‘You’ll be fine,’ she told me for the fifth time. We took a four-kilometre walk
outside campus to reach Navrangpura. I wanted to be as far from the madness as
possible. Day Zero, or the first day of placement, had ended and I hadn’t got a
‘I thought with my grades I will crack Day Zero,’ I said.
‘Who cares? There’re six more days left for placements,’ she said.
We stopped at a roadside vendor for pao-bhaji. She ordered two plates with
less butter. ‘You will be fine. See, marketing companies don’t even start until
tomorrow. I have my big HLL interview. I’m not stressed.’
‘You’ll get in. I can’t think of a single company who can say no to you,’ I said.
She looked at me and smiled. ‘You do realize that not everyone is in love with
‘You have good grades and a passion for marketing. You are so HLL, I can see
it on your face.’
‘You have two more banks tomorrow.’
‘I want Citibank,’ I said. ‘I should have better answers than “I like the money”. I
need to lie better in interviews.’
The waiter served us. She broke a piece of the pao and fed me. ‘But that’s the
only reason why anyone would work in a bank, right?’
‘Yes, but the interviewers like to believe they are doing something meaningful.
Like they work for the Mother Teresa Foundation or something.’
‘Well you should say this – I want Citibank as I want Indians to have access to
world-class financial services. And use words like “enormous growths” and
“strategic potential”,’ she said.
‘I have to say all that without throwing up?’
‘And remember, the Citi never sleeps. So say you will work hard,’ she said.
‘I can’t lie that much,’ I said.
She laughed as she wiped a bit of bhaji off the corner of my mouth. I thought
how lucky I was to have her. She could be running HLL in a few years, but today
her priority was to wipe bhaji off my stupid face. Guilt knotted within me. She
deserved an answer about the future. Do it, loser, I told myself. Do it now. Even if
it is a makeshift pao bhaji stall in Navrangpura. I gathered the courage to sopeak.
‘What? You want to say something?’
‘Do you want more pao?’ I said.
‘You are third,’ a first-year student volunteer who assisted in placements told me.
I sat on a stool with seven other candidates outside the interview room. We
resembled patients at a dentist’s clinic, only more stressed.
The HLL interviews were on in the room across me. Ananya had moved up all
the rounds and now waited to be called one last time. I reflected on what had
gone wrong on Day Zero. OK, I only wanted a job for the money, but I had hidden
that when they spoke to me. Then why did I screw up with five banks yesterday?
What if Citi also screws me? I thought. Sweat beads popped on my forehead. Was it
destiny leading me to doom after all these degrees and grades? Is God not on my side I?
wondered if I had given any reason to God not to be on my side. I saw the HLL
room from a distance. Ananya stood outside, looking beautiful in a peacock blue
sari. Maybe God will not let me decide my future unless I give her clarity on her future.
‘Krish Malhotra,’ the student volunteer called my name.
I offered mental prayers and stood up. I checked my tie knot and shirt collars.
Remember you need this job, I told myself. Banks pay double, I could quit a
corporate career twice as fast to do whatever I wanted to. I breathed in deeply and
‘Welcome, take you seat,’ a man in an impeccable black suit spoke from his
chair. He was rich enough to wear a Rolex watch and obnoxious enough not to
look at me while he addressed me. He rifled through a pile of resumes to find
‘Good afternoon.’ I extended my hand. I flexed my forearm muscles as people
say a tight handshake is a sign of confidence and world domination.
‘Rahul Ahuja, managing director, corporate finance,’ he said and shook hands
with me. He pointed to his colleague on the right. ‘And this is Devesh Sharma,
vice-president in HR.’
I looked at Devesh, a thirty-year-old executive with the timidity of a three-yearold.
He came across as someone who could be kicked around despite being
called vice-president. Anyway, I’d heard Citibank had four hundred vicepresidents
to accommodate careers and egos of hundreds of new MBAs that
joined every year. Of course, it took away the relevance of the title but at least it
gave you a good introduction. Rahul signaled Devesh to start.
‘So Krish, I notice you have poor grades in your undergrad,’ Devesh spoke in a
voice so effeminate, he’d be the obvious choice for female leads in college plays.
‘You are pretty observant,’ I said.
‘Excuse me?’ Devesh said, surprised.
Cut the wisecracks, I told myself. ‘Nothing,’ I cleared my throat.
‘So, what happened?’
A girlfriend, fun-loving friends, alcohol, grass and crap profs happened, I
wanted to say. But Ananya had told me the right answer. ‘Actually, Mr. Sharma,’ I
said, emphasizing his name so he felt good, ‘when I entered IIT, I didn’t realize the
rigours demanded by the system. And once you have a bad start, due to relative
grading, it is quite hard to come back. I did get good grades in the last semester
and my IIMA grades are good. So, as you can see, I’ve made up.’
There were twenty minutes of stupid questions like ‘will credit cards grow in
India?’ or ‘can India improve its banking services?’ where you easily answer what
they want to hear (yes, they will grow and, yes, India can improve heaps). Finally,
they asked the big question, ‘Why Citibank?’
I want Citibank because none of the other five banks worked ou It .sucked in my
breath along with my stupid thoughts. BS time, buddy, I thought, the ten seconds
that will determine your career start now.
‘Mr Ahuja, the question is not why Citi. The real question is why would any
ambitious young person want to go anywhere else? It is the biggest private bank
in the world, it has a great reputation, it is committed to India, and there are
opportunities in almost every area of the bank. It is not a bank, it is a growth
I paused to see if I had gone over the top. But Rahul listened with rapt
attention and Devesh nodded. Yes, they were falling for it.
