OF SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

“I wish I was a deaf and dumb person! If I was deaf, I wouldn’t have to listen to all the derogatory things said to me. And if I was dumb, I wouldn’t talk stuff that irritate others. Better still, I think I should die. That would be the end of all my problems.”

An excerpt from a 10-year old’s chat which I received last week after she received a mouthful from well-meaning, but frustrated parents.

As adults, many of us have learned in the course of time to give a deaf ear to the harsh words of others or to mend our ways after getting a dose of constructive criticism which might not necessarily be music to the ears. But, is it the same for children?

There were times when spanking wasn’t really frowned upon. Rather, it was considered to be one of the corrective measures needed to discipline children. There were times when severe scoldings from parents, teachers, and elders made children rethink their actions and mend their ways. At least it was true for a majority of the population, with only a few scattered here and there who took the rebel route.

But, times are different now. We have highly observant children now who don’t hesitate to talk back. Call it genetic evolution or the influence of media or civilizational progress, children today are sharper, argumentative, rebellious, curious, independent, and thoughtful than those of the previous generations. They are not as compliant and submissive as most parents would want their darlings to be. To top it all, they are so very touchy!

There are numerous pieces in newspapers of late, of suicides by children who were either reprimanded for a wrong or refused access to gadgets – all which parents thought are measures of disciplining their children. But, the consequences proved to be disastrous thereby imparting strong messages to society and numerous amendments in Child Laws at the cost of precious lives.

So, what do we do? Give in to the whims and fancies of our children? Stop disciplining them? Use only sugar-coated words and ignore their wrongs? Keep worrying about their feelings and emotions all the time without caring for their holistic development? If our children are always kept in an aura of positivity, how will they learn to take negative feedback in their stride?

These and such other questions are bombarded by worried parents. Well, the approach to negative feedback is different for children and for adults. I will not dwell on those in this write-up. While adults are not expected to be childish in their response to negative feedback, children must also not be expected to behave in overly mature ways in response to criticism.

‘Sensitivity’ and ‘sensibility’ are the two words I want to leave behind for all to ponder upon. Criticisms, negative feedback, reprimands – all are parts and parcels of life. The way they are accepted depends most of the time on the way they are delivered and the outcomes they generate.

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – FINAL

Arvind Sikdar, Shaloween’s immediate boss had always been the best for everyone. And that was the reason why he continued to be rated high by all his staff members every time there was an evaluation in the company. He could understand the state of his young and most beloved staff member, Shaloween.

“Will you just shut up and sit down, Shalu?”, he said sternly, pretending to be angry. Shaloween didn’t say anything but simply rubbed her cold palms to each other taking a seat.

“It is not very important how this letter came to me… But why did you write this…? That is more important for me, Shalu. Now, let’s go out somewhere, that’s urgent”, he said sternly and without a second thought he stood and walked out of his cabin asking Shaloween to follow. She was shocked and confused seeing what Mr. Sikdar was trying to do and where he was asking her to go with him even though she was aware of his nature. He always does things in a very mysterious way but Shalu was hyper because of the letter which she wrote against Mr. Chandra which Mr. Sikdar put inside his coat pocket.

When Mr. Sikdar’s car stopped at Shalu’s apartment she looked at him with teary eyes. “Why have we come here, Sir? Have you thrown me out?”, she asked in desperation.

“Let’s get inside then I am telling you, Shalu. Have patience and you don’t need to shed your precious tears”, Mr. Sikdar replied to her, mocking her seeing the tears in her eyes.

When they settled down at her flat, Mr. Sikdar asked her, “Now explain what really happened between you and Mr. Chandra from the beginning till the end. I came here because I didn’t want to deal with these things in the presence of all others. Everyone would have come to the office by now.” He looked at his watch as he said that. Shaloween adjusted herself and explained everything that had been happening to and troubling her.

After almost two hours, Mr. Arvind Sikdar returned back to the company office and was greeted by his colleagues and two of those higher officials, Mr. Mahem and Mr. Chandra.

