Strictly Confidential10 mins 32 10 mins 32
Ours was a small marketing Branch Office with a strength of 25. Our Branch Manager, though a good man, was a terror. He was a taskmaster and would tolerate no nonsense in the office work. He being a perfectionist, even a small mistake invited his wrath. He would give a thorough dressing down and spared no one. He threatened the staff with dismissal if they did not perform well. However, he was never known to resorting to this extreme step. All the same, everyone in the Branch was damn scared of him.
The only exception, however, was Ramana Rao, the senior-most staff of the Branch. The 50-plus man was tall and thin. Sporting the French-cut mustache, he looked somewhat funny. He had joined the Branch at its inception 20 years ago.
All of us at the Branch respected him for his seniority and long experience. We addressed him guruji, for we took his advice and guidance in our day-to-day work. We held him in high esteem, especially for his uncanny ability to emerge out of the boss’s chamber with a smiling face, every time! We often gathered around Ramana Rao to listen to the stories of his long experience. He was good at narrating tales evoking interest in the listeners.
It had been the practice of the Manager to keep the door of his chamber a little ajar so that he could check the staff from gossiping during the working hours. Whenever Ramana Rao entered the chamber, he would shut the door a couple of minutes later. This was puzzling to all of us. So one day we had expressed our curiosity before him.
Ramana Rao had smiled and explained thus: The Manager often consulted Ramana Rao on the marketing strategies to be adopted, as the latter was working there since the beginning. And whenever certain confidential matters were to be discussed, Ramana Rao would be asked to close the door. Ramana Rao had further added that the boss had followed his advice in a number of cases; and to strengthen his contention, he had reeled out several examples too.
With this new revelation, our regard for Ramana Rao had soared to new heights, and his image doubled, I should say. Now that it became apparent that Ramana Rao was very close to the Manager, everyone vied with one another to woo him, hoping to get into the good books of the boss through him. They threw drink parties collectively and individually to Ramana Rao, on some pretext or the other, trying to please him. He seemed to enjoy all this special attention.
But, I was the odd man out, as I had neither the inclination nor push to follow in the footsteps of my other colleagues. I was the junior-most of all, having joined the Branch as a Computer Operator just a year ago. I had every respect and regard for my seniors and never crossed my own limits. I always concentrated on my work and never joined the others in their idle chat.
Apparently this was the reason for Ramana Rao evincing special interest in me. As I mentioned about this casually to a colleague, he burst into laughter, and said, “It’s not the love for you. You are an eligible bachelor and guruji has an Elizabethan daughter to marry off. He must be having an eye on you as his prospective son-in-law”.
Even as I looked puzzled, he elaborated it. “My dear dude. Ramana Rao’s daughter is as old as Elizabeth. And she is still a spinster,” poking fun at the girl, he let out peals of derisive laughter again.
I did not like the gibe. I hated others’ weaknesses or haplessness being a cause for butt of jokes. That too about women. I made a grave face expressing my disapproval.
“Be careful, man. Lest guruji may thrust his over-aged daughter on you…”
Even as he was teasingly delivering the unsolicited advice to me, I left the place quietly.
One day the Manager had assigned me the task of locating some old files from the cupboards in his anteroom. This was the room made of plywood partition and curtain, and used by the boss for taking lunch and rest. Even as I was on the job, I heard the boss summoning Ramana Rao, and the latter entering a few minutes later.
I was startled to hear our boss flaring up as soon as Ramana Rao entered. Unable to believe, I peeped through the curtain. Even as the boss was shouting at him, I could see Ramana Rao excusing himself, returning to the entrance and shutting the door quietly.
As the boss banged him right and left using all the expletives he could recollect, Ramana Rao stood silently before him, as would a most obedient student before the Principal, with his hands folded and the head hung. He received the scolding meekly. After playing ‘football’ with him non-stop – hitting the ball from both sides himself – for quite a time, the boss had now got tired, and gulped the water from the glass tumbler that was sincerely offered by none other than Ramana Rao himself.
“I have been admonishing you day in and day out, even drawing out a time table. Yet, you don’t seem to mend your ways. Of what use is your long service if you can’t do a thing properly? You are only fit for rearing donkeys, I should say. Even though I am fed up of scolding you every day, you are hardly moved and ashamed. How I wish I got rid of you…if only the compassion factor is not coming in the way! Do you realise what would happen to your family if you lose the job…that too at this advanced age!” He drank another glass of water again voluntarily handed by Ramana Rao.
“You are mistaking my leniency for weakness, I suppose.” The boss continued the firing. “Ours is a marketing branch, mind you! If I continue with a waste fellow like you, I’m sure to be ousted from job myself! So, I have decided…”
Even before the boss could complete the sentence, there came to be heard a thudding sound. I had instantly peeped in to know what had happened.
