Saturday, 15 October 2016

M for Marriage !

Last week was a festive week for us here in Calcutta. 

"Durga Pujo" as the Bengali's call it.  It  is more of a week long festival than a religious event.  The Bengalis go really berserk during this period, specially in  Calcutta. The streets are flooded with people. All ages, all sizes, everybody donning new clothes, laughter , food and festivities fill up the air. The "Pandal" or the makeshift area where the idol of Goddess Durga is put is really breathtaking.  Every year I am amazed at the passion and creativity of the people here. For four days , everybody forgets all their woes and joins the festivities.  Starting from communal lunches,  music, 
devotional chants , new clothes,flowers, sandalwood, Dhak and of course lots of food ,  the environment is just ethereal.  It is something to be experienced. 

Pujo is a period of togetherness. Friends and families come together. My daughter is also here for a week and yesterday one of her friends came to visit her. We were having a nice chat in the evening and the conversation steered around to relationships and marriage. 

And she asked me a strange question.

"Tell me one thing Aunty, don't you sometimes feel that you are tied down for ever ?"

"Well ..." I said, floundering for words,  "It depends ... " 

And then a more direct one .

"You still do love Uncle , don't you ? "

"I ... er... Yes ... I do , but over time , the nature of love changes , you know ..."

It made me think what must be going on in the minds of these young girls ... lots of questions, doubts , random and erratic thoughts , confusion ... 

So, though this post is not related directly to leadership, it is dedicated to all such young people , who are on their threshold of life, ready to take off on their careers, relationships ...

And I being married for almost 28 years , do qualify to give a bit of advise , isn't it ?

For my readers who are not well acquainted with the Indian culture and our ways of "arranged" marriages,  a bit of introduction. 

In India, when girls and boys are of marriageable age and they have not been able to find a suitable partner for themselves, parents "arrange" their marriage. In fact, this is more preferred than boys and girls dating each other for "Love" marriages. The parents then look for appropriate partners thru relatives, friends and my overseas friends find this most amusing , through "matrimonial" sites. And let me tell you this, these sites are really thriving !

 Once they find suitable candidates, they meet (with parents of both the sides !) and they have to decide within a few days ! 

Scary, what do you think ? ( Ha , Ha ... not really ... ask me !) 

So, coming back, my dear young friends , here are some tips or pointers for the new and a very important chapter in your life ...

  • Let there be space : All of us are individuals with different needs , wants and preferences.  After the initial euphoria, we need our own little space. It is very important for partners to understand this and allow this space or "me time".  You should be comfortable with the idea that some of your liking might not be as likeable to your partner and vice versa. No need to get upset about it . 

  • Respect each other : I think this is the most important ingredient for a successful relationship.  If you do not respect your partner, the relationship is prone to get sour at some point or the other. When you are in a relationship or are about to get into a relationship , ask yourself, "Do I respect him/her ? " If there is any iota of doubt here, then re-look at the situation .

  • Stand up for yourself : In India, specially for females, there is tendency for us to put ourselves at the altar and doing things which you really don't want to do.  But girls, you have to stand up for yourself.  I am not saying that you should not adjust . Marriage is mostly about adjustment and compromise , but there are certain principles which should be dear to you and there should never be any compromise on those. You have to be assertive about whatever you are sensitive about.  Remember, the world is a cruel place and people will take advantage of your submissiveness and trample over you.  For me , some principles which are non negotiable are self respect , good behaviour, financial freedom etc.  You are the only one who can stand for yourself.  Don't quarrel and be rude. But clearly, firmly , make it understood what is important to you. 

  • Communicate : Communication is the lubricant of a great relationship. Talk, laugh , discuss, debate with your partner. Tell him/her about incidents at workplace , home, your feelings , your day , what made you laugh, what made you cry ! Sometimes, when I am upset over any incident at office or something at home , I vent out my feelings to my husband. And he says "What am I supposed to do ? " and I say "Nothing .... but you have to listen ... !"

