Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Day of the Call

I was about to take a call from my boss’s cabin, owing to my workstation phone being out of order yet again. The official work-lingo for a little 2 by 2 feet space that I was allocated was religiously referred to as the Workstation. It consisted of a table on which my PC and printer jostled for space along with my ancient phone instrument.
My phone was surely one of the items the Indian chapter of Greenpeace had protested against sometime in the past. It was hopelessly outdated technology. I was convinced that it was one of the items that had been illegally dumped into the Indian ocean by one of the “developed” countries. I was sure that LL had found it washed ashore one day during his morning walk.
I couldn’t stretch my legs out fully under the table as there were mysterious cardboard boxes there. The first time my curiosity overcame caution, I tried opening the top flap, only to set free certain baby cockroaches from their cozy home. That experience brought home the meaning of the phrase “erring on the side of caution” which I decided to follow.
I hate jargon and aphorisms pretty much equally. But I do get the point now. Of course, being a “Marketing Person” meant I could talk pretty much all the time in a mix of aphorisms and jargon. It wasn’t for nothing that I did my MBA!
I still haven’t decided on the right definition of MBA. It officially stands for Masters in Business Administration. Alternate definitions are:-
  • Mostly Boring & Avoidable
  • Minimise your Brains in Administration
  • Masters in Bullshitting Also
Pardon the use of bullet points. Am so conditioned to using them. A habit I can’t break.
Anyway, walking into my boss’s cabin, unoccupied by him, I noticed two guests, seated opposite his desk. I guessed they were either Prospects* or Clients*.
*For Definitions, refer to the GLOSSARY OF TERMS/ OFFICE JARGON Section
Prospects as per LL were to be treated with kid gloves as they represented people who could sign up for our services. It was easier for me to recognise prospects whenever LL was around as you could see the dollar signs in his eyes.
These guys however looked different from our usual set of Clients as they were well-dressed, well-read, looked like they had an IQ of over 130 and knew English.
I noticed his phone instrument’s receiver was missing and took the call on speakerphone. Big Mistake. The conversation went something like this. Have put down all I could remember, may have blocked some memories due to trauma.
Mom: Why aren’t you picking up your cell phone?
Me: Umm..its in my bag. Didn’t hear it
Mom: So what were you doing?
Me: Working. Is it anything urgent?
Mom: What time are you coming home today?
Me: Don’t know yet.
Mom: Why don’t you know? What sort of office do you work in. Make sure you reach by 7.30, the Khanna’s are coming for dinner.
Me: Why?
Mom: What do you mean why?
Me: As in, why are they coming over for dinner?
Mom: What type of a question is this??
Me: And why do I have to come home on time?
Mom: Because they are coming to meet you.
Me: Why?
Mom: What do you mean why!
Me: But they are your friends, why ‘coming to meet me’?
Mom: They have a son - have you forgotten?
Me: Don’t they have two?
Mom: Two what?
Me: Sons!
Mom: Yes, so what?
Me: Nevermind, whatever, will try to get home. Okay bye.
Mom: You’re not hanging up on me today! You never speak to me at home! You purposely didn’t pick up your cellphone. Don’t think I don’t know. Now today, you will have to listen to me..
Me: (Interrupting the flow and slightly red in the face): Err.. there are prospects here right now..
Mom: That is what I’m talking about. Prospects. They are interested in you for their son.
Me: He needs a marketing consultant..?
Mom: Don’t get funny with me. You are already too old. Everyone is asking about your marriage plans. Mrs. Shrikhande, Mrs. Holekar, Mrs. Gokhale, Mrs. Joshi, Mrs. Kulkarni and Mrs. Sapre-some of them, probably for their own sons.
Me (in an attempt to distract): Hmm.. interesting. How come all these moms didn’t have any daughters? This is an interesting trend which needs investigating, about bias and gender discrimination amongst those of their generation. This is clearly a case of women discriminating against women unless their husbands were involved in the conspiracy.
Mom: All are not as highly educated as us. We belong to the highest caste of Brahmins. (Let me explain. I have a sister and a brother, which made my parents Equal Opportunity parents, I guess.)
Me: Okay great. I have to get back to work now.
Mom: Nahin. I have not finished! And I know you are not working. Isn’t it supposed to be lunch time? For two minutes can’t you talk with your own mother? Is this the respect I get after years and years of bringing you up? You have gone out of control. You must pay more attention to your brother. He is getting wayward. He needs your guidance and attention.
Mom tended to wander in terms of topics. By the way, she’s done her Bachelor of Education in English Literature and Masters in Psychology. A troublesome combination.
The said brother was one who from childhood had modelled himself on a combination of Dennis the Menace and Damien (of Omen fame). He was four years younger.
By this time, the clients or whoever they were had perked up. Previously looking bored, one had been idly looking out the window and the other was presumably surfing the net on his cell phone. But now, they had given up all pretence and were openly listening.
I don’t blame them.
I appreciated the fact that they were well-bred enough to keep a straight face. And also that if I glanced over at them directly, one casually glanced at his shoes and the other studied the table top. Which reflected good manners.
Me: He doesn’t listen to me
Mom: So what? As a sister you have a duty to mentor him.
Me: Can we discuss this when I get home?
