Nov 7 2006 - The day did not start like any other day, but it didn’t seem any wired either. It is not every other day I wake up in a Kodambakam(Chennai) hotel room at 5:00 am in a rainy morning. It is not every other day that I catch a flight from Chennai to Hyderabad at 9:00 am. But again, it was not something unusual, or a sign of all the things to come. I had been to Chennai this weekend to attend a Marriage reception ceremony of my friend. I was returning back to Hyderabad that morning, as I do have to get to work.
The flight reached safe, and I got to home in Hyderabad at around 11:00 am. It was already late, and I really do have to get to work now. I thought of changing from my t-shirt & jeans to a formal wear, but since it was already late and the security strap tied to my baggage wasn’t coming off my, I decided to go casual for the day. When I reached work, I didn’t know that the Dress Code Police was at work. I didn’t even know that there was a Dress Code Police at my workplace. Well, anyways, some guy stopped me at the gate, and extended his hand towards me saying “Hello”, with a condescending look and assumed air of authority. I know he works here too, because he was wearing the badge. But, I don’t know who he was. I didn’t ask “Who are you ?”, but I hesitated to answer him.
Taken aback that I wasn’t responding and his hand hung in air pointing no where, he asked, “So, you hesitate to shake hands with another colleague ?”. I responded, ” Well! You talk to me as if we are familiar. But, I don’t know you.” Then, he introduced himself. Yes, that sounds better. I told my name. Then he told, that my clothes were not appropriate and asked the reason. I told that I have been flying in from Chennai, and I was late and so on and on. He made a joke and laughed, which didn’t understand at all. Finally, I was told that I have to go back home and change or I wouldn’t be allowed inside. He also told that my bosses will be informed of the delay that I caused myself as a result of the “attire issue”.
First, I didn’t know how to react. I am tad conservative on the matters of professional attire. Yes, I do think that the wear to my kinda work should be formal, at least for 4 days of the work week. But the way I was told made me feel like a school kid. If my boss has told to me -or- if any HR personnel had told to me in person about my “attire issue”, it would have be more dignified. But, this dress-or-go-back-home method sounded so middle-school-ish. I remember an event in middle school, where I was asked to go back home, because I didn’t finish my home work. Probably the next time I was caught by the Dress Code Police, I would be asked to write the statement “I will wear formal wear on the first 4 days of work week”, 50 times in the black board. Or Stand up on my chair while I am working. Or probably, some form of corporal punishment of the medieval times.
For my commute, I use an arrangement, quite prevalent in Hyderabad, called the “shared auto”. Auto-Rickshaw or Auto is a three wheeled vehicle, supposed to carry only three passengers, and supposed to be metered like a taxi. But, under the “shared” arrangement, this vehicle is made to carry five passengers and every passenger pays the fixed amount arbitrarily decided by the vehicle driver at the end of his commute - supposedly based on the distance the passenger travels. The cost is not as much as the metered one, because the driver picks up his revenues on volume, rather than per-unit. I went back home, changed my clothes and returned work on a “shared auto”.
At the end of my commute, I was supposed to give the driver my fare - 4 rupees. Within a moment, I had a disturbing discovery - I forgot to bring my wallet (purse)!!! I changed from Jeans to a formal trousers, but forgot to take the wallet!!! I told the driver that I had forgot the wallet. Looking down upon me, the driver asked me in a menacing tone, “What do you want me to do, now ?… Tell me, Sir. What should I do now ?”. I looked helplessly. Fortunately, another passenger came to my rescue. He told the driver that he would pay my fare too. I thanked him… twice or may be more. I had nothing but words at that moment. Even, that came with a whimper.
But, there is still some more… Sometimes, When extremely accidental events happen, you wonder, if they were a perfectly scripted play. When the “shared auto” was about to leave, a small girl wearing a plain dark green dress came to me and begged for some money. I thought for a moment. Of course, what I was experiencing at the moment was heavy-duty guaranteed-for-life embarrassment, but there was something more than just embarrassment. I really wanted to hold her hands and thank the little girl, but, I laughed and told her, “I didn’t even money to pay to this guy… You are asking me the money ?”. Every one including the driver in the vehicle laughed, as it passed me slowly.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of the moment. Just two days ago, I was told that I would get 250K rupees of credit limit for my credit card application, if I just show my pay slip and my organization bage. But, this moment neither my pay slip nor my ID could secure a credit of 4 rupees with the auto driver! And the girl, who begs me, thinks that my “formal wear” should mean that I could solve her poverty! I was laughing quietly at myself, just happy to be - there and then.