This is a story I wrote for TOI Write India Campaign on Author Ashwin Sanghi’s prompt.
“Can you come in, Varun?” – Yash Mukherjee’s call startled me as I was about to crack the current level in Candy Crush. I hurried into his cabin expecting ‘something’ as usual.
I am, Varun Singh, a well-known name in Creative Junction, an advertising firm in Mumbai. I have been a star performer since my earlier days as a fresher. I am known for my quick and innovative ideas, basically my smart work. Everybody thought I was brimming with ideas and I never denied. From campaign strategies to client presentations, everybody loved my ideas. I made all the efforts to keep my popularity and charm alive, especially among the right people. It’s almost been a year, I have joined this firm and there has been no looking back.
“May I come in, Yash?” – I knew how and when to play his charm. He was looking at his favourite wall.
Yash Mukherjee had a cozy office for a Creative Head- full of unconventional posters, cutouts, and of course, his accolades. He had a fantastic collection of masks, most scary ones. Many thought ‘they’ were a bit weird, but Mr. Mukherjee adored his collection.
He turned and gestured me to come in. After appreciating his collection, he turned and started in his usual authoritative tone.
“Varun, Mr. Roger from J. R. Consultancy will be visiting us tomorrow along with his Creative Head. I want you to make the presentation, we had discussed last week.”
I had a blank look and wanted to say something. Yash interrupted my thought and said, “Yes, I know, this was not going to happen till next week, but he has to fly back due to some urgency and he scheduled our meeting tomorrow. We have to give our BEST. You know, it can be a very lucrative deal for us and YOU too.”
I could read his eyes, which indicated my promotion and hike. I reacted, “But, Yash, it is a very short…”
Yash again interrupted, “If you think, you will not be able to do it, I can check with someone else.”
Though, I had a great start, a few disappointments lately like rejected proposals from clients have been a major setback in my career. And, also to Yash’s attitude towards me.
I HAD to get it back. I HAD to make some investments and ‘important’ decisions, right away. I promptly replied, “Not a problem, Yash. I will DO it.” I got up to leave and on my way out, I didn’t forget my usual brand tagline, “Everything will be fine, Varun is here to shine.” This became quite famous and went well with my personality, even a few months back.
Yash had a sarcastic smile on his face, a worry in his mind and of course, a hope that EVERYTHING will be fine. He could have given this to someone else, but somehow he felt I would be the right choice knowing, I always get the job done. He wanted to give me one more chance.
Time travelled faster than I expected. It was 6 pm already; people started leaving for the day. I was totally blank; looking at the blank PowerPoint slide. I tried Google, a few magazines on my desk, but nothing was appealing.
The ticktock of the wall clock, alarmed me of the passing hours and probably, my incapability. I was transfixed to my seat and could not move.
I remembered someone…someone special and felt sad. Why did I let him go? How selfish of me?
Soon, the clock decided to strike 10 pm and the guard came in.
“Varun Sir, Aap ghar nehi jayenge (Will you not go home)? He was inquisitive. He never saw anybody say back so late, and so worried, all alone. Teams could stay back for special meetings or workshops sometimes, that too with a proper circular from Yash.
I sighed, looking at Slide 1 of JRConsultancy- Sep 20.pptx, which was still white as a dove. I typed so many things, but erased them all. I didn’t even want to make the cover slide, unless the key idea, struck me.
What will I do? How will I MANAGE? What will I tell Yash?
My plethora of thoughts was interrupted when the guard asked me for a second time, “Varun Sir, aap ghar…?”
I decided to head home; the ‘magical idea’ might be on my way.
“Haan, mein ghar jar aha hoon (Yes, I am going home.)” – I tucked my laptop into the bag, stuffed in some other stuff and got up.
I got into his second hand, Alto and fired the ignition. Suddenly, the cell phone rang with an expected name, at this unexpected hour. I looked at my watch, it was 10.30 pm and the phone said, its YAM. I had saved Yash’s number as YAM, short form of Yash Mukherjee and, probably, more because of our ‘sweet and sour’ relationship. I was ‘not ready’ to take the call, but reluctantly, I did.
