With a clear conscience

Reflections

With a clear conscience

“Not knowing the answer is immaterial — you should’ve known how to wriggle out of that situation!” Words of corporate wisdom.

The scene was the Delhi regional headquarters of one of the most respected corporate entities of our country. The speaker was a general manager, one among several in the company, running the proud conglomerate. At the other hapless end was a middle-level executive, who had blanched at a fundamental question in a recently held seminar. The message of the GM was well taken.

That then, is the crux of what I have to say. The soft option, the easy way out. The abject rejection of painstaking struggle for excellence in the assigned area of work. ‘Boxed in’ and ‘type cast’ are words to describe the fate of the fool that does so; where the rungs of the ladder wait for your humble feet and steps of gratitude. Yet, once you begin the climb, you are the whiz kid, egged on by those who have done it before you. And then, when you get up there, it’s time to party. You are one among them. Corporate wisdom is at work from there on to speed you along.

When I began at what they call ‘the entry level’, the most often heard question during interviews was where you plan to be in another 10 years — to which the stars-in-the-eyes reply would be, “In your seat, sir.” And you are IN.

And then begins ‘The Training’: a euphemism for dispensation of committed topics of an objective schedule. Most questions, stemming from anxiety and innocence, fade before the popular “wriggle-out” masters who form the faculty. You are fresh, you are raw, wanting to give  your best in your chosen field. Another error there: in an impoverished country, for most, there is never a chosen line of work. The promise of uninterrupted pay packets is the prime focus; so do well in what comes your way, or else...

Before you realise it, you are cast among seasoned market savvy geniuses who know your business better than you do, 10 times over and more. But windfalls do happen. A manna from heaven sees you in your next elevated position and you tell yourself that the first rung of the ladder has been conquered. The climb has begun. Yet, you know not a whit of strategy — because there isn’t any: all strategy begins and ends with conference rhetoric — nevertheless, superficial knowledge suffices well when you are higher up the ladder.

True initiation begins when you are permitted to meet the elite in the company. Conferences and parties wise you up to behave in pristine company. Carry that dessert for Mrs P, fill up that glass again, grin like an ass because the jokes are doing the rounds, yell for songs in the big boss’s native tongue and dance like your tail was on fire because it shows your spirit of camaraderie, evidence of  inherent  leadership qualities. Soon it is past the cinderella hour and the hall is drained of the less fortunate who leave for their precious five star beds, blissfully bellowing through five star corridors in the glee of a tummy full of IMFL-on-the-house (scotch reserved for the big bosses); you are advised to hang on. The hovering you may even be asked to join in.

And lo and behold, the decision has been made. “You’re taking over from ‘A’, pick your flight. OK, who deals next?”

All the while, a hopeless world sleeps in the sprawling metropolis, wary of yet another meal-less dawn. Your thoughts drift out to them. In your bed you stare at the night sky and tell yourself, I still don’t belong here.

Years roll on and you adhere to your beliefs, contrary influences notwithstanding, but going nowhere up. Then comes the day when you are advised a ‘job rotation’ into an area where you alone may excel. There is a notional promotion and you are taken in. You give it all you can to make up for lost years, but your feet seems stuck in wet concrete. Gradually, realisation dawns on you.

Your peers have upgraded their cars and refined their condescending airs. Now you know what it is to head a non-profit centre — not unlike the captain of a ship with its engines removed.

In no time, you are nudging 50 and haven’t reached anywhere on the great corporate ladder, though you have tried your best. Finally, with a plaque proclaiming two-and-a-half decades of service in the conglomerate, and with a bouquet of wilted flowers in my hands, I walk out unaccompanied into an unseasonal afternoon drizzle, to my old car of no value to anyone.

 

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