The Lame Duck
Badri Narayan entered the office literally to a roaring welcome by the stentorian voice of his Administrative Officer, Ranga Bhashyam.
“You are late again, Badri.”
Badri was painfully aware that it was no mere rhetoric.
“What is it today, your great grandfather expired?”
“Sir, bbb…bus broke down.”
“Www…why don’t you buy a two-wheeler?”
“I will, sir, when my loan is sanctioned …”
“So, until then your highness will attend office when convenient?”
“This is the third time this month. Next time you will be typing your résumé. Got it?”
“Yyy…yes, sir. It will not happen again, sir.”
“OK. What happened to the …”
That was another routine day in the official life of Badri Narayan.
Badri Narayan was a shy taciturn introvert. He was a Junior Clerk assigned with maintenance of correspondence files and preparation of tender documents, among other tasks, and had recently completed one year in the organisation. His boisterous colleagues always teased him for his simple life style. He took it all with a smile, without complaining. He stayed in a single-room-kitchen bachelor’s accommodation in Saidapet and attended the office on Anna Salai.
“Where are you, Badri?” thundered Ranga Bhashyam.
The mobile handset slipped and fell on the floor of the bus. Badri frantically searched for it, ignoring the curses of the fellow passengers in the thickly crowded city bus. Ultimately, he found it and picked it up. Even the deafening din of traffic could not outdo Ranga Bhashyam’s voice.
‘Badri…Goddammit…where are you? … Badri…’
“Sss…Sir, I am in the bus…”
“What are you doing in a bus, Badri?”
“Sir, coming to the office…”
“Oh…OK. Come to me immediately after reaching. Got it?”
A dial tone greeted Badri even as he was saying, “Yyy…yes, sir.”
Badri was amused no end to see the usually roaring Ranga Bhashaym squeak like a mouse over the telephone.
“Yes, sir…Of course, sir…Surely, sir…I will, sir…Good day, sir…” He replaced the receiver on the cradle and sighed, “Phew…”
Wiping the sweat off his forehead and face he roared, “That was our big boss, Mr. Arvind Apte, from Mumbai.”
Badri acknowledged the information with a silent nod. Mr. Apte was the founder of the company.
‘Oh, God! Is it bad news for me? Is it a pink slip?’
“He has given me some very important work…”
Once again, Badri nodded.
‘Personal? If it is given to this daemon, why is he telling me? Is it a trap?’
“Tell me, sir.” The eternal suicidal mindset took over.
‘My horoscope is like that. No one can do anything about it. My mother told me long ago that I am an unlucky person. I have the knack of being stuck in wrong situations. The daemon has trapped me neatly and completely. He knew I couldn’t say no; I’m just a year old in the organisation.
‘What have I to do with the big bosses’ daughter, Miss Rakhi Apte, or if she’s returning to India after finishing MBA in Harvard Business School, or if she’s taking a week’s holiday at Chennai before taking over this business house at Mumbai?
‘Why should I chaperone her during her stay? Why should I sit on a stool outside her room in Taj Coromandel Hotel? Why…’
A nudge from one of his friends put an end to Badri’s self-pity spree and jolted him back into reality. They were having lunch in the common room.
“…you seem to be lost? Dreaming about Ms. Rakhi Apte? Ha, ha, ha.”
Badri smiled sheepishly.
“Get dressed smartly,” … “Talk only in English,” … “Do you know Marathi?”… “What if she falls for you?” … “Will you propose to her?” … “Will you remember us after you marry her and become our boss?” The teasing was endless.
By the time the Indian flight from Mumbai landed, half an hour behind schedule, Badri Narayan had chewed his nails to their cuticles.
The Dame Luck
‘God! The heat is killing,’ Rakhi thought as she wheeled her suitcase out of the airport terminus. Her eyes darted from person to person in the crowd waiting outside. Finally, she found it, a placard bearing her name, spelt wrongly.
