It was a sunny afternoon in Mumbai. Cars were stuck in traffic and the city wouldn’t let anyone slow it down from the hustle and bustle of its urban life. Life in Mumbai had its peculiarities. Apart from being a major economic portal for South, West and Central Asia, it was a city enamoured by wealth and by a high-income elite workforce in finance, industry, commerce, and Bollywood. There was also the prominent presence of slums—a reminder of the burgeoning influx of rural dwellers caught in the daily struggle for a hopeful transition to a more fortunate city life. The city’s fuss and the subtle innuendoes of social life, whispered loudly to curious souls that the cure for failure in the city was to be out and about.
Parth, in his early twenties, was pacing towards the skyscraper office complex with dark clouds circling his mind. He had tried so hard to hold back the tears that had now formed in his eyes as he felt the tightening weight and heat of rejection flushing through his chest and face. The despondency he felt from the crumbling elements in his life for two grinding years seemed like it could only get worse. He had felt crippled and confined, but now it felt like his legs were being amputated with a Gigli saw with nothing to kill the pain, and he just couldn’t stand the torture anymore. If he couldn’t solve his problems, he at least wanted the freedom to end it all.
He got into an elevator and reached the top floor. From there he took the stairs leading to the terrace. It was an eighteen storey building and Parth had managed to dodge the little security posted to safeguard the place. Unlike the newly constructed office complexes with their sensational buzz and earnest security protocols, this fifteen year old building had much less security.
The weight of heaviness caught up with Parth’s pace as he slowly inched towards an edge of the terrace and leaned forward to look downwards. It was a scary and horrific view from the top. Parth closed his eyes as he relived graphic images, shocks and events from the last two episodic years of exertion and pain. All the memories of rejection, disappointment, pain, and depression slowly flashed through his mind, making him more certain that this world did not have a place for him, which was why he was saying good-bye to it. As he drew some breath to strengthen his heart and go for the quit, he wanted this to be a free fall and the last whiz of wind he would feel before the final cold smash on the hard ground below.
“Congratulations. You have the job. You will resume officially on Monday after the upcoming training this Thursday and Friday”, the manager had said to Parth after he was picked for his first job.
The last couple of years of his life hadn’t been inspiring. Parth had financial pressures in his family. His dad was recently retired from government service and the family desperately needed an earning member. His younger brother was still in college and was in his penultimate year. Parth had been classified as a boy with average intelligence due to the average marks he scored to complete his graduation. Upon graduation, Parth started looking for a job that could give his family the much needed financial support.
This period of job search soon turned itself into a test and Parth did everything possible in his commitment to find a solution. After many interviews, he finally landed a job at a technology-based loan company as a telemarketing staff and loan processor. The job required making about a hundred calls per day to convince people to take a loan. It was a profile that Parth hated badly, but he was left with no other option than to continue with the job and the salary it offered every first day of the month. His family needed the money.
Ashwini was the gorgeous girl Parth had fallen for while in college. She was a major toast on campus. Everyone wanted a piece of her and courted her fancy because of her charm, beauty, and brains. Ashwini was sweet, very bright in her academics and had clear career pursuits. These qualities easily earned her the tag "Beauty with brains", and made her such a valuable attraction.
“Hi Parth”, Ashwini had greeted, “you look worried, are you fine?”
“I am good Ashwini, just a little stressed? I have had so much to deal with lately. I guess I need a little rest.”
“Try to take good care Parth, make this weekend count by trying to catch a good rest.”
Parth felt the blush rush to his face, he fought hard to ensure Ashwini didn’t see it. His heart felt the warmth well up as he replayed the scene severally in his mind. The kindness in her voice, the tenderness in her eyes, and the sincerity of her words all got him ecstatic. If only she knew how he cared about her, but their conversations never went beyond these greetings, though Parth felt that she seemed to care in a special way.
At first he thought it was because he had been shy and hadn’t acted on the cues Ashwini had left him, she seemed to really care about him, or so he thought until he tried to get closer. The closer he tried to get, the more it seemed like she deliberately began to avoid him and to keep things at a formal acquaintance.
“I am just confused. Could Ashwini just be scared of making a commitment? Has someone hurt her before? She seems to want something, at the same time she never gives the allowance. Could she be getting me into a chase? Ashwini, I won’t hurt you. Or could it be I am not cool enough for you?” These were the thoughts and questions that bogged Parth’s mind in their final year of college.
Parth was getting frustrated as he never seemed to get anything he wanted. His family sagged under financial pressures, his efforts to improve his grades came out abysmal as he seemed too slow for the fast pace of things around him. Now he had been chasing Ashwini for some time but she didn’t seem to show the same interest in him—at least she didn’t allow things get close enough. She had occasional conversations with him, just as she did with other guys.
It was also clear she had a brighter chance at career than he did. She had emerged from the IT tests as part of the few candidates to be selected to work for MindSys, the best IT Company in the country. She got a handsome package.
Parth only got more attracted to Ashwini.
