The thin red line


Job-definition - people in the corporate world, especially those at relatively senior levels are never really certain where the scope of their job ends (the infamous ‘thin red line‘). This insecurity leads to bosses increasingly interfering with the work of their subordinates, leading to a complete duplication of effort, which if viewed with an opportunistic eye can give rise to some quite interesting consequences.(Case in point- I have been only able to complete this column, because my boss is still ticking off items on my joblist)

"Man, she really gets on my nerves," said Neha, the exasperated account executive as she collapsed on a chair next to Ram. Ram was right in the middle of pretending to be busy and so he found the intrusion pleasantly welcoming. Besides he had always wanted to speak to Neha but had never sighted an opening thus far."Who does?" asked Ram, trying to sound casually nonchalant, while fervently hoping that Neha would be oblivious that his heart had just done a triple summersault and landed back in his chest cavity, albeit beating a touch faster. He needed tea badly."The life of a person with an intrusive boss is unquestionably something that is an irrevocable loss," the hushed Chinese accent, the express delivery of the teacup and Chai-La, the mystical canteen boy, had disintegrated into a series of regrets.

Neha was so self-absorbed that she failed to notice how the teacup had magically appeared in Ram‘s hands; she felt a slight turbulence in the air but cursorily attributed it to her charged personality. She returned to Ram‘s previous question."My boss Sunetra, she just has been on my case every day this week""Why? Is she a lawyer?" questioned Ram, through sheer force of habit."What?" asked Neha in a manner that seemed to cue the interaction would be short lived."You know, case and all that," replied Ram, tentatively, not knowing if the explanation was warranted.Neha burst into a slight giggle that instantly lifted Ram‘s spirits."Oh, I needed that," she said. "Why don‘t we go down for some coffee?"Ram hated coffee, especially at those ‘caf?‘s‘. But opportunity never knocks twice.In ten minutes they were sitting at the caf? across the street.

"She questions me on every little thing, she wants to be involved in every small detail, and half the time she ends up doing the job herself. I think she even wants to control when I go to the rest room, this is driving me nuts?""Oh! she has no concept of the ‘thin red line‘?""What was that?""Never mind, just something that divides what your boss should do from what you should; it probably is a fictional concept today. Anyway go on.""What‘s there to go on, that‘s my sad story. How does your boss treat you?"In all this time, Ram had never felt any fondness for Vikas, but just then Vikas seemed a great boss to have. Before Ram could suppress it, his chest inflated with pride.

"Well, he doesn‘t really care. He lets me do my own thing. So much so that sometimes I wish he interfered a little more. I have complete freedom and ownership for all my actions." Ram answered, realizing even as he mouthed those words that he was endowing Vikas with a rare version of corporate divinity."He sounds so cool, you work with Vikas right? He is such a rock star."

"Well I wouldn‘t go that far, even that style of working can lead to heartaches sometimes," then wanting to get the topic off Vikas he asked," so how do you handle Sunetra?", reflecting on the spot of jealousy that had gone through his system when Neha‘s eyes sparkled as she had spoken of Vikas."I really can‘t" said Neha touching Ram‘s arm, sending tiny freckles of electricity up his spine. "Can you advise me?"

"Hmm," began Ram, touching his chin tenderly, hoping his mannerisms were causing an escalation in his perceived intelligence levels. "Why don‘t you look at the situation optimistically? You are getting your jobs done anyway. Just flow with the tide and don‘t take any stress and every day at office can be like a paid holiday. She ends up doing all the work, doesn‘t she?"

Neha looked at Ram in the manner that a stunned audience would have if Hitler had ever said during one of his effusive diatribes that the Jews were cool."You have no idea what it is like to work under her. What are you saying?" she began as tears started to roll.
Ram held her hand and said in his most confident tone, "Just try it Neha, what have you got to lose?"
The next day Ram kept his ears open as he heard what was happening in the adjacent cubicles, where Sunetra and Neha used to have their meetings.Even across the fortifications of his own cubicle he could sense that Sunetra was not one you could share a joke with. The words ‘seriously somber‘ sprang to mind."Have you checked with the studio on the status of the artworks?""No, I was doing other things.""Ha, never mind I have done that already and they will be ready by seven.""What about the quotes on the film?""I went to the films department but they were away at a shoot.""But I called them; they all have mobiles, don‘t they? And the quotes should be in tomorrow. What about the research boards for the focus groups?"Ram could almost picture Neha stretching out like a cat, suppressing a slight yawn, and languidly running her fingers through her hair.

"I tried telling PP, but you know he has issues talking to juniors, he is so hierarchy conscious. I think it will be best if you brief him.""Yes I will, I will ensure he delivers, how dare he delay work," roared Sunetra and muttered some utterly unladylike things about PP.

"And Sunetra since you will have all the deadlines clear in your mind, could you also please mail the daily status to client?""Yes, once I‘m done with PP, the artworks plus the quotes, and I have made all the concerned peoples lives miserable, I will do that," said Sunetra storming off accompanied by mayhem and a gloomy looking cloud that always seemed to lurk above her.Neha popped her head over the cubicle, her face radiating happiness.

"This is great. I‘m glad we had that conversation yesterday. I have absolutely nothing to do; she is doing all my work. I‘m actually changing my ring tone to ‘Money for nothing‘"
Ram‘s expression was a heroic effort to conceal his disappointment, as he was going to come up with that very same wisecrack. He felt robbed of his moment of glory.
"So what do you intend doing for the rest of the day?"

"I don‘t know, I had the whole morning pretty much to myself and so I went and chatted with Vikas, asked him about the ‘thin red line‘ and all that. He replied that it was not lines but rather curves that held his interest. He is such a charmer; we are going out for lunch today. In fact we might even have plans for the evening."Ram made a note in his mental black book of things that he despised about Vikas. The black book was getting to be a rather copious volume.

The next three days seemed to fly by and he did not see much of Neha at all.On Friday Vikas called him to his room."Chief,:" he started and then paused to adjust his tie in his reflection in Ram‘s glasses, "You will need to help out Neha on her accounts as well for a while, the poor girl is really buried in loads of work and her boss Sunetra tells me that she herself needs to do lots of operations, so they clearly need help. Obviously nothing suffers on our side, even if I am lending you to that group. I don‘t want to be attending any client calls about delays. I hate being bothered with such things."

Ram thought about defending his case but with the speed of the Indian batting lineup collapsing, he saw the irony of the whole thing and gave it up.

"I‘m out for a long lunch now," said Vikas and sauntered out. Ram briefly glimpsed Neha accost Vikas near the elevator and seamlessly attach herself to him.

"Advice liberally dispensed has the trait, of coming back to haunt your own fate," Ram heard Chai-La‘s words of wisdom, even felt the teacup nestle in his hands but for once was too dejected to observe what kind of an exit the mystical Chinese canteen boy made this time. For the record he simply drew a thin red line and then erupted into a spectrum of points that strove to seek fulfillment along it. And then she blew.Sunetra‘s voice was unkind on the ear even when heard in passing, but now it sounded as mellifluous as a ravenous hyena jumping on hot coals.

"Ram, I want you in my cubicle now, and I mean right now. I want to do a job list meeting. Don‘t forget to get a pad, pen and calculator when you come, and I don‘t want to repeat that again."Who ever said that June 21st was the longest day?

The writer is Vice President, Rediffusion DY&R. He is also the patron saint of Juhu Beach United, a football club that celebrates the ‘unfit, out of breath media professional of today‘. You can write to him at (

(The views expressed here are those of the author and need not necessarily subscribe to the same)

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