Saturday, February 05, 2011

Work and Life in the 21st century

Going to work and /or starting a job today, is not about what you know and how you analyse and complete things. Of course I assume you don't own a company or companies, and make other people slog for you.

Several decades ago, when I started work, in a fairly well known , highly regarded, path breaking blue chip Indian company , the work force was an all-India thing. We had people wearing conservative clothes , who displayed vibhuti on their foreheads ; we had women who always had both shoulders covered with a sari pallu; we had fellows who were defined as natty dressers, and paid great attention to their ties; we had some women who looked like they were straight out of what is now called Page 3; their hair stayed in place even when they pulled it out of frustration, and the length of their saree blouse and the exposed midriff was always equal.

The first two categories always talked about poli-bhaji & idlis, applying for shares, the 10 LTD bus, how harbor branch trains were never crowded, and having to renew their suburban railway pass, while the last two categories always harped on parties, wine decanters , and having lunch at the Oberoi. What was common in both, was that they were very serious about their work, and did it seriously , and nobody grudged the other their likes ,dislikes and dressing habits. There was a nice intermingling, and nobody felt odd about anything , even on client visits where some folks looked like they stepped off a foreign boat a while ago.

The reason this came to mind was the introduction of a young woman , P. to what may be called her first work experience. Circa 2011. A so-called internship , gratis.

It was a small, newly started, specialized office of a design/branding consulting firm. P rummaged through her overstuffed cupboard, and identified what she thought were "suitable clothes", and stuff was scheduled to be ironed, sent off to the cleaners etc etc. Next came footwear. Chappals were out. Heels were in (despite my observation that running for a bus in those was injurious for your health). Hair was carefully done with a conditioner and straightener, and organized to fall just so. And she always whizzed off for work leaving some kind of fragrance trailing her all the way to the elevator. 6 full days a week.

Then one day, there was to be a client visit with the boss. And it seems you needed "Formals". I suggested wearing a slightly dressy but smart conservative salwar suit, since sarees hadn't entered the scheme of things as yet. This was treated as sheer blasphemy. Formals meant dark trousers , with some kind of shirt thing on top, and always, but always, some chunky stuff around your neck, possibly with a scarf that fell just so. So we dashed off to Westside in the Mall.

I was certainly learning.

Apparently quietly putting your head down and doing your assigned work, and interacting as required for work (only), was not the thing to do. You smiled, you interacted, you cracked jokes, and acted as if you grew up playing marbles with the boss's wife who , as a professional , also worked there. This was a new office, P was the first one to start work, and when another person joined, she found out exactly what she wasn't doing in terms of interaction. That every person has a unique personality and takes some time to flower in non-work mode , was apparently not an acceptable management dictum.

When the internship ended, the girl and the folks mutually decided not to continue. She was told she didn't "interact"; she should be constantly in and out of their office, which she didn't do (it was bit difficult when you were working a laptop with a mouse); and the girl returned home, to continue her other design classes which she had been attending early mornings all along.

The girl has many hobbies and activities, and is a serious swimmer (15 years) who still goes daily for workouts and stuff, just to keep fit. She's just been asked to assist as a swimming coach for children at a prestigious local club, and occasionally take over when the main coach cannot take the classes. The girl has a knack for getting along with young children, and likes the whole idea. There isn't really any problem, except transport. No bus goes in that area so early (5:30 am), and all her childhood cycles are no more. The actual coach cycles there everyday, and so she now has a new cycle. Costing more than the formals.

I've been so out of touch, I did not realize that the cycles have kept place with the inflation.

Maybe I've really been out of touch with things.

When she first started serious swimming at 8 years, she was asked to get speedos. These are very expensive here, given that most suits are imported , and not considered cheap even abroad. So I told the coach then (who is also the same now) , that I would want to see how serious she was about things and her progress, before I bought anything so expensive. He understood.

She swam in a favourite frilled red swimsuit till anyone could see how the frills were dragging her speed, and she was indeed doing very well, frills and all. This time the coach suggested that a speedo would improve things . The time had come. I agreed. And she has never looked back. When she had to do lap workouts with loads , to improve timing, we got shorts with pockets, loaded the pockets with pebbles, and stitched them up . She wore those shorts over her suit, for these load workouts. And everyone was pleased.

Today, she sees her students, probably in single digit ages, not yet anywhere in proficiency , but trying to learn, and all of them come wearing fancy speedos, tinted goggles , carrying flippers, pool buoys,floats and all kinds of stuff, not to mention branded sippers. Demanded by them and provided avidly by parents.

I guess times have changed. We had to earn whatever we needed by good performance and visible hard work. Nothing was made available right at the start. It's not as if we dressed informally , wore lounging clothes or unironed stuff, or were disrespectful to anyone at work. But it was clear, that if you worked well, the rest of the stuff was immaterial.

