Getting laid off… Ah! The other way ;)
Quiet uncharacteristically I woke up early today. The hands of the clock were pointing in the North-South direction, but I seem to be wide awake. More unlike me, I had no intentions of lazying around and I jumped out of my bed, ala a cadet in front of his drill master. Rushing through the daily routine, I slumped myself at the French window.
‘Aaaaahhhhhhh!’, I heard myself sigh.
I had been in the apartment for over 3 years, but never had I seen the sun rise over the horizon. I may be considered a fortunate soul by the fellow city dwellers to have such an beautiful view outside the window, but I never attempted to seek advantage of the vantage point I had rented for a premium. Suddenly it dwelled upon me that it might not for the proximity to my office that I was charged a premium and the actual reason was unfolding infront of me. The twilight was fighting a losing battle as the first rays of light were making way through the winter fog.
I could see a flock of birds fly across the horizon.
“Early morning flight!” I laughed to myself. May be I had unravelled the etymology of the phrase that many of my on-site bound colleagues had been flashing time and again.
“Tring! Tring!” I heard a cycle-wallah approaching the front gate. When had I last heard that sound? I questioned myself. It definitely sounded music to my ears and reminded me of my cycling escapade during younger days. That sound would soon be lost in the honking of cars that would start emerging on the streets as the day progresses.
“Oye! Yadavji…. Good morning!” Our watchman greeted the milkman on the cycle, as he emerged from his security-cabin cum apartment with an empty pale in his hand.
“Good...Good... Thapaji” the milkman greeted him back as he brought his cycle to an halt in-front of him. Alighting from his cycle they exchanged pranaams. I could hear some murmurs making me wonder that was a gossiping session. A few puffs of bidi ensued. Their tet-e-tete concluded with the milkman pouring a some milk into his pale as he moved on to supply milk to the rest of the society members.
Just as the watchman had moved back into his kiosk, the newspaper-wallah popped at the gate on his moped. The squirling entry he made followed by the screeching halt of his excessively overloaded two-wheeler, he could easily give the Abrahams and Dhonis of the world a run for their money.
“Abe Thape! Mar gaya kya?” he shouted …
“ Aaya! Aaya!” came back the reply from the watchman.
“Jaldi !” he screamed back.
The loads of bundled newspaper stacked all around him as in some kinda of body armour to protect him. Barely managing to keep his eyes above the stack and easing the moped to an halt with his leg, I could sense why was he in such an hurry.
As the watchman came running back, he was subject to a couple of choosiest swear words from the newspaper-wallah. But he didn’t mean any of those as they soon lit up. The newspaperwallah informed our watchman about what’s happening around? His loud voice ensured that I too stand informed about the happenings of the day..rather the previous day. But his reporting was mostly restricted not to the main headlines but rather to thing like crime and accidents in the nearby areas and the whats hot and whats naught of the Page 3 world.
The drubbing of the Indian cricket team at the hands of Kenya the previous day thankfully didn’t feature in his news-brief. In India, everyone keeps tab about ball to ball happening of any cricket match that India is involved in, so reporting it the next day is merely for the records. The following day and many more are kept exclusively for critiques, discussions, arguments and things like that.
The newspaperwallah was ready to move on to his next stop as our watchmen kicked started the moped. But not before he passed a bundle of newspapers from the stack to the watchman to be delivered at the door. He slipped a note, what looked to me like a fiver, in his pocket.
“Nice!”, I exclaimed as I saw him delegating the tasks of climbing up and down four multi-storreyed building to the watchman for just five bugs.
And so the local valentine Rossi was on his way for the next pit-stop. Or is it Naren-kartikeyan on a sans a couple of his wheels?
As I gathered back my thoughts, I saw our watchman was on his way to accomplish his tasks. I looked around to see a few more of windows were lit up. I walked up to the door in anticipation of fetching my daily dose of news feed. I opened the door just as he was about to slide the newspaper through the slit.
Totally surprised to see me awake, his face was a site to see. He had his mouth open, bent still he was totally flabbergasted.
“Koi bhoot dekha kya??” I mischieviously questioned.
“Haan saab…” He spontaneously replied, still bent over
“HUH?” I thundered.
