"Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are" - Kurt Cobain

2 August 2003
Oceania Bank - Corporate Banking Division, Flora Fountain, Fort, Bombay


Tanveer is through most of his first day at work. It is past seven, but he is unsure about when he can go home. He had walked in cheerfully this morning and spent the first couple of hours filling up forms for human resources. No sooner had he been assigned a desk, a short grim looking guy with a walrus moustache had walked up to him and told him, "I am Vinod and you will be working on my team. Remember not to wear dark shirts with cream coloured trousers next time. This is a Bank, not an advertising agency. Wear light shirts with dark trousers and shave properly every day." Tanveer had nodded along, hanging on to every word. He realised that it was important to get his appearance right.

"Now come with me, you need to sit today and read up manuals and policies we have on lending processes and criteria for lending. I want all of this to be read today. I will ask you questions tomorrow. Also don't think you can leave at six. You will stay and work for as long as you are expected to. That's the way we work," Vinod added.

Tanveer followed him to his cubicle and said, "Yes Vinod, sure Vinod," for every instruction that was given to him.

Vinod Agarwal, Tanveer's boss is an up and coming star at Oceania Bank where he manages a portfolio of over rupees fifty crores in credit and has generated handsome returns for the Bank. He is not intelligent or analytical as one perceives most bankers to be but he makes that up with his selling skills, suave personality and ability to get the work done by someone and get the credit for it.

Tanveer has spent the whole day reading elaborately drafted manuals and standard operating procedures for lending transactions. He almost fell asleep a couple of times but forced himself to stay awake by having a few more cups of coffee in the pantry. He also met a few other employees who had recently joined and managed to bond with a few of them. None of them had anything nice to say about Vinod and pitied Tanveer for being assigned to his team.

Vinod walks towards him while he is going through the last few pages of manual. "So, you're almost done huh? Alright now here are the financial statements of three companies. Tell me what is the maximum exposure the Bank could take in lending to them in light of their financial position? Get it done quickly. You have one hour," he says firmly.

Tanveer reads the financial statements carefully and marks out key facts and figures. He then uses the appropriate step by step processes in light of the information and making reasonable assumptions along the way and comes up with solutions. He takes his recommendation to Vinod in forty-five minutes. Vinod is dumbfounded seeing that Tanveer had managed to work through the documents and come up with solutions. "Alright, leave for today. For the next one month you will be doing stock checks in companies where we have lent against finished goods inventory. Prepare for a lot of travel and time under the sun," he says grudgingly.

"No problem Vinod, I might just need a day off at the end of the month as it is my sister's engagement. Please do oblige," Tanveer says meekly.

Vinod laughs at him and with a sadistic grin says, "Day off? It's your first day here man. I don't think you will be getting any leave, forget about it. Here people are happy if they can attend their own wedding. Anyway off you go, see you tomorrow. Also boss, spend less time socializing in the pantry; there is enough work to do. When you don't have anything tell me, I have a lot lined up."

"Yes, ok Vinod. Thanks and goodnight," Tanveer says submissively and goes to pack up.

He walks to the station feeling low and gets on the train thinking about how different life was back in college with friends. He has to go and look for a new place to stay close to work as Andheri is far from work.

Tanveer gets a call from his parents as he is walking towards the stairs of his building. "Our prayers have been answered with you getting the job you wanted. Can you please send us rupees twenty thousand when you get your first salary? We have to arrange for your sister's engagement. These things are your responsibility now," his mother says to him.

"Don't worry Ammi, I will send what you need, I do not need so much money anyway. Please make the arrangements from your side," Tanveer replies.

"Acha beta that's good. You also know that Zoya has to start college in a couple of months. You will only need to support her. We have done what we could for you, now it's your responsibility for your sister," his mother explains carefully.

A little irritated to be having such a conversation on this day he says, "Don't worry, I'm here, you don't have to keep reminding me. Let me at least get my first salary Ammi!" After a short conversation with his sisters he hangs up and takes the stairs up to his room with a heavy head.

He walks into his room at half past ten feeling completely exhausted. He gets into bed and wonders what his friends might be doing right now. He remembers the last time they met one week back, the day Sameer left for London.

*******
One week back...
24 July 2003
Sameer's home, Juhu, Bombay


Sameer wakes up on a bright and sunny day and drags his feet to the restroom to get ready for the pooja at home. He is to fly out to London later tonight. A number of relatives and family friends are to join them for the pooja and stay on for breakfast. He overhears a lot of hustle and bustle at home with Rajveer and his Mum packing a suitcase filled with thermal wear, a raincoat, necessary medicines, boxes of sweets and namkeen which Sameer's grandmother has sent him and a whole lot of other knick knacks which his mother feels her precious son cannot not do without.

