Last week a cousin recommended a movie to me when I mentioned how much I had enjoyed the premise of Island City. It was an excellent film about bullying, he said, set in a sleepy hill-station in the nineteen-seventies. I almost decided to watch it when he mentioned without spoiling the story, that the bullies do not get their comeuppance in the end. It was more of a whydunnit, the pleasure of it was watching the subtle nuances of the settings, characterisation, and dialogue among other things. I crossed it off my list immediately. The world needs more stories on bullies getting their due, and they always get it three times over, as per the law of karma.
Despite the absurdism, I loved how Island City hinted that a system which suppresses its members to the level of treating them like machinery will be eventually destroyed from within, by the very members who conform to it, a kind of fitting reply to the Orwellian notion of loving Big Brother. It was pleasing to see a tyrannical man rejected by his family and forgotten soon after his death. That they chose to replace him with a ridiculous character in a lowbrow soap added a layer of pathos to the otherwise happy ending.
So I told my cousin how as a fresh engineering graduate, I spent six months as an intern in a multi-national company in a godforsaken coastal town. It was my first exposure to the real world outside the safe walls of the college classroom, and it was not pleasant. It certainly had something to do with the atmosphere of that place, chockful of negativity and the rudest people that I have encountered anywhere in India. I saw co-workers being bullied and was subject to bullying myself. It has been long since I left that place and I never think of it anymore, but when my cousin talked about bullies and bullying, a few incidents and three characters come to mind – let us call them Daya, Joseph and Biju, names changed for obvious reasons.
Daya was a smug midget who along with another unpleasant woman would extort lunch coupons from the young interns every day. One morning everyone in the office found a hamper of Belgian chocolates on their desks. My desk was empty. I heard Daya telling her accomplice proudly that she had taken my hamper, along with that of a few others. A minor theft which could have been forgiven and forgotten if only she had not added that she was confident that I was too meek and mild to ask her for it.
Joseph, the ugly office bully who picked on the quieter team members in every way that he could, harassing people with bullying emails that were copied to his stooges, and pawing at the good-looking interns around him. He came from a murky background of student politics and talked ceaselessly in a fake accent through which his small-town origins easily slipped through. He was an interesting case study into the mindset of a bully – his bragging about the royal treatment that his juniors gave him at college was in sharp contrast with how his juniors among the interns dismissed him as a street dog who could only bark and would cower as soon a stone was aimed at him, turning away his boorish visage and lowering his yellow eyes that showed glimpses of his ratty soul.
Biju’s innocent countenance masked a character prone to making vulgar remarks at the female interns. A short chap bursting with attitude, he followed Joseph around like a flunkey, listened to him bitch about co-workers and then carried tales of what the fellow said around like leftovers, miming that street dog’s barks. Discussing software structures in a team meeting, he commented slyly that the girls of the team could do their structural analysis on the stage at the next open house. One of the interns, a feisty local woman from a nearby village was outraged. ‘Get your sister and your grandmother to come and do their structural analysis on the stage!’ she fumed. ‘And why not get your mother to fly down from Abu Dhabi and join them?’ He just stared at her with eyes as wide as saucers, making no reply.
I left that company and that town soon afterwards and never looked back until the talk about this particular movie brought back unpleasant memories of those three wretches. I wonder if Daya’s penchant for petty theft, Joseph’s criminal bullying tactics and Biju’s verbal harassment of co-workers and cheap backbiting got them into the hands of their human resource team or the legal system of whatever country they happen to infest. If not, I am sure that they will receive in kind what they once gave out, three times over. And if they don’t, they will see their children (assuming they have any) pay the price. For karma gets everyone in the end.
The world needs all the books and films that emphasise this.