Misgivings

‘Well behaved women seldom make a history’ by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich 

She read these new-age women quotes in an article of a magazine. She laughed reading it as Amma would cringe at this quote as she always emphasised on good behaviour. Amma always told her that they would be ashamed and their parenting questioned if Pallavi was ever found misbehaving anywhere, especially at her in-laws. She recalled all the sermons she received from her parents, neighbours and all well-wishing relatives to this very moment.

Pallavi was indeed a well-behaved girl since she can remember. Amma had taught her to be polite, adaptable and respectful of her elders. The world had been kind to Pallavi, who had respectful family and endearing friends. 

‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ Rehana, Pallavi’s best friend, was astonished.

‘Of course, why should I joke? You know I don’t like such language’ Pallavi did not blink.

‘You mean you really got into JLT Publishing house?’ Rehana’s eyes were wide with wonder.

‘Yes, that’s what I told you. What is the big deal?’ Pallavi shrugged, she took out the outfit she wanted to wear to her first day at work. She took out a beautiful cotton kurta and matching pants.

‘You will know it tomorrow,’ Rehana smirked. Pallavi wondered if her best friend was being a well-wisher or the opposite.

Dressed in her best formal outfit, Pallavi visited the nearest Shiva temple and took God’s blessing. She reached the publishing office half an hour before her reporting time. For an hour the office remained empty except for the cleaners who looked at her with curiosity. She was frisked into a room full of other interns after waiting at the reception for almost two hours. An elderly woman with a short crop of hair and nose ring entered the room. She peered at all of them with a smile.

‘Welcome my little tender asses to JLT publishing house’ she clapped her hands and everyone joined in. Pallavi was shocked at her words and did not know how to react.

‘Get ready to harden it like a rock,’ she laughed and continued bemused, ‘Or yours will be thrown out of here and you will literally land on your ass.’ Soon after the speech, they were sent in pairs to work under each senior editor.

‘Do any of you smoke?’ asked their senior editor without turning around to greet them. She wore a black dress with a colourful scarf around it. 

‘No’ ‘Yes’ they both answered together. Pallavi looked at her partner properly for the first time. In torn denim,  white plain t-shirt and hair pulled back in a ponytail she looked like a schoolgirl. 

‘Now that’s a dilemma, Isn’t it?’ Their senior turned around to look at them. Pallavi stared at the brown, almost black lipstick Rekha had worn. Her eyebrows were raised over her branded Prada glasses.

‘You said yes, right?’ She pointed at Pallavi. 

‘No Mam, I don’t smoke.’ 

‘Okay, there are several ways you are going to annoy me starting today. First is by calling me Mam, I am Rekha and you can call me that.’ ‘Yes, Mam…umm Rekha.’ Her partner giggled and Rekha shook her head.

‘Names?’

‘Rhea’ ‘Pallavi’ 

‘How quickly can you learn something Pallavi?’

‘I have to be shown once and I can do it.’ Pallavi met Rekha’s eyes indignantly.

Rekha got up from her seat. She instructed Rhea to sort all the documents on her table and Pallavi to follow her.

They were on the terrace of the office, where other’s smoked in groups. Rekha took out her cigarette and placed them on her dark lips. In a clipped voice, she said, ‘Watch and learn.’ 

She lit her cigarette, took a drag and blew the smoke on Pallavi’s face. Pallavi closed her nose and mouth, coughed loudly. Rekha laughed, so did few others standing there. She handed her a cigarette and the lighter. ‘Your turn.’

‘I don’t smoke Rekha.’ Pallavi’s eyes burned and she blinked several times.

‘I did not ask you to smoke but I want to see what you learned. Now come on quick, I don’t have time to waste.’

Pallavi took the cigarette and attempted unsuccessfully to light it. When it lit, the tip of the cigarette died. She tried again but till then Rekha stubbed her cigarette under her heel. 

‘Next time don’t fuck with your boss.’ She glared at Pallavi. ‘Come back when you have learned to light a cigarette then we can do some actual work.’ She left Pallavi standing there in a tearful mess. 

Rhea found Pallavi standing in a corner with an unlit cigarette in her hand. She took out a cigarette of her own and lit it.

‘Hey, Pallu, what’s up? I thought you did not smoke?’ 

Pallavi told her everything. ‘What a bitch!’ Rhea exclaimed.

For the first time, Pallavi wanted to agree with Rhea wholeheartedly. Rhea taught her how to light a cigarette and to take a drag without getting into a coughing fit. It was a moment of shame for Pallavi but she felt accomplished at the same time. Rekha did not bother to speak to Pallavi once she returned instead just dumped some manuals in front of her. Pallavi wanted to tell Rekha but she just left without a glance towards her.

A lunch was arranged for all new interns, they all spoke about their new bosses in hushed tones. Some openly cussed them and some just agreed meekly. The day passed by and Pallavi kept looking at her watch. After lunch, she did not see Rekha at all. It was past the closing time. Rhea looked at Rekha’s desk and nodded in satisfaction. 

‘First day and I slammed it.’

Pallavi had tears in her eyes, ‘And I flunked it.’

‘Come on don’t be hard on yourself. Let’s go home.’

‘Should we wait and say Goodbye to her?’

Rhea laughed loudly and Pallavi was confused. ‘She left long ago, look there is no bag.’

Rhea was right, they left. 

Amma was waiting eagerly for her daughter. Pallavi entered looking down in disdain. Amma rushed to give her daughter some water. 

Kanna here, take’, handed her the glass. ‘You must be tired. How was your day?’

Pallavi gulped the water, her Amma‘s concern and loving words stabbed at her heart. She hugged her mother and let out a sob. 

‘Pallavi did you smoke?’

‘I am sorry Amma.’ She narrated the entire day to her mother. Her mother was shocked and then angry. ‘You should not have done it.’ She stomped off to the kitchen. 

Dejected, Pallavi retired to her room. She heard a soft knock on her door. She was surprised to see her father. He sat down on the chair and faced her. 

‘Your Amma told me everything.’

Pallavi closed her eyes and waited to be reprimanded. 

Kanna, I know we have taught you good values. These values will always guide you but the world that you have stepped into is not a kind one. It doesn’t care if you have good values but what they can gain from you.’

‘I don’t understand why do these people have to be so nasty?’

‘It doesn’t matter how they behave, you mould your behaviour to excel in the culture of your office without compromising your own value system. I have been asked to drink at office parties, I never do but do you know your Appa can dance saala?’ They both laughed as her father showed her a few of his moves. 

Pallavi understood what her father meant. That night, she took out her denim and a smart top to wear the next day to work. 

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