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Where do I find her ?

I first met her at a Bank. No, she didn't work there. She had gone for some personal work. I was a Sales Executive then of a renowned company. I had gone to meet the Bank's Branch Manager for their requirement of some equipment which my Company manufactured and marketed. This happened quite some years ago. I was in the prime of my youth then ..around 27-28 years of age possibly. Both of us were waiting on the same visitors' sofa. Just struck up some casual conversation with the girl. Then I was called into the Manager's cabin. When I came out of the Manager's cabin, the girl was gone. That's how it ended for then.

I went about my day's work normally. At the end of the day when I retired to my bed, the thought about that girl came back to me. Don't know what, but there was something about the girl that attracted me a lot. She wasn't beautiful in the strictest sense of the word, not even fair complexioned. Not dark though, dusky would be a better description, but her skin was smooth. She was about 25-26, I guess. At a cursory glance there was an odd resemblance to Zeenat Aman, the erstwhile Bollywood heroine, a dusky version of her. This girl's figure was attractively proportionate, a little fuller though, but with her above average height, it was quite sensual.

I suddenly felt an urge to meet her again. But how could I ? I didn't know her address. Come to think of it, I didn't even ask her name. I was cursing myself, there was nothing I could do.

In those days we didn't have Facebook. The Internet and emails were not even heard of then, nor were mobile phones. Computers were not common in day to day official work, only Company's Head office used those giant IBM computers. Throughout the next day in office and during the evening, I kept on thinking of ways to search for that girl, in this big metro city. But I just did not have any leads. After mulling over a lot of worthless strategies in my head, at last I hit upon a workable plan.

The next day, going out on my regular sales call, I went back to the Bank where I had met her. I remembered the girl telling me that she had gone there to collect her 'Unemployment benefit allowances'. This was one scheme which the local state government had started to provide a monthly allowance to the unemployed youth, so that they can upgrade themselves for better jobs or small business opportunities.

The Bank peon directed me to the gentleman handling the Unemployment Benefit payments. I requested this officer, "Sir, actually the day before yesterday I met my friend's sister at this Bank. She had come to collect her unemployment benefit allowance. I learnt from her that my friend has not yet got any job. My company is taking some Sales Representatives and I have recommended his name. The problem is, I do not have his present address, since I had gone away to another state after leaving school. So if you can kindly refer to your register and let me know the girl's address, then I can contact her brother, that is, my friend and offer him the job."

It was quite a long submission.

The gentleman looked at me with doubt and said, "This is peak banking hours. I do not have any time for all this work. I can't help you, sorry." He was very curt.

I requested once again, "Sir, in that case please let me know what time will be suitable for you. I can come back then. Please appreciate Sir, it is the question of a job for an unemployed boy. His family needs the money."

The gentleman relented a little. "Ok, you come at 4 pm, I'll try and help you."

I thanked him and came out of the Bank. I completed my sales calls for the day; skipped my lunch to work a little extra time; and was back again at 4pm.

The gentleman asked me, "So tell me the name of the girl ?"

I said, "Sorry Sir, I don't know her proper name. We used to call her Pinky when she was a child."

The gentleman got irritated, "You don't even know her name and you have come to search for her address ? Ok, tell me her surname. Let me search for that."

I made a very sad face. "Sorry Sir, I have forgotten their surname."

The gentleman was very angry. "What is this nonsense! Are you playing a prank with me ?"

I apologized, "I'm extremely sorry Sir. But I need your help. If you can please check the application file, there must be photographs of the applicants. I'll recognise the girl for sure."

The Bank officer was still angry. "Are you crazy? Who will go through so many application forms now? And besides I do not have that file with me. It must be in the record room. Who will search for that file now ? And there must be more than one file for such applications. I don't have time for all that nonsensical work. You may go now. Sorry."

But I wasn't letting go so easily. I pleaded, "Please Sir, for the sake of a poor family, please help me. If he gets a job, the family will be saved. His father is very sick…Sir, please Sir please…Sir that girl had come the day before yesterday. If you can check the names and see, please ?"

"But how will it help ? You don't even know the name of the girl ?" The gentleman had relented, but still not convinced.

I said, "There won't be many girls in a day. It's possible that she was the only one. Sir, please check once."

There were no computers in those days. The gentleman brought out a bound register and checked. "There are three names here for the day before yesterday's date. How will you know which one is your friend's sister ?"

I said, "If you can give me the addresses of all three of them, I can find out. Please Sir."

My 'Please Sirs' were helping. The gentleman brought another fat bound register. He searched for the three names alphabetically entered in the register. He read out the three names and addresses and I copied them in my diary.

Done !! ..my job was done !! Success at last ! I thanked the gentleman profusely and left with a victory smile on my face. My drama worked !

Now that I had the three addresses, the next part of the hurdle had to be crossed. Those who are familiar with Kolkata, for them let me tell you that one address was in College Street; one in Behala and the third in Jadavpur area. Meaning…one was in the North, the second in the West and third in the Southern part of the city.

