The Hope Factory A Novel - By Lavanya Sankaran


ANAND K. MURTHY HAD TWO WINDOWS in his office. The first, narrow and with a stiff latch that he struggled to open, provided a glimpse of the factory campus. The second, his favorite, was a soundproofed scenic window that overlooked a production bay. Anand was long past the stage where he needed to supervise the workings of the factory floor in minute daily detail, but it was a sight that gave him an unfailing sense of satisfaction.

He stood there now, the weight of the approaching day settling about him. He was not prone to nervousness, no, certainly not, but today he was unquestionably experiencing a phantom version of it: dry mouth, quickened breathing, a pulse that danced uncontrollably up and down his spine. He reached for a glass of water set on a plastic coaster that had the words CAUVERY AUTO embossed in orange letters upon an indigo blue background.

A knock on the open door; he put down the water glass and smiled in welcome.

“Come in, come in, good morning.” The sight of Mr. Ananthamurthy did something to soothe him.

The operations manager had worked with Anand since the early years of the company. Fifteen years previously, Ananthamurthy had been an older man whose quiet manner belied years of operational experience; now Anand realized, with a sudden shock, that he was looking at someone approaching retirement. Physically, the years had not changed Ananthamurthy beyond turning the few long hairs combed over the bald surface of his head a little grayer and lining the outsides of his eyes. Otherwise, he was still the same: lean, upright, with that quality of absolute reliability, like an old Swiss watch, forever accurate and unfailing.

“Good morning, sir. You have eaten?” For fifteen years, Ananthamurthy had started their workday with this ritual query.

“Yes, yes,” said Anand, though that was rarely true. He was never hungry in the mornings. Later, he might have a glucose biscuit with his coffee. “And you?”

“Yes, sir, thank you.” Ananthamurthy did not, as was his wont, turn briskly to the work ahead. Instead, with a shy diffidence that overlay his usual gravity, he ceremoniously placed a plastic box on Anand’s table.

“My wife and daughters insisted, sir,” he said. “Such an important day for the factory, we visited the temple in the morning and they have sent this prasadam for you. Please take, sir.”

Anand obediently placed a tiny morsel of the sanctified sweet halwa in his mouth, feeling the sugar and wheat dissolve across his tongue. “Please thank your wife for me.”

“I will, sir. She has plans to continue prayers through the day.”

Ananthamurthy would not say so, but Anand saw in his eyes a reflection of the same eager hope that burnt within him.

ANAND PRESSED A BUTTON on his phone to speak to his secretary. In a fantasy world, this would be a young woman, perhaps from Goa, who answered to a name like Miss Rita and sported daring short skirts and blouses that clung to her bosom. Reality, however, was Mr. Kamath, bald and so frighteningly efficient, he was one of the bulwarks of Anand’s professional life, never to be voluntarily sacrificed. “Kamath? Where is everybody? And later, I want to see that computer fellow.”

His words served as an automatic trigger to Ananthamurthy.

“That fellow,” he said, referring to the newly hired computer service engineer, “is not able to take direction.” Anand listened patiently, knowing that Ananthamurthy’s complaints were not really against the person but about the process. The increased automation in the factory premises was spreading with virus-like pervasiveness, to the great perturbation of Ananthamurthy, who, with aging consternation, was still unsuccessfully grappling with the notion of email, tapping out his correspondence letter by letter, glancing feverishly between screen and fingers with every stroke. Anand often thought it was time to organize a mandatory course on word processing for all his employees.

Two more people entered his office, and Anand assessed them with new eyes, as though seeing them for the first time.

Mrs. Padmavati of the accounts department was the first to arrive. She walked in as she usually did, with a brisk air and a quick step. Her efficiency was legendary—as was her quick temper at the careless mistakes of others. Her appearance, like her work style, was excessively tidy: her cotton saree neatly folded and pinned at the shoulder, her long hair severely quieted with coconut oil and tied into a braid that lay in a thick line from her neck to the base of her spine. Her decorative accessories were few and