“Nahi saab…” as he recovered from his trance. “Aapko kabhi itni jaldi uthate hue nahi dekha. Toh thoda shock ho gaya.”
“Hmm…” I acknowledged as I pulled the paper from his hand.
I closed the door on his back as he moved to deliver the newspaper to the rest of the tenants. I longed was a hot cup of tea but was too tired to make one for my own self. I had a thought of going to the tapri for a quick bite but then changed my mind.
Once again I rested my bump on the French window and picked the ‘Times of India’. The headlines read ‘Pink slips reaches India’. All of a sudden I was transported from the wonderland back to the reality. Not that it was news to me and offlate it had become an everyday affair at office. But since the time I woke up in the morning I had forgotten about it and these headlines just reminded me of the grim times.
Not intending to dwell into the details of the same… atleast for now… I frisked the following pages. The gloom and the doom was spread everywhere and how could it have eluded this medium. All the pages talked about the recession and the ills of it, only the extent and the severity of it differed from one writeup to another. Some doomsayer even talked about the imminent depression. All had mentions about the lay-offs like any other day, the thing that differed each day was the organisation that was involved and the numbers of people to be sent to the gallows.
I moved to the editorials hoping to read something refreshing and stimulating. But I wasn’t feeling lucky today. I could read titles all referring to the gloom, albeight in more tech-savvy language interspersed with economic terms and business jargons. Thus only the ‘lay-offs’ were replaced with ‘staff rationalisation’ and the ‘pay cuts’ were replaced with ‘cost restructuring’.
Disgusted I flung the newspaper which landed with it cover page right on top and the headline still poking fun at me. What I observed this time was a small table printed at one corner. I inquisitively propped the cover page to read through it. It had presented the top 20 companies that have ‘fired’ its employees and the number thus in a tambular manner. I involuntarily picked the paper back and began grazing on the data.
Almost instantaneously it dawned upon me that top 5 amongst those were IT/ITeS firms and totalling to 8, followed by BFSI firms figuring 6 in numbers and the rest of the slots being filled by Automobiles, FMCG, Aviation and other industries. I was in a fix whether to feel elated to have missed the axe although my company ranked third amongst the slayers or feel bad for those of my colleagues whose once promising career was abruptly cut-short, Shakti being one of it.
The thought of Shakti sent a chill through my spine. For he wasn’t the one who’s not only career was cut short, but life too abruptly came to an end. The axeman had been doing the round of our centre and quiet a few had fallen a prey to him, their employment being abruptly terminated citing recessionary conditions and general slackness in inbound business. Those who had been sent off gave no clue as to who were been targeted and what being the criteria for picking them. I always personally felt that being the laidback person that I was, I should have been the first one on the firing line. But fortunately or otherwise I had been escaped that fate till now.
The last round of lay-off that happened a couple of weeks back saw some promising careers being ripped off from the bud. There were a few surprises and few as expected. The latter category included our “beloved” manager who went brandishing that he was being given a ‘golden handshake’ and not being ‘laid off’. Either ways his days were numbered.
Now very much used to this chopping, everybody would come to office getting prepared for any eventuality that might descend upon. On that day as I made my way into the wing, I could see a few ladies crowding a cubicle many sobbing and rest with their eyes wet. I sensed it was yet another employee down from our team. One could easily identify who among the man is been axed from his facial expression. But when it came to female employee I always found it tough to locate who is could be? Typical to the feline gender, they get some involved in the loss, that there exists no way of determining as to who actually it as loss? Even the cubicle they had gathered could not provide any pointers to my thought.
I zipped my path through the cube–farm to my cubicle. I saw Shakti sitting facepalm.
“Its Smriti this time” Shakti cut me before I could complete my question.
“Hmm.” I nodded.
I remained silent expecting Shakti to say something back like he usually does, more often expressing his fear of getting laid but his time he didn’t.
The sobbing of the female folks had subsided and there was an eary silence spread across the entire length of the wing.
All one could hear some random click of the mouse buttons interspersed with the spurt of random hits of the keys on the keyboard. If you are truly attentive then you really gauge that it was indeed recessionary times from the keyboards keyhits or the mouse clicks. During the heydays, one could hardly find some pause in the sound emaciating from these hardware devices.
