“Mmmm….a pinch of hing in the hot oil…….fry the onions till golden brown…..”
“Hey Sandeep! Get ready for the meeting it’s in 20 minutes,”
Sandeep jolted from his chair and hurriedly pressed alt+tab to flash the PowerPoint presentation on the screen and slipped swiftly the notepad in his drawer. He replied in a fumbled tone, “Oh yes Harish! Just give me a minute.”
“Please be ready, I don’t want any embarrassing situation like last time,” Harish, his manager, left rolling his eyes.
He somehow managed to give the presentation. The project delivery date was approaching. If he wanted to survive in this company in these times of crisis he needed to get hold of the situation.
It was a moonlit night. Sandeep stared at the night sky from his balcony, with a can of beer in hand trying to gulp down the frustration of his job life. “It was a tiresome day. Which day was not?” He thought.
He was in this job at IntelArt for five years as a software engineer. Not one day had passed he had not regretted being in it. Coding, programming…. And again the same thing….. where was he stuck? He would often ask himself.
Suddenly his mobile kept on the balcony wall started to buzz which was in silent mode.
“Oh! I almost forgot, it’s Thursday. I know what he has to say,” smirked Sandeep.
He swiped the green icon towards right to pick up the call.
“Hey dude! What’s up? What’s the plan for tomorrow?” Asked Vikram.
His place has become the destination for his friends cum colleagues, for the weekend get-togethers. And why not. He lived alone, away from his family and then the most important reason, the food.
“I’m all set. Tell me when you guys are coming?”
“As usual, just as soon as we get free from office. I’ll arrange the booze. You take care of the food. And yes, please make for us the Chicken Malai tikka you made last time. It was just awesome man,” said Vikram.
“Oh sure, but this time I have something more up my sleeve.”
“Oh really! Just can’t wait to taste that. Just let us get over with this last hell of a day of the week. We will have fun after that. And yes Amit and Saurav are also going to join us tomorrow,” Vikram then added, “By the way how did your presentation go today?”
“It went fine Yaar. Just as usual, the same stuff.” Replied Sandeep in a bored tone. Then they hung up the call.
Sandeep went to the kitchen, cooked dinner for himself. Then marinated the chicken for Friday night party with hung curd and masalas and kept in fridge. He didn’t like the idea of hiring a cook, given by his mother.
“Maa please, relax. You know I can cook. It makes me feel relaxed. And on days I can’t cook, I have the online food delivery options. Don’t worry about me.” He would say.
Next day evening, after office, all his colleagues and friends gathered at his place for the weekend party.
“Mmmm…..it’s delicious Yaar. The kebabs, the biriyani and this raita, everything is awesome. This food outlet near your place really serves good food,” Amit said to Sandeep with a giggle.
“What!” Sandeep exclaimed. On which the others broke into a laughter.
“Seriously Yaar. Your cooking skills are laudable. You don’t need to worry even if they hand out the pink slip to you. You can at least sell biriyani and earn money.”
While everyone laughed, Sandeep managed a forced smile in response to this. Only he knew how much he loves cooking, it is more than his hobby.
Their chit chats were interrupted by a call from Sandeep’s mother.
He went to his room and received the call, “hello Maa?”
“Beta, did you have your dinner?”
“I was just having it.”
“Listen beta, today your Laali bua visited our place. She was talking about this girl…….”
“Oh please Maa, don’t start on it again. You know I’m not interested.”
“But why beta? It is time. Why do you keep avoiding the topic every time? Do you like somebody? You can tell us….”
“Oh please Maa. I’m under too much work pressure. I don’t have time to think about all these. Also I need to settle down first…..”
“How much more will you settle down? You have found a good job. We are so proud of you beta. I’m just worried, since, you stay alone, you also cook for yourself.”
“So you want me to get married so that someone can cook for me?”
“It’s not like that….. Well…. Just leave it…. We won’t force you. Just take care of yourself. Bye.”
Sandeep didn’t know what he meant by being settled too. But he knew he doesn’t want what he is doing now. It was not difficult for him to have a love affair. Some of his female colleagues, he heard, have quite some liking for him. And why not, being a guy of 5 ft 11inch, a much desired wheatish complexion and rugged features, he easily grabbed attention. He had a few flings, but never had any long term relationship. He longed for something. He had always. He had this passion since childhood.
“Beta what are you doing in the kitchen? Boys have no role in the kitchen, just go and study.” His mother would say.
“Maa. The peas kachauris you made yesterday were so yummy. Tell me how you made it?” Once he asked his mother.
His father, Debashish, had laughed aloud and being a part of a typical patriarchal family had said, ” What will you do by learning the recipe? Whenever you wish to have it, your mother will make it. And after that your wife will be taught by your mother to make it.”
In spite of getting discouraged by his own family, he would frequently invade the kitchen, and cook something for his family.
But it was after his 12th exam, everybody realised it has become more than his hobby.
“Have you gone mad!! You have secured good rank in AIEEE, and you want to go for Hotel management course, just to become a chef?” Debashish went berserk when Sandeep told about his wishes. It was impossible for his father to understand being from a family of engineers and architects. He was forced to take up engineering. Being a bright student and under family pressure he had managed to get the degree with quite good grades.
“Hey Sandeep! Are you okay?” His thoughts were interrupted by Amit.
“Yeah……yeah, I’m fine.”
“Listen guys, I have got some news. This Monday there is another board meeting. I’m really tensed,” said Saurav.
“Oh no! The last time after the board meeting, they had sacked eight people. This recession time is screwing us. Let’s keep our fingers crossed,” Added Vikram.