  • Trust each other : If ever there is a depletion of trust in the relationship, the crack starts and it usually widens to a point of no repair.  So, dear friends, handle with care ! Don't let this ghost get between you and your partner.  And if you can sniff any odour of doubt, just diffuse it with frank conversation , before it engulfs you completely.

  • Do things together : There should be several things which you should love to do together. For example watching movies or a cricket match, listening to music , travelling, cooking, playing ... anything ... 

  • Best of Friends : You should be "friends" with your partner.  Let friendship be the foundation of your marriage. Don't ever lose your friend. 

  • Complement as well as Supplement : Your best can never be your partner's best and vice versa. Try to complement each other with the deficiencies as well as supplement each other with your qualities. Don’t Keep Score. Marriage is not a contest so don’t walk around with a watchful eye making sure your partner carries their share of the load. 

  • Be sensitive : Never ever criticize or make fun of your partner in public, even if you think that you are saying things in a lighter vein. Small things like a smile, holding hands or a light touch in public helps. Show gratitude and appreciation in subtle ways, give priority to him/her.  

  • Create your own rituals : It could be as simple as making your husband a coffee in the morning while he lets you lie in at the weekend. Whatever you choose, a ‘couples’ ritual is a way to connect with your partner in the madness of a busy life.  Have a ritual of anointing your wives back with talcum powder at night etc.

  • Cuddle : In the morning, a 5 minute cuddling sure helps in making the day brighter. Try it. I am sure you will love it. 

  • Love : The most important ingredient of a successful relationship.  Love changes its form over time.  But love has to be "kept" ignited.  You have to work on it. It does not grow by itself. Marriage and love have to be nurtured. You have to fuel it with your actions, attitude, communication, and the points which I have mentioned above. 

Remember that it is very easy to let go of a relationship  and more difficult to maintain it.  You have to care about it. 

So, Nurture it.  Water it. Fuel it.  

Nurturing does not mean that you sacrifice your principles for your relationship. These go hand in hand and are reciprocal. 

Sometimes married people think that during courting you talked for hours about various things  and now all you seem to talk about now is the grocery list or how much to spend on a new sofa? Try to re introduce meaningful conversation.  Asking about each other's day isn't enough.Try making a remark about something your partner deeply cares about that's bigger than the both of you—sports, politics, anything to get the ball rolling.

To have a happy relationship , YOU have to be happy first. 

Give time to yourself , spend time with your friends, be financially independent,  have a hobby and do things which makes you happy. 

Be happy ... and have a happy , meaningful and a great marriage !

Cheers !

Friday, 30 September 2016

Teeny Weeny : I am fine ....

"Please come to the terrace for the dinner ... " the host called out to the invitees.

The shehnai was playing the typical wedding tune.

As he climbed up the stairs, he saw her coming down.  She wore a red sari ... her favourite colour ... 

Suddenly she looked up and their eyes locked.

Her eyes widened with sudden recognition. Did he see dark circles under her eyes ? Was she unhappy? 

"How are you ? " he tried to smile. 

"I am fine ...." she somehow managed to answer and then walked down the stairs quickly without looking back...

"I am fine ....  " these three words echoed in his ears... 

How could she be fine ?  Was she really fine without him ? He ran down the stairs to catch a glimpse of her  getting inside  car , her eyes down ... her sari around her shoulders ... beside her husband ...

Did you tell the truth ?? Are you fine Deepa ?  But I am not fine ... tell me you are not fine Deepa .... 

I know you cannot be fine without me ....

Or are you really ..... ?


