Under the title Himalayan hiring, Economist said quoting some researchers that India’s archaic Industrial Disputes Act is preventing Indian manufacturers to hire more people in labor-intensive industries, which in turn is not helping production to rise. There is a lot of sense in that finding, but I don’t agree because of my obtuseness. This needs some explaining.

My favourite authors are different at different times. For instance, it was Maugham in late forties (of the past century), then Mailer, Bellow, Updike…and so on. In the mid-eighties, it happened to be David Lodge, an Englishman writing about university life in an imaginary Midlands setting. Presently, Stieg Larsson (alas, read only the Millennium Trilogy). It is from Lodge that I learned the term Gorillagram. In order to assuage the anger of his gf, the protagonist hired a man in a gorilla costume (shaggy hair, ape mask, and the like) to deliver a letter to her, while his rival was being kissed by a scantily-clad lady in front of her (kissogram). At that time I was a deputy manager in a risk management firm, part of the largest Indian conglomerate. (Vedanta group has knocked them down presently to second, ha, ha.) Birds
were singing, sun was shining, everything was fine when there was trouble in paradise. It came in the shape of an IIT grad, appointed as manager, three-fourth my age, getting twice my salary. Flames of jealousy consumed me. The poison pen, anonymous kind became my weapon. I wrote in a laborious left-hand script, whatever came to my mind, my sort of gorillagram. People suspected me to be the letter-writer, but there was no proof. After a while, I revealed myself.

My employers were regarded as doyen of Indian industry. Along with the Jardines, they supplied opium to the Chinese in mid-nineteenth century making lots of money. So, they branched into autos, metals, chemicals and what have you. Then, there was aviation; in fact, the chief honcho was known as grandfather of Indian aviation. Now, that benighted IIT kid was working in a chlor-alkali plant supplying chlorine cylinders for water purification. One such cylinder leaked and there was a hue and cry. Somewhat chastened, the manufacturer engaged us for a risk audit. Clipboards in hand and hardhats on head, we descended to assess the risk. The workers giggled and commented if a cylinder leaks, put a finger on the leak till a hole in the ground to bury the cylinder is made. We pretended as if we have not heard them. We hung around the plant, asked inane questions, made copious notes and eventually submitted a report. Two months or so later, the kid turned up as the newly appointed manager in our office.

Besides myself in rage, I composed those poison letters. Their theme song was that chambers of commerce do not encourage poaching of personnel among members and wear a deep frown if a client’s technicians are enticed. My revelation letter was written properly and had my signature. Actually, it was a complaint and a threat. The complaint was why I was not promoted a manger. The threat was why a client’s technician had been enticed because the sin was as grave as a belly-landing in aviation circles.

In the movie, Bruce Almighty, Morgan Freeman (playing god) tells Bruce (Jim Carrey) that if you stand on the path of a speeding truck, then don’t expect to see tomorrow. Well,
something similar happened: I was given the sack. Anticipating it, I befriended the office tea boy, who provided the address of a labour union boss. There was a Mao print on the wall of the union office with the exhortation “ Revolution is no tea party” written underneath. I felt secure and was further fortified when the boss told me that he would submit the matter of my unjust termination before the industrial tribunal. My plea to the tribunal was that I was a deputy manager in name only, but was actually working as a highly-skilled workman. I had no managerial power and had to submit my work to high-ups for approval. Also, I had no authority to sign a cheque, nor the sanction to grant leave of absence to anyone. The tribunal upheld my claim and awarded re-employment.

So, now you know why I am ambivalent to the Economist’s observations on India’s archaic Industrial Disputes Act. Anyway, the story does not end here, there remains more.

About chepeyja

chartered engineer(India), B.Sc., risk management consultant, blogger and layabout!
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