too late, when Mitali realized what damage she had caused. She was guilt struck and so she tried apologizing.

“I am really sorry CM… I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“It is OK” replied Nandan.

She tried to further cover the damage.

“See I know it is not the best thing that should have happened, but you should be glad that atleast now you are out of the jail have a decent job too. This ain’t that bad you know. Yeah I know this job ain’t as good as the scientist stuff you were doing, but then in the situation that you were in, you couldn’t have asked for anything better.” said Mitali.
Nandan shot her a look filled with hatred.  His patience had been tested to the hilt and the dam of his self-control finally broke.

 He said, “What do you know about good or bad miss?”

“You… who has been here in the office for mere countable days. You… who do not even have the slightest of hint of what hardships are. You… who has no idea how it feels to see your efforts and your hardwork go down the drain.  You will tell me what is good and what is bad…? Miss, you are the last person on this planet who needs to enlighten me about that. So it would be better if you could please refrain yourself from telling me that.”

Mitali was shocked with this sudden outburst, little scared too. She started, “See mister, I said I am sorry. Moreover… you have no right to assume what I have faced in my life and what I haven’t and dare you talk to me like that. I was just trying to be friendly with you and you are being so rude. No wonder you are a loner. No wonder no one in the office talks to you.”
“I know why I am a loner and why no one talks to me. I also know what people talk about me behind my back and I also know that you find me a weirdo. But I have never complained about it and so Miss it would be better if you keep your opinions to yourself as I really don’t care about them.” hushed Nandan bitterly.

“Calm down CM.” said Shiva trying to referee in between.

He continued, “Miss Mitali here is new, and I feel she has a little problem keeping reins on her tongue. So calm down CM, because there is no point enraging over her right now.”

Mitali who was cowering in the corner of the seat was almost in tears right now.

Shiva continued in a straight and strict tone, “Miss Mitali, I would suggest you that you do not talk to CM like that anytime in the future. Not every one of us is privileged enough to get our whims served on a plate, like yourself. You are quite young and it would be better if you concentrated on your work here rather than getting involved in useless gossips.”

“There are harsher realities of life, which I hope you do not face, but in case if you do, I can bet, you would have wished that you had never come out of the comfort of your parents’ home and your small Vasantpur.”

“You seriously think this is a city where you would fulfill your dreams? Let me warn you, Miss, this is a city which would most likely shatter all of your dreams and would probably bring you down on your knees.”

“Take it as a free advice from someone who does know it all… start taking the realities seriously, because that is where life resides, otherwise, it won’t be too late when you would see your dreams turn you into a laughing stock for society.”

“It is a brutal world out there, and going by the tears streaming down your eyes, just by this little confrontation, I can’t say for how long you would be able to survive in the real world. You better buckle up Miss. For you the roller coaster has just started. We already have gone through our share of it’s ride.”

Saying so, Shiva pulled out a tissue from the tissue box kept in front and passed it behind to a weeping Mitali. After that, no one spoke anything anymore. Shiva went on to stare at the road ahead, while Mitali was back to texting on her phone, wishing that she should have never listened to Shipra, and Nandan returned his attention back to the trees on the road side whizzing past like a haze as the cab moved.


The awkward silence was back in the car.

2 thoughts on “Mirage

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