So much has already been written about human relationships. There may not be a single aspect of relationships, which might have not been left unexplored. And yet every one of us still has a story etched and buried deep inside the recess of our hearts, where only we know it will stay safe and untouched. These stories are not to be even expressed, leave alone written about! These are our personal havens, incidences that are in total contradiction to our nature and disposition. And that is why they are absolutely ‘our own’.
Most of the times, these may be small passing incidences, with little or no relevance to the track or the pattern that dominates our everyday lives, and yet the etching remains…no logic, no reasoning. These events are not even milestones in our lives, but yet they occupy their place and refuse to wane away. I find such personal paradoxes interesting, definitely worth contemplating, because I feel somewhere, they define the real ME, the ME who puts up a façade for the world and yet the ME whom only I know. I like to believe that it is always MY choice to decide what should affect me and what should not. Until few years ago, I used to put up this tall, cold, unbreachable and undisputable wall of non-compromise during business discussions. That was my façade. And then an absurdity, a passing incidence enveloped my uptight attitude with its secret formula, breached this wall and got inside, caught me by surprise and changed a part of me forever, for the good.
Some 23 years back during my juvenile tele-marketing days, I was advised by senior admin lady that corporate camaraderie is a big NO-NO. And especially so because Iam a woman! (What if my rapport got misunderstood for ‘something’ else? Or what if our Customer started expecting ‘more’?) And so as I climbed up the corporate ladder, all deliberations, negotiations, and even of-the-record discussions strictly and conventionally were conducted in the business walls. I vehemently refused all friendly, clear-hearted and even casual invites for a drink or dinner after an exhaustive daylong meeting. I stuck to the code like a fanatic and didn’t care whose feelings were hurt or how prude it made me look! After all I had this image to project in a man’s world, and business had to only be business, nothing beyond, right? I was already refined in this tactic and was now reputed to be an unfriendly, intimidating, shrewd and cold negotiator, who always walked away with what I wanted.
And then it happened.
At an absolutely dull meeting that was going nowhere and making me wonder why I was even part of the quorum…this soft spoken gentleman sitting next to me turned and whispered. It actually distracted me from the oblivion I was floating in. My high-handed side did not even heed his words at first, and I hesitantly turned to him with my best board expression. The gent was asking if I would join him for lunch in the Office canteen in the lunch break. As long as it was office Canteen, it qualified. Just a nod of acceptance. That afternoon became the turning point for my corporate career.
From the moment we decided to break for lunch and walked through the carpeted corridors, traveled the dreary downward and wordless journey in the overly cooled lift, I silently reprimanded myself for agreeing to break my rule of inaccessibility. We stepped out in the warm summer sun. ‘It is better outside’ he remarked. What a mundane way to strike a conversation! We continued to walk, but then I began noticing the tall eucalyptus trees on either sides of the path, swaying in the breeze, the sunlight streaming through them and playing with the shadows on the asphalt. I noticed the blooming Begonias and manicured golden Durantas lining the footpath, and along the signs of the walk-zone. A tad late to respond…but I muttered, ‘yes it IS so much better outside’. He just looked sideways and smiled, and responded, ‘I didn’t think you would notice the garden on our premises’. Why would I not? But that is the impression I must have given. My reputation normally preceded me at such discussions. “Oh! But I did. In fact I also happen to know the botanical names of a few plants here”. “Engineering to Botany?” “Interest. I loved to do my Herbarium projects in college”. “I love football, puzzles and cooking”. “Engineering to Cooking?” Spontaneous and collective laughter….We actually struck an interesting conversation, harmless, filled with some impulsive and unprompted mirth, and with no undertones what-so-ever. I don’t remember what we ate in the canteen, what I clearly remember was my elevated spirit when I sat back in that monotone meeting room. I was more alert, more aware and more participating. The meeting concluded successfully with my team and me bagging a prestigious deal. The record had been maintained….but the confining spell, broken!
I didn’t get a chance to thank this gentleman for what he had inadvertently done to me that warm summer afternoon. Actually it took me long, really long time to acknowledge what his unassuming personality and intelligent, yet casually striking conversation had done to me. Following that, we bumped into each other at other finalization, Conferences, worked together at several sites, continued to associate when he changed jobs for the better, accomplishing higher positions of responsibility, name and power in the Industry. A few years passed when we lost touch. With my newly evolved attitude towards business and interpersonal relationships, the world converted to a place where my amity with the decision makers, the CEOs, Presidents and Chairmen grew deeply respectful, genuinely meaningful, warm and on an individual level.
Then one afternoon a few months back, my cell phone flashed his name. What on earth…after years of losing touch? The pleasantries were formal, and I was asked if Iam still associated with my field of work. A high-end assignment was offered. Acceptance meant long tedious hours of brain racking meetings and discussions, which is the default methodology. Groundwork done a few weeks later, I was prepared to pass through the mine-field of queries as I sat in the chilly conference room all by myself and my laptop. The discussions were efficient, precise and stimulating. By lunch the entire team almost knew exactly all the whats, whens, whys, hows and whos. When we broke for lunch, I was left with no company, and I smiled at myself and the ironic situation today, remembering how I would have loved this situation absolutely, a few years back. It was a paradox, for I now believe there is no better time to bond than over a quick lunch at work.
I walked across the street to a McDonald’s, placed an order and settled in a corner table, browsing through emails and Watsapp messages from home. “Is company welcome?” I looked up to see a familiar face smiling back, crinkled eyes, greying hair and with all its warmth. I stood up to shake hands- “Don’t embarrass me for God’s sake! I am sorry to have missed the first half of the meeting due to a meeting with some ministers” he gushed with a firm hand, his warm demeanour still very much in place. But what came after this pulled the carpet off below my feet. “I knew you would be sitting all by yourself, so I decided to hunt you down myself and offer my company. Hope I have not disturbed”. He smiled in response to mine, he knew my answer already.
Disturbed? Yes, I was ….a few years back, disturbed to realize how up-strung I used to be, how immature I must have sounded on numerous occasions, how conservative my views were, how less I trusted my fellow associates, I was such a square! And one paradoxical, eon-old non-incidence, had revealed to me a facet that I had never knew, belonged to me. We crossed the busy street on the fading zebra crossing, on our way back to the meeting room. This time though, I did thank him. “What is the thanks for?” My answer was a cordial smile that probably conveyed everything over the years under the sultry sun on that warm winter afternoon.