Monday, July 26, 2010

THE ESSENCE OF OUTSOURCING - BPO KPO LPO - Call Center Story

BPO KPO LPO - My Call Center Story
 
The essence of outsourcing
 
By
 
VIKRAM KARVE

Short Fiction - One of my favourite fiction short stories, revisited...  


One leisurely morning, while I am loafing on Main Street, in Pune, I meet an old friend of mine.    
 
“Hi!” I say.    
 
“Hi,” he says, “where to?”    
 
“Aimless loitering,” I say, “And you?”  
 
“I’m going to work.”    
 
“Work? This early? I thought your shift starts in the evening, or late at night. You work at a call center don’t you?”   
 
“Not now. I quit. I’m on my own now.”    
 
“On your own? What do you do?”    
 
“LPO.”    
 
“LPO? What’s that?”   
 
“Life Process Outsourcing.”    
 
“Life Process Outsourcing? Never heard of it!”   
 
“You’ve heard of Business Process Outsourcing haven’t you?”   
 
“BPO? Outsourcing non-core business activities and functions?”  
 
“Precisely. LPO is similar to BPO. There it’s Business Processes that are outsourced, here it’s Life Processes.”    
 
“Life Processes? Outsourced?”   
 
“Why don’t you come along with me? I’ll show you.”  
 
Soon we are in his office. It looks like a mini call center.   
 
A young attractive girl welcomes us. “Meet Rita, my Manager,” my friend says, and introduces us.   
 
Rita looks distraught, and says to my friend, “I’m not feeling well. Must be viral fever.”  
 
“No problem. My friend here will stand in.”    
 
“What? I don’t have a clue about all this LPO thing...!” I protest.    
 
“There’s nothing like learning on the job! Rita will show you.”    
 
“It’s simple,” Rita says, in a hurry. “See the console. You just press the appropriate switch and route the call to the appropriate person or agency.”

And with these words Rita disappears. It’s the shortest induction training I have ever had in my life. 
   
 
And so I plunge into the world of Life Process Outsourcing; or LPO as they call it.   
 
It’s all very simple.

Everyone is busy. Working people don’t seem to have time these days, but they have lots of money; especially those double income couples, IT nerds, MBA hot shots, finance wizards; just about everybody running desperately in the modern rat race.

So what do they do? Simple. They 'outsource'...!

‘Non-core Life Activities’, for which you neither have the inclination or the time – you just outsource them; so you can maximize your work-time to rake in the money and make a fast climb up the ladder of success.


A ring, a flash on the console infront of me and I take my first LPO call. 
 
 
“My daughter’s puked in her school. They want someone to pick her up and take her home. I’m busy in a shoot and just can’t leave,” a creative ad agency type with a husky voice says.    
 
“Why don’t you tell your husband?” I suggest.  
 
“Are you crazy or something? I’m a single mother.”    
 
“Sorry ma’am. I didn’t know. My sympathies and condolences.”    
 
“Condolences? Who’s this? Is this LPO?”   
 
“Yes ma’am,” I say, press the button marked ‘children’ and transfer the call, hoping I have made the right choice. Maybe I should have pressed ‘doctor’.    
 
Nothing happens for the next few moments. I breathe a sigh of relief.    
 
A yuppie wants his grandmother to be taken to a movie. I press the ‘movies’ button. ‘Movies’ transfers the call back, “Hey, this is for movie tickets; try ‘escort services’. He wants the old hag escorted to the movies.”    
 
‘Escort Services’ are in high demand. These guys and girls, slogging in their offices minting money, want escort services for their kith and kin for various non-core family processes like shopping, movies, eating out, sight seeing, marriages, funerals, all types of functions; even going to art galleries, book fairs, exhibitions, zoos, museums or even a walk in the nearby garden.    
 
A father wants someone to read bedtime stories to his small son while he works late. A busy couple wants proxy stand-in ‘parents’ at the school PTA meeting. An investment banker rings up from Singapore...he wants his mother to be taken to pray, to do an elaborate pooja, in a temple at a certain time on a specific day.
 
Someone wants his kids to be taken for a swim, brunch, a play and browsing books and music.    
 
A sweet-voiced IT project manager wants someone to motivate and pep-talk her husband, who’s been recently sacked, and is cribbing away at home demoralized. He desperately needs someone to talk to, unburden himself, but the wife is busy – she neither has the time nor the inclination to take a few days off to boost the morale of her depressed husband when there are deadlines to be met at work and so much is at stake.   
 
The things they want outsourced range from the mundane to the bizarre; life processes that one earlier enjoyed and took pride in doing or did as one’s sacred duty are considered ‘non-core life activities’ now-a-days by these highfalutin people.    
 
At the end of the day I feel illuminated on this novel concept of Life Process Outsourcing, and I am about to leave, when suddenly a call comes in.    
 
“LPO?” a man asks softly.    
 
“Yes, this is LPO. May I help you?” I say.   
 
“I’m speaking from Frankfurt Airport. I really don’t know if I can ask this?” he says nervously.    
 
“Please go ahead and feel free to ask anything you desire, Sir. We do everything.”    
 
“Everything?”    
 
“Yes, Sir. Anything and everything...!” I say.    
 
“I don’t know how to say this. This is the first time I’m asking. You see, I am working 24/7 on an important project for the last few months. I’m globetrotting abroad and can’t make it there. Can you please arrange for someone suitable to take my wife out to the New Year’s Eve Dance...?”    
 
I am taken aback but quickly recover, “Yes, Sir.”    
 
“Please send someone really good, an excellent dancer, and make sure she enjoys and has a good time. She loves dancing and I just haven’t had the time.”    
 
“Of course, Sir.”    
 
