Monday, January 19, 2009

The Revenge of the Spurned

The natural law of life says that everyone, irrespective of his status in life, must die one day. The natural law of office life says that everyone, irrespective of his position in the hierarchy in the organization, must retire. So it was that M retired from the Bank.

Several Indians believe in life after death. It is therefore not surprising that several officials too reappear in the corporate firmament in a new avatar. So was it that M, came to be given a senior assignment in a small private sector bank. He thought it necessary to revamp the systems in his new perch. The obvious shortcut was to implement the time-tested systems in vogue in the bank he had worked for earlier.

For this, he needed the copies of the important circulars and checklists so that he could bring out similar publications in his bank. He called on P, his erstwhile colleague, a General Manager now, who extended the usual courtesies. Upon knowing the purpose of M's visit, P sent word for Y, an officer in charge of a certain department and asked him to get copies of the materials that M wanted.

While M waited, tea and snacks were served and old threads picked up. In about fifteen minutes, Y was back with the papers.M glanced though the material and observed, ‘But these cover only agriculture. How about Small scale insustries?’ P replied, ‘Oh, that area is looked after by another officer; let me call him.’

That was how I was summoned to the GM’s cabin, unaware of the presence of the other two – M and Y. The sight of the unexpected guest surprised me. Though not too pleased with the encounter, I reminded myself, ‘KTR, you are in the cabin of the GM, not with M who chaired your promotion interview, but with M, the guest of the GM. This is not the time to bring up the past, KTR. Rein in your temper, KTR, and behave yourself!’

P, who had genuinely believed that M and I had not met earlier (After all, I was a junior officer in a branch far away from Trivandrum when M was GM), introduced the two of us to each other for good order’s sake. P said, ‘KTR, you would, of course, know M. But Mr M, you may not know KTR. He is one of our bright young officers. He has just been promoted. And he has been nominated for a plum post.

Extending my hand, I said, ‘Pleased to meet you, sir.’ Pretending that he had not seen my extended hand, he turned to P and said, Don’t I know KTR? This bright spark was in a bit of a spot with his boss. But for my timely intervention, a disciplinary case of insubordination would have been slapped up against him. And he will agree that but for me, he would not have been promoted.’

I could take no more. I rose from the chair I was sitting on, drew up to my full height. Livid with rage, I replied, ‘I guess Mr M, that you memory is failing you.’ Turning to my GM, I requested, ‘Sir; I will need five minutes to refresh the memory of Mr M.’

Without giving P the time or option to take a decision on my request, I turned to Mr M and fired my salvo. ‘It was not because of you, but in spite of you that I was promoted. And my respect for the boss who displayed integrity in conveying the adverse remarks to me is greater than for you who played a confidence trick on me.’

Not heeding the frantic gesticulations of P, I proceeded to narrate the story I had related in 'A Trip to Hell - Parts I and II' and added, ‘So, what you did was to extract an apology from an unsuspecting junior officer by promising him that the confidential report would be amended, and then magnanimously pardon him, with a veiled threat to use that note of apology against him.’

Pushing away the left hand of Y who was giving me a hard pinch on my thigh in his bid to control me, I continued, ‘And in the interview that you chaired, the only words you allowed me to utter were the greetings on entry into the chamber. After that you took over, narrated your version of the above story to the other members of the interview panel, and sealed my fate.‘Now, Mr M, tell me if it was your timely intervention that I was spared of the disciplinary case and whether you were instrumental in my promotion.’

When I finished, P asked me to sit down. I thanked him and took my seat. Realising that no business could be transacted with me in that foul a mood, P said, ‘We’ll meet later.’

As I stepped out, M extended his hand and said, ‘Let bygones be bygones. Forget the past. Let us part as friends.’

It was my turn to withhold my hand. I replied, ‘I cannot let SOME bygones be bygones. You are my sworn enemy and we shall remain so.’

With those words, I stomped out. I do not recall if I banged the door behind me.


As luck would have it, it had to be M (Please see A Trip to Hell - Part I) who presided over the committee that interviewed me soon for promotion to the next grade. That was the first ever promotion interview I attended.

