By Rimli Bhattacharya
“And you took it.” Her cold gaze was piercing.
I sat in front of her, sobbing. I could sense the rawness in my tears. The pain was still an open wound. I tried holding the tea table for support. I was shaking.
My session would last for only one hour and then I need to leave. And I have already wasted twenty minutes from my valuable time with Parwana.
“You need tissues?” Parwana spoke. Her voice warm as early spring.
I knew it was her way of handling things. She was accustomed to dealing with my mood swings and fiery temper. It was her veracity. She would listen carefully, absorb things, and then respond. She never reacted. She was used to dampening the situations rather than adding fuel to the flames. And so before I knew it, I was back to my happier self. It was like a halo of love engulfing me rather than the constant bickering I was accustomed to. I was addicted to her calmness. I grew to love her.
It was Jahansuz who had introduced me to Parwana.
Jahansuz the charmer, whose complexity I had once mistaken for intelligence. I had heard a lot about him in the past. Those were all praises. That he was a wonderful trainer and people would get hypnotized when he taught. That his sessions were bound to trigger the thought process. And when an individual returned from his training it was assured that s/he would emerge as a new person with a cognitive mind. However, there was a subtle warning, that he was foul-mouthed and would share non-veg jokes with the team.
“What do you mean by non-veg jokes?” I had asked my colleague.
“You don’t look that naïve,” my colleague had replied and I hadn’t probed further.
For the next few days our lunch table would be abuzz with his stories. I mean stories about Jahansuz. I am sorry, they weren’t stories but facts about him.
In my mind I had etched him. A highbrow person, he had in him the power of intellect and that we needed to be very careful when we dealt with him. He was punctual and anyone who turned a minute late for his sessions would need to deal with his retribution.
“And you know he has divorced his wife and has married a woman half his age,” driver Ramesh confided in me. I had my own suspicions though. I was very well aware of that sly character Ramesh and would definitely won’t go by his gossip. “Madam, he was even caught red-handed bedding a woman at his Madh Island bungalow. Ever since that episode, our management has refused all the services offered by him. This training is after a gap of ten long years. Swear madam, this is the truth.” Ramesh continued.
But then who cares about a trainer’s personal life? I had mused and had dismissed Ramesh’s gossips.
We were to leave for the program on a Saturday. Roshan my colleague had attended this program in the past. Before leaving I wanted to have a quick chat with the highly introverted Roshan. Somehow I had always felt that he never lied.
“How was it, Roshan,” I had asked. “It’s worth the training. Learn what he teaches you. I guarantee the week-long program would be a life-changing event for you.” There was no reason to doubt Roshan. After all I knew him. He was a sensible man.
The company had booked a resort for this program. The training was to begin on Monday and last till Saturday morning. We would start for Mumbai afterwards.
“Hello everyone.” Jahansuz greeted our team at 9 AM sharp on Monday. A short guy with a bunch of unruly grey curly hair, he was a sexagenarian. He studied us over the rim of his reading glasses that hung on his parrot like nose, and his eyes warmed up with a smile. His looks stopped at me. “Oh, we are lucky, we have an enchantress among us,” he had commented and everyone including me had laughed. After all, who wouldn’t like to be complimented?
Yes, he was indeed a hypnotizer. He narrated life-changing stories and we devoured them. Though it was a full day nine to six training, he conducted his lectures only for an hour and then assigned tasks to us. We were an entire batch of fifteen and it was Jahansuz who split us into three groups. We needed to complete our classwork and homework with our respective teammates. The sessions with our teammates involved brainstorming and sometimes stretched till 2 AM as we struggled to complete our tasks. Each task led to arguments and it felt like holding debates as we did in school. Someone in our group commented that these tasks would be later assessed by our management and Jahansuz would brief our bosses about the performance of each one of us. We really had to impress Janhansuz with the quality of our individual work.
