Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Chapter 9: Just Sidding!

It was late afternoon when Ameya was discharged. He wanted to meet Koli and ask her if she knew more about his accident. Just then his phone rang. It was Vineeta.


‘Hi Ameya. I hope you are feeling better. Koli madam wants to speak to you. Ameya didn’t know if he could broach the subject on the phone.

‘Hello Ameya. Feeling better?’

‘Yes madam. I am being discharged today.’

‘Yes, I know. You take good rest for two weeks. We’ll talk when you return. Take care. Thank you.’

The line went dead. Ameya had a sticking feeling. Till now Koli wasn’t allowing him to work and now finally when he had gotten around to earning her favour, this accident put the brakes on his plans. Something was always stopping him, He wondered if he should inform Rajesh. He decided to email him and ask for more time to furnish the report.


At home, his parents had prepared for his discharge. His bedroom was as pristine as the hospital room, courtesy his mother.

‘Amu, Siddharth called today. He is coming to Bombay. He wanted to check out the colleges.’

Siddharth was Ameya’s cousin in his mom’s side. He and Ameya spent many summer holidays together at his home town in Nagpur. Siddharth had always been in Nagpur and wanted to do his graduation from Bombay. Ameya welcomed the idea as Siddharth was amazing company. He was of much bigger built than Ameya, which made him look like the elder one.


‘Does he know about the accident?’, Ameya asked, slightly concerned about inconveniencing his cousin.

‘Yes, all the more reason for him to come running here’, Madhav said. Siddharth was full of life, yet humble. He was outgoing and easy to get along with. The only problem with Siddharth according to Ameya was his lack of deep interest in anything.


The next day, they sat at the lunch table, expecting Siddharth anytime. Instead Ameya got a text message from Siddharth asking them to not wait up and carry on with lunch. No one was surprised. Ameya tried reading some of his BSchool texts, but as he did then, he slept off immediately.


At the stroke of four, the door bell rang. Ameya, through his sleep, could hear someone loudly complaining about the traffic in Bombay. He smiled, cleared his throat and said, ‘Mumbai mein rahega toh aisaich hoyega.’ The loud voice stopped short.


‘Ameya…’, Siddharth’s huge form crowded the doorway as he smiled widely at his cousin. His smile vanished as soon as he saw the cast.

‘My god, what happened exactly?’

 ‘Nothing…got hit by a bike. Why are you late?’

Siddharth started his animated story telling. Ameya knew this break turned out to be a blessing.


‘Arre, I came in a share-cab, thinking I will get off at Nerul and check out some colleges there. But the share-cab went only till Panvel, From there I took the train to Nerul. It was lunch hour so no one was there. Finally at 2pm, I got a brochure from one college and left so I could get here in time.’


‘In time for what?’

‘The rock concert at Andheri Sports Complex…don’t you read Mumbai Mirror?’

‘I thought you came to check out the colleges’, Madhavi said from the kitchen.

‘If colleges stayed open till 9 in the night, I will definitely check them out’, Said Siddharth with a gleaming smile.

‘Fine…go get ready…you are early though.’

‘Oh I have to go there at 6 to get the tickets.’

‘You don’t have the tickets?’

‘Of course not. I’ll go there and manage.’

‘Show is completely sold out. You have no tickets. Still, I am sure you will return at 2am in the morning having attended it fully. Classic Sid.’

‘Yeah, yeah!’, Siddharth seemed preoccupied. He searched for a marker and wrote on Ameya’s cast, ‘Mumbai rocks. Traffic sucks.’


Friday, March 7, 2008

Chapter 8: Accidents happen

Just as Ameya walked out of the college building, he lost his footing on the foot path. He looked back to check what it was and found a bag which was lying unattended. He examined the bag for some time. He had heard about bombs being placed in public places and was not sure of what to do.

“Aah, what are the chances of a bomber getting this used college bag?”  


He bent to pick it up. Just then, he heard the roar of a motorcycle and turned. But it was too late. He fell face down on the edge of the footpath. From the corner of his eye, he saw his attacker leave with the bag roaring away on the motorcycle. His head was banging with pain. His palms were numb. He propped himself on his hands and stood up. His leg felt wet. He looked down to see, much to his horror that his pant had ripped off and there was blood all over his knee and calf. As soon as he saw this, his leg started pulsing with pain. He collapsed on the footpath and howled.


Dange ran out of the college building soon after. He was fastening he windows of the staff room when he saw Ameya collapsed. He told Koli that Ameya was hurt and ran down. He alerted the watchman who came out of his favourite hiding spot and brought a chair for Ameya to sit.


“What happened?”, Koli’s voice rang out from above.

“Madam, call a doctor.”