Teeny-Weenies will spice up the monotony of the leadership posts . Hope you like them.     
Looking forward to your comments.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

How to Manage your Boss effectively

My daughter has recently started working. One day I was giving her some "parental" as well as "professional" advise on how to manage your subordinates and peers. She surprised me by saying "Hmm... but you also need to manage your boss ! " 
Coming from a "brand new" professional, I was impressed. 
I told her the following story of Birbal to explain to her.  
Note : There was a Mogul Emperor in India, Akbar The Great (1542-1605).He himself was illiterate, but he invited several learned people in his court. Among these people, nine were very famous and were called Nav Ratna (nine jewels of the Mogul Crown) of his court. Among these nine jewels, five people were more famous - Tansen, Todarmal, Abul Fazal, Maan Singh and Birbal. Birbal's duties in Akbar's court were mostly administrative and military but he was a very close friend of Akbar too, because Akbar loved his wisdom, wit and subtle humor.
So folks, here goes ....
One day, Akbar was stumbled on a rock in his garden while taking a stroll. He was already in a foul mood that day and this accident made him so angry that he ordered for the gardener's arrest and execution.
The next day, at the time of execution, the gardener was asked what his last wish was before he was hanged, he requested an audience with the emperor.  His wish was granted and he was brought in the royal court.
He greeted the Emperor and then walked towards his throne, saying that he wanted to just have one last close look at the Emperor. When he came near the Emperor, he loudly cleared his throat and spat at the feet of the Emperor.
The Emperor’s anger knew no bounds and he demanded to know why the lowly gardener did such an outrageous thing. The gardener had done this on Birbal's advice. He stepped forward in the gardener's defense and politely said, "I do not know of a person that is as loyal to you as this unfortunate gardener. Fearing that tomorrow people may criticize you for taking his life for a small reason, he went out of his way to give you a genuine reason for ordering him to be hanged. He has done his final duty for you. Now he can leave for his heavenly abode peacefully."
The Emperor realized his mistake and set the gardener free.

"So... ? " I asked her. "What did you learn about managing your boss ?"

"Well , Thus looks like Help me Help You stuff " She said . "Also, the Emperor finally realized his mistake . So Birbal helped him bringing solutions to the impending problem or embarassment "

"Good ! What else ?" I prodded

"It is also about communication. You have to understand the pulse of your boss and communicate likewise. Here Birbal did it very creatively , without hurting Akbar's sentiments..." She said 
"And again, you have to have a good idea of the big picture when you talk to your boss",  I helped her.  "Just like Birbal had understood the situation and helped his boss by taking things off his plate and took the extra responsibility of talking to the gardener and making him act as he did .  Again, he showed initiative and enthusiasm when he stepped forward in the gardener's defense ".
"Yes " She smiled . 
And I smiled back. 
Mutual admiration club... Ahem ... !

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Perils of Power

I don’t know what happened  “ my brother was visibly worried , “My boss was not like this earlier … He has become so rude and inconsiderate …  Tell me , is it possible for a person to change so drastically  ?

Changed .. is that what you said ? “ I asked him.

Yeah !  Changed ! “ He reiterated. “He was so kind and understanding earlier !"

Hmm .. Tell me … was he promoted recently or have there been any other changes in his role  ?

Yes. He was promoted about a year back and  about three months back he has become the Project  Manager of  a very strategic assignment in our organization. I too am a part of that project. Initially I was so happy and excited to be under him as I had worked with him earlier. I had also told my peers about my boss and his demeanor , but …. I don’t know what happened to him … seems to be a different person


Well .. it happens ! “ I told him coolly “It can happen to you too …. Once you assume a position of power and you are not mindful  about it !

Actually, this is quite a common phenomenon.

Power tends to corrupt and people lose the very qualities which actually made them  great leaders and rise to that position.  

Qualities like openness, empathy, collaboration, fairness fade away and they engage in absolutely the opposite qualities like rudeness, favouritism  and sometimes in unethical behavior.

There have been several researches on this. I read in one Harvard Business review article about an interesting experiment.  Groups of 5 people – 4 team members and one supervisor, were invited for a training.  A plate of cookies was kept in front of them during the session. It had one cookie for each and one extra. 

It was found out that  95% of the times, it was the supervisor who ate the extra cookie, depriving the rest !

Most of the time, the organizational culture induces this effect.  

