The eerie silence in the office broke Dhanur’s concentration, ironically, and he looked up as Boss came stomping in. Someone was in trouble, big trouble.
Secretary had read the signs and reached the cabin door a split second ahead of Boss.
“Hrrmph,” Boss grunted to the door Secretary was holding open. “Come in. Important dictation.”
Secretary disappeared into the cabin, notepad and pencil on the ready. “Boom-boom, Secretary!” Dhanur smiled sympathetically.
A new employee had texted Boss this morning asking for leave because of a medical emergency in the family. The memo faxed to him read: “If it’s for real, say how much money should be sent across. If it’s not, consider yourself out of a job.”
|Dhanur was a scraggy, fun guy.|
Digital sketch: Harjeet
Dhanur prised this out of Secretary over tea. The wizened old man had seen Boss in a variety of moods, but nothing like this before.
Boss never sacked an employee. He didn’t even threaten them like this. If at all, he only made it difficult for them to stay on. He may be gruff, but he seemed to be in a giving mood today.
Dhanur decided this was the right time to make his move. He would finally put in a request for that loan for a motorcycle he wanted so badly. He was tired of cycling to office, though it was fun to sometimes rest on his pedals and watch the crazy world whiz by. He would use it real economically. He might ride with his wife to the mall once in a while, though.
They were a fun pair. He was a jovial guy, always looking at the sunny side of things. She was a good sport, enjoying his little jokes and pranks. She was so understanding, his wife. Dhanur knew she wanted so much to go out shopping occasionally, to show off a little in office. It was only fair. She hid her wishes well, but he was sometimes sad about it. Their joint income was barely enough to pay the rent, send some money to his parents, pay token insurance premium and deposit instalments for a small flat they had booked. There was no scope for small luxuries, just decent food and clothes.
He came out of his reverie with a start. The HR in-charge was talking to Secretary.
Dhanur sauntered over to the coffee machine, hoping on the way to catch what was going on. “The young man called. He wants an advance twice his salary,” he heard HR growl to Secretary, who winced, shrugged, and motioned HR to go in. “Lion’s a-roaring, man, be warned,” Dhanur typed out a message in his mind. Was it telepathy? HR threw him a glance over the partition. Dhanur gave him a weak smile.
His coffee was getting cold, work neglected. Dhanur could think of nothing else. He weighed his own chances. If Boss decided to grant advance to a man not even a month into the job, he, Dhanur, deserved more consideration. He had been making reports for the entire research team for five years now.
“I’ll know today,” he thought, his resolve showing the first signs of firming up.
Twenty minutes later, an excited Secretary sauntered over.
“Accounts has been told to send a fat amount,” he whispered before scuttling back to his seat.
Dhanur’s hopes were now definitely soaring. He would take Secretary into confidence when they sat down to lunch.
Boss was a confirmed bachelor. Dhanur had privately labelled him “a confirmed miser” as well. He agonized over recruitments, sometimes taking months to decide on whether another field hand was necessary. His commissioned research business was doing really well. He could quickly decide on which field staff could be plucked from an ongoing project and put onto a new one. He tried to make do with a minimal permanent workforce. If the research required was really extensive, the placement agency was called up for temporary hands. Boss personally interviewed each candidate four times, five times, before putting his money on them.
Boss was extremely stingy with his office workers. He made it clear they deserved little more than the salary package he had negotiated with them. He drove a hard bargain, Boss did, but to his credit he stuck to his commitments. Whether clients paid him on time or not, his payouts were always on dot. Beyond that, he had nothing to do with his office staff, except Secretary, the Accounts head and HR.
But Boss was also savvy, and therefore liberal toward his field staff, permanent or temporary. He paid them handsomely. They travelled in air-conditioned cabs and trains wherever available, stayed in the best possible hotels or rest houses, and delivered the best results.
Yes, Dhanur could vouch for that. He had sat in on every final briefing for the field staff since he joined. He was the back-office pointman, the one they phoned to file their reports for the day.
Boss would not give them laptops to carry around – an unnecessary expense and liability, he believed. He had devised a sharp strategy. Dhanur would put down a list of keywords for every project on his computer. The field hands called him to report the “ayes” and “nays” or simple numbers, which he keyed in. After all data had been collected, they would return to office, retrieve the files he had made for each and flesh out their reports. On those days, the field hands worked half-day, so workstations were available to two batches. That way they also got time to recoup their exhausted stores of energy, and of enthusiasm.
The master report was collated from their individual surveys, overseen by Boss himself.
Dhanur loved his job. The projects on captive power, rural link roads, school teacher manuals … it was a long list, and involved a lot of smart thinking. He had a proud collection of “thank you” cards from grateful field workers whom he had given valuable tips over the phone.
He did not know if Boss was aware how he helped the staff. Dhanur did not believe in self-promotion. He believed in karma instead. One day he would be paid well for all his labour, he was sure.
Had that day arrived? He would know soon.
When the field staff was away, Dhanur was busy taking their calls. When they descended on the office in hordes, he whirled from desk to desk making sure each of them filed in the correct format. Today there was a lull, for everyone had just left last evening for a remote industrial estates project. He expected few calls on their first day in the field.
There was ample time for reflection and wishful thinking. He patted his unruly hair and began stringing together the right words for an application.
Suddenly, pandemonium broke out. Accounts whooshed past Dhanur, who was lost to the world at that point. The buzzer sounded twice, then again. “Unusual,” he thought, craning his neck for a glimpse into the cabin. Boss looked livid, and Accounts was making an animated point. Secretary was furiously taking notes. Boss banged the door on his way out, and Accounts and Secretary conferred for a long time.
|Dhanur's bike dream had crashed.|
Digital sketch: Harjeet
Dhanur was on tenterhooks. Where had Boss gone? Usually he took one project at a time, and stuck around in office till initial reports indicated his strategy was working fine. Only then did he go scouting for the next contract.
As soon as Accounts was out of sight, Dhanur leapt to Secretary’s side.
“Sad day,” Secretary confided. “Ever since we began this business, no client has questioned our quality, or refused to pay. This one has done both.”
“We are in the right, of course?” Dhanur asked anxiously.
“Boss has gone to consult a lawyer friend of his. We have a strong chance of winning, but it’s going to be a long haul. Accounts is very worried. A big sum is going to get stuck,” Secretary replied.
“Screech … thud!” Dhanur was sure he heard his bike hopes crash inside his head. He returned to his seat, feeling cold inside, and shut the file on his computer he had fondly named “Application for loan”.
Good that he had not called his wife to tell her about his intention. She, and the motorcycle, will have to wait.
A sunbeam warmed his hand where it lay limp beside the keyboard. He smiled. Perhaps there was still something wanting in his karma. He began filing keywords for the new project with fresh vigour. One day he would ride his dream, his bike.