It was already six months since Sekhar took over as head, HR at KNT Solutions, an IT company. Sekhar became popular in the company within a few days of his joining. Sekhar and his secretary Vineeta Kotle were important functionaries of the organization. KNT was a focused and efficient workplace, functioning for twelve hours a day.
To everybody in the office, Vineeta was Vinee. To say “Vinee was good-looking” was an understatement. She was bright and bubbly and had a captivating personality. Her male colleagues would constantly vie with one another to grab her attention. They would engage with her in conversation on flimsy pretexts. Whenever she allowed a male colleague to interact with her, she would make him feel her closest friend.
Sekhar found Vinee good at her work. Making circulars, collating documents, and organizing meetings and interviews were her general duties, which she handled with a smile and elegance. Her youthful energy and interpersonal skills helped her perform her job effectively. As the days passed, Sekhar’s dependence on Vinee increased. Sekhar depended on Vinee for resolving employee-related critical issues, like holding back untimely employee resignations and looking into promotional discrepancies
KNT solutions was successful in its business. Customer satisfaction was high and employee turnover was low. Despite its success, KNT suffered from an imperfection that is perhaps natural to an organization dominated by employees in their twenties and thirties. There were rumors about undisclosed relationships between a few male and female pairs. Being the heartthrob that she was, Vinee also became the subject of gossip. None of the rumors about her, however, was ever confirmed.
Initially, Sekhar’s interaction with Vinee was formal. Soon, the interaction turned from formal to friendly and then from friendly to intimate. Sekhar found this change embarrassing but could not refrain from constantly seeking Vinee’s company while at the office. He was already married with two children. Till now, his employment record was clean. Sekhar, now, wondered with dismay for how long he could maintain his record of integrity.
One day, Patel, a Quality Manager and a close friend of Sekhar’s, dropped by Sekhar’s office to discuss official matters related to the planning of some projects. While leaving Sekhar’s office after the meeting, Patel winked at Sekhar and remarked with a sly smile, “Take good care of Vinee.” Getting the meaning behind Patel’s remark immediately, Sekhar chuckled to himself. Patel’s remark indirectly reminded Sekhar of his forthcoming outstation visit, along with Vinee, to conduct recruitment interviews
Raghu, Vamsi, and a few other IT graduates have recently joined KNT as trainees. They were assigned a separate cabin to sit and work. Sekhar asked Vinee to train them in the company processes and procedures. Vinee not only acted as a trainer to them but, being of the same age group, joined them on and off in their banter.
On a Monday, Sekhar took leave for two days, Monday and Tuesday. Vinee and a few others were free and relaxed as there was no immediate requirement of reporting. Vinee spent her time at her favorite places like the trainee room and the visitor’s lounge. She killed some time by gossiping with the receptionist in the lobby. She went to the pantry across the lobby earlier than usual, hoping to have a leisurely cup of tea in the company of the trainees.
At about eleven in the morning, the receptionist heard from the pantry the sound of a big thud. Immediately after that, she saw Vinee emerging from the pantry followed by Vamsi. Apparently, something has gone wrong with both of them. Sobbing uncontrollably, Vinee ran towards her cabin. Profusely sweating and trembling all over, Vamsi staggered towards his own seat in the trainees cabin.
On reaching her cabin, Vinee collapsed into her seat, burying her face in her hands. She continued to sob convulsively. Within minutes, a few female friends rushed to Vinee, and helped her regain her composure. After washing her face, Vinee opened up, and revealed to them the reason for her crying.
According to her, she was the first to enter the pantry in the morning. She was joined by Vamsi a few minutes later, As both of them entered the pantry about fifteen minutes before the usual time, they were the only two present there for several minutes. As always, Vinee began talking to Vamsi in a friendly way. Suddenly, much to her surprise, Vamsi advanced towards her to take her in into his arms. Somehow she wriggled herself free from his arms and jumped out of the pantry.
