Dialogue between a Panwallah Mentor and a Bengali MBA
[ I am a 30+ young, ambitious, strategically competent with competent strategy. I had been an alumnus if II-common institutes and now work in a transnational corporation specializing in global finance. My career curve is up-north and within few years, I expect to become a man who has the corner office. I am married to a woman who also works in a similar corporation. We have no children so far. We stay in an 11th floor apartment of riverside area in lush green 70% free space township. My credit worthiness statement last month showed a 25% growth and stands at INR 1.75 crore. ]
My mentor is the panwallah whom I knew for last six years. The beauty is this that he does not know that he is my mentor. Since there is no such awareness on his part, our relationship is free and learning channels open. Two years back, in one fine April morning, he revealed himself as my Mentor. We discuss a lot of things and since he could only read Bengali, I will translate his teachings in English. His teachings are rather questions to me, because he considers me more knowledgeable and more experienced in the ways of the world. Since he never had the opportunity or money (from father or from loan from banks) to go to a business school, I would also take the liberty of supplying terms and terminologies into his speech for the benefit of fellow MBAs of Bengal / Bengali origin. His concerns are local (He has been living in the same place for some forty years and for last seven years, I have never found him missing from his seat in his small shop near a tea-shop, even during the great Calcutta bandhs when I secretly got delighted for having an occasion to miss office ) and being out of the ambit of management literature, self-help books, leadership talks and especially salaries and stock options, he leads a debt free life – both of housing as well as of credit cards. In stead he is a big time lender – his credited client runs into hundreds, sustained for some twenty years with very low bad debt. He has been in business in a duration which has seen some five to six business cycles. He has served three generations and sometimes simultaneously. He does not have a Call Centre. His shop is the Call Centre that helps to make users meet and add beta versions of everything – from social gossip to latest political debate. He recommends chocolates to my son and allows me to have better quality Navy Cut packets. He sells eggs while it rains and adds it with few potatoes. His wife manages the store while he goes to the Mela of Taraknath or goes to some village for fishing. He enjoys his food and sometimes cooks as a hobby. His suppliers use eco-friendly transport –cycles and he cross-sells his services – telling me that he repairs lighters and fills gas in gas-lighters. He has recently started another service: he charges his customer’s mobiles if anyone needs that. Free. I once had my laptop charged there in an urgent occasion. I think some thousand people will be directly impacted – real time, instantaneously if his business goes down. He gives me change if I have none and he is a permanent part of my everyday life.
While I write the extract of our discussions, I am little concerned whether I would be able to retain his original flavour. But I will surely try. The striking issue is that of the directness of them and since he looks life with a devastating directness, I am all the more concerned whether my educated and cultivated language would communicate this aspect of the dialogue.
Question 1: What exactly you do in your huge, nice offices day and night all the time? I mean I sit here, in this dokan – sell all these and talk with you people. You must be doing something different? Since I did not study much (and you people did), please tell me some stories about your job.
[My response: I do lots of things but it will not make a story. It is mostly like a same story repeated each week. Since this boredom has become a habit, I don’t feel the boring part of it]
Question 2: I find most of you all the time very busy. Can’t you tell your wife or friend to do your job for some day or say some hours while you feel that you would like to do something else, say having a day-time nap?
[My response: I can’t. The job is mine and mine only. It can neither be shared nor distributed except to those who are under similar contract of me-mine]
Question 3: Have you ever thought what is the reason for your salary being so high compared to other people?
[My response: Sure. I have worked hard. I have been such an intelligent and smart fellow]
Question 4: Why do you seem to talk over mobile all the time and mostly you talk about office, pressure etc.
[My response: Simple. I have been such an important and needed person for the world and time being limited; I do a great sacrifice by giving my time to the benefit of my organization which being global is a gift to humanity]
Question 5: In spite of having all such gifts of life compared to most people – good education, high salary, good car, why you are not that happy as I could make out ?
[Who said so…? I am quite happy. I even attend some yoga classes to gain happiness. My God! I am late for my yoga classes for today.. I have to hurry. I am getting late. Now, I will have traffic snarls and I am getting late.. Exeunt to Yoga! ]
Question 6: What are the things you plan to do after, say 15 years?
[Once my EMI payment for the flat gets over, I would relax. But before that I need to earn money to take care of all other commitments. ]
Question 7: What is an EMI?
[This is monthly payment for a loan I had taken for the house and the car as well as for the furnishing of the house.]
Question 8: Oh.. You mean this is a loan and you will pay for next 15 years.
[Yes. With interest]
Question 9: But why did you take that loan?
[What a question..! Simply because I did not have the money in my closet to buy this posh flat]
Question 10: What happens if you don’t pay the loan?
[ I will be thrown out of the house ]
Question 11: Do you have another place to stay in the city?
Question 12. How does this people who give loan decide whom to give loan and how much?
