Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dilbert Diaries

I passed out of B school exactly five years back, which means I am now five years old in the corporate world. I still remember that hot sultry day in Hyderabad, back in May 2009, when I joined company D as a campus hire. Of course I was super excited about my new job, especially since it was a well-respected MNC and voted as one of the best companies worldwide to start your career. But I was more excited about my brand new laptop, crisp new clothes, the ID card which proudly displayed my name, the good food at the five star hotel where we had our 2-week induction and most of all the promise of “good life”!

Five years later, let me take a quick walk down the memory lane about my journey through this phase:

Now that I have survived multiple meetings, year-end appraisals, office parties, trainings, team bonding events and networking sessions, let me highlight the top three entertaining aspects of the office culture:

1.Skip level meetings: I simply love the concept because it opens up the can of worms (the pandora’s box if you will), where for a change, managers are under scrutiny instead of the employee. For a change, it gives the usually suppressed young employee an opportunity to speak up without worrying about getting penalized for doing so. And for a change, it questions the authority of the manager and puts him/her under the radar. It’s just about as empowering as it can get in the conservative corporate world. Most of all, it’s fun to just see grown-ups hyperventilate.

2.Resignation and farewell speeches: Having witnessed my share of resignation instances, where a fellow colleague has put in his/her papers and come out smiling, it’s indeed a Kodak moment to see the relief and happiness, no matter how transient it is. This is the platform to vent all the pent up emotions and grudges against the organization, its policies, managers and quality of work, even if it’s only a matter of time before you move on to another “bad” organization and start complaining about its policies, managers and quality of work. But what amuses me more are the farewell ceremonies, when the employee graciously sugarcoats his/her experiences while the others do their best to put up the façade of happiness, while secretly planning their own farewell speeches. I have had mine ready for four years now, but I am still waiting to use it.

3.Relationships: My biggest takeaway from the five years of corporate life has been the people I have interacted with, as surprising as it. A lot of my closest friends are my colleagues from the two companies I have worked in, irrespective of our career choices and current organizations. Being in a role which requires me to work with complete strangers in different countries, I have ended up forging a strong bond with people with whom I have nothing in common, and yet, they have graciously kept in touch with me or taken me sight-seeing in a new country or forced a new cuisine (which I could barely pronounce) down my throat. Finally, I have been lucky to work with some of the best managers, who continue to support me despite moving on to different roles/organizations.

At the end of the day, if I look back, I would summarize my journey as: “I get mail; therefore I am.” (Scot Adams)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

A lot of people around me are having babies: actual human beings whose sole claim to fame is their cute innocence. That’s how they should define babies: “cute human contraptions up to no good.”

But be it friends, colleagues or random people on Facebook, I am being inundated with pictures of multiple new-born babies, who frankly all look the same. Of course, I have dutifully liked each picture, congratulated the proud parents and exclaimed how the baby looks EXACTLY like them. You know like the bald head or the droopy eyes or the chubby cheeks: exactly like the parents indeed.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine how this tiny little thing (yes, thing) can actually turn your entire world upside down AND make you think that it’s a good thing! The same way Arvind Kejriwal convinced the common man in Delhi to vote for him riding on the wave of naïve innocence which somehow appeals to even the most rational and pragmatic of us.

So all of you going coochi-coo on the random kid in the pram, stop, take a breath and catch a Modi moment: that kid in the pram may look cute, but is the devil in disguise: expensive, unpredictable and irresponsible. There is no knowing what he will do next. Really, have you not learnt anything from Rahul Gandhi?

Now imagine the next 17 years before you can pack off the kid to some obscenely remote corner of the country (hopefully by then they would have an IIT in Nicobar Islands): feeding him, taking care of him, teaching him the ways of life, putting up with his teenage tantrums and living under the constant fear that he will turn into a Manchester United fan. No vacations, no surprise holidays, not even feel-good sick leaves. You just have to toil day after day after day and all you have to show for it is a badly brought up, confused and arrogant teenager. Think about it. Do you really want to end up like Sonia Gandhi?

