Chapter 1: Black bags and White boards
Ever since I had joined the company, life had become a living hell. Work came only at night, and so we had to go to office at night. Night for us was day for the people overseas, the people for whom we worked, our real bosses. Some people had jokingly suggested that they should employ owls and not humans.
Sometimes I wondered how nice life would be had the earth been flat. There would not be the problem of half of the world being asleep while the other half was awake. Everyone would go to work at the same time and come back home to sleep at the same time. But that was a utopia and I would again often wonder how many people thought of the same thing.
I checked the things I had to carry. Mobile, purse, employee tag and bag. I took a look at my black bag which I had bought on new year’s eve.
A week ago, Ramesh, my college friend had come to Kolkata. He was amused by various aspects of my job. Read this e-mail he sent to our college mates after he paid me a visit:
Friday, June 23, 2006 1:04 AM
“Ramesh Bullinari” <email@example.com>
“Pondicherry Engineering College Computer Science Class of 2005” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hope u are fine.
Recently I went to Kolkata and was staying with our Madan Gopal who is working in a software company at Kolkata.
At 9.30pm he was going to Office (Night Shift!) with an Executive Bag.
In fact he was looking very Professional with the Bag.
I was very eager to know what it has. Then he showed me what it had.
Side Zip: One Comb and One Mirror (If he suddenly happens to go for a Movie!).
Main Zip-1: Pamphlets of Restaurants (to avail food if he feels hungry!)
Main Zip-2: One Blanket (to sleep!) and One Towel (to use it as Pillow!)
It was very funny to see that.
Madan has not left his good habit of criticizing others and even now the main victim being (Ganjaa) AP.
I had nice time staying with him.
Have a nice day!
My black bag had been immortalised among my friends by Ramesh! I adored it.
As I stepped into the cab, I recalled this e-mail in my mind. I looked at this bag. I remember the day I bought it from a shop at Calcutta’s famous College Street. It was the New Year’s Eve of 2005 and I was looking for a really nice bag to treat myself. I had bought a couple of books along too. Even today, I can recall all the adventures it had been in, used as a carrier for laptops, getting drinks for college friends during their stay at Kolkata, used as an umbrella when umbrellas weren’t available, giving gifts to my friends. I smiled to myself.
I looked at the watch and it showed the time. 9.40 pm. I called up the other guy in the shift. They told me that I had to pick up a new guy called Deep. Too bad!
You see, I am not against new people coming into our project. I hated the KT part really bad.
KT stands for knowledge transfer. It means teaching the new guy who just joined our project about what we do and what we don’t do. There were a lot of undocumented procedures going on in our project but nobody had made an effort to document for others’ convenience. The consequence was that some guy in the same shift had to tell the new guy what to do if this happens, over and over again. Sometimes the consequences were even more macabre, there would be nasty e-mails from the lords overseas.
After picking up the new guy, the cab reached the office at around 5 minutes to 10. It was going to be a long night. Amidst myriads of cubicles in the half empty floor, Rahul, the shift member we were about to replace, greeted us from his chair with his ever smiling face.
“Ok, Deep! Meet Madan!” said Rahulda.
“What the hell? I just picked him up!” I retorted.
Rahulda smiled. This guy was one of the good persons in our project. He and Soumya were always trying to be in the same shift. So when I turned around, I saw the other Bengali character.
“Oye Madan! Saala, KT Expert! You are going to give KT to this new guy?” beamed Soumya.
“Don’t remind me of that again, man! And I hope there are no escalations tonight!”I said blindly.
“What is KT?” inquired Deep.
“Some really good food!” and we all laughed.
After I explained what KT meant, I looked into the watch and said, “If you two guys aren’t going away any sooner, I will leave the office and get home.”
“Not yet!” said Samrat. He was the other guy in my shift.
Samrat was another Bengali in our shift. He was a good hearted guy and I used to make up jokes about him and Manoj (another Bengali) and he used to laugh at them all the time. Both of them were always in the office and I used to say, “Bete, the both of you are so dedicated with your work that you both will become dogs one day!”
Samrat came and sat down in the cubicle behind me. I sat down with Deep and started to teach him the seemingly tough job at the RSO Project.
I will tell you what RSO means, for the understanding of this term are crucial to this story. RSO stands for Remote Service Offering. It means that the technical support that we provide to our customers is given away from the actual location of the hardware installation through the use of the internet.
The night went on and morning came and it was time for us to leave.
After a few days, Deep and I became quite good friends. I didn’t expect this to happen, but very soon, during tea breaks, like college buddies, we mutually started cursing at the company, cursing at the project and cursing at the kind of work we do. Jokes and curses, and jokes and curses. Once in a while, we talked about our bright past, our not so bright present and our bleak future.
It was on a Friday night that my night shift for the week was getting over. After completing our thankless tasks of updating an endless number of Excel sheets, I got up and looked around. It was like 3:30 am late night/early morning (whichever you may call), that we completed our tasks for the night. With nothing left to do, we started walking around the cubicles, looking for stuffs to laugh at, mimicking our bosses and so on.
Finally, we came to a pillar where a small white board was hung and on it was written some big words in Red.
