The shining pink stilettos from the window started back in eyes of Shanti. She is standing in eastern India’s most happening place, Park Street in Kolkata. She sighs & convinces herself that she doesn’t need the shoes now, there are more pressing issues at hand, after all she needs the money so that she could send it back to her home in Bhadrapur, a small town in Odisha. She has a younger brother & a sister to take care of, after her dad went missing in the cyclone and her mother putting her through school being the domestic help of houses & fighting with paralysis of half her body, this was what was expected of her.
Thanks to the call centre explosion in the country, which has allowed even the undergraduates to earn decent money, Shanti was able to secure a job for herself as a call centre executive. She did not want to be too far away from her home, thus Kolkata became the automatic choice.
“One day I’ll save enough to buy the pair” she said to herself while she walked away from it. Her flat was at 5 minutes’ walk from the place where the cab dropped her off & picked her. It is Saturday night and as she looks around everyone seemed quite happy about it, the crowd out here really had a purpose, and that was to party hard! She would’ve never stayed in such neighbourhood if not for her friend Richa, whom she met on the first day in office. Richa subsequently got married and went off to USA with a NRI, leaving behind their flat here. When Richa asked if Shanti could stay in her flat without rent, which would make the couple less worried about their property, she simply couldn’t refuse. This arrangement allowed Shanti send some additional money which she would have otherwise spend on rent.
It has been two years now that Richa went, and its times like these, when Shanti misses her. No one in the world could understand the grief of not being able to buy a pair of stilettos better than Richu. But, she was not here and all Shanti has to herself is a pillow, which she hugged and went off to sleep.
“Hello, Mr Andrews My name is Samantha, may I take quick two minute of yours to tell you about the amazing offer that we have for you?”
“No you may not! And for heaven’s sake stop calling this number!!” Click. The call ends.
In the busy floor, where almost 500 people are busy talking to people around the world to sell whatever their client wanted, this was just another call, that no one would notice. Happy Monday!
“Shanti! You have been summoned by the boss. Finish the call and go meet him.” The team leader shouted at the top of his voice so that he can be heard at the last terminal of the bay where she was sitting. She took off her headset, put herself in the “manager feedback” mode in the Avaya and went to her manager’s cabin.
“May I come in Arun?” She half opened the door and peeked
“Yes, of course shanti. Come in and have a seat” Arun closed the laptop he was working on. “Do you have any idea why I have called you here today?”
“No Sir Err. Arun” Shanti replied
“Hmmm…” Arun purposely did not say anything for two minutes. He wanted a little tension in the room. After a complete silence of two minutes and him staring at her, he continued
“Your performance since the last three months has not been up to the mark, Shanti, you realize that right?”
“Yes” Shanti’s worst fear was being realized.
“You then must have also realised that, we cannot have a member of a team screw up the score for an entire team?” This time Arun was firm
“Please Arun, give me another month, I have been performing well for so long for this company, this is just a rough patch. I am sure I’ll turn things around” Shanti was almost pleading. In a second the consequences of her loss of her job, flashed before her eyes, which knocked the air out of her stomach
“I am not unreasonable Shanti, but you must give me a reason to keep you in the team. Tell me if I have to stop your separation process, what is in it for me?” Arun now stood up and walked up to the little glass window through which the entire calling floor was visible. Dressed in a suit, he considered himself a self-made man, which couldn’t be far from the truth.
“I promise Arun, I will put in extra effort and work OT’s as well without pay. Please, give me another chance!” Shanti was in tears now, her desperation was apparent. She couldn’t leave her job at any cost, her entire family would be in trouble.
“Maybe, you did not listen to me, your commitment is what this company gets, and I asked what is in it for ME?” Arun was very slow in saying these words this time.
It was then Shanti suddenly realised that why was she sitting there, she had heard of Arun’s cheap stories, but never in her wildest dreams could she fathom that she would be at the receiving end of it.
“Well?” Arun, now was walking to his desk where Shanti was sitting. “Have you anything to offer me?” He pressed Shanti’s hand while he uttered these lines.
Shanti was outraged. In her darkest and poorest conditions as well, she had never thought of selling herself out. Her values which her mother gave would never allow her to compromise, she would rather die than compromise.
“ARUN!” She shouted, “The only thing I can offer to you is my hard work & dedication towards my work. If you are not satisfied with that, then you can go to HELL!!” with that she stormed off the cabin.