[From the salary they get from the place where they work. Like me – who work for a large and big company, salary is high and hence they give easily ]
Question 13 : Oh…I understand… You mean they think that you will go on earning the same money for the next 15 years…
[What a fool…! I would grow, become a CEO within 15 years and then this will be peanuts for me. I will earn much more]
Question 14: Ok. You mean your company has given you a guarantee that you would go on earning like this for next 15 years and you will become a CEO after 15 years..
[ No… How can a company do that? Its competition man.. Its drive, energy, intellect, connection, economy – all that are dependent. It’s not guaranteed]
Question 15: But didn’t you tell that you gave the same guarantee to the people who gave you loan that you will pay the same for next 15 years?
[Yes. Sure. What’s the problem? I am young, confident and intelligent. I would surely grow. ]
Question 16: That is for sure. But you see, Life is uncertain. If something goes wrong, is it wise to give such a guarantee from your part – one person only whereas a big company like yours cannot afford to give such a guarantee?
[What an idea! Can the company remain competitive if it goes on giving guarantees like this? I don’t work in a sarkari office, my dear fellow]
Question 17: But pardon me, I know very little. But it seems to me that your best job is in a sarkari office where your job is at least guaranteed. ]
At this point, I was almost going to loose temper. I was getting very angry at his hint of pushing me into the deplorable, inefficient and sloth-like Government employee. In a split-second, finally the MBA training flashed and I reasoned – He is talking of guarantee asymmetry. My company has never given any guarantee of my employment and the income thereof
( instead I always lecture my people that jobs are not guaranteed anymore, its winner takes all) and I have given a guarantee to the Bank that I would continue to pay-up the EMI for next 15 years without fail and in case of non-payment, I have signed an irrevocable mandate that the Bank reserves the right (legally and can be enforced legally) to evict me of my 11th floor south facing luxury flat and to sell to someone (may be the ugly fellow who is my competitor in my office) to recoup the loan.
I spent a sleep-less night and was very concerned about the asymmetry issue. I discussed this issue with my wife (a working woman – we don’t have kids as we plan to settle and then have one) over a weekend on this, secretly thinking that she might say something that will lighten this sinister situation. She, being a risk-analyst for a large corporation told me – matter of factly – yes, there is some risk. However, your risk gets much lesser under three conditions – I continue to work for next 15 years with income appreciation, we continue to live in this city for next 15 years and we don’t have extra financial commitments and also – we don’t get separated in these years.
‘’What about our child?’’, I asked?
‘’ That complicates the matter. It means that I will be out of work for sometime at least and also – we have extra financial commitments.
I have been trying to discuss this asymmetry paradox with my friends and colleagues in a more objective manner (i.e. not disclosing that this is my concern but as an intellectual problem) and the result has not been very encouraging. None told me that my concerns are without basis but all told me that saab theek ho jayega, yaar Or baad me dekha jayega. But, this baad or future is what I was concerned about. Will I see the future or the Future will see me?
Few weeks after this dialogue with my Mentor, I was sitting in a park in the afternoon, waiting for my wife to pick me up. I saw a six year old boy, walking with his father. His two three year old sister was running behind. The father was almost my age. I remembered, some quarter a century back, in one sleepy town in the North East, I used to go with my father to the field to just walk around. My father was a school-teacher and while returning, we used to buy vegetables from the market. In winter, I used to get cauliflower, my favorite, tied in a jute rope and my sister used to carry tomatoes – green ones. My mother – a non-working woman used to be by the kitchen, frying the dal and the glow from the fire making her face brighter and beautiful. It never crossed my mind that my mother had ever felt stressed, bored or needed yoga to feed us, to keep our little formaesh fulfilled. At least, I never felt that way. We eat home-cooked food nowadays in Sundays as my wife comes quite late and it is humanely not possible to cook. I understand that.
Suddenly, in the shabbily dressed father in the park without any branded clothes, not surely a MNC employee like me, I found the face of my school-teacher father of the small town morphing. Then, it struck me – my father was having two children – a family of four while he was of my age. He was a Government employee. He used to house a family of four in a tin-roof house and it has been one of the great misses of my life of not sleeping in a night while it rains and the sound on the tin roof. We played not in the park but in the uthan of the house.
After quarter of a century, in the same country, I earn his two years income, perhaps in a month. That enables me to live in this metro-polis in one of the luxurious apartments. I drive a car which my father could not see even in a movie. I travel to places on regular basis which my father used to read me in books – Europe Yathrir Diary. My father, in the evening, after work, used to play with us first and then to his bridge-party. I play, if I do at all with the latest video games.
Pinaki Chakraborty’s article on PND (pre-nuptial-depression) in this issue made me choose this one to be included. The author is yours truly and hence, in this space, I remain a fellow freelancer (now out of the inviolable position of the Editor. In Rome a Ceaser had been inviolable and only an Editor can claim so in Bengal) and can be interrogated at will. As a gesture of my changed situation, you can mail me here at firstname.lastname@example.org
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