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The Launch
by Abhijit Sen (Prose - Short Story) | Published On: 19-May-2014

Meet Sudhir Chauhan, General Manager, Marketing, in an international cosmetic manufacturing organisation, he is thirty five years in age, handsome, close to six feet in height, not too fair and has sharp features. Sudhir had joined this organisation in the marketing department about 8 years ago and very fast climbed the corporate ladder to become the General Manager.

Sudhir had just finished the final touches for the upcoming presentation on his marketing plans for the new cosmetic range that his organisation was planning to launch in the month of February next year. He looked at his watch, it was well past nine. Sudhir arranged his papers, shut down his laptop. His car had been taken for repairs to the workshop, and as it happened there was no office pool car available so he had to call a cab to go back home.

He came out of his office in Gurgaon and lighted a cigarette while waiting for the cab to arrive. It was month of December and as typical of the weather in Delhi and surrounding areas, there was a late evening drizzle which had brought down the temperature. Sudhir had to go back home at Hauz Khas, where he had rented a flat.

He was watching the people who were passing by. There was a mall just opposite to his office building. Young men and women were moving around in front of the mall. Some were in groups, some in pairs and some alone probably waiting for their ‘date’ or their friends to turn up. Soon enough the cab reached and as he was about to board, he heard a female voice “Excuse me, could I have the light please?” Sudhir turned around. There was this young girl with cigarette held in between her slender fingers asking Sudhir for the matchbox to light the cigarette. He took out the lighter and handed it over to the girl. He watched her while she was lighting. The girl was probably around twenty seven years in age. She was very fair, tall and had very delicate features. She was dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a black long coat. Sudhir was admiring her when she said “thanks” with a smile on her lips which embarrassed him as the girl’s expression and smile conveyed that she knew he was staring at her. He took the lighter and before he could return the courtesy the girl had crossed over the road towards the mall.

Sudhir boarded the cab and started to think about the incident that had just taken place. The cab was on its way to Hauz Khas. Soon Sudhir’s thought veered towards the upcoming presentation to the board of directors two days later. He reached home after an hour. He entered his empty yet fully furnished flat. He opened the fridge and found nothing except some salami and some bread on the kitchen shelf. The maid who prepared his food had not turned up for last two days. He thought to himself if only Sneha had been there now, he would find piping hot dinner waiting on the table. He changed into his casual attire went to the kitchen and helped himself with a sandwich and coffee. He sat down on the armchair in front of the television and tuned it to the sports channel. He started to watch the live telecast of a European Premier League football match. The entire day Sudhir could not relax for a minute as he had to finish the presentation. Mental fatigue had set in. Soon after finishing his sandwich and coffee Sudhir went off to sleep in his armchair. The cigarette which he had lighted and puffed two three times burnt itself to ashes on the ash tray.

Next day morning the sun rays from the window started to filter in through the window. The door bell rang. Sudhir got up and realised that the entire night he was sleeping on the armchair and the television was on. He switched off the television and opened the door. The maid had appeared after two days. He thanked his stars. Last two days there was lot of rush for him in the morning. He had to prepare breakfast, get ready for the office and clean up the flat. On top of all these he had to be in office in time to prepare the presentation. Again Sneha came to his mind. If she had been there he could have relaxed while she would have taken care of the home. He started to get ready for office.

After the maid had finished her work Sudhir locked up the flat and started for office in a cab. He would get his car delivered at office from the workshop in the evening. He reached office and got immersed in his job. The intercom on Sudhir’s desk rang. Sudhir picked up the receiver. His immediate superior, Director Marketing, wanted to have a look at the presentation. Both of them discussed the plan in detail. Every point was looked into and few minor alterations were incorporated in the final draft. The presentation was ready for the final show to the board on Monday.

It was well past eight in the evening Sudhir came out from his office and enquired from the security if his car had been delivered. He took the keys and started for Hauz Khas. On the way he picked up a bottle of Scotch. He reached his empty flat. If Sneha had been there now, he would not have helped himself to the peg he had just made out. Both of them would probably have gone out for dinner outside as they often used to on Fridays like today. Next two days being weekly off they would have planned out a movie or have some friends coming over. He sipped whisky and wondered how he would spend the next two off days.

