The reluctant chartered accountant — Taking a bull(y) by its horns
I called in sick. I could not take it any longer.
I took the day to compose myself. Returning to India now was not an option. I could not always take the easy way out. I had quit once and that was enough. I had to learn to work things out. And if that required me to unlearn everything (again), then I would do so. And thus, for the second (and certainly not the last) time in my fledgeling career, I unlearnt everything that I had learnt in India and learnt new things. But first things first — I would learn to stand up for myself.
It was 8 PM. I was the only one in office. But I had to wait. That was what I had been taught all these years. As always, my supervisor had said he would review my work that evening, not bothering to have the courtesy of telling me when that review might occur. And while he went about his life (as did every single other person on the floor), I waited.
As he walked in, finished his review, put me down, and was about to walk out, I stood up, looked him in the eye and softly said, “Its either you or me. Not both. I am OK with either path. But I will not continue to work this way. So, let me know your decision tomorrow.”
A bully will always pick on the weak. They feed off the fear that they generate. They feel emboldened with every blow that goes unreturned, every remark that cuts and wounds their prey. But stand up to them, and they will cower, not knowing how to react, confusion clouding their eyes as they try to avoid your gaze.
I walked back home that day, in complete peace with myself and my actions. Whatever the consequence, I had done what I believed was right. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), I was called into his office the next day and told that both of us would stay. But while saying so, he also passed on a life lesson to me. “Earn my respect”, he said. And that is precisely what I then set out to do.
Over the next eighteen months, I would learn all I could about the financial services industry and the principles of taxation across countries (both topics that were completely alien to me). I learnt about investing in shipping companies in Greece and mines in Indonesia. I learnt about investing in coffee plantations in Columbia and infrastructure projects in China. I advised investment funds and law firms, airline companies and fashion majors. I worked with sports companies and entertainment channels and casino owners and philanthropists. I took on everything I could, and then some.
As I went into office on June 5, 2009, things seemed infinitely more palatable. I had made it a habit of counting out each day as I walked in to office — I needed something to look forward to — even as I continued to grind out the day. I only had to get through another 314 days there. I attributed the empty office that day to it being a Friday at the beginning of summer. I was wrong.
Apparently, it was “promotion day” and everyone was out celebrating the promotions that were to be announced that day (true to form I had missed the notification). As the promotion list finally came out, I wearily looked through it to see who I would have to call and congratulate that day — after all, they had worked hard for their success and I shouldn’t grudge them that.
I stared at the list. Again. And again. And again. There, between Dora Mathi and Elliot Galler, was my name. I had been promoted. In New York. That ridiculously fast-paced, ruthless city that stopped for no one and had done everything to try and break my spirit had recognized and promoted me to a level ahead of what I would have been in India.
My enthusiasm, commitment and willingness to take on more had been noticed. I had earned the respect they had asked me to.
Nonetheless as the months went by and the calendar turned to the new year, I was more than ready to return to India. I typed out a mail to my sponsor in the US letting him know that I was due to complete my tenure in the coming weeks.
As I packed my bag to leave office that evening, I reminded myself that it had been 665 days since I had arrived. Only 65 days to go. My blackberry buzzed. I checked it. It was a response to my email. “I’m not so sure you should go. Let’s speak tomorrow.”
To be continued…