February 4, 2012
Thomas marched beside Trustee Chairman. They stepped into administration block of the college. The staff members instantly greeted and bowed as high ranking officials stepped in.
“I have the pleasure of introducing Mr. Thomas, the new Principal of our college.” The declaration came from Trustee Chairman. “You are backed up by very experienced support staff. They will make your mission easy.”
Thomas acknowledged and waved his hand with reticent look. The workforce reacted with cheerful smile.
“Let me show your office.” The Trustee Chairman gesticulated at accountant Simon and moved ahead. Expectedly Simon followed them.
He pushed the door and entered in. Thomas and Simon tagged along.
“Our retired Principal’s most loved office.” Trustee Chairman informed. “I hope you will like it too. The window with broad glass has its own advantage. Nothing can hide from this angle. You are able to see the playground, gate, library, hostel and most corners of this campus including your quarters. The task of being vigilant becomes easy from this office.”
“Do you really mean we can live without security cameras in this age?” Thomas responded without any anticipated undertone of humor. “I may really need the CC TV to keep a watch on people and activities outside my office, in and around the campus.”
“The aspiration of our institution has always been to provide high standard of education to poor students.” Trustee Chairman cleared his throat. “We have discussed these issues more than once. Our students come from underprivileged background. They can’t afford exorbitant tuition fees. If you can plan out new sources of revenue, we have no objection in spending on facilities and infrastructure.”
“I will make a business plan to improve the cash flow.” Thomas glanced at Simon. “At the same time I may need a full time secretary to be supportive to my tasks. It’s an area we have to look into.”
“I remember you had mentioned about this during our past meetings.” Trustee Chairman replied. “I have not forgotten. Simon will assist you for the time being. Let us talk on this while analyzing your budget.”
Discontent was evident on Thomas’s face as he inhaled deep breath.
“Don’t worry. We can find solutions once the cash flow is strengthened.” Trustee Chairman informed. “I have some other important work and may have to leave. Meet me or call me in case of exigency.”
Thomas parked himself on his seat as the Trustee Chairman checked out of office. Simon stayed there facing his new superior. They remained quiet for some time.
“I hope you liked your new office.” Simon’s voice interrupted the brief period of silence.
“I can’t compromise on quality.” Thomas expressed his displeasure. “This room is awful.”
“Sir, what happened? Please let me know what bothers you.” Simon was astonished.
“I can’t stand this place.” He was candid in his reply.
“Could I know the reason Sir?” Simon pleaded.
“My dear Simon, this is not the perfect office.” Thomas’s riposte was inconsiderate. “A man in senior position requires an office to enhance his skill level and capability. This office will make me inefficient.”
Simon felt dry in his throat. He helplessly looked at his new Principal.
“You don’t seem to understand.” The displeasure was noticeable. “Look at the broad window without blinds and not even curtains. It’s as large as projection screen. Should I waste my time looking at passers by? How can I focus on my job? Did you ever notice the key hole of the door? It’s a peeper’s joy and threat to my privacy. That’s not all….”
“Now I understand.” Simon expressed his opinion. “Perhaps you are unable to concentrate while others sneak a look at you.”
“Exactly.” Thomas took off his eyeglasses. “In my case the level of productivity is very high when I am left alone to concentrate on my work. The key issue is to remain focused. Interruptions make me inept. Even during school and college days, I had this problem of writing my exam papers every time I found an invigilator standing close to my desk. It may sound irrational. That’s how I am.”
“Sir, I have an idea.” Simon scratched his head while gathering thoughts. “The room next to your office is the meeting hall. It’s as large as this. The windowpane too is facing the playground with well covered angle. Most important, the sheet of glass is masked with anti glare window film. The film has reflective one-way privacy coating to inhibit any unwanted viewing. You can see out but outsiders can't see in.”
“Please arrange whatever is best possible.” Thomas wiped his glasses and put them back. “My secretary in my last office had flawless sense of my likes and dislikes.”
“Then again I foresee a problem.” Simon hesitantly continued. “Unfortunately the view towards your quarters from next office is not as good as this.”
“Don’t worry.” Thomas assured him. “Mr. Simon, I come here to work and not to be a watch dog to my family.”