For example, you might have noticed that during any party or event, the seniors are offered food first. My husband works for the Railways and there the culture is even more pronounced.  The junior officers have to sweat it out in rooms which has basic facilities and the Senior officers have 4 ACs fitted in their huge offices !  

I have advocated to many CEO’s that during events, the leaders should eat the last . 

It helps in building a strong culture in the organization – at no cost !

So , I told my brother “ Yes,  It happens ! But remember that this might sound the death knell for his career and sometime or the other he might lose the power which he has now … So dear bro, it can happen to you too when you get power. So be careful !  “

So how can we avoid this ?

  • Be mindful  : Whenever you are feeling heady or very excited, take a deep breath and repeat in your mind that you have power and you should respect it .  Know your emotions and try to control it.

  • Practice empathetic body language : Whenever someone comes to talk to you, lean forward and smile.  Listen. Yes, I know you have lots of emails to respond to, your to do list is huge, but remember that to  the person who has come to you , this  moment is very important for him. Give your full attention, make notes.

  •  Small gestures :  Give your personal touch – both literally and figuratively.  A clap, a high five, a huge smile at the appropriate moment will bring out the best for you who are in power in the eyes of your subordinates.  A small  handwritten note of appreciation,  a token gift,  a thank you email  will make you look a big person with a big heart !

  • Self Checks : Do some self introspection and try to look for patterns to take corrective actions. For example, are you checking your whatsapp or messages on phone when someone is talking to you ? Are you ridiculing anyone publicly ? Are you spending too much money which you did not do earlier? Is your desk messy and you expect  the peon to clean it up for you?  Have you recently tried some daring adventure contrary to earlier times ?  These are some simple questions whose answer will help you in  evaluating yourself whether power is making you a mean person or not.  These are simply some indications .   So check yourself and mend ways before it is too late.

On the same note , I read a very  heartening news last week in the newspaper. The newly appointed Governor of Haryana was perturbed to find that there were long queues of cars on the road because a part of the road had been blocked for his security. The next day , he made it clear that there should be minimal arrangements for his security and that under no circumstances the public should be inconvenienced for his movement.  

That showed his humility, confidence, empathy and definitely his upbringing as a scion of an erstwhile Royal family.

So dear leaders, be aware that power can corrupt you. 

Be as you were before and empower others more !

Monday, 29 August 2016

Stay Curious, Try AWE

The other day I was chatting with my friend over WhatsApp (I have to get rid of this habit of WhatsApping at night !) .  

And she wrote "AWE"

I said "What ?"

She again wrote "AWE" with a smiley . 

"Is this a new acronym ? I know LOL, ASAP, ROFL, BRB etc , but what is AWE ?

"Hey, you don't know ? It is a new one AWE : And What Else !!

At that time , I wanted to kill her . 

But the next day , when I was strolling in the nearby park for my customary morning walk, it suddenly crossed my mind that AWE is such an awesome thing. In fact, coming to think of it,  AWE can be one of the best thing a leader can ask his subordinate !

I have used AWE many times and I am sure the readers too must have used it instinctively.  But I wonder if we use it consciously,  AWE will become manifold powerful  . 

As leaders or managers we know that in any interaction with subordinates, the first answer given is never ever the only answer and of course it is not the best answer.  So , if you ask "And What Else", that will open up the conversation. 

For example, here is a conversation  :

"So ...  Are you happy with your project assignment ? "

"Yes. It is interesting and challenging"

"And What Else ? "

"Well ... though I think I need to update myself a bit in the new technology platform ...."


And the conversation became enriched

It went several layers deeper than usual . And guess what ? It created a bond and trust between the boss and the subordinate. 

Another amazing thing about AWE is that it helps senior people refrain from bouts of "advice-giving"

Experience makes us prone towards sermonizing. With AWE, we remain, or at least it seems that we are "curious".  And once we are curious, we are giving the control of the conversation to the other person. We don't know how the conversation will end . 