“And I told you – I’ve been away abroad for quite some time now and I’ve got to stay out here till I complete the project.”    
 
“I know. Work takes top priority.”    
 
“My wife. She’s been lonely. She desperately needs some love. Do you have someone with a loving and caring nature who can give her some love? I just don’t have the time. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”    
 
I let the words sink in. This is one call I am not going to transfer. “Please give me the details, Sir,” I say softly into the mike.    
 
As I walk towards my destination with a spring in my step, I feel truly enlightened.  
 
Till this moment, I never knew that ‘love’ was a 'non-core' 'life-process' worthy of outsourcing.  

Long Live LPO...!

Life Process Outsourcing
...!

Love Process Outsourcing
...!

Call it what you like, but I'm sure you've got the essence of outsourcing.
 
 
VIKRAM KARVE 
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

THE SECRET - Fiction Short Story

THE SECRET
Fiction Short Story
By
VIKRAM KARVE
 
 
Every working day, sharp at 8 o’clock in the morning, a smart young girl of 24, a Software Engineer, leaves her chummery, a flat in Aundh which she shares with her colleagues, and walks down to Bremen Chowk to catch her company bus which takes her to her workplace in the IT Park at Hinjewadi in Pune.
 
This morning she does something different.
 
She leaves her flat at 8 o’clock, but instead to walking towards Bremen Chowk, she walks in the opposite direction towards Parihar Chowk and gets into a Volvo Bus going to Mumbai.
 
Half way towards Mumbai, while the bus crosses the Khandala Ghats, the smart young girl calls up her boss on her cell phone and tells him that she is unwell and could he please give her the day off to which her boss readily agrees.  
 
At 11:30 in the morning, she sits in a plush office, opposite her fiancĂ©, a smart young entrepreneur, who’s made it big, and who owns an ITES company with business all over the world. They have been engaged just a week ago.
 
“What a surprise…!” the man says, “you should have rung up. I would have taken the day off…”
 
“Sorry…but I decided to come at the last moment…”
 
“Anything urgent…?”
 
“Yes…I want to tell you something…I wanted to tell you when we met before our engagement itself but my mother told me not to tell you…”
 
“Your mother told you not to tell me…?”
 
“Yes…she thinks you may break the engagement… but I believe that there is no place for secrets between husband and wife…!”
 
“Secrets…?”
 
“Yes…I’ve told you everything about myself…but there is one thing I have not told you…”
 
“What…?”
 
“I was in love with someone…”
 
“Oh…a boyfriend…”
 
“It was more than that…”
 
“More than that…?”
 
“We eloped…ran away from home together…to get married…but they tracked us down the next morning…”
 
“When did this happen…?”
 
“Just after I completed my engineering…during my first job…three years ago…in Delhi…”
 
“Oh…?”
 
“Please don’t think anything…actually nothing happened…it was just infatuation…we ran away on a bike to Gurgaon…stayed for a night at a hotel…and next morning we were caught and taken back to our homes…believe me, nothing happened…nothing…absolutely nothing…I have not even seen the boy since…they sent him abroad…to the states…”
 
“And they sent you to Pune…?”
 
“Yes…they told me to apply for a transfer to Pune…where no one knows all this…”
 
“So your parents told you to hide all this from us…?”
 
“Mainly my mother…but I swear…nothing happened between us…it was just puppy love…I am still a …”
 
“Okay…okay…” the man interrupted, “I really appreciate your honesty…it is good you told me…but I already know all this…”
 
“You already know all this…?”
 
“Yes…we got a background check done…”

“Background check…?”
 
“Just a pre-matrimonial enquiry…”
 
“Pre-matrimonial enquiry…detectives…you put detectives after us…to check up on my past…?”
 
“Come on…it’s not that serious…just a small discreet verification…that’s all…”
 
“I am calling it off…!”
 
“What…”
 
“Our engagement… it’s off… cancelled… I am breaking off our engagement…here… take this… take back your engagement ring…” the girl says angrily and she takes off the diamond studded engagement ring from her finger and keeps it on the table.
 
“Don’t be crazy…!” the man shouts, getting up from his seat across the table.
 
The young woman also gets up from her seat, looks into the man’s eyes, and says firmly, “No…it’s final…I cannot marry a man who does not trust me…!”
 
And with these words, the young smart woman turns around, briskly walks out of the man’s office, takes the lift to the ground floor, leaves the building, takes a cab to the Volvo Bus Stand and catches the Volvo Bus back to Pune.
 
The moment she sits in the bus she deletes the man’s number from her cell phone, switches off her mobile phone and puts it in her purse, and enjoys the journey back to Pune admiring the picturesque refreshing green scenery from the window as it begins to rain.
 
 
VIKRAM KARVE       
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
 
VIKRAM KARVE educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU and The Lawrence School Lovedale, is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, a Human Resource Manager and Trainer by occupation, a Teacher by vocation, a Creative Writer by inclination and a Foodie by passion. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. His delicious foodie blogs have been compiled in a book "Appetite for a Stroll". Vikram lives in Pune with his family and pet Doberman girl Sherry, with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
Vikram Karve Creative Writing Blog - http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com
Academic Journal Vikram Karve – http://karvediat.blogspot.com
Professional Profile of Vikram Karve - http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve 
Email: vikramkarve@sify.com

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rendezvous at Sunrise

"Do you remember the first fiction short story you wrote...?" a young friend, and a fan of my writing, asked me this evening.


"Of course I remember," I said, "it was a short story called RENDEZVOUS AT SUNRISE."

"I am sure it was about your first crush...your first romance," she said.

"Yes," I said, "How did you guess...?"  

"I want to read it," she said, "why don't you post it on your blog."

"I have already..." I said.

