Passport Offices can do with some Employee Management

When you enter the passport office in Delhi, it is much unlike any other government building. Good architecture, bulky authoritative look, and entrance mostly teaming with parked vehicles.

The one distinct feature is that right from the guard to the people sitting inside the offices, everyone treats the applicants like cattle. And no, this is not a judgment.

See this: A lady with a letter of passport appointment enters the lobby. As she moves towards the door, the guard checks her appointment letter and voila, she has come before time. This makes her ineligible to enter the office. Here’s what she experiences next-

Opposite the entry gate is a small lobby with a sitting space for approximately 10 people. Looking at the crowd at any point in time, a passport office has atleast 50 people who need to be accommodated in the lobby. So the rest of the soles just make themselves comfortable by sitting on the floor. Some find a space on the stairs, at the onus of excusing 5 people every 10 minutes. Others try to find a space outside the office, with shade. The good thing with old government buildings is that there is a high probability that there will be a lot of trees around it. However, this does not hold true in case of this office (let me know if there are some better ones). A handful of passport consultancy shops surround the passport office. Most of these are temporary structures, big enough to man just 3 people and a couple of computers. A couple of permanent shops approximately double the size of the temporary structures, are run by egotistic owners who speak fluent passport language. The printouts cost INR 40 in the closest shed and the price reduces to INR 30 as you move a little farther. These small temporary structures promise to get most of your affidavits and annexures made. This ensures that atleast those visiting the passport office in Delhi, do not have to wander around finding the place which will make the documents Government wants.

Pareto’s Principle

Pareto’s 80/20 principle applies perfectly here, where apparently only 20% people are genuinely handling their roles to make the process possible. Others even go to the extent to making things difficult.

Don’t even try to talk with frustration in your voice. The people working in and around the building see hundreds of applicants everyday. So any apathy you experience is because they simply don’t give it a damn. What if the passport office website, never mentions that how to get the Affidavits made, unless you specifically dig into it, 5 levels deep, to end up in a pdf document, in which you might as well disappear. What if the website never mentions the application printout as the must have documents for getting you started with the process.

That’s to no one’s fault!

While approaching the passport office, I felt like I was about to get into an examination hall. The entire anticipation was about whether or not I will get through. And amazingly in this case, I could never be too sure.

Get some reputation management

So here’s what I have on mind. What if these government officials too were conscious of online reputation management? Atleast I could tweet them to ensure speedy response.

What if they had their lessons on Customer management, considering that it will only reduce the repeat visitors, making their work easier?

Why can the website not be created seamlessly, to ensure the ease of usability?

Why doesn’t the website and public offices monitor the user experience and amend it’s operations (in this case it has been outsourced to TCS, but that doesn’t in any way improve on the quality of service) based on performance?

Plain old employee management

If those people there knew they would be judged on efficiency, they would act smarter. If their incentives were dependent on reducing the time per successful application, they would find out ways to resolve the issues faster. If there was someone to check repeated mistake by the applicants, proper instructions could be used in the mails preceding the appointment. If someone cared to find out why educated people looking for passport miss on some vital documents every time, the answer might be in the usability of the process to find out exactly how to get those documents. Instead of small adjoining shops flourishing on passport advisory, it might be wiser to have a tollfree number to get the issues of the citizens sorted.

In the place where there is so much dissatisfaction and frustration, it easily gets on the people working there as well. A regularization of process with the intent of reducing stress could be a miracle medicine for the passport offices. Till the day that happens, I will know that getting a passport is an ordeal, that shakes an entire faith in the efficiency of government systems, and leaves an indelible mark.

Fizzling of a dream: and Resurrection

Accepting Responsibility

The reason writing is more difficult than reading is because we don’t care to think too much about what we read. Or even worse, as is in my case, thinking about what we read, drawing the understanding, facing some contradictions to the long-held beliefs, but not putting enough effort to consciously imbibe the lessons. It is easier to leave the strongly held thoughts or absence of thoughts unchallenged, than to let a new light stay long enough to question everything.

Our insecurities force us to remain in the safe, non-thinking zone. I confess giving in to this line of thought and resolve to consciously overcome it.

