Food Harassment

For a while, I was rather taken up with the Answer this question thing on Facebook, because it was like a mini writing prompt. One of them was:

Not because I particularly love cake, but because of my predilection for baking. I wanted to bake because my mother wasn’t a fan. Growing up, very few of my friends’ mothers baked, but those that did made the most amazing stuff. [In retrospect, it wasn’t that hard. My mother just doesn’t have the yen for it. Fair play.]

Then the whole cake fairy nonsense erupted at work, and I was repeatedly harangued for food. The demands moved from cake to just about anything that my mom or I cooked, because cake became too specific for many.

The food harassment, as I like to call it, took on some hilarious proportions. There was a time set aside for this machinations to take place: my lunch time. The way the office worked is that people could go have lunch in the office cafe any time they wanted, so that was logically the best time to corner me. There were scouts posted [well, those who worked near the cafe] who were meant to send off alerts to the main perpetrators when I went in for my meal.

In the beginning – the first 2 days at the most – this was protocol. After that, it was largely scattershot. Having said that, after spending an hour AFTER I had finished eating, literally cornered by 3 boys, I started sneaking in to have my lunch.

The cafe was in the shape of an L, and the large part of the L was visible from the pantry area. The little part though was not, so if I sat there, no one could see me, unless they walked the full length of the L first. There was more security this way, so people in the pantry wouldn’t suddenly spot me, and make the most of the opportunity.

This plan, for the most part, worked very well. It did mean that I ate my lunch alone, but I had podcasts to keep me company, and I could come and go in peace.

Until one fine day, when the founders came to the cafe for their lunch, and they decided to pick the table at the end of the cafe. Yup, the only place you could see me from, and the way the tables were placed? It meant that although we were at different tables, they were sitting right next to me.

I groaned inwardly because, knowing them, they would attempt to converse with me out of courtesy. But at least, I could make good my escape when I was done eating.

However, the first question out of their mouths was: “Hey! Why are you eating here on your own?” and the second, before I could reply to the first, was: “Are you hiding?”

Now, I was known for being a bit of a cartoon with a sarcastic tongue. The founder I reported to – my boss – knew this, but his counterpart didn’t interact with me on a day-to-day basis. Basically, I should have chosen the words of my response more carefully. Because my reply was: *smiled* “Yeah, I’m hiding from AP, DG, and RP. Last week, they kept me here an extra hour till I promised to bring them cake!”

In my defence, I laughed a little, and shrugged. It was not something to be taken seriously. However, not in my defence, I should have noted the widened eyes that followed my remark. My boss laughed too, and I assumed that was the end of that.

Um. No.

The next day, I got called in for a meeting with the head of HR. I had no idea what the meeting was about, because there are many times I’ve been asked to edit policies and generally support their function. In no way did I connect my lunchtime conversation of the previous day to this.

Hooboy.

She sat me down gently, and asked me whether I needed water and how I was feeling. Now this in itself took me by surprise, because I have been at the office longer than her. I know where the water is. I said I was fine, and then it occurred to me to ask what the meeting was about.

“Oh, the conversation you had with Nakul (the other founder) yesterday. He said that 3 of the engineers are harassing you, and I should sort it out. I also had a word with the guys about it.”

After blinking in astonishment for about 20 seconds, I burst into peals of incredulous laughter. I only stopped laughing long enough to explain the utter ludicrousness of the situation, where I would complain to a co-founder about my petty bickering with 3 of my office FRIENDS. Not colleagues, friends!

The HR was relieved too, although she was slightly miffed about the misunderstanding. I calmed down finally, and explained that she knew the equation that existed between me and the engineers. We bantered and fought, but it wasn’t ever serious. She agreed, and suggested I have a word with Nakul to lay the issue to rest. I acquiesced and the meeting ended.

I looked for Nakul, and found him next to one of the guys, DG. And without preamble, because this needed sorting out, I launched into a short speech: “Hey Nakul. You know what I said about food harassment yesterday? I was kidding! They do harass me, but it is just a bit of fun. I wasn’t upset or anything!”

