Vasant (Spring) 2020 Short Stories - Tamizh Ponni



By Tamizh Ponni


“God, I am shaking!”, uttered Zoya nervously under her breath. Zoya and her colleagues, Sofia and Falak, were seated in a well-furnished room brimming with the office. The walls were richly tinted with Tiffany blue, and filled with gigantic portraits of employees who had managed to win rewards like Employee of the Month, Immaculate Attendance, Fast Tracker, Safety Star Award, Positive Participator.


Sofia and Falak feasted their desirous eyes upon those photographs, mentally photo shopping their faces over those of the awardees. The Office Reception had an eccentric aura. Like a hospital’s emergency ward, it also had unmitigated gloom. Employees often feared to enter this space and never failed to hide behind a pretentious veil every time they arrived, thanks to their new Boss Lady, Ms Sonia. There was no telling how this meeting would go for the three of them but the wait was driving them crazy, especially Zoya.


“Oh, how I wish I could read her mind!”, said Zoya in almost a whine. As they heard the door creaking, Zoya quickly pretended to type something on her laptop. The notepad file on her computer was partially filled with tightly juxtaposed patterns of ‘fsdfsdfsdf’.


“Ms Zoya, calm down!”, whispered the irritated Falak, “This is just a simple meeting to discuss what went wrong with our marketing event last week. Stop overstressing. It’s not the end of the freaking world.”


For Zoya, it was exactly that. She didn’t want to be put in a spot for someone else’s blunder. She tried to calm herself after listening to that mini homily. It didn’t help but she wasn’t ready to listen to another. Words were poor comforters’ rightt now. The minutes towards the dreaded meeting ticked by until the Boss’s secretary walked towards them, a slow smile working its way across his face. “Five more minutes. Anything to drink?”




“We are good.”


“Not really.” they replied in unison, squirming coyly in their seats.


Zoya was pretty distinctive among the group. Her association with the organization went back a long way. It wass fair to say that she had had her day. Apparently the recent changes in the top brass of the company had shaken up the state of affairs for senior employees like Zoya. Of late, she has started reminiscing those days when she had fared well.


under the previous leadership. The poor thing missed her old Bosses. The new Boss lady Sonia was, to be precisely put, a bitch. Initially, Zoya tried to establish a rapport with Sonia by presenting her portfolio professional achievement, awards and accolades through a colourful Sway. Unfortunately, the mission failed.


Every time an opportunity presented itself for friendly interaction with Ms Cruella De Ville, Zoya sucked at it miserably. Sonia, in turn, avoided Zoya’s presence without any pretence. There was a widespread rumour going around the office about Sonia’s hostility towards the old employees. It hinted at the new leader wanting to cleanse the system by bringing in new blood and flushing out the fossils. In other words, the Boss Lady wanted to surround herself with like-minded noobs a.k.a bobbleheads. Zoya however didn’t let this cloud her judgement. Although the odds of getting into the good books of the Boss were now remote, Zoya didn’t give up yet. She was hoping to work around the difficulties and become the Teacher’s Pet someday.

“Things used to be different around here,'' grumbled Zoya, unable to contain her mounting anxiety, “I was here, in this place, so often earlier. Never felt this nervy, never had cold feet. My previous managers, oh those folks! I was their go-to person. My photograph used to adorn this Wall of Fame all the time.” she sighed, gesturing at the wall.

Zoya’s soliloquy didn’t impress her neighbours. Being newcomers into the system, Falak and Leela were extremely careful about the conversations they wanted to be a part of. Their curiosity made them listen to Zoya’s grievances but they acted indifferent.


Working together in the same division, these women initially did start off on the right foot, or at least they thought they did. But as the weeks rolled by, they almost made it to the top of the “Things that don’t mix well” chart. Ostensibly, for the organization, they were a great team that functioned without any fracas. The reality wasn’t actually so pleasing.

For Leela and Falak, Zoya was the goose that laid golden eggs whilst for the swollen-headed Zoya, the other two were useless and uninteresting. Within a few weeks, Zoya was able to spot their flaws and gauge their expertise. There was nothing new or challenging the newbie’s brought to the table which eventually led Zoya to disparage her partners.

