Tilak Nagar looked chaotic today. Not that it looked any better the rest of the days, yet there was a difference in the kind of chaos seen today. Amidst those labyrinthine dusty narrow lanes of the locality, there was a gay looking crowd.
In fact, similar happy looking, loudly chattering groups were dispersed all around the place, with little flags in hand, displaying the sign of a ‘broom’ and the face of a smiling mustached man, with a white cap and ‘swadesi’ clothes.
This was ‘Hazoorilal’, the newly elected chief minister of the capital and the celebrations were all around him and his party ‘Common Man Party’, which swiped the pre-existing party off their feet with a massive vote out! Today, was the new CM’s oath taking ceremony and hence, the festivities.
But while the entire brick and mortar stack of houses, along the narrow lanes resonated the vibe of this phenomenal change, in some loud Punjabi ‘happy go lucky’ lingo, yet there was someone residing in here, who looked far from happy.
“Oye Tej! Chal aaja bullet di sawari karalau tujhe!”
Sunny was Tej’s friend and loved his new bike, a ‘Bullet’, which was quite an in-thing for atypical Punjabi boy. He was a turbaned boy, in late 20’s and loved his life on bullet and his friend behind his rear on his beauty! At least, that was on the agenda, until a good looking chick replaced him.
Today, he looked all the more jubilant and why not! He too, favored the new political party and did his bit in marketing for them. However, today the win was in his stride and he definitely looked good in spirits, but the boy, who came out looked sullen. Dressed in white kurta, pyjama and a heavy woolen jacket, he did remind of a typical Punjabi lad. With his hair ruffled and scrunched up into a knot on his head, he however looked surprisingly tired in the morning winter morning breeze.
Tej was just 26, yet he looked quite older for his age. With familial and financial pressures, he hardly shared his friend’s spirit today.
“Ki hoya?” the biker asked looking at him amused. “Why are you not dressed? You don’t want to come to the Maidan?”
“Aaj ta mera interview hai! I’ve my interview today in Noida. I can’t go,” he replied looking sober.
“Keda interview?” Sunny asked unapologetically. He knew Tej’s condition was quite sorry and he had a series of fiascos in his career, yet he didn’t believe in repenting about them. He was more of a ‘living by each day’ boy.
Nonetheless, Tej looked annoyed with his casual tone.
“Interview matlab interview in an office you moron!” he spat back. “Don’t you know I’ve to get a job?”
Sunny gave his quintessential amused look followed by a smile.
“Arre ha!” Sunny slapped his forehead. “I completely forgot! Don’t mind yaar!” he confessed without much remorse about his friend’s state of affairs. “How will you have interview today? Every office in the city will be closed!”
Tej shifted uncomfortably. Sunny was doing no good in making him feel any better. He knew the probability, but he had to go, or else…
“Still I should go,” he replied. “Roshni was telling that this office is very strict and professional about work. They don’t like any hanky-panky business and work means work!” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Sunny raised his hand.
“Wo to thik hai. Thai’s fine, but today of all the days is definitely a ‘bandh’ unofficially. Don’t waste time by going!” he advised once again.
Seeing his friend in quiet and in two minds, he quickly added. “Accha dekh. Call them and find out if your interviewer is there or not. If he is, then go or else you are coming with me! Not every day our party wins yaar!”
“It’s your party, not mine!” Tej rectified him quickly. “Remember I was to work for BMP?”
Sunny laughed aloud at remembering.
“Oh yeah! How did I forget, you were all set to take up that typist job in their ‘Chaukhandi’ office! Thank god, they lost before your joined them or else you would have been typing your own resignation by now.”
Sunny once again laughed, while Tej gave a cheeky smile. Inside he was happy, yet sad at the prospect of losing a job nearby home. It could have fetched his family of mother and younger sister and elder paternal uncle with something at least.
“Anyway, go and call that office first!” Sunny loudly said, breaking Tej’s thoughts in between.
Tej turned to go inside, when he bumped into his paternal uncle.
“Payri pauna tayaji” Sunny said loudly, doing the gesture with his hands, while sitting still on his bike.
Dressed in white kurta and pyjama, looking every bit old and serene, the septuagenarian smiled between his white mustache and beard and raised his hand in blessings.
“Sunny, drop Tayaji to ‘Choukhandi gurudwara’,” Tej said helping the old man get down the stairs. “I’ll find out and let you know in sometime!”
Sunny, quick as a butterfly, revved his engine to life and quickly took out his sunglasses.
“Goggles now?” Tej asked him looking suspicious. He knew Sunny loved to wear them only when there was a prospect of a girl coming his way. He quickly looked up and down the narrow alley.