That is true empowerment ! The other person is doing the thinking. S/he will know how to manoeuvre the conversation. 

And as a result, you become a powerful, transformational , and engaging leader. 

You give some and get lots in return !

So, dear readers ,  Stay curious , Try AWE !!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

And The Clock Struck 10 ....

This is not an Agatha Christie Novel but the case was really queer and strange and it did need some Hercule Poiroting to solve this one !

For professional reasons, let me keep the names anonymous and let us suppose that this happened in an organization named XYZ. 

But let me tell you this. 

Everything what  I have written is 100% true  and I have personally experienced it. So that is it . 

 Without any more introduction, here I go ....

Company XYZ has only one big customer and it is of utmost importance that they be kept happy. There is a proprietary software developed by XYZ which has evolved over the last 5-6 years and this software is the backbone of the company's operations for their customer.  The software is being used by about 5000 data entry operators through a web based front end.  The heaviest usage is from 6 pm to 10.30 pm. 

One fine evening,  a support engineer reported that the application is running slow.  The core team did not pay much attention to this and there were some deflections in the turn around time of the operations. 

The next day, again at about 7 pm in the evening, the support engineers reported slowness in the system. The core developers had left the office. The techsupport team held the situation and tried to do some minor tweaking of the configuration of the application server.  It was Ok for 1 hour or so but again it became slow. 

The next 2 days again the same problem faced at 7.30 pm and the disruption continued till 9.45 pm. 

Things became bad. 

The core team went into a huddle that weekend . 

Developer A : What should we do ? 

Project Manager : Let us rollback the last application change that we have made.

The Service Level Agreement of the Turn Around Time went for a toss that week. The customer was livid. The Senior management were worried . 

"What is wrong ? Why are we not able to fix this ???"

"It Should not happen again Mam! We have rolled back the changes "

It was Monday . The day of the peak load. 

The application again went slow. From 7 pm . 

The core team looked into the server logs, the timeout functions , the memory leakages and fixed certain things which seemed to be the problem. 

After doing all the changes, the application worked fine from 10 pm after reboot. 

"It should be fine now !" The technical team heaved a sigh of relief.

But again the next day , at 7.20 pm , the software crawled ! By that time, the senior management had been called up several times by the top management of the customer. They were very unhappy and wanted to revoke the contract. 

The core team then focused on the network and the ISP provider. 

"Ah ! The bandwidth is getting choked ! We have to increase the bandwidth"

The bandwidth was increased immediately and at about 10.10 pm, the application started working smoothly .

Everybody heaved a sigh of relief. 

But .... again the next evening at 6.50 pm, the application just stopped working!

"You all are a bunch of fools sitting here ! It is already 8 days and we have not been able to figure out what is wrong !"

"It must be something wrong with the firewall then" The Project  Manager mumbled. "We have looked at everything ! The application, the servers, the network. We even checked the memory leakage and adjusted the server . Everything is eliminated .... !"

It was Friday .A high level emergency meeting was called.  The IT, the operations team were silent.... No one knew how this puzzle would be solved . 

"We just have this weekend to do whatever we have to do. On Monday, I have been called by the Customer . They might cancel the contract. And with that , the jobs of about 4500 employee are at stake ..." The MD said in a tight voice. 

Everyone was silent.  Acfter some time , everybody apart from the core IT team dispersed. 

The Project Manager was going thru a nightmare which did not seem to end . He sat there , his head bowed down on the desk , held by his hands.....

There was one young , bright engineer in the team . He seemed to be deep in thought.... 

"Just wondering ..."

"What ... ? "

"Everyday, the application slows down between 6.30 to 7 pm . Then we do some fixes and again it is up and running from 10 pm ... And we are happy .... but again the next day, it slows down at the same time .... "

"We all know this ... why are you repeating this ... adding salt to our wound ...think of something which we can do ... but What ????"

"There is a pattern ... " the young engineer mumbled  . 

The PM ignored his bantering

"Let us get down to work. Try to look at all the aspects .... let us not leave any stone unturned ..."

