Friday, October 03, 2014

My Short Story in The Daily Star



Abdullah Khan
Untitled, Sir Anish Kapoor.
Untitled, Sir Anish Kapoor.
The SMS sent by Mr Agarwal clearly says that she has to sleep with him in exchange for a life insurance policy worth one million rupees. Shocked and furious, Nasrin Khanam wants to call the bloody lecher and give him a piece of her mind. But she doesn't. Instead, she throws herself on her bed and starts crying. The memories from the past begin to inundate her thoughts. She remembers the day in her home town, Patna, when she told her father, Abba, about her intention to pursue an MBA from a college in Delhi called IIAM. She also remembers the fateful day Abba mortgaged their only house to raise a loan for her study despite her mother's protest.
The moment Nasrin set her feet on the premises of IIAM, she could sense that the college was not what it had claimed to be in its brochure. Within a week, she also came to know that she had been cheated. The college was nothing but a set of 10 rooms at the outskirts of Delhi and was not even recognised by the University Grant Commission. The teaching was substandard and the claim of the institute for 100 percent placement was manipulated. Most of the graduates joined C-grade companies for salaries as meagre as Rs 4,000. She didn't know how she was going to repay her education loan with the meagre salary she would get after finishing her course at IIAM. Heartbroken, she wept in her bed for a week and didn't attend the classes. But she didn't say anything to Abba. She knew that he would die of this unexpected blow.
Abba died in an accident ten months later. After the funeral, when Nasrin left Patna and her grieving mother and sister, she felt light headed and her thoughts were fuzzy. In Delhi, she remained disoriented for weeks and then busied herself in studies knowing that she had to be amongst the top two to three students to give her a chance of a decent placement She also knew that her failure would have serious implications on the future of her family. The inheritance Abba had left for them was a single storey house in Raza Bazar, an old scooter and an insurance policy of Rs Seventy Five Thousand. The private firm Abba had worked for sent a cheque for Rs One Lakh.
But how long would that money last?
After finishing her MBA, Nasrin was happy to get an offer from United International Bank, the fastest growing private bank of India. Initially, she was appointed on contract basis, and if she performed satisfactorily she would be absorbed in the bank as a permanent staff. She would get a fixed salary of Rs.15000 per month plus monthly incentive. Incentive, they said, came to be minimum 10-15 thousand per month and if she worked hard it may be even more. After deducting her own expenses and the education loan instalments, she would able to send some amount to her mother. She was posted in Ludhiana, Punjab.
The branch head and her boss in Ludhiana was a burly looking man, who explained what her responsibilities were. She was to look after life insurance or LI business of the branch. By 'looking after' he meant that she had to sell LI products of third party companies to the bank's customers. He also told her that good business meant good incentive for her too. As it happens with every new employee, her motivation was on zenith. She took her seat in the corner of branch after a formal introduction with all staff. That day she got a new moniker, LI Girl. The soft-spoken girl who sat next to her was Neha and was a front desk officer for deposit products.
With help from Neha, Nasrin found accommodation in a working women's hostel near Kitchulu Nagar. For Rs 4000, she got a room on sharing basis and two meals a day. Her roommate was Simran Singh who was very friendly and an easygoing girl, full of laughter and always ready to help her. Nasrin began to like her, and a bond of friendship developed between them very soon. Simran was from a small town of Punjab called Batala. She wore expensive clothes. Her visits to beauty parlours were too frequent. She told Nasrin that she worked for an event management company. When Nasrin overheard whisperings of some girls about her roommate, she began to keep an eye on her. Nasrin observed that quite often she would be away from the hostel during the night. In the morning when she returned, she would be exhausted and had bloodshot eyes as if she had not slept during the night.
