02 November, 2017

Indian Girl in a Foreign Land

Written as a Ethics Case Study for business-school discussions and deliberation.

(1)

Vats was not a frequent bar visitor. He was rather known as an introvert and kept to himself. Some people did have the luxury of his time, but when it got too much for him he’d play songs by Rebecca Black and Justin Bieber just to shoo people away from his room. He didn’t have too many close friends, neither did it seem that he wanted to make any. However, when Pasha, one of the few who had been able to penetrate into his shell asked him to join the gang for a night at the local bar, Vats conceded. After all, another mad week of presentations and assignments had ended and Vats didn’t have anything better to do. Besides, he thought it good to remind himself every once in a while why staying aloof was the right way.

It was another crazy night at Hembrom’s. The entrance proudly held the title, “Divided by boundaries, united by spirit.” Pretty appropriate for a bar frequented by international tourists, Vats thought. He took a seat at the corner of the table, his brain trying to understand that of others. Pretty soon, a very elated Adra joined the table by his side. Vats didn’t particularly like Adra. To a very reserved Vats, Adra seemed like Daddy’s spoilt showboaty child who hadn’t been slapped by life yet. The thought was confirmed when he smelled fumes of smoke which had left Adra’s lips moments ago. No matter how cute this girl was, smoking was a huge turn-off for Vats. Cursing himself for being there, Vats relented. Yet he was unable to conceal his frown when Adra could not help expressing the heights of ecstasy she’d managed to reach in that one puff. Thankfully, Vivek took the cigarette away.

Vats could see that Adra was drunk, or atleast acting as if she was. She never looked in Vats’ direction, engulfed in her own happy world. When the group moved to the dance floor, Vats noticed Adra stepping aside to talk to the old bald Asian man at the bar. He tried to point it out to Pasha, who was absorbed in his own world. Vats decided to move to Adra’s side, ‘just in case,’ he thought.

As Vats approached her, he noticed Pushpam already by her side. They introduced Vats to what turned out to be a very drunk Japanese businessman. The conversation, atleast from Pushpam’s side, remained confined to a selection of cuss words in Hindi, which the Japanese man found very delightful. Vats rolled his eyes as the old man excused himself to make a trip to the washroom. As he left, Adra continued with Pushpam’s train of words. If it weren’t for the loud music, someone sober enough would’ve come to shut her up. But then, it was a Friday night and no one really cared. Leaving Adra beside a known friend, he returned to the dance floor.

Meanwhile, another chain of events occurred there. Christine, one of the Americans in the group, was having what Vats was told a “bad headache.” Someone sober and willing had to take her back and Vats quickly volunteered. So did Aaron. As the three of them were about to leave, Vivek called them back and asked them to take a very jumpy Adra along. Unwillingly, Adra sat in the cab and they were off.

Vats had always liked the front seat of the cab. The drivers never spoke and he was away from all the chatter behind. He could easily ignore everything on the backseat and focus on his thoughts. Why did he decide to visit the bar tonight? Was it out of desperation arising from self-inflicted loneliness? Or was it just an attempt to invite some welcome change? Why did all these people go to bars? Did everyone there like to be there? Why don’t caf├ęs and bookstores attract such crowds? What is it about alcohol that makes people lose control and think that they are having a good time? Vats saw the roads going by, oblivious to voices falling in his ears. Before he could think of answers to his questions which would satisfy him, they were back at the campus entrance. The hostel was a small walk away.

As soon as Adra was able to put her high-heeled sandals on the ground, she ran and jumped on the rock near the campus gate. Vats and Aaron looked at each other, neither knowing what to do. Christine stepped in. She lovingly took Adra by her side and they started walking hand-in-hand, like sisters. But even Christine couldn't keep Adra’s mouth shut while Adra went on babbling about the hot guy in the group whom she could want to “do.” After a moment’s pause Adra clarified that she would never cheat on her boyfriend, even if for the hot guy who looked like a movie-actor. She went on to describe how much she loved her boyfriend who also, she pointed out to Vats, was “IIT.” ‘It’s IITian not IIT,’ Vats considered explaining, but then thought better of it. As they headed towards their wing, Adra mentioned that she wanted to say goodnight to Olzhas. Christine asked Adra to speak to him the next day. Adra explained that Olzhas often came drunk to disturb her in the middle of the night. She wanted to return the favor. Vats considered demanding Adra to go back, but that would only result the drunk Adra to abuse him and send him back. After all, who was he to command her? Vats asked Aaron to escort Christine back, while he accompanied Adra to Olzhas’ room. As soon as Christine and Adra went out of sight, Adra conjured a small perfume bottle from her white leather handbag. Vats wasn’t used to girls carrying even tissue papers in their bags, let alone liquid fragrances. But then, this was a part of the new culture he was here to experience. He watched as Adra emptied his month’s supply of deodorant on herself. This was going to be more than a simple goodnight, he thought.

Despite a waiting elevator, Vats followed a galloping Adra on the stairs. When they reached, Adra looked confused for a moment, and asked Vats to stand hidden. Vats didn’t ask why, but agreed. He was curious to see what happens. Vats hid himself beside the door. He saw the door open and heard Olzhas’ deep husky voice, ‘get in here.’ The door closed.