Vineeta came bounding down the stairs. “Ameya, are you alright?”

Ameya could barely concentrate. He did not want to pass out from the pain. He asked for water. He knew all the staff had left and he did not want to inconvenience anybody.


“An ambulance is arriving, Ameya. How did this happen? I have called the police SO too. He will be arriving soon. Dange, get the first aid box. Watchman, get Ameya inside.” Koli seemed calm as if this happened everyday. She had built good relations with the station officer at the nearby police station. Her husband was the dean of one of the better known medical colleges in the city. Even in that confused state, Ameya caught himself being in awe of her efficiency.


“A bag was lying in this corner. I bent to pick it up. A biker came and knocked me over and took the bag.”

“Must have been a student…”, Vineeta checked herself as Koli gave her a stare.

“Did you see who it was?”

Ameya shook his head.


When he set out of the college building, his mind filled with plans, Ameya never thought that he would answer this question a dozen times over the next few hours. He found himself lying on a hospital bed with his leg in a cast. His mother had just left to go to his house and get him a change of clothes. His father sat next to his bed reading a weekly to him. Ameya looked lost.


“I cannot believe you missed the cricket match.”

“Dad… stop pulling my leg…it hurts”, Ameya smiled.

Madhav looked at his son and said, “You should not have taken this job in the first place. Rowdy college students. Look what they have done.”

“Look Dad, I know you don’t like me working here, but it is just getting better….I am on the verge on something big….I should not leave now. And it may not be a college student.”

“How do you know?”

“He was huge and looked like a young man.”

“You said you did not see him?”

“Yes, but I saw him leave. He looked very tall and he definitely had experience riding.” Ameya stopped. He did not want to worry his father.

“What do you mean? Tell me.”

“As I bent to pick up the bag, I heard the roar. I was just about to turn back, when I saw the front tire of the bike climb on to the footpath and stop. There was a second where I could have sworn I felt him jerk the bag from my hand and knock me over with the wheel and then he turned expertly and drove off. He stopped on a height, swung the front wheel and turned on the spot. He was no kid, I am sure.”

“Have you told the police?”

“Yeah, they wrote it down. But all they ask is if I saw his face. They have no idea why I am being so thorough with the details of his flair for riding. If I say it anymore, they will surely believe that I know this guy and that I worship him for his skills.”

“You think it was a bomb Dad?”

“I doubt anyone would want to jerk a bomb off your hands and then hurt you”, Madhav smiled and then stopped. “What if….”


“Is this college known for drugs?”

“NO…No, No…it is a very respectable institute…nothing like that…”, Ameya trailed off.

“We had an incident in our college once when I was in my final year. There was a group of students who would hang out in the lab, the canteen and all such places where there will be no continuous supervision. We always thought they were studying together or maybe in a drama club, because they always looked so serious and confident. In the end of the term, just before the exams, when the college was almost empty, our librarian saw them in the men’s room doing drugs. He quietly went and told the principal. The principal did not want anyone else to know about this shameful event and approached the students directly. He scolded them, told them that he would inform their parents and how I know all this is that I was General Secretary and I was very close to the Librarian.”


“Then apparently for some days, nothing happened. Things cooled down. Exams took place. After the exams, the librarian quit. He was not old enough to retire and not young enough to hop jobs. He quit just like that.”


“So, it was our theory that he was made to quit by one of the students, if you know what I mean. People doing drugs can be very dangerous and bordering on insane.”

“So you mean the guy who ran me over was a drug addict student and the bag had drugs?”

“You better speak to the principal about this.”

“I don’t want to be the librarian…”, Ameya muttered under his breath.


As Ameya was about to be discharged the next day, his parents went home. He spent the night at the hospital. He felt vulnerable and did not want to admit: scared. In this state of mind, he fell asleep.


Ameya found himself outside the stairway leading into the auditorium. He heard faint noises from inside the auditorium. There was a rather unusual mammoth library card that he had to swing out to enter. His feet took him inside where a group of students sat huddled around a table. He thought they must be studying for the exams. One of the students was dozing off on the desk. The others were all looking very intently at the table. He turned to leave. But just then he heard a collective sucking sound, like they were all breathing in together. Ameya turned back and instead of the group of students, a rugged college bag was lying open on the floor. He was lured to see what was in it. Madhav was saying something in the background to a librarian over tea. Ameya ignored it. He went towards the bag and as he approached it, he saw small packets inside. The bag seemed to engulf him and he could see a small motorcycle figurine inside it. He picked it up and the next thing he knew, he was under the motorcycle and there was a huge man laughing at him from behind the helmet. The pain returned and Ameya shrieked out of his nightmare. He woke up sweating and ready to bolt.