Not able to bear the lull, I thought of breaking the shackles.
“So who’s next?” I questioned almost involuntarily.
That was one question I definitely didn’t what to put forth, especially infront of Shakti, but deep within me I had that query and it simply took verbal form on the way out of conscience.
A couple of seconds of silence ensued and I had started getting happy thinking Shakti has ignored it, but it wasn’t to last for long. May be Shakti soon realised the other two selves from our cubicle were already be pink sliped and the onus was on him to answer the question.
Or maybe my question sounded to him as “So who’s next from our cubicle?”
“Its Shakti Sarang, Milind” Shakti just broke down “Its me next”.
Totally caught unaware I gazed what to do at this situation. I have faced Shakti apprehensive about the job and expressing his concerns but never had he broke down into tears. He put his head down on the keyboard and made no attempt to hide his sobbing. A few of the still surviving colleagues from neighbouring cubicle did prairie dog at us but no one was willing to offer condolence for they few it was just fooling our own selves while doing it.
“Relax Shakti, don’t you worry. Nothing is going to happen to us. How can CTS survive without us two?” I tried to lighten the mood.
“Cut the crap” Shakti yelled back.
He continued with his sobbing though definitely the intensity reduced.
He knew and so do I that we were just fooling ourselves and there was no way one could be assured about the survival for the next day.
“If we were to be hacked, it should have happened by now” I added.
“You never know” replied Shakti, lifting his head.
“True, but then what can we do about it? We will have to accept the harsh reality and move on as others did” I said.
Shakti turn his head to give me a weird stare back. I was sounding too philosophical for my character and probably he was confirming where those words popped from?
He turned back to gazed at his screen.
“It might be easy for you man; but isn’t so for me” Shakti retorted.
‘Oh no, Not again’ I thought to myself as I anticipated Shakti starting with his autobiography and a sad one at it. I had heard about the sorry plight of his family- ailing mother, retired father, unwedded sisters and younger brother story - many a times and each time I couldn’t resist myself likening it to setup of old Bollywood movie. I was so bored of his reciting the same thing that I used to somehow change the topic and even at times tell him to stop, but not this time.
As per our pre-decided plan, AJ and me had decided to spent the day-out. So as per that we were to leave home early in the morning and come back home late in the night. We had not planned any specific things to do except our departure early in the morning.
But guess AJ had expected a bit too much from me when he chose to depart at 8.30 a.m from home. It was till he called at home on our landline and subsequently mom woke me up that I remembered of our plan.
Seemingly he had been trying on my cell which was on silent mode. I saw his “7 missed calls” interspersed with 5 minutes of each other. The grind of the vibrator was hardly a thing that would put me off my slumber.
Not wanting to hear an earful early in the morning, I told my mom to convey him that I would be at his place in another half an hour.
“Beta, he has just woken up. He has told you to be ready and would pick you from your place in another 30 minutes” She promptly delivered my message.
She replacing the receiver meant he had acknowledged the same.
A few seconds later a coin-drop sound suggested to me that I received a message. I sensed it was from AJ and I wasn’t disappointed.
“Asshole! :-x” it read.
I replied back with a wink smiley.
I rushed through my daily routine, had a quick breakfast, even skipped bath and hoped to rely on the deodorant to save the day for me.
I bid good-bye to mom and zipped down the stairs only to realise I hadn’t got the keys of my bike. I screamed back from the ground to call my mom, who luckily was waiting at the window to see me off. I gestured to her to throw the bike keys. She went inside the room to return with the keys which she dropped way off into a small pool of water.
“Argh!!!!!!” I grumbled to being able to vent my frustration at my mom as I carefully retrieved it.
Thankfully my pop had got the bike serviced and just a couple of kicks down, it was roaring and ready to roll.
AJ’s villa was just a few blocks down the road in a relatively plush area. But the condition of the roads leading to it were not less in comparison to the surface of moon. Huge craters dotted the stretch many filled with murky water. Any motorable roaf left, if any was pre-occupied by the four-legged commuters.
Zig-zaging my way through this and avoiding some over-zealous moves by the rickshawallas I reached the front gate of his house which had a big board hung on it. It read ‘BEWARE OF DOGS’. The picture of the savitating dog at one of its end was more scary, but not more scary that remembering the dog-bite I had. I could not make up my mind as to what was more painful, the three anti-rabies injection or the loss of my brand Levi’s Denim.
