Hangmen of April

hangmanCome April and I am awash with phone calls from friends and colleagues about how they fared in the annual performance appraisals. Certain lesions of the past rendered unmentionable on this blog due to reasons of propriety, have bestowed the robe of Agony Aunt upon me. I have come to consider the minor hurts and whips delivered on the sly by the hangmen of confidential reports routine and passé. Sometime though, the tug given at the nape is all too fatal and final.

Ensconced in a cane chair in the budding light of daybreak this Saturday, I found my heart leaping as a crow swooped on the stalk of the jamun tree waving faintly in the zephyr across my balcony. Setting aside all ceremonies, he pointed his beak at me and broke into a strident bawl like a molested bassoon. I haven’t fully grown up and away from the childhood belief, foisted in my pliant cerebrum by my mother, that a ranting raven on the rooftop at sunrise is a certain harbinger of unannounced guests. Those were the days when middling folks like us mostly didn’t have phones. Postcards ferried to and fro by bored looking postmen were the fastest means of communication other than telegrams which were reserved for sinister portents.

I suspect our belief in the foresight of these benighted scavengers was not totally unfounded. Perhaps the deluge of signals from omnipresent antennae and satellites has choked their intelligence network nowadays and they bother us no more with the news of arrivals of friends and family. But I remember how once in my childhood, within an hour of a crow emptying his air sacs in our courtyard, my maternal uncle materialized at the front door. He nearly fulfilled his long standing promise of buying a red bicycle for me, but was dissuaded from the act by my mother who got worried I would break into the streets to compete with strapping motorcyclists. My uncle was a feisty young man then and he modified his pledge into buying a ‘350 CC Bullet’ for me the day I grew a moustache of my own. Sadly, my uncle left for his heavenly abode before I could twirl the ribbon under my nose. But he left the legion of ravens behind him to remind me of my unfulfilled union with a red bicycle in my childhood, and unexpected guests who could ruffle the tranquillity of a day.

It is not Samir’s fault that he bears a faint resemblance to my departed uncle. Indeed, that is how I was drawn to him when he worked in the same office as mine. He has since joined Orange Bank where his fortunes have flared and faltered in turns. We are living in the same city but we rarely meet, thanks to our overarching work schedules. It is not the raven’s fault either that of all folks today it had to be him. I saw him emerge from a red car that stopped under the tree not long after that. He looked perturbed as his bloated face mumbled a salute in my direction. Soon, he was sitting in the balcony next to me, unleashing a hail of expletives in honour of his immediate boss, forgetting I have a family that was happily sleeping away the morning.

I have drawn a sketch of his boss in my mind with the inputs he has allowed me to have, apart from the curses and grim adjectives, corroborated by others in the extended circle. Somewhere out there in this wonderful world is this lean, slouching man, with an entrenched inferiority complex and a deep nasal whine, and a hangman’s noose in his hand, whose ascent to the upper rungs of the system has been fuelled exclusively by bootlicking rather than attributes inherent in him. In turn, he expects blindfolded obeisance from everyone else down the ladder. His faux, polished appearance is as unreal as the suave, dark brown wig acquired from Hong Kong, forever hiding an ugly, balding pate. He cannot tell an asset from a liability in a two-columned balance sheet but he is quick to sort his subordinates into those very classes based on absence or presence of servitude in them. He would probably sell his closest pal at the first call in an auction if it were to afford him a premature promotion.

As if being posted as the deputy of a bombshell with lit fuse wasn’t hazardous enough, Samir chose to counter and correct him during a high-profile videoconferencing with the overseas head office. Disaster struck when Samir got shortlisted for an assignment outside India. His boss who would go yammering all day in the workplace suddenly went quiet. The lull lasted for about a month to everyone’s shock till it was time for the annual appraisal and before Samir could realise, the noose was slipped into his neck and he was hanging in mid air, gasping for breath. In the fallout, his boss received a plum assignment in Tokyo while Samir was left to languish in the same grade for years. That was about three years ago, when I had done my best to console him, telling him to take it in his stride and look ahead in life, for lightening doesn’t strike anyone twice.

