May 25, 2013

THE GIRL NEXT DESK

Prelude:

Most of you guys might have a girl next desk in your office. But how much does she influence your daily routine?

Tomorrow (the 26th of May 2013), some of my friends would be giving their Civil Services examinations. The protagonist of this story (The girl next desk) as also one of my closest friends named Deepa and my buddy Damodaran (who already had tasted success in one stage of this prestigious examination) are some of them giving it this time. I know you have it in you to crack it. My sincere wishes for you guys.


Another friend and classmate of mine was successful in securing an $80000 p.a. internship at Shell as a Geoinformation Analyst which sounds super cool than a normal IT job offer in the US. I derive this vicarious joy of the success, because when I say to someone that “GIS has an incredible scope”, I know it’s true. 


I congratulate all my classmates who are graduating this year from prestigious universities like University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, University of Michigan Ann Arbor and Nagoya Institute of Technology (Japan). In particular, I'd like to congratulate Aishwarya, who has started her PhD work too. 


Also my heartful wishes to Balachander, Vijaya and Sambath for cracking the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS) Exams and for entering into the exciting career of becoming financial managers. 


And another of my classmate is entering the IIMs. Of course, that comes as no surprise. I prophesied that she would, at least three years ago.
Kudos to you all guys! Really proud of you.


The Story:

Delhi is five times as far from Chennai as it is from China; the Euclidean distance to the nearest Chinese border from Delhi is just above 360 km. So you could understand how a Madrasi (as a ‘South Indian’ is popularly known as elsewhere in India) like me; that too a proper Madrasi with his house at Madras (present Chennai) would feel like, staying in the national capital for more than one year. I survived a 2 degree low winter and a 47 degree Celsius hot summer there. Not to mention that I was deprived of staple food items such as Idli, Dosa or coconut chutney (added with fried curry leaves and mustard). If not for the cherubic Subashini (or ‘Suba akka’ as I would call her), my life would have been drab at Delhi.           

But this didn’t go on for long. During the summer of 2012, I was transferred to Mumbai. Again, Chennai was farther from Mumbai than Karachi was from it. My only point about dragging Karachi and China into the picture is to show that the Mumbai transfer didn’t make much of a difference in terms of travelling time to my home. I still had to eke out my half-month salary to make an urgent round trip from Mumbai to home. Also my first day in Mumbai was legendary – the day I landed in Mumbai, Bal Thackeray was no more. For those who didn’t know B.Thackeray, he was like the Vito Corleone of Mumbai. And thanks to his demise; anything that had wheels did not run. Anything which had doors was not open. But some things got better as I came to Mumbai. One thing is that my dark complexion didn’t render me a Madrasi by default.  I can be a Marathi too, if I chose to shut my mouth. Also, even in December, the average daytime temperature was 30 (plus or minus 1 deg C), which was in no way indicative of the winters. But a breeze-laden moderately sunny 30 degrees is perfectly fine for a Madrasi.  And God! A plate of Medhu vada soaked in the delicious sambaar topped with coconut chutney (yeah, added with fried curry leaves and mustard!) cost me just Rs.10 almost anywhere in Mumbai. Not that the Aloo Tikki from Delhi is anything less tasty, but man, you got to bow down to the Medhu Vada- Sambar-Thenga chutney combo.

Mumbai has many epithets – the financial capital of India, the city of dreams, the Bollywood city, among others and more recently (and increasingly) - the terrorists’ target city. But I prefer to choose an epithet – the city of life. Coz Mumbai’s where you can see life in action. This is a city which teaches you that ‘life moves on’ despite the terrorist attacks, despite the excruciating traffic, and despite the pervasive chaos. It’s said that life moves fast in Mumbai – such that years roll like days. Hardly had I stayed there for four months, when I got my next transfer to Bangalore (or Bengaluru).  That was too short time for feeling nostalgic about Mumbai. So this post isn’t about how I miss Mumbai, rather about my next work location – Bengaluru. Of course I miss the Vada Pav and the wonderful people I met there, especially my brother, Shankara Raja; Ashwini, the person who provided me lunch on the day when Bal Thackeray died (even the hotel where I stayed denied me food that day); and awesome friends like Poonam (who by a very young age, completed her masters and went on to do a PhD at IISc, but returned to professional workforce after an year and gained 2+ years of experience; and she’s just about my age).

