An excerpt from the “Two States”

‘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

job.

‘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

me.’

‘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

exhaled.

‘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

mine.

‘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

machine.’

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.’

‘Then what?’

‘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

whispered.

‘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

me?’

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

eyes.

‘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

classroom floor.

‘What now?’

‘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!’