Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Short Story: An Office Incident

Armaan walked up to Kritika as she waited for the lift and tapped her lightly on her posterior with the flat of his palm. Kritika ignored him, though a small hiss did escape her, raised her right shoulder a little in a defensive manner and summoned the lift yet again. Armaan did not bother to hide his lascivious intentions or his smirk when he repeated his action, his body language conveying a sense of anticipation rather than any fear of retaliation. Kritika lifted both her shoulders by an inch and stared straight into the closed lift doors.

Unfortunately for Armaan, the Human Resources Director, a smart and snappy lady who had just moved back to India from Philadelphia, was just a few yards behind him and saw everything. Shocked beyond words, it took her a few moments to express her indignation, by which time Armaan had repeated the outrageous act. Since it was obvious that Kritika was going to be a passive victim, the HR Director took it on herself to protect Kritika.

‘How dare you?’ she shouted, as both Kritika and Armaan spun around in stunned silence. They stood there in silence, which infuriated the HR Director since there was no reason for Kritika to remain silent now that someone had spoken up for her. ‘How dare you?’ the HR Director repeated yet again as the lift arrived and opened soundlessly. This time Kritika’s face actually paled as though she had done something wrong while Armaan’s face had the look of a naughty boy caught with his fingers in the jam jar. This made the HR Director angrier still. In fact, she was a lot more bugged with Kritika’s passivity than with Armaan’s behaviour. She knew that women put up with a lot of shit without complaint in India, but it was nevertheless shocking to see it played out in front of her eyes.

‘Can I have your name please?’ the HR Director demanded of Armaan and immediately felt like a fool. Both Kritika and Armaan dangled around their necks their corporate identity cards which not only gave away their names, but also their employee numbers. The HR Director noted down Armaan’s name and employee number and then decided to take down Kritika’s details as well. If Kritika should decide to disappear in order to avoid the enquiry that would follow, as she might well do, being the timid creature that she appeared to be, she would find that the HR Director had other plans.

The HR Director made Armaan sit in a room all by himself (to stew) whilst she had a word with Kritika.

‘Do you know how important it is to report incidents like this? Why on earth do you take this shit lying down?’ the HR Director asked. Kritika was silent.

‘I just don’t believe it,’ she declared, more to herself than to Kritika.

‘Has this happened before?’ she demanded of Kritika.

‘No,’ Kritika said, speaking for the first time.

‘You are senior to him. Nine years senior!’ Kritika was a team leader despite her youthful looks while Armaan was a puppy, not more than a year old in the company.

‘Even if you don’t make a formal complaint, I intend to take action against that bbbass…...that guy,’ the HR Director grimly added. Kritika did not look particularly happy at that and so the HR Director added softly, ‘don’t worry. He’ll never enter this office again. Today is his last day here.’ It was so tragic; a team leader was scared of reporting a one year old programmer who had the audacity to sexually harass her at her workplace.

Armaan’s project leader had not sounded too pleased when the HR Director demanded that Armaan be fired, but the HR Director had reminded him that they were a subsidiary of HeptaCorp Inc. which prided itself on the highest standards in matters such as these.

‘Can’t we please drop the matter?’ Kritika asked the HR Director all of a sudden. By that time, the branch manager had joined them.

‘Why are you so scared?’ the HR Director asked Kritika, her voice dropping to a whisper.

‘If my husband hears of this, I won’t be allowed to work again,’ she said, close to tears. To the HR Director’s surprise, the branch manager seemed to be in empathy with Kritika. He looked at the HR Director with sad eyes, as though it was the most obvious thing to happen. As the HR Director racked her brains for a diplomatic response, instead of the ‘for Christ’s sake, which century are you living in?’ the branch manager to his credit said, ‘don’t worry, we’ll make sure not many people get to know of this. We’ll fire Armaan, but I’ll make sure he keeps his trap shut.’

The HR Director was tempted to ask how the branch manager planned to make sure Armaan kept his trap shut, but she decided not to. That was none of her business.

That evening Armaan sat on the sofa in his bachelor’s pad, nursing a glass of whiskey. His mobile rang.

‘Where are you?’ he asked the person at the other end.

‘Almost there. I’ll be there in five minutes.’

Armaan finished his whiskey in two gulps and kept the glass on the mantel piece.

The door bell rang and he opened the door. Kritika ran into his arms.

‘How was it?’ she asked him breathlessly without bothering to disentangle.

‘If only that bitch wasn’t around, this wouldn’t have happened.’

‘I warned you so many times to not to try that in office.’

‘Not my fault. You were irresistible. Your butt, that is.’ Kritika bit Armaan on his neck by way of a response.

They were silent for a minute. Then Kritika said, ‘you’ve been drinking.’

‘Just a small one.’

‘Tell me what happened. Have you been fired?’

‘Yes. Immediate termination! Not even a month’s notice. But I will get a reference, provided I keep my mouth shut.’

‘Thank God for that!’ It must be the branch manager who arranged for that, Kritika thought.

‘Why don’t you ditch your husband and come and live with me?’

‘Especially now that you are jobless,’ Kritika teased Armaan.

‘Of course. I’ll get a job soon, just a matter of time.’

‘Fine, get a job and I’ll come over with both my kids. You will enjoy looking after them, won’t you?’

‘Why don’t you bring over your husband as well? We’ll make him look after the kids while we have fun.’

‘You bastard, you,’ Kritika said as she kissed Armaan and they both laughed out aloud.

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