And things fell in place when I finally settled down at Bangalore. My closest buddy from college, Delvin stays here. I get to stay with him in a duplex in the adorable ambience of Silicon Concorde Valley in Electronic City. Our enclave has lush green spaces, gymnasiums and cricket courts. And more remarkably, we have a cook to cook us food and a washing machine to dump my dirty apparels. (God, how I hated washing clothes with hand) My present office is just a 15 minute ride in a point-to-point bus. And the funny part is my direct manager doesn’t sit here. He is sitting in his Singapore office and my delivery head at the Delhi office. After the first day introductions at office, it was time to get introduced to the girl next desk. Actually we didn’t need introductions. Because she’s my undergrad classmate, colleague, and presently, the girl next desk.



I didn’t inform her of my transfer to B’lore, as I doubted whether she might apply for a transfer if she knew about my arrival. But the fact is that she got the news through our common friends. I’m happy that, she still chose to stay at B’lore despite the piece of intelligence she received. After briefing me about the TO-DOs and the DON NOT DOs of the Bangalore office (things like you can’t bring coffee to your desk and things like how many weeks I’ve to wait before getting required software installed), we went to work. At coffee break, she introduced me to other Tamil friends in the office like Deva (I used to reckon him as Devasura meaning God-Demon) and Ajey. Devasura was a cool handsome guy from a Geological background and Ajay is a humorous and intelligent dude from Civil Engineering background. Commensurate with the bro-code, Devasura pointed out the desk-locations and spelled out the names of the pretty ones among the young ladies in the ODC. But he also added that almost all of them are engaged, married or taken, making the previous piece of info unusable. So our recent discussions deviated to things like amalgamation of GIS with Geology for 3D subsurface exploration mapping and such stuff.


After the coffee, we would return to our desks. The girl next desk was browsing some current affairs website for about 10 minutes before starting to code for the 4G project from Singapore as well for the Karnataka Forest web application.


“Hey, you know one thing. Y.V. Reddy is set to head the 14th Finance Commission”, she alerted me.


We both were giving an exam in the banking sector in two weeks from then.  And we had hardly started preparing for it.


“There’s a pattern to the kind of questions they ask.” she added. “If you see the last three sets of question paper there are 12-13 questions from economics, 12 from Current affairs, 13 plus or minus 1 question from Computers/IT and 13 from Marketing in the General Awareness section alone.” Saying this, she opened a website and said, “This website gives a detailed blueprint of the questions asked over years, categorizing it into the respective field and citing materials from which the portion could be studied.”


I was like “Wow! With this kind of blueprint, you can easily crack the exam with one-month prep”. I too have googled two months ago for similar material and then dropped my effort. So I was wondering how she perfectly stumbled across the right material from a deluge of dump out there in the internet.


“It seems to be very useful for anyone giving the exam”, I said.

“In that case, we can put these links in a Google Drive folder and share the file to whoever needs it”.

And so a Google Drive folder replete with resources for any competitive exam evolved with 85% contribution from the girl next desk alone. And we shared it with at least 10 others.

So every other day, she’d come up with filtered little comprehensible bits of info on the budget, 5 year plans, economy, markets, beauty pageant winners, F1 winners, etc.


During lunch, we would join Ramya if Devasura is not in office. Ramya was married recently and one could expect some familial trivia from her. Sometimes, the stories of the Mainframe programmer gets interesting as she reveals her little scuffles with her hubby. Her hubby also possesses this awesome talent of downloading the latest movies within 24-hours of its release, from Torrents. I mean I appreciate that, since I’m bad at doing. Even when I need to see a movie badly, I still rely upon YouTube or my roommates. So I have this great opportunity to listen to all those stories of the newly released movies from Ramya.


