by Vani Viswanathan
The bus came to a slow, screeching halt. Involuntarily, all the passengers moved forward in their seats with the movement of the bus, and back as the bus stopped. A young man came and sat next to Amrita, a transparent folder in hand. Amrita was quite the observant romantic: she took in his appearance (stick thin young lad, tidy, in formals, hair oiled slick, a tiny moustache) and his mannerisms (unsure, agitated, lips pursed tight). Amrita sneaked a peak at the document in his folder:
Name: Sharat Chauhan
Address: somewhere in Amethi (U.P.)
Qualifications: B.Com and M.Com from some university in Amethi… and something else.
A résumé’! Amrita craned her neck but did her best to be inconspicuous about reading Sharat’s last qualification. There! A diploma in refrigerator servicing.
His scores weren’t that great; it looked like he’d barely scraped through the passing mark.
Amrita felt sorry for the man, not much younger than herself. Clearly he’d come to Delhi in search of a job, and she wondered – and hoped – he was successful. He bought a ticket for Sant Nagar from the conductor and nervously asked him every few minutes whether it was time for him to alight the bus yet.
Amrita imagined where he was off to. Perhaps a refrigerator servicing company, or better still, a shop where he could be an accountant and balance some sheets to make money. She wondered if he had a home in Amethi where his parents were eagerly awaiting his fortunes to turn in Delhi. A sister to be married off, probably, and a younger brother whose continuing in school relied on Sharat?
Amrita’s own life wasn’t way too different. Her job as a shop assistant in a lingerie shop in the mall was only a stop-gap until she saved enough to help her parents marry her off. She was, in effect, earning for her own dowry. Her father’s salary was going into putting her younger brother through college while all she had to make do with was graduating from high school, although she was much cleverer than her brother. She puffed up slightly at the fact that she could read Sharat’s resume with ease, something she knew her brother would struggle with although he too, like Sharat, was doing his B.Com.
At that moment, she jumped with shock. Her brother, just like Sharat, was going to graduate from B.Com, and perhaps, like Sharat, would struggle to find a job? Impetuously, she turned to Sharat.
“What kind of jobs do you find in Delhi for B.Com?”
Sharat looked at her, surprised. “What?!”
“I saw your résumé’,” she said, “you’ve been flashing it around, don’t blame me. It’s so easy to see. So tell me, my brother is doing his B.Com too, will he get any job?”
Sharat was clearly not used to speaking with women, Amrita thought, the country bumpkin that he looks like. Even if there were jobs for B.Com graduates, he probably wasn’t going to get one – watching him stare at her open-mouthed, she deduced he wasn’t that smart. Her brother, on the other hand, dressed well and had his smarts about him, despite the fact that his clothes were branded “Poma” or “Reebak” or “Abidas”.
By then, Sharat had gathered his wits about him to answer.
“I’m looking for a job at a servicing centre, to repair fridges.”
“What happened to your M.Com?”
“I can only get call centre jobs with an M.Com.”
“Don’t those pay better than fridge servicing jobs?”
“But I haven’t got a call centre job either, they say my English is poor.”
“I’ve heard they train you for it?”
“Why do you have so many questions?”
“I told you, my brother too is doing his B.Com.”
“He won’t go anywhere with a B.Com. College education is a scam, only engineering graduates get any jobs…”
“Sant Nagar!” shouted the conductor. Sharat gathered himself and got ready to leave. He paused a moment and said, “Wish me luck!”
Amrita beamed an encouraging smile. “You’ll get this job, go on now!”
Watching him cross the road, she wondered if he would make it and if his sister would get married thanks to him and if his brother would continue to go to school. With a sigh, she realised he was right; a college education didn’t mean much these days – she’d probably have been doing the same job even if she’d graduated with B.A. in History. For a moment, she slunk into her seat in hopelessness. What good was her stellar performance in school, now that she was telling people about B cups and C cups in a godforsaken lingerie shop! What good were her earnings in freeing herself of her family’s miserable dependence on her for her own dowry!
But hope she did. That she could convince her parents about her wish to marry her boyfriend, that the boyfriend’s family would ask for less dowry, that her brother’s B.Com would sustain the family in middle class like her earnings did, and that she would be able to continue working after she married. She knew the probability of even one of these happening was low, but there was some point to continuing with hope in the heart than with the gloom of practicality. Amrita found Sharat looking at her; she showed him a thumbs-up as the bus started on its path.
Pic from https://www.flickr.com/photos/128728082@N02/