“You went for a morning walk or what, Mr. Sikdar? And where’s Shalu today?”, taunted Mr. Chandra as he asked looking at Mr. Arvind Sikdar. But as usual the composed gentleman, Mr. Sikdar replied, “No, Mr. Chandra, Shalu was in a deep trouble. She has high fever and as her guardian in this city, I took her to the hospital for a RTPCR test. It is better we forget her now and discuss about the final report, right Mr. Mahem?”

Mr. Arvind Sikdar’s words reverberated in that hall way with all others around and both the officials had nothing to say. They simply nodded their heads and walked inside the meeting room to finalize the report before they conclude their trip.

Two days after, in the morning when Shaloween walked inside the office hall, all others felt a chill in their spines seeing her. But at that moment, Mr. Arvind Sikdar walked out of his cabin with a smile, “Welcome Shalu, I am so happy you were tested negative and your fever is gone.” Both smiled understandably at each other, knowing well the reason of her staying away from office.

“By the way, I have something to announce, I was just waiting for Shalu to be back in the office”, Mr. Sikdar said looking at all as everyone attentively looked at him. “Shalloween had done a wonderful job and the two visiting officers approved all our reports, appreciated our reporting systems and our coordinated working styles. So we will have a party this afternoon.” Everyone in the room stood on their feet and cheered, congratulating Shaloween and Mr. Sikdar.

When Shalu went into the cabin of Mr. Sikdar later that day, his first question to her was, “Did you burn that letter you drafted against Mr. Chandra, Shalu?”

“Yes, I destroyed it immediately after you left the other day, Sir. And thank you so much for what you did for me. The drama you scripted taking advantage of the pandemic situation was exceptional.” Shalu said with her hands folded.

“Shalu”, he said as he asked her to take a seat. “I would have done that to anyone in your state. And you are like my daughter. Don’t you think as a father I would have anyway protected my daughter from such viruses?” Shaloween nodded.

“But you should have immediately told me about the first message you received. You should not have allowed him to play with your vulnerability. He was very manipulative but I am more protective of my own, my office, my staff and you.” Mr. Arvind Sikdar said with a gentle and satisfying smile on his face.

Shalloween literally allowed her vulnerability to go wrong but at the right time, she was well protected by this man. She could not have asked anything more after having a father-like boss and that was the reason why she had such high regards for him.

Everyone enjoyed the department party during the lunch time.

THE END

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – XII

The discovery of not finding the letter in her bag startled Shaloween. She emptied her bag, checked multiple times every quarter, every inch of the bag but it went futile. Her thoughts ran haphazardly to every nook and corner of the house and office where she possibly could have put or slipped the letter accidentally. Nothing seemed to help her out.

She was very restless lest that letter finds some unwanted notice when things were on the verge of finding a solution. The regret was not about writing it but about unmindful, unintentional omission unfortunately. She decided to go back to office as her phone was also dead by then and without a spare charger that seemed to be a right decision to her. Was it just the charger that forced her to be out in the night in an attire which was a little bit more than that of pyjamas or something else? She brushed those thoughts back as she tied her hair in a ponytail and started the car.

It was around 9:45 PM that she reached her office. As she went to the building after parking another shock awaited her at the entrance. The guard refused to let her go inside for the reason – she forgot her ID at home in a rush to reach office and the night guard wasn’t familiar with her.

She pleaded with him for about fifteen minutes but the guard refused to budge. Heaving a heavy sigh in despair Shaloween was about to leave as she heard some commotion on the stairs. She turned to look in the direction of the sound and was a bit surprised to see Shekhar Chandra there at that hour of the time.

“Sir, you? Here? How? Why?” Shaloween spoke in broken words contemplating well her state of mind – puzzled. “Well that should be my question to you Shalu.. I mean Ms.Shaloween. Here at this hour, searching for something?” Shekhar asked in a rather not casual tone or at least that’s what Shaloween thought.