Gathering my thoughts I called out for Ajay.
It wasn’t until 4-5 on top of the voice cries, that his father emerged on their roof-top balcony.
Aj’s father was an ex-banker. He had availed voluntary retirement and he was in full-time stock market trading and thus had made a fortune for themselves. They had moved from being our humble middle-class neighbour to this up-market bungalow. I always sought to follow suite but my parents likened share trading with gambling and kept an arms length away from such traits.
It wasn’t a rare site to see him glued in front of the computer screens looking at some weird charts all day round. I was always fascinated and would ask Aj to learn the same from him and then impart the knowledge of me.
“Who is it?” Aj’s father dismissively queried.
“uncle, Its me. Milind.” I replied.
“Isn’t Ajay no there at home?” I added.
“Ohh. Why are you standing at the gate? Come in” he questioned.
“No, its ok uncle. Can you please call Ajay?” I requested.
“Come in Milind. Rambo is been tied in the back-yard”. He replied. I could see a faint smile emerge on his face. May be he recollected the dog-bite incident and the fun they had at my cost that day.
Thus relived, I pushed the huge gate and walked to the front porch. Uncle had already descended to the front veranda, and Aj’s mom had joined him by then. Aj’s mom was a very nice lady, always hospitable whenever I visited them. Like Aj, they had too never had the airs about their newly found riches. They were very much rooted to the ground.
“Arrey Milind, long time no see” queried his mom.
“Hello Aunty! Yes, indeed been long since I visited you people” I acknowledged.
“I hardly get long vacation from work. And whenever I do, time just flies away idling at home” I added.
“Hmm… I understand” She said sympathetically
“So Milind, which company you work for?” queried uncle.
“Consistent Systems…” I promptly responded.
“Beta, kaunsa TENT?” Aunty queried back totally perplexed.
“Consistent! Aunty, I work for Consistent!” I corrected her.
She nodded back, the puzzled look very much evident on her face. I could bet that she had not picked up the name as majority of the people who dare to query me about the name of company I work for.
‘Déjà vu!’ I thought to myself , but it wasn’t ending here.
“What does your company make?” she aped all those who had asked me the same question zillions of times. Initially I used to actually try to make them understand that we are IT services company providing IT solutions to clients; but that would inturn open Pandora’s box. So I had resigned to answering such questions with my trademark reply.
“Computers Aunty, we make computers” I said.
“Ohh… Good … Good…” she said while weeding the rice in her hand.
“Aunty, where is Ajay?” I asked trying to change the topic.
“He was waiting for you since morning…” Aunty replied.
“I have send him to market to get the Economic Times. He will be back soon.” Uncle intertwined.
“So you didn’t get in Infosystems” added uncle.
I didn’t take any effort to him how I actually work for a better company. Had it been some technologically sane person, I could have given him some outsource product development funda and like, but in this case I refrained myself by just smiling back to suggest negatively. From the look on his face what must be running in his mind. He must have thought “ What a loser! A second grade donkey”.
“So finally you are here” I heard Aj shout it out as he entered from the gate.
“Yo man! Sorry for the slight delay” I acknowledged as I moved towards him.
“You F*****!” he gulped his explicit mid-way seeing his parents in the verandah.
“Dad, here is you stuff” Aj said as he placed the bulleting and some magazines on the tea-table.
“Mom, I will be having my dinner out. You guys need not wait for me” he told his mom as he suggested to me to move.
“But, let me give Milind something to eat.” Aunty pleaded “He hasn’t had anything since he arrived.”
“Ah…, its O…” I was to politely decline the offer when Aj interrupted.
“I ll feed him enough” Aj winked at me as we jogged towards the gate.
I was building iceman with bipasha in the swiss alps, scuba-diving with Katrina in the pristine waters of bali, gyrating my hips with Priyanka in front of the sphinx and crooning some melodies around the conifers in Canada with Asin when the loud chatter interspersed with the demonic laugh woke me up from my dreams.