Thinking exerts a lot of self-contradictions and requires the willingness to face counterintuitive ideas to form an independent and logical conclusion, every time. It is important to choose to think. Left to itself, mind will nevertheless think. Being conscious of the thread of thoughts creates space for taking responsibility of those thoughts and makes one capable of owning oneself. Understanding what we experience, either in the form of reading or simply being, requires going that extra mile to force oneself to sit and ponder.

If I may take it to the next level, these thoughts make coherent sense when we decide to involving all our senses to experience them. This means that the entire thought process needs to be pondered over and written down. Writing down ensures that we re-read the thoughts and eliminate prejudices and egotism, as we develop an understanding around its validity. It also ensures that we consciously, without being politic, take complete responsibility of what we think. Writing it down and sharing with an audience, takes it a level higher, where we fearlessly leave our thoughts to be challenged.

This is exactly why when I decided to create 100 Writing Days, and could take it only so far as 11 days, I justified it to myself; but chose not to accept that justification in writing, thereby leaving it susceptible to question.


After much deliberation and postponement, at this point, where I am unable to pick another fine written word, without committing myself to writing about as many things as possible, the first thing I am doing with this piece, is taking responsibility of the cause I failed. But I resolve to take it up once again.


Taking a different Approach

So here is what I am doing this time; I am defining my audience.

I made some amazing friends in college. I have decided that they shall be my audience. I realize that when they are my audience, I am able to write. I can think with them and communicate my sentiments. I can feel their arguments and I can imagine myself providing responses as suited; just what I fail to do when I am left to myself.

To those amazing friends, I am not sure you will reach here. If you do, I am not sure if I will make sense to you. But while I write, I imagine that we are having these conversations in those coffee shops; just like the old times. That version of you is listening and arguing and making counter proposals to me as I try to approach my thought. That thrill of conversation shall enable this blog.

To you, my dear reader, while eventually I shall fizzle away, till that time, I ask you to be a part of these conversations.

To all those days in college, to all those hours spent in trying to un-spun myself, to all those awkward lonely alone times, when I failed to find a sense of being, I commit to write. I commit to force myself to question what I read and present what my plausible view is, open to arguments and questioning.


While I am not writing, I shall keep reading. For those are the thoughts, someone else has left open to challenge. The conversation needs to be alive, in the mutual effort to make sense of things, thereby trying to make a change in ways we perceive and respond to life, hopefully making life more livable in the process.

Leaning In

I was recommended Lean In by a couple of old college classmates. When I opened the book, I realized that it is talking the way I talk to myself. The book talks to empower. It conveys a lot of insecurities that women carry with themselves. The author challenges the assumptions of the society in treating women as a caregiver only. It presents one perspective of how the writer perceives a woman’s life could be. But it does not at any point say that that is the only way. The book talks to women who are unsure of how to make the tough decisions. It tells them that they should realize that they are not helpless. These women need to exercise their choice as to what they want from themselves.

The concern of work-life balance is a reality. I as a professional and a married woman understand it. It takes a lot of courage to write a book about something so close to oneself, something that needs opening yourself to your vulnerabilities and taking them head-on. The book tries to inspire the same courage and confidence in every woman.

I want my mother to read this book. I want all my aunts to read it too. Everyone who has typecasted women into this role of caregiver alone, needs to read it. Do the children growing up need their mothers to sit on their heads? Did the mothers removed by 2-3 generations give this much attention to their kids as is growing today? Who should decide what a woman should or should not do? Aren’t we responsible for stifling both the genders to accept their roles just as their respective society has witnessed so far? This read raises questions about the need for making informed choices.

A must read for every working individual in our society. As you read it, let it challenge your assumptions. Discover your own inherit behaviour patterns which are reinforcing this pattern. A concerted effort it might seem, but it’s essential nonetheless.

Also, next time you look at a female colleague, do not make your own assumptions based on her gender. 

[Book Review] One of the wittiest autobiographies

Naked by David Sedaris seems to be his attempt to sell the humor of his life. David manages to  create out of the saddest events, some reason to make us smile. While the attempt is worth the shot, the emotions around it are too intense to let a good laugh out. The detachment he tries to pose makes be question if I am reading his own life story. Parts of it seemed exaggerated to maintain the rhythm of his thoughts and keep the reader interested.

