Monday 27 August 2012

Fighting the demons

Ateesh and his new phone.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
“How he has changed in these nine or ten years!” Ateesh marvelled as he watched the man talking so authoritatively on television.
The first time Ateesh saw the now-familiar face on TV, he had had difficulty in recognizing him. 
They had met when Ateesh took up his first job at the top.
A young head had bobbed into sight from the doorway. “Hey, hi boss. I understand you live my side of town. Mind if I hitch a ride home tonight?” it asked.
The cocksure head disappeared without waiting for an answer, leaving him stunned. Ateesh had joined the office just that morning. And here was this youngster, maybe 21 or 22 years old, armed with details of where he lived!  He was impressed.
Ateesh had led departments before, but never an organization till now. It certainly promised to be more exciting than the usual leadership challenges he had come prepared to face.
The ride home that night was interesting. The young man volunteered a lot of information … about himself, about his colleagues, the office. Looking back on it today, Ateesh realized he had got carried away by his smart talk, and had let it prejudice him. He knew better than to trust a raw mind now. But back then he himself was new to what they call “the corner room”, he thought defensively.
His new role was very demanding. There were department chiefs who had been there for years together, and their juniors who had been subordinates for as long. He had to change all that. Roles must be shuffled, the place must pick up pace and change.
Change. He had taken up the challenge of turning around the company using this one word. He had to bring in fresh blood, alter anachronistic procedures, chuck non-performers out of the window and churn the ranks. The place itself could do with some transformation. It looked seedy and mouldy.
Yes, it would be a vibrant place, exuding confidence and dynamism.
He had shaken up the status quo, and how. Young people got more play, some were sent to train for the next level. Snazzy workstations replaced stodgy, ungainly monitors. The place was brightened with better lights and more glass windows.
The television screen zoomed again on the man being interviewed. He had truly climbed up the corporate ladder fast.
Ateesh recalled that the young man had been recruited barely a month ahead of him. Ateesh had unwisely, blindly, relied on his observations even about staff members with whom the youngster had had no truck.
That was the first of a string of mistakes, Ateesh thought with a tinge of regret. He ended up hurting quite a few talented seniors, superseding some and giving others insignificant duties and their juniors more responsibility. But he erred in identifying the people thus promoted. Many good hands left in disgust.
His first tryst with technology was also an experiment gone horribly wrong. Here, too, he had gone by the first recommendation made to him, with no regard to factors such as efficiency and compatibility. He had not acted with due diligence as a CEO should. The result was an enormous investment poured down the drain. The owners had given him a generous budget for staffing and tech needs, which he had frittered away. 
He had had to leave that organization pretty soon, some hard lessons learnt. He became overcautious in his next job, where he was reporting to a seasoned chief executive. He agonized over issues too long for fear of making errors. Luckily he had a tolerant boss who had nurtured him in a previous job, and now patiently guided him through his insecurities. The decisions he hated most involved technology – purchase of hardware, choice of software, buying phones, installing CCTVs, allowing social media in office and the like – and he cringed each time.
Somehow technology and he just never could work together.
The man on television right now was an example of what was needed today, he grudgingly admitted. While Ateesh stumbled at every step, this man some 12 years his junior had forged ahead, riding on his knowledge of gadgets, totally clued into the market and willing to adopt whatever his line of business demanded.
Ateesh remembered that the youngster had bought a mobile phone when handsets were still ugly-looking and unwieldy. He promptly switched to a new one when more features were added. He even suggested that as CEO, Ateesh should buy one too, but to no avail. Eventually, the company’s owner had foisted a phone on him.
The sound brought him back to the present. He looked down at his jazzy new cellphone and smiled. His daughter had just pinged him.
He had steadfastly refused to part with the first handset he bought in his next job, arguing that he needed it only to make or receive calls. That is, till his boss chided him on a site visit one day for carrying a phone with no camera. The boss handed him his own phone, but Ateesh had no clue on how to operate it. A director of the host company had stepped in to help.
Ateesh decided it was time he changed. By the time he occupied the corner room again, he had overcome most of his apprehensions. Though his business was not heavily tech-driven, at times he had felt he would drown amid software and hardware, Internet platforms, Windows and MP3s, home page and e-commerce. Somehow he had been fighting the demons and keeping his head above water. 
Months back, his one-time colleague had been discussing on TV how IT firms had to battle for market share, how social media was growing and why the new generation was obsessed with Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerry, iPhone … and what’s app.
“What’s app?” A funny-sounding term that was. The expression stuck in his mind. He opened a Google page and typed “what’s app”.
The first search result: “WhatsApp : : Home”
“Okay, so at least I hadn’t heard it wrong,” Ateesh congratulated himself. He made a mental note, and focused on completing every task at hand. Then he headed home, sooner than usual.
His daughter was sitting amid a pile of hair curlers, his wife was in an apron trying to clear up after a kitty party, and the servants were wrestling with the mountain of dishes left behind.
That abstracted air around him was missing today. He asked his daughter to drop those curlers and join him in his study.
“What do you know about WhatsApp?” he demanded right away.
“Papa, dear dear Papa, did someone say something to you again?” 
Ateesh occasionally came back stung by some remark, and she would have to apply balm on his wounded self-esteem. She had grown up seeing her father resent technology he had to deal with at work, but she was proud he had conquered all his demons one by one.
“No,” Ateesh grumbled. “That man on television went on and on about WhatsApp.”
‘So, what about it?” she snuggled against him. “Papa, everyone’s on WhatsApp nowadays ... except you.”
“I’m so sorry, darling, b-but there’s only so much I can do with a phone,” he apologized.
“Don’t I know you, Papa? You are just scared, big man,” she teased him. “I can download WhatsApp on this, but frankly your phone is outdated.”
“Fine, so teach me,” Ateesh said.
Then he asked her if she had any weekend plans.
“No,” came the reply.
“And your mother?” he asked.
“No, Papa, we are both at home on Saturday,” his daughter told him.
“No, you’re not,” Ateesh drawled. “We’re buying me a new phone.”
His daughter let out a joyful shout.
Her mother rushed in. “What’s up?” she asked anxiously.
“No, no, WhatsApp!” they exclaimed in one voice.


  1. good one!!hope it inspires 'someone'! :D ;)

    1. Thank you. I hope this 'someone' will read it too.

  2. Good indeed! Though I was wondering, how could you write in vivid details about a corporate office!
    V.B. Arora

  3. Thanks. I have had considerable exposure to corporate life, both inside and outside my various workplaces, sir!

  4. Hahahaha... and I'm the daughter in most scenarios... corporate or otherwise! :-P