Six months ago, the devil was repatriated from Tokyo and put in charge of Samir again.

We sat a long time together, Samir and I, and discussed the fifty shades of black the crows can have. By the time it was afternoon, we concluded that while some will be the sootiest of them all, there will be the one like his boss still, denser than the collapsing black holes, allowing not even a photon of light to escape. Like a ghastly psychopath murderer, they will return to hang your career with the rope of appraisal for the second time, after which no coroner or mortician will ever be able to restore even an iota of dignity in the residue.


  1. There are many organisational tools to keep the sub ordinates towing the ‘boss’ line, appraisal being the most sinister of them all.
    Wishing your friend good luck.

    1. True that. Methodologies employed can be spine-chilling​. But monsters such as those must be checked for the well-being of the organization in the long run.

  2. Now I know the meaning of the phrase “devastatingly beautiful”. This was a stunning portrayal of the maggots of the workplace. I know it’s impossible, but one hopes that your lyrical and plaintive oboe drowns out the raven’s molested bassoon. And since you’re currently playing partly the part of an Agony Aunt, I’d like to say that a few years ago my forty years teaching “career” ended abruptly and mercilessly on an ordinary day with a headmaster employing the same learned government-taught techniques as used by the boss of your friend Samir.
    I’m copying and pasting this to my hard drive, Uma, so that if you ever disappear from the blogosphere I will still have it!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Bruce. I am sorry to learn the maggots the workplace butchered your career too. May the carrion of career-eaters bake in hell. Thanks for storing a portion of my scribblings in the heart of your computer –I’m proud I could make the cut.

  3. You just took me back to those days(in the middle of my summer/winter vacations) when I was bored and really hoped the black bird’s cry brought a visitor. But I don’t recall the birds announcing agony nephews and nieces.
    Your bird seems to have brought us a(nother) great piece of writing.

    All the best to both of you for the annual judgement day. 🙂

  4. Brilliant narrative as usual. So lightening did strike twice and as they say, the world isn’t fair. April hangmen are indeed the bane of so many who are destined to carry the yoke of a salaried employment.

    1. Also, it is a small, round world and apparently, it is a lot easier to fall prey to the same wolf twice. You are bang on about the destiny of the salaried class. Thank you, Ash.

  5. I enjoyed the story. You write wonderfully 🙂 keep em coming!Hang it all Uma…tell your friend to forget finance and blissfully ride off on a red bike to join a coven of crows.
    Or if he can’t do that remind him that April showers bring May flowers.
    Love the wives tale about the crows. Such fun, and sometimes wisdom, in these old sayings.

    1. We are all looking to break free form the stranglehold of the Ebenezer Scrooges of our lives. Thanks for the solace, and enjoying the story.

  6. one of those things that we have all had the worst nightmares around

    thank god i am done with it – finally – as I freelance now 🙂

  7. I have long been known as the lightning rod in organizations – the one who speaks up despite all because it’s not in my nature to be silent in the face of horrible bosses. In fact, I was once given a horoscope that was perfect: “You are the sworn enemy of the stuffed shirt.” I am certainly that. There have been consequences but, for me at least, none as bad as not speaking up.

    As always, Uma, your words are honey.

    1. <Sworn enemy of the stuffed shirt! I would be shocked if the astrologer had thought otherwise. I am sure the consequences have polished you into being a precious stone. Thanks for the encouragement, Molly.

  8. “Bitter pills are best served honey-glazed.” Such richness in your writing, even in the comments. A finely-wrought narrative, Uma, which I devoured greedily – despite the darker tone of the subject matter.

  9. Such a fascinating read, so relatable. 🙂
    At my current workplace, I have done everything in my power to garner a shitty appraisal. Rebellious, outspoken, unwilling to kiss the boss’s ass – are some of the qualities I am known for. And it is unlikely that I’ll change anytime soon.

    I wish you the best, Sir. 🙂

    1. Thank you for enjoying the piece, old friend. The universe needs both yin and yang to keep going. We are all indebted to forces like you for keeping a total rot at abeyance.