The surroundings, his leg in a cast and the systematic ticking of the hospital clock somehow calmed him down. He steadied himself and drank water. “Whew! What a nightmare.”

As he was about to close his eyes, he thought about what he dreamt.

“Oh my god, were they doing drugs in the auditorium?”

Ameya brain whizzed with possibilities and questions. He took a pencil and a notepad from the bed table and jotted down:

  • Students doing drugs in Audi?
  • Does koli know?
  • Is she under pressure?
  • Does Raghuvanshi know?
  • Is there history of drug addiction in this college?
  • Was that guy a supplier? - Money in the bag?
  • Was he a student? - Drugs in the bag?
  • From another college?


“This is explosive. I have to do some ground work by myself before I can say anything to anybody.” With a determined frown, he settled down to sleep. As the last traces of consciousness drifted away from his mind, he thought, “Is he after me?”







Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chapter 7: Following Koli

“Hi Vineeta.”

“Hmmm”, said Vineeta with a hard stare.

“Hey, I need to know Koli Madam’s schedule and I need you to keep me informed about her day.”

A look of confusion crossed Vineeta’s face. She shuffled out of her desk and went into Koli’s cabin.

Ameya wondered if she went to ask for permission. “Tough!”, he sighed.

She returned with the same hardened expression. “Do you have a piece of paper?”


“She will do her afternoon rounds and then have a staff meeting at 3 and then she has a class in Marketing. She has to meet a second year student’s parents after that.”

“Ok, so I will be accompanying her on all this. Could I have an ID assigned…you know with login id, email id and id card?”

“One minute…I’ll give you a form to fill. Fill it up and submit it in the office.”

Ameya sat there as Vineeta shuffled through papers, searched files and then continued to do her work. “Should I take the form from you?”, Ameya asked, not knowing how to break the silence.

Vineeta thought for a while and said, “Get it from Dhar”


Ameya took the steps two at a time and reached the office in no time. “There he is…”, he muttered under his breath. Mr. Dhar was a clerk at the office, who Ameya had never seen work. He was the best in delegation and passing the bucket. Many in the college had this opinion about him. Ameya though, would discover it for himself. He waited for Mr. Dhar to finish chatting up the peon. It was nearly two forty-five. He did not want to be late for the staff meeting. But he did not want to go one more day without being able to access the computers or the canteen in the evenings. He was looking forward to starting the report that evening.

“Mr. Dhar, I want a form for…”

Dhar looked sideways and continued talking to the peon. Ameya cursed under his breath about covering his authority in this sickening submission. ‘All for the greater good’, he told himself.

“Mr. Dhar, I need the form for ID card.”

Dhar mumbled something to his colleague who gave Ameya an old form.

“Get it photocopied. We have only one left.”

“Ok”, Ameya said. He went up to the library where the photocopying machine was located. The staff machine was operated by a peon who was absent that day. Ameya quickly ran down to the road to get a copy made at the canteen shop. He would have had to wait in line for the students to finish.

“I guess ID can wait.” He folded the form in two and dashed up to the conference room. As he swung open the doors, he saw that the room was empty. It was five to three. He had made it in time. He tried switching on the lights and fans so he could keep the room ready. A portly peon walked in with a bottle of water. He looked at Ameya and started chatting. Ameya had hardly talked to him before. He was a shy man. Ameya learned that his name was Dange.

“Are you in charge of the conference room?”

“Yes Sir”

Ameya was pleased to be called Sir. “I am in charge of this room and the auditorium.”

“Very good. You maintain everything well.”

“What Sir…I have been given the most boring job. My rooms never get occupied.”

“Ha ha, why do you think so?”

“Because I am not a part of the union…so the other peons have important jobs, whereas I only work for Koli madam and that too only in arranging the halls.”

“That’s…bad. Let me see if I can find something interesting for you today Dange. Now could you switch on the lights and air the room before they arrive?”

“Are you Koli Madam’s secretary now?”

“Oh, no..no. I am just working with her…”

Dange left and started placing the chairs properly.

“Secretary….as if Vineeta is not enough.”


The teachers started entering one by one. Koli came in the end. Ameya sat in the last chair and made himself invisible.


Ameya’s notepad

Minutes of the meeting:

The meeting was held from 3 to 3:30pm … Koli discussed the following:

>> Vice Principal Selection Committee arriving on Monday. Applications to be returned by Wednesday.

>> Annual event surplus funds to be handed over to management.

>> Book exhibition to be held in February

>> New blackboards for two classrooms

>> Inter-collegiate Merit Certificates for students ready for distribution

>> Revival of college Cricket Team

>> Memorial service for Late Vice President Kulkarni. Agenda for meeting with family.