From her voice, I sensed my aunt had arrived and I knew I won’t be able to resist her for long. I tried ignoring and dwelling in my dreams but futile. She to say the least was a pest, always trying to pin you down and leave to chance to strike back. And worse still, if you were got even with her, she would blew tantrums and leaving my mom with a herculean task of pacifying her.
Even the last time I was down I had a brush-off with her and had experienced it firsthand. My mom had strictly reprimanded me for that behaviour and had warned me to behave. I tried to avoid her by prolonging my siesta but she too seemed all determined to confront me. With her showing to signs of leaving, I had to beat a hasty retreat from my plans and I got up from my bed.
The clock just struck 11 times then. Had it been a couple of years in the past my father would have kicked on my butt to wake me up had I dozed any longer than 8’o clock, but since I was back at home for vacationing, I knew I received a special consideration from my mom who much have prevented my pop from flexing his legs.
So lazingly I strolled out of my room.
As I emerged into the leaving room where they were sitting, my aunt rushed to give-up a hug, and a tight one at it.
“Good Morning Beta!” She greeted
I always hated her squeeze when we were young and now that I have added more years to me I hated it even more. Seeing her huge frame ala yokuzhuna, charging at me I almost trembled in my pyjamas wondering how could I possibly defy her. And almost instantaneously I let out a big yawn from my yet unbrushed mouth, and that worked wonders. It was a touch and go affair for her as she retraced her path by to the couch, thus me getting off we just a pat on the shoulder.
My mom wasn’t very pleased with my jesture, but I could see her too finding it tough to conceal her smile.
“Good Morning Mausi, How’s you?” I responded, still rubbing my eyes and resting my bump in the couch.
“Very fine Beta” she responded.
“But you have pulled down a lot. Missing mom’s homemade food there?” she rhetorically asked not excepting any response.
I sensed that and smiled back.
“How’s Bunty and Babli, Mausi?” I queried.
Bunty and Babli were my cousins. Bunty was pursuing his Engineering studies at some private institute in Karnataka, while Babli had dropped out of her graduation studies.
“They are doing good” she replied. “Know what? Bunty came first in his class in his third year and has also got placement in Infosys”. She added with pride.
Bunty wasn’t an exceptional student right from school, but his mom always made him look that. Even after passing out from his higher secondary school examination, he could not make it to any of the colleges in the state and thus had to opt for a lesser known institute. I had heard that his father had to shell out quite some moolah to get him inducted. She might be able to fool the most of our clan, but me myself having interacted with him and known his academic prowess had managed to skip being spellbound by her stories. Though each time I didn’t point it out to her, and so too this time.
“Wow! That’s great” I said. “And what about Babli?”
“Yes, he got the best salary among all and also they have being him option of choosing wherever he wants to join” she conveniently choose to skip the later half of my question.
I had a fair idea about how the freshers recruitment drive happen in the colleges. Students in their 6th or 7th semester where picked up in lots and were offered an standard starting package. All one needs to have is a minimal level of aptitude, even with absolute zero exposure to anything remotely IT. My cousin himself being an automobile engineer making the cut was evident for the fact.
“Hmm. I see. So did you find a match for Babli?” I pondered again.
“Milind, got freshen up” my mom intertwined sensing my aunt may be uncomfortable answering that.
Babli has been her Achilles heal for she had been finding it tough to get her married off. Babli though good looking had been a arrogant girl. Her tantrums were known to most in the family and so in the colony. Besides her education, or lack of it, her too choosy nature had turned away many grooms back.
“Yes Beta, Go brush your teeth and have breakfast” aunty added to it.
I sensed the opportunity and excused myself off from their company and moved to the bath to freshen up. I could hear their chatter from behind the wall. My aunty has grazed onto the topic of my wedding somehow. Within no time she had even suggested a couple of girl as bride for me, one of whom I knew and utterly disliked.
I hated my aunt anyways, but she just slipped down even more on that scale for me. With this thought put in my mom’s mind I knew there is going to be a serious argument at home one of the following days when I am stay put. For now just to deter my mom from dwelling more in the business of matrimony I shouted to call her to fetch me breakfast.
She promptly rushed to the kitchen to serve me the Aloo-paratha that she had made for me.
