Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Modern Times


I sat staring at the plate of fruits laid out before me. Pieces of apples, guava and banana cut hurriedly and in a haphazard manner stared back at me. I looked at my breakfast and a quick image of maggi noodles, masala dosa and vada flashed before my eyes. I cast a forlorn look at the kitchen where my wife was busy stuffing more fruits into my lunch box. I had a sudden urge to stand and announce that I wanted proper Rice and Sambar for my lunch and not fruits. But ten years of marriage teaches one to resist such urges and make peace with the matters beyond one’s control.

I sighed deeply, poked my fork a little too meanly into a piece of banana and was about to devour it, when my eight year old son walked into the dining room. He was still in his pyjamas as his school was closed for summer holidays. He glanced at my full sleeved formal shirt and neck-tie, smiled and yawned mischievously and slumped into a chair and called out, “Ammaaa, breakfast”

My wife walked out of the kitchen bearing a plate of noodles and a glass of chocolate Horlicks and set it down before our son and said, “Adi, you have to finish the milk, ok? I have added extra Horlicks, just the way you like it.”

Adi grunted in response and started spinning a string of noodle with his fork lazily. Sensing that my wife was in a good mood, I ventured a suggestion, “How about some noodles for me, darling?”

My wife, Radhika, spun around on her heels and gave me a look that made me sink a little deeper into the chair. She said, “You do remember what the doctor said during the last check up, don’t you? No fried or oily or junk food. See, I have cut up all the fruits in a neat pile for you. Now, don’t make a fuss and eat your fruits.”

I quickly put the banana piece, which had been stuck on my fork until now, into my mouth and smiled sheepishly. Adi, the little tyke, laughed at my predicament and started eating his plate full of noodles.
Radhika announced that she was going to get some laundry done and left the room. Adi, who until then had been playing the role of a lazy-kid-in-the-morning to perfection, suddenly looked up from his plate and asked, 

“Appa, how are babies born?”

I choked on the piece of banana and had to gulp it down. I took a quick look at Adi and found that he was staring intently at my face. I was reminded of the time when I posed such a question to my father. I had been ten years old, when I had become curious about the circle of births and deaths. My father had told me then that I would learn those things when the time was right. I thought of giving the same answer to Adi, but I knew that Adi would push the issue and would not be satisfied by such a reply.

So I ransacked my brain for an appropriate reply. Finally, I said, “Adi, Babies come from God.”

“God?”

Adi arched his eyebrows and cast a questioning glance at me and I could tell that he was not at all convinced. So I tried to prove my point with a bit of philosophy, “See Adi, all living beings come from God. We are all children of God.”

“So if we are all children of God, then I should call God as Appa and you would be my brother right?”
Nobody could deny the fact that my son had logic on his side. I was miffed at the thought that my eight year old kid could call my bluff.

Adi was not done by any means, “Appa, really? You think you can blame God for everything? Tell me Appa, how was I born?”

I got up quickly from the table, looked at my watch and announced, “Adi, I have an important meeting to attend. So I have to be in office soon. We will talk in the evening.”

With that, I quickly dove out of my home and into my car and sped away.

While in office, I was trying to come up with a plan to counter THE QUESTION. During breakfast, Adi had caught me by surprise. I had to be prepared in future. By evening, I had not come up with a satisfactory strategyand so I decided to make a stop at the local toy store and get a new Batman action figurine.
I reached home and as I had feared, Adi was waiting for me. Sensing an impending doom, I immediately presented him with the new toy.

My carefully thought-out plan worked like a charm. Adi was so engrossed playing with the new toy that any unwanted questions that he might have had in his mind seemed forgotten. I had a rather unpleasant dinner with another plate of fruits but I was in a self-congratulatory mood to care much about dinner.

Late at night, Adi fell asleep on the sofa, while still clutching his new Batman figurine. I picked Adi up, took him to his room and set him gently onto his bed. I was pulling the sandals off Adi’s feet when he sat up, wide awake and looked at me. My heart sank. I had hoped of discussing with Radhika on how to answer Adi’s doubts. But there I was, once again caught unprepared.

I braced myself for a repeat of the questions about how babies were born. But Adi did something unexpected. He reached out to the night stand that stood near his bed, opened the top drawer and produced a sheet of paper. I could not make out what was written on it in the dim light thrown by the zero-watt night lamp. So I asked Adi, “What is this? Why are you giving me a piece of paper?”

“Appa, read it. You might know this already. But still I thought it would be a good idea to inform you, in case you didn’t know. Goodnight, Appa.”

Adi lay back in his bed and pulled the covers over him.

I mumbled goodnight and quickly got out of the room. I started reading the letter and when I finished, I did not know what to do. I slowly made my way to our bedroom, where Radhika was reading a magazine, and sat on the edge of the bed. Radhika sensed that something was amiss and asked me if anything was wrong. I did not answer her, but extended the piece of paper to her.

She took it from my hand.

“What is this?” she began, “This is Adi’s handwriting. What has he written? Some school work…Argh.”

There was a sudden gasp from Radhika. I looked at her and she read the whole sheet and looked back at me. I gestured for her to close her mouth, which was wide open. She began, “How? I mean… What? I…”
She continued stammering while I replied, “Adi asked me in the morning about how babies are born. I did not answer him properly. So he thought that I did not know and he has explained the whole process for me in that sheet.”

Radhika finally seemed to collect her wits and asked, “Where did he learn all this? Do they have sex education classes in school at this age?”

