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Surviving against all odds

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Goutam Ghosh

Reema, the CEO of a multinational firm, has hardly any time to breathe. Except her daughter, Ramona, for whom Reema has all the time for undivided attention, everything else is passé. For a change, Reema permits herself the rare luxury of tearing herself away from her 24/7/365 routine to meet her long-lost school friend, Vrinda. Lunch at the restaurant provides a fertile medium to nurture the bond afresh.

Reema: It is amazing that you find college lecturership interesting. I love to teach too, but the thought of teaching the same material year after year is disconcerting. That is probably why I never looked out for a lecturer's job.

Vrinda: You are right, Reema. The syllabus is stagnant. An outcome of conventional wisdom, I suppose. (both laugh heartily) I guess it's more convenient to teach the same thing every year than tread new ground. But I tell you the joy of teaching bright young minds is immense motivating the weakest students without throttling the bright lot.

Reema: But where on earth do you get bright students today? The brightest lot opts for professional courses. Others only chase a degree, don't you think?

Vrinda: Even when there are five bright students in a class of forty they keep me on my toes.

Reema: You have always had the talent to be a teacher. Remember when Shraboni Miss asked you to explain a theorem and you danced all the way to the blackboard, and proved the Pythagoras's Theorem?

Vrinda: (laughs) Shut up. Dancing all the way I believe. We trembled in front of her. She was such a terror.

Reema: A terror, yes; but she was the one who encouraged me to study well.

Vrinda: Reema, you were very intelligent...

Reema: Were?

Vrinda: Idiot. I am talking about the past, and don't keep interrupting me with your comments. (both laugh heartily) Your extracurricular activities kept you away from class. I sometimes wished I were like you good in sports, excellent in debates, excellent in drama and music.

Reema: I didn't have to be in class when I had such an excellent teacher (pointing at Vrinda) available whenever I needed her. You got a State rank and joined a top institution. I went out of the State to study. Soon after I joined the college, my parents died and I was left to fend for myself.

Vrinda: Uncle and aunty are no more? How?

Reema: The shower was electrified because of a power leak. Dad found mom lying inert on the floor. When he tried to save her, he too got electrocuted. My life was shattered in a flash. Relatives came in droves. My uncles swallowed dad's property and one uncle even managed to corner the insurance claims, pretending to be my legal guardian. I was not even seventeen then. I protested but he produced a document with forged signatures of my father and mother that stated that that uncle was to be my guardian if anything happened to my parents. The document was registered long before their death. The sort of stuff done with documents is unbelievable.

Vrinda: How did you manage?

Reema: I borrowed.

Vrinda: But how did a bank agree to give you educational loan without any security?

Reema: I did not take a bank loan. Anyway, I cleared my bachelor's degree, then the masters degree and then joined IIM Ahmedabad. It was smooth after that. This, Vrinda, is my seventh job. I realised that money alone matters. The rich are invariably respected. Corporate ladder is a game of chess. Cannot make a mistake if you wish to win. (pauses and looks at Vrinda) Enough of myself, now tell me how many children you have and what does your husband do?

Vrinda (laughs): I have one son, Sameer, and my ex-husband is a VP in a private firm.

Reema: Ex-husband? Why? How?

Vrinda: Incompatibility. Buying fancy toys and smart clothes is not what a child needs. Where was the love? He never spent quality time with Sameer, my son. He was never around when he pined for his dad. Meetings and business trips Raghu said all the time. I found out later he was more than close to one of his colleagues.

Reema: I think you were hasty. As a woman, don't you think you should have weaned him away instead of declaring a war? Doesn't love move mountains?

Vrinda: No Reema, I have no regrets. Marriage rests on trust, fidelity...

Reema: But attraction is a natural instinct. You can feel attracted to someone other than your husband. So can a man, isn't it?

Vrinda: Being attracted is an instinct, but what matters is that instinct must be controlled. How else can you distinguish

Homo sapiens sapiens

from

Canis lupus familiaris

, the common dog? It is not that your or my hormones don't begin coursing when we come across some men, but do we go and fall all over them?

Reema: Some do...

Vrinda: Yes, but not all. My husband should have had as much control over his hormone-induced behaviour as I have.

Reema: But that does not leave room for interpersonal differences, does it?

Vrinda: Wrong...

Reema: My God, you are just the same you were ... how many years? ... twenty? ... yes, twenty years ago. Inflexible as ever.

Vrinda: Granted, Reema ... a small price one must pay for refusing to negotiate one's self-respect ... Anyway, what about your family? How many kids?

Reema: Just one daughter. Ramona. The light of my life. I never married.

Vrinda: What do you mean? Adopted the girl or is she an in vitro child?

Reema: No she is a natural child... There was a time I thought she was a curse, a remainder of my helplessness during the most difficult period of my life. But she is not. She is all mine, mine, mine, Vrinda, mine. A long story, Vrinda...

*******

Should the Reemas of the world have to despair?

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 23, 2006)
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