Monday, March 18, 2013

Another Day in Office

Indian monsoons these days are not like what they used to be fifteen years back. In fact life is not what like it used to be fifteen years back. World two decades ago seemed like a different world, a different planet, experienced by a different human being whose name I still carry on my visiting card as Director of company launched ten years ago by that same human being. That human being also had the same name as written on name plate on new pent house I bought last year, and on registration of my new car which was launched last week by the Car company which itself was launched in India fifteen years back during new liberal era ushered upon in India by now Prime Minister who was Finance Minister then.

I had read in morning paper that Monsoons were receding and some rains were predicted. Day started brightly as usual. It was sunny as I completed reading daily papers with my cursory glances, dropped everyone to their respective occupations in family and reached office.

Day at office was hectic as usual. It started with daily  overseas calls, meetings to plan the work , planning the meetings, monitoring projects,  few interviews to replace employees on notice, employee communication, client communication to explain the most hot issue of change management, supervising the draft  proposal for prospective work from existing client, checking on facebook as to who is doing what, commenting on business political topics, envying those on vacations, knowing who ate which cuisine last night, getting mobile calls from banks and insurance companies who wanted to sell me something which I do not need, celebrating birthday of a young employee joined recently, completing pending client status reports, rejecting offer from friends to 'sit out' somewhere to enjoy the Wednesday evening owing to call late in the night, had managed to take out few minutes while having lunch to speak with spouse while reading economic times.

As the day turned into evening outside, had no clue that clouds had gathered and a clear day turned out into balmy windy and dark evening. I normally have no time to check outside weather but today I had managed to take a glimpse of outside from the glass exterior of my 5th floor office while fetching coffee from the machine which is at other end of my cabin. There are days when I don’t have a single trip outside my cabin loaded with work and meetings. But today felt like having coffee which was very rare on such kind of day.  Thus as days turn into nights, monsoon to autumn, winters to summers, miss out on this daily theatrical show offered by nature. That's what is about life; we miss out many things going for kill, going for something intangible. Of course there are moments of weekends; holidays where you can speak to yourself and detach yourself from happenings around but such moments are very rare these days. These 3G networks don't allow you that as well now days. Even on vacations, you need to check mails, fb, gtalk whatever....

As the clouds roared, I was worried about employees who will man the BPO for the night. Honestly I am not worried about them but about the fact that on such evenings someone or other feels like reporting sick or has some family emergencies.  My poor Ops manager has his own set of problems. I feel for him on such days. Terror is unending as depicted in a beautiful Lata song. Fifteen years back such evening would have resulted in calling group of friends and venture out for a long drive to get drenched, have onion pakodas and chill out. Now I bother about traffic jams, water logging, and power and network outage. I checkout if my family reached home on time which they have.  By the time my night shift staff got settled I decided to go home. It was Eight PM.  I sent my final email, closed my laptop and then again after some discussions finally entered into elevator.

As I enter the elevator, I am approached by Ops manager that six of employees on one major acct have not come and they have month end to finish. Though we have backups but not for six employees on single project. I ask him to call each of them and request them to come when rain subsides. I transmit client pressure to Ops manager. I go back to my cabin lecture him on how client has raised queries last month on some missing line items and how I had to convince him. I don’t want to do that again on first US working day of next month.  Meanwhile I see workload on other client account and nominate those with fewer loads to this job. My head starts wheeling and banging. Ops manager comes in saying 2 people have complied and will reach office soon. I instruct him further on some process contingencies and certain report to be sent on priority and rest to be done upon completion. My headache is accompanied by some stomach butterfly feeling which I attributed to tea I had at six PM. I mailed my US account manager about the plan and then talked to the same guy. Now I am going crazy, I have a vomiting sensation, my head is banging, and I need to leave.

I just mechanically rushed to the elevator and by the time I reach down as I could smell rain and heard its noise. I felt calm.  The head ache was gone, so were the stomach ailments. I entered into my car in the basement by quarter to Nine with fifteen more minutes to go for old songs to start on FM stations. These days I don’t like anything that’s contemporary be it music, movies or anything. Some people call it mid life crisis.

