Disclaimer: This is a (long) rant in the true sense of the word. Please read at your own risk.
I have ranted about work before, mostly focusing more about the conditions I had to work in. I stayed at my relatives’ for ten days, I hunted for accommodation for weeks until I could settle down finally. And my experimentation with food. Some of the following may be a tad repetitive for regular followers of my blog. But that is only because it has bothered me enough to appear again.
Before coming here, I was offered three other jobs in different cities with different designations. But those options were so non feasible that I had to “settle” for Madurai. When I joined work, most people asked me the same question: “Why did you choose Madurai?” The truth is I never chose Madurai, I was given Madurai.
In other words, Madurai chose me.
I had been to the proverbial temple town once before and I had vague remembrance of the city’s landscape and people. The day I landed here with my father, my house hunt troubles had given me a fair idea about what to expect of the city. When I finally “settled” (God bless my landlord), I discovered there were other cough ups. My apartment wasn’t particularly near my office. I traveled 13 kilometers everyday, back and forth. To be fair, it would be wrong of me to expect anything less. My office had an isolated location. It is located on the highway, with no visible humanity anywhere around. There is a roadside eatery next to it, where I have seen cats feeding on mice a couple of times.
I have ranted about my office (per se) before. Besides being highly understaffed, it has an uncanny resemblance to a government bank, where one goes with the knowledge that it would take ages for any work to get done. My office did not have an AC. So? Don’t offices sans AC’s function OK? Sure they do, I told myself. And with that thought, I “settled” for my office that did not even boast of a canteen then. This was probably a signal from God to tell me that I better learn cooking fast or I shall die of hunger.
I survived on curd rice (thayir saadam), Maggi and banana for five days, until my mother arrived with her baggage of taunts, advice and tips. She stayed with me for two weeks, teaching me everything–buying vegetables, negotiating with the vendor, cleaning, chopping, cutting, dressing, cooking and garnishing. All of these had been force-fed earlier, too, during my teenage, but I was least bothered to pay any heed then. Since it was a matter of survival now, I decided to be nothing but an obedient learner.
Thus began my experimentation with cooking. I burnt my hand, cut my finger, spilled hot milk on my inner thigh and suffered second degree burns, consumed uncooked food, at times, threw away so much (spoilt) leftover and finally progressed to what they certify as “edible”. At times, I was even more than that. My weekly off gave me the time to indulge in luxuries like salad and desert. I cherished them.
My work life may be divided into three significant phases. Phase 1 was when there was hardly any work. My working hours, which shifted drastically during my ten months of work, were from 6 pm to 12.15 am. My first boss was a kind lady, who appreciated my efforts and gave due credit to them. The only hitch was there wasn’t much to do. I was given a couple of stories to edit and I designed less than half of a page. At the end of the month, when my salary was credited, I wondered what I did to earn this much! Little did I know that I was soon to realize the Lilliputian nature of that number.
My kind boss resigned four months after I joined. During that time, I had sharpened my editing skills and was designing almost two pages on my own with minimal mistakes. I was fairly happy with my progress. Then began Phase 2. This lasted for almost two months, when we were without a Head. People from other branches were deputed to take hold on a temporary basis. It was a phase of complete haphazardness. Nothing was fixed. We had different bosses at different intervals of time. When we began getting used to one, another took in-charge. Deadlines were met half an hour before and there were days when we would be stuck till hours. This was the time when I was labeled as “the most underused employee”. In a way, that felt flattering because it identified that I have the potential and I can be “used” for the benefit of the company.
The “usage” that followed changed my work hours. I was now working from 5 pm to 2 am. Sometimes even later, depending on the work load. In a matter of a few days, I changed from the “most underused” to the “most overused” employee. I was editing many more stories and designing more pages. About four every day. Naturally, this affected my health. I had headaches more often than usual. I developed eye infection that lasted for a month. My sleep pattern was badly disturbed. I was tired and sleepy all the time. I rarely had the energy to cook a full fledged meal. I complained, growled and moaned about this to my friends. Usually, the anger was at its peak after my shift got over. By that time, most of them had already slept. This angered me further and did not help those few who were still awake like owls, only to listen to my rants.
Slogging for hours turned me into a highly irritable person. I snapped at anyone and everyone. It was like I was PMS-ing 24*7. At the same time, it felt strangely normal to be engaged. I liked being busy. I dreamt about page designing, I edited sentences mentally when reading anything. It was running in my blood now.
At such testing times, the comforts of my lonely apartment did not help.
I longed for company. I longed for friends. I longed for my family, I longed for anyone who’d be physically present as a witness to my current life. My colleagues may be wonderful people at heart. But it is difficult to find mates in an office whose average age employee is over 40. Experience has taught me never to judge people by their age or gender. But I cannot fake normalcy when it simply doesn’t fit.
By this time, I had decided to quit after the training period would get over. Neither the company nor the city was working for me. I had begun looking at alternatives. The choice was between working elsewhere and studying further. My experience till then had made me very low in confidence. I chose studies. In doing so, perhaps, I chose safety. I informed my family about it who, after several questions, seemed OK with it. More so, because a chunk of the expense was to be borne by me. This was new. One of the things that work life gives you, apart from stress, madness, anger and workload, is salary. That sweet music that you yearn to hear every month. My company was inconsistent in crediting salaries. On one particular month, we got our salary on the 11th (against the usual 6th). But the message that announced that my account has been credited was like the first drop of rain after a long spell of heat. Quite literally!
Money brings a certain amount of power as well as responsibility. That I could now afford a TV, a refrigerator, two semesters worth of tuition fee at a college gave me a never-felt-before high. I have also been quite stingy with my money. When the number is so minuscule, you’re usually left with no other option. I traveled in bus as and when I could. I negotiated till my last breath with groceries, I walked whenever I could. I also looked out for offer packs and discount coupons diligently at the departmental store. On days when I couldn’t board the bus for some reason, I used to take an auto. That’s Rs.200 at one go. It made me feel guilty and simultaneously happy that I could at least afford such an indulgence, once in a blue moon.
After a couple of Head-less months, we finally got a new boss. Thus began Phase 3. My new boss seemed to have recognized that I have great potential. Maybe he also saw that I was one of the few who did the work on time and was, for a change, not lazy—a common disease in my office. I was now editing stories from six districts and designing six full pages. Occasionally, I was also asked to do state pages, which is an additional six pages (for the two editions we do). I was now so lifeless that it had begun to stop affecting me. I went to office with a frown on my face and came back with the same expression. I looked forward to when my friends or family would visit, and that kept me alive. A couple of them did and I had the best time with them. I thank each one of them for letting me be myself, even if temporarily so.
That’s one reason I’m thankful for. My apartment was a major factor in convincing them to visit me. I had all the needed requirements in and around my locality. Since I was living in south and many of my friends and relatives live in the southern part of the country, traveling was never a major issue. More importantly, Madurai boasts of a well connected railway and has a functional airport. I couldn’t have possibly asked for more.
The city also forced me into living on my own. I hadn’t done that before and neither did I believe I could. The load of work I was doing should, I’m sure, help me at some point of my life whenever I decide to get back into this field. Of course, it’s easy to say all this NOW when I no longer have to go to office anymore. But it was good to be engaged. It felt strangely secure to be employed.
I’m soon to embark on a new phase (sans work) in a different city, with a completely different culture. Somehow, it doesn’t scare me anymore. Charles Darwin came up with the “survival of the fittest” theory. If I can survive Madurai, I think I can survive almost anything now. In the meantime, just get me a great cook. 😛