** Ask Koli about funds transfer to management. Also find out who brings up these issues to Koli.


Koli met Ameya outside the conference room. “Did you note the minutes?”

“Yes Madam.”

“Give it to Vineeta. She will type them.”

Ameya felt he had been promoted.


He followed Koli into the marketing class. She looked at him unhappily. He approached her and said, “Madam, my specialization was in Marketing, One day even I want to become a teacher of marketing. Could I please attend?” Even Ameya knew he was pushing it too far. She grunted. He took it as approval and sat down.


Koli had no notes and no texts. She just brought a chalk with her and conducted the entire class. Ameya completed his minutes during the class. Everytime he would try to remember something and look up, he would see how quiet the class was and how every student was paying rapt attention. He too sat there as a student and restudied the elements of advertising. He made a note to attend the same lecture by another teacher and compare the technique. If he wanted to be a teacher, he would have to start somewhere. Koli wrote very few words on the board and the students wrote nothing in their books. But they were told to read 10-12 pages for the next lecture. Ameya could not believe that the students were so obedient as to actually do that. But everyone seemed to be following the lessons.



“That was very nice Madam. I have never seen such an alert class.”

“If you can capture their imagination, they learn better.”, Koli said. Ameya caught a faint glint of what he thought was the passion of teaching flit past her face.



Ameya sat next to the cooler in Koli’s office. Mr and Mrs Thacker looked troubled. Koli had called Digesh Thacker’s parents to her office.

“Digesh has been sent home many times, Mr Thacker. But not until I called you did you know about this.”

“We both work and we never knew that he is not coming to college.”

“The problem is that he DOES come to college…but not to the classroom and even when he does, he angers the teachers and misbehaves…so they have to send him home.”

“But he is a nice boy.”

“I am sure he is good at home and there could be many reasons he is a bully in college. But unless he is punished, he will continue to be like this and it will harm his academics.”

“He is an intelligent boy, Madam.”

“I have seen Digesh from the 11th grade. I know how good he was. In fact I think I was the one who interviewed him for the Tata Scholarships. But now he thinks he is too smart even for the teachers. He talks non stop and makes comments when the teachers back is turned. The worst thing is that he has his gang of followers that make him into some sort of leader figure. He needs good company and special attention from you too.”

“I don’t know what else to do Madam. Our younger one is not very good at studies. Whom will I look after?”, Mrs Thacker cried out.

Koli took a deep breath. “I have scheduled an appointment with a counselor who cousnels across all our schools and colleges. Let me see when she is free. Then we can get her to speak to Digesh. You too will need to be present. It is for his future.”

The parents looked disappointed. But they politely thanked Koli and left.


“They will not come back.”, Koli said under her breath.

Ameya heard it. “Why do you think that Madam?”

“Did you see the look on their faces when I mentioned counselor? They think that I am saying their son is ‘mental’ because I said counselor. And these are the educated parents.” Koli sighed heavily. Ameya could see the lines of worry crowd her face. He had renewed respect for her. She really cared for her students.


“So what have you learnt today?”, she asked cheering up.

“Never tell a parent that their child is bad?”

Koli smiled.

“I’ll just submit the minutes and leave, Madam. I had a good experience today. Thank you.” Down the stairs and out on to the street, Ameya’s brain was flooding with questions, suggestions and changes…but it would have to take its own course.



Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Chapter 6: Back to Basics

Ameya did not like this wait. It felt like dejavu. He was standing at the same place he had stood earlier that day. A part of him was wishing that he could just walk in as if nothing had happened. He rehearsed some cheery remarks and opening lines, but had no idea what to say next. Like in many situations he had handled before, he would take this head on, he said to himself. He had thought about Rishabh’s suggestion. He hated it, but he saw no way around it. Somewhere, he felt that the damage could be repaired. Afterall, he was not the one who had yelled. He could always be the good guy and that was about the only thing he liked in this situation.


He did not like Koli’s PA. She was a mean looking woman who never smiled at anyone. He was wondering what it would be like to work under Koli when he was called in.

“What is it now?” Koli asked. She was as relaxed as he usually saw her.

“Madam, could I talk to you for five minutes?”, Ameya heard himself saying.

Koli gave a huge sigh and motioned for him to sit. He thought that she may have felt remorse over her previous actions. But he would soon disagree with that.


“Madam, I need your help to do my project here.”

There was no response from Koli. Her icy stare continued. At the least, she was looking him in the eye. He had an idea. He was going to be the smaller person on the room. It had always worked. Ameya continued to talk in a pleading tone.

“Madam, I have come up with some observations. There are many things that are happening in this college for which you need not sacrifice your time. I can do them for you. Also the staff and the students need someone to talk to about their daily issues….”