Saturday and Sunday he lazed around a lot. He watched a few movies in the movie channel. He visited the malls in Vasant Kunj. Had lunch on both the days at the restaurants located there and did some impulsive purchases like two white shirts, two three brands of deodorants, a pair of new shoes. In the evening when he came back home he looked at his new acquisitions and thought if Sneha had been there, she would not have allowed him to go for the purchases and he would have reasoned with her.   He would probably try to gift her a new dress which she would have refused. These thoughts made him smile a little. He felt Sneha’s absence with moist eyes.

Monday morning Sudhir dressed up in his formal attire. He put on the new white shirt, tie and the new pair of black shoes. He reached office and checked the presentation once again. He was summoned to the conference room. He made the presentation to the applause of the board of directors. He was given the go ahead to implement the plan and requisite funds required were sanctioned.

Seven days went by since the presentation was made. He called up the advertisement agency to visit him so that he could discuss the launch plan with them. One afternoon the appointment was fixed with the agency. They came over and were directed to the conference room from the reception. Sudhir entered and to his surprise he saw that same girl who had asked for a light few evenings ago waiting for him in the conference room.

“Hello! And good afternoon” she stood up and said. She extended her hands for a warm handshake and said “I am Anushree, Anushree Singh - your account executive” a smile crossed her lips as she also recognized Sudhir. They exchanged their visiting cards and settled down to discuss the launch. While Anushree was taking down notes, Sudhir observed her. She was dressed in an off white sari with a matching shawl wrapped around. Her shoulder length hair was neatly tied up in a pony tail. She looked radiant in her simple and elegant dress sense. Good forty five minutes were spent in the discussion. Anushree got up and informed that she would come back with her presentation in next seven days. Sudhir offered her a cigarette. Anushree declined with a soft smile, she said “Thank you, I do not smoke during office hours”. She extended her hand for a handshake and left the conference room.

The days that followed, no matter how busy he was, thought about Anushree kept on creeping on his mind. Is this an infatuation he thought to himself? He struggled to keep Anushree away from his mind. He felt guilty as thoughts of Sneha also crept up in his mind.  What would be Anushree’s reaction if she realises about Sudhir’s feelings towards her. What if Anushree is already married or engaged to someone? She may lose all respect for him. Sudhir thought that he was her client and the relation should remain absolutely professional.

After about five days there was a call on Sudhir’s cell phone. He answered the call. The call was from Anushree. She wanted to fix up the time and date for the presentation. Friday next was fixed for the presentation.

Friday, Anushree turned up at the appointed hour. Sudhir had already informed his superior about the presentation. Both of them went inside the conference room. Anushree had her art director accompanying her. While Anushree was making the presentation, Sudhir was observing her and at times he was missing out on certain points which made him request Anushree to go back to the previous slide. Sudhir was sharp minded. This absent mindedness made his superior feel that something was amiss however he chose to keep silent. Presentation was over within an hour and half. Presentation was followed by discussion and it was decided that Anushree would be in close interaction with Sudhir so that all steps to be taken for a successful launch would go off smoothly. Courtesy exchanged Anushree and her art director left.

Sudhir’s boss called him over to his room and ordered coffee for both of them. Settling down he asked Sudhir the reason for his absentmindedness during the presentation. Taken aback by this sudden question, Sudhir fumbled for words. He thought what answer he should give. After a few seconds Sudhir said “I suppose I am slightly tired mentally. I need a break for two three days”. Sudhir’s boss was also aware the amount of work he had put in for the presentation to the board of directors and also knew that Sudhir stayed all alone. He told him “very well, the actual work for the launch will start after four five days. Take leave and relax at home or you may visit some tourist destination neighboring Delhi. I know you are tired. Go and enjoy and do not come to office till next Wednesday”. Sudhir forgot for that moment that he was in his office. He looked straight into his boss’s eyes with a wry smile on his face  asked “Enjoy? Who should I enjoy with sir?” Sudhir’s boss said “Knowing your personal condition, I know it is very difficult to enjoy. Why don’t you try and convince some friends to accompany you?” Sudhir finished his coffee and extending his hand to his boss said “Good night sir. I shall come back to office on Thursday” having said he went back to his room. He cleared his desk, picked up the cell and dialed Anushree to inform her that she should contact him next Thursday for further discussion. He looked out of the window on the seventeenth floor. The winter sky was clear, stars were burning bright and there was no cloud. He looked at the moon, it was almost round. He wondered if the full moon had just got over or is it that it is going to be in next few days. Sneha would have known he thought.