There was so much diversity of clothes, fashion, language and demeanour in this land, we had learned to appreciate it.

I guess, what is happening now , is the downside, if one may call it so, of Globalization. Cell phones and SMS-ing has a uniform international lingo, so does Facebook. Brands are universal. Some things are unneccessarily important. We now kowtow to international habits. And sometimes lose out to innovation. Personal, that is.

In my time , Bata sold one type of Canvas shoes, and they were just fine for tennis, badminton, running, walking, or even stepping and stamping into puddles .

Guess what. The daughter needs jogging shoes for her non-swimming workouts. The old ones are so worn out, they now allow you to feel the road surface. I've just been to a Nike shop, where I was shown walking shoes, running shoes, tennis shoes, footballs shoes and possibly some other special shoes, which I couldn't hear, because I was too overcome. .

They even showed some shoes that cost 7000 Rs. (No , we didn't buy them).

I was told that was nothing. There were more costly shoes, they could show. I politely refused. My eyes were blinded.

But buying the good old Bata canvas shoes doesn't work anymore. It has to be a brand. You can't walk in tennis shoes, and play tennis in running shoes. We don't play football, so its OK.

Then they have these shoes with spikes, and it occurs to me that they would be perfect for stepping on the toes of a troublesome leching person in the crowded bus, while simultaneously using an umbrella to shove into his midrif.

I mention it to P. She looks at me. She is speechless. The salesman has overheard. He is a young chap, probably has a sister, and maybe secretly agrees with me.

I buy the stuff she needs. Accessorizing is important.

Life has changed.

I am not sure its for the better. Maybe , in some ways....

But so long as folks are swimming, and running, instead of getting addicted to fashionable vices and beep-worthy objectionable language, I am not complaining......


  1. I had to laugh at the use of the spiked shoes on a bus. It sounds like the perfect answer to cool the ardor of a leching type guy.

    It's not only clothing. I saw my granddaughters getting every toy advertised on TV and appreciating nothing. I don't think my daughter was being kind to them by spoiling them.

    I guess I am too old.

  2. Oh yes, my two youngest granddaughter's have ever high tech toy that is out. They are 5 and 8 and know more then grandma about computer.
    Clothes and shoes another thing --- guess I am growing old also...

  3. First, there are every so many organisations which still believe in the dictum that every plant doesnt flower in the same way and that each flower is different ! Each flower blossoms in a different soil with different climate and thus add to the soil and to the land !

    Good for the young lady, she can continue with what she likes to do in places that let her be !

    And about the accessories and such else, i just blogged about something similar. We live in a time and society where such things 'SPEAK' ! Or rather the world has grown listen to these !

    The other thing that the world gives us is choice. the choice not to fall in line ! :)

    Super post. As usual !

  4. I agree times have changed and we are not able to keep up with the pace at which it has. My niece gets to spend a thousand rupees to treat her friends on her b'day when I remember waiting for the 110 rupees (10 rupees extra to spend on my b'day) that my mother would send on my b'day month and I would save rupees five so that my friends and I could have a treat of chikkis on a weekly basis for the entire month. We'd travel by passenger train since it cost a rupee less than the express fare but parents think nothing of booking air tickets for their wards to be able to spend an extra day with them. i often wonder if our parents or for that matter even I happen to be inadequate in our affection for our children. I still subscribe to the thought that children ought to be able to appreciate the worth of hard earned money and I can feel my daughter's stare from California. Living fossil that I am........

  5. New Job definitely needs new Western Formals ;) and oh! Cycles what..even Tricycles have kept up with the inflation...the one my in laws bought for R was so pricey that I had my jaw dropping down when I heard what they paid! and LOL on spiked shoes in bus..I really need one of those..the andheri ride is getting worse day by day

  6. Ha ha! Enjoyed this post! And it also made me think, as your posts usually do. :)

    Times certainly have changed. I like Kavi's comment about having the choice to not fall in line!

  7. I assume that 'P' is the daughter and I dread the time when my daughter will be P's age.....I loved the new dimension of the spiked shoes...ought to advise our bowlers who get some lip from the opposing batsmen

  8. And here we are trying to follow the 'old' way and keep toys/stuff in check and being told by other PARENTS that we deprive kids. And they will grow up wonky. If you are what wonky looks like, then my kids will be in good company! :-D

    Have to disagree on the shoes though - aforementioned one BATA canvas shoes have messed sporty knees up big time. There does need to be some impact holding stuff for shoes in which high impact activity is done. For health reasons and way under Rs. 7,000. It's called Brand Factory here and has the same (out of style) branded shoes offloaded for 20% of the price. Quality being the same.