Once Upon a Time, In 1988

9

It was a sales company. Our life used to revolve around targets. The company was one of the earliest in selling computer hardware at a time when an electric typewriter and calculator were cutting-edge technology. The job not only involved selling but also teaching people how to use computers. Both  extremely challenging to achieve. That last sentence may sound meaningless but imagine this for a  minute; you have a large refrigerator-sized machinery with a small tv monitor that flashed a green signal  at the corner of the screen. Standing along were other boxes which all had to be tied up through a  labyrinthine network of electric and connector cords. To assemble all that stuff took about two hours.  When ready that refrigerator-size machine could print out 50 name labels on a Dot Matrix Printer (look that up on Google), while people stared in wonder!

This story, however, is not about the company. It’s about a person who joined the sales team. Let’s call  him SP for short and anonymity. The sales team consisted only of young guys often talking a language  that would make elders say, ‘Wash your mouth”.

But SP talked differently from the others, walked, and dressed differently. Sensitive, caring with a different voice. He tried to chat with the other members of the team but was usually met with mocking  replies. He knew more about computers than anyone in the company and often talked of a future IT-  boom. Soon, SP was being allotted the difficult sales beats, made to proofread pamphlets, attend phone calls for other members, and other sundry jobs. He did all of it with a smile.

Then one day someone placed lipstick and some bangles on his desk. Another day, the janitor in the men’s room asked whether he had come to the right toilet.

We were the younger men in the team led by aggressive guys (now often called the Alpha Males) and  were often wary of angering them. Who would want to miss the boisterous after-sales parties? SP’s  reduced status played out in different ways- the accountant questioning his reimbursements more, the office staff not taking messages to him nor his instructions seriously. He was being made fun of for the way he walked and talked.

SP kept going. Till the day when someone asked him what colour the saree he was going wear for Navaratri would be. He left the job. He also left behind a group of people who did not deserve him.  People who were insecure, bigoted, insensitive, and wary of someone who did not fit a gender checklist  handed over to them by a previous generation. He surely deserved better. Later, some of us wished we could have been different. Or we could have done something.

The year was 1988. I hope we’re looking at a change for the better now.

 

Sreeram Gopalakrishnan
(Director, SCMC)