Simon enthusiastically walked out. He genuinely was excited to be helpful to his new boss. By evening he called helpers to mop up and rearrange the new office. The belongings of old office were shifted to conference room. Simultaneously the old office was renewed into meeting hall. The next week largely remained less eventful. On the whole Thomas was occupied on his business plan and worked for long hours. Simon was called to meet the Principal after a lull of ten days.
“How can I help you Sir?” Simon politely inquired.
“This office is imperfect.” Thomas grumbled. “I am finding it difficult to deal and feel extremely uncomfortable. Could you arrange some broadsheets? I would prefer to cover the window glass.”
“How will it help?” Simon didn’t figure out.
“You know what happened today during noon? My wife didn’t find it embarrassing to poke her face on to the glass. Basically she was trying figure out if I am occupied. She did look like a ghost while covering both sides of her eyes, then pressing and forcing her face through the tinted screen.” Thomas could not conceal his annoyance.
“……….” Simon remained speechless for a while.
“That’s not all.” Thomas thumped the table in frustration. “Yesterday evening I caught a student red handed while peeping through the keyhole. My privacy is under threat. This office is not completely secured.”
“……..” Simon gawked at his boss.
“Don’t waste my time. Get some large sheets of paper. Hurry up.” Thomas instructed.
Simon dutifully went out and re-emerged with sheets of old newspaper. The task was accomplished by sticking the broadsheets over the window with the help of masking tape. The view from the keyhole was impeded by affixing the strip.
“I suppose, you should go for venetian blinds or vertical blinds.” Simon restlessly looked at covered window. “That will bring more elegance. Sir, at least why not curtains? ”
“There could be gaps in blinds and curtains.” Thomas made it clear. “I want to have a perfect office to channelize my focus into work and nothing else. Elegance can’t be at the cost of efficiency. Inconvenience will lead to incompetence. The secretary at my old office knew my temperament and the way I function. I desperately miss her. She had solutions for problem of any nature from miniscule to colossal.”
“Don’t worry.” Simon comforted him. “I am always at your service. The complete workforce is at your command. It’s our priority to keep you happy.”
“What’s the point in having a workforce that can’t assist me to focus on my work?” He muttered in infuriation. “Anyway now the peepable outlets are blocked. However how I can I stop ‘behind the wall listeners’? I don’t think these walls are structured with sound proof barrier.”
“I have not seen any of such acts at least in this institution.” Simon’s shoulders helplessly drooped down.
“Human mind is ceaselessly inquisitive and forever been fascinated to know more about others.” Thomas exhibited a hollow smile. “That’s why we say walls have ears. I certainly believe there is a listener behind every wall. The belief keeps me guarded.”
“Sir, you are right.” unexpectedly Simon was in his elements. “In general the difference does exist between inner and outer pattern of human behavior. At times it’s tricky and wily. People lie when they pretend to have virtues and principles. There by they sink into the game of deception. They use these ideals only to conquer the imagination of the community they live in and fall short to practice. I too hate such hypocrisy.”
“………….” A mystified Thomas looked at Simon for a while.
“Did I speak out of context?” Simon felt awkwardness within.
The wigwag from Thomas suggested Simon to vacate the place. He walked out without more ado. Simon’s mind was swept by disorientation. The element of perplexity bothered him in his inability to understand the new principal.
Thomas voiced his grievance for next couple of months on his ineffectiveness without a formal secretary. By third month of his appointment he managed to complete his projected business plan. The business plan was intended at healthier cash flow and enhancement of infrastructure. By Monday evening he met Trustee Chairman with his proposition.
“This institution has been always the sanctuary to attain good education for financially weak students.” Thomas explained. “We have to understand the fact that by backing up poor students we have grown weaker. It’s time up to analyze and strengthen our pedestal. It’s time we take hard decisions. Weak institutions result in poor governance. Our survival is under serious threat due to fragile cash flow and this is blocking our growth. I think we can show a turnaround by targeting the middle class and upper middle class students. Let’s give a boost to quality faculty plan. We have to enhance the facilities and infrastructure. There are no half measures.”
“What are the sources for initial funding?” Trustee Chairman stayed calm.