“I really hope so. Otherwise, I don’t want to imagine from where he has learned all this.” I replied.

We both sat staring at each other for a while and we finally decided that we would talk to Adi the next day.
While I lay down on the bed later, I heard Radhika mutter under her breath, “Times have changed… a lot”

I agreed with her, “Modern times, indeed.”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Like and Share

I let out a low, guttural groan while I stretched my limbs. My steel cot creaked with my movements. ‘Either my cot is old or I have put on weight’ with that thought I looked out of the corner of my eyes. I could see the outline of a prone figure on another steel cot at the other end of the room. The whole body was hidden beneath a bundle of sheets. The stained curtains that hung across the windows did not cover the entire frame of the window and hence did not stop the morning light from seeping into the room, casting an eerie glow, which I found slightly disconcerting.

“Siva, Siva. Get up dude. Make some tea. It is your turn today”, I shouted while I closed my eyes with a satisfactory grin spreading across my face. It was Saturday, which meant that I did not have to haul myself off the bed and hurry to my job. I heard a grunt from Siva in response and then the sound of shuffling sheets. I tried in vain to recreate the remnants of my dream in my mind. I had seen myself as a knight in shining armor riding a white horse. ‘Such a life would have been seriously cool’ I thought. I heard Siva’s footsteps while he dragged himself to the kitchen area.

My roommate Siva and I worked for one of the top Information Technology (IT) companies of India. I had met Siva during the initial training that our company provided to the new employees. We were both in the same training batch. When we both were posted in Bangalore after training, we had settled down in a studio apartment which we could afford between us. To an average Indian youth IT jobs held a promise of a higher standard of living and we were living the dream in that single room apartment while we tried to save each and every paisa that we could.

Finally with a suppressed yawn, I sat up in my bed. I sat staring at the ground and remained for a long time with my eyes riveted on a dent in the mosaic on the floor.

“Do you think we should tell Raghu uncle about the dent?” Siva held two cups of tea and he must have been watching me stare at the dent.

I reached for the tea cup while shaking my head vigorously like a leaf caught in wind “If we tell him we can kiss our security deposit goodbye.”

Raghu uncle was our landlord and we had paid five months of our rent as initial deposit amount to him. Siva nodded in agreement and settled down in front of his laptop, which was on the table that stood between our beds, and powered it on. I watched as the monitor came to life and the all too familiar logo of Windows Vista lit up on the screen. I took a sip of the tea and grimaced. “Dude, your tea is crap. What did you put in it…, acid?” I asked aloud while bracing myself for a torrent of invectives to be showered on me by Siva.

Siva never quite got the hang of making tea and this was a ritual that we followed every time he made tea. I would make a comment on his bad tea and he would call me nasty words. So I smiled when Siva hailed me immediately with quite a few choice words that left my eardrum with a stinging sensation even after his tirade ended.

Siva opened his Facebook account still muttering and cursing me for my apparent lack of gratitude for the tea that he prepared for me. I wanted to tell him that if the concoction that he had prepared for me was to be called ‘Tea’, then actual tea would have to be called something different altogether. But I held my tongue because I did not want to rile him up any further and I also wanted to use Siva’s laptop after a while.

In an attempt to make peace with Siva, I slid to the end of my cot and leaned over nearer to Siva with a smile and remarked, “Dude, you have so many ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ in your Facebook account. That is so cool. I log into my account and I don’t find even a single ‘like’. How do you manage?”

Siva’s lips twitched slightly as though he was going to smile but quickly he forced his grumpy look back onto his face. But I could see that he was pleased. “People like me and so they leave ‘likes’ and ‘comments’. And for your information, most of the ‘comments’ and ‘likes’ are from girls” And as though to prove his point, he opened a recent link that he had shared on his ‘wall’.

There was a photo of a very cute little girl in a hospital bed and her head was bandaged, which made her head look disproportionally bigger. To the right side of the photo, it was written:

“Please share this photo. For every share, facebook will donate $1 to the operation of this little girl. She has a tumor in head and the cost of the operation to remove it too much for her family to bear. Please help”

Siva had shared the photo and he had 23 ‘likes’ for the photo and 7 ‘comments’ and 5 ‘shares’.

I could see that several of the comments were from girls and they appreciated Siva’s philanthropic nature through their comments and some of them had also posted ‘get well soon’ messages for the little girl in the photo.

Before I could ask him whether it was necessary to share such links to get so many ‘likes’, there was a knock on the door of our apartment. I looked at Siva and I looked back at him. “I made tea, so go open the door”, said Siva while jerking his thumb towards the door.

I let out an audible sigh and got up from the bed. I reached the door and opened it. There was a woman outside our door. She wore a sari which could have been pink in color but through years of use and accumulated dirt the color of the sari was only barely discernable. A rag of cloth hung from her neck and a baby, which seemed to be about 2 or 3 years old, rested against the woman’s waist while supported precariously by the rag of the cloth. The baby did not seem to like my presence at the door and angrily hit the woman on the chest with a folded fist. The woman took the palms of the baby in her coarse hands and opened the tiny clenched fists and held it open before me.

It dawned upon me that the woman was out begging for alms and the baby was her prop for the act. I called out to Siva to join me. Siva came over to the door and immediately he began gesturing the woman to leave by waving his hand frantically.