"Why don't you posi it once more..." she said.

So here is my first creative baby – a fiction short story written by me more than twenty years ago. It is a simple love story. I am sure you will love reading it, even if you have read it earlier in my blog.


RENDEZVOUS AT SUNRISE   
By  

VIKRAM KARVE 



Sunrise, on the eastern coast, is a special event.

I stood at Dolphin’s Nose, a spur jutting out in to the
Bay of Bengal, to behold the breaking of the sun’s upper limb over the horizon of the sea.

As the eastern sky started unfolding like crimson petals of a gigantic flower, I was overcome by a wave of romance and nostalgia – vivid memories, not diminished by the fact that almost ten years had passed.
  
I was a young bachelor then, and Vizag (Visakhapatnam) did not have much to offer.

Every Sunday morning, I used to rise before dawn and head for Dolphin’s Nose to enjoy the resplendent spectacle of sun majestically rising out of the sea.

The fresh salty sea breeze was a panacea for all the effects of the hangover caused by Saturday night excesses.
  
After the viewing the metamorphosis at sunrise, I used to walk downhill along the steep mountain-path towards the rocky beach for a brief swim.

I used to notice a flurry of activity at a distance, in the compound of a decrepit building, which I used to ignore, but curious, one day I decided to have a closer look.
  
It was a fish market.

Most of the customers were housewives from the nearby residential complexes who were in their “Sunday-worst” – sans make-up, slovenly dressed, face unwashed and unkempt hair – what a contrast from their carefully decked-up appearances at the club the previous evening.
  
I began to walk away, quite dejected, when I first saw her.

I stopped in my tracks.

She was a real beauty – tall, fair and freshly bathed, her long lustrous hair dancing on her shoulders.

She had large expressive brown eyes and her sharp features were accentuated by the rays of the morning Sun.

I cannot begin to describe the sensation she evoked in me but it was the first time in my life that I felt my heart ache with intense yearning.

I knew this was love.
  
But I knew in my heart that I stood no chance – she had a mangalsutra around her neck.

She was married – maybe happily too.

Nevertheless I went close to her and made her pretense of buying some fish.

Smiling cannily at me she selected a couple of pomfrets and held them out to me.

I managed to briefly touch her soft hands – the feeling was electric and a shiver of thrill passed through me.

She communicated an unspoken good-bye with her teasing dancing eyes and briskly walked away.

I was too delightfully dazed to follow her.

I returned to my room and had fried pomfret for breakfast. Needless to say they were delicious.
   
I religiously followed this routine every Sunday morning.

She never missed her rendezvous with me – same place, same time, at precisely Seven o’clock in the morning.

But not a word was exchanged between us.

I was too shy and she probably wanted to keep it this way – a beautiful ethereal relationship – a love so delicate that one wrong move might destroy everything.
   
Meanwhile, I have developed a taste for fried pomfret – quite creditable, considering that I had never eaten fish before.
   
I left Vizag and traveled around the world, met so many beautiful girls in the numerous exotic places I visited, but I never forgot her.

A man’s first love always has an enduring place in his heart.
   
And now I was back in Vizag almost ten years later.

As I walked down the slope towards the beach, in my mind’s eye I could still vividly visualize the playfully sublime look on her face - her gentle smile and communicative eyes – although ten years had passed.

I could not contain the mounting excitement and anticipation in me. I was desperately yearning to see her again. It was a forlorn hope but I was flushed with optimism.
   
As I reached the beach I noticed that the Sun was well clear of the horizon.

I glanced at my watch. It was almost Seven O’clock.

I hastened my step – almost broke in to a run – and reached the fish market and stood exactly at the same spot where we used to have our rendezvous at sunrise.
  
With tremors of anticipation, almost trepidation, I looked around with searching eyes.

Nothing had changed. The scene was exactly the same as I had left it ten years ago.

Only one thing was missing - she wasn’t there.

I had drawn a blank.

I was crestfallen.

My mind went blank and I was standing vacuously when suddenly I felt that familiar electrifying touch, the same shiver of thrill.

It shook me to reality, as quick as lighting.

She softly put two promfret fish in my hands.

I was in seventh heaven.
   
I looked at her.

I was not disappointed.

Her beauty had enhanced with age.

But something had changed.

Yes, it was in her eyes.

Her large brown eyes did not teasingly dance anymore.

There was a trace of sadness, a tender poignancy in her liquid brown eyes as she bid me an unspoken goodbye.

I was so dumbstruck by the suddenness of the event, and the enormity of the moment, that I stood frozen, like a statue, unable to react or to say anything.
   
It was only as she was leaving that I noticed that there was no mangalsutra around her slender neck.


VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.






  

MY FIRST CRUSH

MY FIRST CRUSH

Friday, July 16, 2010

DIVORCE


A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A DIVORCED MAN

Short Fiction

A Long Short Story in Seven Parts
 
By
 
VIKRAM KARVE


I am sure you have heard the term “win-win” situation.
But have you heard of “lose-lose” situation.
Here is one of my fiction short stories which depicts a lose-lose situation – or does it?
It is a story with a message.
Dear Reader, do tell me your views, can such lose-lose situations be avoided?
Read on. It is a longish story, so if you want, you can read it in parts too.

 
 
PART 1 - DAYBREAK
 
 
“I’m going,” the man says.
 
“Don’t go. Please don’t go,” the woman says.
 
“Don’t go? What do you mean don’t go? You know I have to go.”
 
“You don’t have to go. You know you don’t have to go. Please. Please. Please don’t go. I beg you. Please don’t go!”
 
