I watched Saroja closely as she stepped up to the door of the conference room. She was just setting herself to open the door, like we do when we're weighing heavily until the last minute to find the perfect way to break the bad news to someone inside. She hadn't looked up at me once since I spotted her walking this way, and that didn't help my attempts to study her face for any clues about my fate. As she stepped into the room and looked up, her flow of motion skipped a beat, making for an uncomfortable full-body spasm, as she half jumped back in horror at my probing, searchlight eyes, eyelids peeled well back.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” she started again like it was a stock phrase I never tired of hearing, “And for the confusion about who the team gave the feedback to. Can you please come to my office?”
This was it. I could see it unfolding moment by horrible moment, right in front of my eyes. They were taking me some place quiet because my feedback was so bad they wanted any potential breakdowns to happen away from the public eye. Or maybe Saroja just wanted me in some place that was more centrally located in the office, and within earshot of many a potential "new joinee", in case she felt the need to make an example of me by exploding with, “Oh. My. GOD! You call that a “presentation”? I wasn't there, and I'm awfully glad I wasn't judging by what I hear,” using her fingers to do the whole double-quotation-marks-in-the-air thing to accentuate how ludicrous she thought her decision to even consider me in the first place.. Or, how utterly idiotic she thought me for thinking that I even had a chance at becoming a hallowed and exalted “English Trainer”. This time I did the double quotes thing in my head. I almost cursed under my breath as we rounded the corner towards her office, catching myself in time as another senior executive came into view, sitting behind her desk in what seemed to be a recently done up office, her door half open while she was on the phone staring at the world pass by her in the corridor. Once we were inside Saroja's office, I waited for her to be seated and for her to then ask me to sit down before I even lowered my behind from where it was. She looked up fleetingly, only long enough to make eye contact, like there was a legally stipulated minimum duration of eye contact that had to have transpired for it to be considered not casual but communicative, while simultaneously extending an upward facing palm at the end of an extended hand, aimed in the general direction of one of the two chairs in front of her. I did as I was told. I didn't realize it then, but I had brought my bag with me, and I was now sitting in front of the Central Training Head of a company that I was trying to get a job at, clutching my bag for dear life. When she looked back up, I immediately looked down at my feet, almost as if it was some strange reflex and I was guilty about something. Then, realizing what I had done, and trying to recover in an instant, I pretended to see something on my shoe and dust it off, before I finally sat back up and looked at Saroja. I winced as she opened her mouth.
“How did your presentation go?” she asked.
What? Was she serious? Was this the trickiest of all trick questions, saved until the very end like some “killer blow”? What was I supposed to say? That I wanted to throw something at my audience when their staring at me with jaded eyes started to get on my nerves? I started to answer and paused briefly, hoping that it appeared to be a well formulated response, one that would floor her, finally saying that I thought the presentation went alright, after an initial hiccup. I was sure to include this last point, lest I appear to be some vacuous buffoon who always thinks that every single presentation he has ever given has been a resounding success, even the time when he showed up totally unprepared and proceeded to exceed his allotted podium time by fifteen whole minutes just because he's the CEO. What can I say, I was hoping to turn a certain negative into a work-in-progress positive, all in a potentially vain attempt to try and get a job. The moment the last syllable of the final word of my response had barely left my lips, Saroja reacted by standing up all of a sudden. “She's going to throw something at you,” screamed my mind, as the wincing turned to cowering. All I wanted was a job. How and where did it all go so horribly wrong?
“Congratulations! The senior trainers said I missed a wonderful presentation,” began Saroja as I felt myself blacking out from the sudden shock of it all, strange as that may have appeared with me bracing for an unidentified-table-object to be heading my way. Lost in this bizarre moment, and lucky to still be conscious and seated although thoroughly perplexed, I sat there like a deer caught in the headlights of Saroja's vehicle, as she continued to speak, finishing with, “...but at least I still have the privilege of welcoming you to the company.” There she was, having walked around from behind her desk, standing next to me, kind of towering over me if I remembered correctly, right hand extended in the offer of a handshake.
It must have been the look of fear on my face, or the strange combination of petrified-look-in-the-eyes and nervous smile, or maybe it was the fact that I hadn't moved or said anything in the last few seconds that prompted her to ask, “Is everything alright Girish?”
