The Director in-charge of The Chopra group of hospitals, Dr. Gaurav Chopra a.k.a the bossman had left no stone unturned to make Ria’s life miserable. She had to report to him along with the other two leads, for the last one month. However, both of her colleague’s reports were passed without comments but hers were held up… always. She had to wait after routine work hours and get her reports redone. Many a times she had to carry her work home and her appa disliked it. He didn’t understand that a fat pay package came with its own burden of responsibilities, not to mention she had become the butt of the lewd hospital gossip for a while now. Though she chose to ignore, some of them were hurtful enough to drive her to tears. She was usually friendly so she even came back with cheeky banters… she couldn’t afford to lose the few friends she had. Just the other day, the front desk operator Swara had gifted her a tiny box containing two shades of bright lipsticks and whispered, “By the way Ria…this lipstick is … you know…. delicious. You can use it to touch up before you go into Gaurav’s cabin…” Ria had chuckled battling her eyelids and replied, “I hope you haven’t eaten it still… kept some for me?” Swara had narrowed her eyes and purred in a suggestive tone, “Well… Gaurav wanted me to try out a sample… Then we would all have it here…the front desk girls need uniformity isn’t it…?” She must have seen Ria’s benign smile… she burst into a raucous laughter. That was twice Swara had addressed Dr. Gaurav by his name… Ria had seen him walk past the reception and wink at the girls who stood and wished him. She had never imagined him to be a flirt or even easy going for that matter. It simply disgusted her visualising the two of them having a go in his cabin, just she wasn’t sure to whom it was directed at… Swara or the Bossman.
She had occasionally overheard about Dr. Gaurav having multiple affairs in the workplace… but had rarely had seen him out of his cabin. Nor had she witnessed anyone from the lower floors go upstairs into his cabin on the ninth floor. He worked very late into the evening… well that she knew. Then when on earth did he have the time for affairs? Did he call these girls home?
The pang of anger combined with jealousy hit her hard. Oh…no she wasn’t jealous…was she?
Ria’s troubles had started right from the day she had joined the hospital. Every decision she made in her department for any patient was rejected outright by her sheepish looking ex-supervisor, Dr. Monisha Bhat. One day a frustrated Ria confronted her in her office and Dr. Bhat admitted that Dr. Chopra vetoed all decisions for the departments. Why was the Director in-charge interfering in these trivial matters? Ria had then written out a detailed report giving details of all the patients and the reasons for her proposal and mailed them across any email address of the board members she could find.. She was also against the corner flower bed and garden area being converted into a private garage for the Director’s car. She in her defence had pointed out the soothing effect it had on their patients and it was an important part of their rehabilitation. To her surprise, it had reached the targets and the board of directors had considered her opinion giving her more authority in that regard but that put her directly in the bad books of the Director- in charge. She was even subjected to smirks and snobbish attitude of her female co-workers most of whom were his greatest fans… more like lusted after him to tell the truth. Her work load had suddenly increased and very often she would feel someone watching her in the ward with patients or while she was in her cubicle. The feeling was eerie but she couldn’t get it out of her mind and it often disturbed her. However that also resulted in Dr. Mishra being appointed their new supervisor and not only was she friendly with everyone but also encouraging young guns like Ria to be proactive.
Ria had slowly achieved tiny changes in the departments making them patient friendly and within a couple of months the department footfall increased getting her a lot of appreciation from all quarters except for some staff and of course the bossman. Ria’s next target was expansion of their department which was not just a project but a dream for her not to mention the money involved was a lot. There was place in the ground floor corner which was always kept locked down. Since Rehabilitation also involved providing an environment conducive to recovery, she wanted to make the place less depressing. It involved prepping up the interiors of their unit and making a paediatric corner so that children would enjoy their time here during their therapy sessions or waiting period. She had put up a request to present her proposal she had prepared along with her colleague Smita. Smita was a brilliant clinical psychologist but not very articulate and Ria was to do all the talking. They had spent over a month getting quotes to project the expenses as well as collated reports from related departments stating the importance of the revamp. All the other rehabilitation departments had seemed interested as well… and had put in their positive remarks.