“I have spoken to couple of local wealthy entrepreneurs.” Thomas had done his groundwork. “The signs are encouraging. If you allow constructions of some blocks under their name, donations & sponsorships will pour in. Once the facilities are improved the hike in fees will provide the financial stability.”
“That sounds good to me.” Trustee chairman did seem pleased. “However we should not allow ourselves to be swayed away from our original objective of supporting financial weak students.”
“We can extend concessions to a certain percentage of poor section.” Thomas clarified. “In a way this will help us to convince the donors and sponsors.”
“You have a very sharp mind.” Trustee Chairman smiled. “Let’s propose the plan during the impending trustee meeting. Do you need anything else?”
“I need vital secretarial support to implement a significant business plan of this magnitude.” Thomas clarified with total conviction. “Simon and rest of existing support staff lack the efficiency to execute a task of this enormous nature. No doubt, they are sincere and good people. However I am looking for horses for courses.”
“If your budget permits, then I have no objection.” Trustee Chairman put across his consent. “You may make the arrangement. If required, release an advertisement.”
“I have a request.” Thomas articulated his opinion. “We can cut down the exercise of hunting. I had an excellent secretary at my previous job. Miss Annie was by far the most skilled, well-organized and resourceful secretary I had ever come across in my professional life. She shared admirable rapport and connection with the offices of many local industrialists. Our mission is half accomplished if she is on board. Frankly I am unsure if she is prepared to join us.”
“Why can’t? Make her a tempting offer.” Trustee Chairman egged on.
“I will try.” Thomas assured. “She is single and unattached. We may have to accommodate her in our ladies hostel. Any way first let her confirm.”
Trustee Chairman had given him the authority and Thomas acted accordingly. Very next day, Thomas got in touch with Annie and made the offer. It didn’t take her long to reach a decision. She agreed to join after 30 days of notice period to her current employer and reported to duty unerringly on assured date.
“You know me better than I know myself. I need your help.” Thomas appealed his secretary. “This place is imperfect. You have to create my perfect office. Keep every thing aside and translate my office to go well with my likes and dislikes.”
“I advice you to keep you worries aside.” Annie comforted him. “Don’t be bothered. I will fix all your problem areas.”
She swung into action from very next day. The store room was chosen after scrutinizing the place. The room was dark with no windows. Light fixtures were installed. She replaced the bulbs with higher light intensity that provided subtle coloring. A thick wooden door was mounted with key pad entry access lock without keyhole. The office looked elegant with trendy furniture, sleek PC, new-fangled AC and neatly stylish carpet. The wall was plastered with fiberglass insulation for soundproofing.
Thomas moved to his new office by end of the month. As evening approached Annie came in and took the weight off her feet. By then students, faculty and staff had vacated the campus. Thomas was found exhilarated, euphoric and excited.
“Bravo…” Thomas pulled his spectacles and pushed them up on his forehead. “I am more than satisfied. A windowless room, door with no keyhole and seamless soundproofing…… I should say, this is my perfect office. I am pleased.”
“Come on… I know your taste.” She stood and locked the door knob. “I have worked enough with you to understand the way you feel and function. I was certain that you would offer me a job in this college. My faith didn’t go wrong.”
“I was under dreadful depression without having you close by.” He swiftly surged and pulled her close. “You have managed to assemble the picture perfect office to enable us to indulge in our prized moments of life. I love the intimacy of your serene presence that dwells into my mind and body. We will be as successful as were in our previous job. The park is different, nevertheless the game is same and rules remain unchanged. Construction plan is the time proven technique to earn few extra bucks in all walks of life. The underhand trick works well in be it charity, politics, government, education or religion. Like many others I too believe that underhand is always quicker than eye….”
“You are a genius.” She rested her head on his chest. “Your strategies are flawless my dear Tom. No one can detect nor discover what’s going inside these four walls. We are well protected and secured.”
“Ann, Opportunities are unlimited in this institution.” His arms enveloped as he felt her breath. “Once funds are in place we can begin with painting of college, followed by construction of new blocks, reconstruction of laboratory, auditorium, library, playground, open air stage …. It’s never ending.”
Annotation: The plot, narration, events & characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real, living, dead is purely coincidental. Most important, any similarity to those living/non-living with dead conscience is entirely accidental & unintentional.