This short story is selected as Story of the Month October’2014 and won INR 1000
This story is selected as Editor’s Choice
“Yes sir. A proximity activated retarding force supplier, antagonist to gravity to just the precise extent that all its effects are canceled just before collision, thereby preventing damage of any sort.”
“A jetpack?” asked Prasad incredulously.
“Yes, sir. In the vernacular, you technically may call it a jetpack, though I must object…”
“Okay Mr. Sasi. I get your point. If you are selected, you shall receive an order of appointment.” Prasad said, almost a little too quickly. Gathering himself, he continued, “Thank You.”
Sasi seemed unsure what to do, and then mumbling a thank you, got up and walked out of the interview room. Prasad sighed as he drew a small red cross next to Sasi’s name. A jetpack, he thought. That was the weirdest answer he had got so far. Most of the other answers were pillows, mattresses or something of the sort. A jetpack! Prasad chuckled as he went over the list so far. The post that was being contested for by the seventy two applicants was that of a PR agent of a prestigious cement manufacturer. Prasad was head of the Human Resources department and had been assigned the task to select one from them. He had been sitting here from nearly eight in the morning; it was noon now. He took a small sip of his coffee, it had gone cold a long time ago, and placing it back on the desk, called out for the forty third time that day, “Neeext”.
Applicant forty three came in. He was dressed for an interview; white starched full sleeved shirt, black pleated pants, a modest belt and a blue tie. Prasad looked at his name on his list: Sumer Chokat. Sumer came up to the desk behind which Prasad was sitting, smiled and extended a hand to Prasad. Prasad shook it; a firm handshake, full of confidence.
“Good morning sir” Sumer said.
“Good Morning.” Prasad pointed to the chair in front of him, “Take your chair”.
Promptly, Sumer lifted the chair at which Prasad had pointed and held it above the desk. It took him a few seconds to comprehend what was happening, but when he did Prasad burst out laughing. “No…no, just sit on it” he said, nearly crying.
Sumer smiled and replaced the chair and sat on it. “I am sorry about that sir, but I believe in starting things on a happy note.”
“You are an interesting young man…” Prasad said as he looked down at his list once again though he didn’t have to, “… Sumer Chokat. So, Sumer, tell me a bit about yourself.”
Sumer straightened up in his chair. “Well sir, my name is Sumer Chotak as you already know. I am twenty six and am an alumnus Vijaykant Institute of Management Education. I was born and brought up in a remote village in West Bengal; my father was landless farmer who sent me to school only because of the free midday meals there. I was the topper from my district in both tenth and twelfth and from there I took a BTech in Mechanical engineering from NIT Calicut before moving to VIM, all of it on various scholarships. And so,” Sumer paused ever so slightly, “ here I am.”
Prasad was impressed, “So basically, you are a rags to riches story, aren’t you?”
“Well sir, the rags part is in the past and, hopefully, the riches part in the future. Right now I’m just in between.”
Prasad smiled again before continuing, “I see from our file on you that you haven’t submitted any certificates of your qualifications.” He looked up at Sumer, “Why?”
“Well sir, this is my first time in Bangalore, and I came here last week. I had rented a room at a nearby lodge and was sharing it with another guy, a Brahmin from his looks. But then, three days ago, when I had returned after posting a letter to my family, there is no telephone nor mobile coverage where I live, this guy was gone with all my certificates. I have asked for copies, but it will take at least another week before I start receiving them.”
“Okay Sumer.” Prasad looked at the confident young man seated across him, “Tell me, what makes you think you can handle a Public Relations post?”
“Well sir, basically I like interacting with people, listening to them, having a conversation. I also like to understand psychology behind what makes people do what they do. Further, sir, I believe that I have what is required of any PR agent.” Sumer paused for emphasis, “I can lie efficiently”
“Lie efficiently?” Prasad asked slowly, with raised eyebrows.
“Yes sir. Business isn’t always a rosy affair- there are ups and downs. And sometime, it is best to keep people blindfolded and avoid awkward questions during the down periods, at least until we can get back up.”
This guy knows what he is talking about, for a change, thought Prasad thankfully. “Well Mr. Sumer, one last question to you.” Prasad leaned in as he continues, “How do you drop an egg on a concrete floor without it breaking?”
Sumer seemed confused at first. “Pardon me, sir. But, could you repeat that question?”
Prasad repeated, slowly, “How do you drop an egg on a concrete floor without it breaking?”
Sumer thought for a minute, accepting the question at face value. Finally, he answered. “I am talking from PR point of view sir. The obvious answer is that it would be very hard indeed for an egg to crack a concrete floor.” Sumer smiled slightly before continuing. “But such an exercise would leave quite a mess and a lingering foul smell, and the resources need to clean it up would be disproportionate to the cause. A better solution would be to hard boil the egg so that when dropped it doesn’t make a sound, and in case it bursts, can easily be cleaned.” Sumer paused again, “But the best case scenario of course would be if the dropping of the egg can somehow be prevented. Yes, sir, pillows and the like are also an option, but impractical.”
Prasad looked at the man in amazement. He had given the correct answer, and more. Regaining his composure Prasad said, “Thank you Mr. Sumer. If appointed, how soon can you join?”
“Immediately, sir.” “I believe you will hear from us soon Mr. Sumer.” He extended his hand. Giving it a firm shake again, and saying thank you (, sir), Sumer got up and left the room. Impressive thought Prasad as he put a small green tick next to applicant 43’s name, Very impressive.
“Yes sir. I have done background checks on all your shortlisted candidates sir.” said John Koshy, the private detective that LK cements always employed to do closet rummaging for its new employees, just in case some skeletons fell out.
“Sir most of them are clean, except…” John looked down at the file in his hand, “except applicant number 43 sir.”
Prasad felt his heart fall, “What is it?” He had been particularly hopeful for that particular fellow.
“Well sir, Mr. Sumer Chokat is indeed a district topper from West Bengal, alumnus of NIT and VIM. He came to Bangalore six days before the interview and did indeed have his certificates stolen. But…” John took a deep breath before continuing, “But sir, the guy who came for the interview was Ramaswamy Subramanium an upper caste Brahmin from TN. He ran away from home at sixteen due to some differences with his father. He has been sort of new generation gypsy since then, doing odd jobs, and getting himself in petty cases at various cities. He stayed in the same lodge as Mr. Sumer, and I guess you can guess what happened next.”
Prasad had his eyes wide open, “The real Sumer didn’t attend because he didn’t have his certificates and this guy showed up…” Prasad shook his head, smiling softly. I can lie efficiently. He looked up at John.
“We are looking for a PR post, right?” Prasad said, smiling.
“Yes sir.” said John, closing his file. He knew exactly what his boss was thinking.