A Short Story
It would be safe to say Anil Kumar was a mover. In fact, one wouldn’t be overstating facts if one were to say he was a mover AND shaker.
Diligence, hard-work, intelligence and luck and brought him to the pinnacle of his department, which specialized in software pre-sales. Rajarathnam, his mentor and the business-unit head was most pleased with his efforts. Anil had lapped up no less than five big clients in as many months and revenues for the quarter were up a whopping 35% versus year ago, pegging in at around 30 million dollars.
There had been stunned discussions among senior management who were delighted at the windfall but were struggling to understand the sudden spike in conversions. A working group had been set up to peruse the mechanics of these deals, glean best-practices and reapply them across the organization.
In the middle of all this excitement and chaos, Anil Kumar quietly went about his work. He patiently submitted himself to numerous interviews by the working committee, shouldered the increased burden of his work, spent at least 2-3 hours a day speaking to clients, guided junior members of the team in developing pitches. He had his hands full.
A few days after news of Anil’s breakthroughs had spread through the organization, Rajarathnam invited Anil over to his luxurious 35th floor office for a drink. It had been a long day, a late night and it seemed like a good idea to wind down.
“You’ve done well Anil.” said Rajarathnam. “Exceeding my expectations is no mean feat and I wanted to personally congratulate you for the long hours you have put in. Indeed, are still putting in”. They laughed. But Anil had other things on his mind. Nursing his scotch, he got up and quietly went over to the window. “Raj, you’ve guided me all these years, encouraged me to take risks and stood by me through the failures. I should be the one thanking you.” Raj accepted the compliment. “However,” Anil continued, “I’m not done. I want to do what you do. It’s just fair that I be open and let you know. Nothing would give me more pride than the opportunity to be where you are.”
Rajarathnam gazed keenly at Anil. He was trying to think through all the angles. After a minute of thought he dismissed the idea that Anil would go behind his back to make a move for the title of business unit president. He clearly meant they should work together to ensure they both moved up; Anil as BU President and Rajarathnam, presumably as the regional director. Rajarathnam took a deep breath and said “There are certain things I have done and…” he stopped mid-sentence because he could see Mahipal, the janitor cleaning a shelf outside the open door of his office. Rajarathnam walked over and closed the office door.
The next day the bonus committee met in a day-long closed door session. Needless to say there was a windfall in store for Anil. Half a million dollars to be exact, most of it cash and some in shares. Anil went home early that day and he and his wife Priya went out to celebrate. They had both sacrificed so much in the pursuit of Anil’s career and it was gratifying to finally receive some acknowledgment. They’d wanted to buy a house for a few years and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to invest. For the next month or so Anil and Priya trawled the real-estate market meeting agents, owners, sellers, the lot. It was exhausting but they finally found what they were looking for. Anil had his heart set on a sprawling 3000 square feet brick mansion with a huge garden, pool and a working fireplace. Anil’s insistence on the fireplace puzzled Priya. She knew the months of December and January were cold but nothing that a sweater couldn’t handle. Still, she dismissed it as one of Anil’s whims and gave in.
Move-in day was a grand affair. Anil and Priya hosted a housewarming for the who’s-who of Gullibleon, his company. It was wonderfully organized. The drinks and conversation flowed freely. As they cleaned up later that night, Priya looked over at Anil and felt satisfied with her life. It was going to be good.
The next day Priya awoke not to the sound of chirping birds but something far more disturbing. She could hear a loud, incessant beeping. The house felt hot. She sat up with a start and turned to wake up Anil but he was gone. In a panic she rushed to the living room and saw the carpet had caught fire. She ran into the bedroom, picked up a blanket and smothered the flames, which thankfully hadn’t moved beyond a corner of the carpet. Once she had turned off the alarm and taken a few seconds to catch her breath she looked around for the cause of the fire. It was the fireplace. The fireplace was burning at full tilt, crammed with wood and paper. It was probably an ember or a flying piece of wood that had ignited the carpet. The house felt like hell.
She called out “Anil! Anil!” but there was no response. In the eerie silence that followed, punctuated only by the crackle of the burning wood, she heard a soft scraping sound on the roof. She ran outside and to her utter horror saw Anil, climbing up the roof and onto the fireplace chimney. The roaring fireplace had given rise to a thick stream of smoke and it was this smoke Anil was trying to embrace. As it flew upwards, Anil kept looking in its direction, unmindful of the cries of his distressed wife below.
Then he jumped.
The next day Anil regained consciousness at the local hospital. He’d been lucky to survive the fall. Priya was there beside him. She told him Rajarathnam had visited twice and would be returning again that evening to check on him. She looked at him quietly, burning to ask the question. She had to know. “What were you thinking Anil? Why did you do that?” Anil looked away in pain and embarrassment. He knew he had jeopardized something so special. But he had to do what was right. “I want to be someone, Priya! I’m not there yet!” he screamed. She was horrified. What more could he want from life? Anil told her about the conversation he had with Rajarathnam a few weeks ago.
“Priya, as much as I love and respect him, Raj is responsible for what has happened today.” said Anil. “But why?! How?!” asked an incredulous Priya.
“I asked him what needed to be done so that I could get promoted to his position. He said ‘there are certain things I have done Anil…'”
“Yes?” asked Priya breathlessly
“He said ‘there are certain things I have done, Anil, and I want you to follow soot'”.