So why did I read it till the end? While there are 100s of authors who would write an autobiography, what makes David’s stand apart is the ease with which he himself looks at it not in the hindsight, trying to figure out what went wrong, as Elizabeth Gilbert or John Sculley , nor as an effort to educate or propagate an ideology, like Jawaharlal Nehru or Mahatma Gandhi, but as a reality show he might have seen and decided to write about. He has the capacity to find fun and satire in his life situations. It is only when a particular emotion is touched the second time in some other context, that his true feeling about it is revealed. In one of the initial chapters, he is looking at his father as his mother’s American-culture loving, unwary, chastising husband. In another chapter, much later, he shows his own distress of being a son of that father. Initially his friend Veronica is a play and adventure mate. Later when his only means of contact with her is through exchange of mails, does his reminiscence and love for the friend shows up.

The satirical start

For the first 100 pages, David has written satire on his own family describing seemingly unavoidable but extremely unpleasant circumstances. These are mostly anecdotes from his childhood. I assume that this is the key in allowing him the freedom to relate the emotions he felt then and create some other details to knit a satire without seemingly hurting anyone. So even though he loses his grandmother or his entire family hates his father, it is adroitly put. There are a couple of chapters interspersed with the tragic confrontations, on hilarious situations his family finds itself in.

Sharing the real adventures

As David’s story grows into his teens, his tone gets more emotional as he unfolds his perception of the cause and effect of the events. While the immense struggle of his life is apparent from the very start, he seems unable to hide it behind his wit anymore. He introduces parts of his character just the way they might have dawned upon him. The story telling takes some scenes to laborious lengths that it seems more apt to skip a page or two. By the time I reached the end of book, it seemed less of a pull and more of a necessity to get to finish it. But overall, worth picking up!

Breaking and making of morals

I resisted the temptation of doing it. I could see why some people might consider it wrong, but my own time and experience tells me that it’s absolutely fine. If there is a chance that I can pull it off, why shouldn’t I. So I decided to keep the hound of morality at bay and let myself take a deep breathe. But letting the guards down didn’t bode well. The breathing increased the pressure from within. My gravest fear came true. The balloon burst! I could only sense exhilaration in my heart as if I would drop off some cliff I had been hanging on, for way too long. I guess it’s time to touch the ground and find something more credible and less stressful to live by. With these thoughts still going strong, my alarm clock woke me up at 6am in the morning.


Since the very start of my life, I had learnt to live by the idea of an ideal girl. I should not interrupt anyone while speaking, even if they are saying absurd things. My hair should hold together to form a tidy pony. My books and copies should not have dog ends. Homework should be done on time and I should go to bed by 10. No ice-creams when I have cold and no candies from the road side vendors. So I grew up creating a list of ‘to-practice’ habits. There was another list, that I believed in; the ‘my-values’ list. It had those points of the imposed principles of morality, I voted as true. So when my best friend asked me to help her meet the boy she likes, I got super-excited. One, it totally had no mention in any list. Two, it sounded like something which might fall in the NOT to-practice category by my parents but it just might qualify into ‘my-values’ ! Social service as I assumed it was, hadn’t featured yet either. There was kindness and helping the needy and impoverished, in both the lists. But probably since I had only crossed the age of 9 yet and had at least another 9 years before I started earning, social service wasn’t discussed separately. I will not let this grey area opportunity go. It feels absolutely wrong and yet I can justify it to myself.

The next day, we went to the 3rd street to the left of our bus stop, just after the school. There was a big military training ground there. Since my family didn’t know someone who lived in this street, I hadn’t been here before. Even though it was just 3 streets away, it felt like entering a different city. THAT was an evil thing to do. I was nervous but I couldn’t let it show in front of my friend; she trusted me for being cool. This boy she wanted to meet was from school. He lived across the military ground. When we reached there she spotted him behind a scooter parked towards the other end of the park. That’s it. I turned to go. If she wanted to meet someone who looked like a rogue, I could accompany only so far. Not meeting people who looked dangerous belonged to both the lists. Also, he wasn’t wearing the school uniform. That meant he skipped school today. I developed a sudden dislike for those who skipped school for no reason and hideously wanted to meet a classmate. So declaring that my part was over, I turned to go. My friend could spend all the time with this boy, she wanted. The blazing sun was another major deterrent and I could imagine my mother coming over to the bus-stop, if I didn’t reach back in next 10 minutes. I had to leave now. My friend however, was more scared than I. When I proposed that I should better leave, she told me, probably we both should. I scoffed at her response. She should at least say a ‘hi’. So I forced her to go and meet him. I didn’t want all of it to happen for nothing. For all I know, I will get a good scolding at home for being late. (My bus drops me back at 2:15pm. It was 2:25 already. And I had 3 extra streets to cross to reach home.) She better made the plan a success.