“Come on, Hema, be reasonable, and try to understand. You know I have to go. I promised him I would be there for his school’s Annual Day…”
 
“No, Ashok, No. You don’t go. His mother can go. He is staying with her, isn’t it? Let her look after him…”
 
“And I am his father!” the man says firmly, “I promised Varun I’ll be there and I have to be there!”
 
“You don’t love me! You still love them!”
 
“You know how much I love you, Hema,” the man says taking the woman in his arms, “But I love my son too. I have to go. Please don’t make it difficult for me…”
 
Tears begin to well up in the man’s eyes. The woman snuggles her face against his neck and grips him tightly.
 
“I’m scared,” she sobs.
 
“Scared? Why?”
 
“I don’t know. It’s the first time you are going to her after you two split…”
 
“Please, Hema. I am not going to her. I’m going to meet my son, for his school’s annual day, because Varun rang me up and made me promise that I would be there to see his performance on stage. I’ll meet Varun, attend the PTA meeting, I’ll talk to his teacher, see the concert and come straight back to you. I won’t even talk to Pooja, I promise,” the man called Ashok says to the woman nestling in his arms, “Don’t worry, Hema. You know it’s all over between Pooja and me, isn’t it? Maybe she won’t even come to the PTA meeting if she knows I’m coming, and even if she’s there I’m sure she too will avoid me as far as possible.”
 
The woman takes his hand, gently places it on her stomach, and whispers in the man’s ears, “Soon we will have our own son.”
 
“Yes,” the man says lovingly, caressing her stomach tenderly with his soft hand, “a son, and a daughter, whatever you want.”
 
They disentangle, then he holds her once more, pushes his face into her warm mouth, kisses her lovingly, and says, “Don’t worry, I’m all yours, and I promise I’ll be right back as fast as possible.”
 
A few moments later, the man sits in his car, wipes his face fresh with a cologne-scented tissue, starts the car, and drives off.
 
 
 
 
PART 2 – MORNING
 
 
 
“My Daddy has come, my Daddy has come,” a boy shouts gleefully to his friends and rushes towards his father as he enters the school gate.
 
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” the boy says delightedly and jumps into his father’s arms.
 
“Hey, Varun, you look so good in your school uniform,” the man says picking up and lovingly kissing his son on the cheek. Seeing his son’s genuine happiness and rapturous delight, the man feels glad that he has come. He warmly hugs his son and then gently sets him down.
 
“Come fast, Daddy,” the boy tugs at his father’s sleeve, “everyone is sitting in the class.”
 
“Mummy’s come?” the man asks cautiously.
 
“Yes, Yes, Daddy,” the boy says gleefully, “She’s sitting in the class, waiting for you.”
 
They, father and son, walk to the classroom, and at the door the man pauses, looks around, sees the mother of his son sitting alone on a bench on the other side of the classroom, so he begins to sit at the bench nearest to the door.
 
“No, No, Daddy, not here. Mummies and Daddies have to sit together,” the boy says doggedly, and pulls the man towards the woman, who is the boy’s mother.
 
As he walks towards her, the man looks at the woman, on paper still his wife. As he approaches, she looks up at him and gives him a smile of forced geniality. 
 
The boy rushes to his mother and exclaims exultantly, “See Mummy, Daddy has come; I told you he will come!”
 
The man and the woman contrive courteous smiles and exchange a few amiable words for the sake of their son, and for public show. It’s the first time the man, the woman, and their son are together as a family since they split a few months ago.
 
“Come on Mummy, make place for Daddy,” the boy says prodding his mother, and nudging his father onto the bench, and squeezing himself in between. The school double-bench is small, meant for two children, and for the three of them it’s a tight fit. His wife stares ahead, as he looks askance at her, over the head of their son, their common blood, who has connected them forever, whether they like it or not.
 
The man looks around the classroom. Happiest are the children whose both parents have come. Then there are those kids whose only one parent, mostly the mother, has come. And sitting lonely and forlorn, in the last row, are those unfortunate children for whom no one has come, no mother, no father, no one. It’s a pity, really sad. Parents matter a lot especially in boarding school, and the man feels sorry for the lonesome unlucky children.
 
The Class-Teacher, an elegant woman, probably in her thirties, briskly walks in, and instinctively everyone rises.
 
“Please be seated,” she says, and seats herself on the chair behind a table on the podium facing the class. The Class-Teacher explains the procedure for the PTA meeting – she’ll call out, one by one, in order of merit, the students’ names, who’ll collect their first term report card, show it to their parents, and then run off to the concert hall, while the parents discuss their child’s progress with the teacher, one by one.
 
“Varun Vaidya!” the teacher calls out the first name, and Varun squeezes out between his father’s legs and runs towards the teacher, the man is overwhelmed with pride as he realizes that his son has stood first in his class.
 
He swells with affection when Varun, his son, gleefully gives the report card to him, and as he opens it, he can sense the sensuous proximity of his wife’s body and smell the enchanting fragrance of her fruity perfume, as she unwittingly comes close to eagerly look at the report card, and he quivers with the spark of intimacy and feels the beginnings of the familiar stirrings within him.
 
 
 
PART 3 - AFTERNOON
 
 
 
Ashok realizes that their physical proximity, the intimacy, the touch of skin, has rekindled amorous memories and roused dormant desires in Pooja too, for she suddenly draws away from him and blushes in embarrassment. He wonders how people can suddenly cease to love a person they have once passionately loved so much and still desire.
 
“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Vaidya,” the teacher’s mellifluous voice jerks him from his reverie. He looks up at the charming young lady who has walked up to their desk and is lovingly ruffling Varun’s hair.
 
“Good Morning, Ma’am,” he says.
 
“Call me Nalini,” she says with a lovely smile, “Varun is really intelligent.”
 
“Like my Daddy– do you know he’s from IIT?”  The boy proudly tells his teacher.
 
