Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Mumbai Office Friendship to a London Office Romance

My first reaction was an expletive. Followed by a couple more. About a dozen more. Another dozen. Finally I told my boss, "I quit this firm. You're sending almost every other person for an international transfer. How dare you even expect me to stay? What do you take me for?"

Aman was going to London. Vikram was going to New York. Mayank was going to Hong Kong and Supriya was going to Singapore. I was the only one staying back in Mumbai, because my stupid boss didn’t have enough vacancies in London. He couldn’t arrange enough to accommodate me. Or he had just one and he decided to send Aman over me.

I had shuddered and frozen up and instinctively gone into shock for a couple of hours. I babbled and cried to my friends on the phone. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I deserved it more than anyone else in the office. I loved my job and I did it well. I created quality work that was used as templates by the others. I was brilliant at my job. And now, I was the one not being sent abroad?

I didn’t come into office for a week, sat at home and just bawled my eyes out. How could they have done this to me? How did they forsake my promotion for that of less deserving... much less deserving colleagues? Employees who had merely been lucky enough to be going to regions where there were enough vacancies.

I hated my office. I hated everyone in my office. I hated every single person in my office with a vengeance...except Aman.

I couldn’t understand why. I should have hated him the most since he took the sole, coveted London seat. He got the London position that I deserved. But I couldn’t get myself to even dislike him for this, much less detest him.

Aman had been the one true constant in my office, quite literally. He had joined the same day as me and we had sat next to each other in training. We were nothing more than colleagues to the rest of the world, but in the hidden scheme of things, our bond was much more. When I analysed my relationship with him, I believed in  the existence of spiritual connections and old souls.

He had been a thin, shy, gangly guy when he had joined the firm. But over time, I realised there was a lot going on under his inexpressive, geeky facade. We had had some incredible conversations on exceptionally deep issues over some of our brief 20 minute lunches or dinners in office. The few times I had to sit alone with him for lunch or dinner because others in our group were too busy or had already had their food, were some of my most cherished moments in office. He was a cerebral man, the kind I liked.

We never really showed our attraction to each other, much less to others. There were times I was teased with him, but then, like all single girls in male-dominated young offices, I was teased with almost every guy I spoke to. Fascinatingly, I was most embarrassed (yet least unhappy) when I was being teased with him. He shrugged all of this off – and it was very difficult to read his true feelings when his face betrayed no emotion.

Whenever I was with him I understood that he liked talking to me. I could see it in his eyes, framed and hidden behind his glasses. But then, it was hard to say if there was anything more. I couldn’t understand how deep his feelings ran for me.

And now I couldn’t understand my own feelings.

Circumstances had changed very suddenly. Aman was leaving for a position in London in four weeks. And I was leaving the firm, which meant I would relocate to Delhi. He was from Kolkata so the one or two times a year he would fly back to India on leave, he would only visit his home in Kolkata.

I would probably never see him again.

The thought disturbed me. We weren’t good enough friends to meet up every weekend. And yet we weren’t acquaintances enough not to miss the other person when we took long leaves. I had a heightened awareness of my feelings for him as the weeks passed leading to his last day. It seemed the sadness of parting was overwhelming me with its wisdom before we really parted.

On his last day we went out for a dinner, with other colleagues. Throughout the dinner there was the normal chitchat and gossip that permeates all conversations among employees of the same team in the same firm. Some pleasant and some not-so-pleasant information was shared about other people’s personal and professional lives. It was the typical kind of conversation that groups of strangers who are pretending to be friends like to have.

Finally we got up and got ready to leave. This was it. Aman shook hands with the girls and hugged the guys goodbye. There were lots of "All the bests!" and  "Keep in touches!" Then he got to me. He shook hands with me, looking at me directly in the eye. I smiled and whispered, “All the best.” Then he did something completely unexpected.

He hugged me.

It was quick, clean and not romantic. I was taken aback so I could only pat his back quickly in response. It was awkward. But Aman had always been awkward. Aman and I had always been awkward. There was no other way for us to say it to each other. But I understood.

I felt a whirlwind of nostalgia swelling inside me immediately after, but controlled my reactions. I could sense the rest of our colleagues silently smirking. This was going to be filed away into their gossip cabinets. I couldn’t care less about what they thought of what had just happened – it was just a friendly goodbye hug – but I didn’t want to provide any more fodder by breaking down or expressing any additional affection.

Then we all got into our respective autorickshaws and taxis and left. That Friday evening was the last I saw of Aman. He left that night.

On my way back home, I thought of him and me and us. Fiddled with my phone and thought of messaging him, but then I figured he too was not messaging, because perhaps we both must come to terms with how this is never going to work out. He was busy packing today, and he would be busy unpacking tomorrow. I would be busy shifting out of Mumbai soon, and I would be busy settling in Delhi soon after. There was no point in trying for something more, and no point in ruining the sweetness of what had just been expressed so beautifully. It was sad but this was real life, not some Bollywood movie.

I couldn't have chased his plane as it flew out of the airport (authentic Bollywood movie event!)!

Seeking a distraction from the pain of reality, I opened my laptop and realised that Indiblogger and British Airways had a new contest, called “Go Further to Get Closer”.


Intrigued by the title and its message, I opened the email and the first thing I saw was, “Return tickets for 2 to London”.

London?!

London!!! I could meet Aman again. I could show him how I feel, without relying on a message or an email! He could show me how he felt too, without the pressure of being colleagues. Perhaps it would be less awkward than before, or perhaps we’d always be awkward. Perhaps he’d believe in destiny when I turned up on his doorstep. Perhaps we’d realise what we both want.

The possibilities for our affection are endless. Perhaps we’ll always remain special friends who care about each other. Perhaps we’ll become something more. But our trip to London could revive the friendship that had begun and ended in Mumbai into a stronger bond.

Sometimes you need to go far, far away to get closer to the one you love.