The proposal was to be put forth to the board of directors since it involved a lot of money and because of her past success they had permitted an audience to hear her out. As soon as Ria started the presentation, Dr. Gaurav had stood up and dissected her report part by part. All the members assembled had their copies given to them. How he studied her report so quickly… was something beyond her imagination. He had starred right at her, his facial scar standing out in the projector light making him look more menacing. Smita was silenced totally and there was not even a whimper from her while Ria tried her best that day but the monster continuously slayed all her ventures to convince the members. Eventually she was given time to re-evaluate the entire proposal and present it in the next management meeting which was not scheduled at the moment. Ria had blinked back tears as she had waited for the other members to leave the room, though Dr. Gaurav was still seated and she could feel his eyes on her back. What the hell was his problem?
“Ms. Narsimhan…” his baritone had boomed behind her, his British like accent giving her strange flutters. She had composed herself and sent Smita back to the department while she had turned around to face her latest nemesis. “… so Ms. Narsimhan….” He stood up and came close to her. “…the next times you bring a proposal to this table see that you run it through me…first…” He had come very close whispering in her ears as she stood morbidly still. “…I am the one who signs your pay checks, isn’t it?”
Oh so it was an ego clash that made him resent her proposal? She had said nothing. Just nodded and walked out of the room. Her hands had brushed his and that had sent shivers down her spine. She wanted to hate him but couldn’t get herself to do it. Oh God where was she stuck…?
It was unbelievable but she had always heard he was a very considerate human. In fact Tara mavshi their department’s housekeeping personnel spoke highly about the bossman. She was widowed early in her life and was about to lose her job when the hospital group had decided to outsource housekeeping to a private enterprise. But apparently Dr. Gaurav had convinced the management to retain some of the old staff on the hospital payroll. The other department professionals also spoke highly of him. He had helped out a couple of the doctors in a medico-legal case they were facing such that if not for him, they would have been debarred from practise. Then why was he behaving in this manner when it came to her? Was it her skin colour… here as well? She had thought it was only reserved for her relatives and some acquaintances to bitch behind her back but Dr. Gaurav too? She thought with her eyes welling up…
That meeting with him to discuss her proposal never happened. She tried her best but Smita had given up and was seeking a new job post her impending nuptials. So Ria was all alone and she wondered if she would give up. But her father’s taunts at her not being capable enough pierced her heart. He had said it for her looks after a few prospective grooms had rejected her alliance because of her complexion. Somehow that only motivated Ria to excel at her work and she was determined to see her dream project through.
A couple of months ago it was Swara’s 30th birthday and they had a cake cutting in the cafeteria. Tara mavshi had jested. “Arre Swara, finally it’s high time you settle now…enough of flirting around. Get a good boy for yourself…”
Swara had rolled her eyes and the hospital’s gossip representative but her best friend Preeti had whispered into Ria’s ears, “By the way she must have broken up with the dragon…”
Ria had been caught unawares. “Who… what?”
“Oh common Ria… don’t you follow the grapevine? Well its 2 years…”
Ria was still confused. “What are you talking about Preeti?”
“Oh the timeline of the great hospital affair… The Boss with the poor office girl…. That’s two years… but he was her boyfriend number six I guess, and this was the longest…” Preeti giggled her trademark laughter.
Ria shook her head. No wonder Swara had jested the other day. She probably thought the bossman had an affair with her…oh Heavens forbid. But Ria didn’t blame her. He called her frequently into his cabin after hours… either for discussing her proposal or financial requirement justification or like the other day, discussing the complaints against her by some of her colleagues… they were only out to put her down ever since she had received accolades for good work… They had the audacity to complain to Bossman directly and he was actually bothered by silly office stuff??. God… she was getting fed up of the tyrannical high handedness. He barely spoke a few words, not even giving her eye contact and made her wait and she often missed her bus. Pune traffic was pathetic and she would reach home very late making Appa angry all over again. Ria rolled her eyes… She was indeed caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. She had been fuming at the end of the day strongly contemplating tendering her resignation, even mentioning about it to Preeti in passing.
The very next morning she had an open argument with the bossman. It was a small showdown witnessed by many patients, professionals and the class four employees as well. She could feel their sneers as she contradicted their favourite person. Dr. Gaurav at 6’2” towered above her. He usually didn’t speak much around but whatever little he did was enough to give her goose bumps and he knew how to put people in their place. She knew he was a surgeon but wondered why he didn’t conduct surgeries in his hospitals. He had that light pink scar on his face which disappeared into the hairline. Talking of hair, he lad perfect locks let loose on his neck with light stubble to match. He always wore a three piece suit but the top buttons on his shirt were always left open to reveal the traces of black curly chest hair… Who the hell did that in a professional set up as theirs?