Thursday next Sudhir joined back. He had come back from Jaipur the previous evening. Soon after he reached office Anushree called her up to inform that she was coming over in next one hour for further discussion. Anushree reached his office and started to discuss the finer points. Both started to feel hungry and looked at their respective wrist watch. It was past 1.30pm. Sudhir offered her to have lunch with him at one of the restaurants located in the mall opposite to his office. Both got down by the lift to the ground floor of the office building. Anushree was slightly up in front of Sudhir while crossing the road towards the mall. Suddenly from nowhere a ‘Royal Enfield Bullet’ motorcycle appeared and at great speed was heading towards her. Anushree was perplexed and hesitant. She could not decide in that split second to move forward or step back. Sudhir picked up his pace and pulled Anushree towards him. The “Bullet” whizzed past them. Anushree was visibly shaken. She freed herself from Sudhir but held on to his hand while crossing the road. Shaken by this incident both of them could not speak for a while after reaching the restaurant. Anushree felt obliged towards Sudhir. She was staying all alone in Gurgaon at a paying guest accommodation. Her parents were staying at Lucknow. She had come all alone in search of a career and after making rounds of odd jobs had found her present assignment in this advertising agency. She looked up to Sudhir and very softly said “Thank you Mr. Chauhan for whatever you have done few moments ago. Had you not pulled me towards you, I would probably been lying on the hospital bed with serious injuries” Sudhir patted her hands and smiled. While looking at her in the eyes he said “you should be a little more careful while crossing the roads in NCR of Delhi”. Having finished lunch both headed back towards Sudhir’s office to complete the unfinished discussion. While crossing the road Sudhir held Anushree’s hand and she responded back by clasping his hand tightly. In the evening after discussions were over and detailed plans drawn out Anushree asked Sudhir if he would join him for a cup of coffee at the nearby coffee shop. Sudhir thought for a moment and agreed. He told her that he would join after an hour.

Sudhir reached the coffee shop and found Anushree waiting for him. He settled down in the chair opposite hers. “I prefer Cappuccino, how about you Mr. Chauhan?” she asked. Sudhir also liked Cappuccino and said “your preference is as good as mine”. Just then he remembered Sneha. His liking for this type of coffee was for Sneha. She had introduced him to this taste.

Work for the launch of the new cosmetic range started in full swing. Lot of work had to be put in, to make the launch successful. They had jointly planned out advertisements in the print media, fashion shows at all the ‘A’ class cities in the country followed by the campaign in the electronic media. All these activities required lot of interaction on a daily basis between Anushree and Sudhir. Work related issues were discussed till late in the evening. As days passed by, both of them got to know each other better. Sudhir observed that Anushree had lot of similar character traits as Sneha. One day both realised that Sudhir was addressing Anushree as Anu and she in turn had started addressing him by his name instead of Mr. Chauhan. 

The date of launch was nearing. Sudhir and his entire office were excited about the products. The teaser ads had already started to appear in the print media. Shooting for the electronic media was over and was awaiting the clearance of the censor board. They would be telecast in all important national and regional channels four to five days prior to the launch date. In short they were battle ready. One evening there was a free moment amidst this excitement and activities. Sudhir was sipping coffee in his office cabin when he thought about the quantum of work Anushree had put in to ensure that the product launch was a success. She took extra special care to ensure that every small detail is taken care and that Sudhir’s management would not have any reason to complain.  She even went out of her way to spend three consecutive nights at the studio to complete the shoot for the electronic media.