Ameya stopped, trying to sense her response. He felt it was safe to continue.

“But all their issues are not important or urgent. So I would like to filter through them so that you can devote your time to the ones that are worthwhile and that require your attention.”

Koli looked at her desk phone, as if secretly wishing it would ring.

Ameya knew he had struck gold. She was not going to aplogise, she was not even going to admit she was wrong. She liked to be in charge and he had used that nicely.

“Madam, I think you are doing everything by yourself here. You are being over worked and the management knows that. It is just that they know that they cannot trust anyone else for the same and have felt helpless as far as taking work off your shoulders goes. All I am asking is that the non-important work, the repetitive and the mundane things that you are needed to do everyday…delegate those. Either to me or someone else whom you can train a little.”

Ameya knew he was treading a thin line. He could fall on either side. But luck was on his side this time.

Koli, for the first time since Ameya joined, smiled at him. It was a small side smile cum sigh, but it was enough for Ameya.

“Ameya”, she said slowly, “Do you know about the education industry?”

He started to say that his mother was a teacher, but realised that it was not a question afterall.

“The education industry is not an industry. It is just a group of people with similar goals and dreams who want to make a difference. It is not a business and I do not like it when people talk about managing it like one. If people wanted to streamline bottomlines and toplines, they should invest their money elsewhere, not in education. Education is about toiling continuously for the betterment of young minds so they can become better citizens tomorrow.”

Ameya was nodding madly. He wanted Koli to know that whatever she said, he agreed to.

“See…I don’t have a problem with you coming and helping me out with some of the things that youngsters like you should do. But I was given the impression that you are going to professionalize the administration of this institute. So, in that case, let me tell you that most of the administration is already working and has been for years now. If Raghuvanshi Sir feels that it is not running well, he should tell me that first.”

Ameya felt sorry for Koli. Rishabh was right. She was feeling cornered. Ameya knew that he should stop the discussion at this point lest she says something that he cannot reverse.

“Madam, I am sure that was not the intent. The brief I was given was that the institute has been running successfully for so many years now that the trust would like to make this a working model for the other projects that they have in the pipeline. For that they wanted me to train under you and learn the best practices and maybe suggest some from a management graduate point of view…you know like some practices that are followed in companies…”, Ameya gathered his thoughts. “…And basically learn from you…”, he added for effect.

Koli seemed satisfied with this explanation.

“So…I want to know more about the day to day operations of the college, if you don’t mind.”

“Why would I mind?, Koli asked.

Again, it was not a question that needed answering.

“So where can I start?”

“Meet Vineeta. She will help you out.” Koli got back to her certificates.

“Also madam, I was wondering if I could get a Login and Id and authorization at the canteen?”

“She will do it all.” And Koli dismissed him.

As he left her room, he noticed that she did not feel threatened and he was happy about that. The only nagging feeling he had in his mind and he sat in front of the ever busy PA was ‘How am I ever going to compile that report!’



Friday, January 11, 2008

Chapter 5: Friends Forever

Ameya sat in a state of shock on the steps of the auditorium. He did not expect this from Koli. He heard faint noises from inside the auditorium. His feet took him inside where a group of students sat huddled around a table. He thought they must be studying for the exams. One of the students as dozing off on the desk. The others were all looking very intently at the table. He turned to leave. But just then he heard a collective sucking sound, like they were all breathing in together. ‘Are they doing Yoga in this dingy place?’, he thought to himself and left.


Rishabh awoke late that day and rushed to work. He was not quite sure he would have work to do on Day One. Afterall, his boss had told him that it will take them a month to integrate his profile into the Indian company. It was the first marketing assignment. He was moving from the technical side and was quite confident that in a developing country, it would not be so difficult to start off. As he sat in his temporary cabin with an ‘incoming-only’ phone, he started flipping through his address book.


“Hello! Ameya?”


“Hi, Rishabh Potdar here.”

“Hey Rishabh….” Ameya was not very ready for a friendly chat considering the recent events that just transpired in the morning. “Where are you calling from?”


“What? When did you come?”


“Cool, for how long?”

“Staying here man…got transferred.”

“Oh yes, I forgot…Have you gone to Pune?”

“No, not yet. Will go this weekend.”

“Oh cool, me too. Let us meet up man. For lunch? Where is your office?”


“Ok, I’ll call you at 12. What is your number?”



Rishabh was happy that was sorted. He had been in the city for a few hours and his social life was already rocking-good. Ameya was happy that he had diversion during such a stressful time. His mother had told him to work with Koli…this way he was only going against her. It was obvious he could not say anything to Rajesh. He was quite unsure of where he would start if he wanted to compile a report. He would have to snoop alone and hidden if he wanted any changes to happen. Ameya waited impatiently for it to become 12.