She had stood her ground. He wanted changes to be brought in the treatment protocol of one of the patients who happened to be his acquaintance. Ria had flatly refused and had given valid reasons for it. The patient was a 16 year old druggie who was in and out of the hospital and this time had come with a near fatal OD. She had decided not to release him but admit him for a month long rehabilitation program in tandem with the psychiatric department. But the boy’s globe-trotting parents didn’t have the time and refused. They blamed the hospital for prolonging their son’s stay for vested interests i.e increasing the bill. The bossman had been annoyed to be dragged into a confrontation out of his cushy office. He had smirked and told her to follow orders and her supervisor too sided with him. Ria had conceded but also made a highlighted entry in the discharge summary that the patient was discharged against rehabilitation advice. The incident had received a lot of publicity in the hospital and people had gossiped for days. Some had looked down upon her and had directly passed subtle comments as she passed. Unfortunately the boy relapsed within a fortnight but this time was not lucky. He had died on admission. The parents couldn’t put the blame of any kind on the hospital because of her entry in the prior discharge report and they had quietly exited. The board of directors had a meeting again which happened because of the gravity of the case and from what Preeti told her, Dr. Gaurav was probably at the receiving end. She didn’t hear from him after that day.
A few days later she received the order about her promotion much to the chagrin of her jealous colleagues. She wondered if she actually deserved it… but the money was good and she needed it desperately. Nowhere else could she have a job in her field that paid so well.
But Ria had fallen from the frying pan into the fire. She was now to report directly to the bossman along with two of her colleagues from the other department. She was given a new position which involved loads of paperwork and overseeing other professionals in her department some of who were senior to her. Dr. Mishra who received her transfer orders as well, encouraged her to accept the offer as very few got a chance to make a difference and she was confident Ria could do it with the new position and the powers it entailed.
Vikram had tried reserving tables for a dinner date at least twice last week to celebrate her promotion. But both times she was held up at work and couldn’t make it. He rarely called or texted her and surprisingly didn’t bother…
She was never looking forward for outings with Vikram. He had scared her on their one dinner date earlier, almost a month ago… right after the promotion. He had gotten drunk and had tried to force himself on her. She had pushed him away and he had called her names…everything under the sky even to the extent of telling her he didn’t deserve a plain Jane like her…He had even raised his hand… till the owner had come up with the security embarrassing her to the core. She had chosen to ignore it considering he was drunk but the incident still made her shudder. She wanted to call off her wedding but her father’s reaction made her shut up. He refused to believe that a boy from such a classy family would behave like she mentioned. Her mother had gone a step ahead and told her to learn to adjust with a guy who had a bright future especially since he did her a favour by agreeing to marry her. Vikram hadn’t bothered to apologise or talk about the ‘incident’ neither did she. Only last week did he get back with date requests. Did he think she would tolerate abuse like that or forget the earlier date fiasco?
But Vikram’s disinterest was a blessing in disguise; else she would never have been able to complete her current hospital paper work and she was loaded with it more than her actual clinical work. Being the department lead now, that too the youngest in the history of the hospital group, came with its own pros and cons. Many people thought she didn’t deserve the promotion so early in her career and probably got it through unscrupulous means. Her colleagues gossiped. She occasionally heard the mentions of ‘slut’ or ‘sleeping her way up the ladder’. It pained her so much she wanted to shout over the rooftops that it was a misunderstanding. She at times felt like rejecting the promotion too… but she knew she had it in her and the fire to excel made her swallow her pride.
Even some of her old colleagues and so called friends jested about her affair with the bossman. Preeti especially was always overboard, in spite of being her friend. They were very friendly on her face but she got to know of the office grapevines behind her back. To add to that, every report of hers was initially rejected and she had to make loads of trivial corrections to get them approved since her department grant also depended on these reports. She could only fume helplessly.