I snapped out of my own little weird nightmare when she asked the question a second time. What can I say, I was freaked out because while attributing the fact that I had gotten the job to luck, it didn't completely explain the chasm in the difference of opinion between what I thought was a bad job and what Saroja here was telling me about how well I had done. Luck certainly didn't explain how the plaster-of-Paris expressions of the panel of trainers that I had encountered not more than a half hour ago, had transmogrified into effusive praise from one even further up the ladder than them. What on earth had happened here? Pondering the strange events slowly unraveling before me, I cautiously extended my right hand to meet hers, giving her the most “dead fish” handshake humanly possible. Maybe I imagined her yanking me up on my feet, shaking me vigorously to knock the stunned silence out of me, because in reality it's more probable that I stood up because she was standing next to me, a common sign of respect to our elders. The limp handshake? That was a result of going through the motions at snail's pace, waiting for the ax to come down with each nervous breath. I was still standing when she returned to her side of the table, prompting her to do a repeat of her earlier large sweeping motion of her arm, that ended at the chair I had been sitting in, accompanied with a, “Oh, that's not necessary. Please sit down.” She was playing this cool, no, cooler than cool, like this was how every day went. I was still puzzling out which part of the presentation had been so worth the mention. I even considered the fact that I had walked into a TV gag on one of those prank shows, where I was being tricked into showing some emotion, only to have the hidden cameras pointed out to me, and forcing me to smile in good taste at the end of it all. I even glanced all around me, with darting eyes lest she catch on to the fact that I was finally catching on. Nope. Just a smiling Saroja and an utterly confused Girish, in an office that could accommodate a busload of people if it really wanted to. Forcing myself out of this mental haze, I asked if there had been any points about where I could improve to be a proper trainer, according to the trainer panel that was present.
“Oh, there wasn't anything major, just a bit of a hiccup at the start of the presentation, like you pointed out.” And she went right back to giving me the pleased grin. Now, I was even more confused. Was that all they, the panel of senior trainers headed by Naveena, had communicated to Saroja? But that didn't even begin to explain the fact that I could have presented my topic to a bunch of propped-up cadavers in a morgue somewhere, going by what I had experienced, and judging by the lack of excitement in the audience that was actually in the room with me at the time, as opposed to the decision-making, secondary audience that was sitting in front of me right now. It made little to no sense, no matter how I tried to explain it to myself. I even gave the benefit of doubt to a bunch of shape-shifting extra terrestrials who may have been sent from some dark corner of the galaxy to save me by, at the exact moment, vaporizing the original members of the trainer panel, making themselves look like the trainers, and then giving Saroja gushing praise about a presentation that they themselves hadn't seen. Great time to sit there and fantasize about the ludicrous, right? So, I moved on to the next order of business – my diploma and certificates in that lovely little folder, arranged chronologically by section, starting with a letter of recommendation from my stint as an English Tutor, and ending with some additional certificates that I had gotten back in high school. If I remembered correctly, Saroja did say that she would look at the documents after I had completed the presentation and received feedback. Well, here I was with said tasks complete, and their memories repressed to the deepest, darkest catacombs of my mind. As disoriented as I was, not knowing when the sick joke would stop, or at least when it would put me out of my misery, I decided to bring up the question of exhibiting proof of my achievements, so to speak.
“No, don't worry about that,” she was about to say when there was a sharp knock on the door. Startled further, I spun around, almost giving myself whiplash-with-a-twist. There was a gentleman, smiling very pleasantly, waiting outside the door with what seemed to be a few sheets of paper in his hand. Saroja motioned for him to enter, not as pompously as this sentence makes it sound. He did, and as he made his way to the table, he turned to smile at me, with an ever-so-slight hint of a bow. I smiled back, but considering the fact that he was old enough to be my father, as young as my father is, I got up and reciprocated his gesture. Noticing this exchange of extreme politesse, Saroja ventured to introduce us, “Gangaram, I'd like you to meet Girish, he's going to join our training team,” then turning to me she said, “Gangaram heads our Legal and Accounting section here at the head office.” I shook Gangaram's hand, and I was surprised to get a “gentle giant” kind of handshake, where my hand completely disappeared into his, but was very safe ans secure where it was, kind of like fine China being packed with a generous layer of packing material to prevent damage.