On my threatening her, that I am not helping her ever in the future if she blew this one, she agreed to cross the park and meet him. But she wanted me to stand by and promised to return quickly. Looking at her fearful guilty face I knew she would be back in 5 minutes. She crossed the street and reached to the scooter. The boy walked towards her and gave a wry smile. After an uncomfortable minute, she turned her back to the boy, and ran back. This entire thing took 4 minutes and 33 seconds. I was proud of my friend. She did what had to be done. I felt accomplished because in these four and a half minutes, I had accomplished a feat over the bigger list. As for my friend, she could now claim that she had a boyfriend, which made her happy. But more than anything, both of us were glad to run back to our homes. We could say the bus got late. We might get a scolding if they found out, but none of us would ever give in the secret. The stakes were equally high. Our bond strengthened by this small incident, we knew we were best friends for life.

As time moved on, the additions to the ‘to-practice’ decreased in frequency. About 6 months later, my parent’s got transferred. Even though we lived in the same city, I didn’t meet my friend often. Over these years we hadn’t shared any new secret. She realized I wasn’t cool and so didn’t invite me to any such ‘meetings’ in the future. I didn’t think feel like friends anymore. We had become shadows of each-other’s childhood. We created our own set of friendships. On completing school, I moved to a hostel for further studies. My list grew at a faster pace than my parent’s. When I returned to town after my degree and we met, we didn’t even have much to share. We discussed life formally. I had grown out of my parent’s list into my list. My parent’s list now looked like a paper torn out of an old yellowed copy, so feeble, that one might wonder if it ever was all mighty. It smelled like rotten pumpkin. I didn’t even realize when I, eventually, discarded it. Morality had found a new meaning. My morality was different from my friend’s or my parent’s. But it wasn’t imposed on me. It was not a hound anymore. It was like a resting chair. I could choose to sit on any chair, but at the end of the day, I would want to go comfortable on this chair. This is where I would sit and read myself to a peaceful sleep, every night.


Why I am an atheist and you cannot convince me otherwise

I hate to go out every morning to get choicest flowers for my grandmother. I am amongst those fortunate people who get to live with their grandparents and still witness peace within the four walls of their home. But this privilege comes with many small responsibilities and accepting a lot of quirks. One such quirk is insistence on believing in God. And one such responsibility is picking flowers from across the street every morning so that my grandmother could perform her puja with fresh scent of mogra, rose and genda. When I was still a kid, it used to be fun to jump and catch hold of the flowers which were in full bloom. Dadi’s flowers couldn’t be still in their bud. It would mean I selfishly plucked the flower without letting it bloom. So I used to challenge myself every day to find flowers which were most ripe and yet held together. With age, it dawned upon me that puja is a pointless activity. I would rather pluck those flowers to decorate our center table. I could use them to decorate my room. Anything would be better than placing them in a room no-one is supposed to frequent.

The first inkling

My first thought of being a non-believer came when I realized that temples too have politics. The place my grandmother holds holy inhabits people who argue over whose prasad is it or who gets to perform the puja in the neighborhood. There are questions on how much will you pay as dakshina for a particular puja. My grandfather would have be believe that without the right amount of dakshina the puja will be fruitless because we didn’t keep the pujari happy!!

My belief that even if there is some God he is not in the temples, was only confirmed when I our regular pujari got high cholesterol. It means they are like any of us. On imagining what they did for a living, I could not help hating that it was the dakshina that paid their children’s fees. So the preachers of Karma, had their only Karma in taking dakshina. One time our pujari’s son came to our place to get a puja done. After the puja I met him in the market, hand-in-hand with his girlfriend!

