Book

LONDON AHMEDABAD

Chapter 1

I was ten minutes early and he was now ten minutes late, which meant I was waiting at reception for twenty minutes with nothing to do. I was tapping away at my feet impatiently. The reception area was spacious and at the centre was a small white desk with two receptionists. Both looked like Barbie dolls. Tall, slim, blonde with immaculate hair and makeup reading the daily mail comments out loud and laughing – TV and Showbiz section of course. So I wasn’t the only one then!

My contract ended two months ago and I was desperate for a job. It was never a conscious decision to work in HR, I fell into it and now my CV shows that’s all I know. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I love it but it pays for my holidays and wardrobe, plus I don’t know what else I’d be doing if I’m honest. It had been a long three years since I graduated from university and my luck in securing a permanent position has been awful. It took me six months after graduation to land my first job as a HR assistant and then the company decided to outsource the HR department in Northern Ireland, thanks for that guys! I took on a few temp roles before I managed to blag my way as an in-house recruiter within a financial company on a maternity cover. My contract is now up, back on the dole and here I am again.

‘Anita Aachariya?’ I looked up at Martin my recruitment consultant and nodded.

‘Sorry to keep you waiting.’ He wasn’t sorry at all. ‘I was on the phone with a client, you know how it is.’ Martin said in his Essex accent. He was wearing the crispiest black suit I had ever seen and his shoes were so shiny as if he just spent the last ten minutes polishing them for this meeting.

‘Oh that’s okay.’ I said politely and shook his sweaty hand.

‘So did you find us okay?’ Martin quickly checked himself out in a mirror and swept his hair to the side. He looked much friendlier in person than his posey apprentice style LinkedIn profile.

‘Yea fine thanks, I used to work near Bank station so know the area well.’ I followed behind him to the meeting room.

‘Right take a seat.’ Martin put his arm out and I did as I was told.

‘So, talk me through your CV and what you would be looking for next?’ Martin looked straight at me and didn’t even bother following through my CV.

‘In my last role I scheduled interviews, liaised with agencies and stakeholders…’ I went on and on and exaggerated where I could.

‘Are you looking for a contract or a permanent position?’ Martin asked. I was really tempted to say anything! I just want a damn job!

‘I’m open to both but a permanent position would be ideal at this stage of my career.’

‘OK, so what makes you the perfect candidate?’

‘I’m hardworking and work well under pressure. I have no issues staying late or working at the weekends to meet my targets. Building relationships comes naturally to me. At my last company the stakeholders would freely come by my desk to ask any questions rather than sending out emails. I’m highly organised and professional which I feel is key and I can take on multiple tasks at any one time. I always give 101% to anything I do and will do it to the very best of my abilities as I feel it is a reflection of me.’ What was I turning into? I sound like an idiot!

‘Good. Very good.’ Well I impressed Martin which is all that matters right now. ‘And where can you see yourself in three years’ time?’ I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at this question. It reminded me of Maya, she once said, ‘Listen, when you get asked this dumb question just say I want to be married and preferably on maternity leave.’

‘Pardon?’ Martin said. Oh my god can this man mind read?

‘Huh?’

‘Where can you see yourself in three years’ time?’ He repeated.

‘Oh yes, in three years’ time I see myself progressing further within the HR field in a reputable organisation.’ Not quite an honest answer but a generic one which was acceptable.

‘Okay that’s fantastic, at the moment we have nothing at your level but things do tend to come up now and then so will keep you posted.’ He looked at his reflection in the window and swept his hair to the side again for the third time.

‘I thought you had a HR role within a private equity firm?’ I said to him.

‘ermm yes, sorry.. erm that got filled yesterday unfortunately.’

He should have just cancelled this meeting. I mean what was the point if he had no roles to discuss with me?

‘Who did you report into?’ He clicked his pen out ready to use my CV as scrap paper.

‘I reported to my manager.’ I said like it was an obvious question.

‘Yes I know, but what was his or her name?’

I could tell Martin was just waiting for me to spill out a name so he could then contact my previous manager to see whether he could interest him into a potential role he genuinely had on. The more senior the role, the higher the salary and therefore greater the commission for Martin. I’ve been to plenty of recruitment agencies to know the drill by now. I gave him the name, ‘Richard Pearce,’ it’s not like me and my ex manager would ever be competing for the same job anyway. It was clear that this meeting was not about me. What a waste of my time, tube fare and beautician’s appointment.

Chapter 2

My Sunday look pretty much became a daily thing. For those of you that want to try this at home – hair tied right up in a messy bun, cow print PJ bottoms with a hole at the knee area, odd pair of socks and thick black rimmed glasses.

