Fuck! Why did I take this job?
My eyes were already weary. I was sifting through website after website looking for data that does not exist. It never existed. That is why I was looking for it. My professor told us once that if you find enough data on a market, you wouldn’t want to be in it. Back then we thought that was one smart thing to say. Now I think he must have been joking all long.
They had sold themselves well during placement presentations; so well that I knew this was what I would want to do. Besides, they were paying. In times like these, you never think twice about something that paid and kept you in an air conditioned office all day. They told us they supported key business decision making efforts of Fortune 100 companies. “..We do it each day (never told the night part). We put together the information that I-banks want. We put together strategic stuff that companies like Merck or Oracle need. You will do it for us. Just imagine the stuff that consultants do. It will be a great learning.”
I was sold at “we do it”…
On day one, I was thinking about those brave hearts that let this pass and chose those sugary cola makers for something substantially lower. By now they would be sweaty, tired and jaded accompanying those rickety trucks that delivered soda pop to every tiny kiosk in the city. You cannot learn distribution sitting in air-conditioned comfort. Now the joke was on me. I could not do it anymore. My eyes hurt. My mind was numb. The cafeteria coffee had more sugar than caffeine and my hands shook. The guy next to me did not help much as he kept killing the keyboard of his computer. He sat so close that I could smell the Wills Navy Cut fumes off his darkened lips. Everybody sat this way. The tiny air conditioning ducts strained hard to circulate C02, ciggie fumes, curry burps, garlic farts and cheap aftershave out of this environment. The jungle boy sat a few metres away from me watching me intently. He was my supervisor, a yokel from Pentapadu, Andhra Pradesh with some Podunk MBA. He was supervising us because he never left the firm. His unflinching loyalty and dedication to sweatshop policing earned him a little promotion that put him directly above us. He knew the place and process like the back of his grubby fat hands. He was himself fat, shabby and sweaty. They told me he never slept and worked 17 hours a day. Those dark circles around his eyes made him look like Idi Amin and to help the matter, he never smiled. The creases on his forehead were etched. He was as ubiquitous to the place as the worn out furniture.
I got up to take a little walk and release the aching tension that built up in my legs. Besides, I wanted to walk away from Jungle Boy’s stare as I could not find any data on the French chewing gum market. It would have been exciting to think of researching chewing gum market of France back in college. Now I did not care. Probably the French did not chew gum. Probably they just choked on cheese. But Jungle Boy was never convinced. So I kept my relentless search going on. I must have turned every page in the internet except porn sites which could not be accessed on the office server. Probably the French hid their market data in porn sites. I wondered if Jungle Boy ever watched porn. He would still not smile I guess.
I must be thinking loud or he read people’s minds but Jungle Boy walked right behind me.
“Did you complete the report then?”
“Not yet. I’m doing it” I hissed quickly trying to keep my mouth open for as less time as possible.
“Why don’t you do some real work then?” he retorted. I knew this was coming. “Start calling people in France. Do some real research”.
Nobody liked to make calls. But jungle boy was known to kill people by making them call. If there was anything worse than calling pot-bellied traders in old business districts to sell insurance, it was calling faceless strangers in foreign lands begging for information. One, they never understood what you asked. Two, they never have any information. Three, they do not get anything out of it anyway. But jungle boy still insisted. To make matters worse, he sat next to me now. I tried a last line.
“I cannot speak French”.
“What if he or she does not speak English?”
“Ask him or her to connect you to someone who speaks English”
“And how will I ask that in French?”
“Ask in English”
“What if the person who speaks English does not have the right information?”
His eyes started to dig mine out of their sockets. He picked the phone and looked at the screen having the number and dialled. Good…the boy is going to show me how to make a call. I could hear the beeps and swishes and finally the ring tone. Suddenly, he thrust the handset to my face
“Speak. Be polite. And smile”
Before I knew, I was listening to some woman saying “Bon Jour, XXXX , Puis-je vous aider?”
I collected myself…”Good morning…err..afternoon (looking at my watch)…err..morning (realising the time zone difference)”
Jungle Boy thrust a piece of badly crumpled paper into my hands. It had the standard prescribed script for making an opening statement about our company and my purpose for calling. We used it for everyone… Chinese chowmein associations, Mexican mustard unions, Bulgarian bra manufacturers and Argentina alfalfa cooperatives…everyone. So I read it…word to word, line to line, exactly as it was written while jungle boy observed. He knew every word in it by heart. I could not cheat him. You never cheat jungle boy. He will bite your tongue off.
. I read it again. Word to word, line to line even as jungle boy gestures “SMILE”
“ce que vous voulez?”
“Parlez vous English?” I ask and bite my tongue as the boy raises his eyebrow quizzically at my French. That is the only French I know. Hope the boy understands that.
Finally a few more quois later, someone speaks English.
“What do you want”, a gruff impatient voice.
I recite the script without looking at the paper.
I look at my tormentor for whatever I could get…poison darts, cuss words or some sympathies for a change.
“Try again. You were not smiling.”
Fuck! Why did I take this job!
(with some inspiration from Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker)