Author: curlybubble PM
A flenueristic approach to Bangalore city, India; from the eyes of a hand-to-mouth existence Insurance agent and a middle class girl, whose biggest worries lie in the auto fare back home and who will be elected as the next American President.Rated: Fiction T - English - Parody/Drama - Words: 4,571 - Published: 01-20-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3093631
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Hewaded through a sea of people, some carrying shopping bags, some drinking the last dregs of their fountain coke, all coming out of the theatre. His pulse quickened as hiseyes darted around to find 'The Jacket',a nickname he was commonly known by, when his practiced eyes caught sight of a dark blue suit. In it was a pudgy man with a hooked nose. His heart gave a leap of joy and then plummeted to the ground in disappointment.
On coming closer, he noticed thatthe man looked unhappy, even angry. He was with a woman of about forty, who had a boy of around six in her arms. The boy was gesturing to be put down and the man was cursing him loudly.
'Oh, well,' he thought, 'I better find someone else.' He turnedsharply around, not wanting to waste any time.
He collidedinto a swinging shopping bag, sending it flying a good metre across the floor, while spewing its contents in untidy patterns.
The owner gave a yelp of surprise, and knelt on the floor, muttering as she picked up the contents and placed them inside her Westside shopping bag. A pair of green kurtas heaped on top of each other, followed by some squaredly packed underwear, some other unidentifiable boxes and a couple of loose bracelets. He rushed over to help her, muttering apologies under his breath as he searched for stray items.
"That's all, I've got it all, Uncle," she said, with a smile. The first smile he had gotten all week. He opened his mouth to tell her so, but then closed it. Better not to appear too forward, she might call him a pervert and walk away. And loudly, at that. Who knew, she might even file a police complaint, though he was sure she didn't seem like that. Anyway, it was better for business not to be too familiar, people became suspicious.
Instead, he simply smiled back, his face basking in the sweet agony of the rarely performed facial exercise.
"I'm so sorry, I was just turning and…"
"It's okay, uncle," she said, "Clothes don't break."
Her eyes darted to the place on the floor and she thought with a twinge of embarrassment of her underwear that had just lain there a moment ago, the plastic around them highlighting the guilty shades she preferred to wear, and, perhaps even the size to the mall-full of eyes that cared to observe. He wished she would stop calling him uncle, he was not that old, was he?
There was a second of awkward silence, as the girl's eyes darted around, making sure she hadn't dropped anything, and forming the parting words that would finally terminate the uncomfortable meeting forever.
He took the second before she could.
"I'm selling Insurance, actually," he said in his most polite voice. His chest filled with pride at his astute resourcefulness, milking theserendipity for all it was worth.
"Oh…" she shifted her weight from one hip to another uncomfortably, her face reflecting her opinion of 'those bothersome Insurance salesman'.
A bit panicked, he adopted his voice to the tone he had been taught, and began to rattle off the jargon and phrases he didn't understand himself, but which he had Been recommended to use as they sounded 'classy'.
"Now, I know what you are thinking, madam," he said, soothingly. "I is also thinking in the an-alog-ous way. But today's current scenarios is much difficult for us peoples. Life is being threatened in diversed ways. We wants to be always bit careful…"
He rattled on. She stood there in polite indignation, her smile fell to a thin lipped parse, as conspiracy hypothesises fought to become theories in her mind.
"-like, to give one simple example-" he pointed at her shopping bag "It can have been you on the floor and then how do you know if you will be having any money to pay for treatment-"
"I live with my parents," she snapped, all politeness from the good breeding lost, "They will pay for my treatment-"
"But why to give parents extra trouble?" the pitch in his voice betrayed his frustration. He clearly thought he had got his metaphorical hook into the metaphorical fish.
She was just going to tell him that the money hewould charge for whatever Insurance was more trouble than anything it could actually solve, and give him an English lesson while she was at it, when a Security Guard approached them, and asked, "What is the problem? Is this man giving trouble?"
The two shifted guiltily, as if they had been having a private argument.
The Security Guard looked sternly at the had been drawing some stares ever since Westside had gone sailing, dropping its contents out like lurid advertisements.
The result was a microchausm of ciaos. But this was worse. Nothing spelt more trouble than two people arguing. "Bad for business," he could hear his boss yelling already.