“Rakhi Apthe?” She stood in front of the placard.
“Yes, madam.” A feeble voice emanated from behind the placard.
“With an ‘h’?”
A head sprung from behind the placard and turned towards the erroneous etymological entity.
“That’s right, madam, with an ‘h’.”
“Right? That’s right?” It was almost a scream, almost, that is.
“You are right, madam, with an ‘h’.”
“No, no, no…Apte. ‘te’ like in ‘tea’…Got it?”
“Oh, now I understand, madam. It is Aptea…”
“I’ll murder you. I am Rakhi Apte. My last name does not have an ‘h’.”
“Why, madam? I mean, why doesn’t it have an ‘h’, madam?”
“Because it is my name and I don’t write it with an ‘h’.” She paused. “Who are you?”
“I am Badri, madam, Badri Narayan, Junior Clerk in the office. Good morning, madam.”
“Where is the car, Badri?”
“Parking, madam, in the parking lot. Let me take your suitcase, madam.”
“Badriiii…you don’t have to carry the suitcase. Haven’t you heard of castors…castors…wheels…on which you can drag a suitcase, nowadays?”
“Oh, wheels, madam, yes, wheels. We can drag. I shall drag the suitcase. Please come, madam, follow me to the car.”
They walked in silence for all of a minute.
“Badri, why aren’t your clothes pressed? Why haven’t you shaved? Do you go to the office like this every day?”
“Yes, madam…no, madam; I mean sometimes, madam, when the press fellow doesn’t open the shop for couple of days. I didn’t have time to shave, madam.”
They covered the remaining distance to the company Mercedes in silence.
“Why weren’t you at the airport, Mr. Ranga Bhashyam?”
“I had to take my wife to the doctor, madam. I sent Badri. Didn’t he come?”
“Oh, he came alright. You could have sent someone smart. Anyway, let us complete our rounds and go through the accounts.”
“Alright, Badri, we’ll continue in the afternoon. Let’s go for lunch. I want to eat typical south Indian food. Which place do you suggest?”
“That was excellent, Badri,” Rakhi said as they stepped out of Saravana Bhavan in T.Nagar.
“Thanks, madam,” Badri responded. ‘A week’s rations for me.’
“Shall we go back to the office, madam?”
“Yes, I’ll finish my inspection by evening. From tomorrow, I want to go sightseeing. Make arrangements.”
“OK, madam.” Badri replied. ‘A month’s salary, this time.’
“OK, Mr. Ranga Bhashyam, take care of the issues I pointed out. I’ll come to office on the day I leave Chennai. I’ll need someone to attend to me; assign Badri.”
The mouse squeaked, “Yes, madam. Sure, madam.”
“Let’s have breakfast somewhere else, not at the hotel.”
“Badri, you are here so early! You didn’t go home in the night or what!”
“I came here early, madam.”
“That’s nice of you. Where will you take me for breakfast? I am sick of toast, butter, jam, and boiled eggs. I want a typical south Indian breakfast – idli, masala dosa, and vada with lot of sambar and coconut chutney.”
“I know the exact place, madam.”
Rakhi finished her breakfast in Murugan Idlis in T. Nagar with hot filter coffee served in a stainless steel tumbler and a dabarah.
“That was fabulous. My stomach is full, Badri,”
‘My wallet is empty, madam,’ thought Badri ruefully.
“What next, Badri? Where are you taking me today and tomorrow and the day after?”
“Today, Mahabalipuram, madam. Would you like to go to Puducherry?”
“I mean, Pondicherry, madam, and Auroville? You may have to stay overnight.”
“That’s alright. We can go tomorrow and return the day after.”
“Yes, madam. Madam …” he hesitated, “Huh…, I have a small personal work; just fifteen minutes, madam. I’ll leave you in the hotel. OK?”
“Calling your girlfriend, Badri? Ha, ha, ha.”
A tan Badri blushed pink.