And then a time will come when your boy will finish college and be unemployed in a recessionary market. After all the companies have looked at his CV and dismissed him after a cursory glance, “So this guy can write reports? Amusing”, you have nothing left to do but to allow him into your family business, which has grown through the generations and reached the pinnacle of success under you. But like a true prodigal, he would refuse to take any responsibility, only making guest appearances and putting up the pretence of caring, when in reality all he is bothered about are the perks of the job: the flexibility, the undisputed authority, the flamboyant lifestyle and the guaranteed job security. No questions asked. But within ten years, you see your empire crumbling down, brick by brick, just as you had built it. Even your last minute interventions cannot save it. What do you? Find a scapegoat to blame. Preferably a nice guy. Preferably an educated guy. Preferably a nice and educated guy who is also a Sardar, because you know, that’s a community you like to target as a matter of principle.

Finally, a day comes when your ‘baby’ comes and tells you, “Mom, I have had enough fun screwing up the lives of people around me. Now I need a change. I have decided to get married and ruin the life of a perfectly innocent woman.” Relieved, that the brunt of the responsibility will at last get transferred, you respond with genuine relief and exuberance, “That’s wonderful news my boy. Who is the lucky girl?” And your 'baby' replies, “Lady Gaga, real name: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Exotically Italian, don't you think?”

And there you go, the fleeting life of your baby, the Reluctant Fundamentalist, flashing in front of your eyes…

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Walk On

There are crises situations and then there are crises situations. And then there are existential crises. Like the one Rahul Gandhi is currently going through. Or even me. You know those times, when your life suddenly flashes in front of you? No? May be the last time it happened to you was when you filled out lengthy forms in B school during campus placements, where each company would ask you your deepest, darkest secrets. Incidentally that was also the last time the company showed so much interest in you. Over the years, your appraisal discussions have been reduced to vague banalities which mean nothing, and neither you nor your employer even cares enough to pretend otherwise.

Questions like “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”, “What are your short term and long term goals?” or “Where do see yourself five years down the line” seemed inane at a time you were too busy figuring out the rich friend who would sponsor your next beer or wondering if the professor would notice if you bunked the next lecture.
But with time, you begin to ask yourself these questions, wondering what your next steps would be and how differently your life has shaped up from what you had imagined. Like David Moyes.

If you ask me, “existential crisis” is a big word for “bored out of the mind.” Most of us, cushioned from the REAL problems in life, are really LOOKING for ways to make our own lives sound more important than they actually are. Let’s face it, we are not life savers or geniuses or even stand-up comedians: if we stop going to work one fine day, the world will function just as before, companies will go on selling soaps and politicians will continue to steal. The point then is to stop being pompous and do things which make a difference to us, irrespective of how insignificant it might be.

So the million-dollar question is what is it that makes a difference to me? The million dollar answer is "I don't know." What I do know however, is it's not what I am currently doing.

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

And just like that, there is a time to walk away, a time to walk off and a time to walk on...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

To Be or Not to Be?

If you haven’t yet seen the Ron Howard British-German biopic Rush, immediately do so, especially if you are in the middle of Two States and feeling stuck between a rock (Arjun Kapoor’s expressions) and a hard place (an abysmal script).

For those who haven’t heard of Rush, please go join Manchester United, because that’s where you belong. Apparently they are hiring losers. Again.

For the rest of you, before you dismiss it as yet another movie about some obscure game which you don’t follow, wait, take a break from IPL and give it a chance. The premise may be a 1970s rivalry between two Formula I drivers, but trust me it’s so much more than that. I know I am asking you to commit national treachery here: I mean who watches movies about boxing (Raging Bull, Ali, Cinderella Man), Rugby (Invictus), Baseball (Moneyball) and now Formula I, when we already have so many stories to share about cricket? Still, even as an ardent cricket fan, I suggest that you go watch Rush.

Rush is not just a good sports movie, but it addresses a very deep rooted psychological disease that most of us suffer from: especially people who have tasted success, who have managed to make a mark and who have a standing in the world. We often harp on how difficult it is to become successful or how hard you need to work to get there, but what we overlook is how tough it is to actually let go of it, once you have achieved everything you could have ever imagined. Ask a successful actor, artist or a sportsman about the hardest decision of their lives and more often than not the answer would be, “When should I retire?” Case in point: our very own Sachin Tendulkar.

While a major part of the movie is a roller-coaster ride of witty dialogues and fast-paced Grand Prix chase sequences as it follows the lives of two talented rivals with diametrically opposite personalities, in the end it leaves you with one question that each of us asks ourself at some point in life: “To be or not to be?”

It may be a little too early for me to answer that question, but it just makes me wary that ten years later, I may just end up being rushed into a life that I never even wanted…