The two moved apart, shooting manivolent glares at each other as they did. The Security Guard got his fair share of the venom, too.
He was left standing alone, wondering what had transpired between the two. The Insurance Salesman did have a split-second urge to approach him as a potential buyer (he could already imagine the lines and tactics he would use—words like 'life always at risk' and 'you never know with your job',) but he abandoned the plan, it wouldn't pay off in the end.
Things hadn'tbeen going well for him. They never had, but this week it was exceptionally bad. After losing his family business of selling woollens, he had earnestly looked for work for a year. None had come to him. And then, one day, on the Majestic bus stop, he had collided with someone just as he had today, except it was a pleasanter meeting than this one had been.
The man was holding a sheaf of papers, and he had helped him pick them up. It turned out they were papers from an Insurance company called Max New York Life Insurance.
'What a long name,' he had thought, while praising the man's rendition of the title name within a second.
He had struck up a conversation with him all the way home, and with the aid of two traffic jams and one auto accident, he had acquired the skills and knowledge of a brand new career.
An Insurance Salesman.
The mere sound of these three terms put together, and aboyish smile appeared on his face. It sounded assuring, respectable and most of all, like something rather than nothing.
He played out the conversations he would have with various relatives—Rukmani auntie in JP Nagar, Usha, his sister from Koramangla,; and let's not forget Naveen uncle in BDM Layout. He began to decide the bus routes that would get him from one relative to another in the shortest time.
Route 103A went from Majestic to Koramangla directly, but then he'd have to get two buses from Koramangla to JP Nagar and BDM, as there had been a bus strike recently in the City, and The blue KSRTC buses had become from cheerful, accessible buses to overzealously picky ones, who seemed to design their routes to ensure maximum inconvenience to all passengers, and to him in particular.
He kept reminding himself that he hadn't got the job yet, only a recommendation from one of its employees, but he couldn't help getting hopeful.
He arrived at the headquarters of the large building on MG Road the next day, dressed in his best suit. He waited outside, holding his breadth and enjoying the gusts of the cool Bangalore breeze that was received like a blessing, especially since it had been a hot day.
"Just step in and give my name," he heard the Insurance man say, an air of unmistakable arrogance swirling around his statement. He climbed the steps one by one, each appearing like huge, lopsided mountains of marble.
'Yes?' the guard guarding the building wanted to know.
Nervously, he cleared his throat. 'I'm looking for a job', he said, his voice plastic with confidence, but melting on the edges.
The Guard nodded, and stepped aside, opening the thick glass doors inwards. A sign on the door read 'Pull' in big, red capital letters.A gust of cold air hit the two on the face, and he went in.
The first impression was of iciness. The whole floor was made up of white marble, whose tiles shone like cut glass as points of light collided with points of white, the battle resulting in a brilliant volley of sparks.
The colour scheme—the walls, the tables, the desks—it was either pure snow white, transparent, or else reflective. His sweaty hands sought the cool metal counter with a quiet fretfulness
The receptionist was a small, middle-aged woman with an air of no-nonsenseness about her, as most receptionists of her age were expected to be. She looked up and uttered what he now considered the catch-word of the organisation,
It was a good word, he mused. It was positive, short and helped people understand what you wanted to say. Like this woman's 'yes' was another way of saying 'What the hell do you want, I was just about to doze when you came along, and now I can't sleep, and its all your fault, please tell me what you want and then go away and leave me in peace, i am only doing this because I get paid, not much, but I still have got a job, which is more than I can say for you, you lousy good-for-nothing unemployed bum. '
Her second 'yes' jerked him out of his deconstructivist analysis, which could have gone on forever. Spending years figuring out what one word meant, while standing on a slab of ice, putting your hands on a block of snow and analysing what an icy question could mean in this context, in this world, and to the universe in general seemed a valuable profession, if there was money to be made from it.
There was an occupation like that, but he would never know about it.
He gave the name of the Insurance man and afterchecking his curriculum vitae and recommendation letter with a range of sound effects, she looked up at him, her expression more neutral than cold this time.