Recently, Simran had bought a laptop and spent a good deal of time surfing the net whenever she was in hostel. Occasionally, she would allow Nasrin to use it. But, every time, she handed over her lappy (Simran called it so), she would delete the browsing history. Nasrin suspected that Simran was hiding something from her. One evening, while leaving the hostel Simran forgot to switch off the laptop. It was sitting on her table, in hibernation mode. As soon as Nasrin touched the touch pad, the screen lit up with the images of naked girls. It was a website of an escort agency. The home page of the site read: Welcome to Indian sexy escorts at Delhi Hot Escorts. Exciting world of dating, fun, romance and unique companionship that is all present right here. She clicked a link called Our Girls. There were photographs of ten girls in the different states of undress. The face of each girl was blurred for securing their identities. And to her horror, she could recognise one of the girls. She was tall with light brown hair. There was a green birthmark on her back. Of course, she was Simran. She had seen the birthmark while helping her to hook a blouse a few weeks ago.
“Tauba Tauba! How can one stoop so low for the sake of money?” she said to herself. “I have been living here with such a dirty girl for last two months. I should change the room immediately.”
The following day Nasrin told Simran in clear terms that she knew all about her vocation with and she didn't want to continue to share rooms with her. Simran tried to explain her position but she refused to hear anything from her. In the evening, Simiran left the hostel. The very next day, Nasrin received a long email from her.
Simran< >
4 August 2007, 04:24
To: Nasrin
Dear Nasrin,
I am really sorry for causing an emotional distress to you. You are like my own sister. So, I am going to share with you my story. Please don't think I am trying to justify whatever I am doing nowadays for living. I just want to tell you that at times circumstances force you to do certain things.
Let's start from the beginning.
Two Women, MF Hussain.
Two Women, MF Hussain.
My father was a small businessman of Batala in Punjab and he used to run a provision store. When I was in B Com finals, my father met with an accident. He survived but was left bedridden. My mother tried to run the provision store but the income was not enough to cover household expenses as well as the bills for our father's treatment. To help my mother, I came to Ludhiana and was lucky to find a job in a garment export company. A year later, one day, I had to stay late in the office. Finding me alone the owner of the company forced himself upon me.
The whole night I kept crying. In the morning, I decided to file an FIR in police against the company owner. When I arrived at the police station, I was shocked to know that a case of fraud and misappropriation of money had already been filed against me. The fierce looking police inspector made me sit in the police station and told me that I should not file any FIR against him. Otherwise, the owner of my company could get me implicated in a case of fraud and forgery. I was helpless; he was a big and influential businessman of the city. I made a compromise and he withdrew the complaint against me. After, a week or more I tried to find another job but could not. The recession had already hit Ludhiana and finding a decent job was difficult. But, I needed money for my father's treatment. I needed money for my brother's study. One day, I was just browsing through the net in a cyber cafe when I came across this escorts service site. Soon after I joined the agency and stated making good money. After that, there was no looking back. Now, honestly speaking, I don't regret my decision. What do the people in our society do to earn money? They sell their soul and conscience for financial benefits. So, it is better to sell one's body for living.
I hope you understand. You have my personal mobile number. Whenever you need my help, feel free to call me.
Sisterly yours,
As Nasrin finished the email, she was drenched in tears. She remembered her time spent with Simran. She remembered Simran's habit of bringing Nasrin a gift every time she returned from her business trips. When Nasrin had been down with fever, it was Simran who had taken her to the doctor and nursed her back to health. How harsh she had been to Simran! Nasrin felt sorry for that. But she did not respond to her email.
Two months after Simran left the hostel, Nasrin's problems started to prop up, one by one. First, her mother fell in the bathroom, getting her left leg fractured. And then her boss began to pressurise her to do more LI business. During the first three months, she was able to cross sell some of the LI products to the existing customers of the bank with the help from Neha, but sustaining her performance was proving to be difficult. Most of the insurance products were not designed to benefit the purchasers of the policies and it was very difficult to sell them to the customers who could read the fine prints of the offer documents.
Adding to her woes was Nidhi Minocha, the LI girl of the other branch of the Bank in the city. She had been surpassing her monthly LI budgets with comfortable margin for the last six months. In the quarterly Zonal office meeting in Delhi, Nasrin was publicly humiliated by her domineering LI zonal sales head, Sunita Sharma. Sunita told Nasrin, 'Make sure that this month you bring the minimum business of two million, otherwise you should be ready to quit your job.'