Impressing Ms Maleficence was her prime objective now. As an established high-performer in the system, Zoya was well-known for her dominative streak. Leela hailed from an old-fashioned set-up that celebrated whatever potential she had and gave credit where it was due. The ambitious yet naive redhead wanted the same kind of treatment and attention here as well. Due to the recent unfortunate changes in the organizational structure, new designations were recently created.


That included the role of Department Head too. When Leela knew Zoya planned to race for it, an ulterior motive quietly crawled up her agenda. She would get hold of the position by hook or by crook. Several “sweet-talk” sessions with Sonia that involved loads of “buttering-up”, did it for her. Leela successfully managed to wheedle the Boss lady into granting all her wishes inclusive of the coveted HOD position, and got a lifetime pass for the Bootlickers Club.


Still, Zoya remained her pain point. Leela’s sense of insecurity only kept intensifying when she discovered Zoya was adept at everything she did. Feeling outmoded and left behind, Leela was green with envy at Zoya as she had to face a demanding learning curve to understand the new system. Learning the shortcuts, smart tactics and professional practices from Zoya were Leela’s priorities now.

And yet, Zoya spent countless nights wondering why she wasn’t considered qualified for the position even after having built such an impressive track record. Zoya mainly respected her superiors for their intellect and prowess, a feeling that Leela lacked completely. Zoya however thought it ludicrous to be expected to be fine about doing the lion’s share of work and letting the credit go to Leela all the time.


On multiple occasions, Zoya had also caught Leela lying and engaging in intellectual property theft. In her eyes, Leela was an outdated, shady, sex-deprived hag who wore ridiculous clothes to work with a perfume that smelled like death.


Falak, on the other hand, didn’t give a damn about any of this and excluded herself from the rat race. She was proud to be the MYOB kind, respecting the system and faithfully following rules.


“We need to be bold, I think”, said Falak surprisingly confident and loud, “We did our best. There’s nothing we could have done differently. It was a foolproof plan which was approved by Ms Sonia herself!”


Leela immediately nodded. “I agree with Falak. Let’s all speak the same language and stick together.”, and looked at Zoya for affirmation. Zoya gave out a loud cynical laugh heedless of her surroundings. She was already getting irked by the vapid positivity and presumptuousness of her Team Lead. She knew this was coming. She knew that the plan would be a debacle and had warned Leela of its consequences earlier. However, she wasn’t taken seriously at that time. Hence, in a way, Zoya was secretly enjoying this fiasco and was internally screaming “I told you so” to all of them.


“Ms Zoya, what do you think?” repeated Leela waiting for her acknowledgement.


“Of cours”, said Zoya rolling her eyes thinking about a certain department head who was incapable of successfully running an event as simple as this.


“Ms Leela, you must remember that it was your plan all the way. When I tried to explain the potential risks involved, you didn’t pay any attention to it. Why would I now face the music for your mistake?” asked Zoya with a sardonic smile.


Leela didn’t respond to that question but frantically scribbled something on her notepad. Her worst fears were being realized. If Zoya were to play the blame game in front of Sonia, Leela needed to tackle that and ensure that her reputation remained untainted.


“Ms Zoya, I think we all need to stay together as a unit and be there for each other”, said Leela trying not to lose her calm. Zoya had truly pushed the right buttons.

“Errr...that still doesn’t answer my question”, said Zoya coolly looking at her newly manicured nails.


The conversation was getting Falak fed up to the teeth. Thanks to her colleagues' unpredictability and vainglory, the situation was only going from bad to worse.


She broke off another of their head-to-head saying, “Listen everyone, please...please stop this. Stop it. Let’s just get out of this meeting alive and then talk about this, okay?

Knowing how difficult Ms Sonia is, we need to stay strong and have each other’s back. This isn’t the best time for whistle blowing...God! I knew this day was going to be terrible.

What’s wrong with you both? Didn’t get enough action last night? ”


Falak’s sudden intervention amused Zoya. She couldn’t stifle her laughter at that remark. It reminded her of one of the Boxing referees in WWE. She, for that one moment, was glad that at least one of the newcomers did something impressive for the first time by agreeing to put up a bold front.


