‘And now, a toast, to the CEO and founder!’
Vibhu Saxena gave a brief smile as everyone at the table raised their glasses to him, inclining his head as they sipped their drinks. The hedge fund company he had founded had just bagged a large corporate client that dealt in mutual funds; everybody’s jobs were secure for the next two years, at least.
Over the next half an hour, Vibhu had to endure the men hanging on his every word in an attempt to curry favour with him, and some of the women making it very obvious that they wouldn’t mind moving beyond their present professional relationship.
Too bad he didn’t swing that way.
Stifling a laugh at their pathetic attempts, Vibhu pushed his glasses up his nose. He decided to ingore them, and enjoy the excellent three course meal at his favourite restaurant. He would even splurge on dessert, though he had been feeling a little chubby around the middle, lately. Today was a special day, and it was something to celebrate, this deal of theirs. No one had believed he would be capable of it, his classmates from business school were still struggling in mid-level jobs in financial institutions, banks, or worse, teaching economics and accountancy at colleges.
Not him, though. At thirty, he was the youngest ever from his college to own his own company, which was doing very well for itself, thank you very much. All those people who had laughed behind his back when he had spent hours making notes in the library were stuck making presentation slideshows, while he was listening to presentations in boardrooms.
By all standards, he was a success. And it was all the sweeter because he had struggled for it. Vibhu’s father had been an accountant in the State government, a tiny cog in a vast machine, honest and conscientious – it meant he never took a bribe, and consequently, the Saxenas had never been very well off. Vibhu had had to sweat blood and tears to pass the Common Admission Test conducted nationwide to get into one of the Indian Institutes of Management, being an upper caste boy in this day and age of reservations in education.
His struggle had paid off, though. In college, many of Vibhu’s peers who had worked as hard as him to get into IIM – Ahmedabad had slacked off, thinking that studying business management was easy, but he had continued to work hard for the next two years. He hadn’t had much fun, determined as he was to make something of himself. His sexual orientation had only added to his isolation, Vibhu had been convinced that he would be shunned if anyone discovered he was gay, so he had avoided mingling with people.
While the college hadn’t done much for his social life, their in house incubation centre had helped Vibhu set up his company back when he had been the only employee, heping him secure business loans and draw up the necessary legal documents. A year after he had graduated, he had already broken even.
Now, as he saw his fifty five employees giggle and drink wine and celebrate his success, he felt a genuine smirk form. He only wished his father could see him now. The elder Saxena had been convinced his only son was making a mistake, urging him to write the Indian Administrative Services exam and join governmental service, like him. ‘That’s job security,’ his father had often argued. ‘These chit funds and hedge funds are here today and gone tomorrow!’
‘Sir, I think we may need to wrap soon?’
His Chief Operating Officer, Indrani Sharma leaned over and murmured in his right ear. He nodded, and Indrani began to tell people that it was time to go, and while it was the weekend, a lot of them had to go home to their waiting spouses and families.
Vibhu smiled fondly at Indrani as she now began to verbally chivvy everyone from the table, signalling the waiter for the cheque. She really was his right hand woman in the company, calm and efficient. It helped that she was happily married, the long hours he had to keep with her usually meant rumors flying about, but her marital status had put paid to that.
As the waiter brought the cheque over, Vibhu let it fall open a little as he signed his name on the credit card slip, so that the young associate sitting to his left – a rising star within the organization, two years out of business school – could see the amount. The boy gasped as his eyes fell on the bill, and Vibhu hid a smile.
When the same associate glanced admiringly at the Mercedes the valet had just handed over to him, Vibhu grinned as he drove off into the night.
Life was good.
Things weren’t going so well.
One of their new clients was being panicky about investing a large sum of money, and they required a lot of hand holding. Indrani had decided that an associate couldn’t handle the account, escalating it directly to him. This had necessitated meeting upon meeting with what Vibhu thought of as his core group, coming up with a strategy to ensure they retained their cilent’s high-profit account.
The extra meetings, coming on top of every thing else – expansion plans, meetings with Marketing to develop a new logo and change their tag line, the regulatory documents to be sent to the Securities and Exchange Board of India – had left Vibhu tired and irritable.
As he shuffled into his flat, Vibhu felt drained of all energy. The light on his answer machine was blinking, and he pressed play as he sat down to take off his shoes. It was from his younger brother, asking if he could borrow a little money to make ends meet this month. His brother had gone into a government job like their father had wanted, but lacking Vibhu’s drive and intelligence, he had had to settle for a middle management position. Vibhu paid for the flat he and his family lived in, and in exchange his brother took care of their mother.
Now, as Vibhu shuffled into his bedroom, shucking off his tie, pants, and shirt on the way, he was grateful for his living arrangements. His housekeeper-cum-maid would come in the morning and pick up his discarded clothes and make his meals. Vibhu never had to worry about cleanliness, and never had to put up with a mother’s nagging about him settling down and giving her grandchildren.
Showered and changed into a pair of comfortable shorts, Vibhu padded barefoot into his kitchen, enjoying the cool tiles under his feet. A few minutes search later, he found a mug, and had unscrewed the lid off his ‘special’ tea. His housekeeper Radha only knew it was an expensive ‘foren’ tea, but in reality it was a special blend of tea made with poppy seeds. Vibhu had first started drinking it in the days he had just set up his company; after a long and tiring day, it was just the thing to take the edge off. Now it had become something of a habit, if he didn’t have a cup a day, Vibhu found it difficult to get to sleep.
Fifteen minutes later, the tea was ready, steaming and fragrant in his mug. As the warm liquid hit his throat, Vibhu let out a quiet hum of pleasure. Settling in his lounge chair and putting his feet up, Vibhu closed his eyes.
Featuring cross-dressing assassins, were-snakes, gods and goddesses, demonesses and asura kings, Dark Things Between the Shadow and the Soul retells age-old tales from Indian mythology—with a twist. Rearranging myth and legend to create new plots, these short stories will delight lovers of the unusual.
A/N: Wow, this was strange. I really have no idea how it even ended up this way.
[music| Pareshan: ‘Ishaqzaade’ OST]