5 Things not to do at work – or why Jimikki Kammal is a bad idea

6 years and a career spanning multiple companies across multiple countries has taught me a few things. Here are the pearls of wisdom, arranged in no particular order, for your benefit. Read carefully. I have made these mistakes (and more) so you don’t have to.

Botch Conference calls
Read through the instructions carefully before you dial in. There is a reason why the good people at Cisco took the pains to create a 30 page user’s manual filled with hieroglyphics at single space type and size 3 font. You do not want to be in a conference room filled with your peers and seniors, dial some random numbers and hear this on the line, “Hello dear, this is Mollykutty. How is the weather in Gulf? When are you coming next? ”

Mix up Relatives

Keep track of all your relatives, whether you are on talking terms with them or not. They come in really handy on those Mondays when the previous night’s Heineken hasn’t metabolized in time for you to make it to the office. Remember their names, use an excel sheet if you must, but never, ever, make the mistake of killing your third uncle once removed two times in a year.

Choose the wrong ringtone

This is the simplest advice of all, and one that could so easily be overlooked. Cell phones have an annoying habit of ringing every time someone tries to call you. You do not want to be engaged in a deep conversation with your boss on how to improve the monthly sales of paper towels in Gurgaon and have your phone shout out “Jimikki Kammal” midway through the discussion. The song is great to build rapport with Jimmy Kimmel or to launch the careers of young dancers in Mollywood, but it tends to ruin the atmosphere when it comes to office decorum.

Get caught stealing stationery

Really. Grow up. Everyone knows that the easiest thing to do in any office is steal stationery. It’s a no risk, high gain deal. I myself have been running a very lucrative black market in office supplies, specializing in wet markers, for years now. I have a tried and tested method that has never failed to produce results. Of course, you might have to wait a bit if you want heavy duty items like paper shredders or scanners. And you would have to pay extra too, because I would have to work from the office on weekends to fulfil an order for a paper shredder. The real trick, however, is not to brag about it near the water cooler or on social forums. It’s how amateurs get caught.

Get drunk with your boss

This is the biggest no-no of all. The sort of professional debauchery that characterizes office space interaction nowadays will ensure that sooner or later you will find yourself sharing drinks with your superiors. The trick is to get them drunk without crossing the threshold yourself. The negative consequences of failing to keep count of your Heinekens could be many. For instance, you might start reminiscing, and blurt out how the last time you had this many Heinekens, you were so wasted the next day you didn’t feel like going to office, and had to kill off uncle Damodaran from Ottappalam.

My Uncle Damodaran

Trips back home are always a chance to catch up with the rest of the family, whether you like it or not. After a couple of months of hard work, there may be nothing you would want more on a visit home than to curl up in front of the TV, with a copy of Balabhoomi in your hands. However, mums find such opportunities irresistible. For them, such occasions are tailor made to go visit the relatives, if nothing else to show-off the latest version of their kids to the myriad uncles, aunties, nephews and grandmothers. Your wish to just de-stress at home has no impact on the outcome.

So it will be that you will often find yourself dressed up in your Sunday best, rushing from one relative to the other at break-neck speed to cover everyone. And it is vitally important to cover everyone. It’s just like spraying fertilizer on a field or getting a Brazilian wax. Once you commit to it, you need to go the full nine yards or else the results will be incomplete. There will be some patch left over, someone will complain, and you’ll have gone through a ton of pain for no real reason at all.

Most visits to relatives can be done on autopilot mode, smiling and nodding as little Unnikuttan or Mayamol is paraded before you and asked to recite the latest poem he learnt at school or the latest martial art move she studied after school. Make sure you mentally block out Unnikuttan’s flat rendering of Casablanca and physically protect your family jewels from Mayamol’s taekwondo, and you’re good.

Mostly.

There is a breed of relative that is far more difficult to manage. All of us will have one uncle who thinks he’s young enough to be our older brother. He will, invariably, ask the most uncomfortable questions or make the most cringing comments in his quest to be ‘with it’. Most will be direct assault salvos delivered in the presence of your mom, like ‘Appo mone, who is your girlfriend these days?’, or ‘ So, this new Fifty Shades of Grey movie seems to be quite an artistic exploration into the dynamics of human interaction under duress.’ You can avoid these by abruptly changing the subject by asking about his job, or lack thereof.

A few other lines of attack are less easy to manage. For instance:

  1. Knowledge of popular phrases – My uncle Damodaran, whom I call ‘Damu uncle’ when needed and not at all if I can help it, often throws in phrases used by millennials during our conversations. More often than not he doesn’t understand what they mean, which is often for the good. For instance, there was that occasion when he casually informed me that his daughter Savitri (my cousin) told him that she was going to her friend’s place to Netflix and chill that weekend. ‘It must be this new season of a series called House of Cards,’ he told me. ‘All her friends have been dying to see it.’ He seemed to understand it as a practice where a lot of friends get together over the weekend to binge watch Netflix shows. I smiled weakly and remarked that House of Cards was a great show worthy of chilling to.