They met at a good restaurant in VT.

“Nice place, huh?”

“Hey man…so how is work”, Rishabh asked

“We could talk about that now and spoil our mood or do it after the food.”

“Ha ha. That is funny. Like mine I guess.”

“How is your work here?”

“I do not know…it will take a month to sort things out…the profile has to be integrated with the India office and all.”

“Lucky guy…actually not that lucky…I had 6 months of no work and I felt so bored”

“Yeah, it is boring…but I just came here man. It is like a break…paid vacation”

“Yeah, but after learning all your theory, if you cannot implement them all, you feel stifled.”

“As for me, I have been working real hard for 2 years and I think I can take the time to understand the Indian business environment.”

“Ah…I have no environment. It was a huge mistake I made at the beginning of my career and I shall be stuck in it.”

“Wow, what happened?”

“No, it is just that, the place I am working for has no professional environment…it is an educational setup. I was given the responsibility to make it professionally managed.”

‘That is totally amazing…I would kill for such an opportunity.”

“Yeah I think I would kill too…kill the Principal.”

Ameya told him the whole situation he had landed himself in. “She does not like any change and today she told me that she didn’t care even if I squealed on her.”

Rishabh took a long sip from his lemonade.

“So, has she been in this college for long?”

“Very long.”

“So maybe she is just in a thankless job.”

“I don’t know.”

“You know I had a boss back in US and he was so mean to me all the time. He was an Indian who had been sent there when he had begun his career and had been in the company for real long.”

“Maybe he felt insecure with you? I know Koli is”

“He was mean not because he was insecure…but because he was seeing younger people with no experience coming into a flat hierarchical organization and becoming project managers– a position he had tried to get to for 7 years…when the hierarchy was not so flat….Can you imagine? And we were paid almost 60% of what he was getting. More so, there was no going above that rung in management. He had been in the same position for 10 years and after that he was outdated, not able to quit, not able to move and he had become so indispensable to the job that even though everyone called him a veteran at his specialization, he felt plain stuck….stuck in a thankless job.”

Ameya was still drinking it in.

“You know your Koli could be like that….”

“Ok, so what does one do when they have to work with them?”

“You have to make peace with her. Make her understand that YOU are not a part of her problem.”

“Oh, but that is where it is different…SHE is a part of my problem.”

“Is she?”

“Isn’t she? She is probably the first thing to be changed in the institute.”

“You may want to go beyond personal bias and see the situation for what it is.”, Rishabh said.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chapter 4: Koli

The flight landed at 4:30 am in the morning. It was delayed by an hour and it had taken off on time. Rishabh kept checking his watch. He was quite sure he had calculated the time difference correctly. It would take him another hour to claim his bags and reach the hotel. He swore that he had never had such a restless flying experience. He was not able to sleep well and was sure that he would not be able to sleep in the hotel either. He was coming to India after 4 years and he was looking forward to it. Rishabh yawned as he sat in the air conditioned car. He wanted to drink in the surroundings to see how much it has changed.

Mumbai was relatively new to him as he had only stayed in Pune all his life…that is till he went to do his Masters in Science to the United States of America. Now, he had 2 years of work experience there and was being transferred to India. His parents were also quite keen on getting him married. For this reason alone, he was happy that he was posted in Mumbai and not Pune. He had a few friends in Mumbai whom he was in touch with through social networking sites. He chose to go to the hotel instead. In a month or two he would find a nice flat and charge his office for it. His work was in the field of marketing and he was waiting to try out his new tricks in India.

Ameya was quite happy with his life. He was thinking of all the things he could do in college. He had it all planned out. He would take a poll of all the staff and see what he could find out. He was not clear what problems he would unearth, but he was sure no one had done it before. This excited him. He did not know that he was in for a surprise.

He strode in to the staff room and announced, “Mr. Rajesh has asked me to make a report on the problems in the college and I am compiling it. I would like your support in identifying the problems that you face.”
There was a stunned silence. A senior faculty, Mr. Patil asked him, “Have you asked Madam Koli?”
Ameya was speechless. Did that mean that he would have to ask Koli for her permission to talk to them. Why was the barrier there? What was Ameya’s designation in their eyes? What had Koli told them? Casting these thoughts aside, Ameya cleared his throat uncomfortably.
“I don’t think we need to involve her in this.”

The faculty members looked at each other. He looked at all their faces. He expected fear of Koli and all he got was indifference. They were not afraid of speaking in front of her or about her: they were just plain disinterested. He realized that Koli’s interference for them was not a matter of hierarchy as much as it was a matter of postponement of the issue. Ameya stood there with all faces looking away from him and he realized that his was a thankless job. He always thought that he could give suggestions and see that they were implemented and that was the end of his job. But he was realizing that it was not.

