Archive for the ‘Interpersonal’ Category

Zoom In, Zone Out

In Interpersonal, Meeting, Office humor on May 25, 2020 at 19:32

Man is a social animal but the ego is highly anti-social. Most of life seems paradoxical and there never seems to be enough time to sit and ponder. Well, now there is time, lot’s of it. But it seems to drift away. And that is boredom defined: Finding each passing moment excruciating and yet not knowing where all the time went.

It is already 20 minutes into the online meeting and they still haven’t got past the pleasantries. You want to switch off your video and be free to dig your nose or just stare at the fan. But that wouldn’t be polite now would it? Things have definitely changed under lockdown but your employer is still trying to hold on to the old ways. A mixture of nostalgia and denial. But one must admit, Zoom calls are very realistic, down to people being late and nothing of substance being discussed for close to two hours.

It is a meeting that has already been rescheduled four times. In the real world colleagues would have compelling alibis for not being able to make it. Dentists appointments, in-laws visiting, son’s football practice on Wednesdays. Arun would always claim he had to go with his son for football practice but he would end up attending the meetings anyway…custody battles are tough. You would think online meetings would be easier. But people still find ways to keep themselves busy and hammered, anything but sitting still with their thoughts. Now they suddenly feel the urge to connect with their distant siblings, attend Zoomba sessions and the PTA meetings have also moved online

Since you are still being paid, while being in shorts, you can’t complain. But greater than the mockery of productivity is the horror of peeking into the lives of your colleagues. You always suspected they had a life but without all the social media filters, it looks very surreal, like a hacker movie.

The broken switchboards, mosquito lamps, kids fighting in the background, dogs peeking in, bad camera angles compounding bad hair days. Pat has a Swiss Alps background wallpaper but he was always pretentious. You finally see that the old man from accounts actually has legs! He is moving around more at his house than he ever did in office, the only image you have of him is behind a cubicle. And you are glad Arun actually has a house. You would always see him changing clothes in office, especially on Wednesdays. Actually you are sort of glad to see everyone in their humble avatars. Even Head Slave, as he tries to sound spontaneous while clearly reading from another window. You can see the reflection in his glasses.

Since everyone is being themselves you also take a break unannounced and come back towards the end of the meeting. They are still exchanging pleasantries. One of them even suggested playing Ludo, on company time! It is met with no objection but thankfully no interest either. It is clear that there is no work to be done. But man is a social animal. And thankfully, loneliness is often stronger than the ego.

  • Punit Pania

Friendless in Tokyo

In Blogging, humor, Interpersonal, Love, Wage Slaves, work life balance, work stress on May 5, 2020 at 20:02
  • As related by a friend.

The name was apt, almost sexy. And I was desperate. A management position in a multinational corporation in one of the biggest cities in the world. And yet hopelessly friendless. One would have thought the job along with a life partner who is keeper would have sealed the deal. Life is short but days are long. Very long if you have no one to talk to.

Nowhere is the paradox of alienating city life as stark as Tokyo, especially if you do not speak the local tongue. And even if you if do there so many places where it is simply considered impolite to strike up a conversation. This includes trains, elevators and lunch – that is half your life, out! Zip!

Life is like a 90s sitcom. You are not really enjoying the reruns but you also feel that the next season will be worse. So you can’t make new friends. One needs a certain amount of tolerance to have a large group of friends. As you get older, your ability to detect bullshit goes up and your ability to tolerate it goes down. But even the existing herd was dwindling, largely due to geography. There is a group of friends who you meet only at re-unions, then at weddings, then in hospitals, then at funerals. I am just about getting to the hospital stage.

Friendless in Tokyo was a meet-up of like-minded desis in a foreign land, all looking for friendship. What could go wrong? If you are me, a lot. A perpetually low phone battery and propensity to trip over and fall at will ensure a healthy supply of drama in the screenplay that passes for my life. It was like Seinfeld’s theme music was perpetually playing on in the background but I was still not finding it funny.

I wanted to change the narrative. So much that I was the first one to arrive at the community centre. The oldies who were there for the earlier origami event seemed very inviting but I wanted to make friends who…lasted.

