Stories to Stir your Soul...

Privately yours - Santwana Chatterjee

Mr Barat attributed a host of qualities to himself.He thought he was a perfect gentleman- which perhaps he really was; he prided himself for being an excellent judge of human nature , which did not always prove to be right and that he considered himself to have been endowed with an enormous masculine appeal,according to his female colleagues, was the biggest joke on earth.

Mr B N Barat was the Senior Manager of Mackilsons & Magor, originally owned by the British but now looked after by the State and as was the case with most state owned companies it was on the brink of being declared a "sick unit", producing spare parts.

Mr Barat was staring at a leave application that was lying on his desk with apparent distaste. `That lady wants a leave again. What nonsense, leave cannot be sanctioned, not so frequently`.Mr Barat pressed the bell. "Send Ms Sonali in", he howled.

The woman who drifted in looked more like a faded and dehydrated leaf. She had wrapped herself with the 'pallu' of her saree. It was end December and very cold, but as always she was without shawl. How such a frail woman could withstand such cold was a wonder. Mr Barat involuntarily shuddered under his warm tweed coat.

The saree she had borrowed from her second sister-in-law was quite heavy and protected her somewhat from the cold wind of December. Most days she had to borrow sarees from her sisters-in-law (there were three of them) and she was very considerate and careful in selecting the ones that were kept for the laundry and she limited her demands to the bare essentials,foregoing the 'luxury' of warm clothes, much to the relief of her sisters-in-law.

Her daughter's forehead was burning with fever when she had left home for office today. Chinki was only eight years old. Sonali had given her a tablet commonly prescribed for fever and promised, she would return early and take her to the doctor's. She had also promised to take a few days leave from office to be with her child.

Mr Barat did not try to hide his displeasure.

"Ms Roy, you take leave too often for our company's good.Please don't take it otherwise, but don't you agree that ladies should best be looking after their home and children rather than take up positions at offices,thereby displacing some good male candidates, the bread earners of a family? The office needs working hands and not vacant seats.I am sorry I can't grant you any more leave.Please try to understand."

Sonali came back to her seat resigned to her fate. She knew what she would do. She would simply not come to office for the next three days. Not because she had promised her daughter but because she simply couldn't leave an ailing child all alone. `It's very easy to say that a woman should not join office and remain just a housewife,but how could housewives like Sonali, fend for themselves and their children if not by working in an office?

'Bread earner' indeed`, thought Sonali. `So what was she doing;play acting?`

Deeply disturbed Sonali went back to her work. She simply had to finish the pending stuff. She took the petty cash payment ledger and made the entries mechanically with a frown on her small forehead.`These part time sweepers, they are a nuisance`, Sonali mused.`Always after money, putting fictitious bills for cleaning, carrying garbage.` Sonali could distinctly remember there was no garbage on the compound last Monday as the office closed in the morning following the news that Mr Samanta, their Accountant had expired in a road accident. Still Ramdeen had placed a bill for cleaning garbage from the compound on Tuesday.There were a few more bills to be entered in the register,a few vouchers to be made and she thought of sending the register alongwith the vouchers to Mr Avik Sengupta,the Assistant Manager. On second thoughts she herself went to his chamber.She had to get them signed that day itself.

Mr Sengupta was having the usual after lunch long and leisurely chat with Mrs Depali Sinha, a
catchy young lady with a reputation for leaving a string of broken hearts behind her beautiful frame.

Mr Sengupta gave her a wan smile- "Please Sonali why don't you leave them on my table. Err.. I am rather busy?"

Sonali looked at the dump of files, registers and papers on his table waiting to be attended to. "I won't take much of your time. I am sorry Sir, but these must be signed urgently. I can wait..."

Mr Sengupta gave a hurried and cursory glance through the papers and counter signed them. Relieved, Sonali sent the vouchers for payment.

The next two days were a nightmare for her.Chinki's temperature rose beyond normal limits and the child shivered and started talking in delirium.Sonali bathed her daughter repeatedly. She was constantly by her side, bathing her, watching her with anxious eyes,caressing ,feeding whatever little liquid she could consume, and taking temperature measurements at intervals. None of
her in-laws were by her side with a helping hand, as usual, but neither did they disturb her or call her for any household chores; for which Sonali felt immensely grateful.

In her delirium the child cried for her father which made the hapless mother more distraught. Three year ago, Kabir, her husband, simply vanished from their world. He was a draftsman in a
newspaper house. One day he did not reach home. Some of his colleagues said that they saw him near the Howrah station and some of them had even asked him where he was going to which they did not get any straight answer.At first Sonali thought that Kabir must have gone to Bandel, where her elder sister-in-law lived. But a few telephone calls later she was again at her wits end.
Kabir had not been at any place they knew of. For one whole year Sonali waited for him in vain. She still nurtured a faint hope in a corner of her heart that some day Kabir would return.