Myth buster

The next myth was that pujas would take away the pain in the house. It took me a good 5 pujas in my questioning state of mind to understand that this was not at all true. During the first puja, I couldn’t concentrate on finding the answer to my agenda. That was primarily because any puja meant inviting at least a dozen relatives for lunch following the mantras. This lunch would typically serve choicest of Indian delicacies rounded off by at least 2 sweet-dishes. Since I was always around when the menu was decided, I could not think of much else. So waiting for my turn to get rabri, after helping everyone in serving the guests, was not exactly the best scenario to question the validity of the event itself. That said, I grew resolute with time to find my answer. So the next puja, I took my bowl of rabri even before it was formally served. It is pretty easy, being a host, to get hold of delicacies in the name of ‘tasting it for quality’. Strangely, it hadn’t even occurred to me till then. But probably my pursuit to find the alternate truth was being beneficial in ways more than one. I also registered that the puja was to ensure ‘grah-shanti’. There were supposedly some astrological entities that would cause physical discomfort to members of our family, specifically me. 3 days after the puja, I met with an accident and broke a bone in the right hand. Even before I realized that it had happened, it occurred to me, that the puja didn’t work!

The next three times, the purpose of the puja was so vague, like ensuring there was peace in the household, I perform will in my life and we don’t misplace our expensive stuff. I couldn’t make out any difference between what my home was like before and after the puja. My grandmother said that was the whole point; that without the puja we could have witnessed great losses. They paid a good sum of 5,000+ INR and a dawat of 15 relatives every time. But there could have been a greater loss they say. My mother would hate an aunt who wouldn’t let her sit. But every puja that aunt came to our place and got her fun out of irritating my mother. But Grandma says there could have been a greater loss. 1 month after the fifth puja, I lost my grandfather… that moment I knew; there couldn’t have been a greater loss.

Why you cannot challenge me

There is convenience in claiming atheism. I will not be forced to visit endless temples, which essentially looked the same. Though everyone in the family pitied me not to be able to see the providence, I enjoyed that I could eat whatever I wanted, when the whole family would fast for Sihvratri. Above all, I goggled a lot about evidence on God, and almost every one of them was disproved with an alternate theory.

I have grown up to become a self-proclaimed atheist. I still enjoy the smell of air after a havan. I still wait for my turn to get rabri. I still like to visit new places in the name of visiting the temple there. I can imagine no alternate way to celebrate Diwali, than to start with Lakshmi Puja. But I know none of these can get my Grand Pa back. He has paid your pujaris and filled empty stomachs. He has remained an law and religion abiding man. So yes, I am an atheist. God, if you are really there, prove it to me by returning my Grand Pa. Till then, I am an atheist.

For adventure’s sake

There are times I think this life is so stupid! I get out of bed only to attend to a zillion calls from customers and dealers. By the time I close my day’s work, I am so exhausted that I just can’t make sense of anything else. I need to eat good and sleep tight. That’s it! That’s my day!! So, to make it seem more sensible, I decided to get up every morning for brisk walks in cool summers’ dusk. I will meet new people on my way, exchange genuine smiles and at least for those 30-40 minutes, not think about anything in particular. Just me, with my adrenaline pumping in.

When I told about this revolutionary step I had taken, a lot of my friends argued that their lives are already too adventurous. Those who own their small setups claimed they have to deal with uncertainty every day. Those with field jobs claimed the touring exhaustion. Those who are home-makers showed me how vigilant they needed to be, to create a perfect home out of a house. Every one claimed that their effort needed to be persistent and in no way would it ever be completely acknowledged. I couldn’t take it that people presumed my life was a drag. So one of these jogging mornings I decided to sit back and plan on adding something more risky to my life. I figured that the missing piece from my story was a stamp of adventure. I wasn’t roaming to new places or facing unseen mind-jolting problems. I was leaving at the same time for office everyday, and returned at almost the same hour. I ate healthy food and took a nice sleep. There was nothing challenging about my day. I didn’t have the persistent responsibility of keeping everything around organized to make anything perfect. So I thought one amazing thing I could do was adventure sports!

