Manav sits hunched over his laptop with a cup of black coffee resting on the table. Ten o’ clock in the night is a time when many if not most are preparing for bed. But for our protagonist this is just the beginning of yet another long night at work. The end of the quarter is at hand and he is charged with the preparation of slides for the company's quarterly Management review that is due next week.
Manav prides himself on his presentation skills and why should he not? He is trained by the best in the business. An IIM Indore alumnus, Manav has leveraged his skills and the IIM tag well, to obtain an important position in the management advisory and planning function of a well renowned Indian company. His accomplishment in the art of presenting numbers and proficiency in corporate jargon keeps the who's who of the management wowed.
That Manav enjoys a premium position in his profession is due solely to his smart work and his utter willingness to stretch beyond his job obligations. Compiling data for management meetings from the various functions of the company can be a hectic work. In traditional companies like his, where there is always a huge gap in the flow of information and understanding between top and middle management, being the interface between the two is a bit tricky.
Simply explained, it is akin to somebody in the top management asking a question in Hebrew that he has to convert into English and percolate down to the respondents who are middle managers. The respondent based on his / her understanding of English, responds by scribbling down stone age hieroglyphs. It is Manav's responsibility to decode these hieroglyphs and encode the information back in Hebrew to make it palatable for the top management. It is one such presentation that he is breaking his head on now. The hot cup of coffee helps provide welcome distraction at times of data-driven exasperation.
He has just started working on the product quality review section when with a resounding blast a transformer blows up somewhere.
There’s a blackout all around. The stillness in the atmosphere that always follows a power cut, engulfs the entire colony. Manav bends backwards and rests his head on the back of his couch. He stretches out his arms and legs and with a loud sigh lets go of the contractions in his cramped body.
Amidst the solemn darkness of the power failure, he sits silently on the couch engulfed in the blue aura emanating from the LED screen. He waits patiently for the lights to be back on.
After what seems to him as ages, the persistent buzzing of a pesky mosquito and the growing discomfort due to heat forces him to leave his seat. Picking up a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, he pulls a chair out onto the balcony.
As Manav parts the curtains and steps out into the balcony, he is suddenly bathed in cool, milky white moonlight. Startled, he looks up into the clear sky to find a brilliant full Moon. It is a beautiful night, the kind that can fill someone's heart with pure happiness; the kind that instils a cold shudder in the hearts of others who sense it to be shrouded in mystery.
Tapping the filter of a cigarette on the top rail of the balcony, Manav places it between his lips. He strikes up a flame and in a slow deliberate fashion brings the fire to the tip of the cigarette. Squinting his right eye he takes a long deep drag till the white rim of the cigarette livens up into a moving front of red smoulder. Manav puckers his lips into a pout and lazily releases the smoke and watches its tendrils losing themselves out into the moonlit night. Resting both his legs on the rails of the balcony, he then eases back into the chair and looks up into the starless sky.
The patches of dark and light on the face of the moon reminds him of his school days when he loved to star gaze; beside his little sister, on the terrace of their home. “That's the crater Copernicus, and there is Aristarchus. Together with Tycho, they form a triangle,” he would point out to his sister. Anuja would nod her head and smile at her brother; whether she really did identify or understand, was subject to doubt. Nevertheless she would be her brother's inseparable shadow on such missions. Memory of his sister's baby face brings a smile on Manav’s countenance. Today twenty five years hence, they live in different cities. They meet once every year and try to relive those precious moments of childhood.
The power outage has its effect everywhere, as far as he can see amidst the maze of concrete around him. From his eleventh floor balcony he looks down to find the ground of the gated community awash with pure white moonshine. The pristine fairness below is blemished only by the shadows cast by the security guards chatting near the entrance of the complex. The tall buildings all around are throwing eerie shadows across the lanes of the colony.
It was one such full moon night seven years back, the night of his farewell at graduate school. He had finally decided to propose to his friend Manasi. All through the four years of graduation there had been numerous ups and downs in their relationship. Even though it was common knowledge that they had something going between them, the couple had never formally professed love for each other. After the farewell dinner, he had asked to escort her back to the hostel.
It was a half kilometre walk on a paved avenue inside the University campus. Everything was bathed white in moonlight. Silently on the street the couple had walked in and out of the eerie shadows of the tall deodars skirting the path.