Finally the launch date arrived. A five star hotel’s banquet had been arranged. Page three crowds had been invited by the company for cocktail and dinner that would follow after the launch. After the invitees had settled down at their respective tables the Director Marketing went up to the small raised dais and welcomed all the invitees to the launch. Then he requested his Chairman to launch the product by pressing a button on the lectern. As the Chairman approached the dais with a trailing spot light on him, the entire banquet hall lights were turned off, there was rolling of drums. He pressed the button on the lectern and immediately amidst smoke, lights and loud volume of music a decorated table with the entire new range of cosmetics started to come up from floor level behind the dais. The two hundred odd invitees gave a standing ovation. Sudhir and Anushree who were standing at the far end of the banquet hall looked and hugged each other. Tears welled up in their eyes.  Oblivious of the place and situation they were in, they kept on looking at each other, conveying their feeling and emotions for each other. After a minute or so both of them realised and freed themselves. Meanwhile the Director marketing started to enquire about Sudhir and Anushree as he wanted to congratulate them on the super successful and impressive launch. Having located them at the far end, he came up and said “Congratulations to both of you. The Chairman is very happy and pleased. Come let us celebrate this achievement and raise a toast in your honor”.

Sudhir came back to his flat at Hauz Khas. He entered the flat and looked at the emptiness. Everything was there inside the flat that a family man should posses. Everything was placed at the right place and as they had been placed by Sneha, only she was no longer there. She had left him all alone to fend for himself. He loved her so much yet she did not realise the void that would be created in Sudhir’s life in her absence. He settled down in the armchair. Faces of Sneha and Anushree crossed his mind. He was in dilemma. He was tired physically. He went off to sleep in the armchair.

Three months had gone by since the launch had taken place. The orders for the new range had started to come from the five major cities. Advertisements, in both electronic and print media were being released and being telecast on a regular basis. The business generated from Sudhir’s organisation helped Anushree to get a raise in her organisation. She decided to take leave and spend some time with her parents at Lucknow. She called up Sudhir to inform him about her visit to Lucknow for fifteen days.

Meanwhile the launch of the new cosmetic had taken the market by storm. The competing organisations started to enquire about the brain behind. Offers with better salaries started to come to Sudhir from cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Last six months were hectic for Sudhir too. Last six months also gave Sudhir the opportunity to meet an extremely beautiful and charming person in the form of Anushree. Her absence made him feel lonely. Her absence also gave him an opportunity to think about his future.

After much pondering, Sudhir decided not to proceed any further in his relationship with Anushree.  Anushree was lively and cheerful whereas he was always brooding; she deserved a much better person than him to lead a happy and meaningful married life. Another very important reason was that he could not get Sneha out of his mind which would be an injustice to Anushree.

Sudhir decided to leave his job and look for a change in some other city so that he could avoid Anushree. He contacted those organisations who had offered a change to him. He selected the best offer which was from Mumbai. He spoke to his boss and conveyed his decision to leave. The entire board of directors tried in vain to stop him. They even offered to match the salary package which he would get at Mumbai. Sudhir was undeterred in his decision. He gave them the three months notice required.

Anushree came back from Lucknow and called him up. The cell phone went on ringing. Sudhir did not answer the call. Anushree tried to contact him through his office land line. Sudhir picked up the receiver and moment he heard Anushree, he disconnected the call. Anushree came over to his office and Sudhir very politely told the receptionist to inform Anushree that he was busy in a meeting. Anushree felt something had gone wrong, she also was perplexed with Sudhir’s strange behavior. 

On a Saturday morning, Sudhir was lying down on the bed and lazing around when the door bell rang. He got up and opened the door. Anushree was standing with a carry bag in her hand and smiling at him. Sudhir kept looking at her and forgot to ask her to get in. Anushree asked him “I am visiting your home for the first time. Won’t you call me in?” Sudhir smiled and guided her in. She sat down on the Sofa and asked Sudhir for a glass of water. Sudhir went inside the kitchen. Anushree looked around. Everything was arranged perfectly the way it should be. There must be someone who had arranged the flat. Who could that person be? She thought. Sudhir had never mentioned of being married. Sudhir came in with a glass of water.