"But Sir, we have already done whatever we could do ! I really cannot thin k of anything more ..." The team wailed . 

"None of you will go home . Let us try again..." The PM said . Though he knew that his team was right.  They did not have a clue what was going wrong. 

After everyone went back to their seats from the meeting room, the young engineer still sat there. Thinking. 

There is a pattern. And the pattern is the clue to this mystery. He has to unravel it. 

He will investigate and get to the bottom of it.
He promised himself. 

And he started writing the chronology of events from day 1 of the fiasco. 

He created an excel sheet where he created columns for date, time, event, action taken and result and started filling it up vigorously. 

And as he finished the data, his roving eyes and clear mind started seeing the pattern.  And yes ! He was right ! Every evening, when things went slow, the team found out solutions to it and fixed things. But while doing so, it was already 10 pm and things became normal . And they thought that the application was working well because of the fix done by them. 

His eyes shone . 

That mean that the remedial actions or fixes did NOT work !  The software worked by itself after 10 pm ......

But  WHY ?? That was the million dollar question. And the weird part was that it was working flawlessly 2 weeks back ... 

He closed his eyes.  he must think . Think hard . 

Facts and figures went past his brain like slides of a power point presentation. 

Everything seemed blurred . 

There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel ...

All the application changes done till 3 weeks back have been rolled back.  All the database has been cleaned up, indexed, tested on the staging server... 

Then what ? What else has happened 2 weeks back which is out of the ordinary?

He started browsing thru his emails . He has to get some clue ... some clue ... 

Innocent emails stared at him. Some complaints about some scanners not working, an email about data not being fetched .... 3-5 complaints about previous data not being made available for data churn for warehouse. 

Ah... ! All innocent emails ... Everything had been fixed. People just keep on complaining, a smirk came to his face. The data had been provided a few days back. They had been after the IT team for this .  He saw his PM's note about the data being made available. It was a huge piece of data , he had replied , but it was all done now and the people can process this in the warehouses . 

Suddenly something clicked in his mind. His eyes were wide open now.

He opened the email. Looked hard at the date . 

It was 2 weeks back .  But ... this data had nothing to do with the data entry application ... but .... and why 7 pm to 10 pm ? What happened during that time?

He remembered his encounter with the warehouse manager a couple of times. 

"The warehouse application is extremely slow after you have put in the data ... do look into this..."

But the core team did not have any time to look into this. They had bigger problems in hand. 

Yes. It was falling into place. 

He closed his eyes again .

The warehouse tables had been infused with millions of rows of data two weeks back. The warehouse application was running very slow. The warehouse table was in the same database schema where the data entry application was there .... that means it was using the same memory space ... The maximum load of  concurrent users is between 6 pm to 10 pm ... that was the time memory was totally swapped up by the warehousing application. Though the warehouse application was not used from 7.30 pm, but the database memory did not get released till 10 pm . And invariably, after doing some fixes, the team rebooted the database server around 10 pm. 

That was the time when the memory got released and things worked smoothly. 

So, they have to do something about the warehouse tables. Maybe performance tuning of the SQL queries and they would have to do some structural changes. 

But from tomorrow, till the time the problem gets fixed, it the warehouse application is stopped at 6.30 pm and the database server is restarted, the problem will not occur. 

He smiled. He had to talk to the Project Manager.

The next day, the warehouse application was stopped at 6.30 pm and the database server was restarted. 

The application ran smoothly ! Everyone smiled and heaved a sigh of relief.

After that , the load was balanced. Now it i again running as smoothly as before.

So, dear readers, what do you think ? 

What accolade should the young Hercule Poirot be given ? 

Cheers !

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Teeny Weeny : Kneel Down

It was 2 am in the morning.

The night guard adjusted his muffler and  lit a biri and then started his 9th round in the deserted school campus.

As he  passed  the kintergarden section, he looked inside the classroom.

Like every night, the kid was kneeling down ... with his face towards the wall.


