The Girl In Room 105[CHAPTER 3]


Chapter 3

‘Come in. The great Rajpurohit sir,’ Chandan Arora said. His voice came out muffled because his mouth was full.

   The entire room reeked of pan masala, which had its epicentre at Chandan’s thick lips. He chewed gutkha as he waved towards a seat. I sat down and waited while he finished chewing the various substances in his mouth. I stared at the pictures on the wall behind him. In some photographs he posed with past successful students, along with their IIT admission letters.

   A framed, fake and photoshopped certificate said, in bold letters, ‘Chandan sir, the ultimate king of JEE chemistry’, something an ex-student had made for him. In another picture, a sunglasses-wearing Chandan stood with arms folded on top of the main multi-storey building at IIT Delhi. It signified his conquering of the IIT entrance exam system. Chandan never made it to IIT himself. He used to be a chemistry professor at Venkateswara College in Delhi University. Ten years ago, he started taking JEE chemistry tuitions in the garage of his Malviya Nagar house. Business grew and finally became Chandan Classes. He now rented a three-storey house in Malviya Nagar, in the same lane as his own home. Fifteen full-time faculty members worked for him. Seven of them were IITians, a fact he never stopped gloating over. ‘Yes, I never did IIT. Now look, IITians work for me,’ was what he said to parents of new students who were worried about Mr Arora’s credentials. Sometimes he would pull me out of class for display.

   ‘Look at him. IIT Delhi 2013 batch. Now works for me,’ he would say, emphasising the ‘me’. Once, I remember him saying, ‘Does he look like there’s anything special about him? See, if he can get into IIT, your child can too.’

   Splat! The sound of a mouthful of spit and gutkha being emptied into a dustbin brought me back to the present.

‘So, Rajpurohit sir, how are your classes going?’

   Apart from being an IITian zoo exhibit, I taught mathematics at Chandan Classes. And today Chandan Arora had summoned me to discuss my work.

   ‘Good, Chandan sir,’ I said with a fake smile. ‘We just finished the calculus module.’

He slid a file towards me.

   ‘Rajpurohit ji,’ he said, ‘this is the feedback from your students. Some say you discouraged them from trying for IIT.’

‘No, sir.’

He shut the file.

‘Then why are they saying this?’

‘Sir, those must be the weak students. They rank last in every mock-test.

   They have no aptitude for science. Parents are pushing them. I don’t think they should be wasting their time trying for IIT.’

Chandan leaned back. His comfortable leather chair creaked under his heavy frame.

‘We are not a career guidance centre, Rajpurohit ji.’

‘But they say they don’t even want to do IIT. Their parents made them join here.’

‘So who are we to interfere in family matters? Our job is to take classes.’

‘Sir, but—’ I said, before he interrupted me again.

‘And, I also note you have not brought in new students.’

‘Sir, I am busy taking classes.’

   ‘You have to do marketing too. Meet new visitors when they come to the centre. Convince them to join. You never do that.’

   I hated it. I despised meeting parents, especially parents of kids who would never make it. The JEE exam had a selection rate of less than 2 per cent. Hence, most who try for IIT fail. Of course, when you are selling coaching classes, that is not what you say. You make them dream—that their son or daughter will get into IIT.

‘Rajpurohit ji, sorry to say, but you need to be more of a go-getter.’

Sure, I wasn’t that. Whatever the hell go-getter means.

   ‘I will try, sir,’ I said. I swore to myself that I would update my résumé and LinkedIn profile again. I deserved a better job. Damn, I deserved a better life.

   ‘What happened? The gutkha-chewing asshole said something?’ Saurabh said. We sat on the tiny floor rug in the tiny living room of our tiny two-bedroom flat. I poured out two large pegs of Blenders Pride. I had promised Saurabh I wouldn’t drink for a month post the New Year’s Eve debacle. I hadn’t. In fact, it had been more than a week since that one-month embargo had passed.

‘Forget it.’ I handed him a drink.

   ‘Something is the matter. You haven’t opened a bottle for a long time. Is it the Kashmiri girl again?’

‘Zara? No.’

‘I don’t like taking her name. You sure?’ Saurabh said.

I shook my head. He wasn’t wrong to ask. Zara was always on my mind.

   All it took was for me to see a DTC public bus on a route we used to take together. I would spend the rest of the day thinking about her. Or I’d see a girl in a chikankari salwar kameez—something Zara liked to wear—and five more hours would be wasted. It felt like my brain had rewired itself; all neural passages led to Zara. I noticed the ice in my whisky glass, which relates to snow. Snow happens in Kashmir, hence Zara. I could see our coffee table made of wood. Wood comes from trees. Zara liked nature, including trees. There, my brain could lead from anything to Zara.

And yet, I wasn’t drinking because of Zara today.

   I took a big sip as Saurabh remained silent. Men know when not to probe. I finished my first glass and poured a second drink for both of us. I gave the glass to him.

‘I’ll join you, as long as you keep it under limits,’ Saurabh said.

‘I need it tonight.’

‘You can tell me what the matter is. If you want to.’

‘I hate my job.’

‘Me too. Tell me something new.’ He sniggered.

‘We can’t be stuck in Chandan Classes forever. We went to IIT, for God’s sake.’

‘You did, bhai. I am a simple NIT-wallah from Nagpur.’

‘You are no less though. Why are we stuck in this idiot’s coaching centre?’

‘That asshole Chandan said something?’

‘Yeah. But there’s more.’


‘I blew two interviews.’

‘Which interviews?’ Saurabh sat up straight.

‘Okay, I am sorry. I applied to a few companies. I saw the ads on LinkedIn.’

‘You never told me!’

   ‘Sorry, I meant to. I thought, let something happen. Out of ten places, only two called me for interviews. Both sent a rejection on the same day.’


   ‘Infosys. And Flow Tech, a small software company in Gurgaon. I thought I did alright. Bloody hell, man. Body shop sending Indian programmers to Dubai. They didn’t give me a job.’

I finished my drink bottoms up.

‘Screw them,’ Saurabh said after a pause.

‘They asked me why I joined a coaching centre after IIT.’

   ‘There is a stigma. Coaching classes on our résumé. Like we suddenly become unfit for corporates,’ Saurabh said.

‘Updated your LinkedIn?’

‘Nothing to update.’

I opened Saurabh’s LinkedIn profile on my phone.

‘At least put up a good picture. You look like a child-molester,’ I said.

   ‘Show me,’ Saurabh said and took the phone. ‘And you look like a member of a dance troupe. Why is your earring visible? You think that helps get a job?’

I took the phone back and looked at my picture.

‘It’s my Rajasthani culture.’

‘No tech company wants a guy with jewellery.’

I kept my phone on the table.

‘We suck. We can’t even put up a nice profile picture.’

  ‘Sir, that is why I tell you, start eating gutkha. Enjoy Chandan Classes and your meaningless life.’

I glared at Saurabh.

‘Sorry, sorry. Yes. We won’t give up.’

   Saurabh switched on the TV and changed the channel to the news. The prime-time story was about police lathi-charging girls at the Banaras Hindu University campus. The girls’ fault? They were protesting because they didn’t want to be molested.

   ‘Are they serious? That’s the UP police. Hitting girls during a silent, non-violent protest?’ Saurabh said.

   Zara liked to attend protests too, my brain flashed a thought. My neural circuit was at it again.

I lapsed back in time, to several years ago, when we had an activist-date.




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