‘Mum I can’t concentrate,’ I was surfing the net for more HR jobs in the kitchen and the pressure cooker went off. Mum, commonly known as Nina ben (sister) is a typical middle aged Indian lady. 5ft, chubby – which she refers to as ‘healthy body’ and speaks English in a thick Indian accent. She had come back from work and straight away started on her usual routine of cooking dinner and complaining how I do nothing around the house. Mum and dad used to run a corner shop for as long as I can remember and dad sold it off to Mr and Mrs Krishnamoorthy nearly three years ago. Dad retired but mum helps out as her pass time. Mum now went on to complain about my culinary skills in the background which I trained myself to block out like an unpleasant noise. In mum’s world if you can’t make chapattis and a greasy looking curry then you can’t cook, everything else is just a snack. I once made an authentic pasta dish from a cook book and it didn’t go down well because of the lack of green chillies and masala. I surrender!

‘Go upstairs this is no place to be working.’ I ignored mum and carried on. I felt like a hamster in a cage going round and round in circles with my job search. Job boards, LinkedIn, taking agency calls, looking at various companies’ career pages, daily mail, facebook and then doing the whole thing again, in that exact order!

‘Have you sorted your visa out?’ Mum went on to making perfect thin round chapattis now.

‘Mum! How many times do we have to go over this? I need to sort out my job first.’

‘How did your interview go this morning?’

‘It was an agency meeting and he had nothing on.’ I said bluntly.

‘Listen, you will find another job beta (my child), it’s only two weeks and you’ll finally get to meet Nana bapu (mum’s dad) and Nanima (mum’s mum). They will be so happy to see you.’

I couldn’t think of anything worse. Handling a phone conversation from a relative in India was bad enough. Just when I sense mum’s about to pass the phone from an unknown Indian relative my heart starts beating twice as fast. I do a massive NO gesture with my head, hands, mouth, feet, everything but mum would purposely pretend to be oblivious to all my gestures and say, ‘oh yes let me pass the phone to Anita, she’s just here watching TV.’ I mean the conversation hardly flows. It goes something like this, in Gujarati…

‘Exams finish?’ relative in India.

My exams finished ages ago but I just roll with it, ‘yes exams finish. I’m working now.’

‘Ahhh good. Did you do masters?’

‘No’

‘Ahhh no masters? OK nevermind,’ ermm was I supposed to feel bad about this? ‘How is your job going?’

‘It’s going well thanks.’

‘when you coming to India?’

‘I will come soon.’ Soon meaning never!

‘Can you understand Gujarati?’

‘Yes,’ you fool, what language are we conversing in?

‘Oh that’s very good.’

‘OK, I’m passing the phone back to mum.’ It’s the same short painful conversation every time.

Don’t get me wrong I would love to go to India but it just wasn’t the right time. I wanted a job first so I could plan my holidays accordingly. To me this was a sensible decision and couldn’t understand why mum was being so forceful about the whole situation. Mum, dad and Ritesh (older brother) went to India last year and stayed in our family home in Ahmedabad. Dad loves it out there and since his retirement he has an annual long stretch during the winter season.

‘Why don’t you take Ritesh? It’s about time he got married off now, thirty! Getting on a bit.’ I joked.

Mum put down the rolling pin and gave me the eyes. My joke failed. ‘You know what, do what you want, you treat this house like a bloody hotel! You can go out last minute to see your friends but you can’t see Nana bapu and Nanima.’ Mum put both her hands on her forehead. ‘God knows whether you will even get to see them in this lifetime.’ Drama, drama, drama! My mum really should be nominated for the baftas.

‘DING DONG’ Perfect timing, my mum’s busy body friend Hansa masi (aunty) who lives two roads down was at the door. That was my cue to do a runner upstairs. Hansa masi had no idea I was out of work and I strictly warned mum not to tell her either. She’s constantly on her high horse about her Pooja becoming a doctor and how she’s so perfect in every way. Mum’s in awe of her too which annoys the crap out of me. She’ll say things like ‘Pooja can make bhinda nu shaak now as well you know.’ Erm who cares? Good for her. Me being jobless would only give Hansa masi the chance to put me down and brag even more. This lady was nothing but a soul destroyer. Right I’m out of here.

*****

‘Girls! My mum is at it again, she’s gone crazy this time, emotionally blackmailing me into going to India!’ I was freaking out to Maya and Naina as I sat with my legs out on the bed and laptop on my lap. #3wayskyping. My room was a right mess. I don’t get it because I often dedicate a whole weekend to cleaning my room from top to bottom with dettol wipes and everything and somehow like magic the mess accumulates itself again!

