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Biman saw a big plastic packet sitting on the Security Guard’s table adjacent to the gate of the building. It looked like a few boxes of cakes. He could see the name of the bakery written on top of the packet. Not the usual ones that Swiggy brings into the building. This one must have come directly from the bakery in their van, thought Biman. He had been away from the gate on a washroom break.

Since no deliveries were allowed to go beyond the gate, things were left at the guard’s table usually, from where the residents picked it up. Not always though…

Many had become so lazy since lockdown happened two months back that they refused to walk those ten steps to the gate to pick up their stuff. They would inevitably make a call to the security guards and ask them to drop it off at their flats.

The company that Biman worked for, which had a contract with the building that he was guarding now, had strictly ordered them not to run errands unless it was emergency medicines for aging residents. So, when the calls came to deliver the pizzas, the biryani, the groceries left by Amazon, the fish left by the fish seller, to the respective apartments, Biman had to say a firm “no”. Then they would request, command and threaten him over the phone.

All for what, so that they didn’t have to step out of their front doors, thought a hassled Biman.

“They are shamelessly heckling the guards to make their easy life even easier. The morons never think I am doing my job and nothing else,” an irate Biman lamented.

Yes, the guards had a few jobs less now, of opening the gates when the cars came in, of jotting down the registration numbers of the Ubers, of getting the guests to sign the register, or keeping an eye on the maids.

But he had ensured that none of those para guys could walk in and ask for money from the residents as they had been doing in other buildings. And when some people came at night saying that they were from the Municipality checking every apartment to make sure no one had fever, Biman had repeatedly asked for their ID that they failed to show. He kept the gates firmly locked.

He had ensured every single person who walked inside the gates used the hand sanitiser, he had made sure the lift surfaces, the stair banisters were cleaned twice a day. He had taken on the mantle of the caretaker, who used to come in the local train. Biman switched on the pump on time, made the gardener cut the wild shrubs, maintained the lift, saw to it that waste was cleared from every home properly by the sweeper.

Despite that it was one undelivered pizza that became the bone of contention. The building president told him that he could have just delivered the box to the lady since she was single and old. Biman had retorted that her young niece had been living with her since lockdown, a fact the president didn’t seem to know.

The old lady had complained about Biman to the building committee. She had told them that she found him ogling at the women and watching porn on his mobile while on duty. The president assured him he didn’t believe her.

“I know you are a good guy. But it’s not in my hands. We might have to let your company know…”

“And then…?” Biman asked, the anger building up in his throat.

“We will see.” He said. His face gleaming with the power he felt on another person’s life decisions.

Biman’s cheeks were burning up. Now would he have to deal with a lifetime of shame for one woman’s laziness?

He thought of his everyday fight with his wife. She worried that he interacted with so many strangers and went back home to sleep with his 3-year-old daughter.

“Can’t you do something else?”

“What else?”  Biman would scream. “People don’t have jobs now. You should be thankful I am still drawing a salary.”

Biman sat at the guard’s chair, crestfallen.

*

“No one took that packet yet?” asked Monohar, Biman’s colleague.

Biman looked at the packet disdainfully.

“You should see them when the bakery van comes these days. They come down in hordes as if cakes are what they are living for. No social distancing, no masks, their tongues touching the ground in gluttony,” chuckled Manohar.

Piya was walking down the driveway towards the guards table. Biman looked away.

“God knows what this young woman thinks about me. A pervert or a good man?”

“Biman da, Monohar da, ei packet ta tomader (this packet is for you),” she said.

“What’s there?” asked Manohar eagerly.

“Some cakes and chicken patties for you,” said Piya.

Biman remained expressionless. Manohar had already opened a box. A grin lit up his face.

“Biman da tumi toh jhor tuleccho (you have raised a storm),” said Piya.

Biman looked at her stunned. She already knew about his shame.

“My mom said that all the women in this apartment have stood up for you in the WhatsApp group saying you are a gem of a person. All allegations against you are false,” smiled Piya.

Nao ebare cake khao tomra (now you guys have some cake). Ma has ordered this for you.”

Biman looked down, at his own gleaming shoes. He couldn’t let Piya see his tears.

– By Amrita Mukherjee

Read More Short Stories On Lockdown

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Short Story: A Teacher’s Lockdown Lessons

Short Story: Feluda And The Covid 19 Death Case

Short Story: In Love With Social Distancing

Short Story: Washing the milk

Picture from the internet

…And to think of it now majority of the work force throughout the world is working at home because of lockdowns and the coronavirus pandemic. When I started working from home this was unthinkable and, in fact, the whole concept was accompanied by wrong notions of loss of productivity and lack of commitment. What one would do in the office one would never do at home – this was something that was oft repeated by work bosses in the year 2010. But now…

My first work-from-home stint

I was in Dubai when my son Vivaan was born and I went back to work when he was only one and a half months old. I was given the option of working from office for 4 hours and the rest 5 hours I worked from home. I reached office at 8am instead of 9am, was there till noon, and was home before son’s bathing time.

This schedule worked for me like a breeze as I could be with my baby when he needed me and could work at the laptop as well filing copies, editing articles and doing interviews over phone or email for the magazine I worked in. But my bliss didn’t last long.

In a department that worked with a skeletal staff my boss decided to take leave for a month to attend the wedding anniversary of her in-laws in India- strangely people she was perpetually cribbing about in front of her colleagues. But it was their 50th wedding anniversary, she had to be there organizing the show for a month and then parading in Kanjeevarams as the perfect Dubai-return bahu. I obviously did not fit anywhere in the picture.