Vats could hear muffled sounds from inside, and it didn’t sound like a simple goodnight. After 2 minutes, Vats wondered if he should knock, wait, or leave. He considered the dignity of a drunk committed Indian girl in a foreign land, his own responsibility and his friendship with Olzhas. He raised his hand to knock, but then decided against it. If she was old enough to drink, she was old enough to take care of herself after drinking. After all, she was 2 years elder to him. Age doesn’t translate into maturity, he thought. As the voices from inside started taking a course which he did not wish to listen to, Vats turned and started walking back. After 5 steps he heard the door open and Adra came appeared. Vats noticed her clothes – intact. But she’d left her handbag inside. ‘You go. I’ll come later,’ Adra said. Vats wanted to say that he was going anyways, but decided against it. Adra went inside again and before Vats could hear anything, he left.

(2)

Vats returned to his room, not knowing what to do. He could go back to Olzhas’ room and force Adra to come back. But he was her peer, not her superior. He could physically carry her back, but what would stop her from rushing back as soon as he left her. He could drag her back and forcefully keep her until Pasha or Vivek returned. That seemed like the most reasonable option. But Vats hadn’t ever physically forced a girl for anything against her will. At some level, this seemed inappropriate. But he could also not let her be. If not for her then for the boy who loves her and believes that his girl will take care of herself. But why should Vats even consider this? The girl was old enough to make her own decisions. Wasn’t she? She was drunk. And Vats was given the responsibility to take her back to her room. Vats failed at that. Did getting drunk give a person the right to make stupid decisions? Did her getting drunk make Vats liable to take care of her?

Vats realized this was a confusion he could not handle and waited for Pasha to return. Vivek, his girlfriend Arshita, Kaushik and Pasha came back together. Vats called Pasha aside and told him the situation. The first thing Pasha did was take Kaushik and Vats up to Christine’s room and make sure she was safe. ‘You can’t trust Aaron,’ Kaushik angrily said. Then they all assembled at Arshita’s room and took a detailed account of what happened from Vats. Vats could not help feeling guilty. He was given one job and he failed. But he truly didn’t know what to do. Maybe Vivek or Kaushik would have done something better. But Vats faced this issue the first time and caved. Maybe he should have banged Olzhas’ door and made sure Adra was not left alone with him. None of them was paying any attention to Vats, he didn’t understand if it was because there was a larger issue at hand or because they blamed him. If they did, they wouldn’t tell him.

Arshita called Adra’s phone and put it on speaker. A tired sleepy voice replied. Arshita asked where she was. Adra replied that she was in her room. They all knew it was a lie. Arshita asked Adra to come to her room. Adra said she’d be there in 10 minutes. Adra lived next door to Arshita. It shouldn’t take her 10 minutes to walk 2 steps.

As they waited, Vivek said that people lose some control on getting drunk, but not so much. Kaushik explained that Adra had too many shots and mixed drinks. Vivek maintained that you could never be so drunk to not give a thought about whom you share a bed with. He mentioned that Adra knew what she was doing and by her moral standards, she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She had the right to live her life by her own choices and she was doing so. There was nothing wrong in that.

Kaushik mentioned that if she was old enough to drink, she was old enough to take her own decisions. At 24, living in a foreign land away from her family, she should have the responsibility to take these decisions herself. No one was obligated to take care of her when she was drunk.

Arshita didn’t speak too much. She said that had she been in Adra’s place, she’d have expected Vivek or any of her friends to come for her. But when asked would she ever have been in Adra’s place, she had no reply.

Pasha wanted to go and bring Adra back. He said by any moral standard or opinion, what was happening was wrong and someone should correct it. But Vivek was able to stop him saying that confronting would be worse than letting it be.

Vats stayed in a corner, dejected, listening to everyone’s opinions. He only thought whether it was his fault or not, and what he could or should have done differently to avoid it.

They waited for two-and-a-half hours, but Adra never came. Not knowing what to do, they dispersed back to their rooms.

(3)

The next day, Vats looked back on the matter. He thought Kaushik and Vivek were right in their arguments. After all, it wasn’t his fault she wanted to “do” someone. She was old enough to smoke, drink and abuse. Vats was in the same environment as her, and he made different choices. He decided it wasn’t his fault, but he’d stay away from Adra hereon.

No one spoke of the incident for a few days. At one point Chen did mention that he heard footsteps in the corridor at 7 AM, which was unusual on a Saturday morning. But Olzhas’ friend Michan said he was up and went to get some water.

Few days later Vats found Olzhas at the dinner table alone and taking the opportunity, asked him what really happened that night. Olzhas replied that Adra came to him depressed, saying she felt very lonely in the foreign city. They talked for half-an-hour and then Adra went back. Vats didn’t pursue the topic. Nevertheless, he started noticing a change in Olzhas’ behavior when he was around Adra. He’d hug her more often and keep an arm around her. Adra would seldom run her palm across his arm. The way they looked at each other also seemed to be different from how people normally looked at friends. But Vats had decided to keep himself away from this.

‘I have better things to do,’ Vats thought, and returned to his quiet little world where there were no bars, drunk girls, or friends with opinions.