The woman was persistent and in spite of our repeated threatening gestures, she kept saying, “Sir, sir, hasivagide… pappa hasivagide…” We could understand from the little Kannada that we knew that she was saying that she was hungry and her baby was hungry. But we pretended not to understand her. She started touching her stomach and then she took the baby out of the rag that held it against her waist, turned the baby towards us and began patting the baby’s stomach with her right hand while she held it aloft with her left hand. The baby, jolted by all the movement, registered its protest at being handled in such a manner by letting out a shrill wail.

I lost my temper at the woman and I brandished my mobile and said, “Police, police” and I acted as though I was punching numbers into my mobile. She stopped her acting and returned the baby to its original position and started walking away. We stood by the door to make sure that she left our floor for good. While the woman was walking away, the baby poked its head out of the rag and turned its head towards us and kept looking at us. When the woman and the baby were out of sight, Siva and I closed our door and returned to the laptop.

“Man, these beggars… they are persistent” I remarked.

Siva nodded his head “I am sure she stole that baby from somewhere and is taking it around to feed on the sympathy of people”

“Yeah and the smell from her… Yuck, I was thinking of skipping out on my shower today, but now I will have to shower twice” I shuddered at the thought of the dirt that was on the woman’s sari.

“Dude, leave all that… Let us talk about something interesting. See the number of ‘likes’ on the photo that I shared has gone up” Siva was pointing at his laptop screen. He was right. The number of ‘likes’ for the photo of the girl with brain tumor, was now 25.

“Siva, I am going for a shower now. When I come back I am also going to share the photo on my ‘wall’. I don’t believe that the girl is going to get $1 if I share. I mean, how can facebook track all the shares? Still if it can help me impress the girls in my friends’ list... What do we lose, huh?” I said while glancing at the photo.

“You are learning the tricks of the trade, man” Siva said with a low chuckle.

I smiled while looking at the little girl with the bandaged head in the photo. For some reason the face of the beggar woman and the baby in her bundle flitted through my mind. My smile faltered, but I immediately got rid of the image with a quick shake of my head while I made my way to the bathroom.


The End

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Story of Hospitality


Anoop woke up with a start in the morning. He looked around while trying to shake off his disorientation. He reached for his watch which was on the table that stood by the bed. It read 08:30a.m. He cursed under his breath and jumped out of the bed. He was late for work.

Anoop was working in the Hospitality department for a major Information Technology company based out of Bangalore. He had joined the company six months back after completing his Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) degree. The job did not hold much charm to a BCom graduate, but the pay was good and Anoop had made peace with the nature of work. He had found a 1bedroom apartment near the company office and was slowly settling down into his new job and surroundings.

He brushed and performed his daily ablutions with haste. The day was of huge significance to him. That day was his first appraisal at his job. He did not want to be late. He knew for certain that his manager in the hospitality department, Mr. Rangarajan, would invent reasons to reduce his rating and he didn’t want to give him further fuel by turning up late in the office.

Anoop reached the office by 09:30 am. He ran to his cubicle, sat down and glanced at his manager’s cubicle. Rangarajan was already present at his place intently peering at his monitor. Anoop quickly logged into his computer and opened up a spreadsheet which enlisted all the notable work that he had undertaken during the past 6 months.

The intra-office communicator flashed suddenly. Rangarajan or Ranga, as he was popularly known, was summoning Anoop to his cubicle.

‘Showtime’, thought Anoop while he took a deep breath and got up from his seat.

‘Good morning, Anoop’, Ranga greeted Anoop with a smile.
‘Good morning, Ranga’ Anoop's voice was feeble and tense.

‘So how are you today?’ Ranga was delaying the inevitable. Anoop wanted to tell him to cut the crap and get on to business, but one doesn’t say such things to one’s boss. So Anoop replied, ‘I am doing well, Ranga. How are you?’

‘Good, good.’

Ranga thought for a while and repeated, ‘Good good’. Anoop knew that that was one too many ‘Good’ to be true.

Ranga finally seemed to find no further reason to delay the discussion any further and so he began, ‘Anoop, you have been a very good performer during the past six months of your tenure here. But at the same time I have not seen many out of the box thinking from you related to the work.’

‘Out of the box thinking? In Hospitality Department?’ Anoop wanted to laugh at the reasoning of Ranga but then again one doesn’t do that to one’s boss.

‘Yes. Out of the box thinking. In the hospitality department, we are concerned with the well-being of all the employees of this company. You have obviously handled the tickets and the other requests fairly well. But what I expect from you is to take up more initiative.’

Anoop was confused. At first, it was out of the box thinking and now it was initiative. He wanted to tell Ranga to make up his mind. But Anoop said, ‘Ranga, I think I understand. Could you please give me an example of the sort of initiatives that I could showcase to improve my performance?’

Ranga was not prepared for such a question. He seemed stumped for a while. But Ranga had not become a manager without facing real time contingencies.

He said, ‘Look, Anoop, the role of hospitality is to enable the software engineers and the folks in the delivery to perform their work without any hassle. But let me tell you a secret. That is the motto to the outside world. This is business. If the company can get those people to work their asses off without giving them ergonomic chairs and notepads and cups, then the company would be very happy. That is because; the company wants to reduce the overhead costs. And that is where we can show initiative’

Anoop was beginning to get the picture. He nodded his head vigorously to indicate that he was following Ranga’s reasoning.

Ranga was happy with himself and happy that his protégé was picking up the tricks of the trade so quickly. So he felt slightly magnanimous. So he said, ‘Anoop, tell you what, I will give you two days time to come up with some new ideas to reduce the cost to the company and I will consider that also for the appraisal. As of now, your appraisal is ‘Met Expectations’. If you can come up with some good ideas, I will increase it to ‘Exceeds Expectation’. How is that?’