On Wednesday, Jahansuz brought a photographer and declared openly that he would like to sit next to me during the photo session. Beautiful women appealed him, he said. After the photography session, he started our classes and that’s when I realized what my colleague had meant by non-veg jokes. He was blunt and appeared comfortable with such derogatory witticism of his.
That evening I had checked with Roshan about this part of the training and he had laughed it off saying, “Pick which is important for you and ignore the rest. He does this with every group, it’s his style.” “But then it’s so exhausting, Roshan. He would dump us with so many tasks and then would simply disappear,” I had complained. “Matter of only a week, you can pull on,” Roshan had assured.
One day I spotted Jahansuz with a young woman during our lunch break. A stylish lady in her early thirties. They sat at a distance and ate. They resembled father and daughter. Then I remembered Ramesh’s words which was further confirmed by the waiter that the woman was indeed his wife. After all, I was inquisitive.
By the time we reached Friday our entire group of fifteen trainees were tired and jaded and none of us could enjoy the delicacies served by the resort during our breakfast, lunch and dinner. All we wanted was to complete our tasks. On Friday morning, Jahansuz suddenly threw a question, “Who all have been with the company for more than 5 years?” I along with some of my other colleagues raised our hands. The next question followed, “Is it because you all are scared to move out of your comfort zones?” Then he shared his another dose of non-veg jokes with us and we laughed. But I got the message and wondered how he could speak so openly against the same company which had sponsored this program. He was gutsy and there was no doubt about it.
That same evening a party was organized for all of us. I felt relieved that there won’t be any homework tonight. I wanted to rest in my room. I had hardly slept for only 2-3 hours this week and decided not to join the party. I messaged my colleague that I won’t be joining the party but would come down straight for dinner. I decided to catch on some sleep. My colleague messaged back that I needed to inform Jahansuz of my plans as he was the one in charge.
I didn’t even have his number; how would I text him? I called up the reception and asked them to connect me to him. He came on line.
“Jahansuz, I won’t be joining the party…” Before I could finish, he asked for my room number and said that he would meet me in fifteen minutes.
We all addressed him by his first name as he had scoffed at me right on the first day for calling him “Sir”. Though I had felt it odd but then what’s so great in a name. I won’t be meeting him anymore after the training.
As usual, he was punctual. He knocked on my door in exactly fifteen minutes. I was in my trousers and Tee and had not even bothered to change. My hair was undone and all I wanted was to be left alone.
“We have exactly half an hour in hand, so hurry up. Let’s start.” He said point-blank. “We both want it and there is no harm. We are adults and it’s just this evening and it’s highly unlikely that we would ever meet in future,” he continued.
I froze. He waited for five minutes and then walked out of my room. Before leaving he looked at me and uttered, “I am a gentleman.”
My mood turned bitter. I decided to go down and join the party. Jahansuz came along with his wife, half his age, and introduced her to all of us. He just had a drink and left with his wife. We were asked to enjoy ourselves. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I too left immediately after him. In the lift we met each other and he said casually, “You won’t attend the party?” I nodded in disapproval. Upon reaching my room, I tried watching TV to divert myself, though I disliked it. I tried talking to my parents and I remember my father asking me if everything was okay. That night I could not sleep a wink.
Saturday morning was our last session with him and post lunch we would be leaving for Mumbai. We weren’t given any task but he delivered a lecture on improving our performance, on management, on career and so on. He also said that we should keep changing jobs and evaluate our performance based on the revised pay which the new company would offer us as compared to the existing one. I wasn’t paying attention at all. He was quick enough to notice it and said while laughing out loud in front of everyone, “She must be missing VAT 69.” I was no fool to not understand the subtle taunt. I remember digging my nails deep in my skin till it started bleeding. For once I thought I would faint. I was in a state of haze. His lecture ended and all my colleagues left the room. I was still sitting when Jahansuz came to me. He handed me a card with a number scribbled on it. “This is Parwana, my friend. She is a counselor. Meet her once you go back. You need counselling.”