Once, she read the report of another department lead. To her utmost annoyance, it was sketchy and incomplete. However, it was passed without corrections and hers was out-rightly rejected. One another time Dr. Gaurav asked her to complete the reports for another guy since he was going on leave. She was toiling hard to cover her regular hospital work as well as the report making. She wondered if the moster, as she had rightly named him, ever read her reports. The whole of last week she had had to work late because of him and she wondered which rehabilitation professional worked the hours she did. But then, they didn’t get paid like her as well. The only silver lining in all this was Preeti had started to mellow down and her behaviour towards her had improved… She was happy that finally something looked upward in her life. Preeti was her friend from school and in the accounts department. She was from a well off household and worked just to earn additional pocket money and spend her time learning office work till she settled down…
A couple of days back, her parents along with Pooja left for a cousin’s wedding in their hometown in Vellore. She was relieved to be free from their inquisitions and complaints about her work hours. They never said anything about her salary or her huge contribution to Pooja’s college fees. Just last week she had given her complete saving of twenty thousand rupees to her father to purchase gifts for the cousin who was getting married, though hurt that they didn’t ask her even once if she wanted to go along. All this, besides the other household expenses she took care of. She barely had money in her account and the salary wasn’t due for another 15 days at least. She had always tried to be frugal and got her own tiffin and never ate in the staff canteen.
Ria was used to the hostel life, where she had a shoestring budget. Appa couldn’t afford to give her more pocket money. So, she had tried to save every bit she could and the idea of insurance for the future was embedded in her head by her appa from the go. She remembered having received a cash prize in an intercollegiate debate competition. It was the first time she had won two thousand rupees. She had seen a dress she wanted to purchase. But her father had thwarted her desires. Instead she had used that for her college expenses and her father hadn’t given her pocket money for a while. She usually purchased clothes from the flea market or during discounts. She never went out with friends for movies or to restaurants. She avoided birthday parties so that she didn’t have to spend on gifts, nor would they expect her to throw a party or give a treat in turn, for her birthday. She would feel embarrassed every time such situations came up. She would then lock herself in her room she shared with two of her classmates. She didn’t even buy a mobile phone when everyone in her class had one.
However, she had expected for her situation to change once she got this job in the leading group of hospitals. She had interned here after her graduation and had loved the place. She had received a lot of accolades even then for her performance. She was thrilled to be selected for the job right after her post-graduation studies. That was over a year ago and sadly, she had to spend every penny she earned on her family. She got the house painted, got new pieces of furniture, Pooja’s college expenses, groceries etc. Appa had to pay the monthly instalment for their home loan, for their little property in Vellore and a personal loan he had taken when her mother had been seriously ill a couple of years ago. So the onus of managing household expenses was now majorly on Ria.
The only major purchase she made for herself was a few clothes which she alternated with different combinations to wear to work and a duplicate Gucci bag she had once seen at the flea market. Last month she had even lent money from her little saving to Vikram towards the down payment of his bike… he had asked for it on that date before he got drunk saying it was for them to go on dates. He had immediately purchased the bike but he never spoke about returning it and she was too embarrassed to ask him. Appa was annoyed about it but he couldn’t say anything… Fortunately the mobile phone and laptop was given at her workplace. The feeling of being torn apart, being used from all directions always kept popping up within…
“Earth to Ria…” Preeti called out again bringing her back to present. “…come on get ready. I brought you this dress …” she said giving Ria a cardboard box. Ria opened it and stared at the beautiful gown inside.
“You… got this for me?” Ria was stunned to see it. The moon white gown was just… stunning. It was sleeveless but not deep necked so it was fine by her, but she was caught in awe at the beautiful bead work on the top half and then the gown frilled out at the bottom in many layers… Ria loved such outfits but couldn’t imagine spending on it. She just hoped it would fit her…
“What…did you think the bossman would have made a special outfit for his latest conquest?” Preeti had smiled slyly…
Ria had glared at her.
“Alright alright…chill Ok…you keep haggling like a hawker at the mention of a party or outing so wanted to tease you… Its mine yaar, from my sister’s wedding reception last year… I think it will look good on you…. Come on get ready…” Saying she walked away.
Ria closed her file and sighed. She wouldn’t be finishing the report after all. It was Friday. She would take work home… again. Thankfully there was no one at home to disturb her over the weekend and she would finish it.
At the moment she decided to focus on that party coming up!
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