Anoop couldn’t believe his luck. He was getting a chance to increase his rating and that too from Ranga. ‘Maybe I judged Ranga too quickly’ thought Anoop.

Anoop went back to his cubicle and opened up a new spreadsheet. He titled it, The Avenues of Cost-cutting. He worked on the list throughout the day. He skipped his lunch and he did not leave his desk for snacks. By evening, Anoop composed a mail to Rangarajan and attached his spreadsheet full of suggestions and immediately walked over to Ranga’s cubicle.

Anoop insisted that Ranga go through the list and give his feedback. Ranga was impressed to say the least. Ranga realized that each and every point in the list could prove to be real cost saving options for the company. Without much hesitation, he forwarded the list to the top management.

Ranga and Anoop did not have to wait for more than an hour before the reply to the mail arrived. The top management was ecstatic that such vibrant people with such exceptional ideas were present in the company. The top management also assured that the ideas will be implemented on a company-wide basis. The mail showered praise on Ranga and Anoop and assured that they would both be given ‘Outstanding’ as their appraisal rating.

The next day, a simple mailer from the Hospitality department went out to all the employees of the company. It read:

Dear All,

Greetings from the Hospitality Team!!!

As a part of reinventing the institution that is our company and ensuring a new paradigm shift in the outlook of the company towards saving energy and natural resources, we are in the process of revamping a few of the policies related to Hospitality and the use of facilities in the office.

1.       The toilets shall no longer have toilet papers. If anyone needs a roll of toilet paper a request will have to be raised and it will have to be approved by the manager

2.       If an employee raises more than five requests for toilet paper in a week, the sixth time onwards, he/she will be provided sand paper rather than toilet paper

3.       Each employee will have to swipe their id cards to get a cup of coffee and if the employee consumes more than one cup a day, detergent powder will be mixed instead of sugar in the subsequent cups  and the resulting calamity will not augur well for the employee considering the points 1 & 2 above

4.       Water coolers shall function only after swiping the id cards of employees and if the employee consumes more than two cups of water, recycled water shall be provided from the third cup onwards

5.       The number of chairs in each four member cubicle will be reduced to three. The chairs shall be available to employees on a first-come-first-serve basis. The employee coming late will have to stand and work for the day or sit on the floor as per his/her preference

6.       The notepads and pens shall no longer be made available unless the employee submits his/her previous notepad and pen to the Hospitality department and proves that the notepad/pen which the employee has taken previously is completely exhausted. (Note that pictures drawn in notepads/scribbling on notepads are not considered ethical and such employees shall no longer receive the stationary item)

7.       Employees are hereby encouraged to buy their own coffee mugs and in case employees need company issued coffee mugs, an approval letter from the manager accompanied by an undertaking from the employee will have to be submitted. In the event of the company issued coffee mug being lost or broken, half of the month’s salary from the concerned employee shall be remitted to the Hospitality department as fine.

8.       Air conditioning and fans shall no longer be available to employees. In each floor a designated kiosk will be kept air conditioned and employees can avail that facility for fifteen minutes per day. If an employee exceeds the fifteen minute deadline, employee forfeits his chance of going into the kiosk ever again

The change in policies shall underline the commitment that the company has towards conserving energy and we hope that all the employees will cooperate with us.

Cordially,
The Hospitality Department
We are here to serve
P.S. Any employee found making fun of/discussing the above policies shall be referred to the HR department for appropriate action

THE END

Epilogue:

The mail created a few ripples throughout the company. But the dissenting voices quickly died down when the Hospitality department showed that they meant business.

The land value around the company went up and many private parties set-up restrooms around the company premises within a month. Rumor has it that some of the owners of the restrooms are industrious employees of the company itself

Anoop and Rangarajan received several awards for their farsighted ideas and their commitment to conserving energy. They received ‘Outstanding’ as their appraisal rating

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Software Engineer who sold his Pulsar - Chapter 4

Santa walked into my cubicle with a grave expression on his face. The clock on my taskbar read 03:26 PM. I was wrapping up my work to make an early exit from the office. But the sight of Santa’s face made my brain work overtime. I played with different kinds of replies to Santa’s question about why I ordered the sea food platter.

“I don’t know what you are talking about” or “Oh that was not included in the buffet?!!!” or my personal favorite, “It was Rajat’s idea”


But Santa walked in and slumped into a chair near me. When I looked at him there was no hint of an accusation but only a wearied expression.


“Dude”, he began, “Do you know who ordered the five plates of seafood platter? That was not part of the buffet. I had to pay 2000 rupees extra. The manager at the floating restaurant said that someone from our group specifically asked for it, but he did not remember who it was.”


“WHAT? But why are you asking me?”


“You are the only vegetarian in the group. So I can be certain that it was not you. If you saw who it was please tell me.” Santa was genuinely angry.


I could not believe my luck. Not only was I not accused but I was getting an opportunity to pin the crime on anybody of my choice.


“It was Kunvarjeet”, I said.


Kunvarjeet was a senior guy in Santa’s team. I did not like the guy much. He used to travel in the same company bus as Rajat and me. Once Rajat had saved me a seat and Kunvarjeet sat despite my handkerchief on the seat. Finally I had to pry the hankie from beneath him and had to stand the rest of the journey. I had not asked him to get up, which I would have done, but for the fact that Kunvarjeet was 6foot 2inches tall and an assiduous body builder.