To his credit, Nakul accepted that he misunderstood, but I see that he was just making sure everything was on the up and up in the office. I can appreciate that. However the other 3? Still haven’t let me live down my “complaint to management and HR”.

Bloody idiots.

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Shrunken Head

I usually reserve my rants about my clients to an audience of one: my mother. But this particular client deserves a post all her own. THAT’S how clueless she is.

I signed on to handle the website development for her fledgling company, where I do content, project management, and client liaison, and I have 2 developers and 1 designer doing their shtick. UX also falls into my bucket, even though I am a total noob at it. Thankfully, a static information site requires very little in terms of UX.

All of this is fine, except I’ve landed a client who needs a shrink more than a website developer. She hasn’t the tiniest concept of agile project development, no matter which single-syllable words I use to explain it, and cannot comprehend why she has to make decisions for work to move forward. One day, last year, I get an irate conference call from her an her hapless husband about how things are just not moving forward. This is after sending her multiple reminders to check content and wireframes.

At that moment, I was forced into a corner, and I got verbal confirmation from her that I would make all the calls, but she wouldn’t be able to change much thereafter. Because once pages are designed, it is difficult to move elements around. Once they are developed though? The engineers will draw and quarter me. So that’s how in a few weeks’ time, we had a functioning website up and running.

Of course, since then I have become Heroine & Saviour. So now I get calls about stuff where she wants my opinion on stuff that has the most fleeting connection to the website. I sit through the calls patiently enough, because I don’t actually have to say anything. She needs a listener, and yours truly has drawn that particular straw.

But last month really took the cake.

I asked her to consult a lawyer for the legal notices necessary to include on the website: terms of use, privacy policy, and so on. Not being an advocate myself, I cannot possibly write up those documents. It would be unethical and irresponsible, and goes totally against my grain. Anyway, she called a family friend, and he promised to get back to her.

I was pleasantly surprised when he did, fairly promptly I might add, but both the feelings of pleasantness and surprise faded considerably, when I saw that he had sent her documents for a completely different business. Because, of course.

I sent them right back to her, and told her to do better. I cannot possibly hire a lawyer on her behalf, and I suspect she was half hoping I would. Trying to explain how that would be completely impossible was also beyond my scope. Of sanity.

Finally, she got hold of someone who does this work, and organised a meeting with him. I was also asked to attend, even though, again, it is well out of the scope of my work. I attended the meeting yesterday, and was supremely relieved to meet someone who was clearly a professional and more importantly, SANE.

Still, nursed a headache all evening as a result. I will need therapy after I am done with this lady, if she ever lets me bow out of her project.

Whew.

Beware of Girl

When I interviewed at ParserPile, I was oblivious to the gender mix of the organisation. I walked into an open office, and registered that there were about 30 people there. Give or take. Nothing else. I was too nervous and highly strung, and frankly it didn’t even occur to me to check for fellow females.

During my first week, I was taken into a conference room a few times by one of the founders. It was for orientation, and he explained the products, the company ethos, the different teams, and the policies to me in brief. A lot of it went over my head at the time, because I was new and nervous again. But one thing stuck.

He: “So, as you may have noticed, you are the only girl in the office.”
Me: “I hadn’t actually. It’s my third day, and I figured that there could be some people on leave.”
He: “Nope. I am a little nervous about having you here amongst all these guys. But please be assured, if you feel the slightest discomfort at all, you must come to us.”
Me: “Thank you I will.”
He: “No I really mean it. Anything at all. This is a safe office environment.”
Me: “I believe you, and I will. But judging by the people I have interacted thus far, they are more inclined to be wary of a female in their midst, than the other way around.”
He: *smiled*

End of topic.

