A young executive was nervously biting her nails, the creases on her forehead looked like those on a crumpled cotton cloth, trailing around her temple. She was wearing black formals with stilettos that stood an inch above the earth. In her right hand she held a green office file with a note attached on the top, slid under a plastic name badge. She was squatted on the sofa with her legs in a ninety degree angle to the tiled flooring, while her back was away from the rest of the sofa. She was positioned as if she was raring to jump off the couch and dart into the Manager's cabin like a zebra.
"Anna Mathew" shouted the PR executive daintily dressed in a chiffon saree.
"Yes madam, it's me" she replied
She stood up with a jerk much like a camel cobbling up a sea of dust. She paused to breathe for a minute and then slowly and steadily with the grace of a tortoise walked into the Manager's room. She was tensed, down to her last taut muscle and it took her sometime to seat herself. The room was a rectangular one or a square it seems, with Venetian blinds veiling the windows on either sides. The furniture was futuristic, with a sleek desk and chairs of black and white colour standing on either sides. The end of the room was accommodating another table stacked with files and folders of various colours. She took a while to look through the room until a throaty voice yelled at her.
"Anna, are you here? Annaaaaaa"
"Yes sir, yes of course" she replied.
"Masters in Business Administration with two years of experience in media affairs, interesting!"
"Then why did you leave you previous job?", came an enquiry.
"I had to leave the city because my dad was getting transferred."
"Alright and who all is there in your family?"
"Dad and me, mom passed away when I was seven."
she declared sorrowfully. "Oh! I am sorry, so you are a self made girl?"
"Not really sir, my dad played a great role in bringing me up."
"Admire your dad to have brought you up single handedly."
"Yes that is why I left my earlier job to accompany him to this city.."
"Oh! I see,that is great."
"This job will be of a great help to stay back and be doing that." she muttered gulping her saliva.
"Have you arranged public meetings before and handled media houses?" he asked.
"Yes sir,the firm I worked in was small but exactly did all this."
"What are your expectations from us?"
"Anything that you think I deserve."
"Alright. We will get back to you soon Ms.Anna.Thank you."
With the usual exchange of polite pleasantries she waded out of the room. The simper on the manager's face told the story, even then it was too early to declare herself as the winner.
The very next day was a tough one. It was the day of the week when she did laundry. As she was separating her coloured clothes from her dad's stripes and checks, and pinning them on the line neatly,her phone rang. She quickly collected the orange bucket and all the cloth pins and darted into the verandah of the house with the swiftness of a kangaroo. Hurling the can of cloth pins into the bucket she charged into her room. Quickly she tried to dry her hands by wiping them on the t-shirt and picked the phone. It took a moment for her to gather the air in her lungs which by now were heaving heavily after the marathon run from the backyard.
"Hello, Ms.Mathews,this is Ravi Saxena from Zoom News channel."
"Hhhello sir" after a long deep pause she replied.
"Are you alright? You don't sound good."
"Of course sir I was in the backyard and had to come rushing to attend to you."
"Ah! Alright. This was to tell you that you've got the job. You can join from monday."
"Ttthank you so much sir. Cannot tell you how relieved I am to have got this job." she swirled in excitement.
"Meet you on Monday then. You have to report to me at 9 am."
"Yes sir I'll surely be there at sharp 9'o clock."
Her joy knew no bounds and she broke into a jig after the conversation. She called her dad and gave him the news immediately, even though that meant he had to walk out of an important meeting on the pretext of taking his daily dose of medicine. In the evening both of them dined at their favourite restaurant. She counted the days from that Wednesday for a Monday to arrive.
Dressed in her favourite green salwar kameez and with a prayer on her lips, she entered the main glossy gate of the office. As she tiptoed into Mr.Saxena's cabin she could feel her heart thumping inside her, like a drum being tapped violently at a rock concert. She got in and seated herself on one of the black and white chairs positioned opposite Mr.Saxena's tall table. He came a few minutes later and greeted her with a formal handshake and a grin that was less polite than fishy.
"Sorry Anna it took me sometime. I was in the washroom."
" Oh that's alright sir."
"So you'll work under me and report to me directly. Also if you don't mind you would assist me as my secretary until the interview for a new one happens.''
"Yes sir. As per your wish. Thank you for considering me for this job. I needed it badly."
"Of course you were my first and only choice for this post. You are educated,young,qualified and most of all beautiful" he announced with a wimp.
Somehow the last adjective he uttered made her smell a dead rat. To clarify she asked with the innocence of a four year old child.
"Sorry sir. I didn't get you.''
As she blurted those sentences Saxena got up from his chair and went to the door,firmly giving instructions to the office boy wandering at the end of the corridor to not let anyone in, for the next half an hour. He pretended to the office staff loitering around, that he had to give a briefing to her about her responsibilities and didn't want anyone to interfere or bother. He shut the door behind her and locked it with a clink.
