"Two Cappuccinos, please."
I pulled a cigarette out of the box and lit it up. Ashish switched on his laptop.
"Bhai, this third question needs a lot of work," he said as he showed me his GMAT application for one of the many colleges he chose to apply.
"Yeah, let me have a look."
"This is such fuckery man. So many colleges, so many applications."
"You chose it."
"Yeah, bro. I have to get out of where I am."
He lit up a cigarette. I tried to blow rings out of mine.
"Bro, I have to get into this college. I am running out of options."
I made a few edits to his application by fixing the grammar and adding words which can be worthy of representing the person sitting in front of me. His future dependent upon how an old man in a tweed jacket sitting in the familiar comfort of his office, with a shelf full of books, interprets these words.
"Here, look at this now. Does this seem better?"
"Nice. Can we change this line? It sounds a little casual."
"Nonchalant. That's the word you are looking for. Anyways, I'll edit it." I made a few more edits, carefully removing any remnants of the betrayal of my attitude about this whole application business.
Our coffees arrived just as we stubbed our cigarettes.
"Boss, you can place it here," said Ashish to the waiter as he shut down the laptop and placed it on the chair next to him.
We sat at the outdoor seating of a cafe on a bright weekday February morning. The winter weather is reluctantly taking its leave. The air has lost its chilly sting. The sun smiles a warm glow and is a lot more welcome than it would be in a couple of months. On the street opposite us, people in rickshaws, cars, bikes, on foot rush to get to their jobs.
"Man, I am so totally disillusioned by this whole thing," I remarked in a sudden outburst.
"By what thing?"
"This whole work thing. Getting up every morning, doing the same thing everyday."
"Yeah, I get you. But, gotta do it to feed this thing right here," pointed Ashish to his still not fat belly.
"I know. But, what I mean is why should it be so difficult and energy-sapping? Why should work have such negative connotations? There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we look at work and by we, I mean everyone."
I lit up another cigarette and sipped on the cappuccino. Ashish was already on his second cigarette but had not yet touch the cuppa.
"Dude, I just want to get out of India. Get a decent college abroad, find a good job and make a lot of money", said Ashish. He had probably day-dreamed about all these things while I was looking at people outside and ruminating on the deadly routine of everything around us.
"Why? Why do you want to make a lot of money?"
"I just want to chill man."
"THAT. Exactly that is the fundamental fallacy. Money doesn't buy you 'chill'."
"I don't know, yet."
Silence glided into our conversation as we smoked yet another cigarette. However cliched it is, there is a real joy in smoking a cigarette sitting in a cafe under the shade while the sun outside is shining bright and the breeze is cool enough to be nice but not as cold as to make you uncomfortable.
I peeked inside the glass wall separating us from the indoor area of the cafe. There is that couple which seems to be a part of every cafe as if they come free with your coffee - the one who hold hands, the guy keeps trying to make the girl smile and they seem completely over each other. A couple of girls who looked like they had skipped college talk animatedly. Outside, where we were, two big guys came and sat on the chairs next to us. They placed their cigarette boxes on the table-top and allowed their huge belly to take up the space between them and the table. They looked like men who beat people for a living.
"I have figured out the problem. Let's work backwards."
"OK", nodded Ashish.
"Look. My stress at work is a factor of how much pressure my client puts on me. Her stress is related to how much pressure her boss is applying on her, which, in turn is dependent upon the stress her boss's boss is under - so on and so forth. "
"Eventually, it reaches to the top to the CEO who drives the whole chain of pressures and deadlines. Now, the fundamental reason for the stress and worries of so many people is what drives the CEO."
"Are you listening or just nodding along?"
"Yeah man, I am listening. Go on."
"OK. So, if we figure out and fix the driving factor behind that CEO, we can potentially make lives of a lot of people easier. Take my client's company for example. The CEO is driven crazy by money - quarterly revenue numbers is his holy grail. But, does he really need to? I mean, he's already a billionaire or multi-millionaire at the least."
"Yeah, but maybe he enjoys money."
"Maybe. But, do you enjoy the money or the stuff and experiences you buy with it?"
"Hmm. True. But you do need that money to buy that stuff."
"Correct. But, what if you don't need that stuff?"
"What do you mean?"
"Think about it - all these companies selling us bags, clothes, watches etc. worth a fortune - what if we don't need all that stuff? Whom do we have to impress? So many industries have cropped up to feed on our desire to please someone else even at the disposal of our own sanity. Take advertising for example. If only we removed every form of advertising in the world, there'd be a lot less demand for stuff we don't need. Obviously, I am not thinking this through but you get my point, right?"
"Yeah, I do."
"There is something Will Smith may or may not have said but I am always reminded of it in such conversations - 'I wish everyone had fame and money and then they'll realise that it is not the answer.'"
I paused to take a puff of the whatever little was left of my cigarette.
"What if instead of focusing towards making more money, we could focus on making more people happy - yourself as well as the people you work with. Of course, happiness is a subjective term and has different meanings for different people. That's alright, make a company with people who have same definition of happiness as you. Instead of looking at quarterly revenue, let's look at how happy people are. No one wants to be poor so I am assuming, if everyone's happy, revenue will follow. I mean we work for a living, why kill ourselves working?"
"Amen to that."
"Anywho. Fuck! I am late for work."
"Bro, but we have to redo the fourth question also."
"Yeah, I'll see you in the evening."
You just read my first ever short story. If you liked/disliked what you read, please do add in your comments below. For a writer, apathy from his readers is worse than criticism. So, I'd love to know your thoughts.