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Mobile but jammed

Business Standard 

The would easily be the most despised gadget, if only someone quantified the many violations that are carried out in its name. What was meant to get your Mummy closer to you is used by all and sundry to intrude upon your personal time, without so much as a guilt pang. On the contrary, companies now expect employees to be on call 24x7 “should something urgent arise”. This stress on work as more important than life (that despicable either-or paradigm) might have its origin in Calvinist notions of propriety, but is doing a lot of harm to today’s brain-addled workforce.

My friend, who works for a top-tier information technology firm, has just been made group lead on a project. The client is an investment bank that set foot in India a while ago, and is using the IT firm’s services to bolster its customer service back-end infrastructure. My friend’s boss is a smarmy nutcase, who SMSes him at 2:00 in the night (“my most productive time”) about the tasks for the next day and expects a reply the first thing in the morning. On more than one occasion, my friend – let’s call him Deepak – has been pulled up for responding to a crazy-hour later than 7:00 a m!

There’s more. Mumbai is known for its erratic rains, and Deepak, a Delhi boy, is still unused to carrying an umbrella. The other day it started pouring just as he reached the bus stop. He was badly drenched, and since he had a presentation to make, he rushed back for a change of clothes. This exercise took him some 10 minutes, but by the time he reached the local train station, there was a long traffic jam (thanks to the waterlogged streets that mere showers reduce Mumbai to). Deepak’s presentation was at 10:00 a m, but he finally reached office at 11:30 a m.

In the mean time, his boss made eight frantic calls on Deepak’s phone. The first time, Deepak told him he was very much in Malad still. The second time, when he was still in Malad, he said he was at the station. The third time – yes, still at Malad – he said he had boarded a slow local because the fast one was too packed. (Slow locals stop at every station while fast ones stop at major ones.) By the fifth call he knew he could not continue being economical with that truth, so he spun a new yarn. He said his train had halted just outside Vile Parle, and that he had been stranded for the past 20 minutes. This, when he had only just reached Malad station after putting on fresh clothes.

Deepak is the genial sort, so he takes it in his stride. If I was in his position, I would have grudgingly played along while planning a Columbine-type massacre in my head. At the (common admission test) coaching centre, I sometimes face this issue. Even when I inform the centre that I would reach Dadar in five minutes, my mobile is jammed with a multitude of calls from different people — some of whom, frankly, have no business doing so. The accounts person, who collects fees from students, called the other day saying the centre incharge was “hyperventilating”. Hah!

Unlike Deepak, I simply refuse to answer these calls. I don’t see the point. Once I have informed the centre that I would be half an hour late because the sudden downpour is, hallelujah, not my doing, I don’t see why I need to update my coordinates every five minutes. Not only is it taxing, it also plays havoc with my “daily suburban commute experience”, an elaborate exercise that includes reading newspapers, listening to radio and gently eyeing the slums along the tracks with the jaundiced eye of the poet and the assumed heft of the anthropologist.

My boss has the habit of calling me only when he has a comment to make – mostly snide – about something or the other I did in class. The other day, I used the F-word with one of my students. He had come to class 45 minutes late and was struggling with the door. When I asked him “where were you?”, he misheard and answered, “I can’t open the door”. The class was in flow and his fidgeting had disturbed everyone, so I said in an even tone: “I don’t give a f*** about the door. Where the hell were you all this while?”

He promptly reported this to the higher-ups and I got a call from the boss, suitably scandalised at “your colourful language” that had been “inflicted on a young crowd”. Ha ha! My students are 22-year-old Mumbai kids whose vocabulary is far more picturesque than mine can ever be. But what do I know? Apparently, my solitary swear word has wreaked lasting damage on their vulnerable souls.

The author has switched too many jobs in the past and hopes he can hold down this one

First Published: Sat, November 03 2012. 00:45 IST