So when I saw the opportunity to tarnish his image, I took it. There was also another reason. I was sure that Santa would think twice before picking up a fight with Kunvarjeet.


Santa thought for a while and finally said with a false laugh, “Oh it was Kunvarjeet? Yeah, I remember now. I had agreed to buy something special for the group earlier. So maybe he just ordered the seafood platter. It is fine. What is the big deal, right?”


I also smiled and said, “Yeah. What is the big deal? You are going onsite, man. Enjoy that!!!”


“Oh yeah, I had to ask you something. Now that I am going onsite, I need to get rid of my pulsar bike. It is in pretty good shape. I bought it from my roomie who went onsite last month, so you never know, the bike might be a lucky bike; 53000+kms done till date. I heard that you were looking for a bike. So are you interested?”


I thought about it for a moment. Buying a bike was high on my priority list and I knew for certain that Santa used to take good care of his bike. So it would not be a bad buy.
I asked cautiously, “What price do you expect?”


“Dude, what is the big deal again? You just give me 20k and we will call it a done deal. How is that?”
Honestly, 20k for the bike was a pretty decent asking price. I had seen the bike and I knew that it was worth the money. But as all Indians, I was never satisfied by the first quoted price. I had to bargain.


“Santa, the bike has run 54k kms. So how about 18k, huh?” I remembered to stress on 54k kms.


“Ok dude. You drive a hard bargain. But I need the money by tomorrow. I will come to your house tomorrow. The bike is still registered in my roomie’s name. So there is no paper work to do. One year insurance is there. So you have basically nothing to do but to take the bike from me. Saturday is a good day for money transactions as well.”


“Ok”


Santa and I chatted for a little longer and later parted with assurances from both sides about meeting tomorrow and sealing the deal.


The day had brought me a mixture of fortunes. But I was feeling quite happy about buying the bike.
I told Rajat about the deal on our way home and Rajat was also of the opinion that the bike might be a lucky one.


The weekend passed without much incident. Santa had come over to my house and I paid him 18k and became a proud owner of a black pulsar.


So on Monday, Rajat and I went to office on MY Pulsar. As we walked in to our development bay, we saw Santa walking towards us with a wide grin. Sometimes I used to wonder whether he was born with that grin on his face.


“Hello fellows. Tomorrow I will leave to my home town. I will be back only after a week. Meanwhile I need to talk about the visa and all with Bharath. So today is going to be hectic. On top of it all we have a team meeting at 10.”


It was customary in our team to hold team meetings whenever someone left the team or the company or went onsite. I immediately knew what the meeting was all about and the reason for the grin on Santa’s face. 


Everyone would be praising him and he would be the star of the show.


The week was off to a bad start. But I was not giving into despair yet. Over the weekend I had worked on my ten point plan for improving the TL’s efficiency.


At 9:50am there was a rush of people to reach the conference room. Our team meeting usually included both the development and support team and consequently the conference room was always crowded. It was a struggle for seats because Bharath loved hearing himself speak and would go on talking for hours and those who arrived late had to remain standing the whole time.


I ran towards the conference room and dove easily under the arms of Kunvarjeet who was heading towards the last available seat and placed myself on the chair and smirked at Kunvarjeet. He glared at me and for a moment I was afraid for my life. But then Santa walked in grinning. All heads turned towards him. All the whispers and talks died down. Santa took in the attention and stood erect by the door with the grin intact. He did not look at anyone, but stared straight ahead and remained so until Bharath walked in.


Bharath walked in pushing a chair for himself and sat down as soon as he came in. I slowly placed the sheet on which I had written my ten point plan in front of me on the desk and waited for Bharath to start the proceedings.


“Friends”, Bharath started speaking in his dreary, monotonous voice, “We all know that one amongst us is going to the client location very soon.”


All heads once again turned towards Santa. He stood as though he was oblivious of all the attention and remained with his eyes fixed on Bharath. There was one improvement though. His grin had made way for a gentle smirk.


“So let us all join in wishing all the very best to Santhanam Balaji while he makes his way to Hyderabad. Santhanam, you are an essential part of our team and we are sad to see you leave. But the separation is only physical. For everyone’s information, Santhanam is going to the new branch that our client has set up in Hyderabad. The branch is a joint venture by our client and another new generation bank. We are lucky to have that project too and I wanted the best person to represent us there. And you all will agree when I say that Santhanam is the best that we have to offer…”


Thud!!!


Bharath stopped his monologue upon hearing something crashing down. I caught only a glimpse of the figure of Santa prone on the floor before he was carried out of the conference room. I quickly grabbed my ten point plan and tore it up before rushing to Santa’s side. Everyone cornered Bharath asking him why he told Santa about an onsite opportunity when he was actually sending Santa to Hyderabad.


Bharath was all apologetic. He explained that onsite means being at the client’s office and does not essentially mean going abroad. He also said that he was unaware of Santa misunderstanding him and that it was a clear case of communication breakdown. People gave him nasty glares but nobody dared to say anything untoward to Bharath, especially after watching Santa lying unconscious.


After sprinkling water on Santa’s face and roughly shaking him for a while, he finally came around. He sat up, looked at all of us and did not speak anything. Bharath said sorry and explained that there had been a misunderstanding. Santa took it all in and then slowly walked out of the development bay without saying a word.


