Thursday 15 December 2016

A Holiday for Kalpana Kinnarkar

[This story was first published in Telegram Magazine, August 2016 issue. The complete magazine, including many other, at least equally excellent stories, is available here.]

This story can be read as a stand-alone piece, or in conjunction with some other stories set in the same setting:
1. Winning, a short satire on corporate awards
2. The Importance of being well-dressed, a poignantly unfunny look at romantic cliches
3. Freedom's Just Another Word... one of my favourite pieces of writing. It just is.

A Holiday for Kalpana Kinnarkar

"I say, Rocky, who's Kalpana Kinnarkar?"

Roxanne "Rocky" Colabewala, Secretary to Bhaskar Shrivastav, the Head of Private Banking at DCTMR Bank, and also, incidentally, the most beautiful woman in the entire G-block of Bandra-Kurla Complex, looked up, turning her lovely dark eyes upon Mandar Kale, Manager, who was leaning over her cubicle wall on a warm April morning, and had just asked the question.

"Let me see," she said, clicking her mouse. "Ah, there she is. Clerk, sits in the Thane office, lives in Dombivali, one year and two months with DCTMR, reports you, actually."

"Ah yes, I thought so, I mean, but the whole bunch of them sitting in Private Banking Operations reports to me and half the time I don't know who's leaving and who's just joined. Year and two months, you say? I really ought to visit the place sometime and meet the new folks."

Rocky, who approved local conveyance bills on Shrivastav's behalf, knew that Mandar had not been to Thane in four years, but said nothing.

"She's applied for leave, you know," he went on.

"She's eligible for it. What's the issue? Do you need me to tell you how to approve a leave application or something?" she asked.

"What? No, of course I know how to approve a leave. I have forty people in my team, you know, Rocky. Forty!" Mandar puffed up a little.

"Forty? I'd never have guessed," said Rocky, smiling, "since you don't seem to know the names of more than five."

"Uh. Yes. I mean, anyway, that's not the point. I mean she wants the leave right smack bang in the middle of May."

"Oh. The whole no-leave-for-childless-employees-in-May rule."

"So that's what I meant to ask - is she...does she?"

Rocky pursed her lips.

"It says 'Miss Kinnarkar' on her employee records, so I suppose she's single. HR will have further details."

"I'll go see Dedhia," muttered Mandar, referring to his immediate superior and walked away.

Rocky shrugged, clicked her mouse again and returned to planning Shrivastav's Hong Kong trip the following week.
"This is so good," said Dedhia as he put a piece of garlic-fried chicken into his mouth. "So, so good. There's nothing like chicken. Nothing!"

They were sitting in the expensive Chinese Restaurant opposite the road from DCTMR Bank, along with some people from Dedhia's team and Ardy Cowasjee, another Chief Manager, who also happened to be Rocky’s boyfriend. Dedhia was one of those people who is pure vegetarian at home, eats only chicken outside, and makes a great fuss about the fact that he 'loves non-veg food'. He was giving a treat to his team to celebrate his son's birthday, and had invited Ardy (since he occupied the cabin adjoining to his) and Rocky (because any gathering became far more pleasant when she graced it) along.

"It's all right," said Ardy, who preferred to get his Chinese food from hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

"So, amazing thing happened today," continued Dedhia, discarding a chicken leg with half the flesh still on it. Rocky shuddered at the egregious wastage.

"Shrivastav noticed you?" asked Rocky with a perfectly straight face.

"No, no. I mean...some girl in Mandar's team - she asked to go on leave in May."

"Ah," said Ardy.

"Like come on, only employees with children are allowed to take leave at that time. She's not even married!"

"Do we know that?" asked Ardy.

"Yes yes, I checked with HR. This is ridiculous. It's well-known in the Bank - those who have school-going children take their holidays during the summer vacations, and everyone else is supposed to be at their posts."

"Would her absence hamper the functioning of your team?" asked Ardy, mildly.

"Well, not really, she's just a clerk, but still. It's the principle of the thing. Summer vacations are for employees with kids in school. These other people can take an off anytime during the rest of the year."

"But Mandar here has forty people in his team, you know. Forty!" said Rocky, a cool, clear gaze directed at Mandy, who had the decency to squirm.

 "It's the principle of the thing. No children, no summer vacation." said Dedhia. "That's when all the NRI clients come to India and stuff. Very critical time for our business, the month of May.”

