Kafka in Love

by Tushar Jain

 

Phone rings.

“Good afternoon, sir! You’re talking to Sudesh. Thank you for calling the Paragon Store. May I know who I’m speaking to?”

“This is Dhanakar Prabhakar.”

“Thank you for clarifying that, Mr. Prabhakar. And you’re calling from your registered mobile number?”

“What? Registered mobile…? I don’t…”

“No issues, Mr. Prabhakar. I have checked and I can see that you are, in fact, calling from your registered mobile number. So, tell me, how can I assist you today?”

“Uh. I ordered this book from your store. I want to return it.”

“Oh. I’m disappointed to hear that, sir. May I know the name of the title you wish to return?”

“‘Kafka in Love’.”

“Thank you, Mr. Prabhakar.” Brief Pause. Keys clack. “Mr. Prabhakar, I can see that you bought this book five days ago and as per our policy, you are safely within the period of one week during which you can return the book and be refunded fully for it.”

“I already know that!”

“Regardless, it is our policy at the Paragon Store to ensure that our customers are well-informed about, well – ha ha – our policies!… Old fart!

“What! What did you say?!”

“There’s a bit of disturbance on the line, Mr. Prabhakar. I’m guessing it’s from your end?”

“Hmm… Work going on in the building…”

“I see. In any case, as I mentioned, you are eligible for a full refund for ‘Kafka in Love’. But first, I am required to ask you some details. Was the delivery not on time, Mr. Prabhakar?”

“Delivery? No, no. Delivery was perfect, totally on time. Ahead of time, to be perfectly honest.”

“Okay, thank you for confirming that. Next question. Was the condition of the delivered book not satisfactory? Did you find a page torn or any kind of damage to the copy you were handed?”

“This copy? It’s great! Glossy. Incredible cover art. Premium quality pages. Publishers these days are really pushing hard against those e-books, huh?”

“Um, I guess so, Mr. Prabhakar… Sir, if the delivery was on time and you’re satisfied with the copy of the book you received, why do you want to return it?”

“I read it. I didn’t like it.”

“Excuse me?”

“I read it twice actually. Didn’t like anything about it both times.”

Brief Pause.

“Sir… You’ve read the book?”

“Twice, did I say? Make that thrice. Yeah. Three times. After reading it twice, I thought if I read it another time, I might like it. But no. Hated it every bloody time.”

“But Mr. Prabhakar, if you’re admitting you’ve already read the book… Well, even if I go purely by policy, we cannot have the book returned to us if you just didn’t ‘like’ it.”

“Why not? You said it yourself! It’s within the seven day period!”

“That’s true. But –”

“It said on your site-thing that you care about having satisfied customers. Well, I’m not satisfied with this dumb book! I want to be rid of it and have my money back.”

“Uh, Mr. Prabhakar, it’s not as easy as that… Since this is a somewhat unique problem, I think I might not be the right person to handle this. Will it be okay if I transfer you to my senior, Mahesh? I’m sure he’ll be able to assist you.”

“Whatever. Makes no difference to me. I just want my money back.”

“Definitely, Mr. Prabhakar. I’m putting you on hold while I transfer the call… Crazy fuck!

“What did you –”

The phone is put on hold. George Michael’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ plays. Someone picks up after a minute.

“Good morning, Mr. Devakar! This is Mahesh speaking.”

“It’s Prabhakar! And it’s afternoon! And I’ve been on hold listening to some awful song!”

“Oh? Oh! That would be George Michael, sir. Our C.E.O. is very taken with the music of the late singer and songwriter Mr. Michael. But that is besides the point. At the Paragon Store, more than their business, we value our customers’ time.”

“Doesn’t seem like that so far! I’ve been held up trying to return this miserable book and –”

“The book, yes! Sudesh informed me about your, um, case and I’m very sorry to say –”

“You’re not taking it back?!”

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Prabhakar. You see, you have already ‘read’ the book. We are past the stage of ‘purchase’ and ‘return’. You have already consooooomed the product. You wouldn’t have returned us an empty bag of chips if you ate the chips and didn’t like them, would you? In that example, you quite literally would have consooooomed the product.”

