It all began on a late Friday afternoon. I’d just finished the regular quarter of Old Monk and was indifferently forcing my playlist on my sober colleagues. The phone rang.
Me: “Yes?” (In a nonchalant tone, a device I use to camouflage my interest in things feminine.)
Woman: “Sir, I am calling from Kiti Financials. Would you be interested in a personal loan?”
Me: “Well, not really dear. Bye.” I really was not in a mood for information overload after 3 shots of old monk and Andhra Chilly Chicken.
Woman (persistently): “But we offer the lowest interest rates sir. I am sure you will be interested.”
Me (to myself): “Well, congratulations! Now fuck off!”
Me (losing my patience by now): “What if I am in need of a large amount of money?”
Woman: “How much do you want sir?”
Me (cooking up an impossible amount): “Say, ten lakhs.”
An uncustomary silence at the other end was the response. The silence continued for a good 10 seconds more.
Woman: “Sir, can you please provide me with your employment details.”
Me (a wicked grin on my face): “I work as a consultant for a firm called Mandrake.” (chuckles)
Woman: “Hand brake?”
Me (Almost ROTFL): “Mandrake. M for well, Mandrake. As in, the magician?”
Woman: “Okay sir. And how much is your monthly income sir?”
Me (controlling my chuckles with great difficulty): “Depends.”
Woman (sounds confused): “As in?”
Me: “Well, I am a magician. And my salary depends entirely on the amount of shows I manage during a month. During the season, I make a lot. During off-season, I am pretty much broke.”
Woman: “Magician, as in.”
Me (to myself): “Don’t you know what magicians do? They cut hair for a living. And at times, they dig for crude oil and treasure chests.”
Me (to her): “I do magic tricks. Haven’t you seen Professor Sarkar perform tricks on the stage? I pull out rabbits and pigeons from my hat.”
Woman: “Ok sir. But without a fixed monthly income, how can you pay back the loan sir.”
Me: “During the season, I make up to 2 laksh a month. But now it is off-season, so I don’t have any money!”
Woman (impressed by my income during peak season): “Okay sir. Can I put you on hold while I check with my manager.”
I groped around for my speakers and continued my torture. A feeble voice interrupted my Black Sabbath.
Woman: “Thank you for holding the line sir.
Me: “Not a problem…” (This was surely more fun than the irritating-my-colleagues routine.)
Woman: “Sir, I discussed with my manager. And we can’t give you ten lakhs. We can give you seven.”
Me (groan of disappointment): “Oh no! In seven, I will only be able to buy a baby elephant. I need a tusker.”
Woman: “What sir?”
Me (in a serious and believable (my ass!) tone: “See. I wanted the money to buy an elephant.”
Woman (in a slightly puzzled tone): “Okkkk…”
Me (fighting hard to maintain composure): “It is the latest thing you know. Most of the popular magicians have one. Professor Sarkar has 3. Even Professor Muthukad, from my hometown, has one. It is for the “Vanishing Elephant” trick. So if I buy one, I will get more bookings and I will pay your loan back ASAP.”
Woman (so innocent was the tone that it made me want to end it): “Ok sir. Let me discuss it with my manager sir. What would be a convenient time to call you tomorrow sir?”
Me (suppressing my scruples): “Around the same time. But please do try. I really want that elephant.”
Now most of us, me included, would have thought that was the end of it. But it was not to be. The next day, approximately at the same time and after the same amount of rum, plus or minus 3 minutes, the phone rang.
Man (baritone and a strong South Indian accent): “Hello. I am calling from Kiti Financials. Am I speaking to Mr. Mandrake?”
Me (totally unimpressed by the absence of that sweet voice from the day before): “I am not Mandrake. I…”
That was all I could say before the line got disconnected. It rang again in 15 seconds flat. Recognising the number, I decided to take the initiative this time around.
Me: “I work for the company called Mandrake. My name is not Mandrake. The name is Nikhil. Professor Nikhil.”
Man (in a polite tone that is confined to customer relations): “I am sorry Nikhil sir. I suppose you spoke with a colleague of mine, Miss Soumya, yesterday.?”
Me (So that’s her name. Smile. Back to serious self): “Yes I did.”
Man: “So you want to buy an elephant, Nikhil sir?”
Me (tone unchanged): “Yes.”
Man: “Sir. I don’t think we can offer you such a big loan amount sir. Specially, after considering the fact that there is no steady income.”
Me (faking frustration): “How can you say that? You were the ones who called me. And moreover, I did explain to your colleague (I knew it was Soumya) how much this elephant meant to me.”