The husband is calling me repeatedly on the phone. But not now. I have got to be my individual gregarious friendly self. I even wore the dress I was saving for our anniversary. As potential suitors started trickling in, the play-like nature of the scene made an impression on my mind. And only I could hear the laugh track. Each person introducing themselves as a one-line Tinder bio: Mother, Yoga teacher, Vacuum cleaner. I could only manage to say my name with a smile.

The Moomins help solitary diners in Japan with “anti-loneliness cafe” at Tokyo Dome City LaQua

They seemed to have so much to share. Most of them were women, with kids, some had two kids and one lady was clearly pregnant. All their kids seemed to be going to the same school. So this was like an unofficial parents-teachers meeting. They were polite but it was clear that I would have to at least adopt a puppy to remotely relate to this group. The stories of their kids sounded more like boasts than banter and everyone seemed a little too well-dressed. I still kept with the program, accompanied them to various eating joints till we found one that could accommodate everyone’s food restrictions/fetishes/superstitions. And Vegans can’t even do ice cream parlous. If you thought deciding on a place among a group is difficult, try doing it with a bunch of people you have just met.

Of course, the phone had switched off by now. The last thing I saw on the screen was 7 missed calls. He doesn’t usually call that often but does it have to be on the one evening when I am out making friends? And I didn’t want to give up. I sat through the whole thing even though the tea was cold. We even exchanged numbers but thankfully they didn’t add me on their WhatsApp group.

I started getting worried about the missed calls. So I borrowed chargers from three different strangers on the metro on the way back. Now I know why on one else does that. But they were polite enough to lend it to me even though they were getting off at the next stop. With 2% battery and 1 block left from home, I couldn’t help myself. I called the husband and blasted him for making me worry. Needless to say I tripped on the escalator while shouting with Seinfeld’s music playing on cue. Another awkward dinner awaited. Did I tell you? – He cooks as well. Friendless and Sleepless in Tokyo.

The door was open and the lights were off. Now I was really worried. If it hadn’t turned out to be a surprise birthday party, I would have killed someone that day. I don’t remember who all he had called home that night from our limited social circle to make it happen. But I do remember hugging him tight, like at the end of any good episode of Friends.

One person who understands you completely is better than a hundred distant friends and you don’t need to watch a sitcom or RomCom to know that.

  • Punit Pania

Hot, Flat and Shrouded

In global warming, Interpersonal, Wage Slaves, work stress on May 3, 2017 at 06:00
There are 8.5 billion of us crawling the planet and sucking it dry. Each one of us brought up to think he/she/it is unique and has a destiny drafted and approved by the executive editor upstairs. It’s a miracle we haven’t killed each other to extinction yet. And this miracle is called money.
 Going Going Gone
Money is the pursuit of violence by other means. The largest and longest running simulation in the history of the world. It keeps us occupied to the point of obsession and blindness. The few who master the game; 1% to be precise, watch us gladiators from the perch of their fiscal leverage.
 Money counting
Blood sports are wasteful and short-lived. Institutionalized competition is the stuff GDPs are built on. The modern economy is a well-oiled noise-free machine with the unfortunate side-effect of carbon emissions. Largely civilized, channeling all the collateral damage into the slowly maturing mutual fund of global warming instead. Private Profit – Planetary debt.
Polar 1
Between 16° and 28° lies the cold war between two rival camps of office employees with widely differing body chemistry, political leanings and thermodynamics. There are the tropical Eskimos who travel through melting heat and enter the office is a sweater and muffler. Who shudder at anything below the ambient temperature of 24°. Who are convinced they were born in the wrong hemisphere. And there is you and your neighbor Sameer who enter the office looking like chimps with your arms hanging out with the discomfort of the sweaty crescents under your arms. You do not believe you were born in the wrong hemisphere because we are all going to die anyway. But the Eskimos regard you as Vulcans. You are not sure if calling someone an Eskimo is considered racist in today’s world. But they don’t have internet so they can’t outrage. And they might also be leading happier lives. But to ensure your rant ages well, you call them just Moes instead.
 Cold giphy.gif
More than the numbers, the Moes also have a moral lead on your camp. It seems feeling cold draws more sympathy​ than sweating like a pig. Cheif Guests are often awarded shawls because intellectuals feel more cold than proles and they don’t even tire of shuddering at the ills of society. In winters animals hibernate in a Zen-like state. But an animal in heat only produces more animals.
You have employed all techniques from rationing AC usage to stealthily using the AC remote only coming short of bribing the office boy. But the Moes’ ring leader trumps all your efforts. Samantha has always looked frail, now with her summer shawl collection, she looks like a hermit on chemo. And when she tries to balance herself on a chair to guide the flaps of the AC away from her cubicle with the aid of a foot ruler, she gets enough sympathy to last her a week. It seems her doctor has prescribed that the blast of the AC should be at an angle of exactly 176° away from her head.
Each summer is only going to be more biting but Moes’ bodies refuse to adapt to their God-given latitudes. It seems the Vulcans are going to have to retreat. Until one fateful day, the thought of buying yourself out of this predicament occurs to you. A thought so noble in its simplicity you are almost ashamed it didn’t occur to you earlier. Sameer’s girlfriend calls you one day proving that a. She exists and b. You still have the capacity of being a friend. She asks for suggestions for Sameer’s birthday present. And the words ‘USB Fan’ just drop out of the ozone-depleted sky into your lap.
The Vulcans and the Moes’ co-existed in an armistice after that proving once again that the only answer to consumption is more consumption…till there is no ground left to stand on. Then we can all go medieval. It would be the perfect ending.
– Punit Pania

