Kajal didn’t even know they had so many neighbors watching the number of people who came to pay their final respects to her departed father. At the moment, she couldn’t help but remember the ironic statement from Munshi Premchand’s novel, ‘kafan’. While living, no one cared whether her father was dead or alive or needed anything as he vacillated between life and death in the last decade. Finally, today, as he lost the battle and transitioned to the other side, everyone was suddenly mourning.
Guilt overwhelmed Kajal, watching her brother cry, but she was unable to shed tears. She had often wept whenever she had tended to baba’s bed sores or heard his lungs struggle with excess phlegm or watching him over the years turn into mere skeletal remains of his former self. She had often wondered if he could hear whenever she vented out before his unresponsive self or whenever maami spewed venom against them. But today, she was relieved that he was free from pain, physical, mental, and emotional.
It was an end of an era for Kajal’s family. Aai where are you… baba is no more… can you come now at least?
Besides curious neighbors, her baba’s old colleagues also came to pay their respects. Maami was happy to see the many men in uniform. Mainly because they were government servants, Kajal saw the gleam of finding a prospective future son-in-law for her daughter Poonam. Poonam tai had finished her graduation a couple of years ago, and instead of pursuing a career or being helpful at home, she would laze around binging on repeated TV soaps.
Maami went out of her way to provide the khaki visitors with refreshments and had insisted Poonam wear her new salwar suit as if they had come for a wedding and not a funeral.
As Kajal stood in the corner in poignant silence, Ganpatrao kaka, her father’s old friend and colleague, sauntered his plump way towards her. Ganpat kaka had always been there whenever they had trouble accessing her father’s funds when she was a minor. He had gone out of his way to arrange for some parts of baba’s medical expenses to be reimbursed for them, thereby easing the load a bit. Kajal’s eyes filled at the oasis of kindness during her demanding days.
“Kaka… don’t forget us now that baba isn’t there” She softly spoke amidst tears.
“…No child, Manohar was a brother more than a friend, always ready to help everyone. He didn’t deserve this decade of turmoil or the year-long tumulus life before that. I know things were difficult for you as well, but it hit him hard. Vaini’s (Bhabhi) disappearance compounded by his case tribulations had shaken him… I hope you forgive him child, let him rest in peace….” Ganpat kaka wiped his teary eyes.
Kajal nodded, and Ganpat kaka took out polythene handing it over to her.
“This is something that was with me for a long time… a little before that accident, your father had wanted me to burn it, but I couldn’t. It’s a folder on what he had found out after your mother disappeared and that broke him totally… I didn’t want to ruin your memories of your mother, but now that he is no more, I think you should have it. If you want, you read it and I leave it to you if you want to share it with Krunal.”
Kajal peeped into the polythene to see an old dusty folder. She wrapped it and hid it in her cupboard below her clothes before maami’s prying eyes found dirt on her parents.
The few days following the funeral were hectic as Kajal had to complete formalities and close her baba’s chapter from everything mortal. She could never find the needed solitude to go through the folder.
Krunal also had his final exams coming up and she had saved up some money for an injection prescribed for her father. She paid his final fees installment mentally berating herself yet again for the relief she felt. Krunal had been speaking less for last so many days and though she had asked him repeatedly he didn’t open up to her. But ever since baba passed, he had totally stopped talking, except to nod and answer her if she asked something. She wished she knew what was troubling him and decided to take him out someday after their exams and have a chat.
Her study leave had started and in span of one and half months she had her final exams. She had already started to update her resume and sending across to job openings.
One morning Krunal was at school and she had just wound up the kitchen after everyone had breakfast. Her neighbor who had promised a job arrived unannounced.
“Kajal beta, my PR firm is hiring and has a position open. They are taking freshers. The pay is good and currently its yet to be released online. I got the insider information. Come over today and give an interview…”
“…But uncle, my exams…” Kajal wanted nothing more than the job but she had to study as well.
“What exams and all are you talking about…?” Her maami butted in. “…Who is going to pay yours and Krunal’s living expenditure? Does money grow on trees? Should I even tell you how much we have spent on you people in the last decade? Your mama is retiring soon and Poonam is to be married… how on earth do we arrange for funds… enough is enough. You better take up the job, else leave the house.” She turned around and walked back into her bedroom.
Kajal blinked back tears. Years of painful word-bricks thrown still didn’t reduce the impact they had on her. She knew she had to make this choice. She had to take up the job… she would give exams later by correspondence as well, but at the moment the job mattered. She had Krunal to think of. She agreed and, in an hour, she was in ‘Rhapsody’ PR consultants.
