Aditi broke off a piece of chikki, “Come inside. I need to go over some corrections.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Rajani crossed her fingers. Maybe she could ask about her recruitment status?
“Sorry Ma’am,” Tanya too came in, “I meant to discuss the markings but…”
“She needs to be trained, Tanya,” Aditi said, “And the more you delay the less likely is she to follow the standard patterns.”
“I know Ma’am,” Tanya looked guilty, “I’m sorry. I meant to, but…”
Aditi nodded. “Never mind. I got this. You focus on sending the article to print.”
“Thanks Ma’am.” Tanya exited and Aditi focused her energies to bringing Rajani up to the mark. The list and instructions were exhaustive and Rajani began to appreciate the meticulous and thankless nature of her job. But was it her job?
Fortified with the hot and extra sweet tea that Parkash served with a smile, Rajani bravely ventured to ask the question that was of utmost concern to her. “Ma’am, what about my job?”
“What about it?” The eyes pinned her down.
She fluttered helplessly. “No Ma’am. Nothing Ma’am.” She stuttered. “Just wanted to know if I had the job. My husband…”
“Do you want to know or your husband wants to know?”
“He…I mean, both of us want to know…”
“I think Tanya explained the situation to you?”
“Yes Ma’am.” Rajani hesitated. “But…”
“The situation is unchanged. Take it or leave it. Nobody is indispensable.” Her gaze was cold and unfeeling.
Tears started in Rajani’s eyes. “No Ma’am please! I didn’t mean that…I just wanted to know…”
Aditi raised a hand. “All in good time. Take this as a learning experience. You have an eye for detail and you could grow in this field. But if you get another job, you are welcome to leave.” She pulled a stapled bunch of sheets and indicated that the talk was over.
Wringing her hands, Rajani stood up. “I’m sorry Ma’am…”
Aditi looked up. “Never reveal your desperation to another. You hand a weapon to the other when you betray your vulnerabilities and weaknesses with words or gestures.”
Chastised and a little stung, Rajani valiantly swallowed and attempted to hide behind humor. “This isn’t a war Ma’am,” she smiled tremulously.
The eyes once again impaled her. “Isn’t it?”
Rajani was saved the bother of responding to that by a hennaed man chomping on betel and pan.
“Madam, the accounts division is refusing to release dues for Chaddha and Sons. Now they are refusing to accept any of our orders until their previous dues are cleared. We’ll again miss the bulk posting date next week …”
Aditi raised a hand. “Point taken. The accounts probably have a valid reason…”
“No reason Madam! It’s all about power control and dominance. That Lalji is one egotistical #$%&* and…”
Aditi picked up the intercom. “Lalji please come.”
“Madam the entire accounts division behaves as if they run the office as the money is going from their pocket,” Giridhar’s was clearly itching for a fight. Rajani wondered whether to stay or leave. Thankfully Avantika came in just then to hand over an article to Aditi, seeing her chance, Rajani slipped out with her.
“Who’s that man?”
“That’s Giri, our production head. Basically he is in-charge of printing. So once everything has been finalized, writing, typesetting, proofreading, designing etc, it is handed over to Giri for printing and onward distribution.”
“Ahh.” Rajani nodded feeling enlightened. “Who else works here?”
“Well there’s a couple of sales guys who are the ‘star’ performers,” there was a faint sneer in Avantika’s tone, “they are the ones who bring in the bread butter and jam. We just live off their hard work.”
“Who says that? BBW?”
Avantika shook her head. She looked around to make sure no one was around. “The shopkeeper?”
Rajani’s brow wrinkled. “Shopkeeper?”
“Yeah. This,” she waved her hand around the office, “is nothing but a shop and the boss – lalaji.”
“I thought Noyonika Madam was the boss?”
“Of course, but that’s one paper and dependent on her whims and fancies.” Avantika’s lips curled. “If she isn’t in the ‘mood’ we don’t get our salaries on time and then SOS is sent out to Lalaji who then deigns to sign the check, if he has the time and business hasn’t been particularly bad.”
“Oh.” Rajani’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Stick around for a couple of months and you shall see for yourself.”
“Who else works in the office?”