‘And, ultimately the biggest reason is, Rahul,’ I said, switching to the first
name to show my closeness to him, ‘I really want to work with people I look up to.
When I see you, I want to be you. And Citi gives me a shot at it.’
Rahul flushed with pride. ‘How…I mean, how do you know you want to be me?’
No matter how accomplished people get, they don’t stop fishing for
compliments. ‘I saw you at the pre-placement talk. I’ve attended dozens of talks,
but the way you presented showed more thought clarity than anyone else. I think
it is a Citibank thing. You people have a different confidence. Right, Devesh?’
Devesh looked at me, perplexed. ‘Actually, we at human resources pick the
best talent,’ he parroted, probably from a manual.
‘HR does nothing. I personally pick everyone for the job,’ Rahul said as the two
jostled for my attention.
‘It shows,’ I said.
Rahul pushed back his chair and stood up. ‘Listen Krish, I like you. So
between us, let me be honest. We are mostly done with the recruitment and have
only one place left. But we have internal criteria; we need seven-point grade in
undergrad to take new recruits.’
Fuck. My past sins would not let go of me. Maybe that is why the five banks
had rejected me.
“and this missed semester….’ He tapped my undergrad grade sheete.
‘Research semester, sir’ I corrected.
‘I don’t know about that. Devesh?’
Devesh, like anyone who works in HR, had never taken a real decision in his
life. ‘It’s a business call, sir,’ he said.
‘I head my business,’ Rahul said.
‘Yes, but you may want to talk to the country manager,’ Devesh said, scared to
make a suggestion.
‘I’m senior to him. I came from New York. He’s just connected so he became
country manager. You know that, right?’
‘Sir, but grade-wise….’ Devesh paused and both of them looked at me.
‘Can you give us five minutes?’ Rahul asked.
‘Sure, I’ll wait outside,’ I obliged with an ingratiating grin.
‘Thanks, we’ll call you in again. So, don’t send the next candidate.’
I stepped out of the Citi interview room. I scanned the list of remaining companies
on the notice board. Everyone else paid half of Citibank. I found an empty stool to
sit on and closed my eyes to pray. God appeared in front of me.
‘Hello God,’ I said, ‘I’ve not said one true thing in that interview today. But I
want the job, please.’
‘They don’t want to hear the truth. So, that’s OK,’ God said. ‘But that’s not
what you should be worried about.’
‘You have lived with a girl for two years.’
‘I love her, God,’ I said.
‘Love is not enough. You know what you have to do.’
‘I will, I just need time.’
‘You are well past your time. In four minutes, I could let your last bank job slip
away,’ God said.
‘No God, I want Citibank.’
‘I want you to do the right thing first.’
‘How?’ I opened my eyes. I looked at the HLL room. Ananya had gone inside
the room. I closed my eyes again. ‘How?’ I repeated. ‘She is in an interview. I
promise to do it after I get my Citibank job.’
‘I don’t trust you. Anyway, upto you. You don’t listen to me, I don’t listen to
you,’ God said.
I opened my eyes. I had three minutes. Ananya would kill me if I went inside
the room. But a voice inside told me that if I didn’t go to her, the Citi country
manager or Rahul or Devesh could decide against me. Of course, my rational
mind knew I was being completely moronic. Both the events were not connected.
But there is only so much our rational mind knows. Maybe, events and karma are
connected. I ran to the HLL room.
‘Excuse me,’ the volunteer on the door said, blocking me.
‘I need to go inside,’ I said, ‘urgent.’
‘There’s an inter….’
I forced my way inside. HLL was conducting its final interviews in one of the
classrooms. The company staff sat in the front row of the class while the
candidate sat in the prof’s chair.
Ananya faced a panel of five elderly people in the room. She was moving her
hands in an animated manner as she spoke. ‘The rural market doesn’t need
different products. They need affordability….’ She stopped mid-sentence upon
noticing me. Her eyebrows elevated in shock and stayed there.
‘Yes?’ a sixtyish-year-old gentleman turned to me.
Ananya’s face turned pink, then red. The colour coordination came from
embarrassment and anger, respectively.
‘I need to talk to her,’ I said slowly, scanning everyone in the room.
‘Can’t it wait?’ the old gentleman asked. ‘She is having her final interview. All
our senior management is here.’
‘Actually, it can’t,’ I said.
‘Everything OK?’ another panelist said.
‘Yes, I only need a minute,’ I said and signalled to Ananya to come out.
‘What? Just tell me here,’ she said, throwing me a dirty look.
I saw the panel’s confused expression. I went up to Ananya.
‘What?’ she whispered,’ Are you mad?’
I knelt down next to her, my mouth close to her ear. ‘Sorry, how is it going?’ I
‘Krish Malhotra, this better be important. What’s up?’ she whispered, loud
enough for the panel to hear.
‘Ananya Swaminathan, I, Krish Malhotra, am deeply in love with you and want
to be with you always. Apart from where we go to office, of course. Will you marry
Ananya’s mouth fell open. She alternated her glance between the panel and
me. “Krish,’ she said. She tried hard but a tear slipped out of her carefully eyelined
‘Everything OK?’ one panel member asked as he noticed Ananya’s
restlessness. ‘It’s not bad news, I hope.’
Ananya shook her head as she took a sip from the glass of water in front of
her. ‘No, it’s not bad news at all. It’s good.’
‘Ananya,’ I whispered again. My knees hurt as they rubbed against the rough
‘Is that a yes? Will you be with me, always?’ I asked.
She tightened her lips to hide a laugh. ‘Yes, you idiot. I will be with you. Just
not right now. So, go!’