It was for the first time that I was asked to accompany Superboss and Mr A on a business trip to attend a conference outside our city. I knew the conference was likely to be a tough one for me, in which I would have to contend with two ‘dedicated’ bosses. And sure enough, Mr A, my immediate superior, suddenly developed full faith in my abilities to handle ‘things’, and I overheard him telling Superboss a number of times before and during the trip that “David will manage,” or “David knows,” or that “I will tell David.”
Mr A was convinced he was doing me a great favour by taking me along. It would be a learning experience for me, he said. I have come to dread the expression ‘learning experience’, and its use always alerts me to the perils ahead. Superboss looked condescendingly towards me throughout the whole trip, half expecting me to fall on his feet in gratitude.
My feelings about the trip were diametrically opposite. It had put a spanner in my plans of a vacation with the better half, leading to bitterness at home and possibility of more harsh exchanges when I returned. In any case I did not like being saddled with two bosses who were confident of their ability to sail through life without preparation.
Superboss had taken a long list of things to shop for his wife, while Mr A had selected a number of places to visit. On the plane Mr A asked me to just relax and enjoy the tour. He also asked me to go through the documents and notes once more, and be ready to assist boss in the discussions. That took care of my time in the flight.
We had reached half a day early. After checking-in at the hotel, when the three of us reassembled in the lobby, I was a little embarrassed to see the two of them in Bermudas, flower-print shirts and huge hats. How they had managed to pack those hats in their luggage still beats me. Anyhow they were pretty satisfied with their looks, and did not comment on my off-white shirt and jeans.
It was decided that shopping for missus of Superboss must be done first, and then we would have a quiet dinner together. Mr A’s insistence on visiting a Safari was taken note of, and was kept pending for another day. The shopping, an activity that I hate, was done with meticulous care, and with the full involvement of all members of our delegation. Mr A’s taste in ladies wear was much appreciated by Superboss, who remarked that Mr X, Mr A’s rival, knew nothing about these matters, and had mislead Superboss into buying an outdated dress on the last trip.
The quiet dinner turned out to be quite an affair. Mr A took one peg too many, and had many things to say regarding Mr X and the CEO – all in pretty loud voice. Superboss is an understanding man, and I noticed he did not mind. “Boys will be boys,” he said. By the time we reached the hotel, I had a spitting headache.
The next two days were spent at the conference. It involved a lot of running around for ‘arrangements’ and a lot of whispering of facts in the ears of the bosses, to which they generally shouted back “What?” At the end of each session, both of them would look at each other with satisfaction, share scathing comments on the interventions and speeches of other speakers, and appreciate my help.
On our last day was scheduled a visit to the Safari – on the insistence of Mr A. It did not even cross the mind of any of them that each of us could plan independent outings. We stuck solidly together during the whole trip – we were inseparable. The bosses wore their brightest shirts, hired a jeep, fished out their binoculars and cameras and were ready to impress the wild-life. I had read that bright colours should be avoided in Safaris as it disturbs the animals and said so. This made the two of them laugh-out-loud. They patted my back heartily, and told me not to worry.
The start of the safari did not go well. The bosses did not appreciate seeing the deer, the wildebeests, the birds or even the Zebra. “Where are the big cats?” they pestered the driver to the point that the latter started speaking loudly in his local language. I am convinced he was expressing the desire to throw us out of the jeep in front of the first big cat we would find. Superboss said that we should sit on a ‘machan’, to which Mr A added that David could serve the purpose of a bait. This kept the two of them amused for some time.
When we did see a pride of lions, the bosses were not satisfied. They did not like the fact that the lions were not looking ferocious and threatening enough. “It is an artificial safari,” they commented, to which the driver felt offended and asked us to get down and pat the big male. Mr A took the advice seriously, but looked doubtful. Superboss advised him not to do anything on the advice of the driver, who looked “certified half-wit.” They also commented on the number of lionesses ‘maintained’ by the lone male lion of the pride, and giggled.
“Show us the crocs,” went up the cry, as the bosses were by now convinced that the lions were not likely to oblige them by doing anything worthwhile. The crocs fared no better, and were discovered to be even duller than the lions. “Nothing to beat our tiger,” they told the driver with proprietary pride. On our way back they told the driver a number of tall stories of their many excursions in the Indian jungles. All in all, it was a tiring and testing day for the driver, and he was happy to drop us at the hotel.
Later back home, I placated the better half by presenting her with a set of perfumes bought at the airport. I advised my pals in the HR to scoot whenever anyone offered to take them for a conference. But about one thing Mr A had been right – it was a ‘learning experience’, though not in the way that he would have imagined.