After some googling I realized that I should start with working out to increase my stamina. So I visited this famous gym the next morning. I told my instructor that I intended to go on hiking in about a month’s time. He should train me so that I don’t end up fatigued. I also planned on doing it often, so setting up my diet and exercise schedule was an obvious thing to do. 6 months later, I had taken two trekking trips. Though it exhausted my weekend breaks, it was fun and I also made a couple of friends. Looming back at these 6 months, I still wasn’t convinced. There was no significant risk or ethical dilemma. So I with a friend from gym, decided to go hitchhiking! We had both read a couple of books which created a fancy world of hitchhiker. If I could pull this off, it will suffice a bragging of at least 8-10 months. I packed light and met my friend at the decided highway junction. After over an hour, a truck stopped by. The driver looked drunk. He offered us a ride to the next city where he was to unload his ransack. Without thinking twice, I hopped in. A sunny morning is interesting only till you can manage to skip the blaze of the sun. An Indian summer can be daunting especially when you are of foot on a highway. So when this nice soul of the truck driver offered us a ride, we didn’t think twice. 4 days later we were back from our trip. With empty pockets and challenged spirits, we swore never to hitch hike again. Of the dozen books that allured us to it, none of them mentioned, not getting access to the loo when you need it the most. They didn’t mention that it might mean sleeping in a brothel. It didn’t ever mention about getting kicked in the wrong places by people with dubious intention. Or probably some of them did, but we couldn’t recollect any of it before embarking on this expedition. I didn’t realise I could be robbed off my clothes. That their might be no food for 15 hours at a stretch if you fail to get a ride. The tan looked unbelievably permanent. I couldn’t muster the bones to report to office for a next couple of days. By thighs and feet soles ached for rest. My back couldn’t remember what straight posture meant. My eyes weren’t sure anymore, if they needed sleep, shade or simple plain rest.

I returned to work after a 4 days off. On meeting the same people now, I couldn’t go out to illustrate my journey. As much as I thought I did it to prove it to others, I didn’t think it ended up at all like my imagination. There were no sweet families sharing their food with us. No truck driver invited us to stay over ast his place. We didn’t spot an exotic animal or slept under the shade of a tree with cool breeze blowing off the sweat. There was sleeping under the tree, but only with an endless cycle of mosquito bites, scary sounds and creepy sensations. I didn’t know the exact words to share my ‘adventure’. I didn’t even bother to tell them why, but I had grown out of my zone of comfort for ever. I could see clearly what life could have been. I could see how my hard work of all these years had earned me the comforts of my life. I loved every bit of it. It is not luck that you land in a job which affords you fixed timings and familiar work desk, every day. I had earned all of it. As for the adventure, I think it’s their every day. I don’t need another hitch hiking to justify anything to anyone. I might not agree with this some time in the future. But for now, at least for 5-6 years, I couldn’t imagine doing anything as berserk. THIS is my life and I deserve every bit of certainty and tranquility it offers. If you got a problem with it, well, it’s your problem. Keep it to yourself. Peace.

Hidden behind the wise words

It is 3:15 in the afternoon. The room is still filled with over 20-25 odd people who believe that sitting through this seminar would change them forever. In a scenario where you are supposed to address an audience whom you have tricked into believing that you have the answers, you know it will be fun as usual. Captivating an audience is a performers’ mandate. If she cannot hold participants, the performance, however worthy it might be, holds no reason to get another opportunity. Till the day money buys food and shelter, productivity alone will ensure the survival of arts. So after refreshing the tone of the seminar to prepare them for the final 2 hour session, I was supposed to leave with them with a sense  of achievement. Our program posters promised,  ‘explore the truth within’. The event was supposed to teach people how to create happiness in their daily lives. We would tell them how they can empower themselves to make happiness live forever. Their problems will vanish. Their issues will be sorted out and they wouldn’t even know how we did it. The only fact that will remain would be, their own sense of conquest.

The seminar drew a good audience of around 80 people. The participants mostly consisted of middle-aged men and women, most of them, from wealthy families. Our participation token of 8000 INR ensured that we had only those people who frequent posh restaurants and in all probability drove their own car. We were to start at sharp 10 am. The seminar would be split in 3 2-hour sessions, with 2 tea breaks and a lunch break. The token money was pegged at an amount which would let us find a seminar hall in a reasonably good hotel. One of the prime factors of driving people to ‘explore themselves’ is to keep such explorations in a fine location. An air-conditioned hall with a domed pathway leading out of it, helps create its own sense of achievement. Another crucial aspect in deciding the venue is the washroom. The washroom should have a clean mirror and under no circumstances, should it be left unattended. A small clean eating area with well-mannered waiters is a must. A proper restaurant is a plus. If you can afford a theme based restaurant, then you probably will have to work on engaging the audience, even less. So when we zeroed in on choosing the place for our seminar, we managed to get a place with a small kitchen which served tea and light snacks.

