Friday, April 28, 2006


(a fiction short story)

It’s late and the bar at the Savoy is almost empty. There are just three people – a couple, a man and woman, in their thirties, sit together on a sofa; and on the sofa just behind them sits a solitary man, unseen, in the shadows.

It is quite dark as the lights are dim; in fact the lights are so dim that the man and woman can hardly see each other’s face. They have been drinking for quite some time, and, in fact, the woman appears pleasantly drunk as she engages the man in some lighthearted banter, slurring loudly as she speaks.

“She dumped you, isn’t it?” the woman says.

“No. That’s not true. Leena didn’t dump me. It was I who left her!” the man says emphatically.

“Come on, Anil. You think I don’t know everything about you two?”

“You don’t. You know nothing. It was I who left her. I told you once; I’m telling you again! She didn’t dump me. I didn’t want to live with her, so I left her.”

“Don’t fib!”

“Fib? Why should I?”

“Masculine pride!”

“Masculine pride? What nonsense!”

“When a man ditches a woman she gains sympathy; but when a woman dumps a man he becomes a laughing stock, a subject of ridicule.”


“That’s why you ran away from Bangalore after spreading lies all around that you were the one who had split up with her, when actually it was Leena who had dumped you unceremoniously,” the woman jeers loudly.

“Talk softly,” the man says.

“Why? Afraid of the truth, is it?”

“I told you it’s not true. We had our differences. And I wanted a change of job.”

“You know why she dumped you? Because you are a bloody ‘loser’. A born loser!”

“Who told you that?”

“She did. You want to hear Leena’s exact words : ‘Anil is a born loser who is content to wallow in the gutter and see others climb mountains’. That’s why she left you. She didn’t want to ruin her life with a man without a future, a namby-pamby who had no ambition, no drive – a good for nothing geek.”

“Namby-pamby! Good for nothing geek?”

“That’s what she told me.”

“She told you? When? Where?”

“Last year. In Hyderabad. During this same annual IT Seminar. She’d flown down from the States. She even presented a paper – I’m sure it was plagiarized from something you had written or from the notes you kept giving her about your work and research.”

“I’m not interested!”

“Leena is real smart. A real scheming bitch. Mesmerizes you with her wily charms, uses you and then jettisons you, just throws you away when she’s got what she’s wanted. Like toilet paper! Or you know what?” the woman starts giggling, “She treated you like a sanitary napkin! Use and throw straight into the dustbin.”

“Shut up, will you?” the man shouts angrily, “Let’s go now. You’re drunk.”

“I still remember our Bangalore days. When you used to grovel at her feet, your tongue drooling like a lapdog. And now look where she’s reached – the hot shot CEO of a top IT company while you wallow in shit as a nobody in some nondescript place.”

“Please, Nanda! Let’s go,” the man says exasperated.

But the woman is in no mood to go, ignores him, and continues talking loudly: “Leena is smart! She told me she’d managed to hook some NRI Head Honcho. He’s an American citizen too. Her life is made!”

“Maybe, she’ll use him and dump him too!” the man says sardonically.

“Hey! You’ve accepted it! You’ve accepted that she dumped you. I was right! That calls for a drink.”

“No. You’ve already had three big bottles of beer.”

“Who’s counting?” the woman says happily, lurching from her seat, “Okay. If I’ve had too much beer, now I’ll have whisky!” She picks up the man’s glass, drinks it bottoms up in one go, and exclaims at the top of her voice: “Cheers! Down the hatch!”

“What’s wrong with you?” the man scolds her. Don’t you know, “Beer and whisky – it’s risky.”

“And frisky! I want to feel frisky.”

“You mustn’t drink so much.”


“Someone may take advantage of you!”

“Ha! Maybe I want to be taken advantage of? Come, take advantage of me,” she says loudly and snuggles up to him, “Come. Cuddle me. Do something naughty to me. Like you used to do to Leena.”

“Shut up. Someone will hear!”

“There is no one here.”

“There is,” Anil says, noticing the solitary figure in the shadows for the first time. He moves close to Nanda and whispers into her ear, “don’t look behind you.”

