In most large companies, we barely know most of our colleagues – we see only the professional side of their personality (if we’re lucky) during the typical work-day. We may learn more about them during office parties and off-sites, sometimes with assistance from ethanol. The process of forming deep friendships (or enmities) usually takes a long time, sometimes many months or even years. Travelling with them is one way to accelerate this process, to its bitter end perhaps? As I’ve mentioned earlier, Mark Twain was no doubt prescient when he noted, “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
The Three Amigos (cough!)
One vacation I planned to trek in Sikkim with some friends and colleagues, including a trio of young ‘uns. The trio seemed a lively bunch in office, friendly and game for anything. Although they were pulling all-nighters at work to meet deadlines, they still had the energy to rush out to get hot pakodas from the local pakodawalla for chai-time at office, or, to attend the occasional wine-and-cheese do. While the rest of us could be found curled up in bed in a fetal position on the weekends, their high-octane lifestyle demanded waterfall rappelling in the Sahyadris, or taking part in inter-organisation cricket matches, or something else disgustingly athletic, followed by pubbing or discoing in the evening.
I figured their unnatural energy would stand them in good stead once they started trekking, and they did live up to that expectation. Energy they had, and plentiful, but it also ensured that they pursued every trivial organisational detail with frustrating levels of enthusiasm till it was completed to their satisfaction. This was especially evident during the initial days, before the rigors of the trek moderated their energy levels.
We spent a little over a day exploring Gangtok and the sights in and around the city before heading out for our trek. Having met and greeted our guide, we inventoried our possessions for the trek, and found that for all their energy and enthusiasm, the trio had forgotten to pack rain-gear. A stroll down the quaint Mall Road was our plan for the first evening in Sikkim anyway, so ‘shopping’ was penciled into our to-do list – a task that most of us assumed would take a trivial 10-15 minutes.
Energy they had, and plentiful, but it also ensured that they pursued every trivial organisational detail with frustrating levels of enthusiasm till it was completed to their satisfaction.
However, it soon turned into an hours-long torture as the trio spent ages walking in and out of multiple shops that sold rain-gear. Virtually identical rain-gear was examined carefully, prodded and tugged to determine its quality, tried on and sneezed on, followed by an exhilarating exercise in haggling. While locals passed by us in the beautiful misty evening taking in a leisurely stroll followed by a cup of fragrant coffee and a plate of steaming Momos, we were submerged in a maelstrom of haggling. While the trio was haggling with the fifth (possibly seventh) vendor, we realized that the gear was priced cheaper than in Mumbai to begin with! At that point, we bid the trio adieu and found a conveniently located coffee-shop to drown our sorrows in an ocean of caffeine. Two hours later, having exhausted the local shopkeepers, the victorious young ‘uns joined us – they’d finally persuaded a shopkeeper to give them a Rs.10 discount on each raincoat. When we pointed out that their savings were insignificant given the outlay into the trip for travel, lodging, and guide-fees, they pointed out triumphantly that it wasn’t the money, it was the principle of the thing.
Doubtless this determination will stand them in good stead during all-nighters spent completing the next project. This is the kind of attention to detail they will need to pick the right font for their project reports, and may even steer them from Arial to Helvetica.
Large consumer goods loom larger than you.
Two hours later, having exhausted the local shopkeepers, the victorious young ‘uns joined us – they’d finally persuaded a shopkeeper to give them a Rs.10 discount on each raincoat.
If the zeal and cost-consciousness of the young trio came as a revelation during that trip, another trip revealed the latent competitive spirit in another colleague, Pops (if you’re really wondering, no, that isn’t his real name).
Prior to joining our mutual employer, Pops was an area sales manager at a large consumer goods organization. My limited respect for his “get-things-done” ability quadrupled the evening we got on the train to Kathgodam, which is the rail-head to the entire Kumaon area. Thanks to a masterpiece in poor planning, we had only one berth between the three of us – Grouchy, Pops and I. Grouchy and I plonked ourselves on it and tried to settle in as comfortably as we could on one-third of a berth each, while Pops walked up and down the coaches until he found the TTE (Train Ticket Examiner). He stuck like a leech to the TTE for the next 30 minutes, asking for berths every minute until the TTE discerned that he might have a Siamese twin for the rest of the train journey if he didn’t cough up the goods, and found us three berths to stretch out on! “It must be the never-say-die, large-consumer-goods-sales-spirit,” I sagely informed the awe-struck Grouchy.
Then there were the books Pops carried with him on holiday. These were the kind that most people keep on bookshelves for shelf-improvement – think Kafka, Tolstoy, Camus, Premchand.
If Pops’ sales stint at the large consumer goods firm had taught him on-ground execution, in marketing he’d learnt the importance of checking copy, and never quite forgotten the rules. I remain forever grateful to him for the many times he corrected my song lyrics while I was mid-song. If I broke out into a merry melody during a walk in the hills and warbled ‘rajma’ instead of ‘chane’, even if the result was equally musical Pops would be sure to correct me and insist that I sing exactly the words that the lyricist wrote; he would not accept ‘happiness’ and ‘holiday’ as excuses for sloppy word placement.
Then there were the books Pops carried with him on holiday. These were the kind that most people keep on bookshelves for shelf-improvement – think Kafka, Tolstoy, Camus, Premchand. Pops would not just read these books while on vacation, he would emerge shiny-eyed after a few hours of reading and try to engage us in intellectual discussions. Fortunately, he soon realized that we were unlikely to forego guffawing over Bertie Wooster’s antics or Nanny Ogg’s homespun wit, or ignore the chills running down our spine as we progressed towards discovering whodunit in the thrillers we were carrying. That was when he began giving us progress reports on how many pages he had read during the last few hours. When our reactions weren’t sufficiently adulatory, he switched to tracking our reading efficacy with regular checks of the number of pages we had consumed each evening.“In the last two hours, I have read 150 pages while Grouchy has read only 70 pages, and Zen has taken 30 photos, all blurred.” Score : Pops – 10, Grouchy – 5, Zen – 0. Insanity – 100.
[There is a possibility these data were converted into a daily progress report (with graphs) and filed for future performance evaluations. Possibly senior vacation managers debated the merits of comparing reading speeds across a range of fiction and non-fiction genres and asked for better controls and performance improvement plans. There are no limits to what efficient Management can achieve.]
I may pick up this thread again because I plan to keep traveling. I might even take along Pops to have adequate feedback on time utilization, and Grouchy to verbalize what I may not yet have thought to complain about. And the trio, maybe they’ll negotiate a few paise off the samosas at the train stations and some extra chutney to go with those.