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.”


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.

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 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