She was never rude to anyone and was very sociable—only that she had too many guys around her. Her light brown eyes were bright and fitted well into her heart-shaped face. Her hair carried such elegance in its dark, straight and silky texture—it was just the way he loved it, neither too long nor too short. She was fair and slender, and her body well accentuated by moderate curves. He kept thinking of how to get ahead of the pack, but it seemed more herculean to distinguish himself.
Every conversation that he had with her pulled him towards her and made him think more about her—even though many of those conversations were in his mind. Ashwini one day winked at him at a hangout he had managed to attend. He glided through the crowd, holding her gaze as they met-up and chatted. He said something that made her giggle so heartily that she gave him a peck. He couldn’t believe his luck. He savoured the waves of current that coursed through his body until someone bumped into him and shook him out of his reverie—it had all been his fantasy. He felt ashamed and left the party earlier than planned. He wondered if anyone had noticed him ogling at her.
Parth was an introvert and had a very sensitive mind. The attraction kept growing every day, numbing his senses and swirling around his emotions. He was convinced he was in love with Ashwini, and every time he saw a romantic movie of a young hero chasing his love, he felt the adrenaline rush urging him to do the same.
Parth kept imagining how he would scheme and chase the woman of his dreams and turn out victorious in life at last. Soon enough this emotional side of his life became a twist; it was harder than he thought and he didn’t want to be forward. What truly started at first as a chase was soon becoming more like a meaningless pursuit.
“Hi!” Parth called out from across an aisle in the grocery store, he could almost swear it had been over a month they last saw each other.
Exams and dissertations had kept many students scarce and buried in work. Ashwini smiled and walked over to say hello. They chatted for a while and exchanged numbers as they walked out of the store together. Parth felt a rejuvenated connection and followed it up with frequent messages. Soon enough, Ashwini wasn’t responding to his messages anymore and it only made him anxious and furious. He then decided to call instead whenever he felt the urge to talk to her.
Ashwini was a career focused girl but had the common feminine characteristic of attracting the attention of admirers. Parth was perhaps just another of such guys who fancied her, nothing serious. She was used to it, but couldn’t always reply to everybody. Everyone knew she had so much on her plate career wise; she always apologized whenever she later met them at a hang-out or in class. She was just busy.
But Parth seemed too caught-up in the maze and refused to accept things. He felt Ashwini was sidelining his attempts, so he chased her even more. He tactically showed up at places where she could be in order to force a co-incidence and strike conversations. He kept at it.
The media had been awash with reports on how information technology and software applications were transforming the landscape and shaping the future of work. Analysts kept projecting on the millions of new jobs that would be created by the on-going digital revolution.
Securing a job in a software firm, big IT company, or call center agency, was fast dominating the discussions by parents, middle-class families, poor households and youths alike. Undergraduates that looked forward to high paying careers formed the major part of the loop and were enchanted in the fabulous offers companies were making. Companies were flooding campuses to find the best talents for recruitment.
“Can you believe that guy struck a deal for $5,000 per month?” somebody in a small group holding one of those impromptu career conversations had said.
“That’s 60 grand of USD per annum! 40 Lakhs per year? I can’t believe it!” he exclaimed
“Well I know of another guy who got a Stack Developer job for $8,000.” Someone else said.
“He had been working on stuff since year two and he is quite good. These tech companies are spending big, all we need do is get really good and boom!...We begin to fly!”
Another discussant interjected and said “But hey guys we have to be real. Not everyone will get those kinds of jobs because most packages are between 6.5 to 10 Lakhs per annum for freshers. If you have good grades you could get between 10-20 Lakhs. So keep your grades up and try to know your stuff well, particularly if you aren’t a genius who could get the 40lakhs kind of job.”
Anytime Parth heard such discussions, he didn’t know what to make of himself. It was common place to find small groups of students discussing such things, especially when the talent test results were out. Parth was finding it difficult to continue taking the tests that the top technology companies conducted every semester. He had attended about ten of them and while most of his classmates had a campus placement offer, he had not even cleared the first level of tests—which were considered to be at the basic aptitude level.
Parth found it hard to concentrate on a test format where aptitude was measured within only a time span of half an hour. He could hardly understand the questions and by the time he understood them, the test time was over. This was why he avoided discussions about career prospects. Something in him kept shrinking as he ruminated on the possible consequences of his poor test performances on the quality of jobs he could secure. He also thought of how it extended to the quality of life he could afford for himself and that which he could help his family achieve.
After he graduated from college, the daily worry within the family only troubled his soul the more; he desperately needed an income that could help support the family. Parth was raised by a lower middle class family that lived in a 400 sq ft low profile chawl structure where one had to walk a hundred meters to go to the bath and washroom, while they could barely meet their expenses. Parth’s parents came from a cultured family and gave good Sanskar and religious teachings to both their kids.
The humble atmosphere in which they were raised did not deter them from dreaming that they would overcome all problems one day and live a very good life. Parth's parents had ensured that their kids attended good schools and had qualitative college education even when paying the fees was quite a burden on their finances. The family had to service loans to support their children’s education and it strained them—but they believed the investment was worth it.
"You should join an IT company" said Abhay, Parth's father. "They are paying very good salaries. The job will also take you places all over the world."
