The Woman with the Scar

The first colleague I met at GyanDeep was a woman, about a decade older, who joined at the same time as me. A wide scar covered the left side of her neck like an ugly gray scarf. She was petite and attractive and always wore a smug, self-satisfied expression. We got to know each other vaguely and shared coffee and casual conversation.

To celebrate the signing of a large project, the company arranged a surprise for us. A hamper of Belgian chocolates was placed in each cubicle before we reached the office. Finding my cubicle empty, I looked round. Then I heard her loud voice from within the labyrinth of teal-grey cubicles.

‘See, I took Siddharth’s hamper.’

There was a giggling sound.

‘What if he finds out?’ someone asked.

‘Like I care. The wimp will not have the nerve to ask me for it.’

More giggles, which were subsequently muffled.

If she had merely stolen my hamper, I would have dismissed it as petty theft. If she had asked me for it or snatched it from my hand, I would have willingly given it to her as a friend. What hurt me deeply was her pathetic attitude to me. However, what made me really cringe was the fact that the bitch was right. I did not have the courage to ask her about it and just continued to seethe with impotent resentment. To stand up for yourself when you are depressed is one of the toughest things you can do.

The Cantankerous Bastard

The cantankerous bastard (CB) would have made an interesting subject for psychoanalysts. CB was the office bully who acted as though he was a hero and perhaps actually believed himself to be one, notwithstanding his hyena-like visage, sly, yellow eyes that showed his ratty soul, and his lecherous hands that groped the good-looking man or woman who happened to come near him. I was put in the same team as him for a miserable three months.

CB attacked everyone, hitting people where they were weakest. His biggest assets were his capacity for empty sarcasm and his background as a student politician. The others avoided him or snubbed him when he annoyed them, at which point he would subside like a whipped dog, wiping away the traces of bullshit that dripped like drool from his mouth. Weak as I was, I was easy prey. CB grew obsessed with me. He would poke at me with sharp words, paw me and do everything possible to provoke me. He would praise me one moment and put me down the next, prying into my work and loudly discussing, with anyone who would listen, how my work was not up to the mark. The last straw was when he sent a prank email in my name to the manager. Wary of confronting him, I sent him a one-line email asking him to stop harassing me. His response was to send a long rant abusing me, with blind copies to the entire team.

I should have forwarded the mail to the manager and to the head of HR with a copy to the CEO. Instead, I sat crying over a cup of coffee in the pantry where a colleague, who had also been his classmate, found me. She lent me a sympathetic ear as I told her everything.

‘Was he such a big shot in college?’ I asked her. ‘He said that his classmates were wont to place him on a throne.’

She burst out laughing.

‘Indeed. He was a small-time campus politician, the chairman of some student party. But, other than a few guys involved in power games, no one gave a damn about him.’

‘He is so obnoxious. How did you people stand him?’

‘How do you treat a street dog that barks at you? Throw a stone at him; he will subside and never bother you again. The girls in our class called him ‘street dog’ for this reason, at which he would obligingly bark at them. He just picks on whoever tolerates his nonsense. He once called me ‘fat girl’ in front of the rest of the class. I looked straight at him and said, “I am fat and you are ugly; I can always get in shape but what about you?” You should have seen his face when the others stopped laughing.’

The next day, when CB began to pick on me, I stood up and stared into his eyes. Then I told him in a firm voice not to use such language with me again.

Would you believe it, Chinmay? He reacted exactly as our colleague had said. He instantly apologized in a subdued voice and returned to his cubicle, slinking away like a street dog with its tail between its legs.

This technique works on most bullies, but you need to find the strength to use it.

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