There is a common joke that colleagues crack on me. My obsession with 3.
‘There are three reasons.’ ‘There are three challenges.’ ‘There are three factors that we must consider.’
Three is almost an obsession with me.
When random folks challenge. “Why 3?” My standard reply is ‘Because I can think of three. No more. No less.’
When kind colleagues ask, I joke ‘Because I was born on 3rd March.’ And we all laugh.
One day when I asked myself while bathing, why three, seriously, my inner self-confessed ‘I say three because I think two is too less and four is too much.’
Today is that day. March 3. My birthday. Thank you all for your love. Thank you for your friendship. I am truly indebted for your presence in my life: in reality, in virtual, in physical meetings and in social media.
I will tell you three stories. Briefly. On my birthday. Today.
These stories are very inconsequential but have had huge impact on me. Then. When these stories unfolded. And the impact has lasted. Changing me slightly perhaps but much meaningfully. I believe.
The conversation was simple. It was post noon. I had had a heavy lunch in office. I was feeling drowsy. I was just out of a heavy loaded meeting. Planning to return home early, I was packing my desk. My cellphone rang.
A female voice. Max Life Insurance. She introduced herself. Told me that the conversation was being recorded. And asked me a few questions. I was uninterested. And replied curtly because I was irritated but courteously because she was a female.
She explained a new policy. And after she had spoken tole me ‘Have I explained everything well?’ I wanted to get out of the conversation. So I said ‘Yes. Very well. Thank you. I am not interested.’
She paused for a moment. And then asked ‘But I did not explain the returns. The benefits. The clauses. Will you not ask me?’
I said, ‘No. I am not interested.’
There was a pause. A longer one. I wanted to end the call. But I could hear her breath. And it just felt impolite.
After a pause which was a few seconds but seemed so long, she spoke. Murmuring. As if to her own self.
‘If everyone says they have no questions, then how will I practice? Itna kuch sikha hi kyun? Why did I learn so much?’
And stopped. Silence.
I realized her pain. We professionals learn new techniques and knowledge so painstakingly. If no one allows us to apply that knowledge, practice and make it useful, what is the point in learning!!
I told her ‘Ok tell me more in detail.’
She asked ‘You really want to know. Please hear me out even if you do not buy. And if you have any feedback for me, please tell me Sir. I will try to improve.’
This conversation happened in 2004. The policy matured in 2019. It is one of those rare policies where I got a handsome return. And I remembered the girl the day the amount reflected in my bank account.
After that day, I have never put my phone down on anyone who had tried to explain a policy or a credit card to me sincerely. Even if I do not purchase, the least these men and women can expect is a patient hearing and an opportunity to practice their newly learned skill.
It was a Diwali evening. A friend and his family were visiting.
Evening. We stood downstairs. Children were lighting fuljhuris. And clapping. And having lots of fun.
My friend. His son. And I. We were standing. Watching.
My cell phone was constantly ringing. And messages flowing in. These were SMS days before WhatsApp came into being.
The noise on the phone was irritating. My friend looked at me. ‘Bandh kar dete haiN, iyar. Let’s shut off our phone. Damn irritating.’
His son looked at us bewildered. ‘But Papa, is someone not remembering you on Diwali? You are shutting off your friend. No?’
We laughed. I said ‘Nehi beta. These are just useless greeting messages that people forward at random.’
He looked at me for long. And said. ‘I can understand you and Papa, uncle. But I just hope some of those messages were for me from a friend. I do not have a mobile even. When I will grow, I will love receiving messages. Even the faltu ones.’
I still do not respond to all messages I receive on my phone as greetings. Particularly the forwarded ones. But I read them all. And feel privileged that these messages flood my inbox today.
Tomorrow, who knows?
This one is a very insignificant story. But I write this because it had significant impact on me.
Many years back, I was in an organization where I was quite up the ladder of the HR Organogram. There was considerable authority that I held in administrative matters. And though Mousumi often told me that she was observing some not so good changes in me, I was not very mindful.
It was a workshop in a hotel. Something related to some new IT technology. I had already had the master training overseas. This was a cascade down at country level. I was not a trainer but there in the workshop.
Somewhere two hours in the meeting I walked to the corner where the coffee machine was, for a cup of Americano. I took a cup. And a hotel boy came in soft steps and whispered to me “Not now.”
I frowned. He smiled.
And said “I have been instructed not to serve coffee now during the meeting. It disturbs others.” I was amused. “Who has asked you not to serve coffee?” What I actually wanted to ask is “Do you know who I am?”
He looked towards the participants. And pointed to a man. He was an administrative assistant in the organization. I was about to tell the hotel boy “It is ok. I am his boss. You can serve me coffee.”
But something happened when I looked at him. He was quite resolute in his thoughts. And he was following an instruction. I ended up keeping the cup down and telling him “Sorry. I will wait.”
In the meantime, the Administrative Assistant had seen and anticipated what was going on here. He came in quick steps and almost rebuked the hotel boy “Arreh, Sir ko coffee doh. Serve Sir coffee.” The poor hotel boy immediately brought a cup and said, “Sorry Sir.”
I walked away. Not having the coffee. In my feedback, I had written a long note on the hotel boy. His ability to discharge his duty well. I had praised him profusely.
And that day I felt very happy. To be rightly denied a privilege that I wrongly thought I enjoyed just because I was somewhere up in the ladder.
Ladders are fragile. Discipline is rock solid. Always, in life.