‘What?’ she said. I gestured that she return my phone. She rummaged through her handbag.
‘Here,’ she said and handed it to me.
I had only 5 per cent battery left. I checked my messages. Brijesh had sent me some about leaving Club Cubana and coming to LPK. Debu had sent messages about taking off, and then one about him having landed in Goa.
‘What on earth are you doing here?’ I messaged Debu.
He didn’t see his phone. He seemed to be in bliss, lost in the bhajans. Fuck, what is wrong with him? It took me a minute to get his attention. I gestured to him to look at his phone.
He saw the message. He replied with a few wink smileys from across the room.
‘Really, what are you doing?’ I typed back.
‘Nice surprise, no?’ he messaged.
‘Cut the nonsense, Debu. My entire family is here.’
‘Yeah, I saw. His too. I saw the groom. Golden silk kurta, lots of red threads around his wrist, right?’
‘What do you want, Debu?’ I sent a message.
‘To talk face-to-face.’
‘I have come all the way. Please.’
‘My phone is dying.’
‘How?’ I said.
‘You say. Anytime. Anywhere.’
I thought hard.
‘After the bhajans. At the hotel gym.’
Nobody would go to the gym after bhajans. He replied with a thumbs up.
Debu sat on the bench press. He held a dumbbell in one hand and did bicep curls. I stood in front of him.
‘Are you crazy?’ I said. I looked around to see if anyone I knew had come to the gym. Apart from one old white man on the treadmill and a gym trainer, there was no one.
‘Thank you for coming,’ he said. ‘By the way, you look gorgeous in this orange sari. Wow. Just wow!’
‘Whatever. And can you keep that dumbbell down?’
‘Just trying to make it look natural,’ he said.
‘You are in a kurta. I am in a saree. We don’t look natural here. Debu, what is wrong with you? You literally took a flight and came down?’
‘Yeah. I am quite jetlagged actually. I feel like having breakfast. Want to grab some?’
‘Will you stop it? You have no idea how I have come here. Everyone will be looking for me at dinner.’
‘We can go there. I can eat.’
‘Debu, this is not a joke. My family is here. Their reputation is important. How could you just walk into the bhajans’ place?’
‘I wanted to pray. For my mission to be successful.’
‘To win you back. The most important thing in the world for me right now.’
I must say, for a second I had no answer. I looked at him. He still had his trademark two-week beard and curly hair. He had gained a bit of weight, but also become more fit. Or maybe it just felt like that in the gym.
‘How are you, baby?’ he said.
‘Don’t “baby” me,’ I said, loud enough for the American man on the treadmill to turn his head towards us for a second. I continued, ‘You have any idea what you made me go through? And you just cut me off.’
‘I was an idiot. An insecure twenty-four-year-old.’
‘And what are you now? A stupid twenty-eight-year-old?’
‘Maybe. But I am old enough to realize you are the best thing to have ever happened to me.’
‘What?’ I said, then keeping my composure, ‘It’s over, Debu. It’s been over since long back. You didn’t even return my calls.’
‘I am sorry.’
‘It doesn’t matter. Now I have to ask you to leave. Go visit your parents in Kolkata. You are in India anyway.’
‘New York, baby.’
‘What about New York?’
‘Don’t you remember the days in New York? We had issues, yes, but how can you forget all the happy memories?’
He looked into my eyes. He seemed to be in pain. For the first time in my life, someone had crossed half a planet to come for the usually unlovable me. And it is hard to keep yelling at someone who has done that for you.
‘You forgot, baby?’ he said again.
‘No, Debu, I have forgotten nothing,’ I said, my voice soft.
Four Years Ago
‘Bay-gulls. That’s how you pronounce them, spelt b-a-g-e-l-s,’ Avinash said at the breakfast counter on 85 Broad Street, worldwide headquarters of Goldman Sachs.
Avinash, a batchmate of mine from IIMA, had also made it to Goldman Sachs. He had worked abroad before his MBA. He knew a lot more than me about the way things worked in America. He picked up the doughnut-shaped bread, slit it horizontally with a black plastic knife and smeared it with cheese.
‘Bagel and cream cheese, classic combo,’ he said.
‘Thanks, Avinash,’ I said, fumbling with my plate, my handbag, my umbrella and my senses. I had worn a Western-style office suit for the first time in my life. Even for my Goldman Sachs interview at IIMA campus I had worn a saree.
Is the skirt too tight? Is my ass looking too big? Is my hair in place? Mini-me was in overdrive, the perfect day for her to knock me out.
Two hundred other fresh recruits had arrived from all over the world. For our ten-week associate training, we had to report at 7.30 in the morning. Classes began after a quick breakfast, and ended at 6.30 in the evening.
Partners and senior employees from various departments, such as Corporate Finance, Equities and Distressed Debt, took sessions on what actually happened in their group. The partners, no more than 200 in the entire firm of 20,000 people, held the senior-most positions in the firm. They held equity in the bank and made the most money. Their annual compensation could reach tens of millions of dollars every year.
‘Open the Goldman Sachs business principles,’ said Gary Colbert, a senior partner who looked like a rich grandfather in his gold spectacles. Goldman took great pride in its fourteen business principles.
‘Long-term greed,’ Gary said. ‘Read that line in the principles. That’s what we aim for here.’
Greed and investment banking went together. Goldman was honest enough to admit it. They just didn’t mind delaying their greed, for it made the pay-off even better. Gary recounted his journey from joining Goldman as an operations assistant thirty-five years ago.
‘Everyone works hard at Goldman, no exception. If you want an easy life, look elsewhere,’ Gary said. Well, it was too late for me to look elsewhere. I was already in New York. Trainees circulated horror stories about new associates spending nights in the office and sleeping on office couches.