Epilogue:


Santa did go to Hyderabad and later on to Australia. But I heard that it did not last long because the client-side folks were also annoyed by Santa correcting their grammar.


I used the Pulsar for a long time and other than serving me well, it did not bring me any special luck.


Bharath was feared from that day on and even I began to watch my step around him from that day.


But Santa did find a way for revenge and got Bharath in a fix. But more on that at a later date.


It is me, the model Professional signing off…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Software Engineer who sold his Pulsar - Chapter 3

I walked up to Rajat’s cubicle and announced, “I am going to work my way into an onsite opportunity. I have a plan”


Rajat gave me an incredulous look and said, “I don’t know why but I always have a bad feeling about your plans.”

“Rajat, some plans work and some plans don’t. That is the nature of plans”

“But in your case, none of the plans work and all plans fail”

“Ok. If you are taking that attitude, I am not telling you my master plan” I was annoyed but had to admit the hard truth in Rajat’s statements.

“Ok ok. Tell me please” Rajat made a show of regretting his doubt.

“Ok. We know the reasons why Santa is going onsite. One, he annoyed Bharath. Two, he threatened to bring in changes in the working of the team that would not have been good for Bharath. Am I not right?” I paused to ensure that Rajat was following my train of thought.

“Yes. Or at least that is what we think.” Rajat was always cautiously pessimistic.

“Dude, there can be no other reason. There are many more deserving candidates in the development team. But Bharath chose Santa in particular because he posed a serious threat to the serene Saturdays of Bharath.”

“Yeah, Ok, I guess it is so” Rajat seemed to be finally coming around.

“Ok. So what should I do to go onsite?” I asked.

“What should you do?” Rajat repeated.

“I should emulate Santa. I will tread the exact same path of Santa. That will force Bharath to find an onsite opportunity for me as well, pretty soon”

“I don’t understand.” Rajat seemed thick-headed at times. Rajat was very intelligent in straight forward matters. But he seemed to lack the worldly knowledge and the smartness that I possessed. That was one of the reasons why I had taken Rajat under my wings; to impart my wisdom to him.

“My dear friend, allow me to break it down for you. The first part is annoying Bharath. I have a head start in that area. Once Santa is gone, I move to the first place in the list of most despicable people for Bharath. The second part is a bit trickier. I have to threaten Bharath’s peaceful existence in the team. So you get my idea? I mix these two catalysts and voila, you will find me on the next flight to Australia”, I was eloquent and for a moment thought that politics would have been a better career choice for me. I needn’t have wasted time in college or even the latter part of schooling could have been skipped.

Rajat looked at me with wide-eyed disbelief. After a while he seemed to find his bearings and he asked, “How are you going to threaten Bharath’s peace?”

“Good question. I am going to come up with a ten point plan for increasing the TL’s efficiency in particular. And I am going to suggest the TL working from home even on Sundays. I just have to make Bharath believe that I will present the plans to our PM. Bharath will have me on the next flight” I announced.

“Seriously? You are going to do that?”

I could tell from Rajat’s expression that he thought this to be one of the worst ideas he had ever heard. But then, Rajat was a child when it came to making plans and I could not care less for his judgment.

“Rajat, dude, you just wait and watch. It is going to be legendary.” I said imitating Barney Stinson from the sitcom ‘How I met your Mother’.

Rajat shook his head and remained silent. I was irritated by the obvious lack of enthusiasm from Rajat and was about to embark upon another speech to convince him when I heard Santa’s voice behind me.

“Hey guys, I am taking my project mates out on a treat to the floating restaurant. I am going to be awfully busy going forward. So I thought I would give treat today itself. So you people join us now for lunch. Ok?”

I did not respond. There was an uneasy silence, but Rajat quickly said, “Yes Santa. We will be there.”

Santa said that he had to invite a few other people for the treat and so he left immediately. After making sure that Santa was out of earshot, I turned to Rajat and asked, “What are you up to? Why are we going for the treat? Don’t you have any self respect?”

“Dude, the way I see it, Santa is going onsite anyhow. So let us eat… You know… EAT”

Rajat laid stress on the word eat and immediately I caught the drift. Once in a while Rajat would surprise me with such insightful observations. I felt that there was hope for him yet.

So we trudged our way to the floating restaurant. The name floating restaurant was a fancy one but contrary to the expectation that the name evoked, the restaurant did not actually float on water. The restaurant had a pool encircling it and it had been a great disappointment for me when I first went there as I had expected so much more judging it by the name. But since then I had come to like that place as it offered palatable food even though at high rates. Good food was hard to come by in our company campus despite many different caterers operating in the food courts. At times the situation was so bad that it felt like the vendors had a competition amongst themselves to find out who could cook the worst food.

Rajat and I turned towards the path leading to the floating restaurant. The path was closed for cleaning. We saw four people cleaning a square tile from four directions. Sometimes our company overdid themselves when it came to cleanliness and housekeeping. I pointed this out to Rajat while we turned to take a longer route to reach the restaurant.

I said, “Rajat, see that? Four people cleaning a single tile in the path. Another person wiping individual leaves of the plants on either side. Sometimes I wonder whether all this is necessary”

“That is what our company is all about. Processes… Using four people ensures superior quality of cleaning. Plants are cleaned and maintained… Happy plants… Happy clients”, said Rajat.

I looked at Rajat trying to discern whether he was cracking a joke. But there was no hint of humor there. It seemed like he believed what he said. I did not push the matter as we had reached the restaurant by then and was greeted by a grinning Santa.

