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Both came from small towns, Durgapur and Lucknow respectively, and both placed their career chart much above the marriage kundli and the ‘chattis gun’.
7th August 2018
“Naina, come on in. Congratulations. How does it feel? I am so happy for you. You deserve every bit of it” said Chandana, the 42-year-old, Director, Marketing, Xerox India, rising from her seat, hugging Naina as she entered her room. “You are the Virat Kohli of my team,” she added patting Naina’s back and pulling a chair for her.
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The Xerox India corporate office on 19th floor of DLF Square, Gurgaon was in celebration frenzy despite the gelid wind of January.
The year had closed well with a record growth. Two days before the kick off, the promotion list was out, and the Sales and Marketing team were euphoric over their accomplishment. Andrew Storne, the MD had been jubilant, and had convened a leadership meeting at noon to announce the name of employees who had been selected for the Winners League going to the Bahamas. Chandana spearheaded the Marketing Team, and Naina was not only the best in her team but also a good friend.
Naina, draped in a soft pink formal skirt with an off white blouse and beige stilettoes sat on the chair, biting her lips, her eyes wavering everywhere except contacting Chandana’s.
“Chandana, I need to talk about something. Is it a good time or are you rushing for some meeting?” asked Naina, clutching her iPhone in one hand and promotion letter in the other.
“Sure. TGIF today, and the calendar looks relaxed. I have a leadership meeting at 12 pm. Would you like some coffee? I will call for the Darbar ji to get some. Hang in, let me look out for him.” Chandana opened the glass door and left the room, leaving Naina in company of solitude and her thoughts.
Naina placed her phone and two envelopes on the glass table. It felt icy cold and gave her skin goosebumps. She slid open the letter that lay a bit crumpled in her hand.
Date: 5th January, 2018
At the outset, on behalf of Xerox India, let me thank you for being part of this wonderful team. The long hours that you put into work and the professionalism that you exhibited have been exemplary. Last year was a tremendous success as we posted an envious growth of 83%. I can’t thank you enough for your loyalty, commitment, dedication and hard-work. As part of our annual appraisal, it gives me immense pleasure to convey that you have been promoted as General Manager, Marketing. Under this you would be leading the Marketing team nationally for the organization. Please find enclosed your revised compensation for the year 2018.
We respect your long-standing association with Xerox and look forward to your continued support. Together we grow, together we shine.
(Director- Sales & Marketing)
It had been a fast track sprint for Naina ever since she got campus placed at Xerox India. An IIM Lucknow graduate, Naina had climbed the ladder of the corporate faster than many of her batchmates. A Management Trainee 8 years back and now General Manager, National Head HR was an envious growth.
Chandana had been instrumental in her success too. She had replaced her previous manager Sunil Makhija some 5 years ago, and to their delight they found they had the biggest thing common in them – the thirst to break the glass ceiling, to be the next Indra Nooyi, to be on the Forbes List of top 10 business women leaders. Chandana in her early forties and Naina in her early thirties, the former with her experience and the latter with her enthusiasm made a terrific combination along with others, and the back to back promotion was a result of this amazing partnership. Both came from small towns, Durgapur and Lucknow respectively, and both placed their career chart much above the marriage kundli and the ‘chattis gun’. They had the qualification, knowledge, skill, age, and appetite; all the ingredient to cook a perfect high-flying career, until today when Naina received her promotion letter.
Chandana entered the room, with Darbar ji carrying two cups of filter coffee in the tray.
“Yes, Naina. What‘s up? Where is the party?” asked Chandana, sipping the warmth no sooner Darbar Ji had left.
“Chandana, I have something for you. I am not sure how to put it the ‘right way’ so I will keep it straight. The long and short of my talk is – I have decided to resign. If I can be relieved tomorrow, I would be great,” said Naina in one breath.
“Hahaha, Naina, you’re already high. Ahaa…”
“Here is my resignation letter,” interrupted Naina. She pulled a white envelope from underneath her promotion letter and slid it towards Chandana. “I have also sent an email to you,” she added.
“Is this some kind of a joke?”
“No, just a reality.”
“But why? I mean, really? I mean…Gosh, I hope I am dreaming. Pinch me.” Chandana stammered, her voice a mélange of shock, discomfort and a bit of hurt.
“No dreams Chandana, just some bare truth. I know how uncomfortable all this is for you. I wish I had a better choice of words, time, space to put across this news in a way so that it hurts less, but I don’t have any.” Naina kept her voice steady trying not to reveal the earthquake within her.
“But why Naina? You are doing so good. I mean enviously good…great position, great perks, great salary, great team, great organizations. What more do you want?”
Naina paused for a moment, looked at the Buddha painting hung behind the chair and murmured—-“Life.”
“Wait, hang on, let me get this. Do you mean all this is not making you happy?”
“This is just living, and it is not enough,” Naina answered, her eyes wistful, and her voice lifeless. She had never sounded so despondent, so lost and so unsure to Chandana ever.
