(Book 1: Lights, Captura, Action)
Ravi Thakur walked through the market street in a daze, his eyes gazing blankly into the distance, as he tried to make some sense of what had happened.
All my money… my documents… twenty-five years of my life…. All of it — gone!
In one unfortunate moment, the best day of his life had turned into the worst, ever. It had been only a couple hours ago that he had happily moved out of his hostel, ready for the journey back to his hometown. Now, he was left with no money, no identification, no change of clothes and no way home. He felt helpless, not sure where to go or what to do.
His first thought was to approach the police, but there was no saying if and when the culprit would be caught. What was he to do till then?
He considered posting a letter home, but any assistance would take days to arrive. Where would he be spending the nights? What would he be eating?
And as if that wasn’t enough, he worried about the blow that this turn of events would deal to his dreams. His grand ambition could end up unfulfilled, or at best be greatly delayed. In fact, the shock of the situation had still to sink in entirely. Unrealised consequences threatened to drown him at any second, like wild floodwater held back by only a rusty, old door.
But all of a sudden, Ravi shook his head firmly, as though denial could undo the disaster. Then, with a little bit of something that passed for courage, he lied, All is not lost! I can still write, can’t I?
Even in his own mind, it sounded more querulous than reassuring. Still, retrieving a ballpoint from the breast-pocket of his suit, he continued, As long as I have a pen, and I can find some paper to write on, I might be able to make something work. I might just get through this…
Looking around, he spotted a couple of dirty pamphlets littered in a corner of the street, and he finally managed a brief smile. I might get through this, indeed!
Not wasting another moment, he ran to pick up the pages and then, as he scanned the text on one of them, a glint of hope presented itself at last — it was an advertisement for a job offer:
We require applicants with excellent command over the language, in both technical and creative capacities.
Tasks will involve writing promotional content as well as engaging narratives.
If you think you’re up to it, walk into an interview at PHANTASY PUBLISHING!
And that was that. An hour later, Ravi found himself at the entrance of Phantasy Publishing, a company that occupied an entire skyscraper. His determination taking a boost, Ravi quickly signed up for an interview at the reception and proceeded to the waiting queue.
There was an unsettling number of job-seekers already in line, and it took close to two hours but his turn came up at last.
This is it, he told himself, walking to the interviewer’s cabin. This is it!
He thrust open the cabin door and stormed inside with purpose, as planned. Slamming his hands down on the interviewer’s desk, he proudly claimed, ‘I am the best person for this job!’
The interviewer did not bat an eye, but her raised eyebrows informed Ravi that he had her attention. As far as first impressions went, he knew he had aced.
‘Really?’ she responded. Her tone was playful but her voice contained an unmistakable hint of authority.
In fact, authority was stamped all about her: she sat upright on a comfortably large office chair with files neatly arranged on her desk; a cup of half-finished coffee rested immediately before her, its handle at precisely ninety-degrees; her waist-length auburn hair was untied but flowed in neat waves behind her; and a low-cut, violet top highlighted her feminine beauty well, without compromising on any etiquette.
‘Let me guess,’ she said, ‘next come the claims of some great degrees you’ve earned? I’ll warn you, three people already have tried today. It didn’t work for them, and it most certainly is not going to help you.’
‘The thing is, I might actually have done that,’ Ravi said half-laughing, then added more seriously, ‘but I can’t… You see, I was robbed of all my belongings today, just as I was leaving town. I’m literally left with no certificates, no proof, nothing. Not even any money. But believe me, I am more than qualified for the post and I really need this job. You can test me if you’d like. Please!’
‘Ah, so you’ve got some tactics from the “tragedy” camp as well? Interesting!’ She grew suspiciously excited before dropping the act. ‘Nah. Just kidding. Please show yourself out.’
‘Excuse me?’ Her eyes frowned at Ravi for a second, then in a louder voice she called out, ‘GUARD! Get this man out of here!’
‘WAIT!’ Ravi commanded, even as the door flew open behind him and a uniformed security guard prowled in. Nonchalantly, Ravi pulled out a soiled piece of paper from under his coat and threw it on the otherwise neatly arranged desk. ‘Read this once and tell me I’m not up for the job, I dare you!’
‘What’s this?’ the interviewer frowned at the dirty paper. ‘This is our pamphlet. I’m tired of your jokes, Mr. Thakur.’
‘Flip it over,’ said Ravi coolly, while the guard started to pull him away by the collar. ‘Go on, flip it!’
She picked up the paper, touching as little of it as she could manage, and turned it over to glance at the other side. Still frowning, she murmured, ‘So stupid.’
Meanwhile, the guard tugged harder at Ravi’s collar, and Ravi’s efforts to fight back bore no fruit. He was almost out of the room now.
‘So stupid… so, simple! Hahaha!’
‘Let him go,’ the interviewer waved at the guard, who obeyed, releasing the grip he had on Ravi’s collar and leaving the room without a word. Ravi stood up and adjusted his suit.
‘Mr. Thakur,’ the interviewer said, not a hint of apology in her voice. ‘I’ve had many an arrogant boy in here before, but never one with such good reason. This — this is genius!’
She held up the paper as though it were a masterpiece at an art exhibition. ‘You’ve written it better than we had!’
Scrawled on the back of the pamphlet in Ravi’s handwriting was the following:
ATTENTION ASPIRING WORDSMITHS
If a flair for engagement and a knack for description you have, a dream opportunity at PHANTASY PUBLISHING you may grab!
[Illustration of a writer brandishing a pen with much confidence]
Walk in to an interview today!
‘I like you, Ravi!’ the interviewer said, in her merry voice again. She rose up from her chair, revealing a high-waisted, black pencil-skirt that Ravi tried to ignore. ‘I like you very much!’
The next moment, she undid her stern avatar completely, bending over the desk and almost playfully moving towards him. A whiff of her perfume caught Ravi’s nose while he made an effort to keep his eyes above her neckline.
The interviewer’s face came uncomfortably close to his before she said, ‘I do have some conditions, though, before I hire you. I wonder, will you be up for them?’
Ravi’s face had turned a shade redder and the tip of his ears seemed to be burning. He felt like he could accept any conditions she had for him just then…