When Popeye became the Boss the comfort levels within the Zone changed quickly.
Popeye was well built but not tall. He walked with grace and asked inconvenient questions, politely. His speech was a bit slurred, making it difficult to make out his exact words and meaning.
I chose to go largely by the drift. It resulted in some very ugly mix ups. But nothing very damaging, either.
Popeye changed many of the prevalent practices but in my opinion went too far. Slowly, the anger built up against him as even kindred souls were upset.
Initially, the trade and service organisations warmed up to him but gradually began to feel his anger and wrath. Nothing satisfied his ego. No one knew how his mind worked. An Enigma! Self opinionated, Popeye started micromanaging every little activity! It appeared more like nitpicking. And very annoying.
Officers and staff changed their ways quickly but his style would change every day. It became difficult to swing to his brand of music on daily basis. His style was neither corporate nor governmental. Neither, a mix of the two. It was difficult to read whether he was in humor mode or serious. Popeye was also a slow decision maker. We were all baffled to no end and collectively started praying for his departure.
Departure did come but after solid two years’ of high level of discomfort. And even that became a ‘cause celebre’ in reverse.
As we were based in a dry state, consumption of hard drinks was always an issue with the officers. And presence of Popeye only heightened the anxiety levels. Being used to his ‘one chotta one baada’ all his life without let or hindrance, Popeye was in no mood to compromise. At all.
Once again I was in charge of the Farewell. Of Popeye. Like Jolly [The good Fellow]. Immediately, I summoned the War Council. We confabulated over tea and samosas, tossing ideas. At the end of the Conclave, my directions were simple.
Locate a good club. Make sure we have Non Veg on the menu. And Popeye should be able to have his ‘quota’ for the evening! And start the collection drive! From the invitees! No dipping into SSF! Strictly off limits! Popeye had many dislikers.
War Vets scoured the City to meet my criterion. In the end we zeroed on to swanky Club City Blues. The Club exuded luxury with lush green lawns and breathtaking Banquet Halls. But the Club did not yield an inch on ‘NO Drinks’ policy.
‘Sorry, Sir the management simply does not serve hard liquor even if you offer to bring your own stuff. Full stop.’
Thanks but no thanks!
They would not budge. We had to live with that! And twiddle our thumbs.
They were a bit more accommodating on serving Non Veg as long as we managed to get it cooked outside the Club premises. They would simply serve. No issue! We were past masters at overcoming such hurdles.
Taking courage literally in my hands I declared: ‘Assembly at 8 PM. With families and children. No hard drinks.’
But Popeye was not pleased at all. Not at all! He considered us as failures to be upbraided. And upbraid he did! And how! He coolly summoned his Troops to overcome such minor hurdles. To attend his own farewell in such a ‘shabby’ manner? Not acceptable!
The officers and their families reached the Club well before the appointed time. No one wanted to annoy Popeye. After all he was destined to climb the ladder. And perhaps may even become the Top Gun.
Popeye with Madam Poker Face literally marched into the Banquet Hall at 25 past 8. All felt relieved. I was elated. Perhaps no upbraiding! After all.
I was about to roll the dice when the unexpected happened. Out of the blue, Popeye’s Left Hand went up to Popeye and whispered something ever so quietly in his Left ear, obviously, where else. Without batting an eye lid, Popeye signalled to his Storm troopers. Out! They went in a peculiar military formation. Later I learnt it was christened ‘any which way’.
I ran to plead to stay but a colleague simply pulled me back: ‘Save the embarrassment Sir! Keep up the Happy countenance.’ Nevertheless it was a majestic sight to behold. The Leader and his entourage. Full, marks for the show. Leaving the mere mortals like us to fend for themselves. With Nimbu Paani and Orange juice. Including Madam Poker Face. To sweat it out alone.
Just then someone whispered ever so quietly this time in my ear; ‘Sir, Poker Face is used to it. The waiting I mean.’
And thus began the Long Wait for return of the Prodigal. Someone remarked a bit loudly, ‘Yaar it resembles ‘The Last Supper’ to me.’ I chewed on that.
Officers quickly huddled in groups, strictly according to seniority. Discussing, the good social behaviour of Seniors. What else! They were used to standing around doing nothing! Their forte!
As time wore on ever so slowly, children began to get impatient. Why no food was coming their way? It was sitting in the pans alright. They were starved! Mothers agreed! For once. Children began gathering near the food carts. They were familiar with the drill. And looked at their mothers expectantly.
Displaying nerves of steel the War Council held back. The Service. How could we begin without Popeye holding the first plate? That was the Service Protocol. Even with Poker Face present. After all we were all Male Chauvinist Pigs. So to say, in a manner of speaking.
By 9:30 the children were bawling. The mothers were looking towards me, pleading, ‘Sir, please let the show begin, Please.’ They were anxious! And single minded.
The mothers wanted to push the sumptuous food from the spread down the gullet, bundle the children in the official white Ambassadors with Red revolving flashing lights and hurry home. Next day was a Monday after all. Popeye can move to Timbuktu for all they cared. At that moment.
I had to decide! Wait or Serve. Serve or Wait! The choice was simple! It was my call.
The War Council went into a huddle but unlike the men in Blue. Should we? Should we not? Should we? Should we not?
Intel inputs indicated that Popeye was at least half an hour away from reappearance. I had a mole in his coterie. Not sozzled enough! As yet!
So at 9:35 I took matters in my hand. I ordered the Maitre d' to warm up the food and begin service. Mothers went into the Happy mode. Children started the last round of I Spy. Men started on their last round of drinks. Soft of course! To her delight, Poker Face was served hot Chicken Tikka Masala. With, Orange juice.
Suddenly, out of the blue Popeye strode back into the Banquet Hall like a WWF Warrior with Two to the left. Two the right. And Two behind. And, the tall PRO with a fixed plasticky smile loomed large from the rear.
Anand Hi Anand! All activity froze! Officers sprang to attention. Ladies quietened down slowly to inaudible. I Spy shuddered to a halt. Popeye walked straight to the Non Veg section! After, a curt nod to me.
‘What’s the fuss about! Can’t a guy have a drink, Maan! Hope my smart ass Lieutenant has ordered some mutton shutton.’ Loudly.
The Ladies tittered.
Chunks of Lal Maas were wolfed down in haste. ‘Here, take my plate.’ Cronies too kept away their half eaten dinners, hastily.
‘Give me the napkin! What’s for desert?’
‘Two hot and juicy Gulaab Jaamuns topped with double Vanilla scoops!’
‘If you, please. Thanks.’
‘I want to say a few words to say a few words of appreciation for my hosts tonite.’
That’s me! I immediately cringed behind a pillar. I knew what was coming!
The harangue lasted full ten minutes. In lisped anger. No one understood the message. They had no context. I did. My misdeeds as a poor ‘subordinate’ were laid bare. My PA vs Your PA. My Room vs. Your Room. My House vs. Your House. And thanks a ton for the ‘Sukha Sukha’ Farewell! ‘Guys, I leave with a heavy heart! But I will be back. One day.’
At the end of the ordeal I wondered loudly ‘Was this meal really ‘The Last Supper’?’
My misery rolled on for two more days when Popeye finally caught the plane! We met again in near future but in different roles and different circumstances.
It almost appears that I was born to bear the Cross of my Boss more than once.
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