“‘RSO NOTICEBOARD’? What is that for?” asked Deep.
“That is a supposedly ‘useful’ board that no one actually uses.” I said with an ironic voice. “It is a board to write down a list of pending works in brief so that anyone in the next shift can look at it and complete any unfinished task,” I said. “Well what do you think?”
He took a closer look. Somebody had scribbled a marriage congratulation greeting to a shift member who had got married recently. Deep said, “Well, this is bullshit. This looks like a board on which nothing useful is ever written.”
“Exactly!” I said. “This is the most useless piece of shit idea our manager has ever conceived.”
We all laughed.
I rubbed it off and took a whiteboard pen and started drawing a picture. I still don’t know why I drew it but it was a picture of a monkey in front of a computer. The name I wrote was a generalised “RSO Shift member”. After I finished, we had a good laugh and I started rubbing it off with the wiper. As I wiped it out, I got another idea and wrote a couple of words on it.
“RSO SUCKS!” We had a hearty laugh and went upstairs. We took sips of coffee and continued our talks about our bright past, our not so bright present and our bleak future.
And oh, I almost forgot to tell you. I forgot to clean off the whiteboard.
Chapter 2: Trial and Error
Conference Room 6D was a wooden enclosure. Made of beautifully constructed yellow wood furniture, the room resembled a Hollywood movie conference room. In spite of the small area on which it was built, it was designed to hold at least 10 people without a feeling of congestion.
The door opened and the 3 senior most members of the section entered.
As soon as the three sat down, our manager entered the room. She bore an annoyed look on her face, one which would look like a spoilt child who had lost her favourite toy.
Number 1, who was the senior most, asked “When did this happen?”
Our manager said, “Somewhere between the night of Friday and today morning. Suddho noticed it in the morning. And that is why I called this meeting.”
Number 2, who was the most interested person in such petty issues asked, “Who could have done?”
Our manager gave a look of annoyance yet fear of authority and said, “I suspect 3 people. In the order of suspicion, we have listed Madan, Subroto and Soumya. I am quite sure any one of them could have done it.”
Number 3, who was the smartest, asked, “Have you compared the handwriting?”
She replied, “The words were written in capital, and we have no way of comparing it with the people in the shift. We all use computers and not pens to write our e-mails.”
Number 3 said, “I have a plan. We will call up each and every one of the suspects in your order of suspicion. We will call up the least suspicious person first and ask him the queries regarding this misbehaviour. If found guilty, we will take stringent actions against him.”
Number 2 agreed. “That is a solid plan. Let’s do it right now.”
Number 1 thought for a while and said, “All right, whom are we calling first?”
Chapter 3: Beyond the Call of Duty
Soumya was at the shopping mall when the call came. He was looking for a new pair of jeans. His old one had been used and reused so often, that he now felt that it was time to get new one. He had come along with his friends, with whom he was planning to watch a new movie after this shopping was complete.
He had tried on his new pants and was looking into the mirror when the call came.
: Hi this is Srinivas Reddy from RSO team speaking.
: Hi Srinivas! Kaise hai tu? How are you? Bol.
: PM wants to speak to you. Here…
The voice changed and it was a stern voice speaking. It was the project manager.
: Soumya, this is the PM speaking.
: Yes. Please tell.
: Were you in the shift during the weekend?
Why don’t you look in the shift roster and find out, you dumb dummy?
: Yes. Saturday and Sunday morning.
: OK. Did you write anything on the whiteboard?
Soumya dropped his jaw and the old pants from which he had taken out his mobile. He had seen the writing!
: Soumya, are you there? Are you there?
I must be strong, I must be strong.
: No madam. I didn’t see anything written on it.
: Well, did you see anyone writing on it?
: OK! Somya, have nice day!
And she hung up.
Soumya stared at his mobile for a long time. Then he unlocked the keypad and dialled a number. The friend was in trouble and he needed to help him. Soumya’s mobile provider was Tata Indicom. In those days, its network sucked in the local area. No signal, damn it! He tried calling again and again as the shopkeeper and his friends looked at him.
The shopkeeper was wondering whether this guy had forgotten to bring his debit/credit card. He gave a signal to the showroom assistants to ensure that this boy did not run away without paying for the jeans.
His friends were wondering what was wrong again this time in his project. Such phone calls were becoming routine. They checked the time. The show was going to start soon and Soumya had better hurry.
Suddenly, there was a surge in the mobile signal, and the phone rang.
Chapter 4: The Friend Behind Enemy Lines
I was getting ready to go to the latest English movie running at INOX. It was called ‘The Departed’. There were great reviews about this movie in the news, so I had to see it. As I reached City Centre, the centre of Salt Lake City which was the IT hub of West Bengal, my mobile rang. As soon as I picked it up, the call was cut. It was from Soumya.
The old Nokia 1100 must be goners, I thought, and I decided I required a new mobile phone. The new one must be having a camera and a music player, like all my friends are having nowadays. It should also have…
The Mobile rang again. The Good, Bad and Ugly ringtone I had on my mobile since college reminded me that there is a thing such as office. I saw that the caller was the office project phone. Must be that damn backup problem again, I thought.