The Way to a Manager’s Heart…

In humor, Interpersonal, Office humor on July 20, 2014 at 19:48

As related by a friend and fellow slave

Managers are people too. This dawns on you from time to time. But in the interim, they just seem like a peculiar tribe slave to rigid practices and pointless ritual.

The-Office-Dance-OffRicky Grievas DancingDavid Brent Dancing
As your department’s pack forages on their usual slope, the new kid on the block stays on the side lines. Besides the one-off documentation and scheduling of meetings, the kid has little to do to keep herself busy. She does try though, her anxiety shows anyway. The veterans of the pack show no signs of even acknowledging her existence. You, as always, are the passive observer.

And as a good observer is wont to do, you survey from a distance without intruding, interacting or influencing the subjects of study in any way. It is a tough job but someone has to do it.

Austin Stevens

The pack almost seems to be trying too hard at times, going out of their way to look past the kid and act generally self-important. The posturing is led by their Head of Department, a man with a big face and a thin voice. He is also the Alpha Male by proxy.

On many an occasion you feel compelled to break in, break the ice and put the kid at ease. But with some effort, you convince yourself that nature has to run its course.

And it does until a day when the pack is feeling particularly restless and hungry, both feelings being often interconnected. They are pulled out if their lazing around into the mildly vigorous activity of looking for biscuits and half-eaten packs of chips in the foliage of files and half-open boxes of forgotten stuff.

The kid, startled at first, makes the bold move of offering her own reserve of nutrition bars and Oreos. It is an instant hit. One of the Oreos makes its way to Alpha for approval. You almost find yourself anxious waiting for his response. But guess what, the big man likes Oreos!
Cyanide Oreos

Over the next few days, banter increases in proportion with the kid’s supply of fodder. They still don’t know the kid’s name and her smile is still awkward. But there is progress…

The kid comes up to you once offering you the last Oreo lying at the bottom of her shallow lunch box. You offer her your pack of nutrition bars instead.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Kim!’ she says with a bright smile.

‘Glad to have you on board,’ you say.


Managers are people too and nature has to run its course. But you can always run your own.


– J.


In Festivals, humor, Interpersonal, Office humor on October 13, 2013 at 01:47

A company is a highly designed place full of people who have landed there by default. Once there, they learn the rules of the reality show called employment. Like in any other motley group, some learn fast, others learn the hard way.

You always wanted to learn fast. But wanting is only the first step. And you have your whole working life to figure out the rest.


A slew of colourful boxes has made it to the office in the morning sending much a flutter on an otherwise ordinary day. The boxes are too small to be product consignments and too bright to be routine stationary. They have to be gifts, big ones. It is not nearly festive season yet nor is the birthday or retirement of any office celebrity in the offing.


Gossip, speculation and wild guesses rule till some time before lunch when the coveted boxes containing unknown payload start being handed out by none other than Head Slave himself. Each recipient emerges from the cabin a happy man, one box richer than when he went in. It is a rare sight. He also announces the name of the next man summoned into the sanctorum.

