Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yaadein about a Summons

Pardon me, but, for want of a better expression, I have to use a cliché. It was with what is generally known as ‘mixed feelings’ that the news of my transfer to Punjab was received. The elation because of the out-of-turn promotion it came with was consumed by apprehension: my destination was noted for terrorists spraying bullets even on unsuspecting wayfarers.

Our office was an impressive white building adjoining the Kali Temple on The Mall in Patiala. Constructed in the early 20th century by the Maharaja, it was an immaculate structure whose high-dome and minarets caught one’s eyes. The winding stairs with broad wooden steps and polished banisters led to the first floor where my boss sat.

With expansion, the main building had proved inadequate to accommodate all the departments. Annexes were added from time to time, but not much planning seemed to have gone into these appendages which marred the symmetry of the original structure. If there could be a medley of architecture, this was it! My office was in an annexe made of concrete, glass and chrome.

The posting transported me to another world: different language, costumes, food and culture. In Kerala where I belong to, people are so matter-of-fact that when you meet an acquaintance, instead of greeting with a cheery ‘Good morning’, both of you look away. You are lucky if you can manage to extract a smile out of him. The case is not very different even if he is your friend, boss or father-in-law.

Not so in Punjab, as I discovered soon. If it is your boss (or an older person), you bow down to touch his feet; the recipient of such obeisance gently motions you to stop and so you just reach his knees. If it is a friend, you hug him and say ‘ki gull hai, pappe?’ or words to that effect. If it is a junior (in age or position), you do what your boss would do to you – after he demonstrates his intention to touch your feet.

Like every small organization in a small town, this organization too had its own quaint customs and practices. One such was that the intercom in the office was meant only for peer-level communication. It was insubordination tantamount to sacrilege if you picked up the intercom to speak to the boss. And bosses would not use the device for talking to subordinates; they were people to be summoned in person and given directions.

My boss was a very fine gentleman who was as feared as he was respected. The message ‘Boss was looking for you’ was enough to send shivers down the spine of most. He would send for you only if there was something amiss with what you had done. And it was believed that being hauled over the coals was infinitely better than the dressing down you would receive for your mistake.

In the first week on my stint there, there was something which needed a brief report to my boss. As it would take just a moment, I did the natural thing: I reached for the intercom. Before I could say, ‘Sir, the opening of …’ he responded, ‘Come here, we need to discuss it in greater detail.’ A few more such instances, and I got the message loud and clear: I am supposed to physically go to him for discussions.

One forenoon, my boss’ personal peon peeped through the door of my cabin and said, ‘Sirji, sa'ab ne yaad kiya.’ I thought, ‘How nice of the gentleman to have remembered me!’ and nodded.

Ten minutes later, he made his appearance again, and announced, ‘Sirji, sa'ab ne yaad kiya.’ This time I thought I should acknowledge the kind gesture and said, ‘Acchha, thank you!’

Once again, in ten minutes, he came in with the same refrain, ‘Sirji, sa'ab ne yaad kiya.’ I was puzzled: why this sudden volley of fond remembrances?

My puzzlement did not last long. The intercom beeped. At the other end was the boss. ‘Are you too busy to come to me when I summon you?’

Realising that he was getting into a foul mood, I rushed to him.

‘I did not get your message, …’ I explained.

‘Didn’t Lacchhman come to you three times and ask you to?’

‘He did come, but he just told me that you yaad kiya.’ But did not tell me I was wanted by you.’

My boss burst out into a guffaw. When the ripples of the mirth subsided, he said, ‘How would you, not conversant with this language, know that yaad kiya is a euphemism for being summoned?’


Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri said...

I enjoyed reading this (like your other articles) and look forward to the next installment on this gentleman.

Twisha Mukherjee said...


Gavin Fernandes said...

I find your writing edifying - it is detailed, nuanced, observant and humorous, all at the same time. It is always entertaining. This is the second time I've dropped in and I'm going to do that more.

Thanks for sharing the blog.