It was sometime in May, and the summer was at its peak in Mumbai. I was sitting on the sofa with my flatmate in the living room of our rented apartment in Andheri. It was a regular Sunday afternoon when we all had just eaten sumptuous chicken masala and roti prepared by our cook Asha. My flatmate Ravi was swiping right on Tinder and I was doing the same on LinkedIn jobs.
“Any luck?” we both looked at each other and laughed.
“Let’s keep trying!” we said to ourselves and continued with our attempts, fueled by our belief that the probability will continue to go up in this manner.
It did work.
He had found a match, which led to the rest of our flatmates gathering around Ravi to discuss who the girl was and how soon they could meet each other.
“Asshole, you are lucky,” said one.
“Yes, and highly photogenic,” said the other.
I retreated to my failed trials at finding a match between my future employer and me.
It was Day 28. 28 days since I had lost my job and could not find the next one. But I was hopeful that I would land one soon – maybe in the next week or two.
I looked at the multiple tabs open on my browser and decided that I had done enough for the day.
So, I said what most young lads would to survive such harsh times.
“Hey, guys! Let’s get some beer?”
“Of course!” my roommate Pavas jumped up in response.
“Oh no! But I have to meet Neha later in the evening. She won’t find out if I have just one, right?” He continued.
We waited for him to answer his own question.
“Yeah, I can have one. I’ll tell her about it. Big deal! Plus, Ravi has found his match. We’ve got to celebrate that. Hahaha!”
We all laughed in response, and Ravi reminded Pavas that Neha was friends with him as well. He could easily text her about his drinking plans.
The Sunday was well spent. We didn’t post it to Instagram, but I promise it was fun.
It was the Monday that I was afraid of. No, not because of Monday blues. I didn’t have an office to go to. But all of my flatmates did. Mondays now meant that I would be sitting alone in the apartment throughout the next five days. What made it worse was the fact that I had had a serious breakup with my then-girlfriend around the same time when I lost my job.
Anyway, the Monday arrived, and I woke up to my roommate Pavas saying goodbye to me and shutting the door from behind. The others left for their offices too. It was around 11 am, and I decided to wait a little longer to eat something. It was my newly-found hack. If I eat around noon, it would be brunch! This would basically mean that I wouldn’t have to cook twice and could also save some money if I were to order from outside. It was my learning over the past few weeks.
It was almost three years that I had been staying in Mumbai, and I had slowly started to realize how lavishly I had spent my money over my lifestyle. It was time to curb that habit and to think of saving for the rainy days.
I made some black coffee for myself and grabbed a packet of Parle G biscuits. I looked around the house and couldn’t help but feel lonely. In the past one month, I had started to realize how big the house really was with no one around. At times, I could feel the walls closing down onto me as if they were trying to eat me alive. I felt the sudden need to go out and grab some fresh air. At the same time, it felt as if my pockets were full of stones and I simply couldn’t move. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
I gulped down the coffee and grabbed my phone. It was 11.40 am. I thought of texting one of my close friends, who knew about my job situation. I wondered if I could meet her over lunch. In my head, I calculated how much I would spend over traveling and whether I should pour all my negativity onto her. I decided it would be best not to ruin her day with my mood and kept the phone down. I switched on my laptop and put on some music.
I logged into my inbox to see if the content writing vendor had responded to any of my emails for the payment. I had been freelance writing with the hope that it would pump some cash into my bank account.
‘Mom calling,’ said my phone screen. I picked up the call with the intention of keeping it short.
“All fine, Neel?” asked the motherly instinct.
You wonder how they do that!
So, I did what most children would. I lied to her about being busy with some office work. But the phone call once again reminded me of my choice – to either resume the job search while saving money to survive the next how-many-ever days of unemployment or leave Mumbai and go back to my hometown. My gut instinct was to continue with the harder option of staying in Mumbai and not giving up hope.
I spent the day refreshing the career websites to see the same job openings pop up and later, watching random videos on YouTube. It was a challenge to pass the time. Social media was of no help either. At times, I would just stand near the window and look at the life outside. I often thought of using the free time to work on my novel writing, but the thought of job search sat in my head like a giant writer’s block.