Then, the summons just stop and the exercise is at a sudden but definite end. So exciting this has turned out to be that no one noticed the pattern to the chosen box receivers. ‘It is a Diwali gift, only for line managers,’ said smirking Smriti just in case you had missed the appeasement.


You have never been one for giving or receiving gifts. But those boxes were just so…happy looking. You feel like a step-kid on Christmas day in a crowded family. Like a stray dog who is not cute enough to get attention and not weak enough to earn sympathy.  Like the only guy without a date at a swanky coffee house. You have actually approached HS’ cabin and are standing dangerously close as Smriti makes the obvious more biting my mouthing it.

You walk off without acknowledging the glee on her face. You can now the see the boxes distributed over various desks, not distributed over others. But they don’t seem colourful anymore. They look a distant grey. Before the discrimination kills your appetite, you decide to head off for lunch. You ask around for company, making it a point not to ask the gift recipients. This does not stop Smriti from pitching in:

‘Can’t come, all line managers have been invited to a special lunch at The Chateau`!’

‘Did I ask you?’ you snap back, ‘I am only asking mortal non-line managers.’

Visibly recoiling from your outburst, Smriti walks off saying, ‘We need to talk.’

Gift boxes tie

A company is a highly designed place full of people who have landed there by default. You try to be tolerant. But trying is only the first step. And you have your whole working life to get used to the rest.

– J.

The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

In humor, Interpersonal, work life balance on September 18, 2013 at 23:43

A long lost acquaintance suddenly pings you on LinkedIn. Now, if it was a long-lost friend, you would have been pleasantly surprised but with an acquaintance, you just do the bare formalities: Alive? Working? Married? Kids? Good.

This acquaintance is likely to be one of the slower kids in school or the guy with the thick frames in college.  Let’s just say he would not be on your list of people you wouldn’t mind being stranded on an island with. But he is also the kind of guy who makes you feel sorry for feeling sorry for him.  So you play along.

Banya Seinfeld

A couple of pleasant surprises later, he asks you out. To a cup of coffee. At this point, it is ok to be a little worried. I mean, a tangential orientation would explain a lot, not that you would know.

Cover of "Don't Say Yes When You Want to ...

It seems you will have to buy the book ‘Don’t say yes when you want to say no’ by Herbert Fensterheim. But before you do, you have one awkward cup of coffee on your hand. It isn’t for the first couple of minutes until your acquaintance asks: ‘Tell me about your dreams. What do you want to be in life?’


You give him a wtf look. And supplement it with a quick summary of your CV. He says, ‘No no, I want to know your dreams. We all have dreams but in our busy schedules…’

And he lays it on you. His spiel. The pitch that will change your life. The whole nine yards. Boy, is he going for the homerun or what? A mix of startlement and amusement keep you from breaking his onslaught.


At the end of it, you deem it appropriate to counter with an anti-climax: ‘I will think about it. I will call you.’

You would like to think this is the end of it. But it’s not. Several phone calls and a face-to-face with one your acquaintance’s ‘Senior partners**’ later, you are finally off the program. All you could say was, ‘I don’t think so but I will get back to you.’ And you had to say this at least fifteen times before they let you go. It was hard for them, seeing as in how they were going to change your life and stuff.

They never told you what they were selling. ‘The product is not important,’ he would say, ‘we can sell anything.’ He didn’t exactly say, ’We are in the business of selling dreams.’ And that would not have surprised you.


You find out later that several of your friends have endured the same coffee shop routine. In fact, at the same coffee shop. The same pitch. The same shit about dreams. Just a different acquaintance and a different lead.


Your garden variety employer does not talk to you about your dreams but puts on paper the means to achieve them, should you choose to accept it. Godmen do not talk about the means, not scientifically anyhow, but keep brainwashing you about the end. And nothing short of eternal happiness at that. Multi-level Marketing poses as the best of both enticing you with the yuppie notion of ‘Do what you love, love what you do’.

But if you like it; it would not be work, duh’. And if you don’t like making cold calls to every last contact in your sphere of reference over a forcefully pert cup of coffee, tell them so.

