Bunking office, a courageous act of proving your existence to your boss and colleagues, has never come easy to me. Working almost 50 kilometres from city, I’ve always found myself going weak in the knees at the mere idea of leaving the office premises unannounced before official time. However, that Friday, the idea of bagging an additional half day along with an extended weekend piqued my interest.
Post lunch break, I boarded a bus back to the city without leaking a word. Summer siesta, I learnt from seasoned “bunkers (colleagues)”, is cool. I listened to some rebellious rock music on the ride home that took an hour. I got off at the city’s focal point and planned to catch an auto-rickshaw to go the remaining distance.
The auto-rickshaw driver I found was sweating and whining, as though someone had ruffled his feathers. We agreed on Rs 10 as fare, and over the next 2 kilometres or so, I noticed him mishandling the wheel, hurling abuses, and being rude to someone on mobile phone. Though afraid, I assured myself that he must have some domestic issue. Within, I prayed for the rush hour to pass so that I could get home fast and safe. Passing by unending traffic signals, he dropped me on a busy roundabout and found me staring at him blankly. As I searched my purse to find change to pay him back, I realised that in my eagerness to bunk office, I had forgotten to pick up my wallet from the drawer.
Happy and relieved to find a 50-rupee note nestled in the folds of the purse, I passed it to him, expecting some loose change back. Still grumbling under his breath, he said: “Madam, ab beech sadak pe change kahan se laun?” (Where would I get change in the middle of the road?” I reasoned: “Bhaiya, dhyaan se dekho, change mil jayegi. (Look carefully).”
That ticked him off, and he started: “Madam, at the last signal only, the traffic cop extorted Rs 200 from me for no good reason. Bola, subah se bohni nahi hua (He said he was looking for his first buck of the day). And now, I am left with nothing of whatever I earned since morning. Dopahar ka time hai (it’s late afternoon), and I’m worried that it’s about to pour.”
I felt guilty and ashamed, guilty for boarding an auto-rickshaw without checking if I had change, for bunking office, and for seeking money from a man robbed by the corrupt system; and ashamed that all I could offer him beside a single 50-rupee note was a packet of imported, digestive, calorie- and gluten-free Hobnobs biscuits that I had in my purse to meet hunger exigencies while travelling. Indeed, every grain has somebody’s name on it; and God has own public distribution system.
The writer is a soft skills trainer at a private university in Himachal Pradesh.