At sharp 8 am on the day of the seminar, I received a phone call. It was my manager from work. One of my customers had withdrawn a major deal. The tone of the conversation was furious to say the least. The combination of a fresh morning and an irritated, ill-mannered, key customer, clearly didn’t make anyone’s day better. I was on an official leave. I had prepared for this seminar for about 8 months now. I knew I wouldn’t let anyone spoil the day for me. With these thoughts, I listened to the manager for another 20 minutes. His last words were, meet me in my office at 10… click.. toooonnnnn. The phone disconnected.

I tried calling again but received no response. I left a message that I will be able to meet him only the next day. This day had bigger engagements. I knew somewhere deep down my heart, that this could cost me my job. But this seminar could well be a success and provide me an alternate occupation. With high hopes and numbed mind, I left my place to take a final look at the arrangements.

It is 3:25pm. Another 5 minutes to the final lap of the performance. The conversations around the tea counter are positive. I had paid extra bucks to ensure that the tea and cookies were not compromised on quality. The poignant thoughtful faces on the audience reassured me that they did a fine work there.

When I am in the performance, I know my role inside out. I was always a good motivational speaker in school. Any debates on controversial issues saw me enchanting my peers by my pitch, antics and voice modulations. 7 years in my sales job, I had worked hard to refine my skills. I would have stayed with that profession, but for the fact that sales needed more that just convincing once. The problem of a good orator like me is that I cannot perform if the audience size is less than 5, they haven’t paid in advance, or they already know more about my play, than I do. So you see clearly, that Sales wasn’t for me. This seminar was different. I could control the external factors and create the internal factors to leave my audience enchanted by presenting packaged happiness.

At 7 pm that evening, I called my manager. He agreed to meet me the next day. The fury of the morning’s conversation was subsided. He spoke matter-of-factually. I apologized in all sincerity and offered to visit him, first thing in the morning. In the morning I made it a point to stop by at the fruit vendor to buy a pack of kiwis. Fruits are good for everyone in the family. They help you create better relations. The costlier, the better; these 7 years had taught me this. Even if he asks for my resignation, this is one of the lessons that will stay with me forever. My future profession after all, is all about, how to keep oneself happy, and forever!


Pin-drop Silence

Everyday at lunch, I wish someone from the table would start a conversation. Basically because awkward silence is more apparent than an awkward conversation. So every time I meet that quintessential silence in a room with more than 2 people with nothing else to do but hopefully talk, I try real hard to come up with something to share. This is one reason, I am more comfortable around extroverts. In all probability they will have an anecdote to share. They don’t seem to be bothered by the lack of words where it’s due, because well, they are mostly on a look out for some space to express their latest sentiment.

‘Quiet’ has a compulsion of imposing its character. It imposes itself with such impact that you cannot even miss a pin drop. It allows you the space to listen to your head in clear tone. That apparently is a more unpleasant conversation for many, than a real one with someone else.

This afternoon was somewhat different. When the lunch was served, I was the first one to open my lunch box. As others joined in, some small talk ensued. But about 5 minutes later, suddenly, as if some one broke an unpleasant news, everyone in the room fell silent. The only noise in the room was of the spoons meeting the plates at blunt angles. I moment later, if one concentrated enough, one could even listen the movement of the gums and the food as it made it’s way down the throat. Just then, the door bell rang. ALL the eyes darted in the direction of the door. In came a gentleman from another team. The conversation that started at that moment, belonged to the category, you would rather excuse yourself from. Most of the members on the table joined in either with agreement reflecting nods, small double meaning grins or sharply listening yet somewhere questioning eyes. Though we had almost finished our lunch, another couple of minutes passed, as we vacated our seats for the next lot. When this gentleman left us, there was an exchange of glances between those who were more friends than the rest. More than a couple of eyes smiled seemingly agreeing that they were glad the gentleman left, though not pretty sure if they all were disgusted or disagreed with the same parts of his story.

While I too exchanged a glances with two of my colleagues, my internal conversation was a proud celebration of my introversion. Would I ever chose to fill a silent room with jab, than letting the silence be? I don’t think so.

The thing about voice is, it fills the emptiness of the room with a lot of ‘apparent’ alternatives to think about. When a conversation is on, there is less chance that people will observe others. And that is some how a very desirable ‘break’. So while everyone can hear an awkward silence, in a stupid conversation, people can chose to:

  • feign interest in it, or for all they know,
  • concentrate on finding nitpicking opportunities,
  • pull off interesting points from the conversation, or
  • make fun of the speaker or situation.