“You ladies can proceed now”, announced the hot Secretary making them all slightly jump out of their seats. With no further ado, they collected their laptops and notepads and headed towards Ms Sonia’s room in a queue. Leela lead the pack with a gentle knock on the door. Upon receiving the Boss’s assent through the in swing door glass, Leela entered the room along with the others. As they all took their seats, Zoya couldn’t help but notice the sudden change in Leela’s demeanour in front of Ms Sonia. Leela’s spine suddenly

took a slump that gave her a Hunchback of Notre Dame look while a fawning expression occupied her face.


“What’s with her back and the stupid face?” Zoya thought, trying to conceal her repulsion.


Zoya tried real hard not to seem out of countenance and presented herself well through a straight posture, confident looks and crossed arms. She certainly can’t pick this day to be out of her element. Ms Sonia didn’t waste much time in exchanging pleasantries and got straight to the point making minimal eye contact with them.


“Ah..Where do I begin..I must say I wasn’t impressed with the way your event went, really. I mean..Your department is filled with creative people, you see. I expected more. What you showcased was very basic. Elementary school level and too old-fashioned. What went wrong? ”, said Sonia pointing to her computer screen which had some observations as a stream of bullet points. Her multi-layered make-up truly matched her personality that day- dark and devilish.


Zoya didn’t know what her colleagues felt but that opening statement was a red alert. The thought of having to attend many more dreadful meetings like this gave her a wave of dizziness and a dry mouth. She prayed that the adrenaline rush wouldn’t wake up early the demon dozing in her uterus. She was determined to speak her mind and get it all out of her system. Mustering some courage, Zoya spoke first.


“Ms Sonia...Thank you for the feedback. I’d just like to add a few thoughts to it, if I may..”, she said and waited for Sonia’s permission to speak. The Boss lady gave Zoya, a caustic look and said, “yeah, go on”.


Sonia had her own plans for Zoya. In other words, she had stereotype segregators in her mind that bracketed people. Unfortunately, Zoya was in the wrong one- The group that would eventually be eliminated from the organization by inducing white-collar hypertension. For Sonia, Zoya was ambitious and all but didn’t concur with her expectations that surrounded submission and blind respect for authority. The Boss lady was admirably sly and manipulative. Her pretty face and petite features portrayed the image of an ethical, graceful leader perfectly obscuring her shady, rotten side.


Zoya cleared her dry throat and said, “Since this is our first big event for the year, the initial plan was to create a strong digital presence for the event. So I created an Event website having details on the agenda, speakers, registration and venue. I also suggested using Social media platforms do connect with our audience to build our brand, increase sales, and drive website traffic. I planned to do the Post-event social activity through an online Survey which again will help us analyze the data better. But none of this was approved.


My Department head dismissed all of these plans without even having an actual discussion. We had poor attendance owing to the lack of timely communication with our guests. All our competitors have adapted to the Social Media Era while we are still telecalling. This is another reason why the turnout and response to the event were poor.”

As she noticed Ms Sonia casually checking her Whatsapp messages while pretending to listen, Zoya’s concentration and confidence faltered. She concluded her answer in a faded tone, saying, “That’s...that’s the idea...Ms Sonia.”


Sonia looked up after a second, slightly pouting and said, “Oh...Okay...hmmm….Well...I don’t know, ladies. I guess everyone should take the fall and admit that the event could have gone better.”


The event’s post-mortem analysis given by Zoya distressed Leela so much that she began moving restlessly in her seat.


“Ms Leela, are you okay?”, asked Sonia in a genuinely concerned voice.


“Yyyye...sss.Mmmmamm...Ssss..ure”, stuttered Leela turning red.


Just when Zoya thought that the Boss would handle the situation in an unprejudiced manner, something bizarre began to happen. Sonia reached for the tissue box and handed it to Leela, who had started sobbing. Zoya couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Leela knew when to play the victim card and the outcome was definitely becoming a favourable one for her.


“Ms Leela, you are an amazing Team lead. Just get your team in line and everything will be fine. Okay?”, said Sonia entirely falling for whatever obvious trick Leela was pulling. No number of Oscars could have honoured that performance.


