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This month, the world celebrates the bicentenary of Charles Dickens, one of the greatest writers of all time. Many of us have grown up with his novels—Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities. We easily recognize his colourful gallery of characters, as they walk the grimy streets and workhouses of Victorian England. What is, however, not well known is that the characters created by Charles Dickens are not dead and gone. They live in our modern-day offices, where we meet them daily. We pay an irreverent tribute to the great master by casting a quick look at the Dickensian cast that inhabits the cubicles next to ours.

Oliver Twist

Probably the best-known character in all of Dickens’ stories, this young orphan boy famously “asks for more", a pitiful request for more soup which is treated with derision and scorn by Mr Bumble, the pompous master of the orphanage. We are all Oliver Twists of the modern office era (well, at least most of us are). We constantly desire and ask for more—more salary, more perks, more international travel, more manpower, more budgets. Our senior management plays its role of Mr Bumble to the hilt. There are often many twists to this recurring tale, though the ending is similar in most cases: We find ourselves in the soup with little response to our requests, and we continue to bumble around.

The Artful Dodger

The Artful Dodger introducing Oliver Twist to Fagin and the other boy pickpockets

Wilkins Micawber

The Dickensian crew: Wilkins Micawber

Ebenezer Scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge in white

Mr Pickwick

Mr Pickwick

Joe, the Fat Boy

Joe is a minor companion and attendant of Mr Pickwick. He is fat, he consumes great quantities of food, and he can fall asleep at any time of day. We are not interested in his obesity, but his infinite capacity for sleep. We wonder how some executives in our offices can manage to sleep through virtually every meeting or conference, and wake up just in time for the concluding snacks. They sleep when seated upright, often with both eyes wide open. They pretend that they hear, but suddenly, as you are winding up a long presentation, they say—“What was that you just said ? I missed the point, so can you repeat everything once more, if you don’t mind?" We know exactly how you feel at that moment.

Mr Jaggers

This prominent London lawyer appears in the pages of Great Expectations. Mr Jaggers is an important man, and privy to dirty business. One of his distinguishing features is that his hands always smell of carbolic soap, because he keeps washing them obsessively. This he does to rid himself of the taint of the clients that he interacts with. Several executives in our offices pick up this habit quite naturally. They are always busy washing their hands off several matters. Sometimes, they disown their own work and they always know just whom to blame for various failures. Of course, they quickly wash their hands off projects which are going downhill.

Harish Bhat is chief operating officer—watches and accessories, Titan Industries Ltd. His cubicle philosophy is simple: Achieving targets and deadlines is necessary, but it is equally important to have a Dickens of a time.

Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com

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