"Very true," agreed Ardy. "I hear you're travelling to Dalhousie next month, by the way?"

"Me? Oh, yes," said Dedhia, his tone a little defensive. "It will be a working vacation for me, though, really. I'll be checking in from the Dalhousie branch, and..."

"We don't have a branch in Dalhousie," smiled Ardy. "But maybe some other bank will let you sit in theirs.”

“What? No, you can’t connect to our server sitting in…” began Mandar.

 “My, my, look at the time,”Ardy consulted his watch. “We should be back before Shrivastav notices.”

"He never notices us," pointed out Mandar gloomily.

"No, but he'll notice that I'm not there," pointed out Rocky.

Dedhia called for the bill, and they shuffled to their feet.

"So I'll reject her leave application then, boss?" asked Mandar.

"Of course, no exceptions, no exceptions," said Dedhia, handing his credit card over to the waiter.

"Why don't you wait till Friday to reject the application?" suggested Rocky, looking at Mandar. "Do it today and the girl will get upset and call you in office - or worse, she will want to meet you and ask to come here. Friday, late in the evening is always the best time to screw over a subordinate."

"Brilliant idea! You're so smart, Rocky," beamed Mandar, even as Ardy cast a surprised look at her.

As they were crossing the road back to their office, Ardy pulled Rocky aside at the divider.

"What was that about?"

"Tell ya later," she said.

"Very well, then. Join me for TT at the Parsi Gymkhana later?"

"Not today, Ardy. Going to Dombivali."

It was only through an extraordinary exercise of will that Ardy Cowasjee managed not to reel at the thought of his beloved Rocky going to a place like Dombivali. Which was just as well, for he would have fallen into traffic and gotten killed, and that would have broken Rocky's heart.
"Rocky, can I have a word?"

She sighed as she heard Mandar's voice drift over the cubicle wall.

"Good afternoon, Mandar. Hot outside, isn't it?"

"Like a pressure cooker. But that isn't the point. I sent out a mail to my team's group ID just now."

"I'm sure you do that a lot, since you don't actually know their individual names," she could not resist the taunt.

"In a few minutes, I got the 'out of office' responses from those who are, well, out of office."

"Very efficient of our mail server to do that, I'm sure."

"And one of them was from Kalpana."


"I never approved that leave request, Rocky. So how has she gone on leave?"

Rocky took a deep breath before replying.

"No, you forgot to, as I was sure you would, because on Friday evenings all you can think about is going home. Then the approval mail was triggered to Dedhia, who, of course, doesn't read mails unless they are sent by someone higher-up the hierarchy than he is. After three days of that, it bounced up to Shrivastav, and since he was in Hong Kong, I approved the request."

"But, Rocky, the policy..."

"No one's going to question an approval by Shrivastav, Mandar," Rocky pointed out.

"They will, if it comes out that you gave it."

"I spoke to him first," she said.

"You lied to Shrivastav that Kalpana has children, did you?" he asked, narrowing his eyes.

"I said she had a family member who goes to school, in the seventh standard," replied Rocky.

"So you did lie," Mandar pointed out.

"Nope," she replied, motioning to him to come to her side. "See this."

Another deft click and she was logged in to Facebook, shushing his quite understandable objections regarding how she, a mere secretary, could have access to social media when he did not. She navigated her way to the profile of the girl they were discussing. Mandar looked at the profile photo - a dark girl with a snub nose and a bright, wide smile in a purple salwar-kameez, a face he himself had never seen till that moment.  Rocky scrolled down rapidly, going through posts with inspirational quotes, terrible English and laughing faces to a photo that Kalpana had posted in April of the previous year.

My mamma in the papers! It said, underneath a clipping from a newspaper with a photo of a woman whose face was almost identical to the girl in the profile, except maybe twenty years older.

45 YEAR OLD GOES BACK TO SCHOOL, it read, and below, Sujata Kinnarkar, who had to drop out of school at age ten, enrolls again to complete her education in New English School, Dombivali East. The resident of Gograswada, who worked as a maidservant until recently, says her college-graduate daughter encouraged her to take the leap...

"It isn't only children who have summer vacations, Mandar," Rocky said softly.

"No," he agreed, looking at the smiling face on the profile photo again. "No, it isn't."


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