That questioner was for a moment bowled over by the question! With a small hiccup Shaloween gathered herself and said with a straight face, “I forgot my charger at the office desk and my phone is dead. Couldn’t have waited till morning and in a rush to reach here I forgot my ID at home, just messed up things”. Shaloween stood there feeling awkward at this meeting. Shekhar signalled the guard “aane do” and the guard did allow her inside.

Thanking Shekhar in a polite way she followed him. As silence ensued she chose to break it and asked “What are you doing here Sir?”

Shekhar cleared his throat, “Had some files to look at to ensure timely wrap up from here” and opened the door for Shaloween leading into the office. She took a paced stride towards her cabin and collected her charger as Shekhar fixed his gaze on her.

Shaloween checked her drawers thoroughly but couldn’t trace the letter. She stood at her desk running her fingers through her hair in utter desperation, thinking where it could have gone.

Shekar was watching her. And their gazes met quite dramatically. Shaloween felt uncomfortable and decided to leave the premise thinking I shall see it later.

“Did you find … the charger?”, there was an awkward pause in his words. “Yes and thanks” Shaloween answered in a decidedly less hassled tone.

What transpired at office remained with Shaloween all the way back to her home. It was almost thirty minutes past 11. She decided to hit the sack but the disturbed vibe came to haunt her again.

Next day as soon as she reached office she was summoned to Mr. Sikdar’s room. Her apprehensions were oscillating quite high.

“May I come in Sir?” she took the permission and entered and the first thing that caught her attention and blew her mind was the letter in her writing lying on the table.

“Shalu I need to talk to you about this”, Sikdar pointed towards the letter but before he could say anything Shaloween confronted, “how did you get this Sir?” She was an amalgamation of anger and anxiety at this moment.

Sikdar usually a composed and sorted person seemed to have dropped his fine judgement when he said, “this shouldn’t have been the way to deal. You simply can’t blame anyone and especially meddling with powerful people isn’t good for you. You are like my own daughter. Why…” And he was interrupted by Shaloween abruptly who by this moment had lost all her patience.

“Just one question – how did it land here?”

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – XI

That day things at office were normal. Shekar Chandra did not try to have any conversations outside of work with Shaloween. She was quite relieved. After long day at work, she returned home, made dinner and slipped to sleep as soon as her head touched the pillow. Shaloween woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. It was as if she got control over her life. She made her breakfast, had it along with coffee and later on headed to office.

Shaloween reached her cabin to find the office boy cleaning her desk.

Why are there so less people in office today?”, she asked him in a surprised tone

Madam, you came very early today. It is only 7.30“, he smiled.

She looked at the clock and he was right. She wondered how she never paid attention to what the time was. Now that she was so early, she went for a stroll in the park besides her office. It was a really nice park, and strangely she never even noticed it properly. She sat on the bench watching all the people over there. After an hour of so, she returned to her desk.

Today was the last day the officers are going to be in Shaloween’s office. Most of the work is completed and only the closing formalities were pending. It was post lunch. All the required people were in the meeting room apart from the officers. Everyone was waiting for them. Two officers walked in and they were late by almost an hour. Shekar Chandra was not to be seen. Mahem apologized for the delay. The team quickly finished all the presentations, details were furnished and the records were updated. The officers thanked the team for outstanding work. Mahem went round the table shook hands with everyone. When he approached Shaloween, he had an unpleasant look on this face. Shaloween disregarded those expressions.

Team, thank you once again. We are going to be around for few more days in this office with regards to something that popped up. We can catch up for lunch some day“, saying this Mahem walked out of the room. There was cheer and a round of applause in the room. Everyone was delighted.

Shaloween returned home. She was in a cheerful mood that all of this is over. She spent some time with Bhaskar. She took him for an evening walk, on the way she had a Burrito. The weather was pleasant, the stars were clearly visible. She gazed at the moon while Bhaskar was playing. After a long time she had a relaxed evening. The higher official visit has taken away lot of her lone time.

