Monday, 9 March 2009

Short Story: Second Thoughts

Rajat could not believe his eyes as his taxi sped along Yari Road, less than half a mile away from his destination. However, there could be no mistaking the signature page boy hairstyle of the woman who was purposefully striding forward on the footpath to his left. The extra large pair of red-rimmed glasses which she wore, the red handbag she carried, this definitely had to be Nandita Altoo, Rajat was sure, even though he had met her only once before. The chances of another woman in Bombay matching Nandita's appearance was almost zero. It was a year ago that a friend had pointed out Nandita to him at a restaurant. The same friend who persuaded him to apply for a job at Bolly-Would You? Since the traffic was particularly bad that morning, the taxi's pace matched Nandita's. Rajat toyed with the idea of getting out of the taxi and introducing himself to Nandita as she walked to Bolly-Would You?'s offices. No, it wouldn't do. What was he to tell Nandita? Nandita was a woman of immense energy who formed strong opinions very quickly, his friend had told him. Rajat dismissed his crazy idea. He was much more likely to irritate her than gain brownie points.

As Nandita walked around a bulky red post box which occupied a large cross-section of the pavement, a teenager on a rickety bicycle, most probably working for one of the shopkeepers in that area, came up at great speed and collided with Nandita. The red handbag in Nandita's right hand and the plastic folder in her left went flying, while the great Nandita Altoo herself fell down. The cyclist was forced to dismount, but within a few seconds, he took flight from the scene of disaster.

'Stop the car,' Rajat ordered the taxi driver immediately as befitted a film journalist who prided himself on his ability to size up a situation and take quick action.

The taxi screeched to a halt twenty metres away from the fallen Nandita who was slowly gathering herself.

'Wait for me. I'll be back in a minute.'

Rajat rushed towards Nandita hoping that no one else would beat him to it. For all he knew, some other candidate who was also to be interviewed by Nandita today was rushing towards Nandita to help her. Who wouldn't want to work for "Bolly-Would You?" and Nandita Altoo, one of the greatest film journalists ever?

'Madam, are you alright?'

'Do I look like I am?' Rajat was thrilled at the biting rejoinder which was so like Nandita's weekly gossip column, which made liberal use of the word 'darling' and spewed venom on all and sundry.

'Let me help you madam.' Rajat offered his hand to Nandita who ignored it and got up on her own.

As soon as Nandita was safely on her feet, Rajat picked up the red hand bag and gave it to her. He then picked up the plastic folder which was lying two feet away. Fortunately for Rajat, the plastic folder had been open and half the papers inside had fallen out. Rajat scurried around and picked up the various pieces of paper, put them inside the folder and gave it to a still shell-shocked Nandita. Rajat considered introducing himself to Nandita, but then decided against it. No, he was a just helping a fellow human-being in distress. He would do it for anyone in the same situation, wouldn't he?

With celebrities, it doesn't make sense to say a single unnecessary word, Rajat knew from experience. They never listened to you. And Nandita Altoo was a celebrity for the likes of him. With a 'I hope you are not hurt' and a 'Goodbye', Rajat went back to his taxi which took him to Bolly-Would You?'s offices.

'Thank you young man,' Nandita called after him. Rajat managed to control himself and did not turn around to acknowledge Nandita's thanks.

Thirty minutes later, Rajat was ushered into a spacious room where he was to be interviewed. The interviewer was a deputy editor at Bolly-Would You? The interview was a breeze. Rajat had five years of solid experience with India's second best movie magazine and he handled all questions with aplomb. After that, they made him wait for two hours before Nandita interviewed him in her office. Unlike the earlier conference room, Nandita's study was crammed with books, journals, papers and other clutter. Five minutes after the interview started, Nandita asked him, 'aren't you the one who helped me this morning?'

'Well yes, I am.'

'Did you know it was me when you helped me?'

'No Nandita, I did not.' Nandita had started the interview by insisting that he call her Nandita. Everyone at Bolly-Would You? called her by her name. She hated being called madam. As if she ran one of those bawdy establishments, she told Rajat.

'You had no idea it was me when you got out of that taxi to help me?'

'No Nandita, I was only doing what I would do for any one in such a situation. It was only when I met you five minutes ago that I realised that it was you that I had helped. I hope you were not hurt by the fall. Did you ….'

'You are in a taxi on your way to an interview, you see a woman on a sidewalk being knocked down by a bicycle, you get off your taxi and go to help her. You say that you do that sort of thing all the time?'

Rajat was tempted to smile and admit he had lied. But for some reason he struck to his guns. After all, there was no reason why Nandita should think he had recognised her when he came out to help her. She was well-known known amongst journalists by reputation but her photographs never appeared anywhere and she never attended press conferences.

'Oh yes I do. I get teased by my friends all the time because of such things I do.'

'So if you are on your way to an important assignment, and you see someone in trouble, you will stop by to help that person?'

Now this was getting to be a nuisance. Rajat had expected profuse gratitude as soon as Nandita recognised him.

'No, of course not. My work is all-important. But if I am on a personal errand, then I usually stop.' There, that ought to satisfy the great Nandita Altoo, Rajat felt.

'Get Out,' Nandita told him. She got up from her chair to do so. 'And don't ever apply to Bolly-Would You? as long as I am the editor here. Get Out'

Rajat was shocked. Was it too late for him to admit that he was not really the altruistic guy that he claimed to be? The angry expression on Nandita's face said it was. There was nothing to be done, but to leave.

As Rajat walked out dejected, Nandita came forward to shut the door behind him. As she did so, she brushed against a tall pile of papers perched perilously on top of a drawer. The papers fell down with a thud and scattered all over the room.

Rajat turned around. No, it was not his doing. No reason for him to waste any more time in that crazy establishment run by that nutty woman.

'Can you please help me pick these up?' Nandita asked him sweetly.

'I'm sorry Nandita. I must be back at my office soon. Nice to have met you. Good bye.' Rajat slammed the door shut behind him and walked out.

Nandita came running after him, down the carpeted corridor. 'Rajat! Rajat! Stop! Come back Rajat! Come back! After she caught up with Rajat, Nandini said, 'Rajat, on second thoughts, I think there is still some hope for you. Come back to my room. Let's continue with the interview.'

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