Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Surviving Crusoe

Mine is the Arnoldian dilemma of the hapless individual caught between two worlds, one dead, the other, powerless to be born. Precisely. the world of my past is dead, cannot be re-lived. While the elusive future just refuses to blossom! And no, I’m not complaining. I am growing used to my self-ordained dictum, life will take it’s course, try as we might to alter it.

Living away from the cocoon of a doting family (and I am the pampered youngest of a family tree which could give Sooraj Barjatya a run for his money) for the last one year hasn’t been easy. Yes shopping for groceries and bargaining with the crafty greengrocer or the wily fishmonger is definitely not fun. Far from it. And then, staying alone also means managing my accounts with the measly stipend (I have papers to prove its not called a salary) that my company doles out religiously before the 1st of every month. There are rents and bills to be paid and then the wardrobe malfunction to be warded off. And all this when deadlines have to be met and extra hours put in. And I tell you, being a dutiful son of doting parents is no mean task. My phone bills will vouch for it.

And above all, staying so far away from one’s native place, one misses out on that universal juvenile addiction christened 'romance'. I mean the casual bit of flirting with colleagues is OK. But the one that stirs your soul, the one you want to culminate in walking down the aisle (yes lets face it all you long-distance lovers!) does suffer. For, there’s a sea of difference in merely saying ‘Darling, I want to hold your hands’ over the phone and actually holding her hands. Or saying ‘I love you’ over a Nokia 6080 and actually looking into her eyes when saying so.

And then the office. Well office means waking up early. For I do not have the leisure to just take my bath and dress. There’s the water to be filled, the laundry to be done and the swabbing and dusting. There’s no Maa holding out your morning cuppa to you as you whiz past her to college. Grow up lol. It’s your life. Get used to doing your things yourself. After all you have to don a parent’s mantle soon. Not anytime soon. I want to live life on my own terms for a bit. And yet I complain. There’s no urge to come back home after office. For unlike college, there’s no Maa waiting at home or girlfriend fuming at the cafĂ©.

A typical day starts at 7 a.m. and ends about 7 p.m. There’s the staff bus (with the grumpy driver and garrulous inmates) to catch at 8 a.m. (it won't stop for anything unless it has a flat tyre). By the time I gather my wits and am ready to face the world for the day, I have been through an epic journey and 3 queues (one to punch in the attendance, one to get the food coupon, and one to get food). And as I perch myself at my desk and try to look busy, I realize that there’s the odd leave form to be filled and the boss (who is straight out of 1984 squinting ‘Big Brother is watching you’ out of his body language) to say 'hello' to and the swarm of colleagues to mutter (to borrow from Yeats) ‘polite meaningless words’ to. And unless you build a citadel around yourself, you are as much liable to be a subject of office gossip as a part of it. I steer clear. I don’t know how long I will be able to. But maybe because I am still in the student bent of mind or because this is my first job that such things as office politics or gossip do not excite me.

I smugly slip into work and down gallons of tea and coffee and partake of the pleasures of an occasional trip to the smoking room. And then the monotony actually seeps in. And ‘seeps’ is a mild term. It actually overwhelms you, drenches you, shoes and all. I pray for lunch time and after that try not to feel sleepy. By the way, lunch means another two queues, one to get the coupon and another to get the food. Barring the odd Saturday film, the post-lunch sessions are painstakingly boring and dull. And then just when you thought you could wind up for the day, the drone of the intercom summons you back to reality, biting reality. Yes, there’s urgent work, the MD wants to see a presentation or some nerd wants a demonstration. I often wonder why these people never have the time earlier. Perhaps they are the last surviving sheriffs who want to show that serfdom is still hip and if they pay you, you cannot question them. Question them? Forget it, you are a mere executive and a TRAINEE. So what if you went to the best schools and have shining degrees, aren’t they paying you? Learn, my dear, the world spins on money. Money is power. Period.

Another queue (out punch this time) later, I have the security frantically huddling my torso. (Maybe I look like a thug or a tout out to sell away my company secrets). And then as I make the epic journey back home poring into English, August (not solely for pleasure but to wean myself away from the knowledge of what happened at office today which some colleague or the other is too eager to tell), I am reminded of the wayward joys of being a student. The gay abandon of being a teeny bopper is no longer and youth seems competing with time to fizzle out faster. ‘See, life did take its course’, I tell myself, and ‘you thought you would never stay away from home’. Dislocation, boredom, ennui, whatever I term it, it’s been a victory for life and I am another of Destiny’s many children (the mother hen, doesn’t she ever tire of having to fend for so many?).

It is at these times that I most remember that age-old story of Robinson Crusoe that we had read at English honours. And here I am the modern Crusoe making this effort at economic individualism, this effort at keeping my sanity and making this Herculean effort to remain the Debashish of yore. Crusoe reached home. I will too

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