The Interview

“You risked it too much Mr. Chatterjee. Instead of putting up this futile defense of silence, you could just co-operate with us. I could not promise you your job, but at least we could ensure a easy farewell process, where we could do without black-listing you for the rest of your professional career.” The external consultant, Mr. Singh, spaced his words out carefully. He did want to sound menacing, however he wanted to also be careful with his words. A consultant should always sound politically correct. But this bloke was surely ruffling him off…

A strange silence, a strange calmness..Knowing very  well that he was on the verge of perhaps being convicted by law, a premature end of what could be a rewarding career at a MNC. He was in some sort of trance… He might have lost all battles but somewhere he was not repentant. He looked like someone who had willingly walked into the fire pit.

In his career spanning 20 years, this is the first target that Mr. Singh saw, had a sense of silent defiance. This guy smiled..and he smiled perhaps at his own destruction. His calmness disturbed the seasoned consultant’s ego and experience.

Shyamal meanwhile was far away, back in his days with the guitar.. the stramming.. the microphone…. The creation of music… those rebel poems…

It was a sleepless night the night before and Shyamal had opened his own little treasure box in his mind..the box he had kept far away from his thought process..He did not know whether it was an unconscious way of driving his mind away from the evident and inevitable disaster that he could foresee..and a flurry of images that raced like a rewinding video cassette…tracing his journey into the fortunes and thereafter the slippage.. slippage into a potential oblivion.

“I understand your point Mr. Singh.” Shyamal spoke after a long silence. Immediately all pairs of eyes in the room, which were wavering until now due to the passive demeanour of Shyamal, got transfixed on him. It reminded Shyamal of the sleeping tiger in the cage in a zoo and eagerly waiting crowd outside.

“You are being paid for what you are doing right now. Neither do we have any personal feud within us. You are here doing your job. All this while you had been trying to ask me, if I agree that there has been misappropriation of company assets under my supervision.. I told you, I agree.

You asked me whether there had been instances of bribery in cash or kind in this organization, to which I replied that as per my knowledge there has been compromises of the “code of conduct” in this organization but my knowledge has been largely hearsay. Hence, I cannot throw light on that.

Your third question was regarding my personal relationship with the Secretary to the CFO of the organization Ms. Natasha Bhatia… I don’t think I am liable to answer you as to whether there is an existing relation or there is no relationship. I am not here to help you satisfy a personal agenda of some respectable people in this organization under the guise of an investigation into corporate matters.”

Oh yes Sir you will..!! screamed the CFO also present in the panel of interviewers. “You will tell all people here as to how you and Natasha got together to frame me.. my reputation…to siphon off funds from the organization.. and I am talking about a goddamn huge sum of INR 4.3 Crores. You will bloody well explain those payments you had authorized to M/s Creative Media Inc.”

Singh was quick to jump in… “Mr. Brown..we will handle it.. give us some more time on this…. Yes.. Mr. Chatterjee.. we are hearing you.. carry on”

Shayamal, looked at David Brown with a quizzical expression. “So, Mr. and your brother-in-law had nothing to do with Creative it?”

Singh interfered again.. and the words hissed out through his clenched teeth..“Mr. Chatterjee, we would want to hear from your end whether Mr. Brown or his relationships had anything to do with Creative media or Natasha Bhatia.. why don’t you stop going round in circles and tell the panel here, what transpired..who said which words to whom and under what circumstances.”

Shyamal turned to Singh and now he started smiling from ear to ear…”You have scanned through my laptop, the ERP system and the supportings…in pursuit of evidence.. haven’t you? I thought you will tell me the circumstances under which Creative media were on-boarded..won’t you?”

Singh..for the first time was taken aback… “Well.. there was none except for a mail which you sent to Mr. Brown, requesting for his mail approval for inception of Creative media. In your mail, you had confirmed that you were not happy with the due-diligence results for the vendor… so, would you like to explain as to how and why was this vendor on-boarded even after you had not found ‘satisfactory’ reasons for on-boarding the vendor?”

“Well.. you will be surprised to hear Mr. Singh..there were no more mails. It were all hard copies which were preserved by Natasha. Natasha had told me that she had kept them in custody of Mr. Brown…”.. Shyamal carefully paced his words this time.

Brown snapped…”Natasha is history Mr. Chatterjee… she has quit a good 15 days back and we cannot reach out to her no more…I tried doing that but her mobile does not work anymore….there was no one staying in the address she was providing us..and telegrams have returned from the permanent address she had provided us..”

Now it was the turn for the CHRO to be surprised… Kenneth Jones was a seasoned personnel in his 50s.. a professional to the core… he had flown down from New Jersey to address a blooming “crisis situation” in his Indian firm. “But why did you go so much out of the way to contact somebody who quit the organization in such a bad taste.. what was the compulsion David?”