“Nice to meet you,” said Gangaram, with a dulcet voice to match his gentle nature. I smiled politely, slightly less befuddled from a moment ago, but plenty hazy inside the head still. The moment we had formalized our first meeting, he proceeded to plant the papers he was still holding on Saroja's desk, setting off a hushed discussion of which all I could hear was the odd “s” being hissed and an aspirated “p” here and there. I didn't wait around to be shown to my chair yet again, and so as not to appear overly curious, I directed my glance to everywhere else in Saroja's office, except directly in front of me. The discussion seemed to be going full steam when suddenly both Saroja and Gangaram stopped talking and looked up at me. Tempted to glance at them the moment I heard the hushed voices stop, I continued staring at a painting on the wall that my eyes had fallen on the moment the silence kicked in. Gangaram cleared his throat a little, and I let my guard drop, making eye contact with him before he was done. Nothing worse than being caught trying to fake something, especially something so tiny as trying to fake your lack of interest in a conversation that you were obviously not a part of, even though you were pretty much face-to-face with the people having the conversation. It wasn't that serious an offense obviously, because Saroja and Gangaram were sporting Cheshire Cat smiles at me. I decided to break the quietude with a, “I...I'm sorry. Were you talking to me?”
“So Girish, when can you join us?” asked Saroja, brushing aside my query effortlessly. Okay, so that's how we were going to play it. I decided to stop worrying about all the stuff I had been beating myself up about, like the opportunity to get accurate feedback, or the chance to show everyone my life-history-in-official-documents folder. After close to fifteen minutes of utter bewilderment, imposed upon myself by me and my thoughts, I smiled and told her that I was ready to join immediately.
“That's excellent news!” she cried, throwing me back a little. Gangaram was still smiling at me, and because he was already standing, simply extended his right hand to congratulate me. I obliged, rising to the occasion, if you will, as Saroja proceeded to move things along. “I want you to go through this offer letter and tell me if you have any questions, If you don't, then we can both sign it and I can show you around the office and introduce you.” Wow! Amazing! Talk about being easy as pie. This whole job search thing wasn't as bad as people made it seem. Well, with a presentation thrown in for good measure. Thrilled to bits, finally, I eagerly reached over and completed the over-the-table transfer of my employment offer. I glanced down at it. Letters. Bits of ink, neatly arranged on the page. I don't know why, but I couldn't get my eyes to focus at that very moment, so I was in effect illiterate. Still, through the haze of miniscule inkblots on paper, something seemed amiss. I wasn't able to pick it out, but my gut told me that I had encountered my first “foul up” at my new place of employment. Wow! And this wasn't even Day 1, technically.
All of a sudden, my eyes shot back into focus, and I was no longer just dazedly glancing at the offer letter that I had been handed. Immediately, as if all this while I had been an eagle, soaring over the land in search of my prey and having just spotted movement on the ground, hundreds of feet below, using my hyper-zoom abilities to lock on to my target, I spotted the error. It wasn't egregious. But, it was something that I couldn't believe I had to point out to the people sitting in front of me. I leaned back, away from the desk with the letter on it, without even turning the page or glancing below the halfway mark of the first page. I looked up to see the beginnings of an “Oh? What seems to be the problem?” head-tilt slowly bending both Saroja's and Gangaram's necks, inquiring about what had caused such a reaction from me, almost like I had lifted up some elegant cloche at the Duke's banquet that concealed a potentially veritable bonanza of mouthwatering treats, only to find some maggot-infested goop on the plate. It was my turn to speak now, after all, she had told me to ask questions if I had any. “Uh..,” I began politely awkwardly, “I think you may have given me the wrong letter.” I was being as humanly polite as I could. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't about to erupt like Krakatoa or something; it usually takes way more to elicit that kind of reaction from me. I was stifling a giggle that at this moment may as well have been a guffaw that I was trying to madly choke the life out of. I pushed the letter to the “No Man's Land” area in the middle of the table and swiveled it 90 degrees so that people on both side of the table could read it, my index finger being used to both push the letter to its desired destination, as well as underlining the question that I had. Both Saroja and Gangaram leaned in, he craning over her slightly because he was still standing next to her. Then, like me, but with a lot more conviction, it was their turn to jump back a little. It should have been the first thing anyone spotted. There in front of all of us, right in the middle of Saroja's table – as I imagined the camera in my head zooming upward, away from the table with a slow spin to denote the end of the scene – was a letter addressed to “Ms. Girija Pandey.”