April 20, 2024

Dilemma । Khama Mahmud । Translated by: Amreeta Lethe

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Pushing the glass door open, Anita heaves a sigh of relief as she leaves the office for lunch. She’s irritated. The sun is blazing down outside. Sometimes this place feels like a gold cage. Even working at her desk job in this air conditioned room — chilly enough for anyone who just walked in to mistake it for somewhere in Antarctica — inside the corporate office of a renowned ad firm in Motijheel, leaves Anita out of breath.

I really need to switch jobs soon, she thinks. Images of two and three-storeyed NGO offices in Lalmatia, verdant and secluded, fill her mind. They at least work for poor people; you could still justify working in a place like that. But this corporate environment, obsessed with ceaselessly tracking and counting its own profits and losses, has not suited her at all. She isn’t one to trade her entire life for a job like this, chasing after others’ profits and a swelling bank balance; surely, work has to be even a little more meaningful. Counting down days and collecting cheques at the end of each month can’t be all there is to it. Still ruminating on her work, she looks towards Shapla Chattar to try and see if Raihan is coming. He’s usually here much earlier. Work must be holding him back. We’re both in the same position, she thinks. It has barely been a year since they started working. Life has just begun. Anita hasn’t even received her Master’s results yet, although she was called in for the job anyway.

The crickets in her head have been chirping around more and more as time passes. It’s been so long since she last attended a song rehearsal at Chhayanaut. She has been left out of quite a few recitation programs already too, since she just couldn’t make the time. She just had to start her career working at this cutthroat corporate job, didn’t she, where the only thing that matters is how much money is being made.

The visage of a tall man gradually grows clearer as he approaches. Their offices are close to each other — a brief walk apart. They leave their separate Mohammadpur houses in the morning, catch the bus together, and commute to work. Raihan drops her at work first and then leaves for his own office. If there isn’t too much work, the two try to meet up in the afternoon for lunch. A little time to themselves.

“Don’t even get me started. Trouble showed up just as I was getting ready to leave,” Raihan says as he catches up to her. “Let’s go.” They walk forward towards Kosturi. The place serves excellent Bangali food. It’s a mutual favourite.

“So, what do you want to get?” All the restaurants located in Motijheel’s “office neighbourhood” buzz with people around this time. For however little time, using lunch as an excuse, these people come outside to breathe a little more freely. The area is flooded by the smell of a variety of food from the restaurants nearby. There are so many people here, thinks Anita, so many people and so many of their stories taking up each occupied table.

“You there? Tell me what you want to eat.” Raihan’s voice snaps Anita back to reality. She looks up to see the waiter standing by the table waiting for their order.

“Ah, anything light works for me.”

Once the waiter leaves with Anita’s order of spicy chicken curry and Raihan’s catla fish curry, mashed taki fish, and daal, Raihan shifts his gaze to Anita. “What’s up? Something wrong? You sure don’t look like everything’s fine.”

“Same old. Nothing that serious,” replies Anita.

“Did you go out somewhere?” Raihan asks again.

Anita nods. She works as a client service executive, so she has to go out rather frequently to meet her clients. Since she’s still new, a senior typically accompanies her if she’s meeting with someone important. Once they’re acquainted, Anita can meet them by herself whenever needed.

“Just tell me what happened,” Raihan insists.

“Piklu Bhai and I visited a really important client’s office today, and I’m still quite angry about what happened there. We’re working with them on a particularly lengthy report, and it still had a lot of errors that still needed to be fixed. The deadline’s over, so we went there today to show them the final draft. And then Piklu Bhai suddenly says to me, ‘You go and talk to them. I’ll be downstairs.’ I was dumbfounded. He hadn’t even briefed me about the state of the report. I had tagged along with him so that I could learn what the project was about first and then deal with it later, whenever needed.

“What was the point of pulling something like this with such an important client? The lady was a foreigner, too. After I went to her room and introduced myself, I showed her the draft; she had an outburst. Not only had I never seen this side of a foreign woman before, but I hadn’t even imagined I would ever experience like it — that too, like this! She was so deeply dissatisfied with the quality of the work, and pointed out the numerous mistakes to me. And this was apparently supposed to be sent to the press in a day or two. Can you imagine how that felt? Anyway, I told her a few things along the lines of ‘I’ll look into it’ and ‘It won’t happen again,’ had the work properly explained to me, and left. And once I go downstairs, I see the one and only Piklu Bhai just standing around and having a smoke. It infuriated me. You know what I think? Piklu Bhai doesn’t speak English too well, and that’s why he pushed me into this mess instead.”

Raihan bursts out in laughter.

“This is just business as usual for these corporate types. Happens to us pretty regularly, too. But a job ultimately means you have to suck it up and accept it. It’s a slave’s work, you know? At the end of the month they send a handful of crisp notes to your bank, and if you’re a little careful with regular expenditure, you’re good to go. A few added benefits…that’s about it. And in exchange, we’re the pawns that they’ve bought and now own. Do you understand, my lady?”

There are so many people desperate to get any job they can get their hands on. Then, why do we have such strange thoughts about work? Anita wonders.

The food arrives as they continue their conversation. Puffs of steam waft into the air. The fresh, steaming hot food here is why everyone crowds to these restaurants.

“How have things been on your end?” asks Anita.

“Same old…” Raihan looks up at her as he eats. “The work situation is more or less the same everywhere. You just have to accept it and move on. It all depends on how well someone can adapt to these conditions. I keep feeling so restless too, every now and then. There’s so much work to get done at the office that I barely get any time to work on what I really want to. My novel — the one I wrote half of — has been gathering dust…by the time I get home at night I’m so worn out…nothing comes to mind anymore. I don’t know how long I can keep going like this. And this is just the beginning! I’m forced to spend all day every day, morning to evening, on such meaningless tasks just to make some money at the end of the month. It’s been eating me up inside…but I need the money, too. We’re getting married in another six months and…”

Anita grows increasingly troubled the longer she listens to Raihan. She finished eating sometime ago, so she listens on and watches him eat. His love of fish comes through with each bite, as he quite contentedly finishes the fish curry and then the daal. After washing his hands and lighting a cigarette, Raihan says, “Let’s go. I need to catch a meeting as soon as I get back to the office.”

“Well, it’s not like anything will come from overthinking. Things will continue as they are, and it’ll be fine as long as you’re with me…”

Chuckling a little, he looks at Anita, places his hand on hers and gives it a squeeze, as if replenishing his fill of oxygen for the day. He feels bad for Anita too…she’s part of a brilliant creative sphere. She sings so beautifully, and recites as well, but getting into a job has sidelined all of these pursuits. Even a few days ago, she had to refuse an offer because its timing clashed with her office hours. How will she find a way to move forward with these interests when this titan of a job devours any time she has? And once they’re married…newer responsibilities will just keep cropping up.

With his concerned gaze still focused on Anita, his thoughts continue to coil and tangle like cigarette smoke.







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