Cut to 2 years later, and the HR had come up with this idea of telling stories about ParserPile in a big company bonding session. I had initially backed out of speaking, because I couldn’t think of anything to say. But I got hauled up in front of everyone, as the first female employee and was impelled to speak.

There were a number of anecdotes that sprang to mind then, because I am surprisingly [to my own shock] good at extempo speaking. [Previous experience has not led me to this impression.] And one of my anecdotes was partially the one above. Except, it now had an ending.

Me: *at the gathering* “.. The funny thing is that I recounted this conversation I had with the co-founder to some of the others, after we became better acquainted. And one of them retorts with: ‘Oh he gave you a warning about us?! He should have warned us about you!’ And that, my friends, is how I have a full circle in this organisation.”

Overwhelmed

I am constantly astounded by my ability to experience vastly different emotions from morning to evening. Till early afternoon, I was feeling rather buoyant overall. I put that squarely at the door of finding someone attractive, and dare I say them finding you attractive in return. Early stages yet, obviously, but this interaction definitely holds a lot of promise.

Heading off for a nap, to reflect on the ridiculous butterflies that had erupted in my midsection, I was fine. And then I woke up.

In all my castle-building, I had temporarily shelved the problem of work. More specifically, where are the next lot of projects going to come from? Basically the ogre of finances reared its ugly head. Being an entrepreneur requires a marketing mindset, and I appear to lack that vital aspect.

My parents, both exceptionally talented in their respective domains, always said that I had to knock on doors. Yes, but how exactly does one knock on virtual doors in this country? To get the simplest acknowledgement is such a monumental ask in the first place that I suspect cold callers get the cold shoulder with depressing regularity.

Last night, and a portion of this morning, was fairly bleak, as I considered options. I am glad that one of my projects is coming to close, to be honest, because while they’ve been decent, they’ve also expected me to jump through a lot of hoops. The second big project has been born off this one, where one of the directors asked me to consult for his wife’s company too. That is going great now, albeit it had its fits and starts in the beginning.

I got an earful from the mother about not giving the accessories enough attention, and it forced me to confront my fears about them: the marketing thing again; the funds that I need to pump into the enterprise; and much more besides.

After a bit of girding of the loins and general cleaning of mental cobwebs, the mental funk has passed. None of the situational circumstances have changed, but at the will to continue is back.

That’s something.

Payment Terms

I thought I knew all my parents’ stories, because to be fair, I have heard them many times over. It is a source of constant joy, as I think of them coming terms with the world as rather adorable. Neither of them spared themselves or their pride in the retelling, so the piquancy of each tale has lasted.

So when I heard a new story about my dad a few days ago, I was really thrilled.

When he was working in Goa as a hotel general manager, he had a trusted lieutenant in the form of his HR manager, AM. AM, in turn, had immeasurable regard for my father and, since his passing, has kept in touch with my mother regularly. My father had only praise for this younger person, and always said he would go far.

A few days ago, AM messaged my mom to express how much he missed my father and his stewardship. He stressed on how much he learned, just by being with my father, and he narrated a tale to that effect.

One evening, a security guard was yelled at and slightly roughed up by some of the hotel guests or surrounding taxi drivers. He was understandably upset, and marched off to the HR manager to lodge a complaint. My father called him into his office, offered him a seat and a glass of water, and asked him what had transpired.

The security guard went into a harangue against all and sundry. Once he had quietened down a little, my father asked him what his name was. He replied: Namdev. Next: what is your salary, Namdev?

AM, in his retelling, said that he was in shock when he heard this question. What was the GM up to?

The guard went very quiet. My father asked again: what is your salary Namdev?

15000, he replied.

And what does a guard usually get paid?

5000, he replied.

That’s right. This is a difficult business [the hotel had a casino attached, although my father had nothing to do with that part of the business], and there are going to be upsets. We will take action as necessary, however the fact is that we pay extra because being a guard here is difficult.

“You get 5000 to be a guard. And 10000 to take shit.”

