In offices, we are often a wall away from our wall-mates. But, each of us seems to be walled within our small selves, seldom helping each other, agonises Hemashri, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.
Roommates, wall-mates were concepts commonly used by hosteller friends. Roommates were like family members and so were wall-mates. A wall-mate meant someone who lives in the next room separated by a wall. I was always a local “murga” in college as I used to commute from home.
In the university, I got into the hostel to get relief of commuting from home by changing two buses and also to taste the flavour of hostel life. Roommate, wall-mate these words kept ringing in my ears.
In a department, my immediate senior was a lady who was my wall-mate. She was the only lady officer of the department for long eight years. She seemed to be one of those bored ladies who needed a job for time pass. She was an active socialite and was a member of several clubs. Kitting and partying were her favourite passions. The first day, when I reported her after joining, she told me that she wanted to go as she was bored in the same department.
As I started working I needed to understand the background of the department.To learn issues related to the department I started reading the old file notings. It was a small yet a very important department but was operating somewhat like a post office. Every letter received was promptly forwarded either to the group of experts attached to the department or to the partner organisation working in the field. In a very short span, I gathered the confidence to handle matters related to the department.
In all her noting, my senior used to forward the note to the Assistant and there was no input from her. She had a computer and a costly printer but never did I see her drafting a letter. Superficially, we were very friendly and I was determined to forge a bonding with her. On two occasions when I went outside the state for official conferences or meetings. I would collect small gifts for her. She used to reciprocate very generously. On my birthday she gifted me a lovely handloom saree. It was one of the prettiest sarees I had received as a gift.
Then there came this big event where our department was one of the organising departments.To deal with various aspects of this event as per instruction I initiated new files and coordinated with all concerned. Ours was basically a team comprising four officers where I was at the bottom, rank wise. During this period, I had to once assert one of the bosses, number two in the hierarchy, who was very frequently rude to me without any apparent reason. When the event was just a week away, suddenly I found that boss number two had deleted me from the organiser’s team of the event. A new order was issued. Consequently, I heard from someone reliable that boss number two had told I was to stay in the office through the two-day event that was scheduled on Saturday and Sunday. I could make out he was just trying to settle a score. My senior lady colleague keeps on visiting the venue of the mega event but not even once did she ask me to accompany her. Just a day prior to the event, the entry passes were issued. I found my pass was missing. No pass was issued to me. I asked the boss number two through an SMS but no reply was received. In the evening, my husband who was detailed for duty asked me to accompany him to see the venue just to cheer me up. As I entered the venue I saw my boss number two. I rushed to him. Seeing me he started dialing his mobile. I interrupted. “Sir, I heard you deleted my name from the list of passes.” He told me, “You go and talk to boss number one.” Seeing my predicament, a well-wisher gave me a VIP Pass to see the Prime Minister of the country live. I told boss number two, “Actually I have been given a VIP Pass”. He just said, “Then, it is okay.” The next day when all my colleagues saw the Prime Minister’s address on the monitor I was the only one with the top bosses to see it live.
The same day there was a dinner for which a card was left in my name. I did not go, though my senior colleague reminded me. The big event came and it was over but it made me aware as to how much goodwill deficit I had to work on.
We were still sitting in adjoining rooms as wall-mates. The only difference was that there was less of jolly talks. The wall separating my wall-mate was a perceptible barrier.
My wall-mate, the senior lady used to sit in a spacious AC room. She had two promotions in the same department. She used to handle the budget of the department and used to send proposals to the department. In the peak of summers, my small chamber became atrociously unhygienic as the only window could not be opened due to heaps of dirt and the resultant mosquito menace. Someone from the Department’s Partner Organisation told me that I only need to send a proposal to the senior lady. He informed that she was provided an AC when she was serving at rank junior to the one I was holding them. One day I approached and explained that my chamber was very hot. She told in a cold voice that I should approach the concerned department, which we all knew involved a lot of formalities. Not even once she showed any concern.
After a few days when I found the heat unbearable, I approached the top boss and requested him to go on a long field visit to all the 33 Districts of the state. When he asked the reason for it, I told him, “Sir, my chamber is very small and it is unbearably hot. It is not fit to be working in.” He asked me, “Why?” I told “Sir I do not have any AC in the room. It is a very small congested room. In this scorching heat, it is atrocious.” He said, “You should have told me earlier. I am sending someone to your room,” said the elderly boss, a father figure. An engineer came and after three days an AC was installed. My wall-mate peeped into my room and asked for a treat to celebrate the great achievement. We had tea together.
All over the world, women complaint about discrimination, prejudice, mental and physical abuse and harassment. Some of these, in a milder form, have been endured by me, too. One thing concerns me deeply – why we, the women, do not feel the pain and sufferings of each other?
This seems to be a concern all over the world and various studies and surveys have been done on this issue. Findings are very interesting. Some say it is ingrained in the DNA of women to be over competitive. Some others say it is a behavioural syndrome or deeply psychological and stems from insecurity. What Indira Noory said is worth referring, “Women do not help women enough in the workplace. We have got to recruit behavioural psychologist to design programme to address why women do not support women “
The typical saas-bahu stories continue to dominate our TV serials even today. The mother-in-law thinks, “My mother-in-law did this and that but I am only doing this much.” This syndrome thrives due to the chain pattern of transmitting pain perhaps. A relationship which should have been the most fulfilling, mentoring, supporting –nourishing influence degenerate to a bondage of distrust to destroy peace in the homes.
Trying hard may be the only way not to transmit my pain to others. When meanness stones me, I just part ways silently with unuttered goodbyes. Every time the world shrinks, it creates agony deep within.
Yet, the show must go on!
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.