“So what!” Sunny retorted back. He eyed mischievously at Tej’s next door house, where a floral printed salwar kurta clad young girl, was putting clothes to dry, in her balcony.
“Mood hai bas!” Sunny replied as he winked at him, before whizzing past.
Tej shook his head and smiled as Tayaji went chanting ‘wahe guru’, while holding onto his dear life behind Sunny, who zoomed and wheeled around at every bend, dodging skillfully the bustling crowd, that looked vibrant with some unseen energy.
It was 10 a.m. and Tej was ready in his well ironed formal shirt, pant and tie, which he had recently bought at the prospect of joining the BMP office as a typist. His blazer, his father’s once, was a tad bit worn out, but he had managed to sew it back at the right places.
Ever since that opportunity to work as a typist had bombed, he had been waiting to wear his newly bought pant and shirt to some office, someday and was glad to be doing the honors that day.
“Are you actually going?” his mother asked looking perplexed.
Tej looked at his light mauve printed salwar kurta clad mother. Although, she was in her late forties, yet some of hairs had turned gray and she looked much older with those dark circles and wrinkled skin.
“Ha bebe!” Tej replied looking back once again in the mirror. His pagdi was taking more than usual time to set.
His mother looked at their wall clock that hung on a pale yellow cracked wall and back at her son.
“Don’t you think you are already late?” she asked with one hand on her waist. She had just pulled off making parathas for the family and was on her way to start preparing the lunch.
“They said to come late!” he said while tucking his pagdi with the pin.
“Late? Aaj hai interview?” she asked looking suspicious.
“Uff!” Tej replied looking irritated. “Why do you ask too many questions? There’s an oath taking ceremony, so people are bound to get delayed in traffic and so late!”
“It was better to have it cancelled then altogether,” she tried to reason out with her son, who had started dodging her questions as he gathered his file with his update resume and other certificates.
His mother sensed that he was getting worked up. After all, he had gone out of business for the past six months and the tension had just made him more panicky and edgy with time.
“I’ve to rush bebe. I don’t have time for your questions,” he quickly bent to touch her feet and rushed out.
He met his Tayaji on his way out, who was eagerly chatting on a ‘charpoy’ with some of his ‘mohalla’ people.
“Oye Tej, kithe chalaya?” an aged turbaned Sikh man asked him looking perplexed. Much before Tej could answer it, his paternal uncle had already started explaining.
“Oh, but won’t the office be closed today?” asked one of them after hearing his Tayaji talk about his impending interview.
Tej simply rolled his eyes and pulled out his scooter, which was kind of parked in a narrow alley, next to his house. That was the only luxurious parking that they could afford in this neighborhood as every other possible vacant space was well marked with everyone’s vehicles.
After a forced smile and some quick explanations about his interview and the location, he focused back at his scooter. Somehow, it was not starting up.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Pade pade jam ho gayi hogi,” jibed one of the older gentlemen and then immediately people started a brand new discussion on the ways old scooters troubled and the ways to handle them.
Oblivious to their banter, Tej kicked, jerked and tried every stunt to make it start, but the scooter didn’t even choke.
Flustered and angry, he kicked it one last time and started walking.
“Metro ki?” asked one of them.
Tej nodded and quickly walked past them, before another round of suggestions and opinions followed. He was near the bend, when he heard that the course of discussion had changed route and once again people spoke excitedly about the oath taking ceremony.
Tej ignored and walked away, forgetting everything as they became invisible.
The metro station was overcrowded and seemed to be bursting from everywhere.
“It’s too crowded in Rajiv Chowk, I’m not going to get down there. I’ll prefer to get down a few stops ahead and then maybe take an auto or rickshaw.” Tej heard as a few students spoke loudly.
Suddenly he felt a loud slap on his back. He whizzed back in anger, when he stared at a familiar smiling face.
It was his farfetched uncle, who had recently started his own ‘laundry’ business in Dwarka.
“Oi ki haal puttar?” he loudly jerked him again, careless about his well ironed shirt.
Tej flinched at the touch of that thunderous slap. More than the heat of the slap, he was irked about his shirt showing crease now. The crowd had done quite damage and here was his uncle, squashing him to near death.
“Just hold on this one second,” and saying that his uncle produced a huge baggage of neatly ironed clothes to him.
Tej had opened his mouth to speak, but he shut again. He knew there was no point in refusing.
“Thank god I met you,” his uncle continued to speak as he held another similar looking heavy baggage in his arms. “I was wondering how I would be taking these to Dwarka!”
“Dwarka!” Tej looked crestfallen. That was in the opposite direction to Noida, where his interview was scheduled. He had to reach there by 12 anyhow. Shifting the load uncomfortably, while tucking in his file below his right arm, he once again tried to reason out, but was too late.
His uncle had fished out two tickets.