As Falak was giving gentle “There..There” backrubs, Leela was hysterically nodding her head to every word the Boss lady uttered and took notes at lightning speed. Her face lit up for every random idea Ms Sonia tossed around mindlessly, ignoring to bring up the practical difficulties they would face in the execution.


“I understand, Ma’am. Of course, yes... You bet we will...Right away, we shall start working on it...Surely.....Anything you say, Ma’am...Oh, what a great thought! Why didn’t we think of that?!”, were some of the phrases Leela and Falak spoke for the next 10 minutes. The docile duo didn’t dare say a contrary word and kept scribbling like two maniacs on a caffeine overdose. Throughout the discussion, Ms Sonia hardly cared for Zoya’s responses or reaction.


Zoya became a mute spectator. She just sat there completely zoned out of the buffoonery being staged in that room. Anger and confusion registered on her face as the discussion progressed. The frustrated woman wanted to storm out of the room and scream like her life depended on it. But Ms Sonia had other plans. Hardly had Zoya begun to speak, the meeting was concluded and the attendees rose.


“Alright then. Show me what you’ve got when it’s ready. You can all do this. Ms Leela..I’d like you to stay for some time”, chirped Ms Sonia with her hands clenched, continuing to ignore Zoya. Her colleagues responded with a series of sickly sweet phrases still keeping their backs bent. Leela stayed for a short private meeting while Falak complimented Ms. Sonia’s choice of attire for the day before exiting the room.


“Urgh”, scowled Zoya rolling her eyes and gnashed her teeth feeling worthless. Without turning back, Zoya left the room and scuttled off to the Gazebo near the Office lawn to get some fresh air; to escape from the suffocating sycophancy she just got exposed to.


“What the hell was that? I thought these things happened only in the movies…..or in politics”, she thought. The morning sun’s warm rays coated her face in vivid yellow patches. Three turned out to be more of harm than a charm for her. She craved a cigarette.

As always, the two conflicting voices in her head began their debate.


“You have done your part. It’s time to move on. Clinging on to this sinking ship is a waste of time. You are getting paid peanuts to do the donkey work. Employees are loyal to their organizations but it doesn’t work the other way around. The more you procrastinate about this, the greater the likelihood of you spending the rest of your life being a subordinate to a bunch of fools piggybacking on to you. It’s now or never. You’ve got nothing to lose and it isn’t worth it.


You’ve got two choices here. Stay and fight or give up and leave. Accept the situation and move on. Sometimes, quitting doesn’t count as a defeat”, said the first voice or as Zoya calls it ‘The Silly Voice’.


“Woah, Slow down there. This is just a phase. People come, People leave but the institution goes on forever. Anything can change. Winds will turn favourable. Just sail through this year. Think about other logistics. You have worked yourself to the bone for the growth of this company. It isn’t easy to land a job in this screwed up economy. Even if you did, there’s a lot of work to be done then. Readjusting to a new system, new rules and new people is tiring as hell.


Wherever you go, there’ll always be one capitalistic, power-hungry two-faced pig waiting to shackle you. A known devil is better than an unknown angel, girl. Take a deep breath and think,” added the second voice or as Zoya calls it, ‘The Sensible Voice’.


Zoya’s cognitive dispute was cut off by the message alert on her phone. It was from Leela. “Dear Team, Let’s meet up today at 2:00 in the conference room to discuss the plan for our next Event. Come prepared. We rock!”, the text read.


“Urgh!”, Zoya exclaimed, “I wonder how this dumbass bitch can shamelessly steal ideas from others and take credit for it all the time. Sick piece of junk!”


Zoya typed “All fine with your spine??”, as a reply to that text but couldn’t press the SEND button. She erased it after a moment and tossed her phone on the table in exasperation.

Zoya had now seen, heard and had everything. It would be insane not to make a decision. Her crazy ass had always welcomed and adapted to change but in this circumstance, it seemed impossible. The organization was now honeycombed with hypocrites sitting in the hierarchy up and above. It was a “Bootlick or get kicked” situation and Zoya realised that she had few chances of survival there. Zoya skipped lunch that day.