Come to think of it, there was another issue to be taken care of. I cannot just go and ring the doorbell and ask for a girl by her name. And then, when the girl is called to the door, I'll check whether she was the one I met in the Bank. It was not so simple. There was a chance to get beaten up by the father or her brothers.

I'll have to work out a plan for this. So I went back to my office, all the while racking my brains for a plan on how to approach this problem.

And I finally could think of a foolproof plan. I planned of posing myself as a final year student of the University's Business Management course (MBA). As part of the college project I would be conducting a market survey on the efficacy of the Government's Unemployment Benefit scheme. Accordingly I prepared a questionnaire as follows :-

  1. Name
  2. Address
  3. Qualification
  4. Since when are you getting this Unemployment Benefit?
  5. Do you use this money for any self development course ?
  6. If so, what ?
  7. Do you use this money for any small business venture ?
  8. If so, what ?
  9. Do you use this money to support your family ?
  10. If your answer to the earlier questions is no, then how do you use this money ?
  11. Have you applied for any jobs?
  12. If so, what are your chances of getting that job ?
  13. Do you take private tuition ?
  14. If not, why aren't you using this money to open coaching classes at your home or elsewhere ?
  15. Do you think this money is enough?
  16. What other support would you expect from the government ?

I typed out these questions and made some photocopies. I put them in a folder and I was ready for action starting from the next day.

The first address I chose was the one closer to my house at College Street in the northern part of the city. If I get my girl here I wouldn't have to go far away from my house. As it is, my official job was of an outdoor nature. I finished my day's customer visits by 5 pm and went searching for this address.

The door was opened by an old lady. I told her my story about the survey I'm conducting for an University project on the Unemployment Benefit program. I asked for the girl whose name I had obtained from the Bank. Yes, the girl lives here. The lady said she's her daughter. The lady asked me to come in and made me sit in a small room. She said that her daughter had a slight fever and was lying down. She went inside to call her daughter.

I looked around the room. It had all the impressions of a low middle class family. Poverty written all over in the condition of the walls and the furniture. The old lady came and sat beside me. From her words it seemed that she thought that I'm from the government office and can give a job to her daughter. She told me that she had lost her husband last year. Her son has not studied much and is doing some odd menial work. Her daughter is a graduate but not getting any job. She kept on requesting me to find a job for her daughter. I tried to explain to her that I had only come for a survey.

Meanwhile her daughter entered the room. No, this was not my girl seen at the Bank. The girl was lean, sober looking, tallish. But not my girl. Anyways, I had to go through the process. I told her my prepared story about the Survey project. I took out my questionnaire file and dutifully asked all the questions. I was also noting down her answers just to continue my role play seriously.

The mother had come into the room again, this time with a cup of tea. She had also brought some biscuits and homemade namkeens. Listening to my questions to her daughter, she got even more convinced that I am in a position to give a job to her daughter. The girl tried to explain to her mother that I'm just doing a survey. But the old lady came and held my hand and was pleading with me to find her daughter a job. I was in such an awkward position. I took leave from both mother and daughter and left their house. The old lady stood at the door looking earnestly at me going away from her house. I felt so depressed. Even today, the way she was pleading with me, comes back in my thoughts and haunts me.

We, who are fortunate enough to have been raised and fed well, cannot even imagine the pathetic condition in which so many people in our society live and fight for their daily existence.

Anyways, the first day's search did not yield any result…I did not find my girl. Hope the second day will be successful for me. The next day I planned to try out the Behala address towards the west of the city.

The next morning, I planned my sales calls towards the western part of the city. Worked full stretch from the morning and in the late afternoon, finished my last sales call near the location which came 2nd in my list of the three names collected from the Bank.

That area was not fully developed till then. The houses were few and far between. There were local boys and young men gathered around roadside tea stalls. I was feeling odd asking them the directions to the address. I only had the name of the girl, and didn't know her father's name. How could I ask the local boys the address giving the girl's name. But after half an hour's futile search, I was not able to locate the house. So I had no option but to ask a group of boys chatting by the roadside. I gave them the address which I have. They asked the name of the person I want to meet. I said "Mr Das." I purposely did not give the girl's name.

They said, "What's the first name?"

I said, "I'm not aware, this is what I have."

They discussed amongst themselves and gave me directions to the house. This was better. I finally could locate the house number which I had in my diary. It was a single story stand-alone house. As I approached, I saw a middle aged gentleman locking the front door and in the process of going out of the house.

I went up to the gentleman and introduced myself. I asked him very politely whether the girl whose name I had collected from the Bank lived there. He said, yes she lives there, but right now she's not at home.

"Why do you want her ?" The gentleman asked me, his tone not very friendly. This was what I was afraid of.

I gave him my full rehearsed story. MBA student…college project..on Unemployment benefit scheme…etc etc. I took out my file of typed questionnaires. The gentleman was satisfied with my answer. He said, "The girl you want is my sister. She is now pursuing her MA and has gone to the University. And I'm also going out now, so you can't possibly wait. What you can do is ,you can ask me your questions. I know everything about her, I can answer all your questions."

I replied with all humility, "Thank you Sir, but I need first hand answers."

He replied, "In that case, you come tomorrow. It's better if you come in the morning. Let me know the time, so that I'll ask her to stay at home."

