Since the day I joined a new project, my life had changed. So far, I was in an internal project where my work revolved around the office managers, sending them reports, extracting reports at hourly, daily and weekly basis of each employees effort details, their availability and billing hours. To me it was learning time. I had the bandwidth, as my manager called my free time, to learn some new technology and get things certified.
I agreed to do that and I spent my time working at my own pace with an occasional tap from my lead about the pending calls for the week. Other than that nobody would call me or ping me. Since everything was internal and nobody sat on my head to resolve any issue, I spent a good amount time for lunch and coffee and tea breaks in our cafeteria. This also gave me enough time to pursue my writing passion, my fitness regime and my socializing skill. I chewed my food minimum 20 times per morsel, as the blog said.
However all this came to an abrupt halt when I moved in to the new technology and was replacing a junior member. First few months were onboarding time for KT and learning and nobody gave me the critical work since I was new and might mess up. As days went by, I took up more work and started working on them at a much quicker pace. This shortened my lunch time and my break timings went haywire.
Hey, it’s a new project; got to give what it takes; got to impress the Gods (read clients)
My one hour lunch time in cafeteria was replaced by a 20 minute quick lunch in the pantry, where I would spend some time talking to my Mom because I don’t like being alone.
As days went by, I learned to eat alone in the pantry and would often keep looking over my shoulder if anyone would give me company. Yes, it was sad but I didn’t have time to think about it as I had to quickly go back to work and do a million things at a time.
I quickly realized that I could actually take a little more time to swallow my food else one day I would choke and there would be no one to do the work I was doing. I learned some useful email etiquettes and would reply to the client that I am working on it and will reply soon. This would buy me some time and I relaxed a bit in the pantry during lunch hours.
The pantry was an interesting place; they had only three tables with 3 chairs for each table, a water filter, a coffee machine, a sink and a crate full of various kinds of tea bags. Every once in a while, there would be people coming in to fill water bottles, drink green tea or make themselves a coffee. I found some juniors and recognized them as freshers as they were very loud and treated water bottle-filling-sessions as a group activity and would come in groups of ten or more.
I found a pattern.
A single person coming to the pantry was always a manager or a lead consultant; group of 2-3 members were co-workers and mostly senior software engineers; and the fresher group had the most people.
Every group had interesting topics to discuss about.
Two men walk into the pantry and discuss about mutual fund investment plans. Two women walk into the pantry and discuss about the cooking recipes they have recently learned. Fresher group which usually has more people always has one boy who accompanies almost all girls and ‘walk’ her to the pantry and back all the while she is yapping about her hair or her new dress or the party she wants to go that weekend.
One day I sat at an empty table with my lunch bag propped up. I opened the containers and placed all of them close by; one had chapatis, another had a curry, another was a salad and one small box some spiced chutney. Of course there was a small box for fiber powder and another with some nutritious supplements. I quickly took a photo and sent it to my husband. He didn’t reply back; I didn’t wait.
Meanwhile, at the next table there were two ladies. I recognized their blue tags and they were definitely senior consultants who had spent more than 5 years in the company.
Lady 1: Add some garlic and fry it; then add ginger. Now you cut some mint leaves which actually gives you the flavor.
Lady 2: Mint leaves? Oh really?
Lady 1: Yeah. That is right. It is the mint leaves which give you the restaurant flavor. I watched it on YouTube.
Lady 2: Oh, my elder one doesn’t eat anything I make. Every day is a battle. I have to come up with something new and creative. That is why I have 10 different kinds of sauces at home ranging from mayonnaise to tomato chutney and she loves junk food.
Lady 1: Ah that is true. My daughter has a sweet tooth and I worry that if she keeps eating at this pace, she will grow up to be heavy and obese. I ask her Dad to take her with him during his workout, but he doesn’t care enough.
All this while, I listened intently and found how fascinating their conversation was. Although they are senior consultants and having high priority clients and complex issues to be solved, they were more ecstatic about the addition of mint leaves in a recipe.
At that time, two middle age men walked in to the pantry to fill their water bottles. As the first one water filling water, the second one said, “Man I tell ya, go for mutual funds. There are two types, equity and debt funds. No risk at all, I tell ya. How do you think I bought that car last month? I have been investing in mutual funds since 5 years.”
Man 2 nodding his head, asked “whom did you contact for this one? You must have an agent right?”
Man 1: “Yes. Of course. You call my man. He will give you the best deal and you don’t have to worry about anything for the whole year. He will give you an estimate by the end of the year on how much tax you have saved”
Man 2: “I really have got to do something about this. I am paying a lot of tax and my housing loan is not enough to cover it”.
Interesting how contrasting these two conversations were.
Now another group of people came in while I was savoring my last chapati. This one had 2 men in their late 20s and the 3 girls who looked the like they were in their early 20s.
Not to be a buzz kill, but it was just a matter time that they got what they wanted and looked very predictable group.
I finished my lunch and got up to wash my hands and to fill my cup with water. I waited next to the water filter while one of the girls was filling her water bottle.
Girl 1: She left the job you know? It was her last working day last Friday.
Boy 1: Why do girls leave their job after marriage?
Girl 2: It is not unusual. Either they can’t take the pressure or else their husbands or in laws stop.
Boy 2: What pressure? It can’t be worse than in office? Seriously, you should meet my manager, he is a pain.
Girl 2: House work. Girls should manage both household and office and keep their head straight all the time because they can’t afford to lose their shit yaar.
Boy 1: Household work? Cooking? It hardly takes 1 hour to do that. For other work they should have a maid do all that. Come on, she is been working here for 4 years, she can afford to pay for a maid.
Boy 2: Yeah man. I don’t understand. Why do all girls want to prove that they are some superwoman huh? To impress whom? If you can’t handle it then why do you brag about multitasking etc? No wonder women are so messed up after marriage. Marriage is scary.
Girl 1: You won’t understand that Mehul. It is not always the same.
As my turn came, I filled my cup with water and came back to my place. I was numb. This last conversation was heart-breaking to me. The middle aged men had financial responsibilities; the women had culinary responsibility and the young girls and boys were in their assumptions of how marriage works.
I realized that I have been in all these places.
I was making some investments, also worrying about the cooking for next day and once upon a time, I also was doubtful about work, family and relationship.
What surprised me was that no one was talking about work. No one was talking about technology, new software or bidding for new clients or anything about their work for which they were getting paid.
I started wondering what if the conversations were swapped.
What if, the women talked about financial investments, the men about cooking and their children; the young boys and girls about technology or cars or new apps? How different would the world be!
At that time my phone buzzed and I saw my Mom calling.
Me: “Hey Mom. I thought you were sleeping”
Mom: “Not yet. Your Dad is yet to come for lunch. Once he comes I’ll take a nap. Also there are some people here for cleaning the garden. The weeds have grown 2 feet tall and our maid spotted a snake in the backyard. Due to rainy season no workers are available.”
Me: “Hmmm mmm.”
Mom: “I made green gram curry today. It will last for dinner as well. How is your new cook? Does she cook well? Does she use less oil and clean up after the work? You should stand beside her and monitor her, you know. They don’t learn. One day you give them some leniency and next day they will dance on your head. You got to learn to keep them under check”
Me: “Yes Mom. How’s dad?” And then she went on for five minutes talking about Dad.
All is well I guess as you reach retirement. Only a few regrets on how you could do it better. We learn to balance work, family all our lives. You are never too old to learn something, never too old to have problems.
Thus my lunch was over and I walked back to my work station and dived into a pile of waiting emails, deadlines, client calls and meetings.