Once back in Mumbai, I started feeling hollow. The pain was unbearable. It was bitter, unforgiving. I was still dazed when I dialed that number. It was answered by a lady who introduced herself as Parwana and asked me to meet her on a particular Saturday. A foul-mouthed philanderer had handed me a number of an unknown person and I had set up a meeting with her. I must be surely out of my senses, I mused.
I met her.
I remember her sitting cross-legged waiting for me to speak. She would listen carefully as I spoke. Each session lasted for an hour and all I did was talking about my childhood, my office, and my friends. When I fixed my next session with her, she asked me, “Are you sure that you want to see me again?”
It was during the fifth session, she said to me, “How old were you when it happened?” The question threw me off guard. Was my grief that palpable, I wondered.
I tried controlling my emotions. I felt asphyxiated as I tried to hide my grief. The emotions overpowered me and I broke down entirely. Whatever I had spoken in my defense was washed away in those salty tears. When I finally looked at Parwana, I was a picture perfect image of agony, loss and desolation. I was the face of one who had suffered multiple times but had not yet learnt a lesson. But why do I say that? I was anything but innocent. My tremors increased. I could not stop. Even as I pressed hard my hand against the wooden table, it shook. My lips quivered but I couldn’t utter a word. Everything seemed raw, my tears, my emotions, just everything. Why could I not stop crying for God’s sake?
“Parwana, desolation is my name. All I am is sadness. Where there was once love, laughter and innocence, there is now an aching hollowness. I was honest, truthful. I was a teen. All I am is a soft, gentle woman. Why the hell can’t they see me that way?” I whimpered as I spoke.
“And you took it,” her cold gaze was piercing.
“I didn’t have a choice. No one would have trusted me. And now this Jahansuz, he is too powerful. Do you think anyone would believe me? The society is biased and we women are victims.” I was panting as I spoke.
“Did you ever try spelling out the truth?” She sounded even calmer than before.
I was flabbergasted. I sat in silence, stupefied. Parwana fixed a piping hot coffee for me and I complimented that she was very good in beating café latte.
I took a long time to finish my drink.
“Feeling better now?” Parwana said gently.
I was in a state of mental ecstasy when I left Parwana’s place. This time we did not fix any sessions but I told her I would text her if I needed one. What I carried in me was pure freedom and joy and it was the dirt that I left at her doorstep.
However the recovery wasn’t easy. It took me months to get back to my old self.
“May I come in, sir?” I knocked on the cabin door of my CEO, Mr Hingorani, one morning.
He gestured me to come in and asked me to take a seat.
“Sir, I have a complaint.” I was absolutely at ease with myself as I spoke. He listened.
Two years later our HR department received a letter from M/s Jahansuz and associates about an upcoming training program.
The entire office was once again bustling with excitement.
Two days later we received an email from our HR department. It spoke that our company has blacklisted M/s Jahansuz and associates on the charges of outraging the modesty of women.
Jahansuz had nailed his own coffin.
I recalled Parwana’s words, “Did you ever try spelling out the truth?”
I entered the washroom. Gratitude drained through my eyes. It travelled through every cell in my body. It lifted a heavy baggage from my heart and filtered out my grief.
“Thank you,” I texted Parwana.
“Now forgive yourself,” replied Parwana with a smiley.
Rimli Bhattacharya is a first class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from NIT, Agartala with a MBA in supply chain management from University of Mumbai. Having worked in the corporate sector for twenty years, she realized writing was her true calling. She left her high profile job as a General Manager at a multinational in 2017 to pursue her passion. She has contributed to two anthologies – A Book of light under a pseudo name, Leela Chakraborty, edited by Jerry Pinto and published by Speaking Tigers and Muffled Moans, edited by Dr Santosh Bakaya and Lopamudra Banerjee and published by Authorspress. Her works have appeared in twenty six literary magazines & E – Zines: The Education Post, Café Dissensus, Feminism in India & Women’s Web. As a little girl she wrote short fictions and poems for The Times of India. She is also an Indian Classical dancer of Kathak and Odissi genres. Twitter: @rimli76
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