Happiness is distributed, and is expected to be displayed, at our office parties, strictly by hierarchy. Superboss is the pampered guest, the department heads are expected to keep him happy and the juniors and other staff form the ‘backdrop’.
The party last month began on a dull note. Superboss and his wife came early. It is only at parties that he comes on or before the given time. Several department heads took turns to ply the Missus of Superboss with snacks and flattery. In this task there is an informal and unsaid agreement among them to share the burden.
When the quorum was complete to the satisfaction of Superboss, he threw open the party for one and all by narrating, in a loud voice, the joke that he has reserved for such occasions. This announcement of formal commencement of the proceedings alerted the important members of the office, who now took their positions around Superboss.
The inner circle around Superboss had the department heads and a motley group of more ambitious staff and juniors. The cry went out for ‘performances’, and those outside the charmed circle suppressed their groans. The torture for the next hour was to be tacked on a ‘grin and bear it’ basis. Pop songs, Urdu poetry, office jokes – all were slaughtered mercilessly. Our bosses love presenting their ‘performing arts’ in the raw, devoid of any refinement and embellishment. They cheered each other on, and cared little for the feelings of the sensitive.
P G Wodehouse in his description of the hierarchy in Hollywood studios has talked of ‘the yessers and the nodders’. At our parties we have the performers, the grinners and the sulkers. I am strictly in the grinners class, and can normally be found in semi-lit corners, biding my time.
The sulkers are an interesting lot – they form a sub-group of their kind and a few pegs down the road they get embolden enough to make interesting comments for general consumption. One has to be careful not to laugh loudly at their jokes – their activities and the reactions thereto are carefully noted by strategically planted spies.
Dude, the office assistant of Superboss, and a good pal of mine, was in a happy mood. I have plied in him with several cups of tea and snacks over the past year on the advice of Mr A, hence this friendship. As an opening gambit, he remarked – “Your Mr A is boring us to death.”
Mr A, my boss, is not a crowd-puller – he is a solid, behind-the-scenes operator, who is ill at ease in such situations. His guffaws at the jokes of Superboss are not loud enough. His repertoire of Urdu poetry is limited, and whatever little he manages to remember, is recited with such an utter disregard to rhythm, that it negates any rhyme that may have been intended by the poet.
I smiled and shook my head in a non-committal nod. One has to be careful while expressing opinion on such sensitive matters.
Sensing that I was not yet in the ‘spirit of the party’, Dude recommended the Vodka he was having. “Mr X has a super voice,” he threw another volley. Not taking the bait, I remarked that he, Dude that is, was not giving us his famous ‘love song’. Dude shook his head sadly, and in the manner of a classical singer, explained that he was having a sore throat and would not be able to do justice to the song.
The combined effect of Vodka and remembrance of the days when he enthralled the audience with his ‘love song’ made Dude happier. “Superboss is an ass – he is being taken for a ride by Admin,” he said. “The lady assistant of Admin is really his girlfriend. She has been hired at a very high salary,” he added conspiratorially.
“Are you sure? How do you know?” I asked surprised.
Dude nodded slyly, having the ‘magicians never tell’ look. He looked as if he had solid dope on Admin. “If this story reaches Admin’s home, there will be hell. Have you seen Missus Admin?” he said happily. I felt Dude was still harboring an ill will against Admin for not allowing him an extra-time allowance. Missus Admin was not someone to be tampered with lightly – least of all by Admin himself.
“Let him have his fun,” I suggested. Dude made a sardonic face.
“He should not prevent others from having a happy life. Anyway, let everyone enjoy. Let Mr X’s have five figure travel bills, let Mr A have secret telephone conversations with CEO, let Soapy have an affair with the wife of…”
Dude was drunk and in a dangerous territory. My instincts went on an overdrive – I could not become a party to such sensitive information, and compromise myself. When any of these bombs explode, I would become a natural suspect about spreading ‘rumours’. I quickly changed the subject to happier subjects.
Meanwhile, all the bosses had spent their limited repertoire, and the ‘party spirit’ was again sagging. The sulkers were getting restless, and even the grinners looked unsure. Superboss decided it was time to revive the spirits with a speech.
“We are a great family,” he began. “We spend more time with each other than with our spouses.” Here Superboss paused to let the applause subside. “It is important that we stick together in thick and in thin, and work together as a family. The family values are love and respect. But love comes before respect. I expect all of you to love me more than respect me.”
This direction on ‘love above respect’ was contrary to our official position. Moreover, I don’t think he was talking about ‘love’ quite in the sense that Admin and his new assistant were reportedly going about it.
Superboss paused. Apparently family and love theme was sounding right. He moved on to a motivational discourse – “It is our duty to work to our fullest potential and justify the vast talents given to us by the Almighty.” He seemed to have remembered this line suddenly, and was proud to have shared it with us. Everyone looked duly thankful for having received this wisdom. He however did not elaborate on this theme, and abruptly changing the subject asked whether the food was ready. This was the best part of the speech, and even the sulkers smiled with relief. The official part of the party was over.
During the buffet dinner, a heated argument started between Mr A and Mr X over the right strategy of handling the agents. The tiff started when Mr A commented that agents want some changes in our services to which Mr X declared that agents were an ass. Mr A took a strong exception to this generalization and demanded an apology on behalf of this class of honest citizens. Though Mr A hardly had any love lost for the agents, his dislike for Mr X was stronger.
Superboss, attracted by the commotion, carefully listened to the berating of agents as the worst form of bloodsuckers, and the equally strong defense that showed them to be angels disguised in human forms. Superboss finally ended the tiff by giving his well considered opinion – “While on the one hand there is much to be said about agents being bloodsuckers, it would also be futile to deny the fact that they are honest businessmen who have my highest respect.”
The combatants sullenly surrendered to the opinion of the higher authority. But the rest of us heaved a sigh of relief, satisfied by the fact that party was drawing to a close and that the evening had ended without a major disaster.