Friday, Dec 01, 2023

The Fault In Our Synergies


The Fault In Our Synergies

An HR professional fell for a novelist. What happened next will blow your mind. Or maybe not

There are moments in life when hilarity, surprise, and confusion coalesce into a sliver of a second.
There are moments in life when hilarity, surprise, and confusion coalesce into a sliver of a second.

Corporate ka king kaun? Piku Mhatre. The phonetic similarity is, of course, just a coincidence, but this rhyme rings deep. Because like the beloved Bollywood gangster, Piku inspires respect and fear. At the age of 26, heading the Human Resource department of a global consulting firm, WeWin, he’s already become a legend in the recruiting industry.

On many days, he’s fired a few employees—sorry, resources—before they’ve even contemplated their breakfast options. Actually, not fired, he hates that word, let gone. That’s what he’s best at, and most known for, downsizing. He’s also famous for his ‘corporate literary’ writing—his long emails have spawned their own fan base on job portals—culminating in a splash on the literary shores. A prestigious publishing house, Walrus, recently gave him a seven-figure advance for his collection of essays (tentatively titled Killing with Kindness).

Like many corporate professionals, Piku has an opinion on everything, including—and especially on—topics outside his core domain. “You guys write such crap,” he once told me at an industry event. “You call yourself the editor of The Awesome Times—the best newspaper in the country—but it’s impossible to read your reporters’ copies. Real Writing, you see ...” He pauses. “Well, scratch that, why don’t you come to my office someday? I’ll teach you a thing or two.”

When I meet him a few months later, however, Piku doesn’t cut a picture of poise but anxiety. Pacing his 17th floor office in Gurgaon, he tells me, “She hasn’t replied. It’s been weeks!” She who? Priyatama (name changed to protect her identity), a renowned figure in the Delhi lit circle—or, as Piku calls it, “the wine sippin’, culture drippin’” crowd—whose literary novels have brought her as much fame as her fierce activism. Piku first saw her at a book launch—he hates such events; he was only there to network with the Walrus folks—and since then, life has not been the same. “It felt like,” he tells me, “someone added three more slides to my deck.” He wanted to impress her the old way, the ‘pure’ way. So Piku Mhatre wrote a letter—a love letter.

“Dear Priyatama,

Trust this note finds you well. As someone who hates drinking the Kool-Aid—and loves blue sky thinking—I decided to leverage my core competencies to check if our synergies are in alignment with respect to some actionable items I want to bring to the table today. I hope my brain-dump doesn’t offend you. I could have put it all on a backburner and circled back to you later, but I thought the only way to herd the cats, which have been feasting on my pain-points for quite some time, was to write you a simple and direct letter.

Of course, I’m not reinventing the wheel (which reminds me, I bought a new car the day before) or cascading information—all I’m trying to do is move the needle. Since I’ve a lot of skin in this game, I won’t hold back and open the kimono. It’s the only way to put a hard stop to this burning platform because, after all, I do want you on board. Ever since I saw you speak at the book launch last week, your deep dive into many social issues has not left my mind. So I want to run this idea up the flagpole: Would it be possible to take this conversation offline?

I’m aware that before green-lighting my proposal you must be wondering, ‘What deliverables can this guy come up with—what is his North Star strategy?’ To which I’d first say, Congratulations. I always knew you were as sharp as your looks. And you’d be right, as nothing in this world is worth pursuing without the fitment or cost analysis. I know we’re as different as stakeholders and employees—you’re Left, I’m Right; I see vikas, you say bakwaas—but I see endless potentiality in this meeting of two great minds.

On many days, Piku has fired a few employees—sorry, resources—before they’ve even contemplated their breakfast options. Actually, not fired, he hates that word, let gone.

I do have some questions though. So over one-on-one coffee, where I won’t boil the ocean one bit, I’d straightaway ask you something simple: Is your ideology sustainable and scalable? Perhaps we can also drill down into something you so care for and ask, ‘What’s so wrong in serving a company when the entire country is becoming a corporation?’ I’d also like to peel the onion on a particularly low-hanging fruit and would love to explain to you—at length—how you’ve been so misled about Article 770.

Please let me know if this proposed meeting interests you. If not, I can perhaps revert with another missive that will change your mind because ... it’s only words but words are all I have to take your heart away.

Warm regards,
Piku Mhatre.”

As I finished reading the letter, the room plunged into a deeper silence. Piku spoke after some time: “What wrong did I do? Isn’t this Real Writing—a perfect letter? I hope you can print it as it is, so others can learn.” Just then, a sound of an email notification. We both check our phones. I’ve got nothing.

“Priyatama!” Piku says.

“Wow. Read it.”

“I’m not sure what it is though.”

“Just read it.”

“Dear Piku, your email left me speechless. Quite literally. I must have re-read it over a dozen times to reply, but I failed each time. And no, your brain-dump didn’t offend me. It did remind me of a song though—one that I’d like to end this email with, just like you had—Goli maar bheje mein/ Ke bheja shor karta hai.”

“And?” I ask.

“And what? That’s it.”

There are moments in life when hilarity, surprise, and confusion coalesce into a sliver of a second. This is that moment for me—a moment that, for Piku, has the laborious longevity of a prison sentence. He asks: “Why don’t these writer-types ever talk normally? Why don’t they simply say what they mean? So insecure, so scared. Always calculating, forever hiding. It’s like words are not words anymore.” He then stands up, turns his back towards me, and looks at the gleaming high-rises. “That’s the problem with the world these days: We think so much that we’ve forgotten to feel.”

(This appeared in the print as 'The Fault In Our Synergies')