“Living? Life? What is wrong with you? Did you attend some art of living class? Some Sadhguru type workshop. I don’t remember… did you?”
“No, I mean, the Naina I know, is a winner, a vanquisher. How can you sound so…”
“Defeated?” Naina raised her eyebrows and tried completing the sentence.
“I don’t know but this is not the Naina I know.”
“I am not defeated Chandana, just lost. Just how do I explain what went amiss? For the past six months, ever since Baba expired, I have had this subtle yet nagging feeling of being out of place, not fitting in, knowing that the place I inhabit is not where I belong, that I am not happy. You know Chandana, the idea of mortality hits you when you lose someone very dear to you and you wonder- is that all is to life? And if it is, then I better do something more meaningful, live it purposefully and not just ‘keep living’.
“What’s the diff Naina? I understand your pain. But people make a living because it is important to live life.”
“I am making more than a living Chandana. it’s just that I find it all meaningless… an emptiness where I am all about numbers, targets, awards, promotions, pay package, a kind of excess which is making me unhappy. I think I am missing out on life?”
“And what exactly is that?”
“I am not sure; can’t put my finger on it and say- this is it, but I know that the abundance that I have is not making me happy. It doesn’t give me joy.”
“Huh. The benefits of having it all.”
“May be. I want to see what happens when I lose it.”
“Lose it? You are not joining somewhere else?”
“What? You scare me young lady. Don’t wander off to the Himalayas. This is real world and we are real people with real needs. We are blessed to be amongst the few who have a high paying job, high rise apartment and high-class life.”
“That is not life.”
“And what is the ‘life’ you are talking about? What came thundering down from the heavens?”
“I told you, I am not sure. I have been feeling trapped for some time now… trapped by this constant desire to compete, trying to prove, validate, to please, appease, pacify, to belong, to be accepted, to be liked, to be everywhere except with my own self. My fear is consuming me because I have so much to lose – name, fame, status, money and all that comes along with it.”
Chandana eyelids blinked but her gaze remained steady as if trying to decipher Naina’s mumbo jumbo.
“And you know what?” Naina continued, “I am tired now. I want to just be myself, without the pressure of ‘who I should be’.
“Is this not what you are, what you want? You slogged to get a premium college degree, this organization, awards and recognition. Was this not you all along?”
“Chandana, that was me, this is me. The 23-year-old IIM pass out Naina had notions of happiness which this Naina decoded wasn’t happiness. I want to go beyond ‘ME’. I don’t know where I am coming from and where I am going. Sometimes, we are more caught up in what we are called, the labels, than how we are called to serve, to contribute.”
“You can do that while making your living.”
“This ‘living’ business is too stingy, calculative and logical. It won’t give me peace. I tried.”
“So, you want to blow up your money?”
“As of now, I intend to travel to the village to which my father belonged to. I need purpose and meaning, and I am a pauper on both fronts right now.”
“And when you lose all your savings in finding the big purpose, call me. If I have a spot, I will be the first person to recruit you.” Chandana tried not to sound cynical.
“You are not getting it Chandana. I need money, I need money to live… but living is not enough to carry on with life. I need something more and I will get that only when I start looking beyond myself.”
Silence enveloped the cabin for few minutes interrupted only by e-mail alerts. Naina kept her gaze lowered while her heart played dynamite within her chest. Chandana kept her eyes focused on Naina, surprised and awed at the same time. Such courage is rare, and she had someone taking a big leap of faith, ready to toss it all.
“You baffle me. I guess I am not able to understand what you yourself are still figuring out. You sure? Have you thought through this?”
“Never been surer.”
“Anyway, when do you want to be relieved? I could waive off your notice period.”
“Tomorrow would be difficult. How about a week‘s time? You need to go through the handing over, knowledge transition, and HR formalities.”
“Hmm. Sure. Thanks, Chandana.”
“You are welcome Naina. I wish you all the best.”
As Naina rose to leave that Chandana called her from behind, “and when you find the LIFE you are looking for, do call me. I would be happy for you and your LIFE.”
Naina smiled, “sure.”
The glass door closed with a soft thud. It was 12:00 pm and the laptop reminder for the leadership meeting started blinking.
Chandana opened the innermost zip of her handbag and took out a deep brown dairy. Taking a deep breath, she turned the pages, her heart racing fast, surprised at the coincidence.
6th August 2018, 10:30pm
“Why do I feel so empty? I am at the top of my career; this is what I had wanted all my life, then why is this living not enough? I feel like running away from all this but don’t know how and where? Guess I don’t have the courage. The comfort of the known is a great one. But I know for sure… this living is not enough. There is something more to LIFE …it will come at a cost. I am waiting to take that step. Show me some light- Chandana.”
This story had been shortlisted for the August 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image Courtesy – Pixabay
The Homecoming [#Shortlisted]
Dowry… Or No? [#ShortStory]
The Best Birthday Gift (Short Story)
It Is No One’s Choice But Yours
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