Diwali gifts decode the truth behind the real pecking order in office hierarchies
During the festive season in a desi office, deadlines slide and work hours grow vague
I love the festive season. It’s so fun when the decorators do the rangoli and put up thermocol diyas on the white boards and everybody has to dress ‘Indian’ and people primp and preen in the bathroom mirrors the whole day, and sneakily play cards, and don’t do any work. There’s this unofficial contest to see who gets the fanciest gifts from vendors and suppliers, and that (office hierarchies and designations be damned) settles once and for all who the biggest fat cat in the office is. This fat cat exudes a sort of blasé smugness, as if weary at the amount of times he or she has to get up and go sign courier receipt slips and then gradually vanish behind the pile of festive gift hampers piling up on his or her desk like Anarkali vanishing tragically behind the brick wall in the climax of Mughal-e-Azam.
It’s kind of like being a teacher on Teachers Day, when there’s huge pressure on you to score the maximum number of ‘To Sir, with Love’ Archies cards. Or being a high school hottie on Valentine’s day, when, if you don’t get a few roses on your desk and some smutty graffiti on your locker, you might as well not exist at all…
Of course, there’s the whole tricky issue of when a gift is so expensive that it’s practically a bribe. This is dramatic stuff and makes for great in-office entertainment. You get to lean against the cubicle dividers, eating chocolate or dry fruit straight from a gilt-ended cardboard box, and watch the giftee work up a righteous anger and virtuously refuse to accept the gift, acting like a father-of-the-groom from a 1950s social drama who has been offered a dowry. The delivery guy usually looks a bit bored with the whole business and yawns several times while the giftee phones the gifter and gives him a blistering tongue lashing, before hanging up in a huff, exuding a splendid moral high. At the other end, the gifter usually remains unperturbed. After all, he’s done his little bit of PDA, and sent his loyal offering to the Big Chief, and even if the Big Chief returns it, the Big Chief (and all the underlings in his office) still knows that he is loved and revered, and feels flattered, that too at no cost to you. (Well, except for the courier’s fees.) And then of course, you can just write out a new card and send the returned gift out to the next Big Chief on your list…
If you really want to send out a bribe-level gift, you would have the sense it to a home address, and not to the freakin’ office, duh. But sinister levels of sliminess like that are out of the scope of this article, which I’m trying to keep in a warm, fuzzy space, so let’s not go there.
Coming back to the desi office during the festive season, the other good things that happen are that deadlines slide and work hours grow vague. You can sneak out to watch movies and visit Diwali melas, and as long as you come back with an improvised tikka on your forehead (cigarette ash is great for this!) and hands reverentially folded, offering prasad to your boss on arrival, he or she has to just shut up and roll with it.
And then of course there’s the office party, which is fun because somebody always gets spectacularly drunk, usually because they’ve been given a Diwali Bonus so piddly that it will only buy their family a new pressure-cooker, that too without the optional idli-making attachment. Watching a drunk person rant against the ghastly unfairness of the ‘system’ while Aayee hai Diwali Suno ji Gharwali plays in the background is, if not a fond memory, then definitely a vivid memory from my earliest days as a working Indian.
This festive season I’ve got it all figured out. I’ve anyway been planning to treat myself to an air-fryer, and a whole set of fancy bone-china crockery for Diwali. So now I’m ordering them on-line and asking for them to be delivered to the office, along with a prominently displayed card, bearing a greasy, obsequious message like ‘Please do remember us in the New Year, madam, hehe.’
So looking forward to being crowned Fat Cat of the year!
Wine to Five is a bimonthly column featuring the random musings of a well-irrigated, middle management mind. Anuja Chauhan is an author and advertising consultant.
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