There’s a unique charm when something happens for the first time. First day at school, First love. And so was my letter of appointment from Tata Consultancy Services. Having a job gave me a feeling of having gotten a lottery ticket. Although, the figure was measly four figures monthly. It somehow gave me courage to walk into jewellery shops, car showrooms, Nalli Sarees. I always dreamt of having a fridge filled up with chocolates and cold drinks when I started working. I was so close to my dreams. Basically, it gave me a sense of independence. I would not have to wait for bus if I wanted to ride an Auto-Rickshaw. I was excited at the prospects.
I joined the company a day before Dussehra Holidays. It was a batch of 30 campus recruits who all had joined together. There were lot of trainings and induction in next few days, thereafter, we will be working under supervision of specialists. The infrastructure was huge, despite I’ve been a quintessential Delhi ki Ladki. I loved it. The entire premises was thrice as big as our college campus. The cafetaria was huge. Three hundred people could sit together for meal. Gymnasium. EPABX lines. Power Back Up. The data centre was maintained at abysmal low temperatures. A kulfi and a dead body could easily last for over a month. Lot of other facilities were also here. I got my separate desk, computer to work on and a locker. Stationary and other miscellaneous items were planned to be provisioned in next one month. Suvin had also joined yesterday. He started with Bharat Electronics Limited, Ghaziabad as a Trainee Scientist. His company gave him quarters for initial six months, one of my classmate was his roommate there. Surveillance camera, you might think? Well, I don’t disagree completely.
I didn’t have any acquaintances here. Except for Amitabh Bacchhan. Sad, he didn’t know me other way round. People looked very serious. Delhites are more exuberant about life. Mom and Dad came with me. Mom planned to stay back till she settled everything. We took a flat on rent. This was my first experience of living alone without family. We decided that every week I will call home twice, that now had a new landline phone. Earlier we had to go to one of our neighbours to receive calls. I proudly remember filling up our landline number in Admin form without PP in parentheses. The days were passing faster than expected. Suvin and I could meet as we both went to our respective home for Diwali. Alas! We will have to figure out about our next meeting.
At the office front, the real happiness of working 9 hours a day 6 days a week was payday. The company had opened us savings account with a nationalized bank. I remember looking at the blank passbook almost every night. The moment we got our salary, I rushed to the bank to update the passbook. I wanted to show it to Dad. Partly show off! Mostly, for sake of letting him know that I will get past life. Not all too bad! I withdrew some money as everyone on team was asking for a party from first salary! While coming out of the bank, I saw a small room which looked like a pay phone booth. Interestingly, it was airconditioned and had a security guard with a gun. The board read CITIBANK. Curiosity got the best of me and I walked towards the pay phone booth. “Madam, yaha se phone nahi karte. Yeh ATM hai, card daalne se paisa nikalte hai!”, said the security guard in tight paan chewing accent. I gasped in disbelief. While I was still looming in waves of newly imposed ignorance and poverty, a smart guy wearing tie approached me. Stay away from sweet talking Romeos. Suvin’s voice echoed in my head. “Madam, Good Afternoon. I am Kartik from Citibank and we are giving away Citibank Credit Card for TCS employees for no start up fee”, his plastic smile shined bright. “What is a Credit Card? And why would I need it?, I asked him uncomfortably, not wanting to pursue the conversation any further. He thrusted some papers in my hand and said, “Raheja Sir has two credit cards. He can spend upto 50,000/- at any store and not pay us for 45 days.” I don’t know whether it was Raheja’s reference or my want to gift Suvin his dream bike, Yamaha RX100. I signed the papers.
We went to a posh Bandra restaurant and celebrated my first salary. Spending money like I had never spent before gave me such a high. My money. My ways! Immediately after that, I rode an Auto Rickshaw to railway station. As it was weekend the next day, Suvin was coming over. I was waiting at the station to receive him. I just couldn’t wait to see him, it was more than 3 weeks that we last met. And there he appeared. Wearing white shirt and blue jeans. Like Tom Cruise. My own version!! I spoke to him about everything on our way back to apartment. Friends, Bank en all. “Credit Card? What’s that?”, he asked. And I told him it was our key to freedom. The first step towards financial success and status. He didn’t know anything about it. I felt good. To have taught him a new thing today.
About a month later, an envelope from Citibank appeared on my desk. I had completely forgotten about it as customers were going on vacations. Christmas and New Year. So, there was a lot of push to finish projects from supervisors. I opened the envelope to see a beautiful blue coloured card. With my name embossed on it. 25,000/- credit limit. I almost fainted in joy.
I bought a lot of gifts for my family, especially for my brother and Suvin, needless to say. I also planned their next vacations during year end. I also planned to furnish the flat I am living in, right now I am sleeping on a mattress on floor. Plus, I need to buy a two-wheeler too! And a bike for Suvin too. I was living a life of my dreams.
Until one day. I got another envelope from Citibank. I got excited. May be they sent me another card. I opened the envelope in excitement. And then I looked at what came out of it. A bill of 22,000!! That wasn’t the kind of money I and Suvin together would make in 3 months!! I reached a pay phone booth and punched Suvin’s number. “Stop crying. Tell me what happened.”, said Suvin sternly. I gathered myself and told him about the mess I had created for myself. “Give me some time to think about it. Will come up with a plan when we connect in evening.”, He said and we hung up. Wiping my face off my dupatta, I saw Kartik talking to a young man. He had recently joined TCS.
We paid off the bill in 6 months. And paid additional 10,000/- in form of late fee and interests. I offered to cancel the card. Suvin said, “park it in your locker. For a rainy day. It’s like a gun. It can protect you. Or kill you. Depends how you use it.”
Work at office in increasing day by day, older people are saying the madness will reach its peak at financial year end that is 31st march, it feels just like exam time. You must run to complete the work and you still might not be satisfied with your own performance, I want to do really good as the annual hike depends on that only.
We are still able to meet every month at least once, the flight tickets are going overboard but money keeps coming every month, missing each other is more painful.
It’s been just 6 months of working and Suvin and I realized we have lot of debts on our head. Beside the credit card fiasco! Landlord, money borrowed from friends and what not, I think I must tell it to Papa, as anyways I will have to ask him for money. I am sure he is not going to be happy about it, might scold and ask me about expense details too. Except my frequent visits to meet Suvin and related expense I can explain all. I am sure he is going to lecture me about savings and investments, but right now I don’t see any other way to get out of this debt trap.
All Suvin has told me to do is… Not get overwhelmed. And eat the elephant. Just one bite at a time.
This blog of part of #A2Z Challenge, there will be 26 blogs in this series all the blogs are in continuation. I am writing them from Z to A, as the story also flows from Death towards life. Hope you enjoy knowing Antara’s journey.
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Note: Featured image pic Courtesy All4women.com