Tania and her parents join them for the pooja as well. After completing the necessary rituals, blessings of his elders and exchanging a few pleasantries, Sameer sneaks away with Tania in tow on the pretext of packing. Rajveer's offer of joining in to help them is bluntly rejected by him with a wave of hand and a wry grin in the direction of his sibling.

Tania and Sameer spend an hour undisturbed, packing very little but using the precious time to hold each other and pack in some long passionate kisses. Sameer is intoxicated by the scent of her hair and mild perfume she is wearing and she kisses him with hungry passion and runs her fingers around his neck and the back of his head and he cannot get his hands off her. He wonders how he can bear to stay away from her. Tania cries a little and lies in his arms for a while.

Soon there is a knock on the door and they are joined by Mrs Ahuja who looks restless and agitated. She is upset with thoughts of her son leaving home and with the worry of having so much packing to complete. She chastens Sameer meekly about his habit of leaving things till the last minute. His Dad walks in with a pouch containing his passport, foreign exchange currency and other important University documents. With a sense of urgency he approaches Sameer, "Please put these in the knap sack you're carrying as hand baggage. Also please call your airline and check whether your flight is on time," he says.

Mr. Ahuja has sold a piece of land he owned in Noida to fund the tuition fees for his MBA. The land was bought twenty years ago with the intention of building a dream home and moving there. But after twenty-five years in Bombay, the Ahujas are too used to life in the Maximum City to want to settle down anywhere else. Even if they did want to move, Rajveer would never let them, as he is a true blue Bombay boy who also plays for the city's under twenty-one cricket team.

Rajveer comes in followed by Tanveer which draws away some attention from Sameer. Tanveer exchanges handshakes with the boys. Mrs. Ahuja gets upset with him for not having come for a Sunday lunch two weeks in a row. Tania giggles in the background watching him make excuses.

"Loser you didn't show up for dinner last night. Where were you man?" Sameer asks him.

"Sorry yaar, I got held up, the landlord whose place I stay at had to be rushed to the hospital. He slipped on a wet floor and hurt his hip. His wife was helpless and worried so I had to accompany them to the hospital," Tanveer says.

"It's ok, I hope he gets better. It's good you got here early. Packing will get done quickly now."

"Yes, lets finish quickly we can enjoy a family lunch then," Rajveer adds.

Tanveer lies to them about not making it for dinner last night. He had in the past made similar excuses to exclude himself from plans to go out with the group. The truth is that he could afford very little of these additional expenses and barely scrape through with what was sent to him as his monthly allowance. He also felt embarrassed with Vicky or Sameer covering for him very often.

Sameer remembers Rajveer's gift from last night, "Hey, thanks a lot chotu! It was very thoughtful of you. I really like the pullover and the pen, he says.

Tania pats Rajveer's back and adds, "You're a good kid chotu, look after your folks while Sameer is away, where's the CD? Let me put on some music we could listen and enjoy while we pack."

They turn on the music and Sameer and Tania take a break from packing and enjoy some alone time in Sameer's balcony. Rajveer and Tanveer carry on packing, while Rajveer animatedly explains to Tanveer his knock of sixty two runs which helped his team win a match against Baroda last week. Tanveer listens on eagerly. He loves cricket and had represented his school at tournaments. At one stage he wanted to become a cricketer but circumstances ensured otherwise. He has family responsibilities and couldn't risk his future on a career which had no guarantees.

He wishes his parents were like the Ahujas. Tanveer's thoughts are interrupted by Vicky who strolls into the room casually in an old t-shirt and a pair of khaki shorts.

He hands Sameer a nicely wrapped gift on behalf of Naina, Tanveer and himself and a nice little card which Naina has written for him. Sameer after a manly hug thanks him and rips open the wrapping paper. The gift is a dozen of his favourite graphic comics - V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Daredevil, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and a few Batman comic books. Some of these are from Vicky's collection, classic editions which Sam has borrowed from him few times. Their fondness for graphic novels and comic books is something they have always bonded over. Sameer cannot believe Vikram is giving him his much treasured collection.

