As I am growing up, I am, surprisingly, learning new lessons.
Goa, where I went to de-stress after I resigned from my last organisation, has this laid back culture. They even have a term for it. Sussegado. Taking it easy is a way of life. Life shuts down for a siesta every day. Things don’t get repaired for a long time because someone is always too busy getting a rest. And while you do bitch and complain, it is accepted as a part of life.
I remember Bangalore being the same not too many years ago. Plumbers never fixed leaking faucets unless they were in the mood to do so. Carpenters always took around two months to deliver your rocking chair. And the house got built-in about a year and a half if you were downright rich or lucky. Traffic was unheard of. People in offices came home at 5 pm to hot pakodas and filter coffee. Hardly anyone took calls after 7 pm or had meetings on weekends. That’s when swalpa adjust maadi/kindly adjust came into being. And the world lived happily ever after.
I can be an old, crabby Bangalorean and say that the outsiders ruined it for us. But I am modern, convent educated, and clever. And I know that it’s not a Bangalore-only phenomenon. And there is only so much you can blame on outsiders.
So I did a great deal of analysis on this, especially because for months now I have been dealing with the meaning (misuse?) of the term ‘professionalism’, and finally I arrived at the true culprit which is The Western Influence on our language (Colonial hangover, living in a Wodehousian world, speaking British English, educated on Wren and Martin and the Oxford Dictionary) and culture (being kind but practical, lazy but fun, swalpa adjust maadi, that sort of thing).
It started on TV.
US (and other international) Reality TV shows had participants dancing/prancing when they had a fracture in the ankle; staying on in a show even when they had an infection that could jolly well spread to other contestants; or generally doing what no human should attempt because one’s fans should not be let down. Apparently, that is the TV teaching all of us what professionalism is.
Naturally, Hindi channels and most regional channels copied the shows.
One of the dance shows on a Hindi channel had two women in casts dancing and wincing with their partners because they were so professional.
One girl cried after the performance because the pain was too intense.
The judges held their breaths.
They showed a close-up of the cast which now had a distinct red stain on it.
We took an ad break just then.
When we came back to the show after five minutes of ads, the woman judge asked the crying and now profusely bleeding girl compassionately, “Are you okay? Can you dance?”
Girl gave martyr-smile. “I can dance. This is my work. I am a professionalism. I will not let my fans down.”
And promptly fainted.
Everyone clapped very loudly that day.
They showed us how one fan fellow even stood up.
And so, in the corporate world too, one was expected to emulate this new and borrowed culture and meaning of professionalism.
“You had an accident? O shit. You are in hospital now? You have a cast now on your hand? Which? Left? Oh how unfortunate! Will you create that ppt and mail me in the next one hour then?”
This became de rigueur. You had to do that damned ppt so you would be seen as a professional.
If you didn’t, they would not give you a recommendation on Linkedin. You know that they won’t even Endorse your Skills so you just have to do that damned ppt.
Which would all be bearable if they also knew what the damned term actually stood for. Namely, being competent and something of an expert in your field of work. But in the last corporate organization I worked for, people devised their own sense of professionalism while emulating the west.
You must not blame them.
My colleagues unfortunately didn’t speak too much English so it was a bit of a big leap to imagine they would understand what polysyllabic English words meant. They made do. Their idea of being a professional was to follow professionalism as long as it didn’t apply directly to themselves.
Ignoring mails, not answering calls by your colleagues, not responding to messages, not sharing inputs on team activities was all okay. As long as they did it.
I would send out a mail with a ‘please respond at the earliest’ only to be met by a dead inbox. No amount of F9 helped.
Except, I would get mails like, “?” and two seconds later “sent this two minutes back. Y no response?”
And try as I might, I could not bring myself to send that sort of mail to anyone to get a response. Blame it on my colonial hangover/convent education/or being Bangalorean and doing adjustment.
Since I worked from home, it was unacceptable to have my communicator status be set to ‘Busy’ or ‘Away’.
That meant I would immediately get a call from my Conscience. Let us call it Kunti.
“Hi Bhumika, are you not working today?”
“I am. Why?”
“Your messenger is set to Away. So I wondered.”
“O that. No. I was in the bathroom. Did you need something?”
“I sent you a mail a minute back. I need that ppt in two minutes.”
“Okay. But what is it about?”
“I don’t know. You have to figure it out. You know that Mr. ASS. He wants something again. I cannot work with him any more. I fought with him today. So I need you to send me that ppt in two minutes.”
“Sure. Consider it done.”
And when it was done, I didn’t even get a ‘thank you’ or a ‘you are a champion’ mail.
When I tried to decline a meeting after office hours because I had to see a doctor, I had to live through a rather tension-inducing argument. With Kunti again.
“This is an important meeting. I cannot believe you would say no to attending that. I have to speak to Mr. ASS and you know how much I cannot stand him. I cannot believe you are not going to attend the meeting.”
“Kunti, I understand it is an important meeting. I have added all my inputs on to the ppt. I would have attended but I have been throwing up all day owing to some medication having seriously disagreed with me. I really need to see a doctor. Please try to understand. And ignore Mr. ASS if he is nasty to you.”
“He will be nasty. But this is very bad. I will have to bring it up with HR, you know. They will catch me. I have no idea what to say to you any more. As it is, you work from home. It is against our policies. I will be the one answering all sorts of questions from everyone. Why do you have to see a doctor? It’s only vomiting.”
Another time, I set up this memorable Telecon with a team in Noida and a colleague, let us call him Singhji, who was key to the meeting declined saying he had another conflicting appointment. I decided to get inputs from a Pandeyji also on the same team. Halfway through my call with Pandeyji, I hear the voice of Singhji.