Brown yelled…”She had fucking access to all my goddamn personal folders… tax returns.. immigration papers… salary details….and I cannot find fucking one paper!!!.. Does that make sense to ya Kenneth?”….

Mr. Jones went red in the face and replied… “You gotta control your emotions David… I would strictly not entertain such profanities in the conference room of my company.. hope I made myself clear…and as far as your personal papers are concerned.. Natasha was not your personal secretary.. she was being provided to you to help you manage your professional commitments towards the firm.”

David fumed and fretted… however he kept quiet this time….

“Oh she was more than his personal secretary Mr. Jones..were you not aware?” Shyamal cautiously slipped in his two pennies…

Suddenly, the colors of the face of Mr. David Brown were starting to drain off.. he loosened his carefully worn tunic and mopped off beads of anxiety that gathered on his red forehead…

“What exactly do you imply by that Mr. Chatterjee… could you elaborate…?” The deep voice of Mr. Jones boomed across the pin drop silence of death….

Shyamal let a shrug out and started talking…”Well.. if you really want to hear… here are some facts that you would want to reflect upon:

  1. Brown had invested in 3 mutual funds with a lump-sum value of INR 50 lacs, in the years 2011, 2012 and 2013. Two of them had a common beneficiary. The name of the beneficiary was Natasha Bhatia.

(Mr. Brown started to say something while Mr. Jones gestured at him to keep quiet…)

  1. Bhatia accompanied Mr. Brown to 5 official trips to various parts of the world. The trip to China took a detour to Thailand and both resumed office after 5 days beyond schedule. Of course the company did not fund this detour.
  2. You would like to review the itemized bill of Mr. Brown’s personal mobile number which he used to submit for reimbursement. It is a pity that Mr. Browne was not too net savvy and that is the reason why we find Mr. Brown regularly sending SMS and calling a particular phone number after 12.00 am, almost every day. I have my contacts in the cell-phone service provider company who confirms that the mobile number belongs to Natasha Bhatia. I am sure you would like to see some of the sample SMS that are still stored in the device. This device was company provided and Ms. Bhatia had submitted the same to me before she left.
  3. The company accommodation provided to Ms. Bhatia was flat 507, Sai simran co-operative society, Deonar, Mumbai- 400088. This property is registered in the name of Mr. GN Verghese… Yes Mr. Singh..your expression says it all. This is the same GN Verghese who is also a shareholder in M/s Creative media along with Natasha Bhatia as per the records in the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website. Do you want to know whose brother Mr. GN Verghese is? Mrs. Lucy Verghese Brown… which is the name of the wife of our respectable CFO.
  4. And… that late evening.. when I stayed late back in office to prepare the annual report… Natasha came out from Mr. Brown’s cabin and suddenly she met me on her way to the washroom… She did not look as if she was having a meeting inside. She did not want to face me…however.. I could see a rose being crushed under the libido of a maniac…the makeup flushed out from her face… her carefully prepared office attire being disturbed ever so significantly and suggestively….

Mr. Brown was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and he shouted banging his fist on the table….”all lies.. blatant lies… no evidence whatsoever for these lies… Mr. Singh, Mr. Jones, this man is trying to malign me…I can prove him wrong in every goddamn thing he says. She has been sleeping with you.. hasn’t she?.. you mean wretched creature… you swine.. bastard…”

“Ok Brown.. that’s enough… we will talk later.. come let us have coffee..Singh…you might like to carry on with this discussion…I will join shortly..” Mr. Jones, with his usual air of authority took Brown out to the close comforts of his cabin.. While Shyamal was staring outside… A huge cloud that loomed over the Arabian sea had started to exhaust itself…The conference room had a magnificent view of the Marine Drive… the droplets of rain had started to wash down the dirt that accumulated over the days on the window panes..

“So… Mr. Chatterjee…would you like to carry on? Would you like a break?” Singh spoke after a long silence.

“a cigarette please..haven’t had a smoke for hours”… Shyamal coined in unmindfully..

“well.. come along….I will give you company”… Singh was acting gallant to which Shyamal smiled….he smiled after a long time.

The smoking area was deserted due to the office goers deciding to take an early day off on the first Mumbai rain of the season. The rain had now caught pace and thunderstrikes.. laced the music of the rain… the puddles that got created looked like many small pins pierced at them at the same time…

“So…Mr. Chatterjee…did you love her?”

Shyamal startled and looked at Mr. Singh… for the first time he heard a human question from Mr. Singh…

Shyamal’s eyes kept embracing the rain while it played with the leaves of the half dead plants in the little garden maintain by the building authorities, by the main gate of the building…. perhaps the last sign of pleasantaries before the daily office-goer walked into the concrete jungle.

Shyamal’s voice started slowly ringing above the incessant rain…

“The warmth of her breasts still burns my forehead…

The eyes that were ever so longing and sea… still gives me shade of life…

Her raven tresses…clouds descending unto the consciousness before the rain..

Her smile captivates my dreams….

