Come 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.