Teeny-Weenies will spice up the monotony of the leadership posts . Hope you like them.     
Looking forward to your comments.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Still... I love you !

One of my short stories ... If you like it do write your comments ...

Still I love you

Rana walked towards the escalator of the Kalighat Metro Station. As the home bound stream of people jostled past him, Rana put his hand in the trouser pocket to re assure himself. The feel of the three crispy one thousand rupee notes made him strangely elated.  Instead of  taking the usual staircase, he got on the escalator today.  As he slowly went up, he smiled. Today he felt different.

And he will make sure that Neeta and Anu too felt different today.

He walked out of the Metro station exit and walked towards Rashbehari Avenue. There were makeshift sari shops on the footpath on both sides of the road. There were shops selling pretty frocks and suits. But Rana did not even look at them.  Today he will buy from KC Das and Sons.

While shopping for Durga Puja a few months back, Neeta had looked longingly at the display of KC Das.

“The red and black Dhakai is so beautiful !”  She stood in front of the mannequin and then looked at Rana excitedly .

“Shuncho, should I go and ask the price ? I know you will not be able to buy it , but I am curious… !”

And without waiting for an answer, Neeta and Anu had walked inside the shop. Neeta had touched the saris on display, looked at the price tags and made a face. Both mother and the eight year old daughter had walked hand in hand towards the kids section and admired the colourful , fluffy frocks and dresses.

Neeta had the salesman show them to her. After touching, feeling , looking, she said “No… somehow I do not like the colours and the cut … !”  . She walked out of the shop with a stoic face, and clutched Rana’s hands and went into peals of laughter.

“See … how I fooled the salesman … !”

But that day and on many such days , Rana could not laugh with her.

Rana worked as a reservation clerk in the West Bengal Tourism department. He sat at the reservation counter in the Chowringhee office from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm,  booking bus trips to Sundarbans, Murshidabad, Bishnupur and Shantiniketan. During lunchtime he took out his small alumunium square flat tiffin box and ate three parathas and alu bhaja.  Beginning of the month, sometimes Neeta would pack luchi for him accompanied with egg curry.  As the month progressed, the tiffin would get frugal , with maybe just 4 slices of scarcely buttered bread.

Neeta could not be blamed.

She had to manage the monthly bills of the household of two adults and a kid with Rs 25000, which Rana handed over to her dutifully at the beginning of the month.

Every month, after handing over Rs 3500 to the landlord , Neeta said “Can we shift to a different locality ? This place is too expensive !”  

But Rana could not make her understand  that this two roomed 400 square feet flat in the  interiors of Behala was the best they could get within this budget .
And their lifeline … their little Anu was going to an English Medium school. She was a big girl now, studying in class 3.  She was her teacher’s pet. But the tuition fees, the text books, stationary …fish, occasional mutton and chicken , vegetables ,  everything had to be provided out of the Rs 25000 !

Last month, when Neeta’s cousin sister got married, Neeta said “What do we give her as a present ?  I am her elder sister … can’t give her just anything .. “

“What about a sari ? “

“A good silk Sari will cost around Rs  2000 … ! We cannot give anything less than that … … you are his elder brother in law … !”

“Don’t worry I have a fixed deposit of Rs 10,000, I will break it tomorrow and then you can go ahead and buy !” Rana offered.

 “I am fed up of living under such tight budget !  Why can’t we be like others ?  I too want Anu to wear nice dresses, pack  pastries in her lunch box and watch a movie in a multiplex ! I am fed up … really fed up !”

“Tell me one thing,  Mr Mondal also works in the same office ,same post as yours , how come I see Mrs Mondal  wearing new saris every day ? Yesterday I saw her son  Montu in the park,  flaunting  his expensive sport shoe … !”  Neeta’s voice was taut.

Rana did not say anything.  Neeta knew the answer , didn’t she ? During such conversations, he always remained silent. And that irked Neeta even more.
“Fixed deposit ! You know that we have kept that for Anu’s admission to St. Teresa’s after 3 years . … !”