“No, madam, I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“OK, OK, I was just kidding. Go ahead.”
Ten minutes later, Badri ensconced himself inside a nearby ATM. First, he checked the balance in his account. Then he started making calculations.
“Come on, man. We aren’t here to watch you,” a shout from the queue outside.
He signalled ‘one minute’ and quickly withdrew cash from the machine.
“Let’s check into a hotel and then go to the beach, Badri.”
“As you wish, madam.”
“Badri, I observed over the past couple of days. You are shy and not assertive. I feel people take advantage of your soft nature.”
Badri smiled wryly. “Maybe, madam, but I am alright. I don’t like tension. One must adjust and get along.”
Rakhi silently nodded.
“Madam, you are fully soaked. You’ll catch cold,” voice of the introvert.
“Who are you, my granny? I love it, Badri. In Chennai and here, the beaches are great. Let me enjoy. Why don’t you come into the water, Badri?” Retort of the extrovert.
“Oh, no, madam. I am OK.”
Rakhi ran back into the water.
“Mahabalipuram was fantastic, Badri. Thanks.”
“I didn’t do anything, madam. Mahabalipuram is always fantastic.”
“Very smart, huh?”
“Your Vicks and Paracetamol, just in case you need. Good night, madam.”
“Good night, Badri. See you tomorrow.”
“Very punctual, Badri!”
Badri smiled shyly. “It’s a two-hour drive, madam. I have already made hotel reservation. If we reach early and check in, we can have breakfast and go to Auroville. Later, we can go around in the city, go to the beach and you can do some shopping, too.”
“That sounds fabulous, Badri. Where’s my coffee?”
“Here or on the way, madam?”
“Both. Any objection?”
It was dusk when the two returned from Auroville.
“It is a humbling and serene experience, Badri. Thanks for bringing me here.” She paused. “I feel like staying back here … forever…”
Badri cut in, “Oh, no, madam, don’t do that. Who’ll take care of the company? Mr. Arvind Apte will skin me alive…”
“Badri…you are becoming naughty.”
“Your dinner will be served in fifteen minutes, madam. If there’s nothing else I shall go for my dinner, madam.”
“You can have dinner here, with me, Badri.”
“Oh, no, madam, I shall go out.”
“I insist, Badri…”
After a few moments’ acute hesitation, the introvert acquiesced.
They were having dinner in silence.
“Hmmm…Food is good. Tell me about yourself, Badri.”
“What is there to tell, madam? I am a very ordinary person.”
“Come on, Badri.”
“I am the only child of my parents. They live in Srirangam near Tiruchi. I completed B.Com. For a couple of years I did odd some jobs in Srirangam and Tiruchi. Then, over a year ago, I joined this job.”
“What is your ambition in life, Badri?”
“What else but to live life peacefully and support my parents in their old age, madam.”
Badri hesitated and smiled.
“Come on, Badri, you can tell me.”
“Promise me I won’t lose my job…”
“I wanted to do MBA and have my own business house dealing in event management. I had to give up owing to our financial conditions.”
“Marriage? Not now, madam, not until I fully settle in my career.”
They finished their dinner in silence.
Badri was standing at the door with his hand on the handle, ready to bid good night, when he saw Rakhi stride slow shuffling steps towards him.
“During these last few days I started liking you, Badri.”
“Not madam, Badri, call me Rakhi.”
“Oh, no, I can’t do that, madam.”
“Why, Badri, don’t you like me?”
“I do, madam, but you are my boss.”
“I am a girl, too, Badri, and I happen to like you…a lot.”
“Madam, what are you doing?”
She stood in front of him, her toes touching his. She gently entwined her slender arms around his neck and kissed him on the lips.
“Badri, Badri…where are you lost?”
Badri was standing at the door with his hand on the handle.
“I said, good night, Badri.”
“Good night, madam.” Badri flustered.
“Let’s leave for Chennai right after breakfast. OK?”
