The final part of Letter 6, extracted from Chapter 5 of The Reengineers. Chapter Five is a book within the book, a book of letters addressed to Chinmay, letters that portray a not so promising picture of the future which his author had visualised for him. After a series of adventures which lead him to confront his author, Chinmay would finally realise that he can rewrite the story of his life.

The Mosquito Woman

In a weird sort of way, the mosquito woman saved my life but I’m not sure if I ought to be thankful to her.

During the team initiation session, as I reached out to take the last welcome kit that was left for me on the table, a woman tapped me from behind. ‘That is mine,’ she said, pointing to the kit. She had already pocketed two of them. Someone sniggered. I could not say anything except ‘okay’ in a flustered voice. That was our first meeting.

She was nondescript as far as looks went, fair, with a crop of reddish acne that covered her face like mosquito bites. She lived to gossip, and was unable to go through a single day without saying something bad about someone. It could be anyone: the boss, a colleague, her maid, her mother-in-law or her mother’s neighbour. I would sit as far as possible from her at the lunch table, wishing I could swat her away like a mosquito.

When one of our colleagues suddenly passed away, the mosquito woman had a lot to say about the man and his death. Her voice was low and her laughter subdued, but it was still unbelievable that she could make fun of the poor man. He had been her friend.

But here is how she helped me. Whenever I found myself longing for death, I would force myself to think of the talk that would follow during the next team lunch. I would imagine the malicious gleam in her eyes and her toothy smile as she buzzed with nasty stories about me. Whatever my life was, or wasn’t, I was not going to end it as a source of amusement for the likes of her. The thought was enough to make me put away the knife. It was an exercise that I repeated more than a few times while I was at GyanDeep.

The Double-crossing Dragon

This is an incident that occurred after I had overcome depression.

She was a sweet-faced woman with kohl-rimmed eyes, and had helped me with my work woes by listening and offering sensible advice. She had joined the company at the same time as me and, for this reason, liked to refer to both of us as the ‘senile old-timers’, though she was a good ten years older than me. I didn’t care. Who was I to judge if talking like that made her feel better about her age?

Freedom from depression brought a new set of problems into my life. If I had to change the record of being the software engineer who had not received a promotion for the longest time, I had to fill and fortify my years of empty experience as fast as I could. In desperation I volunteered for every assignment that I could find outside my regular work, hoping to get noticed, appreciated and, finally, promoted.

One rainy evening, after office hours, I was getting ready for a presentation I had to give a large group of colleagues. I had worked on it for days. Just before the session started, I ran into this woman in the pantry, where she asked me for details. Flattered that she wanted to know, I shared my ideas with enthusiasm.

She said casually, ‘I would love to join you in running this program. You know I am so interested in everything.’ ‘Of course, come,’ I said, and felt more visible as I walked into the conference room with her by my side. A few months ago I had been a nobody, and here I was, walking in with a senior, discussing my plans for the productivity optimization program I had designed, which the senior management would see as sure proof of my leadership skills.

She casually took a seat next to mine, facing the audience. I began to talk and everything went wrong. She cut into my words, snatching all the ideas that I had shared with her a few minutes earlier, making them her own. I could not get a word in. The fairy godmother had turned into a dragon.

Why did she do this? She was part of the management team and certainly didn’t need the attention she was taking away from me. It is widely alleged that Conchpuri people cannot be trusted for it is in their blood to cheat and double-cross. I don’t believe this because, in my time at Conchpore, I met three or four Conchpureans who were honest and good-hearted. Perhaps this woman had been a greedy opportunist who grabbed at every stray crumb she saw before her. Or maybe it was in her nature to backstab just as it is a scorpion’s nature to sting. The incident made me cautious about every word that I spoke henceforth within the office premises. In life as much as in work, it is better not to completely trust anyone.

Chinmay, these characters were not monsters but ordinary men and women who had their own quirks, frailties and positive traits just like people anywhere else in the world. I might have stood up to them, asserted myself, ignored, avoided or maybe even befriended them had I met them under different circumstances. But the cold, dark country inside my head impacted my perception of everything. My already fragile inner-self set up a coping mechanism. Besides my internal signboard that said ‘no one at home’ there appeared another: ‘beware of all’. There was nothing that I could do about it.

But, when I look back now, I see none of these ghosts of my past, including my own. Working in a corporate office is like playing a never-ending game of chess, so study the moves well before you make them and make them carefully. Keep a distance from your colleagues, however good they may appear. And if you get bullied, talk to your manager and the bully’s manager. Ask to be moved to a different team. Explain what is happening and how it is affecting your work. Putting it that way almost always helps.

May you be blessed with wonderful working relationships.

Yours, Siddharth

Book Excerpt: ‘The Reengineers’ by Indu Muralidharan – Excerpted with permission from Harper Collins India