“Where?” she shouts in surprise and turns around. She sees the silhouette of the man and calls to him, “Hey eavesdropper, why don’t you join us?”

“Thanks. But it’s okay. I’m fine here,” the stranger says.

“No! No! Come on. Have a drink with us. Don’t be a snob!” the woman shouts drunkenly, tries to get up and reels towards him, and seeing her swaying, the stranger quickly joins them, pulling up a chair opposite the sofa.

“I hope we have not been disturbing you,” Anil says, “We’re sorry. We thought we were all alone in the bar.”

“Not at all!” the stranger says, “in fact, I’ve been enjoying your banter.”

“Good. That calls for a drink!” the woman says.

“Certainly. It’s on me,” the stranger says.

“Nanda. Please. I think we’ve had enough,” Anil pleads.

“I insist,” the stranger says, “just one last drink.”

“Just one last drink!” Nanda repeats drunkenly, “and then the real surprise!”

“Surprise?” Anil asks.

“We’ll all go and wake up Leena!”

“What? Leena? She’s here? In Mussoorie?” Anil asks incredulously.

“Yes, my dear. She’s coming for the seminar too. Must have arrived in the evening when we had gone out for our romantic walk to Lal Tibba.”

“How do you know?”

“E-mail! I was the one who called her for this seminar.”

“You didn’t tell me!”

“Of course not. And I didn’t tell her that I had called you either.”

“I’m going back!” Anil says.

“You still desperately love her, don’t you? After all that she’s done to you; destroyed you. You’re scared of her aren’t you?”


“Then why are you afraid of facing her? Come on, Anil, be a man! Ask her why she dumped you,” Nanda says. She pulls Anil’s hand and lurches towards the entrance, “Come. We’ll go to the reception and find out in which room Leena is staying.”

“She’s in room 406,” the stranger says.

“How do you know?” Nanda asks wide-eyed, trying to focus on the stranger.

“I’m Leena’s husband,” the stranger says matter-of-factly. He keeps his glass on the table and silently walks out of the bar.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Life Process Outsourcing - a short story by Vikram Karve

Life Process Outsourcing
Vikram Karve

( a fiction short story )

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, while I was loafing on Main Street, I meet an old friend of mine.

“Hi!” I say.

“Hi,” he says, “where to?”

“Aimless loitering,” I say, “And you?”

“I’m going to work.”

“Work? This early? I thought your shift starts in the evening, or late at night. You work at a call center don’t you?”

“Not now. I quit. I’m on my own now.”

“On your own? What do you do?”


“LPO? What’s that?”

“Life Process Outsourcing.”

“Life Process Outsourcing? Never heard of it!”

“You’ve heard of Business Process Outsourcing haven’t you?”

“BPO? Outsourcing non-core business activities and functions.”

“Precisely. LPO is similar to BPO. There it’s Business Processes which are outsourced, here it’s Life Processes.”

“Life Processes? Outsourced?”

“Why don’t you come along with me? I’ll show you.”

Soon we are in his office. It looks like a mini call center.

A young attractive girl welcomes us. “Meet Rita, my Manager,” my friend says, and introduces us.

Rita looks distraught, and says to my friend, “ I’m not feeling well. Must be viral fever.”

“No problem. My friend here will stand in.”

“What? I don’t have a clue about all this LPO thing!” I protest.

“There’s nothing like learning on the job! Rita will show you.”

“It’s simple,” Rita says, in a hurry. “See the console. You just press the appropriate switch and route the call to the appropriate person or agency.” And with these words she disappears. It’s the shortest training I have ever had in my life.

And so I plunge into the world of Life Process Outsourcing; or LPO as they call it.

It’s all very simple. Working people don’t seem to have time these days, but they have lots of money; especially those double income couples, IT nerds, MBA hot shots, finance wizards; just about everybody in the modern rat race. ‘Non-core Life Activities’, for which they neither have the inclination or the time – outsource them; so you can maximize your work-time to rake in the money and make a fast climb up the ladder of success.

“My daughter’s puked in her school. They want someone to pick her up and take her home. I’m busy in a shoot and just can’t leave,” a creative ad agency type says.