I had been long waiting for this week. Not that I don’t suffer from Monday blues, infact I have been suffering blues for each day of the week. But this week was going to be different, because come weekend and I was going to head for home sweet home. The ‘Good Friday’ holiday meant almost all the ‘outsiders’ had planned a home-coming. I stretched it more by taking off the entire following week. Yeah, it was going to be a 10 day vacation for me. The very thought of going to Goa has instilled some kind of energy into my soul.
Others too have not gone without noticing the change in me. May be I was just floating in air.
Not that my project had any priority tasks or any releases lined up in this week, but getting a leave sanctioned was always supposed to be a Herculean tasks. Probably that might be one of the KRA for our managers to try to dissuade his sub-ordinates for taking days off. Somewhere deep within myself, I felt good too because this was the only time I felt I am needed. In reality I knew it for sure that me going on a week long leave, or for that matter even longer sabbatical, wont cause a iota of difference to the project. After much cajoling, that also included a couple of pegs of whiskey; I was able to get a week leave granted for me.
So Thursday afternoon after getting up from my siesta, I thought of skipping office. Not that I would call in sick or neither would I increment my leave count. I planned to swipe in and out of the office on my way to the railway station. Was confident enough that nobody would notice my absence, as it is hardly anyone notices my presence in office during other days.
Pumped up enough with the thought of ‘Fish Curry Rice’ and other mom made delicacies, I dashed to the bathroom for a quick bath. More than a refreshing bath, it was the thought of getting rid of facial hair that had propelled me. The absence of strictures in most of the IT firms, as far as formal dressing and looks were concerned, had made life easy for many lazy bumps like me. We hardly had any visual interaction with our overseas client and that only meant the keratin cells in my body would have a field day…rather field week …errr… field month. Shaving had at best become a bi-weekly activity, which quiet often stretched on to be a monthly ritual. But heading home I could have hardly afforded to lets the lose locks cover my face or the long beard make look like a medieval sage. For I feared my parents would even fail to recognise me and turn me away from the doorstep, at best with some alms. Worst still, even if they recognise me there was quite a good chance of my mom not letting me in until I have a close trim. In the past, irritated and frustrated of asking me to shave, she has refused to serve me food until I had one.
Not ready to risk any further delay for experiencing the homely ambience, I went about searching for the razor. Not recollecting what it looked like, I had to spend triple the time it should have taken for a regular. A thought of sporting a French beard just grazed through which I instantly discarded for a clean look. After struggling to run the blunt edges of the razor for a few times over the stubborn growth of hair, I was pleased to see the face from behind the veil of foam. Yet another time, I pledged to myself that I would be shaving on daily basis, very well knowing that the pledge wont stand for more than the day as it has been the case for the few times in the past when I had a clean shave. Applying the musk after-shave lotion from the nearly full bottle which I had bought when I set out of home three years back, I wondered whether it’s past its expiry date.
I dragged myself under the shower and let the body soak as I stayed still, hoping deep within me that someone would from behind the mist and massage my body with an relaxant. Seeing no such miracle happening I self-helped myself with the act and rushed out in a towel. The most dreaded task awaited me. This is probably the only thing of returning back home that I disliked, ‘packing my bag’. It’s so different from the journey way round, when mom used to take care of the activity and placing the creased shirts and tees nicely one on top of other. That following week is the one wherein I go to the office the best dressed, until I exhaust the entire lot of clothes ironed by mom. I wondered how I would have survived, if not for the casual attire permitted at my workplace. Cutting back to the task at hand, I started sprangling to all edges of my apartment to collect whatever I could lay my hands upon. From under the teepoy, from over the bed, those hanging on the ropes to those dumped at the corner.
I stuffed everything in my backpack, a part of missionware that we got every diwali. Adoring these goodies gifted by my company, be it T-shirt, or the bag, or the wind-cheater with the prominent logo flashed onto it always made me feel like a guinea-pig under test. Only solace was seeing many such guinea pigs wherever you went. On the local, at the restaurant, at the mall, together looking like a part of a heard ear-marked to be butchered.
“Goa, here I come” I voiced it spontaneously as I left my apartment.
As I enthusiastically trudged down the stairs, I recollected I had to ping at office on the way.
“Damn! Got to get my card alongwith.” I said to myself.
U-turned as zoomed back into and out of my apartment in a giffy.