After coming out, she realised what had she done. The call centre was not multinational, hence the rules really did not apply here. Arun’s father-in-law owned the call centre who was never in the office, the entire operations was seen by Arun himself. She could either resign, or bow down to Arun’s cheap request. But, even if she resigned, she would still need her experience certificate, which was at Arun’s disposal, and if he writes any bad remarks about her in her certificate, nobody in the industry would hire her. She never realised when she reached back to her system, while thinking about pros and cons of the decision that she had to make.
Almost mechanically, she put on her headset and went back to calling mode in her Avaya. As soon as she unlocked her system, she saw an E-mail in her inbox from Arun, which said,
Keeping in view your declining performance over the last quarter, and your consistent bad performance in meeting the sales targets, the matter has been escalated to me from your team leader.
I cannot overlook the fact that you have been a loyal employee to the organization, and to give you a fair chance, I give you an opportunity to draw out your improvement plan by the end of the day, and mail it to me. If the plan is found satisfactory, you will be allowed to continue, if not you may be asked to leave.
The team lead was also copied in the mail. Bastard! She immediately logged off her system and Avaya, and walked up to her Team lead Hari.
“I need the rest of the day off, I need to think this through”
“Sure, what difference a day would make anyways to your scores? Besides, it is in the best interest for the team if you are off calls” Hari was sarcastic in his tone
She went out crossed the floor, took the elevator and exited the building.
Her home from office is good 8 kilometres, but she figured walking all the way would give her more time to think, and she had covered more distances than this on foot. As she was walking, she started evaluating her options. What should she do now? She could go to HR, but the department was just for the namesake. She could go to police, but why would they listen? It’s not like Arun has attempted a rape or something. She thought, it would be best if she talks to her family before making any decision. She pulled out her phone and called up her brother back home. After 15 minutes of call, she was on a verge of nervous breakdown. The news on the call was not good, her mother had another attack, and now her entire body is paralysed. The hospitals have refused to admit her due to lack of funds.
She was now broken from the inside. Is there no justice in the world? Is this what she deserves after so much of sacrifice? She feels a sensation in her stomach and before she could understand it, her head starts spinning and she throws up right there on the street. A few passers-by throw a judgemental look to her. She quickly recovers herself, and walks up to a nearest Paan shop to get a bottle of water. She splashes some on her face and then drinks some. She takes the bus to Park Street.
“Were the hell is Shanti? She was supposed to submit her improvement plan by end of the day today. Its 10 PM” Arun shouted at the top of his voice to Hari
“She said she will have to take the rest of the day off, with her performance I figured its best for the team if she did not call, so I allowed her to go home” Hari’s voice was meek
Before Arun could open his mouth, a group of policemen walked in the cabin. He was taken by surprise. Policemen? What the hell are they doing here?
“Hello I am inspector Karan” he offered his hand to Arun, who accepted the handshake with a confused expression on his face. Hari took this as his cue to leave the cabin, and Arun was too surprised to stop him.
“Do you know Shanti Kumari?” Inspector started as soon as Hari left the cabin. Arun gestured the inspector to sit down, while he settled himself as well
“Yes, she is one of our employees. Is there a problem officer?” Arun seemed very cautious choosing his words.
“Did you know her personally?” Karan completely ignored the counter question
“No” Arun was now looking sideways avoiding eye contact with Karan, who was staring intently at Arun.
“Then how do you explain this?” with these words, he slammed a piece of paper on Arun’s desk. It seemed some kind of note, in which in capital letters was written
“Its Arun’s fault! He left me no choice. I could never compromise on the values which my dying mother had taught me, and without that there was no road ahead. MAY YOU ROTT IN HELL!
I am sorry little bro, but I know you are now old enough to take care of yourself and your sister. Don’t worry about mother, I will take good care of her once she comes to me”
It was almost as if a speeding truck had hit Arun. He just stood there staring at the letter not being able to say anything.
“Mr Arun Chatterjee, you are under arrest” that was the last words he heard, the world went blank before him, as he fell down to ground.
A young boy of age not more than 15 was signing the papers to get the dead body of her elder sister and her belongings which was found on the body. The belongings were given to him in a box. He opened it to find her sister’s usual chain, a locket her earrings, but he was not able to recognize one thing in the box as her sister’s; a pair of pink stilettoes.