  10. “भोर होते कांगा पुकारे काहे राम, कौन परदेशी आयेगा मेरे धाम”…..you must have heard this Lataji song! We have Magpies here that sometimes visit and if not an actual visit from someone, I do get a phone call! Anyway, wonderfully written post about your friend. I consider myself really lucky that when my boss at the world’s largest pharmaceutical company did not like me and wanted to get rid of me, and I quote you here (whose ascent to the upper rungs of the system has been fuelled exclusively by bootlicking rather than attributes inherent in him) management had to show that my position was “redundant” and it was a win win situation for both of us. They got what they wanted and I got what I wanted, a very generous pay out and the company’s name on my resume helped.

    1. I feel glad the magpies keep reminding you of the roots you have left behind, gladder that their chatter bring you at least a phone call. That was a win-win story about the severance you received from the atrocious boss: your luck must have been written in golden ink. Thanks for the appreciation and your precious contribution.

  11. Very much enjoyed this rich and unusual prose! Samir’s red car perhaps a glimmer to remind you of the bicycle promised by your departed uncle? Those with power often use it unwisely but the consolation of a good friend makes us remember there is more to life than avoiding the noose of the unqualified hangman.. Thanks for this post!

    1. You are a blessed with a keen eye for the undercurrent in a narrative. And truly, there is more to this world than callous butchers of careers. Many thanks for reading and enjoying, and boosting my confidence.

  12. well, many of your readers will relate to this…
    btw how could you always pen a prose like a poetry, I mean its so balanced write up, though I am here after a long gap but good to be here again…great read it was …. 🙂

  13. Umashankar, I feel for your friend Samir and what misery that he has to endure that hangman boss twice! Your description of his boss is devastatingly eloquent! I’ve known a couple of miserable bosses like that in the past. Interesting how Samir somewhat resembles your uncle and turned up at your door in a similar way after you saw the raven. Stories of crows and ravens being messengers have been handed down through different cultures since ancient times. It’s a fascinating mythology.

    1. The process of myths travelling across cultures and times is called ‘diffusion’ in Anthropology. It may sound rather bland but has a wider, deeper significance. Perhaps, in older days, when humans travelled slower than the crows, our inquisitive friends would have enjoyed relaying the news of approaching friends and family. Perhaps they have some sense hitherto unknown​ to us whereby they can correlate people, miseries and grief. The crow did just that in this case. Many thanks for your precious words.

  14. People climb up the ladder mostly by murdering more talented ones. Just a few days ago, I was counseling an IT employee whose boss fears losing his job as the boss is a high cost resource and organisations now are kicking out any one whose salary is high. So this boss dude has been systematically removing all talented guys from the team, lest someone become the boss. HR in most of the organisations, despite a host of tools and appraisal processes, is completely inefficient. Imagine an army whose soldiers and officers are lousy and have survived because they are either bootlicking their superiors or are so inefficient that their boss doest feel threat from them. How will this army fight a battle? Most of the corporates are failing because their HR teams and managers conspire to create a ill equipped and sub-standard workforce.

    1. You have captured in a few words the soul of the malaise. No wonder, the civilisations all over the planet are going drown the drain. I trust rule of the masses, or democracy, has outlived its utility.

  15. Oh i loved everybit of the piece you wrote. I could identify so well with this Samir and the situation he was in with his boss. Beautifully written and brutally honest. love your style of writing and the piece of advise you offered to Samir.

  16. Beautiful prose, Uma. Exquisite indeed. I liked how you invoked the belief about crows and childhood memories to talk about bosses and office politics. Astute observation on the way corporates work.

    1. Those lores and beliefs of the childhood have shaped my consciousness. As for the corporate culture, it is nothing but an echo system arisen out of diabolical sensibilities concentrated in one place, no better or worse than the networks of crooks and thugs in the ancient fiefdoms. I am also a unit of the sprawling machinery not because I want it, but rather because of the absence of alternatives. I am more the Nately’s Whore than Milo Minderbinder.

  17. You seem to live in altogether different plane when it comes to express yourself. Your writings are Creative, Pristine and Divine. You sure Lightening doesn’t strike twice ? Ha ha ha,….. nope I can prove you wrong.

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