The Sleazy Duck

in சிறுகதை, புனைவு

Nothing dampened Ravi’s squib more than these tiring morning waits for his bus to the office, where he toiled at a thankless 8-year-old job that didn’t earn him enough to meet his ends. He didn’t have a jolly gang of friends or a love life that could lend his life some much-needed lack of miserability, and it didn’t help that girls, especially the ones he considered himself lucky to travel with every day, didn’t find him impressive. In fact, they didn’t find him at all. He was the quintessential invisible man minus the obvious advantages.

‘You need to ride a two-wheeler to even earn their casual glance,’ Ravi opined to himself. A plan to apply for a vehicle loan had been brewing in his mind. His wings of desire were propelled by sound reason, he thought, for he had never developed a need for even a salary advance, let alone a loan. He lived alone in a lodge room with nothing worth to spend on. ‘This immediately qualifies me for the said loan,’ he reflected. His train of monetary thoughts was cut short by the arrival, and shortly later, the departure, of his bus. He alighted it and immediately looked for a place to stand, a convenient spot to avoid elbow jabs.

The bus was not crowded. However, it was not going to last by any stretch of daily standards. Two more stops and the bus would be brimming with humanity, bursting through its seams. By the time Ravi reached his office, he would have been transformed, not unlike a modern day reverse Cinderella Man, from a decent-looking young man to a regular office-goer, wearied to the core by drudgery-pokery. Ravi had long ago conceded humiliating defeat to the demon of everyday existence and only one thing stood firmly between the persistence of his condition and some kind of relief from it all: a motorcycle.

In turn, the one thing that stood – nay, sat, in a generously cushioned revolving chair – between Ravi and the loan was not actually a thing, but a fully grown man, his very boss Mr. Dhanapalan, who had earned the dubious epithet “Devious Dhanapalan” during his dominant tenure of 10 years as manager of the local branch of someone’s small collection agency. As it were, Dhanapalan was actively involved in office politics, fomenting new enmities and laying seeds to improbable relationships. He was not a friendly soul, although he had rarely been proven averse to paying salaries, to whomever they were meant. But loans and advances in salary were not his cups of tea. To him, an advance in salary meant paying it by wire transfer. The optimistic Ravi was counting on his lack of precedence in the matter of loan requests. ‘With my history, one humble grin can get me the loan,’ Ravi instincted.

As Ravi entered his office, he signed the attendence register, laid down his lunch bag next to his desk and thought, ‘Time for some action.’ Ignoring his colleagues’ ritual greetings he went straight to the lion’s den, restoring order in his hair with his pocket comb on the way. Dhanapalan looked up from his laptop.

“N. Ravichandran!” he roared. “Tell me what you want!” he added.

“Good morning sir,” Ravi replied in English, only to continue in Tamil, “the thing is, I have never asked for a loan from our company -”

The boss interrupted: “Keep it up!”

Now it was Ravi’s turn to add, “But I’ve been suffering from 2-hour commutes every day by bus. I’d really appreciate a motorcyle if you could grant me a loan of Rs. 40,000.”

The boss stared at him.

“Do you know what the annual turnover of this company is? Do you know how every company of our size doesn’t pay its employees regularly? Some of our competitors demand salaries from younger employees…”

Ravi knew more words were in the offing and prepared himself for a listen-to.

“That is why people are competing with one another to earn a job at this company. Why? We are not a growth-oriented company; we’re a survival-oriented one. But we pay salaries. That is our USP. That is because we don’t hand out loans and perks like we didn’t need money. If I gave you a loan, everybody will start raining loan requests. You’re not getting a loan.”

Ravi was of the knowledge that the Devious did give loans to those he liked. Loan moneys have been used by his colleagues to give treats on account of loan receivals. But you can’t tell the boss that He was lying. Coincidentally, maybe, all of the previous loan awardees were bikers. ‘Hell, even the boss prefers motorcycle owners,’ Ravi dejected. It only reinforced his belief in the importance of possessing a motorcycle. ‘Let’s fire the last salvo,’ he decided.

“This one instance -” he started in a pleading voice that could melt Madame Tussaud.

The boss’ mobile rang and a conversation with some person at the other end ensued. It was over, he thought, for the boss had said “Bye” into the phone.

The boss continued to proceed, “Where was I? Yes, no loans. The only way you can get that much money from this company is by quitting. You’ll get an exgratia or something, enough to cover half the expenses towards your shiny new motorcycle. Do you want to quit a secure job?”

The image of a shiny new motorcycle brought water to Ravi’s mouth, but under the circumstances, he wanted to spit the same onto his boss’ face.

“No, sir, I don’t want to quit.”

“Great! I knew you’re not a quitter. How about permission? You can take some time off to pursue other options – friends, relatives, the works…”

“It’s OK, sir. I’ll manage,” Ravi weakened.

“Don’t give up. The bike maketh the man, haven’t your heard?”

‘Nice time to quote Shakespeare, homie,’ Ravi cringed. Then he enacted an earth-inheriting smile and left the spot.

Before he could warm his seat, Ravi’s intercom phone rang. It was the Devious One. ‘A change of mind?’ Ravi wondered, following it up with unseating himself to go to his boss’ cabin.

“Close the door,” said the boss. Ravi obliged.

“You need money. I can pay you Rs. 15,000. The rest you have to manage by yourself.”

‘Better than nothing,’ thought Ravi, and accepted the offer.

“Now you’ve to do me a return favour. I’ll give you four lakhs, in cash. Keep it somewhere really, really safe. Don’t bloody tell anyone about it. Don’t touch the money. Return it when I tell you to. Keep the 15k as commission. Happy?”

Ravi immediately realised that he was being planted on a sleazy golden duck, one he would be a fool to let fly away without him at the helm. He made a show of evaluating the offer by staring at his boss and oscillating his lower jaw a few times.

Then he laid out his cards. “Make it forty lakhs, give me 1%, and you’ve got your man.”

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