“Why are you talking like that!”

“Talking like what, Mr. Dinakar?”

“My name’s Prabhakar! Never mind. And as far as I can remember, the Paragon Store doesn’t sell chips! But it does sell books! Which I’m entitled to return, as per your policy, within a week’s time if I’m dissatisfied!”

“Ah. Ah. Mr. Prabhakar, again, what we’re having here is simply a conflict of terrrmmms. I don’t think you completely comprehend the complex conundrum of contrary forces involved in market economics. Our present problem though is relatively simple. It is the problem of a man who walks into a ‘bookshop’ and thinks it’s a ‘library’. As I said, a problem of… terrrmmmmms.

“Stop talking like that!”

“Talking like… whhaaaaatttt?”

“This is absurd! You’re telling me you won’t take back this horrible book!”

“Not after it’s already been read, sir.”

“It’s your stated company policy! It’s written all over your website!”

“Well, yes. That is true. But what interests me especially Mr. Dinakar is that you insist you’re returning the book because you didn’t ‘like’ it. Now, this is an interesting loophole, Mr. Dinakaran. We have reimbursed clients and taken back products based on the ‘quality’ of the product. For instance, if we sent you a mixer-grinder and it failed to mix and grind, we’d readily take it back and reimburse the customer. Hmm… hmmmmmmm… And you say you didn’t like the book qualitatively at all?”

“The prose’s stilted! The writing’s pathetic! And the characters are cardboard cut-outs!”

“Hmm… This is a very interesting case. But, at my level, I think I will be of no use to you. I’ll transfer you to my senior, Hitesh. He is the man for the job. Even if I were to consider your request as valid, I don’t think I can reimburse you such an amount on a whim.”

“The book’s only a hundred and fifty rupees! Yours is a multi-billion dollar company!”

“And January is a month of thirty one days. All good facts, Mr. G. V. Dinakaran. But one has nothing to do with the other. You’ll be put on hold while I transfer the call.”

“Don’t you dare play me any George Michael son–!”

The phone is put on hold. George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’ plays. A minute passes.

“Hello, you’re speaking to Hitesh, Head of Sales! How can I help you today?”

“The book! I want to return this damn book!”

“Oh yes. Mr. Prabhakar, right? Mahesh told me about you. Don’t worry, sir. I think I am in a position to help you.”

“You are?”

“Absolutely, sir.”

“Thank God!”

“Yes. I’m glad you’re relieved, Mr. Prabhakar. At the Paragon Store, we deeply value our customers.”

Brief Pause.

So?

“Oh. I thought I was being quite clear. Mr. Prabhakar, there’s no way we’ll be taking the book back.”

“You bastards!”

“There’s no need for language like that! Please let me clarify. Mahesh informs me that the question being raised here is about the quality of the product as a basis for a full reimbursement, right? Now, sir, here’s the snag. The Paragon Store takes full responsibility for the products we sell. But it takes absolutely none for the contents of those products. It is this dichotomy, Mr. Prabhakar, that is causing us so much trouble. Between the ‘product’ and its ‘contents’. Those are two very different things and we at the Paragon Store are only responsible for one of them. The product. Not its contents. The bag of chips. And not the chips.”

“It’s just a hundred and fifty rupees!”

“Please don’t interrupt, Mr. Prabhakar. It’s very rude for a man of your age. Where was I? Yes. So now, since you have raised objection to the content of this product, I will revert you to the third party who is to be held solely responsible. In this case, that would be the author of this book.”

“No, no, there’s no need to–”

Keys clack.

“It’s no bother, sir. It’s part of our protocol. Rest easy. ‘Kafka in Love’, wasn’t it? Yes, yes. The name’s showing up. The author is…”

Brief Pause.

“Mr. Prabhakar…”

“Yes…”

“Mr. Dhanakar Prabhakar?”

“Speaking.”

“Sir, um, it says that… ahem… have you written this book, Mr. Prabhakar?”

“Yes. And I want to return it.”

“You are not satisfied with it?”

“I think it’s awful! I don’t want anything to do with it!”