“Arre Pandeyji, bhindi lejiye. Fresh market se bhindi laaya. Onion bahut mahanga tha, aur phool gobi bhi fresh tha.”
Pandeyji then asked him if he had any mirchis while politely declining the bhindi.
“Mirchi toh main nahin laaya, but bhindi lejiye toh. Koi gal nahin.”
They continued the conversation for another five minutes as I waited on the line helplessly laughing and crying at the same time. They didn’t even mute themselves.
I learnt all about the rates of various vegetables in Delhi-NCR that day.
You could even call it a successful meeting.
So English and communication was definitely not given any importance in my last organisation.
My introductory mail to the communications team had the standard “…feels very intensely about grammar and punctuation. She is particularly critical of those who use multiple exclamation marks.” to which I received this lovely welcome. “Bhumika! I am so glad you joined us. I feel the exact same way about grammar and punctuation and especially multiple exclamation marks!!!”
At the time, I was very happy thinking I was in the company of not just people who are particular about grammar but also people with a sense of fun and mischief. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Later interactions revealed that she not only used multiple exclamation marks as if she were a factory that produced it, but she also didn’t know the difference between it’s and its.
Call me a prude but grammar is the only thing that matters in life.
Another communications expert once sent me a mail for having responded to her on time saying, “Thank you so much for the quickie, Bhumika.”
It got better.
Some of them came up with a campaign to make newbies feel welcome. They did this by creating a tagline, ‘somethingsomethingpositive when you see red’. In spite of repeatedly telling them that the phrase ‘when you see red’ meant something completely different from what they were trying to say, one woman continued to argue with me and quite rudely at that. She thought I was being a bitch and complained about me to everyone. Finally, her escalation reached the Head of HR. I had to explain the situation to him. I also shared how annoyed I was that she was so rude and adamant. He finally shot her idea down. I thought that was the end of that. It wasn’t. She wrote a mail marking all of us and saying, “Why won’t I be rude? What do you expect? I won’t do jugaad? I can do anything to make sure I get what I want at work.”
I thought I was in this organisation because life was trying to teach me some patience. A virtue I know I distinctly lack. I am a very instant gratification type of person. I want to become thin tomorrow so I can wear that little black dress. I want to be given a pineapple pastry the moment I ask for it. I have been told it’s an OCD: Only Child Disorder. And so I stuck on in the organisation, negotiating with all the evil people I worked with, trying my own brand of jugaad.
But Kunti kept calling ever so often and alternatively wailing/complaining about others at work, or threatening me with unheard of HR repercussions since I worked from home.
I resolved that I have to be the TV version of professional.
I thought I have to win a corporate battle.
I have to join them and not think of beating them no matter how much I wanted to beat them up.
But then this happened.
I was in hospital at around 7.30 pm on a weekday. A colleague called.
The colleague impressed me by saying, “Is this a good time to talk to you?”
No one in my organisation had ever asked that question before even if they called around 11 pm so I was quite taken aback.
I said, “No.”
“Why? Why is it not a good time?”
In my head I was thinking it is past office hours, but all I said was, “I’m sorry, I’m in the hospital right now. I won’t be able to help you.”
“That’s okay. This is an emergency. Also, my Manager wants to talk to you.”
Manager who is some VP in the organisation comes on the phone, says, “Yes, I heard that you are in hospital, maybe it is an emergency, but this is a critical requirement.”
I maintained that there was nothing I could do to help him as long as I was in hospital.
He says, “Fine. You can continue to behave like this. I will escalate to Kunti.”
I said, “Please be my guest. I must tell you now though that even Kunti cannot help you at this time of the day if you need anything up on the intranet.”
There I was in hospital, and at the risk of too much information, getting an invasive pelvic scan done.
Kunti calls me up just when there is a probe a full 6 inches into my vagina. “Bhumika, what is happening? VP called. And VP’s flunky called. And I have no idea what to do. What should I say? What is all this?”
I breathed out, “I really don’t care. I will call you in a bit.” And hung up.
So Kunti’s Conscience, my superConscience called next. After ten minutes of ignoring various calls, when I finally called back, I got to know about the critical requirement.
It was whether a banner should be placed on top or at the bottom of the intranet for a campaign that would run all the year round.
And that’s when I decided I couldn’t do professionalism any more.
But it didn’t end there. I tried very hard to leave with grace. That never happened. Eventually after a week of writing progressively pleading to complaining mails to various people in the organisation that went ignored, I was finally allowed to leave. There was a catch. I had to actually pay them so I could leave. I did. It was either penury, my health, and sanity or wealth, and another two months of dealing with absurd professionals.
And that’s when life’s lesson hit me.
We must not let Western influences ruin our sense of language and culture.
While you may laugh at the absurdity of my post and the situations I have highlighted— with no exaggeration whatsoever may I add—remember professionalism and what passes for it in today’s world, is a very real concern. Stop perpetrating this and especially being a victim of this before you are wiped off the face of the earth by overwork and stression v.i.z stress and tension.
Of course because of all the good karma I have earned in my previous births, and being a nubile half-Brahmin girl in this one, I got lucky and I was able to quit while I was just broke and broken, and before I could be dead.
You, be careful. You have been warned.
This being a personal blog, naturally, all opinions are personal. So don’t fight with me unnecessarily and needlessly. Also, I will ignore you because I am back in my Wodehousian Bangalore. If you say empathetic and nice things, I will obviously respond because I am professional blog writer. So you do that. That is all.