Awkward Coffee Meetings

SlavesInc. recommends: Don’t freaking say yes when you want to say no.

– J.

I am a Straightforward Guy

In Interpersonal, Office humor on July 6, 2013 at 18:55

In a world of pretentions, a manager is the ideal citizen. He knows no cast, creed or compassion.  But he excels at compliance. He knows no fright, folly or free will. But he flatters the fraternity. In a social situation he may closely resemble the framework of a jerk. In a climate controlled environment, he is an ideal resource.


So when you get a call from the new project manager; let’s call him Skippy for the time being,  saying he needs to talk to you ‘man-to-man’, you are more amused than surprised and more eager than anxious.

You enter Skipppy’s cabin. He offers you a seat with a stoic look on his face and a stony look in his eye. Emotion; be it any kind, is a refreshing change in the galley.

‘Let me tell you I am a straightforward guy. I tell it like it is. Apolitical to the core. I have paid the price for it many times. But that is how I am…’

The unsolicited self-introduction goes on for another couple of minutes. Whenever three consecutive sentences begin with the all powerful ‘I’, you switch off. In this case you let Skippy’s mannerisms convey the broad message of his monologue while an Opera high note plays in your head. It is almost like he is shouting in slow motion; and on mute.

Publ. - (Diena, Nr.291, 5.lpp., 12/13/05)

He goes on to relate to you the tough times he has had in his life and how he has survived. To the manager, this is of little interest. To the sentiment being, it is mildly engaging. So you listen with a bemused smile on your face.

Skippy leans forward and grabs your knee with a ‘look into my eyes’ expression. You assure him that you are listening and are waiting for him to finish.


It turns out one of your emails made its way to his inbox as a backhanded commitment. The manager inside you wanted to tell him to express his displeasure over email. But you leave it offline with an assurance that your email was not meant for him and drew on a different context.


Several compliments and handshakes later you leave Skippy’s cabin. In a world of pretentions, Skippy may not be the ideal resource.  But you may have made for yourself one of those rare things, a new friend.

– J.

Textually Speaking

In Communication, Interpersonal, Office humor on February 11, 2013 at 13:21

Though no one has ever accused you of being a grandpa, in some ways, you are what one would call old fashioned. For you jeans will always be blue, tea will always be black and formal will always equal no fun.

Homer Blue Pants Headvertising

But that’s you. Natalie is different. She is geographically distant and dispositionally far-off. She is occupied with the person and oblivious to dictionary. She uses more exclamation marks in a week than you would have come across in a life time of reading. Time seems to be treating her well and auto-spell is her bitch.

Bee Girl

A routine e-mail from Natalie reads as follows:


how have u been ??!?

Looong taime

Hey, can you send the MoM of last night’s call?

Thanks a million buddy!

C ya soooon!!


What do you say to that? You have never used an exclamation mark in a formal mail and you want to keep it that way. You come close though as you feel compelled to return the rare joviality or at least acknowledge it.

What gets to you is the consistency. You may have bad days, mood swings and paper cuts. Natalie seems to be on one continuous acid trip. The same chirpiness, the same exclamation marks and the same devil may read the dictionary syntax. You have come close to slipping in a smiley in your replies. But you fear straying into an emoticon binge and check yourself.


Other times you come close to sending the following replies:

‘I am doing the same as yesterday, just like you’

‘You don’t like spell check, do you?’


‘On Prozac, are we?’

When the day finally arrives to talk to Natalie you are surprised to find yourself looking forward to it. You hold the receiver some distance away from your ear to buffer the sharp cries you are expecting from the other end. Instead, you hear nothing. You bring the receiver closer.

‘Hello, Natalie? Can you hear me?’

‘…yes. He…hello,’ comes a murmur in reply.

‘How are you? Its good to finally talk to you.’

‘Ye…yes. I am…good, I am good.’

What follows is one of the most queasy conversations of your life. You regret having made the call. The world seemed a better place with crazies like Natalie. Now, its just a place where typing a thought is better than living it.

joker smiley

She has gone back to her vibrant e-mails. But in person, she always comes across as a shadow of her inbox avatar. Now that you know the effort that can go into a putting up a smile, you will never ignore a kind word again.

– J.

