In this article I offer a personal incident. There is a part of me, which in Hogan language would be described as ‘Bold’. Incidentally, it is a derailer, and often reveals itself under boredom or stress. Its sub components are entitled, over-confidence and fantasized talent.
An incident of Bold…
Jacob Joseph (name changed) met me first who headed recruitment. He smoked while interviewing me and on an impulse I asked if I could ‘bum a cigarette too’. Later, many years later JJ confessed he was quite stuck with my boldness. Never had a candidate ever smoked at the interview let alone asking for a cigarette.
Later that afternoon, I was asked to appear before a three members of the Executive Board. They grilled me on many things and finally the conversation veered off to Industrial Relations. I remember one of them asking me, about an explosive IR situation developing and what section of which Industrial Labour Act was being violated. I shared that I was unsure of which section but would I be in such a situation I would check it out by consulting a well-known book, on the subject. To this response, someone challenged me, ‘does that mean you don’t know the section that will help resolve this problem?”. ‘Sir, I replied, I don’t know the section for sure, but I am quite sure, that knowing the section itself while I have this emerging crisis will not defuse the matter”. Someone said, ‘You don’t know Hindi, and I replied, “I understand it well, speak it hesitantly. I am sure I will get along fine”. I did get the job though, even though I had no Industrial Relations experience before. When I got back to Delhi, I shared with my spouse that we would be moving to Chhindwara. We had no idea where it was, and I had to find it on a map to show her the place.
My stint at the Factory – Chhindwara
I remember the flight to Nagpur and then the onward journey to Chhindwara entering the state of MP. As the car drove deeper along the three hour drive the road got narrower, as it entered into the woody regions. Each kilometre took me into more unfamiliar terrain, to a district life as I reconciled to leaving the hustle of a city life. I remember showing up at work in a blazer to the surprise of all. Mr. Dave (name changed) was the factory manager and he took pains to show me around. He spent the maximum time explaining to me the garden and different type of grass. I was brand new to Industrial Relations and wondered how I would handle the union. Then one day we had a union meeting and I saw Mr. Dave being very firm and forthright with the union: he stated clearly what he would do and what he would not do. I loved his courage and his outright authenticity.
Once a few union leaders came to see me in my office. Uncharacteristically, and unusually for them, I offered them tea and chatted with them, and passionately committed to ‘doing the right thing by them and for the company’. In my tone, they must have sensed my that I was a green horn, through and through. I was soon to realise the test they put me through.
The next day, I heard a commotion in the administrative block: a group of men were arguing with the Canteen Supervisor about the samosas served in the canteen. When they saw me they came to my cabin and showed me the samosa in which they had discovered a cockroach inside. I admit I was shocked and stated so. I heard some of them giggle (and I thought then that that was an unusual response). I managed to placate them, especially the Union Leader, who seemed to be the one most dramatic and affected. He seemed to be enjoying the spectacle he was creating and the response of being placated by me. I must admit that I appeared very defensive and was clearly at a loss of how to deal with this sudden crisis. The crowd vanished after a while, satisfied with the furore they had created. Many observers in the administrative block saw me flummoxed and clearly out of my depth. Honestly, I felt so stupid and I wondered if I would ever be able to control and influence this union and their leaders. When the crowd vanished I sat back in my cabin and summoned the canteen contractor to investigate. He then explained to me that this was a usual ploy with the union leaders and they often did this mischief especially with new managers who came to work here. I weakly protested that I had indeed seen a cockroach. He squeezed out the alleged cockroach and pressed its belly. Mushy white liquid flowed out easily and he explained to me that the cockroach was ‘inserted into the samosa’ and not cooked with it. Had it been cooked, it would have been crisp and fried. It then began to dawn on me that this was a show of strength. My moment to exert myself or lose the plot right away. Something needed to be done, and quick. I was so angry, upset and felt cuckolded by the union leader.
A scene from a movie, Zanjeer, flashed in my mind. I saw myself like Amitabh insulted and humiliated by Pran at the police station. Then Amitabh goes to Pran’s locality in plainclothes to settle the score. In a flash I realised that the issue was just between me and the union leader; it would make matters worse for us both if I was to enlarge the issue to the union.
That evening at 5 pm, almost at the end of the day for me, I walked across to the shop floor, and at the packing machine was Amar Singh (name changed) and he saw me and wickedly smiled. I asked him to meet me alone at the Supervisor’s Cabin a few meters away.
I remember us standing facing each other as I asked him to explain the incident earlier, my suspicion that the whole incident was fabricated and with just one intention: to have fun at my expense. He protested at first, but then as he saw me staring down at him, he thought otherwise, and just smiled. That’s it, I thought, he finally admitted it. I wanted to be doubly sure. I said he had done this before too. He smiled again and said nonchalantly, ‘It is just a joke, forget it’.
Then I gave a speech of my life, which even surprised me. I told him that I had come to do a job, and I was not going to be insulted as a person. We both needed each other: A union leader to act on behalf of his team, and a company representative to act on behalf of management. In this, we both needed to be professional. Without thinking, I personalised it: I warned him, that he got attention only because I gave him attention, and if he misbehaved I would deny attention to him. Somebody else, would get the attention to act as leader. Finally, I warned him that the young hot blood that was coursing through his vein also ran strongly in mine. I would not tolerate personal attacks. He needs to remember that. Then I walked out of the cabin. Huffing and all, frightened and relieved at the same time.
Once I got out of the factory gate, I experienced myself breaking out into a cold sweat, legs trembling incessantly. I could not imagine I could muster the courage to say what I said. I was lead to believe that union leaders are to be feared, and handled diplomatically, and one must never lose one’s cool. But today, I had abandoned all caution to the wind, and had let fly. And I felt so elated. I finally showed up with courage though I quaked inside. Things got so much better after that. The union leader was careful whenever he approached me. That moment for me, was a personal break through, cutting my teeth as a green horn.
I am sure each of you may have had moments of ‘boldness’. Would you like to share what this story has triggered in you?