It’s raining heavily by now. Road has a stream gushing from up hill. I tread my vehicle knowing that with the clearance my vehicle has; there should not be any problem. I splash water onto few poor pedestrians who had bad time holding on to their umbrellas. What on earth made these people venture out in rains that too without vehicle? How insensitive you can be looking at world from your eyes. Fifteen years back maybe I would have been at receiving end of the splash and still enjoy it. There is one small lane branching off the main road to take a short cut to reach bypass highway which is my daily route while returning. This lane has some buildings with residents but is kind of deserted and badly lit even on normal days but today it was pitch dark and totally deserted. I put on upper light. Viper is at maximum. Suddenly I see a man dressed in white shirt and tie with a brief case in hand asking for a lift. He was middle aged and looked corporate types.  Normally these days you don’t dare give anyone lift. I have heard about many crime and mugging incidences. I wonder what to do. Should I zoom pass him and leave him to his fate or help him? I slow down. His dress, look and feel helped me feel secure as he sounded a mid level executive of some reputed company. Maybe he got stuck because of his bad luck. The stranger also reminded me of my diseased maternal uncle who used to dress similarly and was of similar age when he used to come to our place till fifteen years back. Those memories flashed and made me press on brake pedal and stop around twenty meters ahead of him. He came near the car and spoke to me in proper English

" Sorry for bothering you, but I was supposed to be picked up by my company vehicle which has broken down and have to reach station to catch night train back to Solapur"

"Can you please drop me to the bus station from where I can catch bus to the railway station?

 Bus station he mentioned is on my way, I nodded.

“Sorry I am wet. Do you have any newspaper so that I wont make your passenger seat wet?"

I think I have few in my dickey. So I said him that they are in the dickey.

“That’s fine I will take them out” he said. I opened the dickey as he goes behind the vehicle. He comes back with an old paper and a plastic cricket bat which my daughter had left during some outdoor picnic.  

That flashed the sentiment of longing for my daughter. Whenever I think of her, there is a feeling which can only be described by something warm, welcome, caring.  It is the same feeling which I used to get when I was a child. It is the same feeling when I saw my parents returning late by few hours when they had kept me with some relative promising that they will return in half an hour. 

 Zooming back to present I thought why on earth this man pulled out plastic bat from dickey.

“You have a kid, he must be missing his bat at home so I thought I could remind you of a small bat in dickey as I am sure it must have been lying there for months if not years”, said he.

 I remember our trip to Mulshi in June. It seems like yesterday and three months had passed and so had monsoons.

I said “Oh thanks maybe my daughter is missing her bat. Will take it home for sure today”

He settled inside and we started the journey

We reach the bypass highway and join the speedy vehicles rushing past. Rain grew stronger

Stranger said “I am Ashish Kulkarni from Solapur.”  Name sound familiar but I knew of at least 500 odd Kulkarnis in Maharashtra and US. This is a kind of name you will find anywhere and any search on facebook or linkedin will generate at least 500 results.

He asks my name, am hesitant, I comply. Asks me about my native village, occupation

I tersely tell him software nowadays you don’t trust strangers, Software is a vast spectrum from 5k earning trainees earning five thousand to VPs earning three crores and above.

“What kind of  Software?  I know computers but my education stopped when windows was just about to arrive. I had taken a course in NIIT for 3 months but learnt nothing but to open lotus   sheet on pc XT. IT was late 97. After that I did not have any opportunity”

I remembered those days when IT was new. Days of y2k, dot coms etc. That was time we jumped into IT, now we talk about clouds, Android, IOS. Lot has happened in fifteen years

Looking at the bat asked me how old is my daughter. I told her age.

Putting down the bat, he said calmly “I came to your house when you were twelve years old.”

I am shocked

“You mean to say you know me. You must be joking”

How the hell he remembered my face after twenty six yrs and after having added at least 60-70 kgs on me in those twenty six years.

Now he tells my school name, my love for cricket, my peculiar habit of mixing rice, chapati and dal to make it faster to eat so I can run out to play

We suddenly are slowed by a bottleneck on highway, bus station is 5 minutes away but traffic will take me 15 minutes for sure and I am with someone I don’t know but who knows me very well.

So I ask him do you know my father or anyone from our family. I was searching for all kulkarnis in my memory. And another clue was solapur.

Yes he said: I know your maternal uncle Kiran Deshpande: kiranmama. Then it struck me that the uniform was from the same company where kiranmama used to work

Kiranmama was someone special.  I was someone nondescript in my family who had no aim but to play cricket on street and watch on television. I never used to score more than 65%. But somehow Kiranmama had special attention for me. He used to tell my family that I had great potential be it studies or whatever I do.  He was my favorite. I used to remember evenings he used to take me out to gardens whenever he came to Pune. We ate snacks forbidden at house. We used to go to his place in vacation. Those used to be best days. As he said, I did well in Xth but surprise came in XII and IIT when I scored big and made good career. His prophecy was correct. As I went to IIT, I used to write letters to him. Yes those days I used to write letters. As I joined my first job after IIT, we partied in real sense as he welcomed me to adulthood. It was so macho to get drunk….

And one fine morning in late 97, I was visiting Pune on a weekend, we all woke up on call in about the accident which happened earlier night and all of us attend his funeral in Solapur then. Kiranmama and one of his colleagues were bumped off by a truck while returning from office.