 

  1. Archaic sense of overtime – Their grasp of work timings mostly date from the sarkar raj era where 10 am to 5pm were the nationally accepted work timings and any overtime suffered would be handsomely compensated, except if you drew the short straw for election duty. As such, they just cannot understand the virtue of any job which would demand work at 8.00 pm most nights when there was a major presentation due, without the carrot of overtime pay. Coming to think of it… neither can I. Closely tied to this issue is also the inability to grasp why anyone would want to quit a well paying job at one company to join another company. Most folks of their generation joined a company as one would a college, and left it only upon graduation (read retirement). To this day, Damu uncle refuses to believe I quit my first company of my own volition. He insists I must have been fired.

 

  1. Investing – To a man they all consider themselves experts on personal finance. Coming from an era where government jobs were the ultimate wet dream for any self-respecting graduate, their personal finance advice begins and ends with real estate. Compound that with mid-life, existential and a host of other Freudian crises, and they will often end up persuading you to buy apartments in Perumbavoor or potato farms in Coimbatore. Damu uncle’s investment pitch runs like this, ‘Do you know what investment means? Real estate, that’s what it means. All these funds and stocks are totally fraud. I invested some money ten years ago in Teak and Manjiyam plantations, and have not received a single rupee back. They are all fraud people, trying to sell you fraud things. You should only invest in land, I am telling you. Land will always be there for you. In fact, your Girija aunty’s son has just bought some potato farms in Coimbatore, why don’t you just take a look at something similar? He’s a smart boy, I am telling you.’

 

  1. Family planning – This is the worst of all. While one can understand the innate desire of these uncles to ensure the family name survives, it’s tough to understand their urgency. Increasingly stern reminders to quickly procreate punctuate each visit home. When gentle prodding fails, they resort to extolling the virtues of quick procreation. ‘Don’t delay these things, my boy. Have children as soon as you can. Otherwise you cannot enjoy being friends with them as they grow up. Look at me, if I hadn’t had Savitri as early as I did, I wouldn’t have been able to understand her when she tells me she’s going to Netflix and chill.’

There’s no easy way to dodge these bullets. If caught out in the field of fire, one option could be to replicate the tactic used to protect oneself against Mayamol’s taekwondo. Shield your jewels with your hands, and curl yourself up into a ball.

 

A rebel by any other name

You have seen him before. A lost soul wandering the aisles of the last wedding reception you attended, searching desperately for a kindred spirit or the entrance to the sadya hall, whichever he finds first. Dollars to doughnuts (or Rupees to parippuvada) he will be attired in a monochromatic t shirt that reaches down to just above his knees & a pair of black jeans that’s torn at exactly the same anatomical location. He will have long hair that’s been highlighted in random places, and a beard, the shape and fullness of which depends on which side of puberty he is. He will speak to you only in monosyllables, unless the topic of conversation happens to be Marvel comics or neo liberal feminism. He is usually scornful of Mohanlal, rating him at best an average actor who was once passably good, and is very distrustful of any movie that was rated U/A by Indian Censor Board.
 
He is the guy who is introduced to Girija Aunty by his mom with a definite sense of trepidation – for she has to juggle the complex tasks of remembering if her son is currently ‘taking a break from work’ or ‘exploring his options’ and figuring out how to respond when Girija aunty waxes eloquently about how her son recently got promoted to project lead at Infosys. He is also the guy who regularly gets into trouble with his dad for the ‘Ganapathy on a Harley’ poster he has on his laptop cover.
 
Rebels or ‘Freakkans’ are however, not a new phenomenon. They have always been around; a few in every generation. Back in the 70’s in Kerala they were the hippies, those generation of long haired semi starved youths who wore dog ear collars and bell bottom pants. Their parents presumably found it hard to introduce them at wedding receptions too. In fact an entire generation of parents disapproved of them, leading that indomitable cartoonist Toms to create the loving rascal ‘Appi Hippi’. Appi Hippi was created to channel the frustration and embarrassment of all those parents into a single stereotypical hippy. He was the embodiment of irresponsibility and incompetence, a serial ‘no –gooder’ who would never, in the considered opinion of his elders and betters, amount to anything.
 
But no one focused on his abilities and talents – his passable guitar skills, his innate innocence and his charming and friendly character that would give the shirt off his back to help his friends. Appi Hippi was never a one dimensional character, but hardly anyone ever appreciated him fully. Except for Toms himself, and that’s probably why he always kept him around. Appi Hippi never grew old, never lost his hair, never grew fat, never settled into a decent government job and never lost his guitar.
 
And in the 21st century, he was born again as Russel Brand
 
But I suspect a lot of real life Appi’s grew up to do exactly that, and in that process lost all connection with a sense of who they used to be. Taking on the generational mantle of behaviour police, they started judging the new generation Appi’s, those who replaced bell bottomed pants with loose and torn jeans, those who replaced hand held transistors with iPods and those who replaced Beatles t-shirts with Limp Bizkit. The fierce urge to cling onto old ideals and deny anything that smells like change is troubling in older generation.
 
So what if his hair is long? I would kill to be able to grow long hair. Mine always frizzles out after 2 inches. So what if he has a Ganapathy on a Harley poster? I think that makes Ganapathy look really bad ass.