He said something unintelligible and left the staff room. As he came out, he saw the lights switched on in Koli’s office. He went in and waited for her PA to allow him in. Koli called him in. She was signing some certificates. She did not look up.

“Madam, can I have a word with you?”
“I want to have a brainstorming session with the faculty members. I wanted to know if I could have your permission.”
“Brainstorming? What for?”
“Brainstorming…as in getting them all together and discussing issues.”, Ameya said, feeling in control.
“I know what Brainstorming is…but what issues?”
Ameya knew at one that he was in murky waters. Yet, his ego took over and he proclaimed that Raghuvanshi Jr. had asked him to compile a report on improvements in the college. Koli looked up. Her spectacles were balancing on her nose as precariously as Ameya’s report was on her reaction.

“They may have some problems…”, Ameya blurted out, unthinking. As soon as he uttered those words, Koli stood up. She looked furious. Ameya did not understand the full gravity of the situation till Koli yelled at him. “Problems?”
The words came so suddenly that Ameya took time to register them.
“What do you mean problems? Do you think I am not capable of solving their problems? If you want to spy on me, why do you need my permission?”

“Madam…I don’t mean to spy. We have to solve them together…”, Ameya said gulping.
“Together? Who are you? What do you think you are? I am tolerating you because of Director Sir. Mind your own business and don’t compare yourself to me…..”
Ameya stood gaping at the turn of events. He had never prepared for this. As he slowly turned on the spot to go to the door, she said in a cool and polished voice, “And if you want to tell him all this, go ahead! I don’t care.”

Ameya turned back shocked. Koli was back to her certificates. The spectacles stayed where they were.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chapter 3: Solkadi

Ameya left for home. His mother was expected to reach Mumbai in an hour’s time and he wanted to be there to welcome her. She was already standing at the doorstep when he reached his small apartment at Andheri.

“Aai!”, he said and ran to hold her bags for her. “Why did you not call me?”

“I just reached. I was just about to search for the keys.”

She smiled and let her doting son open the door for her.

“Make Solkadi today!”, he said and shut the door.

“I am off to the market to get some things. Look how you have kept the kitchen. There is no soap to even wash the dishes. How is your servant managing?” And then she analysed every part of the apartment and explained to Ameya how it could be improved till he stopped it with a very familiar “Aaaargh!”

How much ever he loved that his parents could come and visit him since they lived in Pune and it was only three hours by road, he did not want advice on how to maintain his house. As far as he was concerned, this house was a place with a bed, a TV and a refrigerator.

When Ameya’s mother came back from the marketplace, he was still wearing his office clothes and watching the match. Soon he heard a great deal of vessels being moved around in the kitchen. Onions were being cut or maybe his neighbours were cutting onions. Either ways, the apartment was filled with the smell and his eyes were soon watering. “Wash your hands and come into the kitchen. Let me talk to you”, she ordered. He dragged himself off his sofa and plomped himself into a kitchen chair.

“How is work”, she asked in the gap that she got between frying garlic and throwing in some green chillies. She moved away from the stove and the kitchen filled with smoke and aroma. Ameya thanked the chaos that drowned his answer. But she would not give up. She stirred in the soup, let it simmer and sat down beside him.

“Do you like this place. Baba is not too happy you know. He feels you should work in a corporate environment like Nirav.”

“Aai, I am not Nirav. And I am going to make this place corporate enough.”

“You can never make an educational institute corporate.”

“It was like that in your time…now everything is being professionalized.”

“Like what? And what do you mean my time? I quit teaching only two years ago. Every worthy engineer in Pune still remembers me.”

“Yes ma. But that is Pune. This is Mumbai. See what changes I make. Actually I have to make a report for Mr. Raghuvanshi Junior tomorrow on what problems there are at the institute.”

“SSR Educational Institutes are way too big for you to come up with suggestions so soon.”

“I have been here for 6 months now”


“And besides, I am just starting on the college now.”

“Which one?”

“The Grant Road one.”

“Why don’t you ask to be transferred to the one in Borivali. It will be closer.”

“I am supposed to handle all the institutes. So one by one, I guess. All in good time, my sweet mother, all in good time.”

“So what suggestions have you thought of?”, she asked chopping tomatoes. Ameya was not too comfortable discussing work with her. She had been a prominent professor at College of Engineering, Pune for 25 years. She knew the who’s who of the education industry in Maharashtra and yet was removed from the limelight. She liked to be behind the scenes and everyone who knew her had tremendous respect for her. Yet, he did not think she would understand the management side of education and felt she would not really see the point of many of his arguments. But Madhavi Upadhyay was a keen observer. From her years of dealing with youngsters, she knew Ameya was hesitating.

