Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A David and Goliath story

Every Goliath encounters his David at last.

But not every David uses a smooth, round pebble pinned to a sling to bring the big man down.

Priya*, my train friend, was having a hard time at work. Work was drudgery, but she plodded on. Her husband's garage was doing rather badly and they were still paying their home loan off. Giving up the job was out of the question.

Every evening, Priya ranted about the troubles she had faced during the day. The telling brought her immeasurable comfort, even though both she and Rohan*, her husband, knew that it would be the same story the following day, and the day after.

Sudarshan, her boss and the owner of the small firm where she worked, was a tyrant who believed that the best way to ensure productivity was to keep employees under control. He strictly forbade any discussions between co-workers on any subject other than work. There was no laughter, no fun at the workplace. Employees had to eat at their desks and finish faster than the others. The one who ate the quickest was allowed to get off work the earliest -- 30 minutes after closing time.

Mobile phones had to be switched off in the office premises. Phone calls were only allowed through the office line. The telephone operator was advised to maintain details of who received and made how many personal and official calls and for how long they spoke. To make sure that she could distinguish personal calls from official ones, the girl was unabashedly told to listen in on all conversations, in the interests of the company.

The poor girl did as she was ordered, for the most part, occasionally turning a blind eye and deaf ear to some of the personal calls, especially those to and from family members.

And that was how Priya used to receive one phone call each day from her young son, Kian*, all of five years old. The little one would give his mom an account of what had happened at school, squeezing in every last bit of the news he had to share before she excused herself and tried to cut the call. It would never do to be caught red-handed on a personal call by the boss.

Sudarshan prided himself on being process oriented. Appraisals were his idea of a fun-time. It gave him an opportunity, as if opportunity were a thing he lacked, to watch his employees squirm in their seats as he slung accusations of bad attitude, indecorous behaviour, unsatisfactory work, and generally anything he could think of. With the job market being tight, everyone on his payroll was desperate and unwilling to take risks, and so Sudarshan continued his reign of harassment.

Since employees were forbidden to fraternize with one another, there was no option but to go home and spew venom against Sudarshan, a necessary step if they were to preserve their sanity. Everyone knows that those who don't come up with healthy means of releasing stress cave in soon enough.

And so, with the TV cackling in the background, Priya laid down her day’s burden upon the ears of Rohan, who listened patiently. It was all he could do.

Kian was often privy to these conversations. After a day spent in the company of the boss from hell, Priya wouldn’t always remember to withhold the complaints until the little one was out of earshot.

In any case, the TV was on, playing some inane cartoon or the other, and the couple used the time to talk about how their day had gone.

And so it went on, day after day, week after week, month after month. The stress began to tell on Priya. She became more short-tempered, more frenzied, compensating for the crap she took at work.

Something had to give. 

And it did.

One afternoon, just after lunch, all the employees of Sudarshan's firm, including my friend, Priya, came across a most unbelievable sight. Sudarshan seemed out of sorts. He wouldn’t look anyone in the eye, and he was strangely subdued. Unaccustomed to such odd behaviour on his part, the employees began talking about it. But he was too wrapped up in himself to even notice the flouting of his rule.

It was only later that they came to know the reason behind it. Apparently some child called the company, asked to speak to Sudarshan and proceeded to shout at him for being mean to his mother.

They got the story from the telephone girl. She relayed the entire conversation to her eager audience, relishing every word. After all, she had only been obeying orders when she had listened in. Sudarshan did not get personal calls, and never from children.

With a child's disregard for tact, the boy had got straight to the point. “You’re the horrible man who is mean to my mummy and her friends?" he asked. "Because of you, my mummy is always worried. She does not sing to me, and she cries a lot. She has no time for me. And why do you send her home so late? Who will check my homework? And she is so tired, she can't cook. And we end up eating what daddy makes. I don't like this, okay. You start behaving yourself from now on. Don't make me come after you," he threatened, very angrily, his childish prattle an echo of parental scolding lingo.

Throughout the one-sided conversation, Sudarshan tried to get in a word of his own, and failed. The boy wasn't done yet. "You send my mummy home on time, okay? I'll be watching out for her today. Don't make me call again."

And then just as suddenly, Sudarshan heard the click. That the telephone operator was listening must have affected him somewhat.

He spent a few anxious days watching his female employees, wondering which one had put her child to the task. It was hard to guess. All the married women had young kids. The mystery of the caller remained.

It would be easy to say that Sudarshan was a changed man. But then this is a true story, not a fairy tale. But he did go easy on a number of his rules, and even allowed employees to keep their phones on, and chat with one another, and yes, go home on time. The mood got lighter, although the pressure of work didn’t and appraisals continued to offer opportunities for mental wrestling.

Several employees, including Priya, left in a few months. Priya got a job close to her home. The new job allows her more time with her son, and she's happier than she's been in a long time.

But there's another happy ending to this story.

On the day that changed everything, Priya went home on time, a smile on her lips. By the time Rohan brought Kian back from the creche, she was already in the kitchen, making banana fritters. Kian immediately hugged her tight as if he would never let go. When the burst of initial joy had subsided, Priya complained, "I missed your call today. Why didn't you call?"

"I did," he replied, before digging into the treat.

PS. The names of Priya, Rohan and Kian have been changed to protect their identity from the tyrant Sudarshan, very much his real name.


  1. Enjoyed the story Cynthia of David and Goliath... loved your expressions thank you for sharing...

  2. Hi, Genevive, I'm so glad you liked the story. My friend was so shocked when she came to know that her own son had made the call to her boss.

  3. Good, interesting end to the domination. Lot of people suffer like this and God open his eyes at the right time.

  4. Yes, sometimes little children can do what we grownups cannot. God does help us at the right time. Until then we must be patient. Thank you for your comment, Pat.



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