“Well there’s accounts division who are supposed to manage expenses salary and stuff. But it appears that their sole purpose in the office is to raise objections.”
“Objections to what?”
“Any sort of spending. Like Nidhi says they are stooges of the big boss. They hate giving any money, even our salaries.”
“But how does it matter to them? They are also employees…”
Avantika shrugged. “It’s all about power I guess.”
They paused and looked towards the cabin as raised voices reverberated around them. “Whenever Giri and Lalji meet there’s bound to be a bust up.” Avantika grinned at Rajani. “Pity it is happening behind closed doors. Last time they snarled and growled right in the middle of the office floor. Firefighters had to be called in.”
“Really?” Rajani squeaked in horrified fascination.
“Really.” Swore Avantika. “Budhoo.” She clapped a hand to her mouth as almost instantly Rajani’s eyes sparkled with tears. “Oops sorry!” She tugged at her ears. “Sorry I shouldn’t have said…”
Rajani gave a brilliant smile even as her eyes sparkled with unshed tears. “I don’t mind. Actually it reminded me of happier and best of times.”
“Rajani,” Avantika said, her tone hesitant “is everything okay?”
Rajani nodded. “Why do you ask?”
Avantika shrugged. “Tanya and I were talking about you and Tanya said your eyes look terribly sad.”
This time the tears spilled over. She turned away and sat at her table pulling at manuscripts even as tears slid down her cheeks. She scrubbed at them furiously.
“Here, have some water,” Avantika stood besides her holding a glass of water. “Are you okay?”
Rajani drank some water and nodded without looking at her. “Thanks.”
Her phone pinged. Come and check out the final poster. It was Riteish. Please.
“I’ve to go.” She mumbled. “The poster.”
Avantika gave her shoulder a squeeze. “We’ll talk later.”
Rajani nodded brightly. “I’m okay. It’s just that…”
“It’s okay.” Avantika nodded understandingly, “Sometimes a kind word breaks us more easily than the harshest and unkindest of them.”
Do you want me to be jobless?
Rajani muttered. “I’ve got to go.”
“What?” She asked Riteish. He grinned engagingly at her, flashing his dimples. He had dimples! Rajani sat down.
“This has to go to print and you are busy chatting,” he said reprovingly but with a hint of mischief and dare in his eyes.
“Yeah so? Give it to print. Design is your department and I just joined, what did you do before that?”
He scratched his head. “I don’t know. Even I was wondering. It’s your fault.”
“You have shaken my confidence.” He said.
“Nonsense.” Rajani stared at the screen. “Aren’t you in a hurry now?”
“Oh yeah.” He fiddled around the screen. “There. How do you like it?” He said in self-congratulatory tones.
Rajani was taken aback. “This is your final output?”
“Yes. Nice isn’t it? Credit goes to you for your inputs.” He said generously.
“Nonsense!” Rajani’s chair scraped as she stood up. “Best if you ask Tanya. Or even BBW. Should I call her?” She offered solicitously.
His dimples peeped out. “Okay fine!” he surrendered. “This is the final one.” He opened another window.
Rajani shook her head at him as she sat down. “You’re too much.” She accused.
“That I am.” He shrugged smugly.
“Riteish!” Tanya called across the office hall. “Aren’t you done yet? Rajani please wrap it up quickly will you? He seems to have forgotten it has to go to print today. And it still has a ton of work to be done. Just check the color scheme and if any typos.”
“See I told you to hurry. But you so love dithering and chatting…” Riteish grumbled.
She didn’t even bother to turn to glare at him. “Correct the spelling of ‘cradle’ and that’s not ‘plays with his toys’ but ‘plays with his toes’.” This time she turned to him, her eyes narrowed, “It was toes in the original text.” It was a statement.
“Yeah but I thought it was a typo. I didn’t want to get you into trouble.” He laughed at her expression. “Oh please. Stick to your job okay?” Rajani huffed.
“Sorry. I told you I am not baby wise.” “Then don’t poke your nose in matters that isn’t in your domain.”
“Sorry. Should I do sit ups holding my ears?” He heaved himself up from his chair. “How many?”
“No!” Rajani hissed, “sit down.” Worried and afraid that he actually would she frantically pulled at the edge of his jacket.