As if he wasn’t bad ass already

So what if he has taken some time off to consider his next move? If he isn’t living off of his parents’ money, I say all the power to him. We all need to stop and take a break from living too fast once in a while.

 
So what if he thinks Mohanlal is passé? Oh wait, sorry, that’s unforgiveable. No long haired scraggly bearded wet behind the ears loser is going to diss Mohanlal. Not on my watch. 

Domesticated Kid in Singapore – Man v/s Child

What’s that? What did you ask ? Where have I been for the past two weeks? Singapore. Remember my Everest, Outer Mongolia? Well, this is the first leg of the journey.  I have accepted a marketing job that will see me working out of Singapore for the foreseeable future.  So, Majulah Singapura.

The flight to Singapore was not without incident. This was my first overseas journey, and the immigration officer at Trivandrum international airport and I were both understandably concerned. We were both worried about our jobs, you see. I was worried that I would lose mine if he didn’t let me through and he was worried that he would lose his if he did let me through. But he eventually relented, and I found myself seated onboard Silk air flight MI497 bound towards Singapore. I was ready, prepped and excited to be finally airborne. I had heard that Silk air served good beer. Majulah Singapura indeed.

Until the kid came along. The seat next to me was occupied by a harried mother of two, who had managed to book only two seats for her menagerie.  One was about six years old and the other, barely one, was cradled in her hands. She managed to stow her baggage and plop down onto the seat next to me. The six year old, who was busy killing ogres on his PSP, climbed onto the other seat. The mother then turned to me and asked in the sweetest voice possible, “Can you hold onto my baby for a while? I have been carrying him for a long time now and my arms are hurting.” Now, the United Guys of Trivandrum chivalry code dictates that there is only one course of action under such circumstances. Besides, it was just a small kid. What harm could it do?

Ha.

The kid came into my arms easily enough. He was about as long as my forearm and had abundant black hair framing a perfectly round, small baby head. Rounding off the impression of the helpless bundle of joy was a cute dimple on his left cheek. I let my guard down so far as to offer a friendly smile. The kid sized me up through big, watery black eyes. Not being very impressed by what he saw, he cleared his throat, looked at his mom and started wailing.

This is where most moms take their kids back with an apologetic smile and a sigh. But this little devil’s mom was enjoying her brief respite from hell and was understandably reluctant to go back. So she gave me precise instructions on how to hold him so that the sound became as muffled as possible, and went back to her in-flight magazine. I was flummoxed.

After about half an hour into the flight, manna came in the form of a tray of drinks carried by a cute air hostess. She had orange juice and beer, and was freely distributing them to the passengers. I licked my lips and tried to contain my anticipation. A mug of beer would go a long way towards calming my frayed nerves. Meanwhile, the kid was taking a brief nap, to get rested and ready for round two. The air hostess reached my seat, looked at me and smiled questioningly. “B.E.E.R”, I mouthed. Her hand slowly inched towards the beer. I licked my lips again. At this poignant moment, the kid woke up, and smiled at the airhostess. Her face broke into a “coochi-coo” smile in return, and she mouthed back “B.A.B.Y” to me, as she handed me my regulation orange juice. I swear the kid chuckled.

He waited for me to finish my juice, as if to savor his victory. Then he launched into round two, with even more vigor than his first appearance.  I tried rocking him back and forth, whispering sweet nothings to him, and cursing my luck, but to no avail. Finally the mother rose to the occasion and declared that he probably needed to relieve himself. Just as well. I was about to relieve him myself.

While she was gone with the baby, I noticed that the airhostesses were generally pointing in my direction and whispering excitedly. Normally I would have felt on top of the world, but by now I was too tired to care. The mom came back with a now silent kid, smiled at the world in general and triumphantly handed the trophy back to me. The air hostesses were whispering furiously now. I was defeated. I took the kid in my arms, closed my eyes, and shut myself off while the kid, with nothing to keep him from his goal, launched into his third round.

By the time the flight landed, the mom and the kid were fast asleep. The kid’s brother, having wasted all the ogres, was now furiously jumping about tall buildings. I was a nervous wreck. As the flight rolled to a stop, the captain made his usual welcome announcements, and signed off by warning us to immediately report any suspicious persons to the concerned personnel. The kid woke up on hearing the announcement. We viewed each other suspiciously.

As if all this wasn’t trial enough, I forgot my jacket onboard my flight as I came off. Truth be told, I was so exhausted that I briefly considered leaving it behind. But it was an IIM Bangalore memento jacket. There is a certain code to these things. So I rushed back, and bumped into the team of airhostesses from my flight. They were going into town to take their day off. The one who had served me juice immediately asked me what the problem was, and I told her. She replied that she had handed over my jacket to the security, which by now would have dropped it off at the lost and found section. She offered to show me the way.

I and my jacket were reunited at the Singapore airport lost and found section. As I turned to thank my savior, she brushed off my gratitude. “We saw the way you were taking care of your baby”, she said. “You did a great job, even though you are so young. I wish more fathers were like you.”

 

Majulah Singapura, indeed.