Bankim knew he was running late. He hastily slipped into his trousers and quickly buttoned and zipped it, his eyes all the while fixed on the television screen. The Prime Minister was readying himself for hoisting the National flag. Bankim glanced at the wall clock- it was past 7 AM and the minutes hand was steadily moving from 12 towards 1. He knew the clock was running around five minutes early. Bankim had developed this habit of setting the clock before time since his school days- when during examinations he would never be able to finish the last question, adjusting the time helped Bankim pace his answers a little better. Quickly drawing two fingers on the crease of the backside of the collar, Bankim turned up the volume of his television. The National Anthem would start in a few seconds.
‘Do you know what’s worth fighting for…’ rang his cellphone. He was taken aback by the ringtone but realized that he had set it only last night.
Couldn’t have chosen a worse time, Bankim thought to himself- whoever was calling had no sense of timing. After all, it was the morning of the 15th of August, when the nation of 1.2 billion was gearing up for, umm…a display of, patriotism. As Bankim lifted his phone from the dining table onto his palm, he noticed that the call was from an unknown number. But more importantly, it began with +1. Bankim exhaled a deep breath and prepared himself. He muted his television set.
Am I speaking to Mr. Bankhim Chatterjee?
Yes? Who’s this?
Srinivasan. I’m calling from San Jose.
Sir, I’m really sorry… I am running a little late. I will be in office in 10 minutes. I’ll be on call as soon as I get there. This traffic congestion in Mumbai! You know, Sir. Terrible.
Bankim could see the National Anthem playing on the television. It was on mute. He couldn’t muster the courage to turn on the volume lest his boss discovered that he was still at home. The honking of vehicles on the road next to his apartment kept his hopes of passing on the lie alive. The Prime Minister was standing upright, his right palm exposed, steady. The camera panned slowly away from the fluttering Tricolor and scanned the crowd- an uncharacteristically disciplined one in attention position.
I understand, Bankhim. But will our customers understand? You should have anticipated and left from home early.
Bankim was silent. His eyes were fixated on the television screen.
Bankim, you still with me?
Sorry, Sir, I’m here.
I am requesting the customer to postpone the call by half an hour. They’ll shout at me for this. But there doesn’t appear to be a better way out. Is half hour good?
Both hung up.
Bankim angrily muttered, Happy Independence Day, Sir.
Bankim did not unmute the television. He turned it off. Next, he slipped his feet into his oversized shoes, tied the laces, hurriedly combed his hair without looking at the mirror and left with the door-key in one hand. He pulled the door hard and it shut aloud.
While in the auto-rickshaw, he saw kids running around with tiny flags. He was reminded of his childhood when he went to school for the flag-hoisting ceremony, his father cycled him straight from the school to the field to watch the ‘parade’ and heard patriotic songs blare from the loudspeakers installed at random locations. Bankim hated himself for working at a place that had holiday on 4th of July but not on 15th of August. What kind of independence is this! I will quit my job today itself, thought Bankim.
The auto-rickshaw came to a jolting halt.
Sir, as much as you wish. Today’s a special day. My grandpa fought with the British and got us independence. The government still couldn’t decide whether to reward him. How can I ask for anything?
Carefully drawing a hundred-rupee note from his wallet with the tip of his two fingers, Bankim handed it over and left without speaking anything or waiting for change to be tendered. On the way to the elevator, he thought- I was over-reacting, maybe.
He reached his seat and hurriedly dialed the conference number. From the other side, he could hear the client join the call.
Happy Independence Day guys, said an American voice.