The Cube where Time Stands Still

In humor, Interpersonal, Office humor on June 17, 2012 at 23:53

It is a cubicle that is dreaded but revered, dated but persistent. Trips to this hallowed place are best avoided but also a source of memories once taken. You have been avoiding it since in all things work related, you have learnt to err on the side of caution.

But today, you have to take the dip. Sure, it comes under the wrapping of cross-functional project management and upward mobility. But you also like to err on the side of cynicism. So you knock. And you are immediately absorbed into the timeless world of…Mr. Kramer.

5 minutes into the cube of dread and you realize all the stories are true. Kramer likes to talk…a lot. That is how he carries out most of his communication. In fact, his computer screen is switched off right now. A sliver of envy runs through you.

‘And I tell my daughter: I told you they should have batted first. She says she doesn’t understand the game. And I am like: Wha…’

‘Sir, about your visit plan…’

‘You ever play ball?’

‘Umm…No…no sir.’

‘That is whats wrong with this generation…’

…almost an hour later, you have missed your coffee break, evening has arrived and traffic is piling up outside. But Kramer is still elucidating the follies of your generation. Your feeble attempts at nudging the conversation to an official direction have gone out like a candle in a storm. 

Kramer’s breathless extempore is finally broken by a bird chirping right outside his window. Both of you are now staring at your avian friend…the conversation could go anywhere from there.


You seize the God-sent opening and get up to say we can continue this another time. But Mr. K leans over the table and almost pulls you down by your sleeve in a manner that says: ‘Where are you going?’

‘You know, that is the first time I have seen a bird here in years. When we had first shifted office here, ours was the only building, mountains as far as the eye can see…’

Mr. K looks out of the window as he says this, as if looking through a hole in time. He is just like any other old timer craving for someone to talk to. Just because you are dressed in formals doesn’t mean you have to be curt and not courteous.

So you wait back easing into the non-pretentious nature of the conversation. You will have to do the paper work for him. It is not like you would have moved mountains with your agenda anyway.

– J.

Fwd: This is not a forward

In Blogging, e-mail, humor, Interpersonal, Motivation, Office humor on April 10, 2012 at 05:34

There it sits, smugly in your inbox. It always seems to pop in at the right time…like it knew. Like it knew its presence was required or its intrusion tolerated.

You know you should ignore it. Dump it, junk it, spam it, damn it. But there it sits, smugly in you inbox. In the red of the Unread. Maybe it’s your inherent decency that prevents you from using your spam folder to good effect.

But what the hell, it only asks for a couple of minutes. And this one talks about split second decisions. How could it hurt?

From the land of densely formatted excel sheets, you are transported to a train. A speeding train i.e. And you are in the driver’s seat. A few hundred yards away, innocent kids are playing seemingly unaware of oncoming death!

You have one option. You could turn to the extra track on the right. But there is; off course, a catch. A lone kid is playing on that track too. Maybe he is a kid with a learning disorder or maybe he is simply unpopular. May be he is mature enough to know not to play on the tracks that are in frequent use. You feel a kinship with him already.

But that is not the point here. You have a runaway train on your hands and you could save 7 kids by sacrificing one! The moral dilemma is clear: sacrificing one law abiding unpopular kid for the law flaunting innocuous bunch.

The answer too is clear after a twist at the end. But most of you have received this e-mail forward already. So we shall move on. With appraisals around the corner, you may see this forward as a hint; an allegory even, of things to come. You may find it ludicrous to different degrees depending on how low you rate the clown that sent the forward. The point is if you are not doing your dream job, any distraction is welcome. And you wonder why the cheesiest forwards get perpetuated?

See how far you have drifted now. You had better hit the spam button next time. It is about being assertive. Isn’t that on your resolution list?

The forward did make you think though. Inspiration can arrive in the strangest vehicles. Maybe you can create something of your own. Something that fellow humans find familiar yet worth reading, obvious yet difficult to articulate, until now. It will definitely not be as lame as a ‘motivational’ forward. And you wouldn’t want to spam people either. It would be the anti-thesis of a motivational e-mail, a weekly epiphany via blog post. To espouse the mild mannered adventures of a nine-to-fiver seems like a worthy cause. You can call it Slaves Incorporated (TM).

– J.