Hemashri recounts a painful, real-life experience, in a fictional voice, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Syamoli still wonders whether colleagues could ever be friends! She simply wishes this was true. Friendship with women seems to be a mismatch or maybe it is nature’s curse! Reeta was her dearest colleague. Shyamoli wanted Reeta to be her best friend in the workplace. Together they spent many sessions of confiding and counselling each other like schoolgirls. At times, Syamoli could sense a strange undercurrent of workplace rivalries, no matter how mild, which for her was negligible. She valued the friendship.
They had some common threads in their lives and maybe a few common traits too, in their personalities. They both were the caregivers to their elderly, sick parents. They were assertive women. Yet they were like chalk and cheese. Never did they know how different they were but other colleagues would ask, “How could you two be such good friends when both of you are so different.”
Shyamoli is a little conservative, low profile person and Reeta always the loud-mouthed, dirty joke sharing, bold girl. In fact, they had only a “Hi, Hello” terms till eleven years back when they became insignificant officers in important departments. Those were a tough time when they had to struggle for literally everything – from a chamber or even get signatures for letters drafted by them. They, in spite of being officers of the so-called premier service, had to remain content with somewhat derogatory designations. Maybe their struggles brought them closer. There were ailing elders at home, responsibility-evading family members, disobedience and revolt of junior staff members, attention-craving small children and a “babu-job” to top the icing. They were the perfect struggling middle-class multitaskers. They had discovered solace in each other’s company. They were friend, philosopher, and guide to each other.
Reeta was married to a high ranking officer, albeit a second wife. He had endured some tragedies in life and to add to his misery he was suddenly transferred out of the state. Reeta had a helpless time managing her big family. Challenges honed up her survival skills. All along Syamoli was deeply concerned and, in fact, once she and her husband organised well-wishers to pray for her husband’s return. It ended as a misadventure in spite of best effort. Finally, it was Reeta’s determined effort of earning goodwill and smart networking that she could finally bring back her husband. He was in a place three hours from home. Shyamoli tried her best to be sincere to her distressed friend.
Once Reeta invited Shyamoli’s family to a get together organised by her husband’s colleagues and wives, which was more like a mela (fair/fete). They went there with children. After a casual round, Reeta raised a panic alarm when her husband had profuse nasal bleeding. Shyamoli and her husband accompanied them to the nearest hospital and tried to ease the situation. After a night’s stay, Rita’s husband was discharged. Shyamoli and her husband returned home only when things normalised. They had arranged the basic hospital emergency which involved a minor expenditure. After recovery, Reeta insisted on paying back the amount. Shyamoli declined as it was a small amount and a mere friendly gesture. To convey her gratitude, Reeta visited Shyamoli’s home and had gifted her an expensive tea set. Till date, that is the most beautiful crockery at Shyamoli’s home.
There was this huge conference when the officers decided to bring out a souvenir. Reeta also decided to write an article. She approached Syamoli for input and Shyamoli, as usual, was generous. A senior colleague was dead against publishing a somewhat controversial write up of Reeta. Shyamoli and her husband argued, “Why don’t you all allow fresh ideas?” The write-up was published.
There was a very weird episode at Shyamoli’s workplace, which forced her to proceed on medical leave on health grounds. During this phase, she was assigned a project where the senior officer, Reeta’s husband was the mentor and Reeta was the chief facilitator. However, the success of this project was perhaps the beginning of a fissure in their friendship. There were awkward moments when Shyamoli discovered that Reeta was cold to her. Though painful, Shyamoli endured it, with minor hints to Reeta, now and then.
After this event, it was Syamoli’s turn to face family dislocation as her husband was frequently transferred to turmoil-prone areas. Finally, he was chosen perhaps as an extraordinary performer to be posted to the most remote parts of the state. Those were the typical punishment postings far away from home. Her husband was posted in places which required eight hours of journey from home. Reeta, the well-connected lady never even expressed any concern not to speak of sympathising. Moreover, Shyamoli was posted 30 Km away from her residence, in a place notorious for the daily traffic jam. Commuting was anything between one and four hours. In spite of several invitations, Reeta never visited Shyamoli’s office even once. Often Reeta would call up Syamoli to be in her office for some reason or the other. This made Shyamoli realise that may be Reeta was merely a fair-weather friend. Possibly, Reeta’s husband’s designation was her foremost identity. Shyamoli gradually distanced herself from Reeta, with a heavy heart.
Finally, Reeta visited Syamoli’s office area when her husband’s colleagues and their wives planned to have a picnic there. Reeta was the organiser and she had to finalise the arrangement. This made Shyamoli realise that Reeta was not able to visit even once in three years, but it was easily accessible for her for the picnic of her husband’s colleagues. Reeta’s hypocrisy was visible loud and clear.
Life moved on. Reeta was a very shrewd networker and Shyamoli found on many occasions that she was proactive to help her other friends with favourable transfers and postings. However, Reeta never enquired about Shyamoli’s husband’s transfer posting status. Instead, Reeta would often taunt Shyamoli, behind her back, as a helpless idiot, because she commuted daily to such a far away office, when her husband was also posted in some remote area.
Time passed. The goodwill of a well-wisher finally brought Shyamoli to the same office where Reeta was. After sometime Shyamoli’s husband’s extradition also came to an end.
They remained in touch. The government announced a new policy rescheduling office time from 9.30 am to 5 pm. Syamoli’s husband developed an infection called Herpes Zoster and it was very painful to see him attend office. The infection had spread all over his chest and back. Herpes Zoster is a very painful infection. He could not sleep properly but had to attend office. There was an official emergency in view of NRC so chances were no officer would take additional assignment of another officer. Thus, taking leave was not possible in such a critical phase. For a government servant, leave is not a matter of right. However, his boss was very kind to allow him to rest in between.
Her husband’s commitment rekindled a spirit of dedication in Shyamoli. She decided to challenge herself by attending office at 9.30 am from the New Year’s Day. They had a WhatsApp group with just three members – Shyamoli, Reeta, and another colleague. They named it 3G (3 Girls). On first of January, Shyamoli posted a selfie saying, “I take the challenge what about you?” Within minutes she found Reeta reacting sharply that coming on time is not important. She would prefer to work on her file sitting in her garden and that such stupid rules were for lesser mortals – meaning the clerical stuff. Shyamoli retorted that all should abide by rules without exception. Quoting her frequent foreign trips, Reeta talked of the norms abroad (read America). Two erstwhile good friends had a confrontation on WhatsApp. Confrontations turned bitter. Shyamoli left the WhatsApp group and decided to delete Reeta from her mindscape.
Syamoli was deeply hurt by Reeta’s indifference and insults. A good friendship had soured due to superiority complex and a big ego. Meeting people is destiny. Who stays on is also destined.
Syamoli bid a silent goodbye to Reeta. Their closure is complete. Now, she knows that colleagues can seldom be friends.
Photos from the Internet
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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.