It had never mattered much to Sankalp until just then, that his shoes were not made of leather. Or that the little metal buckle on the side made them look even cheaper than they were. Nor had he ever really noticed how his jeans made his thighs look chubby, or that his shirt was too dark for his dark skin and made him look like a boy from the chawls of Dombivali.
But the Company Guest House of DCTMR Bank was at Lonavla, not Dombivali, and Karishma was not just any girl. In those verdant hills, with rain beating down around them, it didn’t matter that she was from Greater Kailash in New Delhi and he from a suburb so far from Mumbai that it was pretty much out of sight. Stranger things had happened in the rain. Didn’t every bloody Bollywood Movie he’d ever seen reinforce the axiom that when the setting was romantic enough and the rain poured heavily enough, sparks flew, provided the hero was appropriately and impressively dressed?
With an awkward sigh, he turned to his room-mate, Karan, the other occupant of Room 206.
“Karan, d’you have a spare pair of shoes?” he asked.
“Who on earth brings a spare pair of shoes to a two-day company offsite?” the room-mate responded with some warmth. Clearly, young Karan was not interested in being in Khandala at that moment.
“A nice shirt, perhaps? White? Or any other pastel colour?”
“Sankalp, I am half your size,” said Karan, with a look of such irritation that a less determined man than he would have stopped there.
“What about pants? You got a pair of looser pants?”
“On no planet in the Universe do I have pants looser than yours,” said Karan plaintively. “And now if you don’t have anything but impossible demands to make, just get out.”
Sankalp walked to the adjoining room, number 205. But Leister and Murugan both shoo’ed him off before he could start his questionnaire.
The same story repeated itself in the next two rooms. Then there was 202, occupied by Lata and Megha who obviously could not be expected to be in possession of shoes, pastel–coloured shirts or long pants.
The room at the end of the corridor was occupied by the General Manager. For a moment he thought about knocking on the door as well but then thought better of it.
Over the next half an hour he knocked on a dozen more doors, each time getting responses that varied from friendly commiseration to callous dismissals. In a fit of desperation he even checked with Aditi in Room 110, who always dressed in western clothes, pants included, at work and was at least as large as Sankalp himself.
His summary eviction from her room made him rather apprehensive of what she might do when they were back in the office. He only hoped she wouldn’t say anything to his boss, Girishankar Sisodia, who had, along with his boss, the redoubtable Ardeshir Behram Cowasjee, stayed away from this offsite by citing pressing work back in Bombay.
At last the only rooms that remained to be supplicated for the Outfit that he was sure would win over Karishma’s heart were her own and the one he had already dismissed out-of-hand - of the aforementioned General Manager. Karishma had worn a white shirt on a pleated skirt that day, but even a man as colourful as Sankalp Sodey baulked at the thought of wearing a skirt. He could try to pass it off as Scottish kilt before the others, but Karishma wouldn’t be taken in by that, of course. Besides, he reasoned, you couldn’t really impress a girl wearing her own clothes, especially when they were several sizes smaller than yours.
But he began to think again about the other one. Had he been too hasty in thinking that the GM’s door was – in more ways than one – closed?
With hesitant steps Sankalp contemplated the man who was eight levels above him in hierarchy but quite similar in figure. Surely, he thought, the GM must be carrying a complete set of spare clothes. If only the man could be induced to part with the spare outfit, Sankalp could knock on Karishma’s door and sweep her off her feet. He could already imagine how it would go. Sankalp, resplendent in the GM’s sparkling light-blue or light-pink or starched-white shirt, immaculately ironed black or brown pants and shiny black pumps, would knock on the door to Karishma’s room. She would open the door, drink in his magnificent visage and coyly ask him whether he wanted anything from her.
From there one thing would lead to another and at some point of time, she would send her room-mate Namita out on some errand, leaving him, Sankalp Shripad Sodey, alone in the room with Karishma Singh, surely the most beautiful woman in the history of the organization. Well, that’s if one ignored the immensely self-assured secretary, Roxanne Colabewala, whose distaste for Sankalp was, however, well-known and acknowledged, even by himself.
His mind did not even dare to go further. What would happen once Karishma and he were alone…words were inadequate (or at least, Sankalp’s vocabulary was), and his feeling could only manifest as a grin across his face. With a determined step he headed back along the corridor to the GM’s room. Just as he was getting there, the door to his own room opened and Karan stepped out.
“’Ere, what were you on about for my clothes?”
A brave man embarking on a daring mission does not hesitate to tell his peers about it. Did the Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table shy from letting the world know they quested after the Holy Grail? Sankalp thought not. He would be no different.
“I need a proper outfit. I mean to go talk to Karishma,” he declared.
Karan looked at this watch.
“At this time of night? Are you insane? She won’t stand for it”
“Oh I don’t want her to be standing,” said Sankalp with a wink so roguish that Karan was too astonished to respond.
Leaving his fellow-data-processing grunt behind, Sankalp advanced on the GM’s door with grim determination. He remembered the outfit worn by the GM earlier that day when he had been speaking to them about the ‘way forward’ for the Team to ‘arrest de-growth’, ‘use the tailwinds’ and ‘maximise synergies’ to achieve its ‘Annual Operating Plan’ targets - a cuff-linked white shirt, steel-grey trousers and thick-soled brown leather shoes that made impressive clop-clop noises when the great man walked.
If the man’s spare wardrobe was even half as impressive as that, Sankalp just knew he would be irresistible.
He knocked on the GM’s door.
It was a few moments before the door opened. The GM looked at him, clear-eyed and awake, but his thinning hair were ruffled and he wore nothing but a towel.
“What do you want?” he asked Sankalp, irritation writ clear on his face.
“I w-w-was wondering if you have a spare set of clothes, sir,” the Data processing officer stammered.
Looking behind his lord-and-master’s shoulder, at the end of the room’s short corridor, Sankalp saw a glimpse of a long white leg, clearly belonging to a girl who must have been sitting on the bed and wearing very little from the waist down.
“I – what? You lost your mind, man?” the GM said irritably.
“I’m…that is to say, I soiled my clothes and we have a presentation tomorrow and…,” Sankalp blubbered. He saw a smart pleated skirt draped on the dressing table in the corridor. He had seen it earlier that day, hanging so fetchingly from the waist of the very girl for whom...suffice to say, he knew whose it was.
“I will see you in Office on Monday, Sodey,” said the General Manager, his voice dripping with cold anger.
“Yes, sir,” said Sankalp, gloomily.
“And wear proper corporate attire. Not this gaudy shabbiness.”
“Yes, sir. Corporate attire, sir. Of course, sir.”
He stifled a sob as he dragged his feet back to Room 206.