In my career, I have had several bosses – some benevolent, some nasty, some stiff upper lip, some informal to a fault – but there is one that remains indelibly etched in my memory.
I had been sent on deputation from my parent organization to one headquartered a couple of thousand kilometers away. It was with some trepidation that I proceeded, for my boss there had the ‘reputation’ of being highly irascible and prone to flying off the handle at the drop of a hat – er, turban, for my posting was in Patiala, in the heartland of Punjab.
It was well-known that he was a man of rigid views and spoke his mind, regardless of circumstances or consequences. This was true of me too. This was a dangerous cocktail if there was one. I was painfully aware that at the best of times, an even temper is not my strong point. If my inability to stand such nonsense manifested in a retort (which I was sure it would) my career would go kaput!
The day I reported there, I greeted my boss in his office in the forenoon, presented the letter relieving me from my earlier assignment, gently pulled a chair and sat. He had no time for such formalities. He pushed aside my credentials and asked me how I liked the new place. He asked the peon to get a cup of tea and continued the small talk.
Suddenly, he thought of something called his secretary. As soon as he came in, the boss started giving a series of instructions. The secretary nodded regularly, punctuating them with a ‘Yes, Sir’ or a ‘Haan, ji’ or a hybrid ‘Sir, ji’.
Suddenly, the boss flared up. ‘Jaswant, I know you are a very intelligent person and can remember all that I tell you, but I expect you come with a pad and a pencil to jot down what I say.’ The secretary promptly withdrew, presumably to fetch his wherewithal.
That was when another officer came in and said, ‘Good morning, Sir.’
The boss snapped, ‘What is so good about the morning?’
To say that I was shocked at this behaviour would be an understatement. My immediate urge was to scram. It was beyond me to imagine how I would put up with working under such a brute.
How wrong I was! And what a surprise it was to discover the man within the man! I was more than fascinated by his colourful vocabulary and refreshingly different approach towards things. What made him stand out in a world where most of his ilk were uni-dimensional men whose interests were limited to the job and the crumbs it brought, was the variety of subjects he dabbled in. He was widely read and it showed. He has a subtle sense of humour, as I found out in time.
Contrary to my expectations, for some reason, he developed an instant liking for me. With the passage time, we discovered that we shared several common interests. Soon, got along famously, thick as thieves.
Around 11:30, Lacchman Singh, his peon, would peep through my door and whisper, ‘Sirji, sa’ab yaad karr rahe hain.’ As if on cue, I would arrange the papers lying on my table in a neat pile and amble to my boss.
There he would be waiting for me, his table clear of all paper. We would discuss the progress in the work, the day’s plans, the state of the nation, anything under the sun. In quarter of an hour, I would be back in my room. Meanwhile, Lacchman Singh would bring a tray with a steaming pot of tea, two gleaming teacups, napkins and a plate with a few biscuits. Though not much of a tea-drinker, I enjoyed those sessions. Little did I realize then that it was a daily review of my work.
On certain days, uninvited, I would go to him for discussing some point. After sharing his views, as I got up to leave, he would say, ‘Sit, sit … She’s coming…’ Perplexed, I’d ask, ‘She? Who’s she?’ The boss, with a glint in his eyes, would say, ‘Wait and see…’ I would look expectantly as the door creaked open to admit Lacchman Singh with his tray. My boss would say, ‘I told you, she’s coming… chai aa rahee hai.’
Which brings us to the perfect understanding between the Wooster and the Jeeves. During a normal working day, he would have an average of twenty visitors. As soon as a visitor came in, Lacchman would peep in. If the boss said, ‘Garma-garam chai lao, Lacchman!’ it meant that the boss wanted the guest to stay and did not want any disturbance.’ On the contrary, if the boss had told him, ‘Arey Lacchman, ‘Saab ko kucchh thanda-vanda pilao’, it meant that he would not like to spend too much time with the guest. If he over-stayed, Lacchman would make his appearance at an appropriate time and announce, ‘Saab, Sirji yaad kar rahe hain.’ Whereupon, the boss would get up with an ‘I would have liked to spend more time with you, but excuse me, my boss wants me.’