“And your Mummy?” the teacher playfully asks the boy.
 
“She is also a genius. But only in computers – she is an IT pro, you know. But my daddy is real good, he knows everything,” the boy says, and the teacher laughs, turns to Varun and says, “You go run along to the hall and get ready for the concert.”
 
“I’m Muriel. Muriel the goat!” says Varun animatedly, and runs away.
 
“We are enacting a skit from George Orwell’s Animal Farm,” Varun’s teacher says, “You are very fortunate Mr. and Mrs. Vaidya. Varun is a very gifted child. He comes first in class and is so talented in extracurricular activities and good in sports too. You must be really proud of him.”
 
“Oh yes, we are really proud of him,” the man says, and notices that the attractive teacher looks into his eyes for that moment longer than polite courtesy. He averts his eyes towards his wife and her disdainful expression tells him that his wife has observed this too.
 
He feels his cell-phone silently vibrating in his pocket, excuses himself, and goes out of the classroom into the corridor outside.
 
“Yes, Hema,” he says softly into his mobile.
 
“Is it over?”
 
“We’ve got the report card. There’s a concert now.”
 
“Concert? The PTA is over, isn’t it? You come back now. There is no need to go to the concert.”
 
“Please, Hema. I have to go to the school concert. Varun is acting – playing an important part – I promised him I would be there to cheer him.”
 
“Promised him? What about the promise you made to me – that you would be back as soon as possible and then we’d go to the disc.”
 
“Of course we’re going out this evening. I’ll start straight after the concert and be with you in the afternoon, latest by four, for tea.”
 
“I’ll get your favourite pineapple pastries and patties from Gaylord.”
 
“You do that. And spend some time on Fashion Street and browsing books…” the man sees his wife come out of the classroom and walk towards him, so he hurriedly says, “Bye Hema, I’ve got to go now.”
 
“You be here by four, promise…”
 
“Of course, darling. I Promise,” he says and disconnects.
 
“The bank manager…” he tries to explain the call to his wife, but she isn’t interested and says, “The Headmaster wants to meet us.”
 
“Headmaster? Meet us? Why?”
 
“How should I know?” his wife Pooja says coldly.
 
Soon they are sitting in the regal office front of the distinguished looking Headmaster who welcomes them, “Your son has settled down very well in his first term, Mr. and Mrs. Vaidya. In fact, Varun is our youngest boarder in the hostel. He’s brilliant in academics, proficient in all activities, sports, outdoors – a good all-rounder. ”
 
They nod, and the father’s chest swells with pride.
 
“Pardon me for being personal,” the Headmaster says, “I was wondering why you have sent such a young boy to boarding school? Especially when you live nearby in the same city.”
 
“I have shifted to Mumbai now.” Ashok says.
 
“Oh, I see. And you too, ma’am?”
 
“No,” Pooja answers, “I still live in Pune.”
 
“Aundh, isn’t it? The same address you’ve given us in the admission form?” the Headmaster says glancing at a paper in front of him.
 
“Yes. I stay in Aundh.”
 
“We’ve got a school bus coming from Aundh. If you want your son can be a day-scholar…”
 
“Thank you, Sir, but I have kept him in boarding as I work night shifts.”
 
“Night Shifts?”

“I work in ITES?”
 
“ITES?”
 
“Information Technology Enabled Services.”
 
“She works in a call centre,” Ashok interjects.
 
“I’m in a senior position in a BPO,” she retorts haughtily.
 
“Oh! That’s good,” the Headmaster says, and looks at both of them as if signalling the end of the interview.
 
“Sir…” Ashok hesitates.
 
“Yes? Please feel free Mr. Vaidya,” the Headmaster says.
 
“Sir, I thought I must tell you, we are separated.”
 
“Divorced?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“How much does the boy know?” the Headmaster asks Pooja.
 
“He knows. We try to be honest with him. We’ve just told him that since his father is in Mumbai and since I’ve to work night shifts, boarding school is the best for him,” Pooja says.
 
The Headmaster ponders and then says, “It may seem presumptuous of me to give you unsolicited advice, Mr. and Mrs. Vaidya, but why don’t you try and patch up? At least for your boy’s sake, he’s so young and loving. At such a tender age children must continue to feel they are a part of a family. They need to feel loved, to belong and to be valued. I know how much your son loves you both. He’s so proud of his parents.”
 
“We’ll try,” Ashok says, and looks at his wife.

Patch up and come back together – for Varun’s sake – he knows it is out of the question. Their relationship had become so suffocating, so demoralized by distrust, that it was better severed than patched up. And now, in his life, there is Hema …”
 
“We’ll try and work it out,” he hears his wife’s voice.
 
“I am sure you will – for your son’s sake. Thank you for coming, Mr. and Mrs. Vaidya. I’m sure you’ll love to see your son’s acting skills in the concert,” the Headmaster says and rises, indicating that the interview is over.
 
Later, sitting in the auditorium, they watch their son enact the role of Muriel, the know-it-all Goat, in a scene adapted from Animal Farm, and Ashok’s heart swells with pride as he watches his son smartly enunciate the seven commandments with perfect diction.
 
After the concert, they stand outside, waiting for Varun, to take off his make-up and costume and join them. Ashok looks at his watch. It’s almost one, and he wonders whether he should stay for the parents’ lunch, or leave for Mumbai to make it on time by four after the three hour drive.
 
“You look as if you’re in a hurry,” his wife says.
 
“I’ve an appointment at four. He called up in the morning, remember, the bank manager…” he lies.
 
“Where?”
 
“Nariman Point.”
 
“Then why don’t you go now? You’ll barely make it.”
 
“I’m waiting for Varun.”
 
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll tell him.”
 