Shaken, Nasrin cried all the way from Delhi to Ludhiana. At the hostel, another bad news was waiting for her. She had received a notice from the Bank. Since she joined the bank she was not able to save any money to start repaying instalments as whatever she saved from her salary either went for her sister's education fee or her mother's treatment. In fact, her speculative calculation about incentive had gone horribly wrong and she did not get any incentive at all because the threshold limit of the budget allocated was not crossed. The notice clearly said in case of the failure to repay the regular instalments of the education loan, their house mortgaged to the bank would be sold in an auction. If their house is sold where Ammi and her sister will go? She thought for a while to end her miserable life, but then brushed the idea aside. Looking skyward, she prayed hoping that God will send His divine help to bail her out.
Two days later, the branch head called Nasrin in his cabin, and warned her in veiled language, “See Nasrin, four months have passed, and you have done a total business of eight lakh only. During same period Nidhi had collected seventy lacs of premia. You are not able to achieve even 25 per cent of your budget. The bank has given you the last chance to redeem yourself. There are 4 days left in this month. Try your best. Even if you are able to get policies worth ten lakh against the budget of twenty lakh, I promise, I will save your job. But if you don't cross the million mark, I am afraid, you have to pack up.” As Nasrin was leaving the cabin, he added with a shrewd smile on his face, “You are aware how bad the financial sector job market is in these days. It is very difficult to find a new job. Your degree from IIAM will also not help. You know MBA from IIAM is not even recognised by government agencies. It is a fake degree.”
Nasrin came out of the cabin, sobbing. Neha came to her seat and consoled her.
“How is Nidhi able to sell so much of policies?” Nasrin asked innocently.
Neha replied, “You can't compete with her. She does a lot of unethical and immoral things.” They were still talking when a plump middle aged man with an iPhone in his hands came near Neha who greeted him.
“So, sir you promised me a LI policy,” Neha asked tentatively.
“Yes, I did. I guess you needed that policy for this new beautiful LI girl,” Mr Agarwal said while staring at Nasrin. “But, Nidhi came yesterday evening with some offer and got a cheque for Rs Five Lakhs.”
“Sir, you are a client of our branch. We would have given you a better discount,” Nasrin intervened.
“But, you can't give personalised services like Nidhi does,” said Mr Agarwal, a sly smile came on his lips for a moment and then disappeared.
“I can also give you personalised service. Just give me a chance to serve you,” Nasrin replied swiftly.
“Yes, you can. You are so graceful,” Mr Agarwal told her, smiling cunningly. “Why don't you come to my office today evening? I will certainly do something for you.” He placed a visiting card on Nasrin's table and left.
While Nasrin was talking to Mr Agarwal, Neha looked uncomfortable and was discreetly signalling her to stop the discussion. And just after Mr Agarwal was out of the branch, Neha pulled Nasrin to one side of the office and told her, “What do you know about personalised services, you fool? I told you that Nidhi does a lot of bad things to sell policies. She sleeps with big businessmen to get big policies. Can you do that? Then why are telling Agarwal that you can do things like Nidhi?”
Nasrin was shell-shocked. She felt her knees had gone week. She came to her seat and rested her head against chair and closed her eyes. “How can a girl offer her body to somebody to sell an LI policy. Ya Khuda, how bad this world haa become. First Simran and now Nidhi.” She prayed silently, reciting from the holy Quran.
Back to the hostel, she sat in the shower for half an hour and when she came out, her sister was on phone. She told her that the Bank people had visited their house and asked them to deposit twenty thousand rupees immediately to escape legal action. Further, she needed money to take their mother to the orthopaedics for check-up and also for her college fees.
Nasrin is lost in the cobweb of her thoughts. The mobile begins to ring. Its display says Mr Agarwal calling. She pushes the button to reject the call. Nasrin pulls a chair to sit on it, finds an A4 size bond paper and a pen from the drawer of the table. As she writes her resignation letter addressed to her branch head, her facial expression hardens.
Then she starts dialling a number while tears well up in her eyes. She bites her lips as an unbearable pain cuts through her heart.
The voice on the other side says, “Simran speaking.”
Nasrin replies in a dejected voice, “Simran didi, this is Nasrin. I need your help.”

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