Monday, July 12, 2010

A Random Chapter

Practicing to write in third person....

They had met a year and a half back, a few hurried business meetings throughout which his eyes bore into her. She had felt somewhat uncomfortable and wondered if ogling at women was a habit with RK (as he liked to call himself) but she brushed it off and returned his direct eye to eye gaze as they spoke. RK was assessing the teams across the globe and how best to leverage them and also trying to come to grips with his new responsibilities and seemed to be somewhat out of his depth. Shahana patiently explained the Indian operations and how the team she headed fitted in the big picture and the conversation drifted to Alzheimer's disease. "Maybe you can try wearing your watch on your right hand instead of left, then your brain will have a new signal for a routine habit" Shahana said. "Really? Does that work? I think remembering all these Indian names will be quite enough for me" RK responded. Shahana was a bit needled, the so called RK was a Tamil Brahmin with roots and initial education in India and twenty years in the US made him American? More organization structures and flow charts were drawn on the white board and eventually eyelids started to droop and coffee had to be ordered. The German gentleman, Wolfgang who was also in the meeting ordered black and so did Shahana. "Normal coffee in India is a concoction with lots of milk and sugar - would you like normal or black?" Shahana asked RK. "Black? Yuck, no normal for me please. How can you swallow all that bitter stuff?""I am trying to cut down on sugar so black for me" Shahana said and immediately regretted her statement as it reminded her of her nonexistent fitness routine.

Shahana could not accompany her guests for lunch as she had registered for a cancer detection camp and had to go for medical tests during lunch time. RK and Wolfgang had a hearty Indian lunch at the office cafeteria and were back in the conference room which now smelled like a hospital ward thanks to all the blood samples that were collected there for the Cancer detection camp. "I think I am going to faint, I hate the idea of blood being present in this room" said RK as he occupied a chair near the door. Wolfgang presided over the meeting, this time with the whole team, more charts were drawn, more roadmaps were discussed and in general the future was rosy. "With an innovative leader like Shahana, who wears her watch on the right hand to generate new brain patterns and ideas, I think you guys are in good hands" RK summed up. Shahana laughed and was somewhat pleased at being praised in a public forum, "He is just trying to pull me over to his side" she thought.

RK, now officially in charge was all businesslike, he wanted data, reports, contracts and demos, the team scurried to fulfill all his requests, he seemed to inject some energy into an otherwise bored team and his words held some promise for a brighter future. "Can you make it Chennai next week? I would like to bring you up to speed with some plans I have" RK asked Shahana. Sahahna agreed, though somewhat unclear about the exact agenda, when she asked RK mumbled something in an incomprehensible mid western accent. She had been having a tough time to understand his accent and was playing the role of an interpreter for the team who looked blank whenever RK spoke. "Well, let see what's in store" she thought. "Great. Would like to make full use of your time when in Chennai" RK said as he shook hands with Shahana and the rest of the team before departing.

Shahana was left with a highly excited team (RK had dangled the trip to US bait very lavishly) and a lot of questions. She was more restrained in her optimism and was not very sure how RK could revamp a loss making business unit and turn it around in a day. She was more inclined to think that he had some other objectives and planned to channel underutilized manpower to some of his other projects which may not be in the best interests of the team. RK went back to the US and promptly forgot his promises made during his Indian sojourn, Shahana heard from the grapevine that he was having a tough time to establish himself and chart a plan. She got sporadic requests from RK for support with some requests which she provided; she also provided her own ideas for the new business model which was to be launched soon. RK was always very appreciative about her and the team's work. Shahana had overcome her initial reservations about RK and grew to appreciate his style of working.

Somewhere in between Shahana started chatting with RK about politics at work, hobbies, and interests and so on and his witty and somewhat sarcastic humor kept her entertained. He would tell her about his future plans, current challenges and she would offer solutions or suggestions as appropriate. She almost enjoyed their exchanges even if it was mostly related to work. She felt appreciated and valued professionally. Shahana would often catch herself thinking of RK and then mentally shrug him off, "It is quite normal to think about colleagues you work with everyday" she thought. She knew his music preferences, his reading preferences, about his Great Uncle who he admired, about the rock concerts he attended with his Father and his interest in Che Guevara. She knew his wife's name, that no of years he was married, the names of his two sons, how they spent time during weekends, his workaholic nature and how he managed to find time for family, when he migrated to US etc etc. Shahana also collected other bits of information about RK from other colleagues; she also came to know about his drinking habits, his sweet tooth, and his interest in cooking and other odd bits of information. "Am I stalking him?" she would stop and ask herself at times and then shrug and carry on with her life.