‘What do you think of this orange jumper guys? Yes? No? ebay?’ Maya had the laptop on her double bed and cleared out her wardrobe at the same time, which reminds me, I must get Ritesh to drive me to Barnardo’s to give that black bag full of unwanted clothes. Naina on the other hand was all ears. She too had her PJs on like me and a towel wrapped around her washed hair.

‘I think you should go Anita, India is awesome. It’s only two weeks and you can continue with your job stuff after,’ Naina said.

‘Right I don’t know what to do with this one’ Maya muttered to herself. ‘By the way I am listening guys, yup Naina’s right, enjoy the sunshine. I would so go if I were you.’

I would have much rather been in Mayas’ and Nainas’ position any day. At least they were both in a job. I met Maya and Naina during my first year at University, we immediately became a trio and now we’re pretty much inseparable. Maya followed her mothers’ footsteps as an interior designer. Her mum is well known in the industry and appears in lifestyle magazines every season. Naina on the other hand studied French and Spanish at university and is now a teacher. She travels to different places whenever she can and her dream is to visit every single country on the map. I could tell they fully enjoyed what they were doing unlike me who was completely clueless.

‘I dunno guys. I’m gona sleep on it and decide this week.’

‘Just get packing, what’s the big deal? It’s only two weeks.’ Maya said as she held another jumper against herself.

‘I dunno,’ I was so indecisive I was beginning to annoy myself. I didn’t want to let mum down but at the same time getting a job was far more important.

‘Right guys I’m off to dry my hair. Let me know what you decide.’ Naina was gone.

‘Can I steal your orange jumper?’ I asked cheekily and put on my big fake grin. Maya chucked the jumper at her laptop, my screen turned orange, ‘all yours buddy!’ She continued to clear out her wardrobe and I kept her company until I heard Hansa masi out the front door.

Chapter 3

I was fed up. It’s not like I watched films all day, I was so proactive and still couldn’t bag myself a half decent job. I couldn’t think of what more I could actually do. I guess I could walk up and down Canary Wharf holding a sign saying ‘give me a job’ but that was not happening.

I was back at my usual spot in the kitchen. How mundane and repetitive my life had become I just couldn’t make sense of it. Even my routine was repetitive – last night dinners for lunch, several cups of green tea a day and on my WTF days I used to make a trip down Kumars – local corner shop and treat myself to a kinder bueno and a packets of m&ms to help me get through life. I eventually stopped answering the landline as there was only so many ‘I have a day off today’ I could say to relatives before they start to cotton on to the truth.

I signed into my Hotmail account and clicked open my first email. It was a standard ‘Thank you for applying but unfortunately your application has not been successful’ rejection email. I clicked opened my second email and another rejection from a company I don’t even recall applying to. I exhausted the job boards which hardly had any new jobs from yesterday’s search and surprise surprise Martin Moore had a new connection on LinkedIn which happened to be Richard Pearce, my ex manager. I was bored of this game. I got up from my seat and accidentally knocked my green tea with my arm and smashed my favourite Easter egg mug on the kitchen tiles. Argh! What a great start to my day. I grabbed my phone. Whatsapp the girls. ‘I give up! I’m going to India! :S’

*****

‘I can’t hear you!’ I shouted at Naina. It looked as though she was miming at me. We were standing right next to the speakers by the DJ so that could explain why. The club was quite small and packed with people constantly brushing passed us.

‘What’s ‘appening lay-dies, you or-right?’ Me and Naina looked at each other with a blank expression and moved closer to the bar area to avoid a bunch of Asian ‘rude boys.’ They were huddled in a corner preying on every single girl ready to pounce on whoever gave them attention. It was scary, funny and embarrassing all at the same time. For some reason Asian rude boys can never be just friends with the opposite sex if you’ve noticed. They first try to see whether they can make you their ‘girl’ and if that fails then you become their ‘sister.’

I was wearing a 60’s inspired black and white polka dot dress with a matching bow on the side of my head. My hair was full of volume from my new rotating blow dry brush. Naina wore a fitted cream dress with a gold statement necklace and matching bangles.

‘I said. Have. You. Packed. Yet?’ Naina emphasised each and every word clearly.

‘Nope, haven’t even started.’ I was flying out in two days and it still hadn’t hit me that I was going to India. Ramesh uncle, a family friend of ours who works at a travel agent managed to sort me out with a good last minute deal. Mum and dad left a week ago which meant me and Ritesh were living off takeaways and oven food. Dad messaged everyday on behalf of mum to make sure the gas cooker was off and windows were shut.