“Why don’t you tell your husband?” I say.

“Are you crazy or something. I’m a single mother.”

“Sorry ma’am. I didn’t know. My condolences.”

“Condolences? Who’s this? Is this LPO?”

“Yes ma’am,” I say, press the button marked ‘children’ and transfer the call, hoping I have made the right choice. Maybe I should have pressed ‘doctor’.

Nothing happens for the next few moments. I breathe a sigh of relief.

A yuppie wants his grandmother to be taken to a movie. I press the ‘movies’ button. ‘Movies’ transfers the call back, “Hey, this is for movie tickets; try ‘escort services’. He wants the old hag escorted to the movies.”

‘Escort Services’ are in high demand. These guys and girls, slogging in their offices minting money, want escort services for their kith and kin for various non-core family processes like shopping, movies, eating out, sight seeing, marriages, funerals, all types of functions; even going to art galleries, book fairs, exhibitions, zoos, museums or even a walk in the nearby garden.

A father wants someone to read bedtime stories to his small son while he works late. A busy couple wants proxy stand-in ‘parents’ at the school PTA meeting. An investment banker rings up from Singapore; he wants his mother to be taken to pray in a temple at a certain time on a specific day.

Someone wants his kids to be taken for a swim, brunch, a play and browsing books and music.

An IT project manager wants someone to motivate and pep-talk her husband, who’s been recently sacked, and is cribbing away at home demoralized. He desperately needs someone to talk to, unburden himself, but the wife is busy – she neither has the time nor the inclination to take a few days off to boost the morale of her depressed husband when there are deadlines to be met at work and so much is at stake.

The things they want outsourced range from the mundane to the bizarre; life processes that one earlier enjoyed and took pride in doing or did as one’s sacred duty are considered ‘non-core life activities’ now-a-days by these highfalutin people.

At the end of the day I feel illuminated on this novel concept of Life Process Outsourcing, and I am about to leave, when suddenly a call comes in.

“LPO?” a man asks softly.

“Yes, this is LPO. May I help you?” I say.

“I’m speaking from Frankfurt Airport. I really don’t know if I can ask this?” he says nervously.

“Please go ahead and feel free to ask anything you desire, Sir. We do everything.”


“Yes, Sir. Anything and everything!” I say.

“I don’t know how to say this. This is the first time I’m asking. You see, I am working 24/7 on an important project for the last few months. I’m globetrotting abroad and can’t make it there. Can you please arrange for someone suitable to take my wife out to the New Year’s Eve Dance?”

I am taken aback but quickly recover, “Yes, Sir.”

“Please send someone really good, an excellent dancer, and make sure she enjoys and has a good time. She loves dancing and I just haven’t had the time.”

“Of course, Sir.”

“And I told you – I’ve been away abroad for quite some time now and I’ve got to stay out here till I complete the project.”

“I know. Work takes top priority.”

“My wife. She’s been lonely. She desperately needs some love. Do you have someone with a loving and caring nature who can give her some love? I just don’t have the time. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”

I let the words sink in. This is one call I am not going to transfer. “Please give me the details, Sir,” I say softly into the mike.

As I walk towards my destination with a spring in my step, I feel truly enlightened. Till this moment, I never knew that love was a non-core life process worthy of outsourcing.

Long Live Life Process Outsourcing!

Life Process Outsourcing (LPO)
A fiction short story

Monday, April 03, 2006



Winter. Early morning. Chill in the air. I stand alone on the metre gauge side of the lonely island platform of Mettupalaiyam Railway Station and stare at the peaks of the Blue Mountains (the Nilgiris) silhouetted in a veil of mist in the distance.

Nothing much has changed here since the last time I came here on my way to Ooty. Almost 30 years ago. The place, the things, the people – everything looks the same. As if frozen in time.

But for me there is a world of difference. Then I was a young bride, full of inchoate zest, in the company of my handsome husband, eagerly looking forward to the romantic journey on the mountain train, on my way to our honeymoon at Ooty.

And now! The same place which then felt so exciting now feels so gloomy. Strange. But true. What’s outside just doesn’t matter; what’s inside does. I try not to reminisce. Remembering good times when I am in misery causes me unimaginable agony.