“But you wrote it!”

“I know that! Don’t keep telling me that! Now will you give me back my money or not?!”

“Well, this is… It was quite simple before, Mr. Prabhakar but… If you have a problem with the content and you yourself are responsible for the content… I’m not entirely sure I know what the company policy says about that… Mahesh was right. This is a very unique case… Frankly, I don’t think I am at the right level to handle something like this. I think I’ll have to transfer you to the Head of Sales.”

“What?! I thought you were the Head of Sales!”

“Me? No, no, no. Sir, I believe there has been a miscommunication. My name is Hitesh Hadoff-Sales. I have a Welsh father and my mother’s from Catalonia.”

“What are you doing in India!”

“Chasing a dream, sir. I have long aspired to be the Head of Sales.”

“Enough! Do not transfer me to another incompetent idiot! Transfer me to someone who can make decisions around here!”

“Actually, sir, you’re in luck! Fortunately, our C.E.O., Mr. Paresh, is here today! He comes over for inspections sometimes. I think he will be the best person to tackle this particular issue. Please stay on hold while I transfer the call.”

“Wait! Don’t put me on–”

The phone is put on hold. George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ plays. Two minutes pass. Someone picks up.

“I’ve had it with this!”

“Ah, Mr. Prabhakar! This is Paresh here. The C.E.O. of the Paragon Store. I hear that my boys are feeling quite stumped by your case.”

“Oh, that’s an understatement!”

“But it’s no cause to worry, Mr. Prabhakar. This is the very reason I’m here, getting in touch with the everyday customer. Reminds me of the days when I was just like Mahesh or Hitesh. No different from Ramesh or Dinesh. Sitting in a cubicle next to Suresh or Ganesh. One of the boys, you know. But today, I’m here to set examples. To solve trying problems like yours.”

“So… what are you going to do about it?”

“What am I going to do about it? Ha! Right to the heart of the matter! I’ll tell you what I’m going to do about it. The Paragon Store will send an agent down to your residence today itself and collect the book from you. Within the week, the money will be fully reimbursed to your bank account.”

“Wha… Just like that?!”

“Just like that, Mr. Prabhakar. You see, this is the difference when you talk to someone who can make quick decisions and take action.”

“You – You’re a very reasonable man! Thank you!”

“No problem at all. It was my pleasure, Mr. Prabhakar. Now, I can see this red light blinking here which means there’s another tough case waiting for me to handle, so–”

“Oh yes, yes! Please go ahead. I’m glad this is done with! I mean I just wouldn’t have been able to take one more horrible George Michael song. Haw haw haw!

Brief Pause.

“Hello?”

“What do you have against George Michael, Mr. Prabhakar?”

“Well, haw haw, what would I have against a dead m–”

“Yes, yes! I know he’s dead! You needn’t point that out to me, Mr. Prabhakar!”

Sudden sounds of muffled snivelling is heard on the line.

“Mr. Paresh?”

“George Michael was a visionary, you know! A musical genius! Singer, songwriter and – and that hair! His influence on Western music and culture is unparalleled!”

“Oh, come on. That’s stretching it a bit, don’t you think?”

“Okay, that does it!”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m sorry to say, Mr. Prabhakar, but I don’t help homophobes.”

“Homopho– I’m not a–!”

“We have our Complaints Department for that sort of thing. Please stay on the line while I transfer you to one of my juniors.”

“No, no, please no! No more transfers! Listen! Mr. Par–!”

The phone is put on hold. George Michael’s ‘Faith’ plays on high volume.

 

Tushar Jain is an Indian poet, playwright, and author. He was the winner of the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize, 2012 and a winner of the Poetry with Prakriti Prize, 2013. Subsequently, he won the RL Poetry Award, 2014. He was a winner of the DWL Short Story Contest 2014 for his short story “A humiliating day for [Dr.] Balachander”. He won the Toto Funds the Arts Award for Creative Writing, 2016. His work has been published in myriad literary magazines and journals such as thenervousbreakdown, antiseriousraedleafpoetry, papercuts, Into the void magazine, Edify, etc.