I started abruptly, “Yes Yash, I am working on it. Will be ready by tomorrow.”
There was a long pause from the other end, very unlike Yash, I thought.
After a minute, a voice from the other side said, “I am not Yash, I am Yam.” For a moment, I thought, how on earth did Yash know that I had saved his number as YAM. I looked at the phone screen once again, and it clearly displayed YAM. Could he be joking?
My thoughts were interrupted, “I am Yamraj, Varun. I have come to take you away.”
I was at a lack of expression- Was this a prank? Was this a joke? Was this a conspiracy? WHAT WAS THIS? I again looked at the phone and replied, “Excuse me, who is this again? Is this some kind of a joke? Who the hell are you?”
The voice on the other side was calm, yet heavy. He continued, “I am Yamraj, Varun. I know you won’t believe me. But, once this night is over, you WILL.” Then, the line went blank.
I was not sure on how to react, but I was too tired to investigate. So, I stepped on the accelerator and zoomed past my office.
It was 10.30 pm and I was stuck in traffic. I never knew this road from my office to my rented flat can be so crowded at this point of the night. I increased the radio volume and the tunes of latest Indipop hits were a relief.
Suddenly, the phone rang again. It flashed YAM. I was reluctant to pick it up. Suddenly, I remembered that tomorrow is Dinesh’s birthday. He is a very close friend, who actually suggested the name YAM. I looked at the ringing phone once again and suddenly…I forgot what I was thinking about, ‘someone else’ came to my mind. Strange, I thought. WHY HIM?
Finally, I picked up the ringing phone and the traffic signal also gave a green light. The man on the other side spoke through the loud speaker, “Varun, I am Yamraj. I have come to take you away. You had done something wrong and…”
I could not believe the extent of this joke and frustrated, I cancelled the call. I was about to hit a pedestrian in the commotion, but I controlled in the last moment. My heart skipped a beat. CAN IT BE TRUE?
I was near my flat, but I stopped the car few blocks away. I decided to call the number back. I dialled, the answer came, ‘Please check the number you have dialled.’ I was speechless.
Tired and irritated, I entered the colony. At the gate, I asked the guard, “Bhaiya, mera koi letter aya tha (Did any letter come in my name)?” The guard recollected, “Haan, koi Yam Services se aya taha. Mene letter-box me dal diya. (Yes, something came from Yam Services. I have put it in the letter-box).
I was so irritated that I felt like slapping him, but I controlled. I parked my car, rushed to the letter-box and opened it. The letter was a courier from my dad. He had told me to submit the pension documents to the Government office. I wondered, why was the guard joking (…HE WASN’T), I felt like going back to inquire, but was too tired. I thought of dealing with him tomorrow. On my way up in the lift, something weird happened. I forgot about my last thought that I had to go to submit the documents. As I entered the house, I didn’t seem to remember anything about the letter and I tossed it across the room. ‘Someone else’ came to my mind.
I was dead tired, I switched on the TV and went straight to the bathroom, right under the shower. Some spiritual show was coming. Suddenly the volume blared, “I am Yamraj. I am here to take you. You have done wrong and you will face the consequences.” I froze in the shower. WAS IT ACTUALLY HAPPENING? I wrapped a towel and hurriedly came out and saw something else on the TV.
Now, I was really scared. I got dressed, and looked at the food on the table, which the maid had kept. But, I was too tired and also had to work on the ppt. I took out my laptop, entered the password, and there was the blank slide of the ppt, in front of me.
Suddenly, my phone rang. Without even seeing, I picked up and was ready to hail abuse. “Are you crazy? Are you mad?” I wanted to start, but the same dialogue from the other end. It wiped off my last memory. I was in a trance. I got up and went straight to bed. The laptop and the blank slide sat on the table whole night.
