Sunday, June 22, 2014

MEMORIES OF MY FIRST SUPERIOR

The first sight of the factory from outside the gate was stunning and beautiful. Three buildings that were three different companies of the same organization stood close to each other and each looked like a master piece in civil engineering. Lush green lawns filled with flowers in full bloom, adorned the areas surrounding each of these buildings. Many times a new recruit gets so overwhelmed with the sheer grandeur of these types in a large organization and would never know the imminent political undercurrents that would soon engulf him. It was the same with me too. It was my first job and my father had come with me on the first day and waited outside till I disappeared through the entrance to the factory reception area. He was proud as would have been the case with any parent, as he could always hold his head high in his social circle and tell his friends and relatives that his son was with one of the biggest engineering giants in India.




It took about a week for the orientation to slip by and then I met my first superior. I looked at him like I looked at my teacher, with so much reverence and awe. I was already given the role of a shift supervisor along with a senior supervisor. Before my boss stepped into the bay every day, he would bend and touch the ground first and then his forehead as a mark of worship. I liked it and I also started putting the cross before I stepped into the bay. Sometimes it’s funny that we tend to learn many things from our first superior. I liked the way he walked around the bay with his hands behind his back like an army officer.

When he found some time he would tell me that he would spend some time with me to teach me CNC programming and he led me to a few manuals related to the same. I think due the busy schedules that he go into later, we never really got a chance to sit down. The manuals were soporific to be frank and I really battled with it in my night shifts, trying to get something out of it and all attempts turned out futile.  Each time I saw my boss go past me I always had this feeling he would ask me about what I have done in CNC programming and I really could not do much. But a few days later, I found a friendly worker Freddy Cunningham who took me up the CNC horizontal boring machine and gave me a good introduction to CNC programming with all the practical nuances. And with that I really took off well.

But although we saw each other many times, my boss never asked me what I was into or what I had learnt. We smiled when I wished him each morning and his smile would reveal his grayish yellow teeth dressed with the betel that he was constantly chewing. He was bald and very beautifully kept the few hairs that remained on the central part of his head well set. On some days especially when the workers showed extreme dissent, and things were beyond his control, I could see him sitting alone in his cabin with his hair ruffled and his composure all gone. I would be sitting just outside his cube in the department room and the muffled hum of the machines and cranes would still be heard through the closed door.  The smell of coolant from used waste cloth and that of tools and inserts that lay around would be all over the room. There were two glass panes for his cube through which people from outside could see him.  All the supervisors would be out in the bay and I could see my boss sometimes sit just gazing and allowing his thoughts to drift through his mind. Having been there by then for a few weeks, I had also got to hear the political scene out there and what my boss was going through. This face of my boss, that face of helplessness in the middle of extreme tension and pressure, had and still does have a great impact on me. This is what makes me unconsciously run away from political scenes anywhere.

Our CEO would walk through the factory bays on a few days in a week. No one knew when he would do that. But the moment he stepped into the bay, there would be people who would quickly send signals to all the supervisors and managers and the whole place would assume theatrical dimensions.  My boss would rush to the latest horizontal boring machine that had been procured just months back and which was the cynosure of the top leadership. He would then join the workman on the carriage and go up in it at about twenty feet and be there in the pretext of having extreme focus of the machining that was in progress. 

Once the CEO left, my boss would leave the place as though the Scene 1 of Act 1 was over with no emotions attached to what went by.  I did not like this facet of my boss. A lot of supervisors in that bay copied this behaviour and joined the boss with their own theatrical performances. I saw one of them go under an iron casting that was lifted by a crane, to wipe the base and make it clean from coolant and metal chips. This was something that he could have done just standing besides the lifted casting, but he went underneath taking that risk of his life, in the desperation to portray extreme involvement when the CEO was around. During these times I would withdraw quietly and sit inside the department as I found it extremely difficult and embarrassing to put up a performance like this.

Twenty three years have gone by and I still am a misfit when it comes to performances of this type.  And on the contrary being too direct and open has also had its ramifications. May be there is a balance that I have to strike and I want to strike that soon. But I don’t know why, I still feel so much for my first boss and for all what he was going through. Many times there are thoughts like these that you can never take out of your mind.

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