It’s an era when reporters are called upon to be fixers. They have to do the dirty jobs. Those who cannot, like the protagonist, Badshah, are ejected out of the system. All names have been changed to conceal identities. Arindam fictionalises a real-life incident, in this short story, exclusively for Different Truths.
“People praise you no doubt, Badshah. Do you know what they say about you?” asked Jagmohan, his boss.
Badshah merely shook his head, ‘No’. He stood there transfixed ashamed of his values – well, that’s what his body language said.
JM, as Jagmohan was called by his colleagues in one of the top media houses of the country, thundered, “Bad Shah (corrupting his name) is dead honest, dammit. Mark my word, dead.”
Badshah looked up, somewhat ashamed. No one dared to talk back with JM. He was wily, well connected and a ‘fixer’ for the company that was into several other businesses as well.
“You are of no use to us, as you and your high values are ‘dead’…”
“But, that’s what I have been taught all my life, JM…”
“Fuck honesty. I want the appointment of that teacher done in a college. I told you about her. If you can’t get a job for the relative of our director though you have the education beat for years, you are no good. Take this as the last warning. I do not want a no from you. Get moving and tell me within 48 hours. That’s your bloody deadline.”
Badshah or Bads, as his friends called him, was crestfallen and sad that he could not get the work done. He knew it was the end of the road for him.
He met Ramanna, a dark fellow, with blue eyes and grey beard. It gave him an eerie look of a cheap street magician. He had a hollow raucous laughter. Yes, the kind of person who made you feel unsure and vulnerable.
Ramanna knew what had transpired in the closed chamber. He told Badshah, “I knew all about it a week back. You avoid me. How can I help you, Bads? The joke in the office is, ‘Bads is damn good’. You know it…”
“I need your help. Only you can solve this, Ramanna. And I am not taking no from you,” Badshah pleaded.
Badshah and Ramanna drank silly that evening.
Over drinks, Ramanna, the know-it-all man, said in a conspiratorial tone, “Everything in life has a price. Though the rate for a teacher’s job in a degree college is not less than Rs. 10 lakhs, I could get it done at half the price for you.”
“But, that’s my half year’s salary. Not possible,” exclaimed Badshah.
“The problem is that you have not kept JM happy.”
“I cannot say things that sound fake to me. How can I say, ‘This shirt suits you, JM.’ It’s silly.”
“You know many women in the office flirt with him. Quite a few sleep with him too. You are not selling your ass to him, Bads.”
Badshah was lost in silence. If he quit this job that he got almost after a year’s break, he might not find another one soon. His mother was ailing. Daughter had her board finals within a month. And his wife, a school teacher, could not take the burden, financial and emotional any longer.
He took a large gulp from his glass. “How do men keep their bosses happy?”
Ramanna shared a mantra of the sycophants, “Small things. Compliments. Little gifts for his family. All you need to do is tell your Boss, a little annoyed, ‘Sir, ye aap k liye nahin hain (it’s not for you). My wife got it for Madam and the children. At home, I am your younger brother, JM’. This is just an example, Bads. You will never learn…”
“So much drama for bribery and gratification…”
“Didn’t Shakespeare say, ‘World is a stage’. It implied that we all are actors on it, my friend.”
They drank in silence for a couple of minutes.
Ramanna, said, “Let me tell you what happened last Sunday. Madam was in her parents’ house with the kids. JM called. He must have been bored. He asked, ‘Ramanna kya kha rahe ho aaj dopeher ko,’ (Ramanna, what are you having this afternoon). I did quick calculations. I guessed that JM’s maid must have made something that he hates. I was almost certain it was ‘Kaddu’ (pumpkin). We were having chicken. I said, ‘JM, it’s kaddu for lunch’. All these are survival tactics, Bads…”
“Good for all of you, Ramanna. You eat kaddu and smell his paddu (fart). There’s more to life than kissing your Boss’s ass…”
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Arindam Roy has 37 years experience in various newsrooms. He was the Managing Editor of a reputed Gurgaon-based Citizen Journalist portal and has held senior positions in several publications. As Correspondent and Bureau Chief, he has written extensively for Associated Press, Times of India, Hindustan Times and multiple news outlets. He has contributed 13 chapters to various publications. Of these, seven chapters were published in two Coffee Table Books, published by the Times Group. He is a co-author of a novel, Rivers Run Back that he penned with Joyce Yarrow. The novel was launched at the American Centre, New Delhi, on January 2015. He lives in Allahabad.