Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Unreliable Narrator

(This was part of a Write Club exercise, which i found quite interesting. The brief for the exercise is appended at the end of the story)


          Arun pleaded with me to accompany him to the boss's chamber. He was nervous and now when he confessed to his crime, there was nobody else whom he would want to be with him, than his best friend. We had grown up together, been to the same college and even managed to land jobs in the same company. He still could not come to terms with his unreasonable transgression and had thanked me profusely for consenting to accompany him. He knew the worth of the painting that hung on the wall behind the large ornate desk  and the plush leather recliner in the boss's chamber. He was also aware of the pride of place it held in the heart of Sujoy our temperamental boss, who was gifted the M F Hussain, by the legendary artist himself, during the award ceremony for the most enterprising entrepreneur of the year. It was a regular sight to see him stand and stare at the painting with his head held high as if to draw inspiration, and then turn around to the cowering subordinates lined up in front of his desk for the daily harangue, on how unworthy they were, and extolling his own patience and generosity in tolerating such incompetence that surrounded him.
         But then, Arun felt Sujoy shouldn’t have admonished atleast him, the topper of the most prestigious management institute in the country, who was handpicked for this job and who was now in line to head the most crucial new business department of the firm. It was humiliating to take the full blame in such language, when his full team who looked upto him for advice, was standing along with him, and that too, for a mistake that was commonplace in the investment sector.  He had, after all, helped the company in reaping the windfall profits in the last financial year, and all these cowards, the partners, who now smirked along with the boss had enjoyed the fat bonuses that accrued from his contribution.

              Arun wanted to drown his embarrassment in the depths of his favourite whiskey, and when he beseeched me to join him for the drink in his cabin after work, I couldn't refuse. We sat down at 6 after everybody had left, with the Black Label which Raju,the peon, our Man-Friday had smuggled in, with the pizza boxes.  I could see that Arun was emotionally strung and had started viciously bad mouthing Sujoy by the end of his fourth peg. I could also see that he was smarting under the humiliation and desperately wanted to get even. I had reminded him that he was due for his promotion as Vice President in a few days, and that he should not even contemplate doing anything stupid that would put his promotion and career in jeopardy.  He had asked me what would hurt Sujoy the most, which would compensate the hurt he had felt in the morning, as i poured him his fifth large peg.  The only thing that had come to my mind which Sujoy valued the most and which was within our reach at that moment was the painting.  I had seen the evil glint in Arun's eye when i told him this, and heard him muttering  "Thats it, I wont let him have this pleasure anymore" .  He finished his fifth peg,  and then had asked me to pour him a large one on the rocks. He was slurring and incoherent.  He downed the sixth peg, neat, in one gulp, had looked me in my eye and said, 'I am going to destroy his most prized possession".  Before i could say anything, he had got up, and staggered towards the boss's chamber.

          Sujoy stared at us, but words failed to escape his frothing mouth.  Arun had confessed and had told him he was willing to bear the consequences.  Seething with rage, Sujoy barely managed to say "You are fired, now get out. I dont want to see you in this office anymore".  As we turned to leave, Sujoy gestured me to stay back. I patted Arun on his back and whispered that i will join him outside, as soon as i finished with Sujoy, and help him with packing his belongings.  After Arun had left the room, Sujoy shook his head, looked at me and asked "Why did he do it? And the timing? I was planning to give him the good news today, that he had been promoted to vice president, and he had to spoil it". I kept silent. He continued, "Anyway, work has to go on, and this new business cant afford any delays. And right now, the only person, who can fill in this new position of Vice President for this business is you.  I want to you to start immediately and give me a presentation by the end of the day on the current status".  I shook his hand, smiled a thanks and walked out.

          Arun was waiting by his table for me. He had already packed his things and was ready to move. I walked silently with him to the front door and hugged him. I could see the tears in his eyes.  I could not bring myself to tell him, that I had been promoted in his place, and the position for which he had worked so hard was now mine.  I could not tell him how i had secretly envied him for his brilliance and had always wished that i had his talents. I could not tell him that I had always desired the popularity he enjoyed, the power he wielded, and the attention he garnered.  I could not tell him, that though he was my best friend, how i wished that we had not joined the same company after college, where i would be constantly compared with him.  

          I would also never have the courage to tell him, that he had stumbled and blacked out in the corridor just outside his cabin that evening, when he staggered out with the intention of vandalizing the painting.

(The theme of this exercise at the Write Club, was "The Unreliable Narrator".  The wikipedia entry is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unreliable_narrator.  In this style of narration, the author carries his reader along with him, gaining his trust in his narrative and finally breaks that trust.  He makes him believe the narrator, only to discover in the end that he had been deceived.  So the exercise was to write a short story as an unreliable narrator and this was my submission. The time allotted was 20 minutes.)

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