Of the top of my head, I can only say, the tendency of avoiding the truth, that the conversation is stupid, is far greater than missing the pinch of an awkward silence. I chose to let the realization stay if that indeed is the case. Guising it up is not my style.

The awkwardness of forced socializing

Human beings are social animals. When my civics book claimed that, I could see how it made sense. I could not enjoy my lunch all by myself. It was always fun to have as many members in a pitthu team as possible. When my best friend left town to meet her grandparents, it made me upset. So it fell into a completely logical place. I think this blog itself to one extent is a reflection of this desire of being social, albeit digitally.

What I fail to see however, is why would someone force socializing on another being?!

Here is what I am talking about: My parents would have endless friends. Most of them would have kids in my age group (+- 4). The worst times of the childhood were when we kids would meet, not get along and would still be bound to ‘go and play’ almost once every 2 months. So while I recognize that unwarranted gatherings will invariably be there, I have always been looking at ways to get past them.

Societal games

My parents got me a lot of board games. I can say beyond doubt, board games are a comfort, at least in situations when you don’t really understand what else you can ‘play’ within the house, without breaking a glass. Also, my parents loved buying educational games. So the likes of Memory, Word boggle and Branvita easily got added into my favourites. I was quick and sharp in these games. So these social gatherings became more tolerable. But it wasn’t always true for the other party (the other kid). For all you know, he might suck at those games and would want to play carrom. Then that became a question of who was the host of the party. If you are partying in my home, you have no option but to play what I offer. So even though you see the carrom board peeping from behind the almirah, I cannot remember where I kept the stricker. And since it’s my territory and we are both forced to stay within it, you got to play by my rules. That I think is rule of of handling the social gatherings.

The situation always favours the host. There are times when I have witnessed exceptions though. For instance, if you are the host, but your parents tend to favour the other’s child over you. Though this will not happen very often and I would never wish this upon any kid, I think at times it happens when your parent’s perception of an ideal child is met more closely by the other kid. In that case, in their attempt to ‘help you become better’ they may intervene and favour the external party. Too unfair. That moment either makes the two of you, enemies for life, declaring a cold war, or if the parents are lucky, you actually get their point.

Subconscious reactions

There are days when you meet your friends and wish your parents and their parents got along. That would mean more time to spend with the people you like! Even though you try real hard and it may in turn become a reality for one off case, it is a difficult bet. So the mind starts plotting its own zone of comfort in unpleasant social situations. l remember counting the number of balloons in one such birthday party. I would estimate a number and see if the actual matches the estimate. Their can be any version of the balloon story the minds develop. But one thing is sure, you sub-consciously develop your own dialogue when you can’t have one outside, without sounding offensive. Another way of enjoying the moment is when people are able to create their minds space in their surrounding. For instance, when I met these ‘friends’ I would wait for the discussion to move to ‘how I am a good girl’ or ‘how my school was amongst the best in the city’. Those were things that concerned me. I had an opinion about them and I get the opportunity to share my mind. Another case would be, when I downplayed the fact that I wasn’t the host, and got my way of spending the evening. This last one wins for being the best possible scenario!

On growing up

With time, you have to consciously get involved in forced gatherings. You know they are ugly. They don’t relax you. The spoil your TV schedule and eat into your ‘me’ time. But they are all around. Of so many people I meet at so many different places, not many seem to enjoy, unless they are their my their own will. But they are trapped their like a mouse in a trap, only entering it by choice. Choosing against will, is one of the traits of growing up. So while childhood has taught me multiple ways of turning the perceived drudgery into a fun time, I do have some key guiding principles.

  •  The larger the gathering, easier it is to excuse yourself.
  •  Closer the relationship dynamics, larger the role of mutual consent.
  •  For unavoidable situations, offer yourself small enticements.
  •  Always keep some board games.

Choosing your best way to turn an unwanted meeting into a pleasant time is one of the timeless arts one should not have to do without. It takes some experience, experimentation and an inevitable role of gut. The character that it builds is another key dimension you would seldom appreciate. But if you pull this well, there is one thing less to fret upon. Looking at the frequency of such situations one encounters, the subconscious weighs mastering this art over the risk of going gaga. But for all the mastery and lessons, those occasions that fail to attract you, as a grown up you can choose to reject. THAT indeed is growing up!