“Don’t worry Amu. I will not disagree with you.”

Slightly relaxed that she was not giving her complete hawk like attention to the subject, Ameya told her about his project.

“Arre what to tell you Aai, the college is a mess. Forget systems being old and rusty, even the benches in all the classrooms are so dirty. It is filthy and no one is doing anything about it. People are paid and yet they do not do any work. Like the Gurkha: he is never found at the front entrance. So they have shut the main gate and opened a small one to the side so that no one has to mind them.”

Madhavi was listening patiently. The rhythmic sound of the knife hitting the cutting board was varying with the vegetable being cut.

“So what do you say?”, Ameya asked unable to believe that she had no comebacks.

“What else?”

“Well…the principal’s office is next to the management and the staff room is on the other side in a corner. I am sure Koli must have designed this…so that she can stay close to management and poison their ears. You know what she told me today?... ‘As long as you keep busy.’ She hates me, I tell you. Even with less work, I don’t leave sharp at 5:30 pm. What about all those others who just leave all their work and go? She likes them because she must have recruited them.”

Madhavi stood up and went to the stove.

“Amu…”, she said and stopped.

Ameya geared up for some sound advice and was surprised when she asked him to come up to the stove and taste the kadi.

“So what do you think Aai?”

“About what?”

“About what I just told you? The problems in SSR College?”

“Problems?”, she asked and switched off the gas.


“Come, let us sit outside”, she said.

They went into the guest room and sat on the sofa.

“Amu, you have not mentioned a single problem. All that you have told me are your observations of the place. These observations are just manifestations of deep rooted problems. Problems don’t show themselves at first. You have to dig in and find it out.”

“Ok? But what about all these problems of insincerity and treating the staff badly”

“How do you know the staff is being treated badly? Did any staff member tell you about it?”

“Koli is so mean. I am sure they all hate her.”. Ameya put his head down.

“Just because she is curt to a consultant does not mean she is bad to the staff.”

He hated it when she sounded right.

“All your ‘problems’ are not problems, just symptoms of problems.”

His second term in his MBA swam by him as he recalled his marketing professor saying for the nth time that all the problems they had listed down for a company were only issues.

“Hmmm…so what are the problems?” He was sure he would not understand the difference now if he didn’t understand it then.

“Let’s see…maybe the benches are dirty because most students are not present for lectures. It is a fairly new college. They would not build it beyond capacity and that too in a city like Mumbai. So find out WHY the students are not attending. That is your ‘problem’. Also, the small door? Is it to the right of the main entrance?”


“That may be due to Vastu. See that you don’t hurt sentiments. You know how much people could take such things to heart.”

“Oh! I did not think of that.”

“Even now, you cannot assume things. Speak to them…find out. You cannot become a good consultant if you don’t talk to the employees. And the staff…are you sure they are unhappy about being away from the principal’s watchful gaze? I, for one would give anything to be away from the principal’s cabin….especially if she is like Koli.”

They both laughed.

“But on a more serious note, do not fear Koli so much. Do you think that she would have let you remain in the college and note down what she does wrong, if she was so close to the management. She is curt because she thinks YOU are management’s snoop in HER college. She fears you as much as you fear her.”

Ameya wanted to note that last statement down. It somehow seemed like one he would want to hear more often.

“The best thing is to win her favour and help her carry out administration with your observations. Mr. Raghuvanshi is no fool. He knows the difference between an academician and a manager. Don’t you forget it. Give Koli her due place and stay in yours. Show how good your work is and she will respect you. I can tell you one thing. You do not have many genuine people left in this world. And the few remaining are in schools and college…teaching. If Koli has been the principal for so long, it only means that she has worked for it and deserves it. She will recognize talent if you allow her to see it. Tell me otherwise who will want to work at such low salaries?”

It was hard stopping her once she was on her favourite topic.

“You say they leave at 5. Maybe they coach students at home …or this is just a part time job to keep their financial freedom afloat! Maybe they feel their families need them more than a college where students anyways do not attend classes? Have you found out? What is the motivation to work in the college?”

“I don’t know”

“Then find out!”

Suddenly Ameya’s two page report did not seem like something he would be able to submit the next day or the day after that. He was excited that he had new angles to look at now and swamped that it meant more work before he could get Koli fired. However, that thought cheered him up. He would be the problem fixer from tomorrow. When Rajesh would see the report, he would be stunned at Ameya’s wisdom. Making a mental note of the font he would use, Ameya ate his Solkadi.