A written complaint on behalf of Vinee was drafted by her friends and submitted to the CEO. On hearing about this complaint, Vamsi gave his own version of what happened in the morning in the pantry. According to him, while both of them talked to each other casually, a paper fell down from his hand. Vamsi lost his balance while bending down to pick up the paper and fell on Vinee, who was standing at his side. He was shocked when Vinee pushed him back with a scream and ran out of the pantry, sobbing hysterically. He thought it unfortunate that she should have misinterpreted his falling on her as a deliberate act on his part.
Between the two stories, it was Vinee’s that gained greater acceptance among the staff. A few of the staff wanted to either remain neutral or give the benefit of the doubt to Vamsi, but none of them overtly supported him.
In the evening, Sekhar received a call from the CEO regarding Vinee’s complaint against Vamsi. He mentioned that the action would have to be quick and decisive, reflecting the company culture and policy. Sekhar was also advised to observe zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment. Finally he instructed Sekhar to suspend Vamsi after following due formalities and procedures.
Sekhar’s reaction to the phone call from the CEO was mixed. First, he was upset at the turn of events in the office. Next, he was happy that he was not in his office when the ugly incident happened. Now that he was away from the scene of the incident and the people involved in it, he could think about what he heard objectively. Otherwise, he would have fallen prey to the mob mentality and would have acted against Vamsi impulsively.
Sekhar knew very well that Vinee was flirtatious by nature. He also knew the kind of impact she had on young men when she smiled at them and talked to them in a teasing manner. It was likely that Vamsi misunderstood her behavior and began harboring romantic thoughts about her. Man-woman interaction is never symmetric. Perhaps, nobody could blame Vinee either for what happened. She was hardly at fault if the people she met got some ideas about her.
On Wednesday morning, Sekhar talked to Vamsi witha reassuring and helpful tone. Vamsi did not conceal anything. Vamsi admitted that at every possible opportunity he wanted to deepen his intimacy with Vinee. Vamsi felt that Vinee was never averse to his advances. Vamsi also felt Vinee was actually reciprocating his feelings. But on the fateful day of the unfortunate incident in the pantry, Vinee’s reaction was unexpected and Vamsi was taken by surprise. Vamsi reiterated that at that he held on to Vinee merely to regain his balance. Vamsi felt that Vinee completely misinterpreted the accident and accused him of objectionable motives. She might have felt that he was not suitable to her, or she might have felt that some others had seen them being physically close to each other. Finally, Vamsi regretted that such an incident should have happened because of his carelessness. He was prepared to accept any punishment that the company might award him in this context.
After talking to Vamsi, Sekhar sat brooding for a few minutes. As a result, Sekhar’s sympathy for Vamsi deepened. Further, he began feeling guilty about his own recent behavior with Vinee. He also remembered the inappropriate comments he made to her. He did not have any business to criticize the color of her lipstick or how well her new top fitted her. Tickled by Patel’s remark, he was even planning to take her on a picnic to a nearby beach during their recruitment trip, next week. In what way was he different from Vamsi? He saw his own reflection in Vamsi.
In the afternoon, Sekhar saw the CEO briefly and convinced him that the best course of action for the company was not to suspend Vamsi but to ask him to resign. Later Sekhar found an opening for Vamsi in a startup belonging to a friend of his in Bangalore.
At the end of the day, just before leaving the office, Sekhar opened one of the drawers of his desk, and fished out from it a colored envelope containing a greeting card. He tore it into several pieces and threw the pieces into the trash can, heaving a sigh of relief. The greeting card was meant to be given to Vinee next day, which happened to be her birthday. It had the caption “To Dream Girl.” After a few days, Vinee was promoted and shifted to the Customer service department with strong recommendation from Sekhar.
At last, Sekhar felt, “Thank God, AI research has not yet produced a gadget that can read one’s thoughts…Thank you, Vamsi for giving me and many others in our office a wake-up call. Good luck with your Bangalore job.”
How thin is the line separating thoughts and actions?