Wish Colleagues Could be Friends?

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Hemashri looks inwards and wonders if colleagues could be friends, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Somewhere I read that colleagues are friends ‘imposed’ upon us! Just wonder why impose friendship? Life offers choice in very few areas. So why not we at least wear clothes as per our choice and be friends with only those with whom we long to spend time.

A few years ago I was working in a gigantic government department, where I was a mere cog in the wheel – an insignificant small fry in our bureaucratic community. A new member joined in whom I knew through the previous posting. An avid writer, he was a friend of a senior colleague. They used to share with good old friends do. The lady seemed to be somewhat temperamental as on some days she would be kind and then all of a sudden a little cold and withdrawn. Maybe she had some problems. She had skin ailment, which was manifesting gradually. It made me sympathetic towards.

One fine day as I entered a chamber, I found her colleague-friend and two others sipping tea and discussing her. My senior colleague’s friend was talking uncharitably about her. He was narrating her colourful past. So the man who shared lunch with the lady was actually spreading venom about her. Maybe she had a past. But what pained me was the breach of trust. It also made me realise that I was wrong in my presumption that only women gossip. I felt men are perhaps better gossipers. One fine day, in an opportune moment, I ended up telling that gentleman, “Sir, you taught me something unique that men are better gossipers.” Not that I was a great friend of this lady colleague but what actually pained me was this man’s .  No wonder he started avoiding me and I had no issue with that.

In an earlier posting, this gentleman – if we may call him so – had created a similar situation for me. Due to strong rivalry with another colleague he used to spread canards about him. He was my family member. The things he said would come back to me repeatedly. I became very conscious of this species called “colleague”. Over and over again similar experiences kept repeating making me wonder why colleagues cannot be friends.

I was posted in a faraway, remote place in Assam where both our children were born. After delivering my second baby, I received a notice from my office informing that my maternity leave prayer has been rejected as I did not specify which number of pregnancy it was? The file was handled by a colleague of mine!

I used to go to a colleague’s spacious chamber. She was the one closest to me amongst my colleagues. She is like a radio without a receiver. She would speak on and on 80 percent of the time and had no time to listen to us. So many times I had to repeat the same words in order to say something. Often I had to hear her the same old , over and over again, because it was about someone who was very important to her. She is a self-acclaimed ‘manage master’ which indeed she was. She could flip so fast that it used to amaze me.  Also, it scared me a lot. People who talk so much about others will surely talk about everyone. Often people in their quest to please everyone perhaps lose their genuineness or reliability. Gradually, I realised she might give long discourses over the most mundane things but she would never utter a single word of genuine appreciation.

This is a trait which signified and jealousy. Though instinctively aware of her trait yet I was loyal to her. I might not like one or two things about her but I had hundred other reasons to be grateful to her. We were so different from each other that was our strength. Together, we made a formidable team.

I firmly believe what Mother Teresa had said, “If we judge people we get no time to love them.”

I wondered if I have become increasingly intolerant of small talks. Who wears what-kind-of-dress conversation bores me to death these days. I keep going to this colleague’s chamber to be in touch with the world I live in. My pretext remains the same to have a cup of tea in her chamber. Could this tea producing Assam ban consumption of tea within office campus or say during office time? Maybe our productivity will soar! Who can dare to ban tea, the refreshing drink? So we keep refreshing ourselves over and over again, else we might get depressed! Maybe like the licences for guns, vehicles, etc. even friendship has a term of validity. Unless revalidated with mutual respect and genuine love, it dies ultimately just like the dried leaves falling off on the ground to end up in the garbage bin!  So many times I have experienced this. Sometimes even total strangers become friends, whereas faces of some dear friends get blurred as they sink into the oblivion! Some strangers become friends whereas some friends become strangers – a unique metamorphosis.

I met a senior colleague in the virtual world when I was struggling with a crisis. He came across as a remarkably sensible person through his writing and it was me who started a conversation. After some time I found he had deleted me from the contact list in the digital world. He was very cordial and helpful whenever I approached him. He now sends me inspiring messages on WhatsApp and I reply with the same warmth.

Often I felt like asking why he deleted me from the friend list. But, I could not muster enough courage to do so. I felt curious why a person would block me in the social and start a discreet conversation? Should I block him from this private channel to give a befitting reply? Am to decide on that!

Incidentally, this senior colleague reminded me of what Maya Angelou had said (I saw it a beautiful video clip) on the occasion of the birthday of one of her friends, Mr. Andrew. Maya said that sometimes we need men like a friend or a brother without any romantic inclination. A man who could say, “Hey girl you are doing well; keep it up! Or say hey girl that is the ridiculous thing on ! Stop it.” I had identified this senior colleague from amongst many that I had interacted in a collective forum. He had encouraged me to lead and I found him witty. and wit is an irresistible combination not to befriend a person. Often in my lonely struggles, I wished to have a few mentors or anchors, who could enlighten me for I have so much to learn!

 Is it rivalry associated with competition or an individual’s insecurity resulting in jealousy that prevents friendship to blossom in the workplace? Is it an unhealthy working atmosphere that is the real culprit? Is it the sense of competition inculcated early in life in our schools, colleges that stays on in our psyche? Why everything in life has to be a zero-gain game and not a win-win one?

After deleting some very dear toxic people from the inner circle now my world has shrunk. Just a few dear friends are fine for me rather than a sea of acquaintances. Life is too short to be lost in meaningless socialising!

A few days back my son approached me to help him prepare a speech for his school debate. The topic was “Displaying marks in the school bulletin board will motivate students to perform better.” He wanted to speak against the motion not because he is opposed to the idea but that someone had to speak against the motion. I told him to oppose the motion. We all go to school to learn things for a better life not only for marks. We all want a good life. A good life for all not only for a few toppers. We want a good friendship. Please do not spread acrimonious rivalry by making marks the only yardstick of our performance or our worth. Someone might love poetry but hate maths whereas some others might be good in and not so good in academics. We are all unique. Please teach us self-appreciation without comparison or competition. Please guide us to value friendship to enjoy this beautiful world. Maybe I was simply thinking aloud!

In the evening he told me, “Ma I got the third prize because you said so many things that I could not say much and I was a bit nervous also.” I only asked him, “Did you enjoy? If you did you won dear! This was your first debate!”

Life is not only about marks, grading, success, my sweet little boy! Love and laugh for life can be a tragedy only in the short run but it is always a comedy in the long run! Love, laugh and be happy!

Wish colleagues could be friends or should I say wish my friends could be colleagues.

©Hemashri Hazarika

Photos from the Internet

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Hemashri Hazarika

Hemashri Hazarika

Hemashri Hazarika is an Officer of the Assam Civil Service since 1997. Her research on Assam Civil Service brought reforms in 2015. A first-class Postgraduate in Economics from Gauhati University, she was awarded JRF/NET by UGC in 1997. Her experience as a bureaucrat has sensitised her to human sufferings. A solutionist by passion, she takes an active interest in issues related to Governance, Development, Women, Children, etc. Reading, Writing, Speaking and Painting are her hobbies.
Hemashri Hazarika

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