"Come for interview day after tomorrow, at this address-" she said,pointing at the slip of lemon yellow paper; then conversationally, added in a seemingly casual voice "He's my son—" then she pointed at his recommendation letter, smiling, "that's why you will pukka get the job."
He took his documents back, along with the slip of sunshine, the magic paper that, though thin and insignificant looking, carried with it the promise of thicker, more valuable counterparts.
The 'day aftertomorrow' saw him in a dilapidated office on Airport road, which was as different from the one he had been in earlier as chalk was to cheese, or charcoal is to paneer, he mused, as the 'Indian' phrase goes.
The room was shabby, dusty and run down and the only source of ventilation was a rusty fan that whipped the air around it with three unmotivated blue hands. The closest thing to white there were the yellowing sheets of papers untidily heaped on to the table. Still, he was sure he liked the feeling of warmth and the sense of history the place carried with it.
He was told to wait in the anti-room, which consisted of a few plastic chairs and a low table. He settled himself on the chair and bent down to read the headlines flashing across the Bangalore Mirror. 'Kaifeena All Set to Tie the Knot' it read.
As he read more, it became clear that his deduction was true—Kaifeena was, or rather, were, Kaif+Kareena.
'These celebrities. Wonder what they thought about themselves? It might be good once, justonce to have my name in the papers... ' he thought. 'And now that i am employed also, I can have my occupation in there, too', he thought with sudden pride.
Now all that was left was to actually get this had waited for an hour before they called him in. He vaguely wondered about the reason for this, as no one had been waiting with him, and nobody came out as he went into the cramped, square cubical. Perhaps they wanted to pretend to be important, or perhaps this was a test, he thought glad to have been promoted from the status of 'alone and cold' to 'warm and accompanied'.He added 'bored' to 'nervous but determined' to the equation.
He needn't have. The interview took only five minutes; He handed in his id proof, the recommendation letter and the sliver of sunlight over.
After verifying that he was a legitimate citizen, and had resided in Bangalore all his life, he was given the job.
"There will be a new place soon, "the clerk told him, as he removed himself off a rusty foldable chair, "—then there will be marble and air conditioning and less of this," he gestured apologetically with his hands at the place around him.
'God, I hope not,' he thought, but didn't say, as he left the building.
He had refused the optional training class the clerk had offered to him as he wasn't sure they were free and didn't want to ask him. 'With that new office planned, I'm pretty sure it will be,' he later rationalised with himself whenever he had been unsuccessful.
The interviews were not over though; he would only truly feel the pleasure of trading unemployment with employment when he had informed Rukmani aunty, Usha and Naveen uncle. He wished his parents had been alive to witness this day.
That had been a month ago. A week ago. Determined to reward Max New Life Insurance's faith in him, he scoured the city for people who valued their life enough to pay for it.
'They weren't really paying for their lives,' he reasoned. 'They are paying for others who depend on them.' He felt grudgingly grateful to the person who had managed to tap this untapped market.
He remembered the bus from Airport Road to Koramangla, and Naveen uncle's smiling face when he had told him.
He had laughed and said, "Want Insurance, Uncle?" He had then proceeded to Usha and her husband's place. They had gone out to celebrate, and their son, Rahul, kept asking him questions about Insurance.
"Does it work if you are alive, but cant work?"he wanted to know. "And what about if you commited suicide?", "And what if.."
He was scolded and told to drink his fruit juice. "Your uncle has just got a job," said his mother, angrily, "Why talk about all this instead of something happy?"
He was still frowning, so she placed half a glass of beer in front of him. "You may drink this if you are silent throughout the meal," she said.
Rahul wanted to tell her that she couldn't buy his freedom, he was now twelve and could do whatever he wanted. Instead, he took the liquid and proceededto drink as much of it as he could in a deep gulp.
"So," asked his father, "tell us about your job."
The next morning, he had paid a visit to Rukmani auntie's house. 'If Aunt Rukmani was Rukmani 'auntie', then why wasn't Naveen uncle 'uncley'?' he mused as he told her the news and received her blessing.
He then set off on his new job.
A week later, he had managed to sign up only one person, earning a commission of barely Rs. 550. He had tried to stay positive, but it seemed like this job was more difficult than he had expected.