Man: “Sir, sorry. But we don’t have the provision for sanctioning such a large amount for the purchase of an elephant.”
Me: “Well, people are tired of seeing rabbits, pigeons and mice disappear. And that is why I need the money. Nothing else. If you can’t, please don’t call me again. It is a personal loan after all. Why do you care what I do with it? I think I will talk to some other banks. Maybe I will talk to someone from I Don’t C I Don’t C I.”
Man (stutters and stammers): “Sir, sir, sir. (pause, a really uncustomary one this time). Can you give me some time?”
Me: “How much?”
Man: “I will speak to my manager and call you tomorrow. When would be…”
Me (cutting him off in between): “Manager? I thought you were the manager. That is what that girl (I still remembered Soumya perfectly) told me.”
Man: “Yes sir. I am her manager.”
Me (anger, very fake this time): “Then why am I wasting my time talking to you. Why did you not make me speak to him directly?”
Man: “But we have a procedure here sir. And we…”
Me (cutting him off again): “But I don’t. Now your manager will call me and later I will have to talk to his manager and then his manager. How many managers do you have?”
Man: “She is the final one sir. She is the branch manager.”
The term ‘she’ sealed it. The call was on. And during the afternoon the next day, a Sunday, the phone rang again.
She (in a husky voice): Hello, this is Anjana calling from Kiti Financials. Am I speaking to Mr. Nikhil?”
Me (drooling. I have this thing for women with husky voices. In fact, I have a thing for women with all sorts of voices. To think of it, no voice at all would be perfect): “Call me Nikhil please.”
She (flirtatious chuckle): “Okay Nikhil. This is regarding your personal loan request for Rs. 10 lakhs for the purchase of an elephant.”
Me: “Yes. So are you going to sanction the loan?”
She (still charming): “Can I ask you a few questions before that?”
She: “I understand that you are a magician and need an elephant to perform a magic trick.”
She: “After processing your request, we did a small research sir. The thing is, you can buy an elephant for 5 lakhs in the state of Kerala. Are you planning to buy two elephants? Because your request only mentions one.”
Me: “Oh, I am so sorry. I forgot to mention something very important. I am not buying an elephant from India. I am buying a white elephant, the ones you find in Thailand. Indian elephants are a disobedient lot. They are hard to tame. By the time I prepare them for the trick, it will be off-season already. The ones from Thailand are nice. They will do anything once you train them. Well, almost. And the one I am getting, has worked with a magician before. So, it shouldn’t be difficult once it learns the language. Or maybe I can learn Thai. It is always nice to learn a learn a new language.”
She (confused and unconvinced): “Okay. I guess I can push it to 9 lakhs. But that’s about it Nikhil. I don’t think I can convince the management to part with more than that!”
Me: “Management? I thought you had the final say on this one…”
She: “Yes. But this involves a large amount of money. And moreover , we have never sanctioned a loan to buy an elephant. So… But I will try my level best. Give me a week’s time.
Me: Please do… In another three months, the season will end. So, please do it at the earliest.”
She: “I would need a few documents, preferably of your property. As a guarantee.”
Me (disappointedly): “But… but I do not have a house of my own. I live in a tent. Most of us magicians live in tents.”
She: “That might be a prob…”
Me (Interrupting): “But wait, let me speak to my dad and see.”
She: “Aah, that would be great. So Mr. Nikhil, I mean Nikhil. I shall talk to you in a week. Thank you for your time.”
Me: “Thanks a lot. Now I can perform my masterpiece.”
The next couple of weeks were packed with creative briefs (to be read as ‘print outs of client’s mails) and well, creative briefs. I had almost forgotten about the whole elephant deal when my phone rang. It was the now-familiar number.
She: “Hey Nikhil. Anjana here. Congrats. Your loan has been approved. Your elephant dream will now come true!”
Me (stunned): “But… Umm..” (thinking on my feet)
She: “So, when do you think I can send my man over to collect the documents. Hope they are ready.”
Me: “There is a small problem here Anjana!”
She: “You weren’t able to arrange the documents is it?”
Me: “Well, that’s not it. I waited for more than a week for your call. And when I did not hear from you, I suspected that maybe my loan wasn’t sanctioned. And the season was fast nearing the end. So I called up the people from I Don’t C I Don’t C I.”
She: “Ohh… And…?”
Me: “I got my elephant.
She: “Ohh… And…?”
Me: "But wait, don’t worry. I am going to Russia next month, freelancing for Jumbo Circus. I need an African Elephant for that. Putin likes African Elephants it seems. Do you think you will be able to fund that?”