Vaijayanti was about to leave for Deepti’s house when the phone rang. It was not the shrill, short ring which implied a local call, but the long-drawn out screech which suggested an STD call from maybe her parents in Bhopal or her sister in Delhi. Vaijayanti would have ignored the bellowing phone and left the house, since the card game at Deepti’s place started punctually at three and it was already ten to three, but for the small possibility that it was Nitin calling from Kazakhstan. Vaijayanti ended up walking back to the dining room where the phone was kept, even though Nitin rarely called at this time of the day. It was a good thing she went back since it turned out to be Nitin.
‘I’m coming back! In a month’s time! Got a promotion!’ Nitin gasped over the phone all at once. The phone line conveyed Nitin’s excitement as if he were next door, rather than many thousands of miles away in Kazakhstan. ‘M.D called my just now to tell me that he has decided to promote me and bring me back as the Deputy Manager for Western India’, Nitin elaborated once he caught his breath.
‘That’s wonderful. Are you sure M.D will not change his mind this time?’ Vaijayanti was a bit skeptical. A year ago M.D had told Nitin that he could return to Mumbai from Astana as soon as they managed to find a suitable replacement for him. But the man who had built Pluto Films from scratch and made it the biggest distributor in the world for Bollywood movies had been unable to find a suitable replacement for Nitin. Till now, that is.
‘Absolutely sure. That’s because M.D has decided that Mohan will replace me. Poor chap. He has got a ten year old son and a six year old daughter.’
‘Isn’t Mohan in Kolkata right now?’
‘Yes he is.’ The possibility that Mohan might refuse to move to Kazakhstan was not even discussed. M.D was good at getting people to do what he wanted. He had doubled Nitin’s pay and given him a hardship allowance for relocating to Astana. An offer they couldn’t refuse. M.D always got his way. And he would have his way with Mohan as well.
‘I can’t wait to get there and live a normal life. It’s Sunday today, isn’t it? Pooris for breakfast on Sundays!’ Vaijayanti could imagine Nitin smacking his lips as he said that in faraway Kazakhstan. Today was indeed Sunday. If Nitin were around, Vaijayanti would have her hands full doing the things that made Nitin happy. Pooris for breakfast. A three course lunch with carrot halwa at the end. A cup of coffee every hour. And when Nitin came back from his evening walk, Vaijayanti would have a light dinner of rotis, lentils and curds waiting for him. Vaijayanti smiled to herself. It would be so good to have Nitin back.
‘You just can’t even imagine how much Arman and Alisha miss you.’
‘True and I’ve missed all three of you as well. But we’ve saved some money in the last three years, haven’t we? In another two years, we’ll have to send Arman to a good college, after that Alisha will have to be ……’
‘Are you getting a pay hike along with the promotion?’ Vaijayanti asked, as she glanced at the clock. It was five minutes to three. The card game would start on the dot at three o’clock. Deepti hated waiting for anyone.
Nitin laughed. ‘A pay hike? When M.D has given me a promotion and allowed me to return to my family? You’ve got to be joking!’
It didn’t really matter, Vaijayanti told herself. Nitin was coming home.
‘Well, at least he gave you decent hikes for the last three years.’ The last three hikes which Nitin got were not decent. They were obscenely huge hikes given to persuade Nitin to take up his current post as Manager for the Central Asian region and to stay on there.
‘I wish I could tell Arman and Alisha myself. Where have they gone?’
‘Arman has special classes today. So he will not get home till six. As for Alisha, I hardly have any control over her. She told me that she will be going to a friend’s house after lunch and will get here only by six-thirty. And she is only thirteen yet. When I was her age…’
‘Don’t blame her for having some fun. Children are under so much pressure these days. They need to unwind.’
‘What time is it over there? Three thirty?’
‘Yeah. Is it three o’clock over there?’
‘Yes.’ Thank God Nitin was in a place which was almost in the same time zone as India.
‘I need to go to Almaty tomorrow. From there I’ll go to Bishkek and then get back to Astana after two days.’
‘You must be tired of traveling back and forth.’ Vaijayanti was concerned. It wouldn’t do Nitin any good to travel around so much. But it couldn’t be helped.
‘Well, at least I am being paid well. I told M.D that he should sent two people to cover this area. One in Astana and one in maybe Tashkent or even Bishkek. Business has really grown. Hindi movies are really popular in these parts. Almost as popular as they are in Russia.’
‘Poor Mohan. Will he be on his own as well? Why can’t they send two people? Doesn’t your company have two people each in Moscow and Tokyo? How can one person cover the whole of Central Asia?’ Astana and Bishkek and Akshabad and Dushanbe and Almaty and Tashkent. These were names Vaijayanti had not even heard of three years ago when Nitin decided to accept M.D’s offer and move to Bishkek.
‘Russia and Japan are much bigger markets. Also, Mohan will get paid more if he handles Central Asia on his own. If he were to ask for help, he will not get much of a hike.’
‘So, you will be back soon! I just can’t believe it.’
‘I had almost given up hope of coming back without quitting from Pluto Films.’
‘They don’t deserve to have someone as dedicated as you are.’
‘Well, I can’t deny that it is thanks to me that Bollywood movies are so popular in this part of the world. Over twenty percent of the adults in Kazakhstan have seen at least one Hindi film distributed by Pluto films.’ If Vaijayanti weren’t so deliriously happy, she would have poked fun at Nitin’s smug, self-congratulatory sermon.
They were both silent for a few moments, the telephone line connecting them both to the promise of a happy reunion. Vaijayanti look at the clock and a wave of irritation swept over her. It was now five past three. Could you please call me back in 2 hours’ time? Vaijayanti was tempted to ask Nitin. Instead she said, ‘are you sure you will only be the Deputy Manager for Western India? If you can be the Manager for all those countries, they ought to make you the Manager for Western India. ‘Not fair!’ Vaijayanti was tired of standing up and sat down.
Nitin laughed out aloud. ‘It is a question of numbers. There must be ten thousand times as many viewers for Bollywood in Western India as there are in Central Asia. You won’t understand these things.’ Vaijayanti nodded her head in acquiescence, though it was unlikely that Nitin could see her.
‘Right-O then! I’ll try and call you from Almaty tomorrow when I get there.’
Vaijayanti quickly locked the house and took the lift to the lobby. The dust and heat enveloped her as she started walking towards Deepti’s flat, which was just two blocks away. It would be so good to have Nitin back. Life was horrible without him. Of course she would have to make a few minor adjustments once he was back. She had stopped making Pooris on Sundays. Arman and Alisha did not mind having toast or cornflakes for breakfast. Carrot halwa had been replaced by ice-cream bought from the shop and stored in the fridge. She had stopped making coffee altogether. So what? Vaijayanti though as she adjusted her dupatta and squared her shoulders. It was a small price to pay for Nitin’s company. She walked faster as she neared Deepti’s flat. A taxi drove dangerously past her honking loudly. Vaijayanti stopped for a second, her heart pounding. Had she been walking carelessly? No, she had been walking very much on the edge of the road, where the footpath ought to have been. It was the taxi that was at fault. Vaijayanti opened the squeaky gate and walked towards Block-C. The watchman squatting under the shade of a mangy tree ignored her familiar figure. As Vaijayanti climbed the stairs to reach Deepti’s first-floor flat, it dawned on her that she would have to give up her Sunday afternoon card games once Nitin got back. Vaijayanti felt a small twinge of regret, but brushed it away quickly. Nitin would be back soon. That was all that mattered, wasn’t it?