Mom: When you get home?! When do you get home? You have been coming home at 10 o clock!! Why don’t you just admit it. Which movie did you go for? With whom did you go out for dinner?
Me: I was at work!
Mom: What sort of office do you work in? Tell your boss you have to leave.
Me: Everyone in Bombay works late.
Mom: Mrs. Phule from Pune called up today
Maybe abrupt topic change is a psychological ploy.
Me: Can we catch up on life, the universe & everything when I get home?
Mom: No, enough is enough. Get home before the Khanna’s reach and wear a salwar-kurta.
Me: Why?
Mom: What impression will they get about you?
Me: But they’ve known us since we were kids, how does my attire matter?
Mom: Because they are interested in you for Chetak.
Me: I don’t think of him that way
Mom (ever the practical): So start thinking
Me: We have nothing in common.
Mom: How do you know?
Me: That’s my point. He never talks, he’s weird.
Now what I really meant was that this dude was the type who didn’t meet my eye. My problem with that was that I didn’t like where his eye usually was… about 6 inches southwards of my chin.
Mom (in a tone of voice implying irrefutable logic): He’s A Marine Engineer.
Now, this is what I thought of Marine Engineers, at least of the variety I’d met so far. Please don’t get me wrong. Am not implying all are like that. Maybe I’d just met the wrong type. Marine engineers are an interesting subject for a thesis. What happens to marine engineers? They lead cloistered lives. It’s my theory that marine engineers are mostly gay (as in of the homosexual variety) out of habit. Some commit suicide and others after spending so much time on a ship, usually get depraved and/ or very sex-starved. Many, I’d heard on good authority, had wives in every port. Interestingly, in India, Marine Engineers are considered good husbands as they are paid extremely well. I guess that’s to compensate for the fact that they work in adverse conditions.
I feel for them, truly. Just not the ones I’ve met so far.
I was about to express my opinion about Marine Engineers aloud, but Murphy’s Law and its ramifications in my life made me keep mum on the subject.
For those not familiar with this adage, Murphy’s Law broadly states that ‘Whatever can go wrong, will.’ I completely believe in it, because this tenet proved to have startling accuracy in the future course of events. Will elaborate on this with suitable examples later. To cut a long story short, the people in the cabin could have been marine engineers for all I knew.
Me: Am quoting Shania Twain here, ‘That don’t impress me much’.
Mom: Charu is also engaged.
Me: So?
Mom: Now you are the only one left.
Me: So?
Mom: Bakwaas band karo. (Stop talking nonsense). He’s a smart boy.
I was speechless. Only for a second however.
Me: On what basis do you claim that. Define smart.
Mom: His parents are nice.
Me: Okkayyy… I don’t dispute that. What sort of a life will I have with a Marine Engineer? He spends 8 to 9 months on a ship. Didn’t you read the last article in Femina about Marine Widows?
Mom: What about them?
Me: The fact that they are widowed!
Mom: What rubbish. It’s a good life. You are supposed to leave your job and stay on the ship with him.
Me (with irrefutable logic): If I wanted to spend 8 months on a ship, I would’ve done Marine Engineering.
Mom: You’ve become too spoilt. I’ve let you get out of hand. When was the last time you visited any temple? When was the last time you cooked dinner?
Me: You’ve been watching too many Balaji teleserials. Sure. If you like, I’ll come home, wear a sari with full make-up and way too much jewellery, will visit a temple everyday and diligently cook at least three meals a day. I’ll ofcourse, have to quit my job, and sit idle, and plot against various family members.
For those not familiar with the top ranking Indian TV soap operas, this is pretty much what happens. Spread over an excruciating 200 episodes at a minimum level.
Mom: Mrs. Trivedi came over today
Me (getting desperate by now): Mom, we have an audience.
Mom: She was telling me about her son. I think she wants you to marry him. She told Mrs. Gargi who told Mrs. Shrikhande. I heard it from Mrs. Joshi when I met her downstairs.
Me (I found this easy to follow as I was used to conversing with my mom): Do you mean Dheeraj?
Mom: No, Kapil
Me: What?! I have no idea who he is! Mom, I have unfortunately had to take this call on speakerphone in my boss’s cabin, so let me put the phone down, and call you back from elsewhere.
Mom: No, today I will not hear excuses. You are making up stories.
Me: Mom, believe me, there are unwitting hostages to this conversation!
At this moment, the senior Managing Director-type got up and walked out of the cabin. Apparently he had headed towards the washroom. We had a network of office boys who usually kept track of client movements - that’s how I know. This is easy as the office is small enough for everyone to know where everyone else is.
Me: Mummy, half of the audience has walked out, and the other half is probably contemplating jumping out of the nearest window.
I saw the remaining Client smile. Quite nicely.
I also heard laughter. It struck me that our home phone had a recently installed extension.


Beta said...

I loved this one. Despite endless exposure to Scott Adams and other work-place humorists, I still found your article original and funny. Keep them coming.

Annoymously said...

Okay, that was my first feedback ever! Have a big smile on my face right now. Glad you liked it. Means a lot coz you're a perfect stranger and not someone trying to be nice.

Will try do so. Had written all this offline and was saving it all for a book, but thought I'd "get real" and just post it online. Had started last week with and haven't figured out yet how to RSS into this one from there. You must get onto too. It's got some great features & is more user-friendly.