‘Here you go my darlings.’ Maya came back from the bar dangling two shot glasses in our faces. Maya had her favourite leather trousers on with a white crop top and her hair loosely curled to one side. I could smell the sambuca which was so potent and always reminded me of our uni days.

‘Right, I know you girlies said vodka cranberry but this will get to you much quicker! It’s my farewell drink.’ Maya paused and leant sidewards to let the bouncer through, ‘in case you guys are wondering I downed mine at the bar. Now will you down this! My fingers are getting all sticky.’

I was so rubbish with shots. I could only ever down them in two equal parts one after the other, sometimes even three. Naina downed hers first and I used her shot glass to pour the sambuca in two halves. We wasted no time in hitting the dance floor when we heard Mr Brightside by the killers.

‘You guys carry on, I need to pee.’ I walked towards the ladies which was massive considering how small the club was. I washed my hands and fixed my bow on the side of my head which had dropped off slightly. ‘I hate him’ I heard a girl in one of the cubicles sobbing away. She finally came out of the cubicle and patted her eyes dry with a tissue. I tried not to look but it was hard not to. I recognised her from somewhere. OMG it was busy body’s daughter.

‘Pooja? Are you alright?’ I looked straight at her.

She squinted her eyes and looked all flustered, ‘oh hi Anita,’ clearly caught her at a bad time. She started rummaging into her bag. ‘Yea Yea I’m fine, friends’ birthday, it’s so smoky out there my eyes can’t take it.’ What a liar but then again she wasn’t going to tell me if it was anything to do with a guy. It would ruin her good Gujarati girl image that she and Hansa masi portrays to the world.

‘My mum mentioned you’re going to India. Lucky you managed to get some time off work.’ We were both side by side each other facing the mirror, Pooja topped up on her mascara while I topped up on the bronzer.

‘I actually don’t have a job right now you know.’ I was definitely more than tipsy.

‘Really? So you’re un-em-ployed?’ Pooja raised her perfectly arched eyebrows and looked at me in the mirror as she elongated the last word for extra effect. Why did I tell her again? This was only going to turn into gossip later.

‘How long have you been out of work for?’ This was another dig.

I could hear Danza Kuduro oi oi oi being played. ‘Ermm I can’t remember I gotta go,’ I quickly chucked my make up in the bag and headed out to find the girls on the dance floor. I couldn’t get over how bitchy Pooja is. I mean she could have at least been a little bit more sympathetic to my current sit-u-a-tion but who was I kidding. Anyway I wasn’t going to let her ruin my night out with the girls. Maya and Naina let out a scream when they saw me. ‘Oi oi oi’ was our summer tune from holiday in Spain. Every time this got played at a club we would find each other no matter what and run straight to the dance floor, it had become some kind of a ritual. We knew all the words from the song but had no idea what they meant. Naina held her nose with her left hand, pointed with her right arm and wingled up and down. Maya jumped to the left then jumped to the right and did the fixing a light bulb motion. Big fish little fish cardboard box was my signature move. We were having so much fun. I bumped into Pooja again by the bar area with one of the Asian rude boys who tried to hit on us earlier. She looked at me, turned her back and walked in the opposite direction dragging the ‘rude boy’ with her. I honestly couldn’t careless what she did in her spare time.

*****

My phone vibrated. 10am on the dot. We all crashed round Maya’s house and slept in her double bed. Maya was in the corner with her arms stretched out and Naina curled up into a ball taking up most of the space in the middle.

‘Taxi’s here.’ I said to them both.

‘Tell your bro to get lost, you’re sleeping.’ Maya said under the covers.

‘I can’t, I need to pack with this ridiculous hangover.’

Naina rubbed her eyes, ‘way too early,’ She let out a stretch and curled back into a ball again.

I somehow managed to get out of bed, gathered my stuff together and jumped on both of them. ‘Bye bye my lovers! See you in two weeks and don’t miss me too much.’

‘Whatever you do please don’t come back married.’ Maya said still under the covers.

‘You mean like meet someone once and then get hitched?’

‘Yea exactly that!’

‘As if I’d do such a thing.’

Ritesh started horning now, ‘right I need to shoot,’ I jumped up from the bed and took one last look of a photograph of us three from uni which Maya had stuck on her mirror. I wish I could take them with me. I heard another horn. I ran downstairs in my cow print PJ bottoms and black high heels and got into the car as quickly as possible before anyone could see me like this.