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It was my dream job, but what happened was nothing short of a nightmare, from which, happily, I woke up unscathed. Yes, I was sexually harassed at work.
I always dreamt about being a corporate honcho in a global organization with people reporting to me. As a little girl I was good in studies and always brought home good scores. On completion of my post graduation in Physics I received an interview call letter from a multinational in a metro. I was still confused if I should leave my small town and run to the mega city, when my parents said that I should go and that I should also learn to be independent.
“But Dad I am only twenty four and alone, it sounds daunting to me” I told my father who was my support.
“Are you going to take your bike out only when all the signals are green? Or will you take that bike and ride on that road where the signals can turn red, orange and green?” My father replied, and I understood what he meant. Mother was a little sceptical, and asked my father if she could join me. “There is no short cut to be independent,” said my father. “She has been under our care so many years, and now it is her turn she faces the world alone.”
I landed in Delhi and took a local cabbie to go to a decent hotel where the prices were reasonable. The company had said they will pay for my tickets and accommodation, but I took extra precaution lest they don’t select me for spending too much on travel, food and lodging.
The next day I reached the office much ahead of my interview schedule. I sat there watching the employees come in in groups and ones. And then I saw him. A man in his fifties with a salt and pepper stubble, and a genial smile on his face. Well defined cheek bones with Titan’s shoulders smiling at me he said, “Before time, well appreciated. I prefer people who are sincere and punctual. Relax and have a coffee, and we will call you soon.”
It was while I was fixing a cup of coffee for myself that a thought crossed my mind: how did he know I was sincere? Punctual I understand. But sincere? He has just met me and he knows this about me? This is the only reason, I thought, that I want to rise in the ladder of success. All corporate people can understand everything before you can spell out anything about you.
There were five rounds of the gruelling interview, and the final interview was conducted by him. I came to know he was the one who heads the department. The interview session was a mixed bag and I left the venue thinking I might get rejected. I was on my way out when my cell rang; it was from him asking me to come back. I was elated; I knew I had got the dream job which I always wanted. I was handed my offer letter and was asked to join within two days.
My adrenaline was pumping so high that I could barely walk. So I took a cab back to my hotel, and immediately called up my parents to give them the good news – I had bagged the job, and with a fairly good pay packet too! The next two days was a whirlwind of shopping, when I went on a shopping spree – I was behaving like a kid at the grand old age of 24, and not like a spendthrift that I should be now.
I reported to my work exactly at 9 in the morning. He was also there; he smiled again and said “So on time again young lady, let’s start with work, I appreciate people who are punctual.” He explained what I needed to do, and also told me that I will need to go to their factory for the orientation.
I was about to sent an email to HR to book my train ticket when he said he would also accompany me. “But sir I will be going in a train,” I said somewhat stunned. “Who said so? We will take a flight together. I have approved the sanction myself and no one will question me; that is the advantage of being powerful,” he winked.
That word POWER was so alluring that I neglected the fact that it was a bait. I must have been out of my mind to believe he thought me wonderful, and also approved my travel, that too in business class along with him. It was during the flight when I was sitting next to him that the crew of the aircraft handed me juice and I spilled it on my dress. I was trying to mop it up when he said, “Don’t worry guest house has a laundry facility and they will clean it.” So back in my head I thought like an idiot that this is POWER. Even my dresses will be done under his instructions, whereas as per rules laundry was applicable for all the employees.
The training lasted for seven days and all the seven days he stayed with me though he did do much work except for shouting at juniors and asking them to make reports for him. On the last day of the training while we were returning back, rubbing his unshaven cheeks he casually said, “I enjoyed your company. It’s been a decade that I am single and it feels good to be in a company of a woman who is so young and so full of vigor”.
While he was actually flirting with me, I was aware of the fact he was elder to me by three decades. He was mature and smart enough to understand me, as he knew how desperately I was keen on the job for which I had left my small city and moved to this mega city, all alone.
I asked him, “Why are you alone? What about your family?” I should have been cautious enough to stick to professional ethics rather than poking my nose in someone else’s personal life.
“Ah! You see I had been married thrice, but it didn’t last long. I cannot handle all demands and nagging of women. I can be a good boyfriend but I think being a husband is not my cup of tea,” he remarked. “Now you are twenty four and you look so beautiful – I am just thinking how appealing you must have been when you were in your teens.” I was shocked, this man was my boss and was appreciating my looks, when should be appreciating my hard work and the results I achieved. But I kept quiet, thinking he was powerful and could destroy me, whereas the truth is that I could have given it back to him equally. I guess I was suffering from low self esteem. How else did the man dare to talk to me like this?
Now that two hours travel in the air with him appeared a Herculean task to me. This man continued, “We men never age. See, I am 54, but no one can make it out. I run ten kilometers every morning, then gym [….] how about you, how do you start your day, and how do you maintain yourself so well? I am impressed.”
I should have ignored this foolish question as this man was crossing his limits, but still I said, “I wake up, fix myself a cup of tea and then watch the sky, the nature…” He stopped me and said, “That’s bad; you should be starting the day as I do, run and then do exercises…” Now I stopped him and said “That’s not my cup of tea, I will do whatever I like and whatever my heart says”.
I could no longer tolerate his airing of wisdom like my grandfather while trying to flirt with me. I could see his pot belly, so that means this man is trying to impress me and teach me life lessons which he even doesn’t follow. That answer of mine angered him to such an extent that he kept silent for the next one hour, which actually scared me. He was my boss and I should have listened to his share of bull shit sagacity rather than opposing his views. But then again I was tired of him sounding so condescending! Let it be, I thought, let him keep his mouth shut and go to sleep. He actually fell asleep with the newspaper folded on his paunch.
Next few months things at my work were equally challenging. This man constantly tried to attract attention and if I wouldn’t he would start complaining how filthy I had been at work. The major blow came when he asked me to start a relationship with him and also clarifying that he will love me with no strings attached. It’s just been a few months and he is trying to spark a fire with his crease lines and wrinkles. Also I never liked his attitude; he was egoistic, rude and demanding. I felt like injecting some Botox injections in his wrinkles to smoothen his skin.
Did he confuse me with a fool, that I will date a man triple my age? Who at times spoke like my uncle? Grandfather would be better to name him. He had already anchored himself with rules and regulations and I need to conform to his rules, else a fight may break out or he may choose to throw my reports away.
I was gradually losing my confidence and could no longer keep quiet. I called my father in the night and explained to him what was happening at my work place. My father asked me, “Do you want to remain a victim or you want to be a victor? And to hell with power. Power is of no use unless you have manners, kindness and compassion, so fight back and reach out to his superior. Seek justice for yourself.”
I had never approached the Managing Director but the next day I overcame my fear and reached out to him. He was kind enough to listen to everything. He asked me to leave and promised me that if my allegations were true then I would be given justice, else action would be taken against me.
Over the next few days the entire HR department was shaken up. There were reports of this man approaching several young women at the workplace. Our Managing Director did deliver justice, he did not care for the fact that my boss had worked in this organization for twenty years, and he showed him the door.
He also addressed all women to be careful in getting into a relationship with these men double our age. They can use our vulnerability and turn us to a victim. Let that not happen to us, and we needed to fight our battles. He asked us to open up and spell out the problem no matter how powerful the other person may look like. It can be a honey trap and a delusion. That the power is in our minds – once we realize this we will find our strength.
I am glad I woke up before anything really happened. Yes, the power IS within us.
Image source: shutterstock
Rimli Bhattacharya is a First class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, an MBA in supply chain management and is engaged with a corporate sector. Her essay in the anthology “Book read more...
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