Short story

“No compromises on quality”

The wooden décor pleased me, even if the all-vegetarian fare did not. Well, anything for business, I suppose.

Mehta – the client – smacked his lips audibly. Halfway through dinner, and he was still nursing his soup. Anyway, he was enjoying his meal, and that’s what matters.

“Haan,” he said, dipping spoon into soup. In the minute-long pause that I knew would follow, I looked up and noted the doughnut-shaped, ceiling-suspended lights above. Must ask Meera to check them out – the soft white light would be perfect for our new library.

“Haan,” Mehta repeated again. Sigh. How long was this going to take?

“So the thing is,” he said, rubbing his words against the garlic bread in his mouth, “We have seen the factory and your proposal.”

Now this was news. Considering I’d spent the better part of the week taking him around the plant and making three different presentations to the bunch of morons he called his ‘boys’.

“Abhi dekho, sir. We are not stupid. We know you want our order. He he!” he pretended to laugh, interrupting my thoughts. I hate fake laughter, especially Mehta’s.

On the white tablecloth, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a disgusting little shape moving in our general direction.

“But you know, we are thinking…” he trailed off. Again the chomping had got in the way of his speaking. “Dekho, this is between two companies. Theoretically, let’s assume…only theoretically, haan. He he. Okay, so theoretically. Our company places this order. And your company delivers it. On time and properly, haan. You know our motto – no compromises on quality! He he.”

Aaarrrgh! Trust me, the last thing you want on a Friday night is dinner with an annoying fat vegetarian who can’t poke a fork through his salad straight!

Steady. Steady. I focused my mind on the mutton biryani waiting for me at home. The thought of dinner calmed me a little.

“Ji Mehta saab,” I took off the grumpy expression and wore my most ingratiating smile. “You saw our plant na, you know how much we ourselves value quality,” I reassured him for what must be the thousandth time. Biting the bullet, I added, “This is exactly why we should get your order. The high quality of our machines virtually guarantees high production output.”

“Haan haan, of course,” he smiled.

Good. This was going somewhere at last.

“But,” he put down his spoon and wagged a finger at me. “But what about us? Have you thought about that?”

No, I can’t say I’m shocked. Surprised, sure. After all, he had had plenty of time to bring this up. Instead, he’d come here – no, flown down at our expense – with a team in tow. Occupied the best suites in the city’s fanciest hotel. Enjoyed everything our pandering hospitality could buy. From my perspective, this had been one expensive ride he’d taken us on.

Still, there’s no way we could pay anyone off for this order. Our margins here were barely enough to cover our own expenses.

I looked at Mehta contemplatively. Could he be persuaded to forgo his ‘commission’ this once? We could promise to make good with the next order they placed. Somehow, I doubted it. There were too many other companies with their hat in the ring. He’d get his instant gratification somewhere.

Some of my dejection must have carried through. Mehta was no fool. The man knew when to jump ship and he embarked on a long-drawn explanation of how our machines actually fell short of their requirements.

Not paying him the slightest attention, I cast my eyes on the table and kept them there. Taking care to conceal my glee, I estimated that this dinner would need to continue for at least about 10 more minutes.

On the table, I watched as the bug – or was it a dark cockroach? – circled the soup bowl. Come on, you dirty little insect, move! I urged silently, urgently.

Yes! Finally the cockroach was on the rim. This was the critical moment. Mehta must not look down now.

Grabbing hold of the tablecloth, I gave it a firm, quick jerk. “Oops, sorry!” I said, then looked up and smiled into Mehta’s piggy eyes.

“Mehta saab,” I wheedled, “you know we are being squeezed dry on this order. Why don’t we do something for you next time haan? We could make a real partnership, you know.” Useless arguments all, but quite necessary at this point.

He dipped his spoon into the bowl again. Let him aim right. Let him aim right, I prayed.

YES!

“Mehtaji!” I screeched, “Cockroach! In your soup!”

Would you believe it? Table manners be damned, he spat the soup right back into his bowl!

This was better than I expected. We could spot only half the cockroach – the lower half. Its tiny legs still kicked furiously, even as the other half was probably speeding down Mehta’s gullet, choking his devout vegetarian soul as it went.

Of course the man raised hell in the restaurant, raving and ranting about a lawsuit well after we’d left the place.

Bet they couldn’t figure out the huge tip I left, though.

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