I was the youngest and the junior-most candidate. Therefore, I was the last candidate to be interviewed. (Now I recall bemusedly that it was so at every promotion interview I had attended in my life!) The panel was understandably tired after a series of interviews. As for me, I had waited the whole day for my turn. It was 7.30 pm when I was called in.

As soon as I stepped in, the Chairman turned to his colleagues (So far away in time, I do not recall who these worthies were, nor does this matter one bit for the completeness of this story) and said, ‘This is Mr Rajagopalan who fell out with his boss about the adverse remarks made in his CR. He is lucky that I intervened and saved him.’

M then proceeded to describe in detail the sequence of events described in A Trip to Hell - Part I and his own version of the ‘Operation Rescue KTR’ that he had launched.

I had just to sit back and listen to the harangue.With that, he had sealed my fate in the interview. For, no other member of the panel posed me any question. The Chairman of the panel too did not.

This must have been the only interview where the candidate was dismissed by the interview panel without giving him a chance to utter a word. The result of the interview was, predictably, negative.

This narrative would not be complete if I did not add with a hint of pride that in every single interview that I attended in my career after that non-interview, I had performed to my satisfaction and got selected on practically every occasion. Thanks are due to the chairmen and members of the panels of interview who did ask me questions and did allow me to speak : )

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Handing over the keys to our brand new car, the salesman briefed us about the terms of the warranty and extended warranty and the free service and the paid services and the exclusions. Then he proceeded to give us detailed instructions on how to handle 'her'.

“For the first two thousand kilometers, you should not exceed sixty kilometers an hour,” he said. “After the break-in period,' you can bring her to us. We will re-set the accelerator so that you can drive at higher speeds,” he added.

The expression 'breaking-in' brought to my mind 'breaking-in' in another context.

* * *

I had just got married. Though not the only child, for she had a younger brother, Bhawani had been brought up as a darling daughter. As in all urban nuclear families, her parents constantly doted over her. (I must add that all the hug and cuddle had not spoilt her, though.)

In marrying me, she was virtually being 'transplanted' from friendly and familiar surroundings to live with a stranger in alien climes and times.

As for me, I came from an entirely different background. I had grown up in a joint family as one among half a dozen kids and a horde of cousins. It was a case of survival of the fittest. Talking rough and acting tough were not unusual.

The world then had not heard of hi-falutin concepts like pre-marital counselling. The circumstances in which I got my bride were such that there was nobody to tell me how to handle or tackle my young partner in the early days of marriage. How was I then to know that being the only daughter, Bhawani might have grown up as a pet, apt to get peeved at the slightest provocation?

As a result, I had behaved in my own style, unmindful of the fact that I was dealing with a girl, not used to the abruptness that was my 'hallmark'.

Like the time we were at the breakfast table in 'our home'. It was the first upma (a light breakfast item made of broken wheat, popular in South India) Bhawani had made. And she had forgotten to put salt in the preparation.

Jestingly, I said, "It is called upma because up (salt) goes into it." It was, of course, not true; it was meant as a joke; an original one, characteristic of me, using play of words. As I sat back, (and gloating in the smug thought: how smart of me to have invented that wisecrack!), Bhawani got up from the chair and went into the kitchen. She returned a little later. I did not give it much thought.

It was months later that I realized how hurt she was at that innocuous sentence. And that was when she revealed it to me. The reason she had gone into the kitchen was as much to fetch the salt as to wipe the tears that streamed down her cheeks. Still to get used to my style of putting things across, she could not bear the ‘insult’.

Even in 2009, tears well up in her eyes when she is reminded of that episode, as I am sure they will when she reads this. (An offshoot of this incident is that she has never ever forgotten any of the essential ingredients of her recipes - least of all, the upma!)

PS: This piece will remain incomplete if I do not append what a friend of mine for over three decades remarked on hearing this story: ‘I find it difficult to believe that you were ever so boorish to make the remark in such an inappropriate situation!’