Anushree took the glass and said “your flat is so beautifully arranged with the furniture. Every piece is so perfect for the place where it has been placed” Sudhir answered “yes all had been arranged by Sneha”. Moment Anushree heard this, her mind went blank. She gathered her wits and tried to listen to what Sudhir was telling her. She kept quiet. Sudhir continued “Sneha, my dear wife who is no longer with me. We were married for close to four years and did not have a child. I had requested her to adopt one from the orphanage but she was adamant to have her own biological child. We went to several doctors across the country but no one could give us any hope. Finally we heard of a doctor and his Ayurvedic medicine. We went to him and he assured us that the treatment would definitely fulfill her desire. The treatment started and soon enough she was carrying our child in her womb. We were elated she was on seventh haven. She started to buy everything that a newborn baby must have. We started to search for names and decided on names. If she gives birth to a daughter we decided on Deepika and in case of a son we decided on Deepak. Fate had something else in store for us. Sneha had severe jaundice and started to battle for life. I loved Sneha and wanted her to be alive and be with me always. I pleaded with the doctors to save her. Doctors tried, they tried their utmost. A year and half ago Sneha bid me goodbye from this world along with our unborn child.” Sudhir stopped and looked at Anushree. She was still holding on to the glass of water. She was dazed. Sudhir went up to her and put his hands on her shoulder. Anushree kept the glass aside, held his hand. Sudhir sat by her side and said “Anu forget me. A person like you deserves a man with much better credentials than mine. I am a widower and I am still in love with my deceased wife. You will never be happy. Our match will never be accepted by the society you belong to. Your parents will never accept a widower as their son- in- law. Think about your future. Believe me Anu I really love you but I am helpless. Since I love you, I am requesting you to forget me. I cannot be a hypocrite”.

There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Anushree was sitting at the same place where she had settled down. The level of water in the glass had not reduced. Sudhir anticipated some reaction from her, however she was silent. She sat with a dazed look. Sudhir again spoke “to forget everything, I am leaving my present job. I have taken up a new assignment at Mumbai. I have decided to sell off the furniture save this armchair. Sneha had gifted this to me with the savings she had made from the family expense fund”. Anushree still kept silent. It was well past lunch time. He asked “should we go out for lunch?”Anushree asked “could I use your kitchen?” She picked up the carry bag and walked inside the kitchen. She had personally prepared a Chicken preparation Sudhir was fond of in the kitchenette at her paying guest accommodation. On her way to Hauz Khas she had purchased ‘roomali roti’. She warmed them up in the microwave and brought them to the dining table. Sudhir immediately got up arranged for the plates. Quietly without exchanging any words they finished their lunch. None of them could eat properly. Only once Sudhir mentioned “nice preparation” to this Anushree had just smiled back. Anushree got up and cleared the table. She packed the leftover food and placed it inside the fridge.

It was almost half past four. Anushree decided to leave. Sudhir offered to drop her home, she declined politely “you drive down to Gurgaon everyday during the week, it is an off day for you, relax at home. I shall manage to go back”. She opened the door to come out of Sudhir’s flat when she stopped in her steps. She turned around and said “Sudhir, I wish you had told me everything earlier. When are you leaving for Mumbai?” Sudhir mentioned a date which was still month and a half away.

Next one and half month Sudhir was busy disposing his furniture, handing over his charge to the new incumbent to his position in the organisation.  The day of his leaving Delhi and his organisation was just four days away. All these days there was not a single call from Anushree. Her silence made Sudhir feel her absence. The management had arranged for a grand farewell. His colleagues, his subordinates all were present in full strength at the farewell. He was presented with a gold plated logo of the organisation. He, for the last time, stepped out of office. Some of his colleagues had also come down with him to see him off. He drove back home.

All the kitchen utensils, the fridge and the arm chair were packed and had been sent to a friend’s house at Noida. He would have them transported to Mumbai once Sudhir had fixed up his new accommodation there. The car was also sold off and the new owner would take delivery a day prior to his departure.

He came back home. The flat was bare save for the mattress which was rolled up and lying at the corner of the bedroom. Next morning around eight thirty, he was ready to leave for his breakfast at a nearby restaurant. He had to  wind up his bank account and have it transferred, credit card address had to be changed to his new office address at Mumbai etc; The door bell rang. He opened the door. Anushree was standing, smiling at him. She said “Sudhir please help me in bringing the suitcases. The cab is waiting” Sudhir was surprised. Nevertheless he went along with her and brought the three suitcases inside. Once inside Anushree put her arms around him and said “I am coming along with you to Mumbai”.

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Author
Abhijit Sen

Abhijit Sen

Written: 4 Stories

Member Since: 19-May-2014

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