Vikram explains nonchalantly while putting his arms around Tania, "Dude, I'm sure they would be put to better use by you being away from all of us. They could use a change of scene having spent many years in a box in my wardrobe. I'm sure you'll treasure them like I have over the years."

"I'm sure these classic editions are worth a lot of moollah," Tanveer adds appreciatively.

Vikram says mischievously lying back on Sam's bed, "Yes, I am sure, if had given them to you, I would expect to see them auctioned on easybay.com in a few hours. But don't worry tomorrow if you go somewhere I'll give you my Playboy collection, it will be of use to you." Tania looks at Tanveer and laughs a little which makes him uncomfortable.

Tania pulls out her gift for Sam and hands it to him. While he is unwrapping it she says, "Shut up Vicky you can't resist having a go at poor Tanveer! Did you book tickets for Love Actually for tomorrow evening? Tanveer is coming too."

"Yes, I sent Shyamlal to Adlabs to pick them up yesterday. It is at Adlabs, 7:30 pm show. Naina can't make it earlier than that she has a shoot tomorrow," Vikram responds with a yawn.

Tanveer continues packing and struggles to close a suitcase with Rajveer while Sam pulls out the Benetton sweatshirt, a pair of formal shoes and a framed picture of both of them taken a few months ago from the box. Sam overwhelmed with emotion draws her close and gives her a kiss, running his index finger down her cheek to her chin, "Thanks, I'll wear the shoes and the sweatshirt every possible day I can and our picture will be next to me always," he says.

Vicky who is bored with the mushiness around him lays his eyes on his favourite target Tanveer. "Do you want to do an ad for Axe? I could arrange an audition for you. Naina is doing this ad next week and they are still looking for the lead guy for the TV commercial," he says suppressing a grin trying to sound serious and business like.

Tanveer drops the pairs of socks he is beginning to pack and asks, "Sure I would love to, but why would they take me? Why don't you give it a shot? You're the stud."

"Nope, they are on the looking for ordinary looking chap who becomes a babe magnet after using Axe. I thought you would fit the bill perfectly," Vicky says trying to sound convincing.

"Well I don't mind giving it a shot. Please put in a word dude. How much do you think they'll pay?" Tanveer asks with hope of getting the part.

Tania interrupts with Sam and Vicky laughing in the background and exchanging a high five, "Shut up guys, Tanveer don't you get it? So many times these two have made an ass of you."

Tanveer like a child who is being scolded for not doing his homework, "Yes, Tani you're right, guys you're not going to pull a fast one on me this time," he says confidently.

Vicky tries to entice him, "Dude I am serious, you so fit the part. Think and tell me. Imagine seeing yourself on TV and on hoardings all over the city. You will be famous."

Tania with her finger pointed at Tanveer, "You focus on getting your bank job," she says and looking at Vicky adds, "Vicky ya, stop trying to get him into these scams!"

Bharat and Jitin walk in and exchange pleasantries with the rest. Bharat is Sameer's closest friend from school and has just returned after finishing his graduation at Boston University. Jitin, a theatre actor is another friend from school who lives in the building, his family and Sameer's having close ties and their father being business associates and close friends for years.

The group have animated discussions about school and college days, life after college, career aspirations, films and of course music. Bharat and Jatin bring Sameer a hardbound copy with illustrations of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull." Tania raves about the book having read it many times over. She is an avid reader or a bookworm as Vicky called her back in school.

Their conversation is interrupted by Sameer's mother calling them for lunch saying that the rest of them are already at the table waiting for them. She has made aloo parathas, chicken biryani and her special mango chutney. A scrumptious family lunch is enjoyed by all of them while jokes are traded. Tanveer, Sam and Tania are the target of all jokes instigated by Vicky and supported ably by Mr. Ahuja, a man known for his humorous anecdotes, impersonations and fun loving nature. The rest of them join the two mischief makers to take digs at the hapless couple. Sameer is the centre of attention and they also needle Tanveer about the women or lack of them in his life.

Bharat and Jitin excuse themselves after a couple of helpings of the mouth watering chocolate mousse. Bharat is to join Mr Ahuja's office as a management intern and is keen to learn the ropes from Anil uncle.

The boys start taking down Sam's four suitcases to Vicky's and Mr Ahuja's cars downstairs. He takes Tania's hand with his knap sack in the other and walks over to take a long look at his room remembering a glimpse of school days when his mother would cajole him to wake up each morning to go to school. He feels tears welling up in his eyes and walks in to his parents' room and gives them a long tight embrace. He lets his mother shed a few tears this time.

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