He tries to control the anger rising within him and says firmly, “Listen, Pooja. Don’t try to eradicate me from your lives, at least from my son’s life.”
 
“I wish I could! Please Ashok, leave us alone. I didn’t ask you to come all the way from Mumbai today – I would have handled the PTA alone.”
 
“Varun rang me up. Made me promise I’d be here. I’m glad I came. He’s so happy, especially so delighted that I came to see him in the concert.”
 
“I’ll tell him not to disturb you in future.”
 
“No you don’t,” Ashok said firmly, “Varun is my son as much as yours.”
 
They stand in silence, a grotesque silence, and then he says, “I didn’t come only for Varun. I came to see you too!”
 
“See me?” the woman’s face is filled with ridicule, contempt and astonishment at the same time.
 
Suddenly they see Varun prancing in delight towards them and they put on smiles on their faces.
 
“You liked the concert?” he asks breathless.
 
“I loved your part. You were too good – isn’t it Mummy?” the man says.
 
“Yes. Varun is the best,” the woman says bending down and kissing her son on the cheek. Then she says, “Varun, Daddy has to go now. He has important work in Mumbai.”
 
“No,” protests Varun, and looks at his father and says, “No! No! No! First, we’ll all have lunch. And then the school fete.”
 
“School Fete?” they say in unison, and then the man says, “You didn’t tell me!”
 
“Surprise! Surprise! But Mummy, Daddy, we all have to go to the fete and enjoy.”
 
So they have lunch and go to the sports ground for the school fete – merry-go-round, roller-coaster, hoopla, games of skill and eats – they enjoy themselves thoroughly. Tine flies. To the outside observer they seem to be the happiest family.
 
On the Giant Wheel Ashok and Pooja instinctively sit on different seats. Suddenly Ashok notices that his son looks hesitant, wary, confused, undecided as to which parent he should go to, sensing that he couldn’t choose one without displeasing the other. So Ashok quickly gets up and sits next to Pooja, and a visibly delighted Varun runs and jumps in between them.
 
As he gets off the giant wheel, Ashok notices his mobile ringing. He detaches himself from his son, looks at the caller id and speaks, “Yes. Hema.”
 
“What ‘Yes Hema’. Why aren’t you picking up the phone? Where are you? Have you crossed Chembur? I’ve been calling for the last five minutes – just see the missed calls.”
 
“I was on the Giant Wheel.”
 
“Giant Wheel?”
 
“We are at the school fete.”
 
“School Fete? You are still in Pune? You told me you’d be here by four!”
 
“I couldn’t help it. Varun was adamant. He didn’t let me go.”
 
“She’s there with you?”
 
“Who?”
 
She! Stupid. She! Your ex-wife. Is she there with you?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“You simpleton, can’t you see? She’s trying to get you back through your son!” Hema pauses, takes a breath, and pleads, “Ashok, you do one thing, just say good-bye to them and come back straight to me. Please. Please. Please. Don’t be with her. Please. Please…”
 
“Okay,” the man says and cuts off the cell-phone. Then he switches off his mobile.
 
“Daddy, Daddy, who was that?” the boy asks.
 
“Someone from the office,” the man says. He thinks for a moment, looks at his son, bends down and says, “Listen, Varun. I’ve got to get back to the office fast. Mummy will stay with you – be a good boy.”
 
“No, No, No! It’s only three o’clock . We can stay out till eight…” The boy sees his housemaster nearby and runs to him, “Sir, Sir, My Daddy has come all the way from Mumbai. Please can he take me out for dinner?”
 
“Of course you can go, Varun,” the kindly housemaster says to the boy, then looks at Ashok and says, “It’s the first time you’ve come, isn’t it? Okay, we’ll give Varun a night-out. Why don’t you take him home and drop him back tomorrow evening by six? Tomorrow is declared a holiday anyway!”
 
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” shouts an ecstatic Varun is delirious delight, “Let’s go to the dormitory, collect my stuff, and go out. I want to see a Movie, and then we’ll all go home.”




PART 4 – EVENING


 
So they, father, mother, and son, see a movie at the multiplex, then have a good time strolling and snacking on Main Street, and by the time they reach their home in Aundh it’s already seven in the evening.
 
Ashok stops his car below his erstwhile home in Aundh, where Pooja lives all by herself now.
 
“Okay, Varun, come give me a kiss and be a good boy.”
 
“No, Daddy, you’re not going from below. Let’s go up and have dinner. And then we’ll all sleep together and you go tomorrow morning.”
 
“Please, Varun, I have to go now,” the man says.
 
The boy looks at him, distraught, and the man gives a beseeching look to the woman, who smiles and says, “Okay. Come up and have a drink. You can take your books too – I’ve packed them for you.”
 
“Yea!” the boy exclaims in glee.
 
His wife’s invitation, the warming of her emotions, confuses and frightens him. He thinks of Hema waiting for him in Mumbai, what state she’d be in, frantically trying to reach him on his switched off cell-phone, feels a ominous sense of foreboding and tremors of trepidation. He is apprehensive, at the same time curious, and his son tugs at his shirt, so he goes up with them.
 
“I’ll freshen up and come,” the woman says to the man, “Make a drink for yourself – everything is in the same place.”
 
Varun, back home after three months, rushes into his room to see his things.
 
He opens the sideboard. The whiskey bottle is still there, exactly in the same place, but he notices the bottle is half empty. It was almost full when he had left – maybe she’s started having an occasional drink!
 
He sets everything on the dining table, and when she comes out, he picks up the whiskey bottle and asks her, “Shall I make you drink?”
 
“Me? Whiskey? You know I don’t touch alcohol, don’t you?” she says aghast.
 