As he came back to his chair his sardonic sneer had widened as if someone had pulled his lips apart to fasten it tightly around his ears.
Anna's almond eyes and mannequin figure had bewitched to coddle Saxena's desires, which got her the job. She couldn't have afforded more interviews, since she had lost count of the media houses that had turned her down. She only had an year of experience in journalism, after having completed her post-graduation. And, there weren't many media houses in the city. She decided to go that extra mile and take up the job, since it was important to stay back in the city and take care of her dad. Meanwhile, Saxena went on a European tour to make a pact with news channels there, for he had his ambitious plans well in place. Those that wanted to put his channel on the world map. Saxena had inherited coffers of wealth from his ancestors, which he put to good use and reaped dividends. He had other investments as well, but his passion to be the best paparazzi in the country, had made the media house the apple of his eye.
Anna was thankful, that atleast for a few days she could have kept her job, until she could plan her course of action to fight her devilish boss. She made sure that her father never got an inkling of what was happening at her workplace, for keeping this job was her first and foremost priority, come what may.
Her first assignment gave her an opportunity to wander around city. She had to draft a story on the increasing number of dowry deaths in the city. The major conurbations of Gurgaon and Noida had stretched the lengths and breadths of Delhi, but the outskirts were still crawling around the tyranny of traditionalism. Women were burnt for dowry everyday, with the police always playing Pontious Pilate, for most of them having become bribable dogs.
Anna was young and daring and her mentor had all the faith in her.
She decided to not divulge the details of her first assignment to her dad. With a prayers on her lips, she went to the first of the many villages where female foeticide and bride burning were rampant.
She boarded a rickety bus, and got down at the make shift bus stop of the village. The roads were dusty with a few peepal trees lining the roads. A few cars could be seen trailing through the village, which had the inter-state highway passing through it. The sun was angry and the dust was choking her. She coughed to unclog her lungs, and started walking into the village with a prayer on her lips. She kept walking along nameless streets that only had milestones placed along them, painted in yellow and white with numbers in black. She could spot a few houses after walking for many miles. She was dead on her feet, but her determination never gave up on her. She saw a few frail patches of vegetation on either ends of the winding road running through the village. She saw a huge mansion as she walked further. The house was spread across acres of concrete and a few cars were parked in the porch. As she along the path, she saw someone peering at her from behind glass windows brightened by the golden sunshine.She gawked at her neatly pedicured feet and sandles, that were counting her footfalls, towards witnesses that could have testified against the evil called dowry, that had spread its lecherous paws in the village and the entire country.
A woman perhaps in her forties, walked down across the serpentine staircase running through the house. She was bedecked in jewelry and was draped in a glittering sari. Anna politely introduced herself by flashing her identity card.
"Hello. I am Anna Mathew from Zoom news. I was here to write a story about the women of the village."
"Hi. I am Mrs.Chaudhary. I am married to the oldest son of this house. My father-in-law is the sarpanch of this village."
"Hi. May I know the story of this village and the story of Rajani, the bride who was brutually burnt for dowry."
"Who told you that she was burnt for dowry?"
"The media is brain dead. She died because of other reasons"
Anna was amused at the other version of the story, that Mrs. Chaudhary had to narrate. Her brain started raking into the truthful details of what could have really gone wrong. Mrs. Chaudhary, meanwhile ordered the servant to bring in tea.
"What do you really want to know about Rajani?" she inquired.
Anna flummoxed by her question. The blankness on her face was eerily evident.
With a gesture of her hands, Anna made sure that she had no clue of what she really wanted to know of. Although that didn't deter Mrs. Chaudhary from telling her tale.
"Well, Rajani was the daughter of a farmer in the village. He had acres of land in his name, which mostly gave wheat and corn as produce. Much of the land that her father owned was disputable, since it was his paternal property. Even then he made sure, that he gave the best possible education to Rajani and her five sisters. Rajani went on to study in the Delhi university and got a job there."
Anna made sure that she hurriedly wrote down the bits and pieces of information that Mrs. Chaudhary was giving her. The tea and snacks were laid on the table, and Anna was amazed at the variety of food that the servants had quickly managed to dish out in a short span of time.
"Come the tea is here." she said with a finger pointing towards the king-sized dining table that had been set down with cups and containers of various shapes and sizes.
Anna was befuddled at the fare on display, which watered her mouth and for a moment the all important story that she had come to search for, was tossed out of the window.
"Come, sit. Let us talk on the dining table."
"Yes, sure. Let me pick up my stuff first."
She ambled slowly towards the table which by now had made her stomach growl with hunger. She looked hungrily at the fare that was laid out for her.
"This is for you. We treat our guests well."
"Thank you so much. I am touched by your wonderful gesture, but I can't gobble down all of this."
