01 January 1970

Don’t Cry In The Office

Weekend Reads

Don’t Cry In The Office

Sona Maniar writes a short fiction piece for Outlook

A young woman covering her face on the desk in office
A young woman covering her face on the desk in office Getty Images

Employees arriving to work at the Mumbai Headquarters of the COMPANY on the Wednesday morning in late May were shocked to witness a body being pulled out on a stretcher from the corner office. That office, as indicated by the gold-plated signboard on the ornate door, belonged to Rajeev Kumar Chaudhary. Immediate reactions were rather dramatic: someone dropped her cup of skinny pumpkin spice latte, another person retraced his steps to the elevator in an attempt to escape from the possible crime scene and yet another just burst into tears in utter distress and confusion. But if you ask me, they were all just overreacting. Almost mimicking characters they had binge-watched on Netflix. Nobody had died. I REPEAT. Nobody had died. At least not just yet. Perhaps it’s time to hit the pause button and rewind to a few minutes into the past to understand what had actually transpired.  

Pillai and his nerdy assistant Karan Singh Bhandari (aka KSB) were sitting in Rajeev’s office to review the last quarter’s figures of the rubber plant division.  Rajeev who had built a formidable reputation in the business circles as a turnaround guru, had been brought into the COMPANY with one specific task: to halt a bleeding operation and put the business back into the green.  His title was impactful: Chief Restructuring, Retrenchment, and Redesign Officer – Western India.  While Rajeev was of a medium build and not much of a forceful personality at first sight, his voice was steely, even stern, and could evoke deep fear in the hearts of his staff, particularly those that did not meet his expectations.  

That morning as Pillai unpacked his string of excuses, er reasons, for missing the division’s quarterly revenue targets, supported by the number crunching expertise of KSB, the conversation with Rajeev started getting increasingly heated and uncomfortable. Just like peeling an onion, Rajeev probed deeper and deeper into the numbers. As Rajeev’s questions pierced his carefully crafted narrative, Pillai’s eloquence gradually morphed into a stammer and the office assumed the look and feel of a lit furnace. With fingers in a flutter, KSB rapidly pulled up spreadsheet after spreadsheet on his laptop to provide some quantitative evidence till his machine went into a tizzy. Staring at a scrambled mess on the laptop screen, KSB’s shoulders dropped in utter helplessness and tears started streaming down his cheeks.

Rajeev turned to him sharply. "Girl, you are fired."  

That was when Pillai experienced a shooting pain in his chest and beads of sweat gathered on his forehead. Gasping for breath, he could just about let out, "Somebody call an ambulance," before slumping into his chair.

"How do you think this could possibly end?" Someone in a group of four asked as they anxiously huddled by the coffee machine.  

"We could all be fired."

"Or we could all quit."

"Or this toxic office could be shut down."

"Or the company could collapse on bad PR."

The group pondered in silence for a few moments and mentally assigned the odds to each scenario.

"I managed to take a selfie with the body on the stretcher.  I could post it on Insta with the hashtag Hellhole."

"No!".  The others shouted in unison.

Then at the sight of the HR Manager Sunita (who was generally rumored to be a snitch) coming along the corridor in her flowing floral dress, the group dispersed and returned to their desks.

As it turns out, four months later, the COMPANY returned to profitability and the board members, so delighted by the efforts of Rajeev in turning around the Western India business, handed him a promotion and a bigger task: to turn around the operations in Thailand.  And for that, Rajeev would move to Bangkok.

The existing staff felt like a burden had been lifted off the place and at the suggestion of the IT head, invited a pundit to "fix the vibes in the office."  After performing some elaborate rituals involving loud chanting, fire, oil, and turmeric, the pundit adjusted his saffron scarf and proudly proclaimed, "No one will cry in this office again."  The gathered employees let out a collective sigh of relief and much rejoicing ensued.

P.S. in case you were wondering, Pillai made a full recovery after a brief stint in a hospital in South Mumbai.  His request for a transfer was, however, declined.  KSB picked up a gig as a DJ at a night club and is currently contemplating starting up his own cannabis business in Berlin. Rajeev is dating a pretty Thai lady, fifteen years his junior, and is blissfully unaware that she is a spy from a rival firm.