There was once a time, a decade ago or so, when a job in the software industry was the Holy Grail for most Indian engineers. Every engineering college in the country, with very few exceptions, solicited the presence of software companies to kick start their placement season, back then. Parents wanted their children to land a software job or marry a person who was a software engineer. The hysteria and the awe associated with a job in a software company were such that it seemed too good to last.
Now in 2011, the charm of software jobs have declined and it took a recession to bring everyone back to earth. Pragmatic people are aware of what a software job is; a way to step a rung of the ladder up from the middle class hoping that one day our kids will achieve the transition from middle to high class. We sport all kinds of branded accessories trying to show that we belong with the elite while secretly dreading that one day the company might show us the door and that, that day could be as near as the next. But I have observed that such pragmatism and a mildly sinister outlook to the profession usually sets in only after a few years in the industry. This is so because, most companies have a knack of impressing the fresh graduates with the smell of quick cash and making them feel important. It takes a while for reality to set in and by that time it is too late to do anything about it. The first one to three years in a company are the most dangerous. The new-found financial independence and also in most cases, life away from parents and relatives, tend to give people a false sense of immunity and an intoxicating confidence to take on the entire world.
It is also during this time that many love affairs spring to life. The professionals, young boys and girls, having made a transition into ladies and gentlemen, have to work in close quarters which when coupled with their sense of freedom and confidence can produce interesting scenarios. I was witness to such a very interesting development during my tenure in a software company.
I met Rajat when he joined my project team in May, 2008 as a software engineer. He was picked from a very prestigious engineering college campus of Tamilnadu by our company. My first impression of him was that he had his nose so very high up in the air that it must be impossible for him to smell even his own moustache if it caught fire. But over the next few weeks, I came to interact with him and then I realised that the air of superiority was indeed the result of an inherent diffidence that prevented him from approaching people and engaging them in a conversation.
Since Rajat was new to Bangalore, he did not have many friends around and so I travelled with him during some weekends to the nearby places and we enjoyed each other’s company. It was not long before we became good friends and that was a welcome change for me too because until then I had only colleagues and no friends in my project.
Rajat was dark complexioned and had a disarming innocence that put anybody who talked to him at ease. But it was quite another thing that he did not know how to put that charm of his, to any use. Most people had a similar impression of him, like the one I had when I first laid eyes on him.
I told him about this one day. I said, “Rajat, look buddy, you do understand that you come across as a snob...err... initially, don’t you? You have to smile at people and open up to people more readily. You can have many more friends if you only talk to other people.”
It was lunch time and he was about to put a spoonful of rice in his mouth. He froze midway and gave me an incredulous look. “Why would I need more friends?” There was a hint of genuine bewilderment in his voice.
I was lost for words for a moment. I quickly put a spoonful of rice and pretended to savour it before answering him. “Rajat, we are all social animals. We need our friends and family around us to support us. And having more friends cannot hurt you... You scratch someone’s back today and they might scratch yours some other time.”
“Scratch some one? What are you talking about?”
“It is an expression... Never mind. What I am saying is that you should socialise more. Get to know people who seem interesting to you. Talk to them and try to befriend them.” I was not about to let up on him yet.
Rajat was thoughtful for a while. He had stopped eating, which was very unusual. Usually, he ate his food with a gusto that would have put starving hyenas to shame.
I smiled benignly. I knew I was getting through to him. I felt good about myself. Here I was, helping a friend to overcome his diffidence and being a true friend. “I should remember to pat myself on the back later”, I thought.
Rajat continued to be silent throughout the lunch. When we were washing our hands, I was genuinely concerned. I asked him, “What are you thinking about? You have been silent for a long time.”
“I was thinking about what you said. It is true I should get to know people whom I find interesting. I shouldn’t be shy.” his face was grave when he replied.
“Yes. Exactly. Come on let us go buy some juice and put our laundry bags in front of Laundromat. Now itself the queue would have reached the main gate.” I said.
Rajat was still thoughtful. We went to Laundromat and placed our bags in the queue and waited for a while to smirk at the people who were placing their bags behind ours. Even that didn’t seem to cheer Rajat up.
I didn’t push the issue any further. I knew that he would come around eventually and empty his heart out to me, not by any virtue of mine, but I was the only friend he had in Bangalore. I returned to my cubicle to attend to a client issue that was assigned to me some two months back, which I had efficiently procrastinated until then. Rajat, who sat in the opposite cubicle, was not his usual self. Normally, he would have dived headlong into his work and wouldn’t take a peek away from his monitor until his work was completed. But not that day. I caught him staring at the ceiling and also gnawing his finger nails once in a while. “Hmm, finally the boy is growing up.”, I thought.
In the evening, we sat in the company shuttle to go home. Rajat had moved in with me couple of weeks back when my ex-roomie went onsite. I didn’t like my ex-roommate, and his going onsite did not endear him to me in any way. But on the bright side, I now had Rajat as my roomie.
I finally decided to take the high road. I asked him, “What is troubling you, my friend, and my partner in crime?”
“Oh come on, dude. You have to learn these overdramatic statements of mine.” I sounded exasperated. Then I added in a mellow tone,”Anyways, I was merely asking you what is troubling you.”
Rajat looked at me and said,”I was thinking about what you said at lunch time... About how I should get to know people whom I find interesting.”
“Yes. It is true. I have been known to speak the truth from time to time.” I once again felt good about myself at being able to help a friend.
“There is someone I find very interesting and whom I would like to get to know. And I started thinking seriously about it, after the speech that you gave me in the afternoon.” Rajat was choosing his words carefully and was speaking in a panting tone. It was not easy for him to tell me.
I instantly realised where this was going. But since it was Rajat, I had to be sure.
“Who is it?” I asked. I couldn’t hide my amusement. Until then I hadn’t figured Rajat to be capable of finding anybody interesting.
Rajat opened his mouth and no sound came out. He opened and closed his mouth a few more times like a fish out of water and then said in a whisper, “Meera”
“WHAT?” It was my turn to gasp for air.