On Monday Sonali reached office quite early and did not panic when Mr Barat called for her. She decided to show her boss the doctor's prescription as evidence,and so first thing on entering his room she started putting the papers on his table.

Mr Barat brushed them aside saying "No need, no need." and asked her to take a seat which
was rather unusual. Sonali sat on the edge of the chair with a palpitating heart; surely she will not be dismissed for taking unauthorized leave?!

"Sonali, the office owes an explanation from you." He put out a hand to restrain Sonali, who was about to speak. "You have made a grievous mistake in the payment register.Because of you, a sum of Rs.1000/- has been paid in excess to the electricians who placed a bill for Rs.3999/- + Rs.202/- and you have put the total as Rs.5201/- instead of Rs.4201/- and the bill has been duly paid . Sonali take my word for it, if you can't make the electrician deposit the excess amount to the office cashier by tomorrow, I would be constrained to issue a show cause letter to you."

"Sir please, let me explain. Sir I was really very worried about my daughter's health. Sir I am giving you back the money- now, right now. Sir please don't take such an action." said a helpless Sonali.

"Why should 'you' return the money; you have not taken it yourself, nor did you do it 'deliberately'." said Mr. Barat.

Was there a sarcasm hidden behind those words? Sonali could not gauge.

Mr Sengupta spoke in her defense."Sir I can vouch for her, she won't do any such thing. It was just a clerical mistake."

"Well, a costly mistake Mr Sengupta, and the office cannot overlook such carelessness."

Mr. Barat was, after all, not an unkind man but he had a set of fixed outlooks on life. First among them was that women should not be seen in the workplace. Their ideal work arena, according to him, should be confined to their kitchens and if need be they can work in educational institutions at the most.

May be he thought that men being 'men' could take certain liberties, like flirting away their valuable office time inside office premises with their junior colleagues and could even afford to commit mistakes such as the present one by Mr Sengupta who was careless while countersigning important bills and vouchers for payment , but the blame should squarely be put on the weaker shoulders.

Mr Barat did not really intend to take any serious action on the incident if the money was returned safely but he wanted to teach Sonali a lesson. That it is a serious world, this workplace, that proper attention and care should be taken while performing office duty and that she should not have had the audacity to defy his order by staying at home freaking away time that was meant for office work. Men also have families but they cannot afford to neglect office for family.So should be the case with working women. If they cannot take such a stance, they have, according to him, no right to be in this place in the first place.

Sonali by nature was a introvert and fighting continuously with adversities in life had made her doubly so. She never made her private life be known to others and she could hardly recall the last time she shed any tears. But this was a situation where tears were very much needed. Mr Barat, the ultimate word in manliness, always melted before a weeping female. It would suit his male ego in the right place and in the right degree. But this was not the stage, so glycerin won't do.

So Sonali decided that she must do what she had never done before; she must pour out her life's misery before this man. 'Pity',the word that she hated most, was her only resort, for she couldn't afford to lose the job. She couldn't take any chances either for her job had not yet been confirmed.

Mr Barat listened to Sonali's typical tragic life history with a peculiar gleam in his eyes. It seemed to Sonali as if he was mentally licking her wounds and the feeling of suffocation and drowning came back to her.

She stopped midways and hated Kabir like never before for leading her to this unenviable situation,where she was showcasing herself as the wronged woman, abandoned by her husband, neglected and ill-treated by the world in general, just to arouse pity in strangers,to get a 'favour' she actually deserved.

'Why is it that when husbands leave their wives, they take away their dignity with them?'

Mrs Santwana Chatterjee

A166 Lake Gardens
Kolkata 700045
Ph: 2422-3170



At 6:21 AM, Anonymous nitin said...

a really touching piece. kudos to u.

At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dont believe such gender biases exist today. not at least in the IT industry where I work. (But then maybe I have been plain lucky to have know only the "right" kinda people.)

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous hear me! said...

too gross!!! and forcibly sentimental.

At 12:05 AM, Blogger arundhoti said...

The last sentence is really infuriating! I mean, to permit another human to take control of one's "dignity" is such a sickening thought!

At 2:19 AM, Blogger sumandatta said...

well sickening thought or not, even i hav resorted to such tactics like feigning a hurt leg to arouse sympathy in others so tht they might overlook my errors. Maybe thts not in the same league as this story, but it amounts to the same and it does entail a loss of dignity- thought "that" varies on a person's notion.

but then all said and done, it's the end tht matters- i would hav done anything to keep a job if tht was the only means of keeping my family alive- and i find nothing infuriating in tht.

At 3:57 AM, Anonymous Santwana Chatterjee said...

. It is truely disgusting and degrading- but then that is life.


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