Frame by frame.. the images fuse… the collage floats…

The rain washes my senses alive…”

“Mr. Chatterjee…. I think we should resume our discussion now… shall we?” Singh was at his wits end…but he placed his hand lightly on Shyamal’s shoulder.

The two men walked back, reluctantly to the conference room where Mr. Jones was waiting for them..He spoke as soon as he saw them…

“Gentlemen, I have a call with our US office in about 30 minutes from now and I wanted to know, Mr. Singh… do we conclude the discussion here or do we call back Mr. Chatterjee later for the final discussion”

Singh was indifferent..Well Mr. Jones.. I think we can call Mr. Chatterjee back when we have sorted a few things at our end..?

“OK Chatterjee.. we thank you for your time today… we will resume this discussion sometimes later…am afraid, you would need to remain in suspension until then..” Mr. Jones was very careful, always..

Shyamal replied almost instantly…”I have a better idea..Here is my resignation…and my contact details in Mumbai.. I will wait for a month here before I move to Calcutta… do let me know if you want me to come down for yet another discussion…I will be here with the necessary evidences…else I will mail them to you from my personal email id”

“Ah..well.. that’s very unfortunate… what have you quoted your reason for resignation…let me see”.. Mr. Jones had the letter open..…“personal reasons?  huh? Well…OK..your call….. I would try and expedite your final settlement with the HR.”

Shyamal walked out of the conference room as non-chalantly as ever…

“Well.. Mr. Jones…do you want us to prepare a report on the discussion today? And also on the investigation that our team had conducted.. and also I would need your signature on the Letter of Engagement which was pending since the time we began work.. It is very essential from our firm’s formalities perspective.. you see we cannot invoice you without that being in place..”

Mr. Jones was busy typing out in his laptop….but he answered.

“Ah.. well.. good question.. actually, we would want you to keep this engagement as a business process review exercise… you see, we gotta fix our systems which currently are quite, give me a good report on the issues identified, the gaps in the process and the mitigation measures recommended…rest we can discuss over a call.. you see I gotta go and have this call with US?”

“Yeah.. sure…one last question…Shouldn’t Shyamal be re-instated if proved to be innocent and being forced to take some incorrect decisions on behalf of some business leaders in the organization?”

Mr. Jones stopped typing, looked at Singh for 5 seconds and resumed working in his laptop…

“Mr. Singh…Our India operations is tremendously powerful unit with a lot potential to establish itself as a business leader in the market that we work in. Over the years, it had people issues, confidentiality issues, nonalignment to system, non-alignment to the Global strategy…etc.. which I know I will surely get a better idea from the report you are gonna send me..

Actually I am looking to propose to the board discarding of the existing ERP system and implementing a new ERP system which will give our firm that requisite push to attain all the recommendations you would propose. We will look for a consultant to perform that on our behalf and I anticipate that to be a project that should go on for almost a year if not less.

Why don’t you send me a proposal for the same? Let’s say by next Monday so that I can initiate the process? Sounds good?”

Mr. Singh nodded…”Yes Mr. Jones.. sounds great.. I will definitely come back to you with the proposal and the review report by next week…we will email you and we can have a discussion to understand your inputs on the same, subsequently”

“Cheers Mr. Singh… see you later… Thanks for all the support in this tremendously demanding situation, we hope to meet again during better times..”

Mr. Singh got up and left the room…he switched on his blackberry..called his driver to get his BMW which was parked inside the parking area…and waited for him at the lobby…His blackberry was bombarded with messages and mails.. Now he really needed an hour to get this in place…Hopefully the traffic is not that bad..considering it to be the first day of rain.

The car took a u-turn on the road..and started to pick up speed… The rain was washing down the Mumbai roads with gay abandonment…and as the wiper of his car cleared the first splash of rain on the windscreen he saw Shyamal.. standing in the rain infront of a Junka Bhakar stall.. unmindful.. as ever… his cigarette had been long extinguished in rain.. and he was drenched beyond capacity… Singh asked his driver to stop…rolled down his window…and called out..

“Shyamal…hey there.. Mr. Chatterjee…Shayamal.. do you hear me..”

Shyamal saw him and came down to the car rear seat window…”Hi Mr. Singh.. how are you.?” He smiled…

“Can I drop you somewhere?”

“No..” ..he smiled again..”no just enjoying the rain..the first Mumbai rain.. I will miss it after I go back to Calcutta.. thanks for asking.. you can carry on..” he smiled again..

“Is that a cleansing process, Shyamal?”

Shyamal broke out into fits of laughter… he laughed like a mad man..something that he had not done perhaps in years…He gathered himself back..

“No…am waiting for Natasha to arrive.. she messaged me all of a sudden when I was in the conference room..she asked me to wait here..”

“Take care buddy..Give me a tinkle when you feel like..”

The car sped off…The rain kept on beating down with renewed vigour and glory..