On Monday the board members met. They had a sombre look on their faces. Due to prevailing circumstances some harsh decisions were to be taken.
“So let’s start with each team. The poorest performer will have to face the music. This time we have instructions to sack about double the employees we did away with last time.” Initiated a board member.
“These two guys from the marketing team have been shortlisted, we can sack one out of these two.”
“Let’s keep him for the time being and break the news to the other one.” Said a member pointing to a name on the sheet.
“It’s sad. He was an above average performer. But lately he has been taking too much of leave.”
“Can understand. But, in the present scenario, we cannot afford that.”
The board meeting ran for an hour. After which they reached a decision of laying off fifteen employees.
“Hey Sandeep! Did you hear the news?” Asked Vikram. “They have dismissed Saurav from our team initially for a period of six months,” added Vikram.
“What! This is really a sad news.” Sandeep grimaced. He was expecting the pink slip, which to his surprise, was bringing a feeling of hope to him. But on hearing this he really felt very upset, for Saurav and unexpectedly for himself.
“He is a very sincere employee. They know that. If it was not for his father’s cerebral attack, followed by paralysis, he would not have taken so many leaves. This is so unfair man!” Said Sandeep. Vikram nodded in agreement.
Sandeep passed the night, all awake. He brooded over the happenings of the day. He gathered all his courage and finally arrived at a decision. He got ready like everyday and left for his office.
“Wait! Are you serious?” Sandeep’s manager was flabbergasted. “You know what you are doing right?”
“Yes Harish, I’m really sorry. But I cannot continue. Please accept my resignation. And if possible please reinstate Saurav in my place.” Sandeep said with determination.
“You know very well the repercussions of your actions I guess. I hope you haven’t arrived at this decision driven by some whimsy. Well, if you wish so, we will consider it.”
Sandeep was feeling ecstatic as well as nervous. But he knew he will have to lie about it, at least for some days. He will have to act grief stricken. But he knew everything would be fine after some time.
“I’m coming back home Maa.” His announcement was enough to cause distress to his parents, Debashish and Tanima, at home.
“They fired me…..” he said. This added fuel to their anxiety.
He packed all his belongings and left for Kolkata, his hometown. Initially he showed that he was very depressed on losing the job. His parents would console him. To find jobs for him and to apply for them had become a part of Debashish’s daily activities. It continued for three months. Sandeep knew he would not find any, at least in current economic situations.
“Baba, I need to work. I need your support. Please don’t stop me now.” One day he pleaded his father.
“What do you want to do beta?”
“The land which we have near the main road, I know you are trying to sell it off. But you are not getting a suitable buyer. I want to start up an eatery at that place, with the amount of money I have saved in last five years,” Sandeep put forward his idea with great hope, seeing the situation favourable for coaxing.
Though initially upset with the idea, Debashish had to agree, seeing his depressed state. He himself was losing hope after his futile efforts at job search. He thought it’s better that his son does at least something than sitting idle and unemployed.
They all joined hands to build up the small eatery. Tanima would plan out the menu with Sandeep. Those were the happiest days of Sandeep’s life. In his five years of job career, he had longed for this. The execution was easy for him, since he had it all planned in his mind.
A day before inauguration of the eatery Debashish was busy searching for flower decorators in the area on the internet. Just then a mail notification from Sandeep’s un- signed out mail ID caught his eyes.
I feel blessed to have a friend like you. You would be happy to know that I have been reinstated by IntelArt. If it was not for your resignation, it would have not been possible. Thanks a lot Yaar. And needless to say we miss you a lot especially Amit, Vikram and me.
P.S.- Send some kebabs when you have time. We miss them more than you… 😉
Sandeep stood frozen behind Debashish’s chair, when he found him out reading the mail. Debashish became livid. He got up from his chair to find Sandeep standing there.
Unable to control his anger he slapped Sandeep.
“All this time you were lying to us? You betrayed us like this?”
Tanima came running hearing Debashish’s raised voice.
“Your son lied to us. He was not fired. He had resigned to do this shit of a business. From now on he will be responsible for his life and career. He can have that piece of land, I will think I have donated it in charity. Ask him to pack his stuff and leave. NOW!” Said an infuriated Debashish to Tanima.
A teary eyed Tanima stood there shaking. She knew Debashish was very adamant.
Sandeep left his house and started living in a small flat on rent. With a meagre bank balance left, he would go days with only boiled rice, potato and salt. There were days full of hope and determination, and then there would be days when he would think of running away from the situation.
But he kept his hope alive, he struggled day and night. Orders gradually started to pour in. People started liking his place. Some of his signature dishes like Crab Shorba, and Mutton hariyali kebabs were becoming talk of the town. Slowly but steadily he started making money.
A year later.
“And the best upcoming entrepreneur of the year award goes to…… Mr. Sandeep Sanyal, owner of Rondhon.”
The auditorium reverberated with applauds and cheers.
Sandeep was beaming with excitement, but deep at heart he missed his parents. He received the award jubilantly.
That night his doorbell rang. He opened his door to find Tanima and Debashish standing at his door.
“I’m so sorry beta,” said a teary eyed Debashish.
“Please don’t be Baba,” saying this he pulled them inside and hugged them tight. He felt content for the first time in his life having achieved his dreams.
This is an entry for the event #BreakFree, ArtoonsInn’s signature Short Story Writing event, #ArTales-16.
Check out event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/break-free-artales-16-open-event/
Check out Sanchari’s space here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/author/sanchari-banerjee/
Photo by Elliot Banks