RK visited India after almost 18 months, Shahana was leaving the organization, and she was somewhat disillusioned at the way the business model had evolved. There were no opportunities for her to grow professionally so she decided to move on and in the process had to handover a part of her responsibilities to RK. RK had added more weight around his middle and had almost gone completely gray, his accent hadn't got any better despite having to communicate with the 'desis' who never understood a word of what he said., "At least a few things remain the same" Shahana thought. Her opinion of RK had changed somewhat in the last few months, she thought him to be megalomaniac control freak who refused to delegate and empower people, which was one of the reasons she was leaving.

Shahana was going through her handover agenda one by one when suddenly RK noticed her wrist and commented "You still wear your watch on your right hand! I tried your idea and it seemed the whole world had somehow changed so changed back to left. Looks like I have to make peace with Mr. Alzheimer". Shahana smiled and said that it was probably time for her to change and wear her watch on her left wrist, which she did the next day. RK asked her the time about five times during the whole day and Shahana would invariably look at her right wrist and then at the left and catch him with a faint smile and an inquisitive stare. Meetings progressed and coffee was needed and this time RK ordered black while Shahana settled for 'normal' and it was Shahana who had a faint smile this time, glances were exchanged and an old memory recollected but not mentioned. At a dinner later Shahana and RK spoke like friends who had met after a long time while the rest looked on perplexed and probably wondered the mystery behind the apparent camaderie.

Three days went by in a flash and it was time for RK to return to US, Shahana wished him well and he gave her a half hug and said "I'll see you soon, take care". Shahana made all the right noises while she tried to respond to the unexpected hug while her eyes questioned how would they meet again - this was the last time wasn't it? All of a sudden she felt a little bereft and wished that there was something to hold on to. She would miss his sharp, caustic wit and the conversations and also all the stories she heard about him from others, there would be no reason to talk or keep in touch once she moved to a new job except perhaps the new year or birthday greeting which would also eventually fade away. Shahana's mobile phone rang and her five year old daughter demanded when she would be back home, "In another thirty minutes, ask Daddy to help with homework and pass the phone to Shanti Bai". Shanti Bai was told what to cook for dinner and pack for Diya's lunch box the next day. The next call was to the driver to bring the car to the office gate, it was time to go home.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Greed and Creativity

People asked me why I stopped blogging and I would respond that once I started to get paid for what I wrote, writing merely as a form of self expression seemed a waste of time. It's true I earned a few thousands when I wrote for some publications and I thought that offers would now pour in because whatever I produced was so eminently readable!

Well offers didn't exactly pour in and I also did not pursue my career in writing in all earnest. I also lost touch with my one and only hobby thanks to good old greed. Well eminently readable or not, I can just write for now and rest can happen later.

Hello Again!

Testing My Vocal Cords

It's been a long time since I sang out loud, at the most I have hummed and once in a while sang in a rush at a friends place to relive some school memories. In some inspired moments, in an empty house after listening to a particularly nice song I try to reproduce it, go hopelessly off key and then give up.

I am also eternally embarrassed at most condolence meetings where I am asked to sing 'something appropriate' (a.k.a. Bromho sangeet or Ranbindra sangeet) and I sit stonily and mumble that I have forgotten to sing. At this stage people offer books which have printed lyrics (which seem to be peculiarly handy) and I cringe further and wish the Earth would swallow me up! But of course such things happen with only ladies as pure as Sita and not a out and out sinner (like me). I usually mutter more excuses and pass on the so called singing baton to the more abled.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) some people have these elephantine memories and recollect that I used to sing at some point of time and become quite persistent. At such times I usually have to resort to my last straw which is the one and only Rabindra sangeet I know, knowing fully well that it is highly inappropriate. Traditionally this song is sung at ceremonies celebrating birth, and I have sung it a few times at condolence meetings (shradh ceremonies) with the explanation that death is a transition to a new state and hence a form of birth. Purists and the torch bearers of Tagore's work may send me hate mail I guess.

The other day I exhausted my stock and was asked to sing one more song (in other gatherings and encore would perhaps an ego boost) and I had to delve into deep recesses of my memory and recollect all the devotional songs I had learned centuries back. To my complete surprise I did actually recollect one of them and it was good to jog my memory and vocal cords to some forgotten tunes and I also discovered that training in classical music can never really desert you, the vocal cords seem to have their own memory. It is also a liberating and cleansing experience.

I am now suitably convinced that I should take up singing lessons and expand my repertoire, though not for an audience but as a form of self expression.