A few days ago, Mr A called me to say that I would be looking after the work of Soapy, the new Assistant Manager in Accounts, for a few days as he would be on leave. “I have no clue about accounts,” I protested. “Why can’t the other guys in accounts do his work?”
“There is lot of work in accounts, with year-end coming up, and with World Cup around, difficult to get work out of them. Since you do not follow cricket…” He left the sentence hanging in the air. My not following cricket somehow made me competent to handle accounts.
“I do watch cricket, it is only that I am not mad about it,” I grumbled.
“I know. You can watch the matches on TV in office,” he said, and then changing the subject, added “If there is something you do not understand, ask accounts manager or me. It is not nuclear science. In any case it would do you good to understand accounts. Nobody will be able to fool you with figures,” he said, implying that getting additional work was actually in my favour. But it really hurt when he added as an afterthought, “And it will keep you occupied when everyone is getting cricket-crazy.”
I have discovered from bitter experience that actively following popular sports is vital to survival in our office. Cricket or football fever grips our office from time to time – and sometimes a mild attack of hockey frenzy also hits us. During the Olympics and Asian Games, all games are followed avidly, as it is believed to be the highest duty of a patriot. At such times, woe betide the man who is not a fan.
Last month, Superboss had called me for a review of some work, and while I was carefully noting down his instructions, he casually asked me the ‘score’. Cricket score of a test match between India and Australia, that is. I had not been following the match in question too closely. I gave a blank look, shook my head and continued taking down the notes. I have reasons to believe that that event shook his faith in my efficiency. His manner became grumpy, and short of calling me a complete idiot, he left little unsaid regarding my abilities as a junior manager.
Alerted to this weakness, I have made it a point to observe my seniors and how they operate during periods when sporting fever grips the office. Staff comes late, goes early and spends large amounts of time in front of TV. I have seen a hard-taskmaster like Mr A mildly rebuke a junior who had failed to report on duty when a one-day international cricket match was on between India and Pakistan. On the days when matches are aired early in the morning from Australia, the normal time to report for duty is post-lunch. If any match is played in our city, leave is automatic, even assumed, on purchase of tickets. And during world-cups, and other big tournaments, office rules and decorum are suspended for some time.
The other day when I asked my office boy to get me some coffee, he glared at me, and stomped off, not to return the whole day. It was only later that I realized that a star was on the verge of making a century, and it was not a good time to disturb a fan. I even overheard another office boy grumble, “That is why India always looses,” when I asked him to lower the volume of the TV set. Apparently, India plays well only when he listens to the commentary at a certain volume.
Almost entire staff in our office is physically unfit, and most have not played any game since leaving school. Potbellied and lethargic though they may be, they show remarkable agility in expressing happiness, and other less worthy emotions, while watching the matches. They exhibit great stamina in sitting in front of the TV with total concentration for long hours. I have seen them sit in office beyond work hours only during this period. Their knowledge of the game and facts related to it may be sketchy, but their thirst for knowledge and attention to detail amazes me. They are a transformed people during such periods. Sadly, this transformation does not last beyond the tournament, nor does it spill over in any other area of activity.
Soapy, who had attended the match in which an Australian had made a century, was the hero of the office for the next few days. Superboss looked at Soapy lovingly every time he saw him during the meeting called to finalize the accounts for the year. I wondered whether Superboss has got his facts wrong, and thinks that it was Soapy, and not the Australian, who had made that fabulous century.
During this meeting, the woeful lack of preparation by the accounts department was not something that worried Superboss unduly. What however did worry him, was how India capitulated tamely to Sri Lanka during the ‘round-robin’.
“It does not bode well for the team,” he remarked gravely.
I wanted to say, our accounts don’t bode well for us, but kept quiet. My expression may have given me away, for Superboss glared at me with a look of mild hostility. Not finding anything to ‘nail’ me then and there, he remarked caustically that office is a place where we must work as a team and develop an ‘all-round’ expertise. He gave examples of such people as Dhoni and Peterson to drive home this point. He stopped just short of accusing me of not completing the work in accounts while the personnel of that office were busy doing their duty of raising the morale of the national team.
Respecting the sentiments of a sports-fan is all very well, even laudable, but I feel that the treatment meted out to the non-fans is something on which the Human Rights Commission must take a careful look. I have decided that during the next World Cup, I will fake a total frenzy. And if for some reason I fail to do so, or am caught out as a fake, I will file a complaint with the Commission regarding violation of my right to live a life of dignity.