Oh, I forgot to explain the geographic advantage of being in Bangalore. It’s equidistant, from my hometown, which is Palakkad and as well as from my home, which is at Chennai; it’s just a 5-6 hour drive to both the places. And a round trip journey to Chennai in a sleeper class train doesn't cost me even a half-day salary. And guess who my travel consultant would be? A frequent traveller, she would give prompt consultation on which mode of transport to choose and the most efficient and hassle-free way to get a ticket booked to travel from Bangalore to Chennai and vice-versa. If you need a train ticket for Friday evening, she knew that the best time to book it would be exactly at 11 o'clock the previous day morning (taking into account the unreachable IRCTC server during the one hour window after 10 o'clock when Tatkal quota ticket booking opens). She knew that a GKWL (General waiting list) < 20 is equivalent to a confirmed ticket. She knows the advantage of boarding a train at Yeshwantpur railway station rather than from the Bangalore Junction sometimes. She knows that a waiting list of 30 in a point-to point train is better than a waiting list of 20 in Guwahati Express. And if cost is your priority, she’d suggest you to take a ride to Hosur and then board a bus from there to Chennai, which could easily save you 100 rupees.  Karnataka State Road Transport Corp (KSRTC) buses are more comfortable, but a wee bit costly and be prepared to settle down for the last row seats if you book late in it. Whereas Tamil Nadu State Transport Corp (TNSTC) buses are cheaper, but you’ve to put up with the immovable window panes. She also warned that a long bus trip such as to Mumbai, even in the KSRTC’s semi-sleeper Multi-axle VOLVO bus would cause a 24 hour inflammation to the legs for a person like me who’s not used to bus travel. And yeah, I walked with inflammatory legs for a day. And if everything else fails, she would suggest that a Rs. 1000 air-ticket to Chennai would still be fine bet.

“Have you seen awesome this movie?” or “Did you happen to read that novel?” would be the regular format of our conversation during the 4.45p.m coffee break. Wait, a minute. Why is she taking just half a cup of whatever beverage she is taking? Be it black tea, or filter coffee or milked tea, 70 ml is her measure. I used to wonder why, but I never asked. Surely, there’s no reason she’d be following a diet plan; coz she’s already lean, though not much, but yeah she is. So during one such coffee time, I was querying whether she’s watched some 4 particular English movies that I've watched. I got a negative response for each. Then just to give a climactic punch, I asked with surprise, “You haven’t watched any of these!?” in a tone which meant something like, “You missed it dude :(.”  Calm, unruffled, she replied, “ You've not watched ‘Dead poets Society’, have you?” in a tone which sounded like, “You missed something more, bozo!” I knew the story of ‘Dead Poets Society’. It was adapted into a Malayalam movie without distorting the beauty of the original story much, I believe. But I’m yet to watch the original movie in English which is said to be a classic.


“An android phone without an internet connection! Can you believe that?” I sighed. I got an AIRCEL SIM in Bangalore and topped it up for a 3G internet net package. I got a confirmation message for the same. I got my mobile configured for the new internet settings. Even after two days of doing these, I still couldn’t access internet or any applications running with an internet connection. After five calls to the customer care proved fruitless, I made the above statement. I was even considering buying a new SIM. The girl next desk asked me what the problem and I explained her. Listening to me, she turned towards her screen. Seems, she was working on a deadline, so didn’t bother her further telling my stupid problem with net connectivity. Within a minute, she showed a Google search page detailing the Aircel proxy name to be set in case of a problem with AIRCEL connectivity. I thought to myself, “As if changing the proxy name could solve a problem which even the AIRCEL customer care executives couldn't fix.” At the same time, I did change the proxy name to see if it made a damn difference. For a millisecond nothing happened.  I looked up to the ceiling in despair. Suddenly, I heard the Whatsapp message tone. Then came the next tone indicating the net connection has been restored in my mobile. With wide open eyes, I looked at her. I saw a momentary halo around her head.