She lay on the bed with Bhaskar on her side. She was browsing on her phone. She deleted all the messages she got from Chandra. She so wanted to delete his number too but just left it so. The charge on her phone was almost as low as 5%. She was looking for her charger in the bag and could not find it. She searched again and it wasn’t there. That is when she recollected that she left the charger on her desk. She put the phone on charge before she went to the park in the morning and later on forgot about it. It was not just the charger that was missing from her bag, but the letter she drafted for ICC too….

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – X

Next morning as Shaloween put her alarm on snooze, still wanting to catch up those last 10-15 mins of sleep, she heard her phone ring. It can only be her mom to call her at 6 am, she picked up and lazily said – “Good Morning ma, I hope all is good with you.”


“Hi Shaloween” came a male voice from the other end.


She woke up straight on her bed and looked at the phone in utter surprise. It was Shekhar Chandra. She was at loss of words and just managed to utter “Hello…. Sir?”


“Listen I am sorry for what I did. I am feeling quite ashamed. You are right, this is indeed harassment. I am not entitled to behave this way with you. Please understand that my intentions were not wrong. I genuinely like you and would like to be a part of your life. However, if this is not something that you want – I will go away and not bother you again.” Said Chandra apologetically.


Shaloween was shocked. She didn’t expect this turn of action. She was almost prepared to shout out a few nasty words at him but he is really apologizing.


“Ok”, totally at the loss of words, she could only say this.


“So, are we good with each other now? Let us just keep our conversation professional from now on. I promise that I won’t come in your personal way now unless you want me to. If ever you change your mind and want to come into my life – you have my number. I would really love that.” Said Shekhar Chandra in a flirtiest tone.


“Sir, I hope you are not going to let any of this have an impact on my work. I have really worked hard in this project and I was thinking that you might just push all my due credit down the drain. I really hope that you won’t do this.” Said Shaloween a bit doubtful.


There was silence at the other end.

“Shalu, I am not that kind of a person. I feel hurt that you thought that I would stoop down to this level.” Said Shekhar in a low voice.


“I am sorry Sir. I hardly know you, I can only judge by little interactions that we have had.”


“Didn’t I tell you earlier – you like to judge me, isn’t it? Well, let us meet in a few hours at office.” Shekhar said without letting her complete the sentence.


He hung the phone. No goodbyes.

That felt really weird. Shaloween opened the letter she had composed for ICC. She read it multiple times and felt guilty about it. “Did I judge the guy wrongly? Maybe he is genuine person wanting to be my friend and I just… anyway. I am glad that all this over, hopefully it would be a normal day at work. I am tired of having these eventful days now.”


Was this episode of her life really over? 

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – IX

Shaloween locked her mobile screen, gathered herself and went on ahead to Mr. Sikdar’s chamber. She handed over the data and excused herself out. It was almost lunch time. She dropped a text to her superior and took a half day leave citing health issues and left for home.

Her head was throbbing. She quickly ate the lunch that she had packed on her way and lied down on the couch unable to get the happenings of the last few days out of her mind.

The ring of her mobile startled her. She opened her eyes only to realise that she had dozed off and it was almost evening.

Shaloween picked up her phone, read Shekhar Chandra’s message again and took the bold step of texting back.

“This is downright harassment. I have told you I am not interested in having to do anything with you outside the office. Please leave me alone. You are my officer, and I have to report to you in the office; other than that, I don’t need this from you. Please focus your sexual energy elsewhere.”

She pressed the send button and went to take a late-night stroll in her lane to clear her head. She played with the dog walking along with her and played fetch with him with wood. The dog followed her home, and she placed a bowl of milk and break in front of him in a plastic container. The dog lapped it up, and Shaloween watched him, enjoying the simple pleasures of life.

The dog slept at the foot of her bed and left her around the following day till she boarded the metro to go to work. She laughed at him as he wagged his tail in goodbye and decided to adopt that dog. She named him Bhaskar.

She reached the office and headed straight for her office. At lunch, she saw Chandra eating with Mahem, Singh and Sikdar in the cafeteria as she sipped a Coke with her meal. Chandra gave her a tight-lipped, stoic expression.