“Hey guys, come on in come on in… I am paying for buffet for all of us. So let us all enjoy today.”

Rajat and I managed to smile and walked in. I walked straight over to the manager at the billing counter and asked, “Is there any dish which is not part of the lunch buffet?”

“Yes sir. The chef’s special sea food platter is not a part of the buffet. It is made only as a special order.”

“Great. What is its cost?”

“Each plate costs Rs.400”

“Splendid. We are going to need five plates of those for our group. You should ask your chef to start weaving his magic soon.”

The manager left to instruct his chef.

Rajat was standing by my side and was confused. He asked, “But you are a vegetarian. And do you think Santa will pay for those?”

I said with a shrug, “Let the people enjoy today. And by the time the bill comes and Santa figures that the platter is not part of buffet, we will be long gone. I am sure the manager is not going to remember who made the order. Even if he does, I am going to feign ignorance”

Rajat smiled appreciatively, “Good thinking man”

The party went on without much event. Santa was at his overbearing best. He told everyone that he would bring back whatever his friends needed from Australia. He cracked a few humorless jokes and the group laughed… the suck ups.

After the lunch, Rajat and I quickly made our way out of the restaurant and went back to our cubicles.

We chatted for a while in Rajat’s cubicle and later on I returned to my place and to my pile of tickets. At around four in the afternoon I once again saw Santa’s head hovering in front of my cubicle. He had a serious expression on his face.

“That manger must be taking some memory enhancing medication. Shit.” I swore under my breath and sat with an innocent expression adorning my face.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Software Engineer who sold his Pulsar - Chapter 2

We were nearing the end of the year of 2008 and so most of the client-side folks were away on holidays. That ensured a lower than normal number of support tickets for us. But that did not stop Bharath, our TL, from assigning the maximum number of tickets against my name; such was the love and affection that we had for each other. It was no different on that day either.

I started closing the tickets one by one and I was busy writing comments in one of them, when Rajat rushed to my side panting like a dog.

“Did you hear? Did you hear?” he gasped for breath and looked like he was about to have a heart attack.

“Dude, calm down, whatever the problem is, I am sure we can face it. We are dudes, dude. We eat adversity for breakfast. So quit your panting and tell me what the problem is.” I smiled and felt smug about my pep talk.

Rajat gulped and he was a bit annoyed, “Oh ok. Then eat this… Bharath has offered Santa an immediate onsite assignment”

“WHAT?”

Rajat’s words hung in the air. For the next 2 minutes the cubicle was like a cemetery. Nothing moved and the air seemed to have forgotten to flow.

Rajat slumped down into the chair next to me and we remained staring at the tiled floor for a while.

Finally I spoke and my voice had lost all its self-assured confidence, “When did you hear? Who told you? How is this possible? I mean… How? What the …?”

“My friend, Sushant, in the development team pinged me with the news. Apparently the assignment is for one year. Even people in the development team cannot believe it” said Rajat.

“How can Bharath do this? I mean… Wait a minute… There can be only one explanation for this. Bharath is trying to send Santa away… He must be absolutely fed up with Santa. Yes… That should be it.” I spoke as though I had made an important discovery.

Rajat said thoughtfully, “Yeah. That could be it. But onsite? Bharath is doing Santa a favor. If he is pissed at Santa, why send him onsite? There are numerous other ways to take it out on Santa.”

“Dude, Santa is not in support team. So Bharath cannot dump more and more tickets on Santa. Even if Bharath sets strict deadlines, Santa finishes them off. He might be a loudmouth, but Santa is pretty good at his work.”

Rajat didn’t look convinced.

So I continued, “And I am certain that if Santa stays here any longer, he will put forward his ten point plan for improving team efficiency to our PM and then the consequences will be terrible.”

“Hmm. True. Bharath wouldn’t fancy working on Saturdays, I am sure”, said Rajat.

The cubicle again fell silent. Rajat and I remained lost in thoughts for over five minutes when Santa walked into our cubicle.

“Guys, I hope you heard the good news.”

I gritted my teeth and flashed a smile which did not reach my eyes. If Santa had looked a bit closely, he would have seen murder in my eyes.

“Yeah, we heard the news Santa. Congrats. So when is it all happening?” Rajat spoke up trying to appear cheerful.

“Don’t know guys. Bharath just said that I might have to travel within a month. I don’t know how I am going to get my visa and set everything in order. It is all a bit sudden. But, hey, I am not complaining” Santa let out a high pitched laughter as though he had cracked a joke.

Rajat and I looked at each other and Rajat reluctantly joined the laughter. I did not bother to make an effort.

“I am glad to see that all my good work is being rewarded. Recognition has been slow in coming, but I am just thankful that it is finally happening.” Santa seemed pretty happy and content with himself.

He then turned to me and said, “I know that we both joined the project at the same time. Hey, don’t lose hope yet. You will also get onsite opportunities. May be I will put in a good word for you with Bharath and the onsite PM. How is that?”

I clenched my fist and would have been happy to see my fist pass through Santa’s stomach and come out the other side.

But not all dreams can be acted upon. So I managed to say, “Thanks man”

“You are welcome buddy.” Saying so, Santa patted my back and turned to leave. I quickly put my finger in my nose and with that hand patted Santa’s back. Rajat who saw it, snickered.

It was a juvenile thing to do. But I could not help myself.

Santa turned and flashed his big grin at us once more and walked away.

“Argh” was all that I could manage once he was gone.