This was getting difficult. This place is quite far from my home and even from my office. I tried one more trick. "Sir, my house is near the university area only. While returning now, I can just check if she is still there. If I can't meet her there, I'll come tomorrow at 9 am. If you can just let me know which year of MA she is in and what subject she's doing her MA in? Also if you can please give me just a rough description of her….meaning tall or short; complexion ; long hair or short hair; specs or without specs…"

I didn't have to complete, the gentleman responded, "MA 1st year, History. And my sister wears specs; has medium length hair; very fair; she's rather short and a little heavy."

I stopped him, "Thank you Sir, that will be enough. I'll find her. Thanks once again for your help Sir."

This mission is also over. This cannot be my girl. My one doesn't wear specs, not very fair and obviously not short or heavy by any standards.

The next day becomes the most crucial day. I was so excited, I continuously rehearsed my lines which I would tell her once I finally met my dream girl again.

There was one more thought cropping up in my mind though. Those three names and addresses which the Bank officer gave me were of the three girls who came to withdraw money from their unemployment benefit scheme amounts. What if the girl I met did NOT come to withdraw money. She might have come for some other work pertaining to her unemployment benefit account. Some documentation work or some corrections or whatever. In such a case her name will not be in this list. Then this exercise will be totally futile. But I cannot possibly know that unless I completed the last and final visit diligently. I couldn't sleep properly that night.

Next day morning I had an important business meeting with a big prospective client. I took the second half off from the office. I finished my client appointment by 1 pm and headed straight to Jadavpur, the final destination of my search.

Although the house was in the interior part of the locality, the area was well populated. This time I didn't find it difficult to locate the address. It was an odd time, around 1.30 pm in the afternoon. This is generally lunchtime or post lunch time. This is not the time to ring a bell in an unknown house. But I couldn't wait till 4 o'clock. With trembling hands I rang the bell.

The door was opened by an old lady. I had to narrate the entire story of my survey project to sound convincing enough to ask to meet the girl of the house.

Yes…Ranjana lived here…

but No …she's not at home.

My energy drained out. The lady told me that Ranjana, the last named girl on the list, had gone to the hospital. Her father had a surgery the previous week and is now recuperating. She had gone to the hospital with home-cooked food for her father. On asking when she will return, the lady said hopefully within an hour. She even asked me if I wanted to wait inside. I said that I'll come back in an hour.

In my excitement to meet the girl, I had purposely skipped my lunch. So, now that I got some time to kill, I went to a nearby restaurant and had something to eat. I went back to their house exactly after one hour.

The old lady opened the door again. She said that her daughter had returned some time back. She asked me to come inside and sit. I went in. The room was medium sized; quite ordinarily furnished. A simple middle class family, it seemed.

I waited with bated breath. The curtain moved…a girl entered…tall.. good figure …Yesss…this is the one…this is my one !!

The girl looked at me, I smiled at her. A hint of recognition slowly surfaced in her face. She smiled back. Then with a surprised expression, said, "Aap idhar ?"

I replied casually, "It's a small world. I'm equally surprised to see you here."

The moment I said that, I regretted it. I should have brought home the point that I had made this herculean effort to find her in this big metro city with practically Zero information about her. Not even her name! But I lost the moment.

What could I possibly do ? Her mother had just entered the room behind her and was standing beside her. I couldn't risk my chances by mentioning that this survey project is just a made up story, a drama.

I introduced myself to the girl. Then started on my much rehearsed story of an MBA project survey on the "Efficacy of the Government initiative of Unemployment Benefit scheme". I took out my folder of questionnaires. We sat face to face on two chairs. I started my questions diligently. She was giving her answers and I was dutifully jotting down her answers on my notebook. Her mother stood there beside her listening to the questions and answers. After some questions, she possibly felt that everything was in order. She moved out of the room and went inside the house.

I took that opportunity and started asking personal questions. I enquired about her father's surgery. Then casually went about asking who else is there in the family. She told me that he had an older brother who owned a small garment shop in a nearby market. Her brother was married and had a small kid. I told her about myself. I told the truth about my job as a Sales Executive of a prominent company. I did not purposely mention the MBA course I had said I was pursuing. I thought she would ask and then I could tell her the truth. But she didn't ask. Anyways, when we were talking more in a friendly manner, I offered to meet her again another day, somewhere outside. She readily agreed. We fixed up the date and time. To commemorate our first meeting, I suggested that we meet opposite the Bank, where we first met each other.

My mission was finally accomplished. There was no need to ask any more questions and waste time. But I had to continue my drama basically for two reasons. Her mother was back in the room with a small plate of sweets and water for me. Secondly, I couldn't muster up the courage to tell her that these survey questions were all a sham and my main intention was to just search for her address and meet her. Didn't know how she would react to this outrageous adventure of mine. So I left my confession for the next meeting.

I had obviously told her later, the entire details mentioned in this story, of how I found her out in this big city, without having any clue of her address or even her name. But she never believed me and thought that I was making up a story.

My story ends here.

But there's obviously going to be a next part, since our relationship did take off from there. But that's another story for another day.