There was no reception area at the bare-bones office of WeDonate. Just a desk where the disinterested guard made me write down my name, the time of visit and purpose.

“Vishwas ji, I have been waiting for two hours now,” I said to the guard who was glued to his phone.

“Monday busy hota hai (Mondays are busy),” he said.

Vishwas ji didn’t look up from his phone. I’m sure if I were a man he would engage me in a conversation. He seemed the type who would look at the girls working at WeDonate and grumble inwardly about their presence outside their homes. Pretty sure he went back home and beat up his daughter or wife, or both.

I thought of reporting his excessive phone usage during work hours to his security guard agency but assumed this behaviour was long-standing and tolerated. managed to beat other crowdfunding companies and raise 250 crore and yet they couldn’t schedule an interview on time? I wouldn’t be surprised if Sarita Sharan is caught siphoning money two years from now. Why would an IIM Ahmedabad graduate with six years of consulting experience work here?

When Mumma called I told her I was still waiting for the interview. She thought I was lying.

“Did you get rejected?” she queried.

“No, not rejected yet. Arre? Why would I lie?”

“You tell me why you would lie? How am I supposed to know that?” she said.

Mothers have a way of getting under your skin.

“I will talk to you later,” I said and disconnected the call. This was my fourth job interview that week. After every rejection Mumma would go on like a broken record asking me to do a post-graduation instead. When I would ask her where the money would come from, she would mutter incoherently about education loans. Who takes a loan to learn writing? What course can possibly teach someone to write?

“Your Poonam chachi keeps telling me about prospective grooms. How long do you think I can hold them off?” she would tell me.

Poonam chachi, that pockmarked pig, would like nothing better than to get me – an only child – married, change my surname, forsake the house we lived in.

Mumma never took my suggestions of checking Surinder chachu’s phone history seriously. If she had, she would find a viewing history of a multitude of jawaan devar–bhabhi (young brother-in-law-sister-in-law) sex videos.

I waited for another two hours rehearsing for the interview before I was summoned in by Karunesh Talwar.

“Hi!” said Karunesh Talwar and thrust out his hand.

When he shook my hand, it felt like I had dipped my hand in a tub of Vaseline. Karunesh Talwar was more nervous than I was. He looked the kind of awkward man-boy who shares fat girl memes, and prefers skinny, fair girls with big breasts. Do I have any proof? No. Do I still firmly believe in that? A 100 per cent. People are the worst.

He walked oddly with his legs splayed apart—rashes from thighs rubbing together, I guessed.

The cramped open-plan office had around thirty people sitting on long desks, eyes on their computer screens. There were a few boys prancing about in their shorts. The girls were better dressed but I’m sure these boys in shorts would harass them if they too came wearing shorts to office. It’s a universal truth—men are the fucking worst! Women are a close second.

In my white shirt and a solid dark pair of jeans – I was more sharply dressed than anyone around me – I looked like I was there to take an interview, maybe audit their books, restructure their debts. My relatives often told me my face didn’t match the rest of my body. I was big-boned like Baba, but my face was a mismatch. Sparrow-like and fleshy; Mumma told me I looked like Durga. Not the high-jawboned, fierce Durga of the northerners, but the soft, grandma-like, duskier Durga of eastern India.

Karunesh led me to the interview room and kept turning back to check if I was following him.

“There’s not much to get lost around here,” I said.

We took our seats in the allotted interview room. I remembered my mother’s words. At least pretend to like your interviewer.

“Good morning,” he said. “So, you’re Anusha Sardana.”

I smiled as widely as my cheeks allowed me. “Good morning, and yes, as it says on the résumé.”

“You know what we do here at WeDonate?”

“It’s a crowdfunding company. WeDonate collects money for people who can’t afford certain things – medical emergencies, indie film projects, college start-ups and the like. Last year you raised 250 crore and beat out the competition by a margin.”