Which is why I didn’t pick up the mobile.
I reached the theatre and waved at my friends who had gone in an earlier auto. I hoped down and as soon as I did, I saw my mobile ring again. Once again, it was the office project phone begging me to pick up.
“Who cares?” I said and I went inside the movie mall.
As I was about to enter the theatre, the mobile was ringing again. Annoyed, I pulled out the mobile and as soon as I was about to put it into silent mode, I saw that it was Number 1.
Number 1 and I were close friends. He was the most helping guy I knew at office and there was not a single reason why I would not pick up his phone.
I quickly came out of the entrance to the hall which was now streaming in with cinema goers. I pressed the “Receive the call” button and among the crowd I could hear his voice. “Madan! It’s over! It’s all over!” There was excitement in his voice. I couldn’t make out whether he was happy or whether he was scared.
I asked him, “What happened?”
He said, “Somebody wrote some bad words on the project wall. You know who it was?”
I froze. The incidents of friday night flashed in my minds once again. The coffees, the jokes, the donkey I drew on the wall, the “RSO SUCKS”.
“’RSO SUCKS?’” I said.
“Yes, you know, they say they have caught the person who did it!”
My stomach sank. It was like a living nightmare now. I felt lost in the crowd entering the theatre that had now become like a huge stream of river coming towards me from all directions. I was in a sea of confusion and a rage of uneasiness.
The noise was now drowning out the sound from my old mobile phone. “…. says he did it!”
With a shaky voice and amidst all the noise, I asked again, “What? Say, what?”
Chapter 5: The Unfortunato
Subroto was drunk again that evening. He was thinking about Sabyasachi, his friend who had got married recently. He sounded very happy.
Subroto checked the time. It was late. He should be going for night shift tonight again but the temptation to take some shots of wine was there. After all, the nights were lonely.
Suddenly, his mobile rang. The room shook with the sounds of the latest Bengali rock-pop song. He took up his mobile.
: Who is this? This is the RSO PM speaking.
Subroto received a sudden surge of adrenaline and regained some consciousness. His voice became clearer. Her voice became shriller.
: Hello, PMdi, aami Subroto bolchi. Ki Khobor?
: Subroto, I want to ask you a question.
: Ok. Bol.
: Were you in the shift during the weekend?
: Yes. On Thursday night, I was there.
: OK. Did you write anything on the whiteboard?
: Did YOU write those particular words on the RSO whiteboard?
Subroto was getting annoyed with this line of questioning. She was asking questions on a simple trivial matter. It was the usual crap she pulled with everyone.
: YES!!! What is wrong with that?
: What is WRONG with that? We will talk about that tomorrow morning! Be here at 10 am. Sharp!
And she hung up.
Subroto just couldn’t get her. The PM always seemed to be angry with everyone. What is wrong with congratulating a friend on his marriage?
Chapter 6: Hidden Meanings
“What? Say, what?” I asked.
“Subroto said! He said he did it!”
And Number 1 started to explain that Subroto had accepted that he had committed the serious crime!
How could Subroto own up such an act? Then I remembered that he must have written the words I had rubbed off before I had started the joke that night.
I thanked God and prayed to him for saving my skin.
“By the way,” continued Number 1, “I know who did it. It was you, wasn’t it?”
My heart sank. “Yes, but I meant to rub it off. It was a small joke between me and a friend.”
“Easy brother,” said Number 1, “your secret is with me. Don’t do it again.”
I felt relieved. “Sorry dude. I won’t do it again, I swear. I swear to God I didn’t do it with purpose!”
“By the way, office was fun today. All the bosses were confounded as to who must have taken the guts to write such a thing on the floor where the Company CEO sits! By the way, I like your philosophy. I wish there were more whiteboards where people could say what they had in their minds. See ya!” and he hung up.
I checked my shift roster. I had a night shift that night with Subroto and Deep.
I got to the office at around 9.40 pm. Subroto had arrived earlier.
He asked me, “What is wrong with wishing a friend who is getting married.”
“What did you write?” I asked innocently.
“I wrote ‘Congratulations to Sabyasachi on his marriage’ on the board. PMdi didn’t like it at all!”
I looked at Subroto. The guy was a nightmare when it came to working together. He would be a great pain in the ass with everyone but me, because I didn’t let his bullshit bother me. Anyways, it was time for me to save this guy.
“But there was something else written.”
He looked at me, and said, “What was written?”
“Somebody wrote ‘RSO sucks’.” I said, biting my lips. “Subroto, was it you?”
“Why would I write anything like that?” he cried out. “What exactly does that mean?”
“‘RSO sucks’ means that RSO is a really bad thing. Honestly, don’t you know the meaning of ‘suck’?”
“No!” And he quickly opened his Mozilla Firefox, the IBM approved browser at our office and Googled out the word ‘SUCK’. He later called up the PM to tell her it was not his fault.
Unable to hold our laughter, Deep and I quickly ran out to the corridor. The poor guy didn’t even know the meanings of the words which he had supposedly written.
I laughed, “ He doesn’t even know what ‘Suck means’!”
Deep too laughed and said, “That was great! What do we write next time?”