Peoplehad several problems with Life Insurance, it seemed: they either thought it was the first step to death or murder,or elsethought of it as something that would not be of any use to them, since they would be dead anyway, and also that they thought it was just another crook trying to make money off them.
So, when he went back to the warm, cramped office, he requested them to allow him to broaden his scope: include Health and Property Insurance. They had pointed to his one client and expressed their reservations, but given in in the
end. But it had made no difference. People still found excuses not to insure their lives, health or property.
"Have you got your own Insurance?" asked a defiant potential client one day . He was thrown back with the unexpected question. "i don't have anyone to live for," was all he could say in return. The client shook his head in disgust and walked away.
Anotherpotential asked him "Why are you selling stuff from a foreign company? Can't you sell some Bharati product?"again, he had no reply.
He began to divide people into two categories—one, the ignorers, who would cross the street when they so much as got a hint that he was going to approach them, and two, who tried their best to confuse, bully or simply question him. Another asked him,"if i take Life Insurance, does it count if i kill myself?" he vaguely remembered Rahul asking him that question, and made a mental note to ask the office.
Things had started to look desperate within two weeks . the cheerful, idle man was now drawn and irritable. He needed money, and his expenses were growing fast—the bus fares, for one, the food he had become used to eating on his dashes here and there, as well as the debt from his new credit card, a long- drawn out promise to himself when he had gotten his first job. He thought about his relatives. There were four potential clients in them—he was pretty sure Rahul wasn't eligible, and even if he was, Usha would not have let him be—but it was about time he gave them a call.
He pulled out his new mobile phone—another long-drawn out promise, and called Usha. Unnerved about his second visit within the month—usually, her brother spent a few months apart before meeting again; she remembered what her husband had said after he had left that day,"you'll see, he'll be back before the month is over, begging us to cover our selves—"
He grabbed her hand, and dramatically grabbing the biggest umbrella from the coat stand, had flourished it, opened it and covered both their heads,"—with Life Insurance," he finished with a bow and wave. Usha laughed. Rahul, running into the shade of the umbrella, said, "i want to be insured ! i want to be insured, too!"
Usha shook her head. There was no way he was eligible, and if he was, she would just tell him he wasn't.
"You are coming, again?" she asked him incredulously. She hated how she sounded, but she couldn't help feeling like he had let her down somehow, his reappearance had become a matter of debate—an unspoken wager between husband and wife, and she had lost,though this was still unknown to the enemy.
He pushed a lock of hair, damp with sweat back with its companions . "i just wanted to see Rahul, he gives me such challenging questions to answer." A nervous laugh escaped his lips.
She had agreed grudgingly. He had come over. The three were settled nervously on the drawing room sofa. No one ran about, yelling obscenities. No one shouted death threats from the kitchen interspersed with inquiries about tea and snacks. There were no friendly slaps on the back from the brother-in-law, asking him if he had signed up for another elusive matrimonial site.
. It was just three,silent faces, that looked at him—strangers, who had changed from the warm, cramped casuality of the Airport office to the cold, icy interiors of the main branch.
He pretended not to notice. They pretended as if they didn't notice that he didn't notice. Rahul, forgetting himself, smiled widely and said 'hello' before he forced his features into a plastic mask of indifference. Obviously, his mother had said something to him. He began his formulaic sales pitch, which was completed up to only a third of its original length when Ravi held up his hand.
"That's enough," he said, "i don't think Usha wants any Life Insurance, but I'll take your Life Insurance plan."
An odd feeling of gratitude mixed with despair spread across his heart as he completed the formalities, telling Ravi to pay them at the main office.
"All those ads and finally you manage to convince me," Ravi said, wrapping the compliment in a blanket ofdisguised friendliness—but he knew that like the Native Indians didn't—that that blanket contained a threat, which warned him never to darken their doorstep again.
He hadn't ever since.
The next weekend, He had visited Rukmani auntie's house. The old woman hadn't been a bit suspicious of this unscheduled appointment, she simply smiled and began to prepare tea for him. He waited before they were seated to make the pitch—the old woman staring at him with bewilderment.
She had declined it politely, saying, "You young people, always coming up with new ways to feel insecure. I don't want any Insurance—the only one I need is there—" she pointed at the fan, which didn't seem to notice, continuing its rhythmic conflict with the air around it.