The most depressing time was after the sunset. As soon as it would become dark outside, I would desperately wait for my flatmates to return home. It didn’t matter if it was someone that I was close friends with. I simply didn’t want to be alone in that house. I understand that it probably was none of my business when they came home from their office, and I obviously never shared it with anyone.
I looked at the wall clock. It was almost 7 pm.
“Pavas is usually home by now. I wonder if he has gone to meet Neha,” I thought to myself.
The doorbell rang and I opened the door. It was Pavas and Neha.
“Hi!” I said while trying not to look too happy that I finally had some company.
“Hey, Neel! How are you?” Neha greeted me and sat down as Pavas went inside to freshen up.
“Pavas told me. Did you have any luck with the job thing?” she tried saying it in a tone that would not hurt me.
“Not yet, but I’ll keep trying.”
“I know. You will get it. Don’t worry. Ganapati bappa will make everything alright!”
“Neel, I spoke to my marketing team colleague. But they don’t have any openings right now. Do still send me your resume. I will check with my other friends also.” Pavas came out and joined the conversation.
“Yeah, no problem,” I replied.
We were soon joined by our cook Asha who started with her everyday questions about how many rotis to make for dinner and whether or not any of the flatmates were planning to eat out.
Few more days passed and the routine of seeking the right job and not getting any decent leads continued. One of these days, I woke up super hungry. I told myself that it was time to stop eating junk and do away with things like noodles and pasta for brunch.
“Maybe, it’s time for me to learn how to cook meals!”
I played a YouTube video and followed the recipe for daal rice. It turned out to be rather easy. In fact, I believe that I did a brilliant job as a first-timer. However, my friend Yugmala who came over to visit me later that evening, told me that I had overcooked cumins.
“Apart from that, the daal is great,” she said, nodding her head.
I suspected if she was simply saying that to make her unemployed friend happy. I decided that she was not that nice and was rather honest about my excellent culinary skills.
I went out for a walk with her and she tried to cheer me up. She asked me whether I was open to Sales jobs or would only want to pursue Marketing Communication opportunities. I looked at her in response and unlike the last so many weeks, I suddenly felt confident in answering that question.
“I think only Marketing.”
“Okay. I was simply checking with you since there would typically be more sales openings, and you still don’t have as much experience in Marketing. Don’t mind, I’m just being honest.”
“Yeah, I know. No worries. It’s just that somehow I am more sure in my head now. That’s what I want. I want to pursue Marketing Communication.”
“Well, that’s good. I’m happy that you have some clarity now.”
“Me too!” I wore my first genuine smile in months as I said that.
I got back home and went to my study desk. It was a little corner in the room next to the window. It was where I had spent numerous nights reading my favorite books and writing stories for the blog. Sitting at that window, I had watched Mumbai bathe in monsoon every year and the huge oak tree outside shedding its leaves in the summer. I pulled out a few sticky notes and started scribbling my plan for the job search. The green sticky note had a list of people who could refer me to their companies. The yellow one was used for the job applications, which I was hopeful about. I drafted a schedule to track a few specific jobs meticulously and follow up with respective people who were my point of contact. The sticky notes joined the Mickey Mouse stickers on the wall posted by the landlord’s kids, who must have used the room at some time in the past.
Then came a day when I received a call from a company I had never heard about before. They had apparently liked my profile and offered to interview me. It was a Marketing Communications profile – just what I was looking for. I wasn’t sure about the organization, though – how good they were as a workplace and whether I could have a good career path there. But I followed my instincts and decided to go for the interview. The company was located in the suburbs of Mumbai. It was a cool, little office with not more than fifty people in there. The team had a friendly vibe and I immediately liked the place.
I soon got selected for the role. However, they couldn’t offer to pay me any more than what I was earning at my previous job. I asked for two days to make up my mind.
Somehow it was not a difficult choice to make. The last few months of struggle had cleared the storm of confusion in my head and helped me understand what I really wanted in life. It was as if the storm had calmed down and the dust had finally settled to reveal the path – what I wanted to become and more importantly, what I did not want to pursue anymore. I took up the job. Eventually, it turned out to be one of the best workplaces of my career.
I often look back on those months for inspiration. It’s ironic how I romanticize the time associated with my struggle. Possibly, because that struggle helped me become the man I am today. It worked as therapy for any future difficulties I would face later in my life.