This one happened a few years back when I got my first Onsite opportunity. I was all excited about the prospect of earning in Dollars, getting Richer, finally will be able to afford a 4 wheeler, will be termed by the most coveted title among the local Wedding Planners as “US Return” and all those dream sequences.
It was T-2 days before take off and I had to finish up the paper work. Who do I have to go to get the approval sign? My Boss’ Boss’. These were the days when I was busily working on the project (you know browsing the internet) and making the travel preparations (staring at the suitcase and wondering what to carry other than the underwear). So since I had started packing all the important stuff like my formal dresses, some thundu (Towels) and kaili (It’s like Dhoti, Please Google it), I ended up coming to work that day in a casual. Very casual! Kinda like Rajinikanth in Padayappa with light yellow shirt and a cream cargo trousers with double extra pockets and a pair of Bata slippers. Cargo Trousers are also called as “Padayappa Pant” in our state (Tamil Nadu) since Rajinikanth popularized them in the movie Padayappa. Now, Cargo trousers are great futuristic inventions. People knew back then that we will end up carrying Cell phones, iPods, GPS, Candy Bars, Wii Remote, TV Remote, Whiskey bottle – all you can carry in your trouser. But sure enough the only thing that I carried that day was a stone called on-call pager. I carried a pilot pen in my hand even though I had so many pockets to fill up atleast 1Kg of Biriyani Rice.
Over to the Lion’s den (My Boss’ Boss’ Cubicle).
I just slowly stride over to his cube and call him out by his name. Just for a reference let’s call him Pi. Pi as in the mathematical constant that looks like a small stool from the side. Here it goes:
“Hi Pi, Could you please sign this Highly confidential Travel Document to approve that I can take a Taxi to go to the airport tomorrow instead of an Auto Rickshaw?”
I reluctantly raised my hand to give him the only Pilot Pen that I bought from my hard earned money. He quickly whips out his fancy fountain pen lifted from the office stationary for high level executives and signs that yellow sheet of confidential paper so hard that the carbon paper transmitted the signature to all the other pages, his desk and the desks in the floors below. All the while during this process, I was standing silently keeping my mouth shut and carefully hiding my cargo trousers and slippers behind the desk. He handed over the paper bunch and then he noticed the inevitable.
“I am sorry but this kind of dress will be totally unacceptable at the customer location. You are not supposed to wear these kind of trousers. Please wear a neat formal dress and a tie when you go there.”
After he said that, my face went to the right side with a slapping noise like in K. Balachander movies, symbolically indicating that Pi had slapped me on my face.
At that time my Mind Witness (Manasatchi) went: …”No Pi, I was getting ready to travel, I packed all the stuff and I am even wearing my inner garment on Side B, so I am sorry”…
This is what actually came out of my mouth, “I am sorry, I will definitely dress properly when I get there. Thank you for the signature!”. Hey, you have to kiss when you have to!
And now Interval … Go grab some Popcorn, Ice cream and Murukku.
Sabena Airlines flight touches down at San Jose airport. The next day was the first day at client’s location. So I prepared myself well by watching TV all night due to Jet lag. I slept late woke up super early and got ready. As promised, I wore a proper formal dress, a light blue shirt/blue trouser and a neat striped Tie and a long jacket (like that one Vijayakanth wears in Pulan Visaranai) bought from the same store in Bangalore Commercial street where everyone flying onsite buys stuff. It wasn’t as cold outside, but it was raining a bit so I had it on. I missed the bus confused over which side of the road I had to stand and then called up for a taxi. 5 Minutes and then I was at the office. Didn’t know it was that close.
It was about 9.30AM and there was absolutely no band vadhiyam or Elephants, red carpet and flowers celebrating my arrival. The only things that I saw was Cars, all over the parking lot. That was the most kinds of cars I had ever seen in my entire life. Enter the office, all big heads were in a office room conducting a General Body meeting. I was given a silent hi and welcome by a desi guy and he took me to that meeting room. He did tell me that I was about an hour late, but i was 30 minutes early according to IST.
And here was the surprise and Irony, He shows me to the meeting room and all I could see was people wearing casual T-shirts and trousers and some wearing jeans. Out of that, one guy came out to greet me with a responsible smile and guess what he was wearing! A Golf T-shirt, a jersey, blue jeans and sneakers. Everyone else in the room gave me an odd smile, “Oh my God, they know! They know about Vijayakanth and the Pulan Visaranai Coat and that is why they look like they want to kalachufy me and make some Mokkai jokes about my dress!”.
So the Golf T-shirt guy went straight to the business of talking and introducing.
“Welcome to the team! This is Kanakkupullai, This is office boy, That is head clerk, This one is the accountant, Those guys we don’t know what they do but they keep typing on the keyboard all day, oh yeah they are Typists. You are also a Typist no! This one runs the coffee club, which is one coffee machine and some kaapi podi in a dubba, creamer and sugar. This madam is the big boss, ammava kumbtokko!”
After interpreting his American English in the way I liked (in the way I didn’t understand) I introduced myself – “I am write softuware, Good softuware no bugs, Englis little only talk, Beer(Bear) with me, Today I come late I am sary, Tomorrow onwards I will come 8.30AM taan! Faar me give one mishin(machine) and I start the coding.”
The Golf T-shirt guy was apparently my Manager, he then asked one of the typists to guide me through the office. He was also wearing a perfect casual – Jeans, T-shirt and Woodlands shoes.
“Hi! Welcome to the team. I would like to tell you first that the dress code here is semi-casual and casual. You are allowed to wear formals if you like but wearing a Tie is completely optional. If you do wear a tie to the office, you will be the only one!”
Ellam neram da!(All time boy!)
Out of sheer anger I would have taken off my formals and shown off my “ottai potta banian with Superstar on it” and the “Gold Medal Pattapatti drawer” but I wasn’t wearing those either on that day. So I silently loosened the tie and took it off. Per the Desi guy’s advice I slowly transitioned from formals to jeans as the days went by.
Talk about Irony and Dress Code in the same sentence and it happened right there where I was supposed to follow the business standards!