Abhay had his ears filled everyday from the daily banter he had with his friends, and some of the testimonies were nothing short of magical. His mouth had actually caught a fly recently when he practically gawked agape at the story of Bablu the shoe cobbler and popular street talkative.
Bablu was easily the best in the area, but you had to sit with him if ever you were going to get your shoe fixed, otherwise you could as well have left it at home because it sure wouldn’t get done. The reason was simple, Bablu claimed he was the busiest man in the area and didn’t have the time to attend to customers who couldn’t wait.
While Bablu held down his customers, he filled them in or got filled in on the latest gossip in town. His spot became the rallying point for the local news served hot. His good looks, strong physique and boastful lips seemed to earn him a good followership. He didn’t believe in marriage, he said he was a gift to any woman who had the guts to raise the children while he remained free. Now one of those five children from five different women had become the most sought-after tech gurus in Mumbai and had moved the entire family to a big house in the city.
Abhay kept wondering where they got it wrong with their kids, “Parth doesn’t seem enthusiastic about life or big ambitions and I am not quite sure about Tejas”, he thought to himself.
That evening, Abhay didn’t know if the reason he kept spitting was from the irritation of the big fly that had buzzed into his mouth to take undue advantage of his shock, or if it was the sickening feeling he felt in the pit of his belly as he remembered his sacrifices and what he thought was the irony of life unfolding right before his eyes.
Parth was excited about his father’s idea that a tech job would take him to places he had never been—he had always loved traveling, only that while growing they couldn’t afford too many trips. What Parth was however half-hearted about was whether he really wanted to work for a technology company. He did not like the way they chose their candidates. He wondered if failing ten consecutive campus tests wasn’t a signal that he wasn’t cut-out for such jobs. He had his doubts and wasn’t sure what he would do. But he knew he needed a job and had to get one. Unfortunately even the non-tech jobs seemed farfetched and out of reach.
"I'm trying to but I haven’t been selected in any" he had responded to his dad’s initial statement about joining an IT company.
Subhada, Parth's mother, let out a deep mournful sigh as she listened to her son. "You should study harder", she rejoined.
"Yes mother, but I'm not hundred percent about it, I don’t really know if I can do the job."
"How come you cannot do the job? Were you not educated as a technology engineer?"
Parth had his self-belief questioned once again. He always knew at the back of his mind that something was not right about the wave that was unfolding in front of him; from the inside he wanted something different. But anyone that Parth talked to had been able to convince him that there was something lacking in him that he needed to look out for. This had nearly made Parth lose all his self-esteem and his ability to face life. He wasn’t sure he could find fulfillment and ever attain his desires for prosperous living.
Subhash’s name came up as the caller I.D. “Hi, Subhash”
"Hello Parth, there is this opening at a small Fintech company and they have asked for referrals of trusted people who haven’t got a job yet. I thought you might be interested"
"They are not even taking the placement test. All they'll do is an interview."
"Really? when is it? "
Subhash was working in the college as a placement coordinator, and his job was to ensure all placements open to the college were filled by the college’s candidates. The Chairman of the College Board wanted the college to gain recognition for job placements in order to raise the profile of the school. When a request came from the loan processing Fintech company, Subhash had found Parth's name on the list of the few college candidates still without a job. He wanted to know if Parth would like his name among those to be forwarded for the company’s interview.
Fastloan.com was a digitally driven loan processing company. On the morning of the interview, Parth dried his tears as he looked into the mirror while knotting his tie and preparing to leave the house for the interview.
Parth was happy about the fact that he did not have to appear for any test and only had an interview.
FastLoan.com was a small financial technology (Fintech) and loan processing company which processed loans for big banks. They had an office in the business district and had a staff of about twenty people, majority of which were telemarketers.
Parth sat tensely outside the cabin of the interview officer as he waited his turn.
Parth had got a hint from Subhash that FastLoan’s pay package was an average one, but he still thought the amount was good enough to support his family.
The interviewer was very friendly with Parth. After a brief conversation, Parth was getting hopeful that he would land the job.
"You talk really well. You will fit into sales and marketing", said the Interviewer after he had sufficiently engaged Parth on generic talks about the technology industry, life in the city and life in general.
"Do the training this week and you can start work from Monday."
Parth was excited to go back home and tell his parents about the job. He was happy he could now contribute something to the upkeep of the house.
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It was a week into Parth's job and he was doing the daily calls to loan prospects to get willing people to open a loan account with FastLoan.com. The Higher the Loan value, the better it was for the company as they were commission agents.
"Parth, come to my cabin." said Parth's Manager as Parth removed his headset and mic, and went into the cabin of Madhur who was handling the team of twenty telemarketers in Fastloan.com
"From today, your job is to make a hundred calls every day and produce five new loan accounts.
"Five new loan accounts? Isn’t that too much?"
"Well that’s very normal here."
Parth was tensed as he walked out of that cabin and soon realized it was not going to be easy. He was not enjoying making phone calls to people who were peacefully at home, only to ask them to apply for a loan and hear them bang their phone after some harsh response. That was the case most of the time. It was tough selling debt to people when they didn’t walk through your door to ask for it.