Last week, a friend got canned.
It turned out that his company had announced that they were moving to a new, more liberal work environment. They had dismantled office timings; in fact, they dismantled the entire office structure and told those employees who did not have to be specifically located in the office, like salespersons, that they were free to work from anywhere and come and go as they pleased.
My friend read the tea leaves all wrong.
He did not figure out what his company was up to. Which was, in fact, to strip away at all the stuff that is a simulation of work (office timings, dress code, lunch break and so on) and lay bare the work itself (results rather than effort).
My pal mistook the absence of rules for absence of responsibility.
Never having been in a situation where he was not accountable for his whereabouts, he did not notice that his work output was falling dramatically.
When he could have been at his desk answering emails and fixing appointments, he went instead to the coffee shop and feasted on Cheese Danish and washed it down with cappuccino. And then in a fit of fantasy, he would unfurl the Business Standard and develop views on the economy.
Blissfully free, he lost track of his sales. Because there was no one breathing down his neck anymore, he lost track of time. Because he met his trusting bosses less frequently, there were longer stretches between the occasions when he had to cover for a lie. He lost track of truth.
But he did not know that some of his colleagues were hard at work, making sales calls from their houses and spending all their time in the market and not at Café Paradise. It all caught up with him sooner than he thought. He was never a high achiever and in an "each man to his own" environment with no hiding places, he could not succeed and was fired. Naturally, he blamed everyone else.
Freedom, like free sex, has dire consequences.
And while we Bangaloreans like to congratulate ourselves on living in a democracy, I’m not really sure we are really advocates of liberty. I don't think we have matured enough to take the blame for ourselves.
Someone once said that that we want to be ruled and not governed.
It's easier when you are ruled. You live by someone else’s dictates all day and you get away with a mere scolding when you screw up. Someone else faces the consequences of your incompetence - like a company, its losses or bosses who must face the wrath of the shareholders. But when you lived your life like an adult, responsible for the consequences of your own actions... and then you lose everything when you make mistakes, freedom sucks.
If you're the sort who cannot 'own' what you do, it's great to be ruled. It's someone else’s money, someone else’s problem. You can pout and bitch all day and come up with fantastic excuses for failure; and then continue to think that you're awesome.
Or you're that astonishing individual, the one who might - like Kapil Dev first did - say, "Give me the game plan, tell me the rules and I'll show you what I can do for the team!" (Unlike the whingeing, sissy captains like Azhar, Ganguly, even Tendulkar in his brief ill-advised stint, who were always victims – of coaches, colleagues, selectors and administrators.)
Freedom does not come in convenient bite sizes; and I believe that every gram of civil liberty ought to be balanced by a kilo of civic responsibility.
Not the sort of civic responsibility you can wiggle out of, by hiring a tout to pay your traffic fine at Mayo Hall, or bribing your way out of a mess that you made, but the sort of responsibility that you must face alone – like earning your keep.
Since the Indian coming of glasnost and perestroika, business (and not socialist principles) governs our lives.
After 1991, when India ran short of money, we attained certain freedoms we did not bargain for.
In 1991, we had only the funds to manage one week of international payments. The IMF bailed us out, but it forced Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh (then Prime- and Finance Minister respectively) to dismantle licencing and liberalise the economy. It was done against the will of the Indian bureaucracy. Some folks think the bureaucrats wanted to liberalise the economy. That is simply not true. They had no choice. (I ought to know. I was a lobbyist in New Delhi right through to the late 80s.)
So, the first freedom we got was the freedom from the tyranny of government.
But freedom from tyranny can only come with the ability to rule ourselves.
We have made a dog's breakfast of that.
Maybe we do not want to be free. The new liberal, you-are-your-own-master and I-will-not-bail-you-out scenario is making too many of us cry uncle and write ourselves out of the script by being wimps and sissies.
Bangalore has grown up historically in the shadow of the public sector with the culture of patronage. Why shake that off when we can build an entire career by being suck-ups?
Who was it who said, "I do not want any patronage, as I do not give any. I am a lover of my own liberty, and so I would do nothing to restrict yours"?
Oh yes, Gandhi.
One of the many things he said that were downright inconvenient. No one was listening, anyway.