With a restrained smile, she quipped, “It’s the first search result on Google.”


She’s sometimes my socialist guide. I remember she once saying,

“We should only earn enough to satisfy our basic needs; but we should make sure we’re pursuing our passion, where money would take a backstage.” Her socialist bent of mind is well evident from her recent display of interest in starting a e-magazine highlighting the social causes using geospatial technology, such as using  ‘deprivation  maps’ or a ‘geopolitics-poverty regression map’ to portray a bigger picture. It seems that Sainath, a socialist writer from ‘The Hindu’ is her inspiration. Nevertheless, her pedigree has its own influence on her. Her brother quit a plum job in corporate sector to study Master of Philosophy in Political Science. And her family had been sheltering and taking care of a person for the past 40 years (I guess), who had run away from his home in his late teens. But the way she put it was that the person took care of her and her family for all these years. I thought that that kind of attitude is just noble and something to be cultivated.

She’s not a great fan of my crazy creative designs, I guess. Our cafeteria wall is full of paintings by small children of our company staff. So when I got two color wall marker pens, I went near the coffee vending machine and drew something like this.




After seeing it for two days during the coffee break, she said
Yaarum paakala” (No one’s seeing that).

A 15 minute coffee break is not enough to come to conclusion like that, but she’s statistics major during her higher secondary; so she might be right about taking 15 minutes as the representative sample interval which could be used to estimate the total value. But my point is that I don’t create such things so that others would like it or see any value in it. Of course, I’m just an amateur in creative art and in writing. There’s no assurance that it would be great. I just do it for the joy of creation. 

But for a true artist, the major take-away in creating something is the joy of creation itself. The other things such as recognition and appreciation are secondary. And monetary benefits are sometimes but annihilators. I believe every human being should express themselves to the fullest, in whatever form he chooses. I’m not that great at spoken word as I don’t possess a glib tongue; but I’m fairly good at the written word and sometimes at the expressing abstract ideas as art designs and sometimes as maps. So expressing oneself shouldn't considered as ‘not being modest’ unless it hits someone else’s ego. I believe that it’s perfectly great to say that, “I’m getting better at this stuff” but it’s flagrantly bad to say, “I’m getting better than him”. Nevertheless, I have a lesson or two to learn in humility from the girl-next-desk.

On the day of the bank exam, I opened the cover; went directly to the dreaded General awareness section. Question #2 was,
“Who is the chairman of the 14th finance commission?”

Thank you Archana, for letting me know that Y.V. Reddy is the answer for the above question. I also owe you for getting me familiar with at least twenty-five other questions that appeared in the General Awareness Section in that question paper that day. I also owe you for being my socialist and humility guide, for restoring my mobile internet, for being my colleague, coffee-friend and sometimes my lunch-mate  for being my Bangalore-Chennai travel consultant, for sharing the same passion for GIS as I do, for being the co-editor of our upcoming magazine, and most of all for being THE GIRL NEXT DESK.  





14 comments:

  1. Hello There. I discovered your weblog using msn.

    That is an extremely smartly written article. I'll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read extra of your helpful information. Thanks for the post. I'll certainly return.

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  2. Replies
    1. Nice seeing you here JS.. And thank you for reading :)

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  3. "the major take-away in creating something is the joy of creation itself", wow! how true! Thanks for the wishes! nice read , had fun :)

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    1. Thanks Aish! And all the best with ur PhD work!!

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  4. This was almost like a live update of what's happening with everyone... Great piece of Writing!!

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    1. Thank you Gayathri. How are you doin these days? No news frm u..

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  5. And now the girl next desk appears amazing for me

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  6. Wonderful JK!! I am sure you are going to win the whole world with your "written word" :)

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    1. Thank you for your generous wishes! And thank you for taking the time to read :)

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