I was so flabbergasted on hearing this story. My father was a practical man, but he had a very kind heart. But above all, he had charm and humour oozing out of every pore. I was stunned when AM said that the guard nodded and left without further discussion.

Apparently, I haven’t heard everything.

Client with A Sense of Humour

I always thought that being fun is great, and makes life much more bearable overall. This is my second excuse for being an irreverent git, the first being that I inherited the bad behaviour genes directly from my father.

Anyway, my funny bone is somewhat on the blink since last year, although I have been able to reclaim my humour in some situations. Case in point:

I had a morning meeting yesterday, with one of my clients. I was initially contacted to redo their website content, but ended up with a contract to rebuild their site from scratch. I roped in one of my dev friends, and we got cracking. Yesterday’s meeting was about ironing out the last few snags in the project.

We were rereading some of the content, where I had written that the loan process (they are a housing finance company) is easy and fun. Now, the process they use is easy, and since their culture is laid-back and casual, fun wasn’t a stretch. But he felt that we couldn’t write that.

He then contemplated the “easy” part, and was lost in a pleasant reverie for a few seconds. When I finally got his attention, I asked him what was up.

Client: “It IS easy to get a loan with us. 48 hours man! That’s how much time we take to reply to an applicant.”
Me: *smiling at his enthusiasm* “Yes, it is pretty cool. The banks are painful.”
Client: *snorts derisively* “Banks?! Three months. They take three months to arrive at a decision. You know what, whoever has the stamina to apply for a loan with the likes of SBI and so on? They should get a Bharat Ratna for bravery.” *shakes head in disgust*
Me: *desperately suppressing laughter*

We moved on another page, and he commented that his CEO was unhappy with his own picture on the About Us page.

Client: “He thinks that he looks mournful in this picture. Like Pankaj Udhas. Bol rahe the ki, agar company ka CEO Pankaj Udhas ki tarah lagta hai, company kitna miserable hoga.” [He was saying that if the company CEO looks like Pankaj Udhas, the company must be pretty miserable too.]

To be fair to Pankaj Udhas, a popular ghazal singer in India, the man doesn’t look miserable at all. Quite cherubic and smiley, as a matter of fact.

And finally, since it was such a long meeting, I eventually needed a bathroom break. I ask for directions to the ladies’ and see this on the door:

gottogoYup. I am surrounded by cartoons.

That Carpet Lost Its Pile

[The title makes no sense; I am just in a funny mood.]

This morning, I was absolutely flabbergasted to find out that the Head of HR has left ParserPile. One of my friends obligingly keeps me updated on these happenings, because gossip.

Anyway, the upshot was that all the horrendous reviews on Glassdoor finally penetrated her thick skin. Apparently she resigned, and was then demoted. Apparently, she fought tooth and nail for me, but was overruled. Well, I call bullshit.

She also had the ineffable cheek to tell my friends that I had been asked to consult with the team after I left, but I turned them down. Outright lie. I was never contacted by anyone from there in a professional capacity, after I left.

I was regaling my mother with this latest bombshell, when I started feeling rather melancholy. The office had its problems, but when I joined, it had the greatest team ever. The work was absorbing, the camaraderie was superlative, and the passion was universal. As time went past, those feelings drained away. A great deal of the blame could be laid at the door of our incompetent and frankly parasitic Head of HR, but a lot of the onus truly rests on the shoulders of the founders. Somewhere in the quest of running a business, they lost their humanity.

In the beginning, the founders were hands-on. We fought with them directly, because we felt free to express out opinions. Slowly, as the realisation set in that our opinions were not welcome, nor heeded, nor appreciated, and did us detriment, we stopped. Caring, that is.

The culture needed fixing then, but now it is smashed to smithereens. There is no going back from this point, as one after another, people bail from the sinking ship. Many of the old staff have remained great friends, even after leaving.

I briefly wondered how we could get things back together again, before discarding the very notion as impossible. It is so like a broken relationship; too much water has passed under the bridge.