She retreated to her lonely cubicle quietly and opened the laptop. After syncing the emails and files from the office cloud drive with her personal account, Zoya did something she should have done sooner. The mouse pointer on the screen double-clicked on the Word file just when it opened a document containing neatly organized chunks of text. They aligned with a passport size photograph of Zoya taken in her early 20s. It was twice as horrible as her Adhar Card picture. After staring at the documents’ contents long and hard, with a deep sigh, Zoya started updating her 15-year-old resume.


As she edited the file, Zoya paused and looked at the tchotchkes that adorned her desk. One piece particularly caught her attention. It was a wooden sailboat figurine gifted by Zoya’s father when she got her first promotion. Zoya lifted the craft gently and traced her fingers over the etched quotes.


“Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.”


She smiled gently, placed it back and continued typing. After making necessary revisions, Zoya proofread her resume for one last time and uploaded the file on a couple of renowned job search sites. More than immediate employment elsewhere, Zoya badly needed an escape from this day-to-day whirlwind of madness in the kingdom of Pennywise Clown. Deep down inside, Zoya knew full-well that it could greatly help her standing with Ms Sonia if she polished the apple a bit. But that was not who she was.


Clearly, Zoya was incapable of carrying it out even for one meeting let alone for a long time. That night, Zoya began drafting her resignation letter, meticulously explaining the reasons for quitting. That small cursed part of her still didn’t want to let go. She felt that the organization would try to retain her after her decision was out. Zoya sank into her bed still hoping for a miracle and turned off the bed lamp.


The next day, Zoya was startled when she saw the meeting invite from Ms Sonia’s secretary who missed the subject or agenda. Zoya prepared herself with the best speech of her life and even practised a few body language tactics to seem and sound confident. The shower room as always was her stage.


Ms Sonia welcomed Zoya warmly into her room. She seemed a little cheerful that day, which was a good sign.


“Come on in, Ms Zoya. Have a seat. Candies?”, she asked, pushing a bowl of Jelly Beans towards Zoya.


Zoya smiled and helped herself to a few. She didn’t wait for Ms Sonia to get to the point.


“Ms Sonia, if this meeting is about my resignation email, I would like to…”


“We accept your resignation, Ms Zoya”, said Sonia smiling brightly. “We value your association with us and wish you luck for your future endeavours.”


Saying this, she extended her hand to Zoya who almost died a little inside. The sudden response drained the blood from her face. All those sensible words and carefully constructed justifications, preserved in Zoya’s brain were fighting for an escape through her mouth but never found their way out.


Her head kept echoing “What just happened...what just happened” constantly. That was the first time she had seen evil in human form. Zoya mechanically shook hands with Ms. Sonia, got up and walked out feeling emotionally weak for any more fights.


As days rolled along, the usual HR procedures followed the meeting. Among so many useless things in the world, the Employee Exit Interview Form was one. On her last day as Zoya sat down to fill it, she found an amusing question on the form.


It said “Please check the factor that influenced your decision to leave the organization” and had a list of options to tick below. Zoya ticked “Training” option and wrote, “I figured out the one skill others had mastered but I didn’t was the skill of sucking up. One training session on that would have helped”.


Zoya clearly didn’t give a hoot about anything anymore. Returning to her desk, Zoya pulled a letter from her drawer and started to draft the email.


"I am pleased to accept your position of HOD at Upper Canada College for a salary of $100,000. I will be able to start Monday.”


She hit the SEND button without having any second thoughts, whatsoever. After clearing her desk and bidding farewell to a couple of her close friends, Zoya left her cubicle giving it one last look. “Zero regrets”, she thought and kept moving.


Without investing much time on her Farewell message, Zoya typed “So long,Suckers!” and pushed it to her office Whatsapp group before exiting.


As the clock struck five, the office crowd began to swarm the walkway. Zoya found herself smiling, walking with her head held high amongst the sea of Bobbleheads, feeling glad that she wasn’t going to be one of them.


Tamizh Ponni is working as Design Facilitator in Oakridge International School, Bengaluru. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering, an MBA in Human Resources and is studying for a Masters in English Literature.




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