Manav had started, “I have two things to say to you.”
“Is it not a bit late for saying anything? I mean today we are here and by tomorrow we will be so far apart.” Manasi had playfully retorted.
“Maybe it is, but I still need to say what I must.” Manav had insisted.
Manasi had looked at him and with an expression of mock indifference, “Ok finish it,” she said.
He had said playfully, “You are looking beautiful in this sari, like someone from the dream world.”
“Go away, you liar, don't try to flatter me.” She had said with mock anger, but the pure white moonlight had not helped her to hide her blushes.
He loved the subtle interplay of her facial features when she gave him that look of mock indignance. He had felt at that moment that he could spend all his life watching that moonlit face of his sweetheart.
Manav's heart had been beating madly as he had come to his second and real question. “ I love you Manasi, I have done so from the first day we met. I want to know if you ever felt anything like that for.....”
“I did,” Manasi had said even before Manav could complete, her eyes directed at the road ahead.
Startled, Manav had tried to make clear sense of whether she actually meant what he wanted her to mean. “I mean do you.....”
“I love you Manav.” This time she looked into his eyes; a sincere smile on her lovely face. For a moment, that felt like a forever, Manav had found himself totally immersed into the never ending eyes of Manasi. Realisation of what had just transpired took some time to settle in and Manav had felt in that moment of ethereal joy, his heart would explode.
Memories of those moments are still vivid in his mind. Today he does not know where Manasi is. Like many other ill fated love stories, their's too had petered out with time. Yet, in such moments as today's, the memory of Manasi's face does raise a small tornado somewhere deep inside of him.
To Manav the moon is unusually beautiful tonight. The pure white glow emanating from it seems magical. He tries to remember the last time he saw such a lovely full moon. He is surprised to realise that he hasn't seen a full moon in the last couple of years. But then he has been busy, he justifies to himself. He has hardly had any time to enjoy these things. Staying back late in office, working late into the night, he hasn't seen a sunrise or sunset in these few years, he realises ruefully.
Manav’s dad used to wake him up early each morning and take him along for walks. The duo would go to the middle of the tea garden and from there, through the chilly morning mist, father and son would watch the eastern horizon turn vermillion with the rising sun. His mom had taught him to look out into the vast expanse of the green tea garden every morning. “Its good for the eyes and it will calm your restless mind,” she would say ruffling his hair lovingly.
And those evenings of Sharad Purnima, the harvest festival? His mother would prepare sweets from newly harvested rice and leave it first as an offering to the Moon God before distributing it. They would sit on the terrace and savour his mother’s delicacies under the pure white light of the full moon. It was a custom in the family to get together and celebrate this auspicious day every year. It was Manav who had broken this tradition six years back. He was an intern then, in Mumbai. He did not have enough leaves back then. Gradually, somehow it became a ritual for him to be absent from family events. Once in a year he travels to his home and like a guest spends a week there and returns. Up till now, this had seemed very practical to him. But now as he thinks of all those little moments spent under the umbrella of his parents’ love and care, his heart cringes with a sense of remorse. Sadness engulfs him as the faces of his parents, his sister flash in front of his eyes.
Amid this sudden rush of nostalgia, Manav senses a heart rending feeling of home sickness that he had ceased to feel for quite some time now. In a sudden rush he decides he will take the next flight home, spend the weekend with his family and return. All of a sudden his mind is swept with a sense of relief and happiness as the decision is made. He jumps out of the chair, and takes the seat by his laptop. He is about to open a travel website and search for flights out of the city, when the power is restored.
Manav squints his eyes to escape the sudden burst of illumination in the room. As his eyes adjust to the light, he opens them wide to find the powerpoint presentation open on his laptop monitor. The sight of it seems revolting to him somehow. It reminds him of all the faces of his superiors whose whims he caters to on a daily basis. Manav’s heart is torn in a conflict; on one side it is his job and a hard earned career and on the other, his all accomodating parents. But as in most cases the former takes precedence and Manav assures himself, ‘There will always be another weekend.’
He looks into his watch. It’s quarter to eleven already. He still has thirty odd slides to go through. Refilling his mug with coffee from the flask on the kitchen cabinet, Manav goes back to his laptop. It will be a long night of work ahead.