It was 12 am, suddenly, I got up, sweating. Same dream, same YAM, same voice and ‘same’ person came to my mind. It went on and on. I seemed to forget everything, but HIM. Gradually, I started to believe- Have I done something wrong? Is Yam really here to take me away?
Morning 6 am; I woke up with a jerk and clutched my pillow and sat at the corner of the bed. I kept looking here and there, clueless. Am I going mad? Am I losing my sense?
Soon, it was 7 am; time for my maid to come. The doorbell rang for the fifth time, it was really loud to make me come out of my slumber and open the door. The maid looked irritated, “Saab, kabse bell baja rahi hoon. (I am ringing the bell for so long).”
I was bewildered, “Who are you?” The maid gave a weird look, but before she could reply, I slammed the door on her face. She decided to leave, quite shocked.
I just seem to have two thoughts in my mind – the ppt and HIM. I hurriedly got ready, grabbed my bag and left for the office. I had to leave the house, else it would drive ME crazy. I do not know how many times YAM had called, but everytime the phone rang, it was increasingly scarier.
I parked my car and rushed to take the lift. Though it was early, but people had started coming in, more because of the client visit today. I received a call – YAM calling, I dreaded picking up. But, I did, “Varun, I hope you are ready with the ppt?”
“Yeeeeees, Yash, I am.” I lied. I sat frozen at his desk. It was 10.25 am and my phone rang, again. YAM calling. I picked up, “Yes, Yash, I am coming.”
“Varun, I am here to take you, I AM COMING.”- the voice from hell.
I froze. Suddenly, someone jerked me, it was Maya, “Varun, hurry, Yash wants you in the board room.”
I got up, took my laptop, entered the board room and sat in one corner. Soon, it was TIME. My ears were ringing, ‘I AM COMING’.
The boardroom door opened. I saw Yamraj walking through the door. It was HIM. I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out, but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”
My phone rang, I was startled. I jolted out of my dream, quite shocked. I looked at the watch. It was 10.30 pm. I was still sitting in my chair. Tomorrow is the big presentation and my ppt was still blank.
I picked up the phone, searched vehemently for a number and dialled. The other side responded, “Hello, this is Ashish, who is this?”
I was choking, I could not say anything. I disconnected the call.
The other person, just smiled and looked at the number saved in his phone as Varun Singh.
I had called my first friend in this firm, his first flatmate and first colleague, Ashish Sharma. We joined as freshers on the same day. Ashish was a small town boy, but full of creative ideas. He was shy and introvert. We were good friends, he looked up to me and I also helped him. But, I started tapping his immense talent for my own use.
Whenever I got any work, I would turn to Ashish for ideas and then improvise a bit. I ‘consciously’ avoided mentioning that it was not MY idea. I became an advertising prodigy, but my fame belonged to someone else’s name.
Soon, the industry was hit by the recession and there was a layoff. Ashish did his best, but could not survive as the best of his ideas were being exploited by someone else- ME. He could never figure out the foul play and considered me a ‘good friend’. He lost his job, and I never helped. He left with a heavy heart and a baggage of exploited talent. I was a bit sad because the source of ideas was gone, but I thought I will manage somehow, with my smooth talk and smart ways. I did for a while, but then things started to change.
Is this the wrong YAM talking about? Did I actually do something wrong to Ashish? I felt sorry for Ashish.
I left, went home, made the PPT (with my OWN IDEAS) and slept off, but with a disturbed mind.
I came early, earlier than usual. I wanted to make some last minute changes to the PPT.
I received a call, YAM calling, I dreaded picking up. But, I did, “Varun, I hope you are ready with the ppt?”
“Yeeeeees, Yash, I am.” I went into the board room waiting for the client. Two people entered through the door. One I didn’t know and The ONE, I knew.
Yash greeted Mr. Rogers, along with his Creative Head, Ashish Sharma. Our eyes met, we both smiled – our smiles had their own meaning. I WAS SORRY; only I didn’t know for whom.