Rajat shook his head with a grave look on his face and walked back to his cubicle.

I once again sat down in front of my computer. A ticket from an employee of our client stared back at me from my monitor. I resisted my urge to write the resolution comment as ‘You are a dumb troll if you cannot find this out yourself’ and set myself with renewed gusto to the tasks at hand. It helped to take my mind off the troubling thoughts about Santa for a while.


After about thirty minutes, I got up and walked towards Rajat’s cubicle. I was a man with a plan.

The Software Engineer who sold his Pulsar - Chapter 1

“Good morning” A heavy voice said as though the owner of the voice was greeting the whole wide world.

I heard the voice and immediately resisted the temptation to look over my shoulder.

I would have recognized the voice even if I heard it amongst a cacophony of other noises. It is funny how people always recognize voices that they try really hard to ignore.

“Hey, you busy?”
There was no letting off.

I locked my computer and slowly revolved my chair. My face bore an expression akin to that of a school kid on a Monday morning.

Santhanam Balaji stood there with a wide smile adorning his face.

“Hello, you are busy? Did you have breakfast? Care to join me?”

I had often wondered how he managed to talk while keeping his grin intact. To an uninitiated mind the grin and the innocent face could have been indicative of a very charming and lively face. But from experience, I had come to realize that behind that smile and innocent face, lay a trap.

“I am not that hungry now. I will go over sometime later.” I said.

“Come on, you shouldn’t miss your breakfast”

“I will not miss it. I said I will have it later.”

“No no. You come along now. Give me company” Santhanam reached out and yanked me out of my chair. I was no match for Santhanam. I rued my decision to choose dramatics instead of karate in school. Back in school it had seemed like a solid choice because almost all girls used to sign up for dramatics. But now, I really wished I could wriggle my arm out of Santhanam’s grasp and land a blow on his chin accompanied by a guttural ‘yeeehaw’.

“Santhanam, I am not hungry now. Please let me work” I said unconvincingly.

In fact I was feeling a bit hungry and I was definitely not working. But I did not want to go with Santhanam.
“Hey hey, call me Santa. I am Santa. Dude that is my style…”

He had told me the same thing when we were introduced the very first time. But I had made it a point to call him his full name whenever I got the chance.

“Ok. If I call you Santa, will you let me go?” I asked almost hopefully.

Santhanam chuckled and said, “No. I won’t. You don’t take care of your health nowadays. Come, we will have a good breakfast today.”

So I went along, tailing Santa like a reluctant bride. While we were walking past the cubicles towards the door of our development bay, I saw my roommate, Rajat walking towards us. Rajat also worked for the same client as us and sat opposite to my cubicle. Rajat saw Santa and me walking towards him and froze in his tracks.

I looked at Rajat pleadingly and tried to make my face look like a cute puppy. Rajat realized my plight, but instead of rescuing me, that Judas took out his phone and pretended to make a call and started walking in the opposite direction.

“Santa, do you see Rajat there? May be he hasn’t had his breakfast. Let us ask him.” If I was going down I was taking Rajat along with me.

“Good idea” Santa started calling out Rajat’s name.
Rajat increased his pace and went farther away.
I was all for following him but Santa didn’t care that much. Santa already had a prey.

I resigned myself to my fate. After all Santhanam was not that bad. The problem was he had an opinion about everything in the world and it was impossible to shut him up. A conversation with Santa would go with him talking… “Blah blah blah…”

One might try to interject and say something in between, but he would not let it go beyond two syllables.
Santa and I reached the food court and stared at the board on which the names of the varieties of food items were written.

Santa suddenly began, “Do you know how white boards came into existence?”

“I …”

“It was made to take down messages and was kept near telephones in olden days”

“Oh!”

“I find the use of whiteboard for display rather weird. What do you think?”

Honestly, I was thinking of ways to shut him up. So I didn’t bother to answer; not that it mattered to Santa.
He went on, “Do you know that staring at a white background can cause vision impairment? Also the markers used can cause some people to become addicted to smelling it”

Then he went on to describe the various substances to which people can get addicted. He kept it up all throughout while we were having breakfast. I realized that even food did not dilute the enthusiasm of Santa. 
He talked even while chewing food and I wished I had a face mask for protection from the rain of crumbs showering all around me. A mask for my plate of food would also have been nice. I decided to put that in my wish list for my birthday. Suffice to say that I did not eat my breakfast and poured out my bowl of cornflakes, with crumbs of idly floating in it, into the waste bin.

We returned to our cubicles. During our walk back to our building, Santa had moved to the topic of paint thinners and how harmful they were to human lives.

Finally we arrived at Santa’s cubicle and he reluctantly let me go. Santa was working in a development project for a large Australian bank which was our company's client. Rajat and I were working for the same client but in a support project. So our cubicles were at two separate corners of the development bay. We had a common Team Lead, Bharath and I knew for certain that if Bharath was fed-up with anyone other than me, it was Santa.

I had seen Santa lecturing Bharath on the inefficiency of the team structure every now and then and once Santa had pasted a printout of Santa’s ten point plan to improve team efficiency, in Bharath’s cubicle. The first point in the list mentioned the Team Lead working on Saturdays.

So I was assured of only a second spot in Bharath’s list of despicable people and I knew for certain that I was a distant second.

As I neared my cube, I saw Rajat looking at me and smiling. I mouthed a profanity at him accompanied by a rude hand gesture. That only increased his merriment.

I slumped down into my chair and unlocked my computer. The day was off to a very bad start.