The next three days were spent in local sightseeing, shopping and visit to the marina beach. Rakhi was into her third large packet of sundal. Badri was not sure that it would be the last.
“Hmmm…It is fabulous, Badri, this sundal. One more please,” she spoke while munching a mouthful of sundal.
The completion of the fourth packet saw Rakhi run into the waters of the Bay of Bengal. By the time her enthusiasm was satiated she was completely drenched.
“Come on, Badri, come into the water. It is beautiful.”
“I’m OK here, madam. You are wet. Let’s go back to the hotel.”
“Just a few more minutes, Badri, please.”
In her timescale, ‘few more minutes’ was over half an hour.
“Badri, I shall again visit the office tomorrow morning. After lunch, I shall take the five o’ clock flight to Mumbai. OK?”
“OK, madam. Take rest. Good night.”
“Good night, Badri.” She paused for a moment. “Thanks for everything.”
“Good, Mr. Bhashyam, you’ve taken care of the issues I mentioned.”
“Thanks, madam. Huh…Was Badri…was he helpful during your stay? I mean, did he give any trouble? He is a little slow, you see.”
Rakhi looked at him sternly for a few moments.
“An introvert doesn’t automatically become bad, Mr. Bhashyam. I didn’t know you were such a poor judge of men. Mr. Badri Narayan is a good coordinator and can become an excellent manager, if groomed properly. I am extremely capricious, but I had no trouble whatsoever during my week’s stay over here. He managed everything fabulously. Look, Mr. Bhashaym, it takes lot of talent to spot and nurture talent. Mr. Badri Narayan is a talented person. Tap and utilise his talents for the benefit of our organisation.” She paused. “Keep it to yourself, I will discuss with dad and send orders for his promotion as Senior Clerk and assign to him greater role and responsibilities in the office. OK?”
A chastised Ranga Bhashaym agreed, “Surely, madam.”
“Everything is ready, madam. The bills are paid, we have checked out and the car is ready.”
Rakhi was hurrying in and out of the washroom, packing her things.
“Badri, these are for you.” There were two packets in Rakhi’s hands, one large and one small.
“What, why, madam?”
“No questions, Badri. Please accept them.”
Hesitatingly, Badri accepted them.
“Go ahead, open them.”
Again, hesitatingly, Badri opened them.
The large packet contained two shirts by Louis Philippe. One was milk white with dark blue pin stripes. The other had large red-and-blue checks.
The second packet contained one wad of hundred-rupee notes.
The gifts sent Badri into a stutter, “Madam…madam…”
“Those are my gifts to my friend Badri Narayan. I don’t think my own father could have taken better care of me. Thanks, my friend. I know the bills will be borne by the office, but you have spent a lot of your personal money during our trips. Please don’t say no.”
Badri could see sheen of tears in Rakhi’s eyes.
“No, Ms. Rakhi Apte, I will not say no. How can I reject loving gifts from my friend? I will cherish them. If you need anything anytime anywhere, remember I am there for you.”
Rakhi shook hands with him and said, “Don’t forget to invite me to your wedding.”
“I will, madam, if and when I marry. It’s time, madam. Shall we leave?”
The following week in the office…
“Here’s an important letter for you.” Ranga Bhashyam was his usual self.
“What is it, sir?” A sceptical Badri Narayan asked.
“Read it. You can read, I hope.”
“Surely, sir.” Badri opened the letter. It was from their Mumbai headquarters. He read it and fell speechless.
“Congratulations, Badri. You are promoted as Senior Clerk.” Ranga Bhashaym shook hands with Badri, while others patted him on the back.
“Party…party…party…” the chorus echoed in the office.
The Despatch Clerk, Sunanda’s eyes fluttered like the wings of a butterfly when she shook hands with Badri Narayan.
Badri’s heart missed a beat…
“Coming, sir, don’t get worked up; not good for blood pressure. You’ll bust a blood vessel.”
…Shyam Sundar Bulusu