“Sorry. Just asked…”
 
“You want soda? I’ll ring up the store to send it up.”
 
“I’ll have it with water.”
 
“Okay. Help yourself. I’ll quickly make you your favorite onion pakoras and fry some papads.”
 
He looks warmly at her, with nostalgia, and she looks back at him in the same way and goes into the kitchen.
 
Varun comes running out and soon he sits on the sofa, sipping his drink, cuddling his son sitting beside him, and they, father and son, watch TV together, and soon his son’s mother brings out the delicious snacks and they, the full family, all sit together and have a good time.
 

 
 
PART 5LATE EVENING 

 
 
Her cell-phone rings, she takes it out of her purse, looks at the screen, excuses herself, goes into her bedroom, closes the door, takes the call, and says, “Hi, Pramod.”
 
“What the hell is going on out there…?” Pramod’s angry voice booms through the wireless airways all the way from Delhi.
 
“Please Pramod, speak softly. There is someone here.”
 
“I know he is there,” Pramod shouts, “What’s wrong with you? I leave you alone for a few days and you invite him into your home.”
 
“Listen, Pramod, don’t get angry. Try to understand. He came for Varun’s Annual Day.”
 
“But what is he doing there in your house right now so late at night?”
 
“He’s come to drop Varun.”
 
“Drop Varun?”
 
“He’d taken him out from school for a movie…”
 
“Why did you let him?”
 
“What do you mean ‘Why did you let him?’ – Ashok is Varun’s father.”
 
“You shouldn’t have called him to Pune…”
 
“I didn’t call him – Varun rang him up and told him to be there for his School’s Annual Day.”
 
“Anyway, get rid of him fast. I told you that you two are supposed to stay separate for at least six months.”
 
“Please Pramod. We are living separately. He’s just dropped in on a visit – we are not cohabiting or anything.”
 
“Just stay away from him – he could cause trouble!”
 
“Trouble? What are you saying, Pramod? He’s just come to drop Varun.”
 
“Pooja, can’t you see? He’s using your son to get you back. He’s a nasty chap – he may even withdraw his mutual consent and then we’ll be back at square one.”
 
“Pramod, don’t imagine things. And please Pramod, we had our differences, but Ashok was never a nasty person. Just get the papers ready and I’ll get him to sign on the dotted line,” she pauses for a moment and asks angrily, “And tell me Pramod, who told you Ashok is here?”
 
“That doesn’t matter. Now you are mine. I have to look after you, your welfare.”
 
“Look after my welfare? You’re keeping tabs on me, Pramod?” Pooja says irately.
 
“Now, you listen to me Pooja. Just throw him out right now. He has no right to trespass…” Pramod orders her.
 
“Trespass? Pramod, remember this is his house too – in fact the house is still on his name.”
 
“Don’t argue!” Pramod commands peremptorily, “Just do what I say!”
 
A flood of fury rises inside Pooja and she snaps angrily, “You know why I split up with Ashok, don’t you? Because I felt suffocated in that relationship. And now you are doing the same thing!”
 
Tears well up in her eyes, trickle down her cheeks, her throat chokes, she breaks down and she begins to sob.
 
“I’m sorry, Pooja. Please don’t cry,” Pramod pleads, “You know how much I love you.”
 
“I love you too.”
 
“I’ll cut short my trip and be with you in Pune tomorrow evening.”
 
“It’s okay, finish your work first and then come.”
 
“Give Varun my love.”
 
“Okay, take care.”
 
“You also take care,” Pramod says and disconnects.
 
She stares into the darkness, at the sky, the stars in the distance and tries to compose herself.
 
In a while, Pooja comes into the drawing room. Ashok looks at her face. After her tears, her eyes shine in the bright light; the moisture from her unwiped tears solidified on her cheeks like dry glass.
 
“I’ll make us some dinner,” she says to him, “Let’s eat together.”
 
Totally taken aback, confused and startled, Ashok looks at his wife and says, “Thanks. But I’ve got to go.”
 
“Stay, Daddy! Please Stay,” pleads Varun.
 
“Daddy is staying for dinner,” Pooja says with mock firmness, and then looking at Ashok says, “Please. Stay. Have dinner with us. By the time you get back your cafeteria would have closed. You still stay in the bachelor’s hostel don’t you?”
 
“Yes,” he lies, “But I’ll be moving into flat soon.”
 
“That’s good. Where?”
 
“Churchgate. Near the office,” he says. Now that is not entirely untrue. Hema, with whom he has moved in, does indeed live near Churchgate!
 
“Churchgate! Wow! That’s really good for you. Food, Books, Films, Theatre, Art, Walks on Marine Drive – everything you like is nearby,” she says, “And Hey, now that you’re moving into a flat please take all your books. I’ve packed them up and kept them in the study.”
 
“Come Daddy, I’ll show you,” Varun jumps and pulls him into the study.
 
He looks around his former study and sees his books packed in cardboard boxes on the floor. The room has changed; except for his books there is nothing of him left in it.
 
He opens the wardrobe. There are some men’s clothes and a pair of shoes he has not seen before.
 
He is tempted to ask his son, but doesn’t ask. Varun has also come home after a three month spell, his first stint at boarding school.
 
He takes a towel, closes the cupboard, and goes into the bathroom to freshen up. The moment he comes out his son excitedly says, “Come Daddy, let’s help Mummy with the cooking.”
 
So they go to the kitchen and cook together – like they sometimes did in happier times.
 
Later they sit in their usual places at the small round dining table for dinner. It is the first time he, his wife and their son eat a meal together as a family since they had split three months ago. It is a happy meal, with much banter, primarily due the sheer joyfulness of their son, who is so happy that they are all together after a hiatus.
 