She ran her palm on her hair to show she was wearing her hair in a tight bun. The message was clear, ‘She was not interested in his advances and was ready to take a stand.’

Later, as she left the cafeteria, she saw Chandra say something to the other officers, which made the trio look her way with a distasteful expression. Her heart sank as she made her way back to her office.

She knew Chandra would get back to her, but he didn’t know that she was prepared. She took a clean sheet of paper and wrote a letter to the internal complaints committee (ICC) about harassment, abuse of power and a hostile work environment. She worded the letter strongly, signed it and placed it in an envelope, placing it in her bag.

She was resolute, one more inappropriate message, one more instance of office politics or one more incident of power abuse, and she will make Chandra pay.

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – VIII

Shaloween kept tossing and turning in bed for a long time before she finally fell asleep.

She woke feeling a bit relaxed yet quite disturbed. She looked at the Cuckoo-clock that hung on the wall in her hall. It was 7 A.M. – a little late than her usual waking time. However, she didn’t mind much. Just after she had finished her morning prayers, her phone rang. As she picked up the phone from the table to answer the call, she was perplexed to see the name of the caller. Shekhar Chandra it was!

A few seconds went by with the mobile still ringing in her hand before she took the call.

“Hello . . . Good morning, Sir”

“Very good morning . . . I hope you are awake or did I disturb your sleep?”, came the voice from the other end.

“I’m awake, Sir”, said Shaloween politely.

“That’s good! I need you to work out certain things before I reach office today. I will mail the details to the official email id so that you can access them”, said Shekhar Chandra as he went on to explain the nitty-gritties of the work before hanging up.

The urgency of work soon took over Shaloween as she rushed into her household chores in an attempt to leave home early that day.

“Shiva, I need piping hot ginger tea today . . . a lot of work . . . and my mind is in shambles”, she said to the office boy as she opened the door to her chamber.

“By the way, for how many days have the supervising officers been deputed to our office . . . any idea?”, she asked a seeming-to-know-all type subordinate who had just come in.

“They’ll be here for a couple of days more, probably. Earthquake assessment is almost over and with not much damage, there isn’t really a lot that they have to do here”, came the reply.

“C’mon, just focus on work Shaloween! Shed off your baggages . . . you have to perform for your office . . . Shekhar Chandra would leave . . . your work will stay . . . don’t let anything bother you”, Shaloween pepped herself as she started working.

It was a sultry day and with the air conditioning not working, Shaloween was sweating profusely as she worked. With no one in her chamber, she let her hair hang loose to the left side so as to let some breeze from the ceiling fan pass through the damp hair roots. She was so engrossed in work that she got startled when the door to her chamber was thrown wide open and in walked Shekhar Chandra.

She fumbled a “Good morning” as she hurriedly fixed her hair before he would get a chance to look at her properly.

“Is the report ready?”, asked Chandra matter-of-factly.

“Almost done, Sir”, replied Shaloween.

“Well, then I’ll wait in Mr. Sikdar’s room till you are done with it”, said Shekhar as he left the room with a bang of the door without much expression.

Shaloween heaved a sigh of relief. Alone in her room, she could focus better. The events of the last few days had been extremely unsettling for her.

“What do men think – single women are easily available for their perversions? Being single doesn’t make a woman an easy game for men to entertain themselves with. Doesn’t this fellow feel remorseful behaving the way he does? Huhh!!”, she had thought a while back in between the work.

Interactions with Shekhar Chandra had been purely official that morning. She thought to herself victoriously, “probably this fellow has realised that he cannot get his way through to me!”

It took two more hours for Shaloween to complete the task. She got up from her chair to show the report to Sikdar, Mahem and Chandra carrying her mobile and the pen drive with the data.

Walking her way along the corridor, she flipped open her mobile to view the unread messages. She hadn’t got the time to check any messages since the time she turned up to work that day.

“You look gorgeous with your hair open. I hope you won’t disappoint me!”

“Not again!”, yelped Shaloween in her mind as she stopped short of her steps, feeling weak in her legs.

That was a message from Shekhar Chandra.