Ramana Rao was lying flat at the feet of the boss. Even as he was trying to hold the latter’s feet, the boss hurriedly withdrew them as though he feared of being pulled off by his subordinate as revenge.
“Please, sir. Take pity on me. I have 3 over-aged daughters to marry off.” Ramana Rao was pleading, touching the feet of the boss. “I promise you, sir, I shall be more careful in my work. Kindly do not dismiss me from service”.
The boss seemed to be pacified a little. “Ok, ok. Now, off my feet. You seem to have mastered the art of falling at feet every time, like the leg-brake in the game of cricket. If I show mercy on you for the sake of your children, my children would be on the streets,” He chided him. “Mind you, this is the last and final warning! Next time you commit a blunder in the work…I shall not make my feet accessible to you, any more. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir!” Ramana Rao got up happily. “Thank you very much, sir. I shall keep your photo in my puja room and worship it”.
“What! You want me to die, eh?” The boss jumped in his seat.
Ramana Rao was quick to add, “No, sir. Not at all! You are my saviour. What I mean is…I shall not garland your photograph, but worship it with flowers daily”.
“Ok, ok. Take care!”
I was so stunned and obfuscated at the whole thing that I could regain my senses only at the second call of the boss. Shaken a little at the unexpected unfolding of things, I walked slowly into the chamber.
Ramana Rao was so startled at my sight that he almost fell to the ground but for holding on to the edge of the table. For, he would not have expected me – for that matter, anyone else - there at that ‘odd’ moment. I felt quite uneasy at the situation. I did not dare to look at him.
The boss asked me to tell the driver to keep the vehicle ready, as he wanted to go out on official work in a few minutes hence. That gave me a respite, and an excuse to get out of the embarrassing situation. I almost ran out, carefully avoiding meeting the eyes of Ramana Rao.
I found the driver sitting comfortably under the shade of the banyan tree in the office compound, smoking and chatting with somebody. I walked up to him and conveyed the message. As I was returning, I saw Ramana Rao emerging out of the Manager’s room. I hid myself from his view.
Straightening his tie and sporting a broad smile, as if nothing had happened, Ramana Rao nonchalantly walked out of the boss’ chamber. One of the staff had approached him and queried, “The meeting seems to have taken a long time, Guruji. Is there anything special?”
Ramana Rao looked around carefully, apparently for me. Not finding me in the vicinity, he seemed to have mustered courage. He replied with a big smile, “Yeah. We were discussing about an important task, which is very confidential. Now the boss is going out on that mission only”.
I was flabbergasted at what I had heard, and could not help musing, ‘Oh, what a great actor he is!’
Soon after the Manager had left, Ramana Rao rushed to me even as I continued with my task in the anteroom. I could hear him closing the chamber’s door behind him.
Suddenly he caught hold of both my hands and pleaded with me. “Please, Rambabu. Promise me not to share with anybody of whatever had happened here earlier”.
I eyed him silently for a few seconds. He looked pitiable. I assured him that I would never reveal it to anyone.
He squatted on the floor as if he had lost all his energy, and held his face in his hands sadly. I did not know what to say.
He had abruptly raised his head and looked at me. “Rambabu, I think I should share my problem with you, frankly…”
I looked into his eyes expectantly. I listened silently and intently as he spoke with emotion. … ‘Ramana Rao was once an efficient worker and received appreciation from all his earlier bosses. Of late, however, the situation had changed. He had 3 over-grown daughters for marriage now. In spite of best efforts he could not marry them off, as he was unable to meet the demands for huge dowries. This had invited the ridicule and rebukes from his wife, as also taunting from his relatives and the neighbours. This had severely upset his mental peace, and seriously affected his concentration and efficiency in his office work. As a result, he was inviting the wrath of the boss quite often … He was the senior-most staff in the Branch, after all; and if the others came to know that he was being scolded by the boss, he was sure to lose his respect and regard. So whenever the boss was to scold him, he would promptly close the door so that the shouts of the boss in the air-conditioned chamber were not heard outside. He would tell the colleagues that the boss was discussing confidential matters with him, only to save his face. He would sport a smile outwardly even while weeping inside!’.
A terrible shroud of pity had engulfed me, on learning the truth.
“Sorry, Rambabu. All these days, I have been fooling all of you pretending to be close to the boss. If our colleagues come to know of the truth, no one would care for me, not even for my long experience. I would become a laughing stock. So please have pity on me and bury the secret within yourself,” pleaded Ramana Rao again, with folded hands.
I held his hands trying to soothe his emotions. “Don’t you worry about it, Guruji? I can very well understand your problem. Even if you suffer from a bad patch presently, you will sure come off it soon. You are still our valued senior colleague. Who else has got the kind of long, rich experience as you have, in this Branch? You are always a guruji for all of us,” said I, wholeheartedly.
Light-hearted and ebullient at my reassuring words, Ramana Rao embraced me with affection and apparent gratitude.