"Hahahaha! You don't need to. Take your pick. Or you may taste a bit of everything."
Mrs. Chaudhary was a kind woman, who definitely was the best host in the world, if one were to believe in Anna. For how could one lay down such a scrumptious fare in front of a journalist who had wandered into her house, in search of a story.
"So, coming back to the Rajani's story."
"Wait a minute."
"I''ll close the door and come, so that the servants don't barge in."
She locked the door and came back to seat herself to the chair positioned opposite Anna.
"Now for the story. Rajani was one of the first few graduates from the village. Everyone was happy for her, especially her father who by now had a shoulder to share his burden. Things took a U-turn when she fell in love."
Having heard that made Anna spurt out the coffee she was sipping.
"Oh, this is very different from what I heard."
"Yes, and you are heading in for more surprise."
"Oh! Like what?"
"My brother-in-law had an eye on her."
"I can't believe it."
"Yes, and the poor girl had run away to the city to escape from him."
"Thank you Mrs. Chaudhary. I am getting a feel of things by now."
Mrs. Chaudhary by now, pulled the chair closer to Anna's, and started hissing into her ear.
"When she came here to meet her parents and siblings, and declared to her parents about her court marriage to her boyfriend, her parents were overjoyed, although they were startled. By then the news had spread. And my brother-in-law who is not even a class XII th pass decided to take the matters into his hands."
"Oh! Poor girl!"
"Yes. He hired a few local goons and kidnapped her. He tried to convince her to divorce her husband and marry him, but the girl didn't budge. She was raped by five men that night and killed."
Anna was shivering at the cold-blooded rendition of events, that she thought was a story that the newspapers had sold with the morning tea on a day lit by the summery sun."
She diligently jotted down the tale, while empathizing with a girl who might have been a few years younger than her, and who died a death that she didn't deserve to die.
While taking leave from Mrs. Chaudhary, she gave her a warm parting hug as a mark of respect and thankfulness for having the courage to word the truth.
A few days later, the story was on paper. In the absence of Saxena, the story was given a green signal by the chief editor of the newspaper. Anna's thoughtful narration of the truth woke up the country. The story had added on the pressure and the police made sure that the male members of the Sarpanch's family were arrested for questioning.
Mrs. Chaudhary's brother-in-law was sent on judicial custody, so were his partners in the crime.
A few days later Saxena arrived. The ordeal was about to begin for Anna. He summoned her into his cabin, on the pretense of congratulating her for her daredevilry.
"Congratulations Anna. I am proud of you. I knew that my choice in you wasn't wrong."
"Thank you so much sir. I just did my job."
"I know girl. You are yet to execute the other role are supposed to play."
"I.. I didn't get you sir."
Anna felt in her bones, the danger that was looming large on her.
Saxena threw himself up from his chair, and closed the door. Anna started to have the quivers.
"My love, you know what you are supposed to do. Make me happy. Let me discover your beauty, my angel."
"Sir. Sssir. I will let you know the date and time, as soon as possible."
She hurriedly grabbed the green file with the phone carefully hidden in its lapels and fled out of the room with the fake assurance of making it happen someday. And her boss salivating like a greedy fox rared to tear apart his newest victim. The days thereafter, were a coaxing challenging battle to shirk her boss and his desires for her, that he wore all over his sleeves. She smartly steered clear of his advances on the pretext of taking care of her ailing dad who was in reality, walking healthily and heartily on the face of earth.
A fortnight later, she called for a public meeting in the conference hall of the office. Everyone was expecting a feeler of the first lifestyle show that the channel was going to launch. Saxena hopped to one of the front row seats lined for the big names of the channel.
When everyone had arrived and seated themselves in the expectation of witnessing the new PR executive's professional prowess did Anna begin playing an audio. Initially the sound screeched into the ears of the people present there, all thanks to the faultiness of the tape. After a quick repairing and redoing, a known male voice started talking through the audio. Within a few minutes everyone in the arena could be seen hushing and cooing, some awfully appalled, some of their jaws dropped, widely opened to have ingested a hive of mosquitoes.
A few minutes later Saxena could be seen galloping out of the office. No one ever saw Saxena again.
Anna suddenly became the quintessential super woman (without a cape and a tee shirt with S printed on it in bold letters), who held her nerve and exposed an old sexual offender, literally stripping him of his honour. The news spread like wildfire and Anna was summoned from far and wide to head media houses. She chose to stay back in Zoom News and head media affairs.
After two weeks, she typed a condolence e-mail to ex Mrs.Saxena apologizing to her for being the sole reason behind her former husband's death.
After ten days of having written the e-mail, Anna got a reply.
It said '' You happened to do, what I had always wished to do. Thank you for the favour. And guess what, I was holidaying in Switzerland, that is why it took me so long to reply.''