The three idiots?

Several years ago, in my early career, I was working in AIR, Bombay ( it was not Mumbai then), as a Program Secretary. This was some time in the 1960s. The work involved was not so great ; it was almost similar to that of an Assistant in a Government office.

Luckily I could get two other friends, one Madhavan and another Bhaskaran, the former was a Tamilian like me and the latter, Keralite, speaking Malayalam. Of course myself and Madhavan hailing from Palghat side, had the advantage of knowing Malayalam also. Though initially we were in separate divisions and used to meet only during tea and lunch breaks, sometime in the canteen, we became good friends. A decision was taken by the then head of AIR Bombay station, to create a separate large cell, where all of the Program Secretaries would sit and work together, though each had a separate allocation of work, depending upon the Programs they supported, like Hindi songs, English Drama, Gujarathi plays and so on. There were 19 Program Secretaries in all, each catering to a particular program.

Among the 19 Program Secretaries, myself, Madhavan and Bhaskar were the only southerners. Our style of functioning, being seated so close to one another, (another advantage, of course) was to do the work perfectly, whatever was assigned to us, but at the same time occasionally talking a bit, some jokes, some personal matters etc. However, we were always conscious and also ensured that our occasional murmurings did not affect our work in any way.

The head of this Program Cell in which we worked, was a Gujarati lady. There were also, among the Program Secretaries, a good number of ladies. Apart from the three so-called madrasis (that was how our colleagues used to categorize us), rest were all non-madrasis. Those were the days, when madrasis were generally looked upon with displeasure, also because they were not the ‘sons of the soil’. Just like we three madrasis used to share our pleasures, through occasional chats, the other Program Secretaries also used to work and chat . The lady boss, of course had some of the non-madrasis as her favorite staff members. Those few chamchas of the lady boss, on the pretext of discussing something with the boss complained perhaps that we talked too much while working. The lady boss got the point and she wanted to treat us as though we were three idiots.

As if in vengeance, she one day issued a memo to all three of us which said that Sibramaniam (myself), Madhavan and Bhaskar should learn each other’s duties, so that they could be interchanged , or be given additional duties, if one of them was absent, and they should report in writing within two days that they had learnt the duties of the other two. We, three madrasis (not three idiots i supposed) discussed a lot on this issue. I felt that as a Program Secretary I could be given duties of any of the other 18 Program Secretaries. I wondered why the lady boss was talking here of duties of only the three of us. While my other two colleagues entirely agreed with me, they did not want to reply to the memo accordingly. I pointed out to them the logic in my argument and wanted them to think and act like me, since this appeared to be a deliberate attempt on the part of the boss to dub the three of us as the three idiots. My friends, due to lack of confidence in themselves, and due to the fear factor, did not subscribe to my view. While they replied to the memo, saying that they had learned the work of the other two, and would be able to perform their duties, when required, my reply read like this: As a Program Secretary, I can be required to perform the duties of any of the other 18
Program Secretaries, and I was too willing to learn the duties of each of the remaining 18 Program Secretaries, and do their work, as required.

The lady boss came to me and said in Hindi ‘Arre bhai, this is not what I wanted, you have replied differently, and not like the other two. I replied saying that I only wanted more clarity and wanted to simplify her job, and i thought there was nothing wrong on my part. Otherwise, she would again have to issue separate memos. I thought let her not think that we three madrasis were the three idiots (and, in any case, not me, at least)! She could not do anything further.

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About cvsubramaniam

Former Director, Department of Electronics & Informatiin Technology, Government of India.. Authored Book on Human Resource Management. Published 80 plus articles on HR, Management, S&T, general topics.
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