His look of confusion quickly cleared. He was used to his potential clients pointing at the blue sky. 'Poor Insurance brokers must face divine monopoly,' he thought bitterly. Arguments usually fell flat as soon as they said they were under 'His' protection.
He had felt ashamed to visit her after that, even though she continuously asked him to drop in.
Before the time he had been forced to resort to the last card in the pack—Naveen uncle, he had started looking for another job. He had reasoned with himself, after talking with his few colleagues at the warm, cozy office, that Insurance selling was just one of the things they did.
His problem was, that he had never before needed money. He had never needed to work before he had lost his family's woollen business in the recession. Even after that, he had plenty of money left over from stocks and bonds. One by one, he was forced to sell them all, but alarm bells had only really gone off when he took a look at his credit card balance that year.
He was forced to sell his house and settle for a small PG in HSR Layout, with a scenic view of the city's sewage systemat his visual disposal whenever he deigned to open the had never had a visitor since.
Ticket collector was a job he then set his sights on. It had been a day since he had visited Naveen uncle. The man had shocked him with his honesty, though it was better than the reception he had gotten at Usha's place.
"What's wrong with you, man?" asked his uncle, making a half-hearted swipe towards his head. Clearly, there had been an affiliationbetween the threepoints of his existence.
Naveen uncle had point-blank reprimanded him for 'forcing' Ravi to buy Insurance, cornering 'poor' Rukmani auntie, and having the 'balls' to approach him.
So, this morning, he had stood outside the theatre, wondering whom he could speak with about getting a job there. And then he had seen the family man, who supposedly owned the business. His heart had sunk when he saw the look on his face. And then he had met the smiling girl, who had slipped out of his fingers, yelling and frowning. The menacing glare of the Security Guard assured him that he couldn't stay in the mall for even a second longer, and he would have to leave, and perhaps never come back.
With a vague plan to fill his shattered ego with a boost of rejuvenating coffee from the Cafe Coffee Day across the street, he crossed the street without looking. There was a gust of air before the vehicle hit him, and he heard the vague crunch of his rib cage. He was dead before the white angel with flashing lights and hallucinogenicscreaming came to rescue him. 'Will it count if you die of suicide?' Rahul's voice rung like an echo through his empty brain As he bled out of life on the pavement.
The customers in the cafe didn't even look up. They were discussing who would win the US Presidentship—would it be Obama, or Romney? The debate had gotten a bit heated. Only after they had paid the bill and walked outdid the tension in the air register—it was full of the sense that something had gone wrong while they had been inside.
She thought nothing about it as she took the auto home. It was only eight o'clock, though the driver, with hisrevised digital watch, was ready to argue that it was nine until the IST actually said so. So she paid him the nightly charges and skipped off to her apartment, worrying she might have caved in too with auto drivers, after all, was a good way to relieve all your undirected frustration. you couldn't do it , publicly at least, with anyone else.
The next morning, the Bangalore Mirror reflected the 'unfortunate incident' to all its readers:.
"Unemployed Man Dies in Ruthless Hit- and –Run Case," her mother read to her the next day, as she prepared to leave for college, readying herself for another tryst with the auto driver—she had come to know all of them as one person, evil and shrewd, who she must beat to get ahead in life.
She was wearing the bottle green kurta she had bought yesterday, its crisp new interior felt magnificently cool against her bare skin.
"Let me see," she grabbed The Mirror to examine the front page, and uttered a soft scream as her eyes caught sight of the 'Uncle' of yesterday.
"i know him," she exclaimed, scanning the details. 'Mohit Rao, aged31, was killed instantly after a Tempo Traveller ran him over at around 7:30 pm at the Forum signal on Tuesday.'
"I was at Coffee Day yesterday!" she cried, "So that was what all the commotion was about!"
"How do you know him?" her mother wanted to know.
"I met him at the mall yesterday, he sent all my shopping flying, undies and all. Then he started asking me if i wanted to buy Insurance. I said no, and we kind of got into a fight."
"But it says unemployed here."
"I know what it says, but I know he was an Insurance salesman, those dumb journalists have probably not bothered to find out," she snapped.
"Says the girl who doesn't even know who lives next door," quipped her mother, "I wonder, was he insured, himself?"