So my bliss was quickly slaughtered at the altar of bahu duties of the boss. I was asked to be at work 9-6, holding fort while she was gone. I had requested the management to give me remote access so that I could check the pages, do the edits and final proofing and continue working from home. That wasn’t an impossible task especially in a techno savvy place like Dubai. But they simply refused to give me access at home and said the final work couldn’t be done without coming to office and they didn’t feel “safe” giving remote access. (Not that I was working with any kind of confidential data.)

So in the end it was basically the belief that an employee, especially a new mom, wouldn’t put in her best in her work-from-home avatar.

Hence I was back to work, slogging out at my desk, being the perfect professional and churning out my supposed 100 per cent.

I quit my office job

Within 10 months I quit my job. Did I regret it? Yes, to some extent because I never went back to earning a pay pack like that every month no matter how many big projects I landed as a freelancer. Did I like working from home? I loved it because I could be with my son. I could work on my schedule in my own way and I could do other things like writing my books.

But working from home did come with a lot of negative connotations. Wearing fashionable clothing and driving to work every morning to a swanky office is one thing, and sitting in your pyjamas at the laptop placed on the dining table every morning, keying in some stories and interviews is completely another thing.

You could feel you are working but others might not. I had grabbed a work-from-home offer as the consulting editor of a health and travel magazine and was keeping rather busy all day, I was writing my debut book Exit Interview even. But tinkering at your laptop in your nightdress and occasional weekly meetings and interviews are not actually work. I realised soon. No one told me but it was written all over their faces. My demotion had happened in the eyes of my family, relatives and friends, something from which I could probably never rise.

Picture from the internet

The challenges of the work-from-home schedule

It’s actually more challenging to work from home than at the office. The world is realizing that right now I am sure. There are articles everywhere now telling you how to set up a work space at home, how to keep the self motivated and how to separate yourself from the household.

Let’s face it, it’s just not possible.

As someone who’s been there done that, I have realised you cannot stick to your work desk when the baby is crying, the cook is asking for instructions or elderly people at home can’t do without their daily dose of serials and the TV will blare. You like it or not, you will have to accept it.

It’s been 10 years now and I am still asked to move my laptop all around the house because someone has something more important to do in that space at that moment. Sometimes I refuse and let my anger speak, sometimes I move because I don’t want to lose my concentration in fruitless argument.

The seriousness that people had when I left home with my leather bag on my shoulders is clearly missing when they see me moping around on the laptop in my shabby home clothes. And you can’t really blame them for that, can you?

Related Reading: You might like this short story of mine on WFH The Bekaar Blogger

WFH has made me stronger

I must say I have developed concentration that wouldn’t falter if the walls in the house collapse on me and my time management and multi-tasking abilities have become so much better. If the son is playing with his friends in the same room and the TV is on and Sreemoyee is crying her head off on the screen, I don’t flinch at my edits. My mind is there fully and the world around is shut off.

It’s actually an art and people who have been pushed to their homes suddenly and gasping in their WFH routines will learn it over time.

And by the way, those who have been writing off WFH people like us for so many years will now realize how much harder it’s to function from home than to be at work. Like a friend of mine said, “I start at 7 am and can’t finish even at 11 pm.”

True, no matter how hard you try the WFH schedule could become a 24×7 thing draining you out completely. And you could be setting your own deadlines but the office could now give you work at unearthly hours and you wouldn’t be able to say no.

You could miss the coffee breaks and lunchtime banter with your colleagues but you could be there for your kid when he gets back from school. A friend of mine looks after her bedridden mom and works from home in the IT sector. It’s a Herculean task she has been performing for years now. Now that her entire work force has shifted home they would probably finally realize the mountains she has been moving to stay on deadline.

Now when people say they are finding work from home crazy, I say “meh” rolling my eyes just like my son would.

Related Reading:This post was written on my WFH experience My boss is always touching me

Witnessing WFH history

Picture from the internet

 

There was a time when WFH was looked at as the end of a career, was treated with disdain and with the repeated question, “What do you actually do?” Now WFH is a norm, everyone is doing it and I feel victorious and validated.

From the time when WFH was not looked at as an option at all, to a time when I have never met my employers except on Skype calls, things have changed drastically, thanks to technology. I have remote colleagues whom I have never met but we do talk about kids and deadlines on messenger. And now, of course, about the added load of housework because of the lockdown and virus scare.

But in our WFH world social distancing already exists. You don’t share details about yourself beyond the basics and when an employee leaves the job, that’s it. There’s no connection left after that. This is inevitable because the bonds you build sitting next to a colleague in office can’t really be built remotely.

“After this lockdown I will never complain about going to work I am sure,” said a friend. True. When you don’t have access to something anymore you learn to appreciate and value it. That’s why when the door flies open and people barge in when I am on a Skype call I now smile. I don’t lose it. WFH has taught me to appreciate the finer aspects of life.

There is no doubt in the maid-dependent Indian social setting (to think of it this is the first time since I stepped on this earth we are managing without maids) WFH in the lockdown scenario is truly tough. Work calls are greeted with, “I am mopping the floor can I call back?” or “I am finishing the dishes will be there in 2 mins.” It’s acceptable and not a wee bit unprofessional. We are all aware of the work-home balancing act we are doing.

In fact, this Lockdown WFH has come as a great wake-up call where bosses and managements all over the world are realizing that it’s possible to keep the ball rolling with a cut down of costs and carbon footprints.

And if we believe the futuristic reports then many companies who can function remotely could be still sticking to the WFH system even when there’s no lockdown.

I will end with a funny story. America has recorded higher sales of tops without bottoms, recently. As a friend shared on FB recently she had flung her top and jacket on her printed pyjamas she wears at home for a Zoom meeting. Then she got up to get her mobile.

Ahh! The hilarious WFH dichotomies.

PS: I wrote this blog between doing the dishes and frying cabbage pakodas that didn’t come out too well. But hope this post did.