“This was for my useless helper, who I don’t know where is, but anyway. With you around do I have to fret about anything?” He gave another thunderous appreciative slap on Tej’s back and urged him to move on to the entry checks at metro.
“Damn,” Tej cursed under his breath as he saw the time in his wrist watch. It was already 10.30 and by these standards he knew he would be too late.
All the while, the metro jigged and halted, he simply looked at the small dots on the station map inside the metro, to brain schedule and calculate time. He remained deaf to the chitchat that his uncle had picked up with a random person on the metro. His mind was too occupied with excuses that he would have to say for the delay.
By the time, he got down with his uncle on Dwarka Sector 21 metro, his face was already showing signs of whiplash.
“Chachaji, main jaon?” he questioned apprehensively. He knew it was not the end.
“What?” his uncle looked almost devastated. It was as if he was getting betrayed at the middle of a crisis.
“You won’t come till the shop?”
“Can’t you call someone to help you from the shop? I have an int….”
He was stopped.
“Koi nai beta main chala jaonga” his uncle tried to snatch the cloth bag from Tej’s clutches.
Tej sensed the brewing storm in his mood as his face was already a tinge of red. He knew his uncle for the temper tantrums he showed randomly and he wasn’t in any mood to allow that. What if it spelled another bad omen?
“Koi nai chacha, I’ll come!”
He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw a broad smile spreading in between the ears.
Another 15 minutes passed in lugging a rickshaw from metro and finally heading to his uncle’s shop and unloading the things. Luckily he managed to dodge his other cousins there, who wanted to hang around with him for a cup of ‘chai’!
Tej had very little idea as to how fast he was going. He was running, jumping, banging across people in an effort to get onto the earliest metro to Noida city centre metro. His office was somewhere there and he had to make it in 30 minutes, which he knew was not possible.
“Maybe I should call and inform them!” and he pulled out his mobile to call them, when a crowd shouting slogans of ‘Hazoorilal’s fame’ bumped into him and out fell his cell phone on the platform.
With the hurricane like stampede, Tej had no clue as to where his phone had landed and that was the last of his dear, thrice repaired cell phone.
Fighting a gnawing sense of hatred for the minister, whose oath taking ceremony was causing all the chaos, he ignored and rushed to get into the arriving metro. He fought back his tears over his loss, but was happy to have got a metro on time. At least, this was a direct line and he would not have to halt in between.
He emerged from the Noida city centre metro station after almost two hours, with a teeming crowd, which looked too overwhelmed with the oath taking ceremony that had happened in Ramlila maidan. While some people talked excitedly at the upcoming prospect of the minister’s authority as a CM, some discussed how their ‘common man’s lives was all about change.
Tej simply cursed underneath. For him all this was mere tomfoolery and he knew that the minister’s oath taking ceremony alone had caused a lot of problems in his regular life.
As he hopped towards the office, crossing the main road, and then the market behind, he passed through a men’s saloon, which showed his state of distress. His pagdi had shifted from axis and his shirt was crushed and did not bear any signs of ironing.
He sighed and walked along. He was wondering what he would say at the interview.
After spending another 15 minutes in asking for the directions, he managed to get into an old looking building, which smelled nothing like corporate. It looked like an old government building, with just new glass doors to some of the offices that lines on each floor.
The corridors reminded Tej of his own BMP party office, which bore the smells of paan spit, tobacco, somebody’s fart and above all an incense stick somewhere.
Fighting self-doubt and also cursing Roshni for creating a false image of a swank corporate office, he quickly climbed stairs and got onto the third floor.
A security watchman stopped him, asking him his purpose. He quickly fished out the paper, which was the recommendation letter of some relative of Roshni.
The watchman eyed him suspiciously, before picking up the telephone and confirming.
“You are late!” he mumbled before he held open the glass door to him.
Tej simply gulped in nervousness. He looked at the clock, which was already showing 2.30 p.m.
He sat on the sofa in the lounge, after producing his certificates at the reception when the receptionist called him back.
“Tejinder Singh!” a young girl of 21 called him politely, before giving back him his file.
“You will have to wait! The interviewers have gone out for lunch.”
Tej simply nodded in courtesy and went back to sit. He completely forgot about lunch.
His stomach growled as the clock on the wall showed 3 in sometime. However, he had very little money to spend on food. He consumed glasses of water and tea to satiate those hunger pangs, which were getting louder with every passing moment.
Finally it was 5, yet no sign of his interview call. He slowly got up, heavy with water and tea and approached the receptionist.
“Ji suniye!” he began cordially. “When will I be called?”
The girl looked flustered for being asked that question almost umpteenth time by Tej.