“Hmmm. What made you apply here?” he said, squinting at his phone. For someone who had prepared for the interview I found his questions quite basic.

“I want to be a writer,” I said. “And being in the entertainment vertical will help me be a better writer.”

“What do you want to write?” he asked.

“I believe medium is irrelevant. Books, scripts, plays, they are all interchangeable if the story and the characters are in place. I just like to write, be it anything.”

“They say the best way to learn writing is to just start writing. Why haven’t you started doing that till now?” he asked as if he had himself been awarded critical acclaim for what he had written. At best, what WeDonate has produced till now is average.

“I have tried more times than I can remember. I will go back home and write about this interaction too, how my day went, etc, just to practice. But I don’t have an interesting character to write about yet. I figured I need to live a little more, see a little more, experience a little more. And while I do that, I need to learn the craft of writing.”

“Why didn’t you join a film school then?” asked Karunesh. “I don’t have the money,” I said.

Karunesh Talwar, the head of the entertainment division, kept asking hackneyed, obvious questions and swiftly ran out of even those. So much for being creative, eh?

The interview went infinitely better than the ones I had given earlier at publishing houses, newspapers and streaming platforms.

When Karunesh was done with his questions, Ganesh Acharya from HR joined us. He introduced himself, sat right across from me and did what HR people do best, indulge in split-second judgements. Like every HR person, he exuded a false confidence. I guess it helps them hold on to the delusion that their jobs are important.

He looked at my résumé, squinting and grimacing and smiling, trying to throw me off my game. I would wrap up this life, move to the hills the day I let an HR person outsmart me.

Ganesh made a dramatic gesture of keeping my CV to the side and said, “Tell me about yourself? Something that’s not on the CV. I have read all of this.”

I could see the pointlessness of this question reflect even on Karunesh’s face. Ganesh was asking to be screwed with.

I lowered my voice and said, “Ganesh, I thought you would never ask. But since we will work together, if we work together, and since WeDonate touts itself more as a family and less as a corporate, I should probably share with you what I wouldn’t in any other interview.”

“Go on,” said Ganesh.

“Ganesh, my father’s dead. He’s been dead for seven years now. My mother and I haven’t quite gotten over it. If you ever come to our house, you will feel like he never left. Of course, we don’t talk about his departure, or the big hole he left in our lives. We just let it be. Like he was a guest who had to leave sooner than later. We have left it at that. What will we talk about anyway? It’s done. We should get over it. What do you suggest we should do about it? Don’t tell me we should visit a therapist. We can’t afford one. Especially now that their rates have ballooned no thanks to everyone advertising on Instagram that they are going to a therapist. Life’s strange, isn’t it, Ganesh?”

I watched Ganesh’s Adam’s apple bob up and down in his throat.

“I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that. Do you have any more questions?” I asked.

“That’s about it,” said Ganesh. “Do you have any questions that you have for me?”

“I just wanted to know if ethnic wear is allowed on Fridays,” I asked.

On my way out, Vishwas ji was sleeping.

I was jostling for space with annoying little shits in the bus when they called to tell me that I had been selected and would be needed in office the next week. I was over the fucking moon! In my happiness I even gave up my seat to an old man who was pretending to be more tired than he was. I regretted it immediately when he stared at every woman who entered the bus. Why do I give them the chance to disappoint?

It was a big day.

At night, to celebrate, Mumma and I ordered Chinese. We put out a plate for Baba. The chowmein on his plate swam in soya sauce and chilli vinegar. Just like Baba used to like it. Years of smoking had numbed his taste buds. We watched Arjun Reddy on cable TV. Baba loved the sharp cuts and rapid- fire machine-gun storytelling of Telugu movies. He didn’t understand the language and often watched the movies on mute. Looking back, it seemed like his life was a reflection of those movies – concentrated moments of happiness, anger, work and love, and an abrupt departure.

Wish I Could Tell You

Excerpted with permission from Wish I Could Tell You, Durjoy Datta, Penguin Metro Reads.