From a brief wait and a little tour, she found out Rhapsody was the most sought-after PR agency by the celebrities. Be it models, small time actors and even TV stars. She cleared the interview and though she didn’t have any experience, she was given an assistant position under Ms. Shipra Malhotra. The pay was better than what she had expected but she was told, her hours were not to be numbered. She agreed and was soon sent across to Ms. Shipra’s cabin.
As expected Shipra was a thin woman with an almost hourglass figure reeking of high-end perfume and wearing a figure-hugging dress in addition to a painted face. Kajal felt like an idiot before her. Shipra gave her a once over and rolled her eyes.
“Is this what PR has stooped down to? is this what Rhapsody needs? Heights of cost cutting… Anyways your attire will need to change when you go out in the field with me…” Shipra spoke bluntly waving a perfectly manicured hand towards Kajal.
Later that night as she watched Krunal sleep peacefully she felt confident about her decision. Everything will have to wait. She had to first get their finances on track and save up a bit.
Within a fortnight Kajal had gotten acclimatized to the working of the PR company. She was the most sought-after assistant and though she was assigned to Shipra, she was happy to help out other departments too in her free time since it taught her more about the functioning of the company. The staff was very friendly except for Shipra but Kajal was fine by it. She was already learning so much from her boss.
Kajal soon realized Rhapsody did the damage control for the wayward personalities be it breaking a signal, a little accident in inebriation, drug history, mistakes in the sack which became public… just about everything. Shipra was in charge of their VIP clients. She was very particular about Kajal’s dressing and lent her clothes during their outdoor visits, though Kajal only had to stand in a corner and make notes. The only drawback was the odd work hours, which maami was fine after Kajal gifted Poonam and her expensive perfumes she had received as a give away post an event.
One morning Kajal entered the premises to a flurry of activity. The atmosphere was tense and even Shipra who was usually uptight was scampering around like a scared rabbit.
She asked another colleague, Vijay, what had happened.
“Oh, don’t ask… just consider Shipra’s house in on fire and she can’t seem to douse it… its her biggest account who is in the eye of storm now… Good luck to you Kajal… you will have to bear with her foul mouth today.”
As soon as Shipra saw her she gestured Kajal to her cabin.
Kajal was surprised to see Shipra pace within the cabin confines instead of her usual poise. Halting, she bent over her huge mahogany desk.
“Look Kajal, today I am depending on you. You have a tiny but important task at hand. Um… I would have gone myself but I have other damage control to do. However, one of us will have to go to address the press conference. I can’t allow anyone else because of the confidentiality involved. So… you will have to do it.”
“I… Shipra ma’am…I don’t…” Kajal was nervous. Speaking before an audience in a debate was different and speaking to press hounds was a different ball game all together.
“Kajal, this is my request to you. He is our biggest account and we can’t lose him… Just go through the press release in the folder. You only have to read it out before the press on behalf of Rhapsody…”
If Kajal hated anything, it was going to a competition or an event unprepared. She had to find out what this was all about but there was barely anytime. She had her clothes laid out for her. This time it was a black business suit that Shipra had selected and she had also asked for Kajal’s makeup to be done. All dolled up Kajal couldn’t recognize her-self but she felt great for getting a chance to dress up for once in her life. She left Shipra’s cabin trying to figure out where she was destined to land.
A quick glance at the press release indicated some KB was charged with alleged drunken assault in a local bar and Rhapsody was announcing it didn’t happen as shown in the viral news. Apparently the video was doctored and grainy and not proof enough to indict KB. The press was asked to wait for the official announcements from KB himself while Shipra worked things out at the backend with the victim and the lawyers.
Kajal shook her head and looked around the office as she waited for the driver to bring the car around. Vijay walked up to her sipping the concoction they called tea form the machine installed.
“So off to the lion’s den. Wish you all the best Kajal” He chuckled.
“What… what do you mean…?” Kajal’s anxiety only rose notches higher.
“You don’t know who KB is?”
Kajal shook her head. She was a disgrace to PR dealing with celebrities… she never followed the news. She didn’t know one actor from the other. Vijay was only too happy to flaunt his knowledge.
“KB is none other than Krish Batra, famous model, TV actor and…” Vijay sighed.
“…And…?” Kajal was now curious as she watched the driver arrive at the entrance.
“…And… he is PR industry’s worst nightmare…”