Anu opened the almirah and took out the peacock blue golden bordered silk sari which Rana had bought for her a year back when he had got bonus. Peacock blue was Neeta’s favourite colour. 

Her face had lit up when Rana gave it to her …

“But … I bought it for you …. !” Rana whispered.

“That’s OK … ! “ Neeta said gruffly. “You can buy me another one next year … “ She tried to smile.  “This sari will surely make my little sister very happy and  …it will save our prestige too … without breaking your fixed deposit …. “

Incidents like these, a sentence here, a word there , an untoward glance , a slight inflection in Neeta’s tone ,  small unfulfilled demands of  the little one, somehow filled up Rana’s mind and soul. He felt incompetent and incapable .

Was he foolish ?  As they say, should he be more “worldly wise” ? But he too did his bit did he not ? He had cut back on his cigarettes, the occasional buying of second hand Agatha Christie novels from the pavement of Theatre Road … !

So, today when a customer surreptitiously offered him Rs 3000 for giving him two tickets for the Sunderbans package tour,  he could not resist it.

“Dada, I have promised my wife “ he said “please do something ... “

“But there is just one seat left  !”  Rana said. He glanced at the register… there was another seat left … one passenger had just called up to cancel his reservation .

“”Please do something… “ the person pleaded and extended the two notes towards Rana.

Rana looked at him sharply… he looked around him and slowly , involuntarily, took the notes and kept it in his pocket.  His senses were numb. He acted as if in a stupor. Just like in the movies … in slow motion ….

But now his pace was extra fast as he approached the big and brightly decorated shop. He did not waste any time and walked out after buying a white fluffy frock for his little heartthrob Anu and a deep pink silk sari for Neeta. 

He wanted to see their excited and happy faces after they opened the packets. Ahh ! His soul was parched . It needed drops of their happiness . He will revel in their emotions of joy and exhilaration. And hopefully … his scorched  soul will become green again … with the musky , heady smell of their elation … !

He still had about Rs 500 left. 

“Taxi … !” Rana hailed a yellow cab.  He felt like a king .

Neeta and Anu were standing in the little balcony overlooking the road . Neeta was surprised to see him get down from the taxi. Rana looked up at her and smiled.

He swiftly climbed up the stairs. Neeta opened the door for him.

She looked so beautiful. She was wearing a simple red and white striped cotton sari. Her long, black, oiled hair was neatly folded in a bun. Sindoor on the middle parting of her hair, a small red bindi on her cute forehead … she looked like a goddess.  She deserves a better life .. Rana thought.

“Today is just the 25th of the month … have you got your salary already ?  How come you have come home in a taxi ? “ Neeta beamed .

Rana sat on the sofa cum bed to open his shoes. He kept the packets beside him. Little Anu came bounding up to him.

“Baba … Baba.. “ She was clutching a piece of paper in her hands .

“Anu … Let your Baba relax a bit … “ Neeta faked the admonishment towards Anu and smiled at Rana. 

“She has been so excited  since coming back from school … !”

Rana looked at their happy and glowing faces. 

They looked so content, satiated and thrilled !

“Baba … ! Look at this … I have got the first prize for my essay … You know , it will be published in the school magazine !! “ 

Anu squealed and thrust the sheet in Rana’s hands and put her arms around Rana’s neck.

“Go on … Read it … !” Neeta smiled and rolled her eyes up !

Rana read the title of the essay . “Honesty”.

Anu had described Rana in the essay. How he worked hard and how he was the most respected person in the colony as well as in his office due to his trait of honesty. In simple staccato, child like  sentences,  she had described her father and his lessons of honesty which he always taught Anu.

Rana looked at Anu’s face. She beamed at him expectantly. Rana embraced her tightly and wept. Neeta sat beside him and held them tight.

“I love you” she said in his ears. “Always remain like this…”

Neeta glanced at the packets.

“What are these ?”