I look at my watch. 7.30 A.M. The small blue toy train pushed by its hissing steam engine comes on the platform. Dot on time. As it was then. The same December morning. The same chill in the air. Then I had the warmth of my husband’s arm around me. Now I feel the bitter cold penetrating within me.

I drag my feet across the platform towards the mountain train. Scared, anxious, fear in my stomach, I experience a strange uneasiness, a sense of foreboding, a feeling of ominous helplessness - wondering what my new life would have in store for me.

I sit alone in the First Class compartment right in front of the train. Waiting for the train to start. And take me to the point to no return. Wishing that all this is just a dream. But knowing it is not.

And suddenly, Avinash enters. We stare at each other in disbelief. Time stands still. Till Avinash speaks, “Roopa! What are you doing here?”

I do not answer. Because I cannot. For I am swept by a wave of melancholic despair. My vocal cords numbed by emotional pain. And as I look helplessly at Avinash, I realize that there is no greater pain than to remember happier times when in distress.

“You look good when you get emotional,” Avinash says sitting opposite me.

In the vulnerable emotional state that I am in, I know that I will have a breakdown if I continue sitting with Avinash. I want to get out, run away; but suddenly, the train moves. I am trapped. So I decide to put on a brave front, and say to Avinash, “Coming from Chennai?”

“Bangalore,” he says, “ I’d gone for some work there.”

“You stay here? In Ooty?” I ask with a tremor of trepidation for I do not want to run into Avinash again and again; and let him know that I had made a big mistake by not marrying him - that I had made the wrong choice by dumping him, the man I loved, in search of a ‘better’ life.

“I stay near Kotagiri,” Avinash says.

“Kotagiri?” I ask relieved.

“Yes, I own a tea-estate there.”
“A tea estate?”

“Yes. I am a planter.”

Now I really regret my blunder 30 years ago. Indeed I had made the wrong choice.

“Your family – wife, children?” I probe, curious.

“I didn’t marry,” he says curtly. “There’s no family; only me. All by myself.”

“Oh, Avinash. You should have got married. Why didn’t you?”

“Strange you should be asking me that!” he says.

“Oh my God! Because of me?”

Avinash changes the subject, “I’ll be getting off at Coonoor. My jeep will pick me up.” He pauses, then says, “And you, Roopa? Going to Ooty? At the height of winter! To freeze there!”

“No,” I say, “ I’m going to Ketti.”

“Ketti ?” he asks with derisive surprise.

“Yes. What’s wrong with going to Ketti ?” I protest.

“There are only two places you can go to in Ketti. The School and the old-age home. And the school is closed in December,” Avinash says nonchalantly, looking out of the window.

I say nothing. I can’t. I suffer his words in silence.

“Unless of course you own a bungalow there!” he says turning towards me and mocking me once again.

The cat is out of the bag. I cannot describe the sense of humiliation I feel sitting there with Avinash. The tables seem to have turned. Or have they?

There are only the two of us in the tiny compartment. As the train begins to climb up the hills it began to get windy and Avinash closes the windows. The smallness of the compartment forces us into a strange sort of intimacy. I remember the lovely moments with Avinash. A woman’s first love always has an enduring place in her heart.

“I am sorry if I hurt you,” Avinash says, “but the bitterness just came out.”

We talk. Avinash is easy to talk to and I am astonished how effortlessly my words come tumbling out.

I tell him everything. The story of my life. How I had struggled, sacrificed, taken every care. But still, everything had gone wrong. Widowed at 28. Abandoned by my only son at 52. Banished to an old-age home. So that ‘they’ could sell off our house and emigrate to Australia. ‘They’ - my son and that scheming wife of his.

“I have lost everything,” I cry, unable to control my self. “Avinash, I have lost everything.”

“No, Roopa,” Avinash says. “You haven’t lost everything. You have got me! I’ve got you. We’ve got each other.”

Avinash takes me in his comforting arms and I experience the same feeling, the same zest, I felt thirty years ago, on my first romantic journey, on this same mountain toy train, on my way to my first honeymoon.