Suddenly traffic speeds up, I am back to present which is tense.

I asked him “Do you still work Kiranmama‘s office?”

“I don’t”

But then realized that the company was closed in mid naughties, I remember someone from Kiranmama’s family telling me that in 2005.

I wanted to ask him then why is he wearing that company dress.

“Kiran was a good man” He goes on. “I was very close to him. He got me in the company using his good books with the then company GM. We used to work hard when we were bachelors and spend weekends together. Then we got married had children but we has a strong bond”.

“And let me tell you, you were his favorite nephew. He was so proud when you stood in state merit list and got into IIT. He would have been proud seeing your status today”

But then he said “Kiran missed out on seeing his son doing so good in life as you. That should be his only regret after living a good but short life.”

He turns to me and asks “Hope you are doing fine. Do you have any regrets in life?”

Normally I get sick of such philosophical talk. I ignored

After a small pause, he put on his spects. Turned towards me and said in a very deep voice

 “ Let me tell you why I am here. I am here for message, Today is your last day in office, I mean last day in life as well. 

I braked car to halt as cars behind started honking.

Was it a practical joke?  I could see the bus station 500 meters away. Was that a joke gone wrong or he wanted to be philosophical or was he insane.

Then suddenly I recall my trip in 97, on that night when Kiranmama had died, someone else was critically injured and later succumbed to injuries. I could remember face of small girl who was daughter of Kiranmamas’ colleague and her mom. I suddenly remember name on ICU ward : Kiran Deshpande and Ashish Kulkarni…….

The world started turning around for me. No this can be happening.  This guy is playing some jokes.

I went back to 97. I remembered his face in local papers next day in obituary column. And lightening stuck me. What if he is a ghost and if he is so then am I going to die?

Now his old uniform, his interrupted computer education, everything he said fell in place in time sense of things.

I do not want to die. I have responsibility to my family. I have to play with my daughter. I want to see her grow. I want to see myself retiring nicely. How would my daughter cry when she knew that? What will my wife do? How will my parents take this? 

Office and related matters which mattered most till five minutes back, seemed to be last worry. In fact it never stuck then what will happen to my client, employees? But strangely I stuck me that how my CA will manage wealth so my family will not suffer. What if someone frauds??  . So ultimately it was again about family.  Many thoughts just flashed in few seconds. Whole images about past memories mostly good ones zoomed.  So life is about good memories.

I look at man, he had know it all smile and some serenity.

He said “Son my message has been delivered. Look even we have reached the bus stand “.I never realized that I was driving blindly for last few moments. I halted the car. He simply walked off into crowd of umbrellas near the bus station.

I am dazed, I am sweating, again my headache starts to roll off, and I feel like vomiting,

And there is a big knock on the car door and there was a huge guy in black overcoat asking me to open my door. Was it Mr death? I pass off

I open my eyes,  I am in my cabin, There was crowd outside my cabin, The guy with black rain coat was watch man who was trying to break lock of my cabin. My cell phone had 18 missed calls from wife, parents, office ops manager, office boy.

Later I came to know that I was unconscious in my room all the while.No one realized but my wife upon not knowing my where about called everyone and someone realized that I was in the cabin not responding to anything even after knocking for 5 minutes and thus had called watchman to break open the door locked from inside

Immediately they rushed me to hospital, my BP had shot up 200-140, I missed a stroke narrowly. It could have been anything even paralysis if I was not so lucky.

Month after that I am again in office but still cannot forget face of late Ashish Kulkarni. I have learnt lesson hard way that family matters most. Maybe I was given a warning, a new perspective,   from someone Iike Kiranmama from the other world who loved me so much.

I have taken this seriously and promise to do what I missed.  I will not get hyper on office matters, I will plan my legacy, I will spend more time with daughter and family, I will focus on health. And I will treat every day in office as just another day of fine journey which we call as life.

Just to complete the narrative and very small fact which came upon me few days later. I remembered that on the morning of that fateful day, I happened to accidentally gaze upon the 15th death anniversary photo published by Late Ashish Kulkarni’s daughter who is now an IT employee of reputed company after being recruited from one of the top engineering campuses in country. Kiranmama’s son also has gone abroad for higher studies.  I imagine how Kiranmama would have enjoyed US visits and success of his son. Wish life is not as unfair as it was to him.

But then this is life. You have to treat it just as another day in office and you will agree that offices are not fair to everyone. Point is what you make out of this extra day in office……

Note: The characters and events depicted are fictitious and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is coincidental. Though issues are real, human and universal…..

1 comment:

AparnaRK said...

Well done Gautam! The narration was good and gripping! Lot of potential! All the very best!