“I don’t know! Look Mister” she started with an irked tone. “They are stuck in some silly traffic jam in Delhi. The oath taking apparently blocked some regular roads and so they will be late.”
“Oath taking?” Tej asked exasperatedly. “You mean they went to witness the ceremony in Maidan?”
“Yeah what else? Our boss is a big supporter of the party and so he had to!” she quickly added unapologetically. “Can’t help it! You will have to wait or if you want to go, that’s fine!”
“Madam, aaj mera interview hai! Today I was scheduled for an interview at 11.30 a.m.” Tej explained looking in utter disbelief.
“I know, so please go and wait!” she snapped back, before returning back to her cell phone, which was buzzing wildly.
Tej knew that there was no hope.
“Bebe was right! I shouldn’t have come today! Nobody will come!”
He looked at the clock and decided to give in for one last hour.
“After all the office closed at 6, so maybe by that time I would get some information about my interview rescheduling”, Tej consoled himself.
By 6 most of the staff had started leaving. Even the receptionist got up from her desk, switching off her system and turning off the desk lights.
As she saw an approaching Tej, she quickly said ‘sorry, I don’t know when will they come’ and left at that! Tej simply watched her leave with her floral sling bag clanking loudly with knick knacks.
With just 2 people, working inside their cabins and the watchman outside, everyone had left the office. Tej was fidgeting wildly now.
When even an hour later, the two men left, with the watchman giving him a curious and questioning look, he felt as if he would burst!
“Jao bhai! Nobody will come now!” he spoke consolingly. “The office is now closed.”
Tej’s eyes filled with tears. He had wanted the job badly, especially after his last fallout from BMP party.
He suddenly remembered his paternal uncle’s face. “Aaj naukri mil jayegi puttar. You will get the job today!” his tayaji had spoken to him when he took blessings early morning.
He wiped his eyes with his shirt sleeve and gathered his papers.
“What will I say to him?” he thought in his mind as he walked with a heavy heart.
He climbed down the building and stood looking at the twinkling lights of the rushing cars, which whizzed past.
These people had jobs, cars and an office, but he did not have any thing.
Tej was lost in thoughts when suddenly a car honked from behind.
“Hey you! Are You blind?” somebody shouted. Tej looked at the disgruntled expression of the driver, who had screeched with a sudden brake jolting Tej from his thoughts.
Tej quickly apologized and crossed the road and stood on the pavement.
He was about to climb up the staircase to the metro station, when somebody called out.
He turned around to look at a man, in his mid-forties. He was accompanied by another man. They waved him a sheet of paper.
“It must have fallen from my file.” He said thanking the two, who handed it to him. It was the first page of his resume.
“Weren’t you supposed to come at 11.30 a.m. in the morning?” the middle aged man asked him.
Tej was slightly surprised about the stranger knowing the details.
No sooner had he voiced his doubt, that the man extended his hand.
Tejinder stood rooted. He was staring at his interviewer, who Roshni had spoken about. Kartar Singh was his interviewer for the day.
“My staff tried to call you. Why weren’t you there?”
Suddenly the idea of somebody having called him on his cell phone dawned upon him. He regretted not telling anybody in office about his missing phone or inquiring about any phone calls to him.
Feeling ashamed about his delay, he quickly filled in the details of his delay and his loss.
“Ok”, the man said after hearing him. “I can understand this oath taking ceremony has caused quite a chaos today.”
“But never mind sir!” said the other relatively younger looking man to Kartar Singh. “We are open tomorrow. He can come for the interview tomorrow.”
Tej’s spirits rose again.
Kartar Singh looked a little disturbed.
“No, that won’t be possible. I’m leaving for Chennai tomorrow.”
Tej’s face fell again.
“Can you come back to the office now? Let’s finish this interview and then you can leave. Will you be able to do that?”
Tejinder could not believe his ears. The idea of hearing him out finally was too good to be true and Tej was not letting this go.
“Yes sir!” he said immediately.
They walked back to the office.
The interview went fine and the two interviewers seemed happy with Tej’s record of handling his own ‘water purifier’ business for four wholesome years.
Tej was hired in the business development team, handling the sales division, for the office.
The day, in just a few moments turned out to be the happiest for Tejinder Singh. In a way, the oath taking ceremony did turn Tej’s day something of the happier sorts.
As he walked with a swing in his stride, he once again encountered another gay looking crowd at the Tilak Nagar Metro station.
“The oath taking ceremony was really captivating!” said one. “I really liked the song the new CM sung. He’s so energetic and driven!”
“Arre dekhna, now our time has come. With this ‘Common Party’ win, we shall soon be able to see our own days!” said another one somewhere behind.
As Tej passed, smiling at their conversation, he too felt a little light, a little elated.
He did not know about the common man, but his time had definitely come!