Then they sit together on the sofa, father, son, and mother,   and watch her favorite soap on TV. Ashok notices how happy, natural and relaxed they all are. It is almost as if they have resumed living their old life once again.

 
 
 
PART 6 - NIGHT

 
 
Suddenly, he remembers Hema, waiting for him in Mumbai, and says, “I’ve got to go”
 
“Stay here Daddy, please,” his son implores, tugging at his shirt.
 
“It’s late. Let Daddy go,” Pooja says to Varun, “he’ll come to meet you in school soon.”
 
“He can’t. Parents are not allowed till the next term break. Please Mummy, let us all sleep here and tomorrow we can all go away,” Varun says emphatically to his mother, and pulls his father towards the bedroom, “Come Daddy, let’s all sleep in Mummy’s bed like before.”
 
“No, Varun, I have to go,” Ashok says with a lump in his throat, disentangles his hands, bends down, and kisses his son, “Varun, be a good boy. I’ll be back to see you soon.”
 
At the door he turns around and looks at Pooja, his ex-wife, and says, “Bye. Thanks. Take Care.”
 
“It’s good you came to see your son,” she remarks.
 
“I didn’t come only for the child,” he says overwhelmed by emotion, “I came to see you too.”
 
He sees tears start in her eyes, so he quickly turns and walks out of the door.



PART 7 – MIDNIGHT

 
The clock on Rajabai Tower is striking midnight as he parks his car below Hema’s flat. The lights are still on. He runs up the steps to the house and opens the door with his latchkey.
 
Hema is sitting on the sofa watching TV. She switches of the TV, rushes towards him and passionately kisses him. He kisses her back and recognizes the intoxicating sweet aroma of rum on her breath.
 
“You’ve been drinking. It’s not good for you,” he says.
 
“Promise me you will never go to there again,” she cries inconsolably, holding him tightly.
 
“Please, Hema. Try to understand. I don’t want to be eradicated from my son’s life.”
 
“No, Ashok. You promise me right now. You’ll never go there again. I don’t want you to ever meet them again.”
 
“But why?”
 
“I am in constant fear that you’ll leave me and go back to them. I’ve been dumped once, I don’t want to be ditched again, to be left high and dry,” Hema starts to weep, “I’m scared Ashok. I am really very frightened to be all alone, again!”
 
“Okay, Hema,” Ashok says gathering her in his arms, “I promise. I promise I’ll never go there again.”
 
“Kiss me,” Hema says.
 
He kisses her warm mouth, tastes the salty remains of her tears, which trickle down her cheeks onto her lips.
 
“Come,” she says, “it’s late. Let’s sleep.”
 
He doesn’t have a dreamless sleep – he sees a dream – a dream he will never forget. He is drowning, struggling in the menacing dark fiery turbulent sea.

To his left, in the distance he sees Varun, his son, standing on a ship beckoning him desperately, and to his right, far away, standing on a desolate rock jutting out into the sea he sees Hema, his newfound love, waving, gesturing and calling him frantically.

Floods of conflicting emotions overwhelm him. He looks at his Varun, then he looks at Hema, and he finds himself imprisoned between the two.

His strength collapses, his spirit yields, and slowly he drowns, helplessly watching the terrifying angry black sea swallow him up and suck his body deep within into the Davy Jones’s Locker.
 
Jolted awake by the strange scary nightmare, Ashok breaks into cold sweat with a terrible fear. 

Ashok cannot sleep. He starts to think of his innocent adorable son Varun, imagining him sleeping soundly in his bed in Pune. The father in him agonizingly yearns and excruciatingly pines for his son, the pain in his heart aches unbearably, and he wishes he could go right now, at this very moment, lovingly take his son in his arms and kiss his son goodnight, like he used to do.

He clearly recalls Varun’s words when he heard that his parents were going to split: “I don’t like it…”

He remembers the phone call Pooja did not want to take in his presence – maybe a new man in Pooja’s life. Pooja hasn’t told him anything – but then he hasn’t told Pooja about Hema either.

And suppose Pooja remarries. That guy would become Varun’s stepfather.

“Step-father…!” he shudders. No. If Pooja remarries he will get Varun to stay here with him.

Then he looks at his newfound love Hema, sleeping calmly beside him, and the beautiful serene expression on her pristine face. He gently places his hand on her forehead and lovingly caresses her hair. She warmly snuggles up to him, turns, puts her hand over his chest, and with a heightened sense of security continues her tranquil blissful sleep.

Will she accept Varun? No way! He remembers her tantrums in the morning, her insecurities... she is fearful that the “baggage” of his past, the “debris” of his broken marriage, will destroy their new relationship. A flood of emotion overwhelms him as he thinks about Hema. Poor thing. She’s just recovered from a terrible break up, and is holding on to him so tight – apprehensive, anxious, insecure...

Torn between his past and future, between the conflicting forces of his love for son and his love for the woman beside him, he feels helpless and scared.

He knows he has lost Pooja, his wife, forever.

Now he doesn’t want to lose both his son and his newfound love.

Varun and Hema are the only two things he has in this world.

And he knows can’t have both of them together.

His life is a mess. Maybe he is responsible – if only he had tried harder, if only he had stayed on with Pooja in that suffocating relationship, if only they had made more efforts to save their marriage, just for Varun’s sake.

If only? If only?

It’s no use. One can’t go back in time and undo what has been done.

The more he thinks about it, the more helpless and hapless he feels, and soon his mind, his brain, starts spinning like a whirlwind.

In the whirlwind he sees all of them, Varun, Pooja and a new unknown face, Hema and himself, all of them being tossed around in disarray.

There is nothing he can do about it, so he breaks down and begins to cry.


A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A DIVORCED MAN
Fiction Short Story
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.