Yesterday Geoff Hart introduced us to the intrepid technical communications team, Sanjay, Shiv, Lakshmi, Deepak, and Anjali. They’re relieved to find that their jobs won’t be offshored, but the alternative might be a whole lot worse, unless they can turn it into a zombie success story.
Not only did I not eat the donuts; I went across the street for my chai. No sense taking any chances, and I needed a change of scene to think things through. What I’d learned about zombies was only reassuring from the perspective that nobody would be trying to eat my brain at work, and we wouldn’t be locking the doors and hiding out with shotguns and talwars to ward off the zombie apocalypse. Nobody knew if zombies were real, how they were “made”, or what cured them. About the only thing everyone agreed on was that they had a prominent place in Haitian legend, and that the Haitians believed in them strongly enough to include a provision in their legal code that equated zombification with murder. Were we in Haiti, we could call in the cops and let them haul Cook away. (I naturally assumed it was Cook. Who else in the company knew that our team existed—or cared—other than the developers? And they were warily friendly these days, since we had a common enemy.)
We weren’t in Haiti… but with Fedex, you could have anything in the world overnighted to you, and five minutes with Google revealed a dismaying number of stores that promised to ship me the real stuff.
There wasn’t likely to be anything supernatural involved, unless Cook had converted to vodoun without anyone noticing. Not likely; I’d peered in at his office, and there were no obvious fetishes, no odd marks painted on the walls in chicken blood, and nothing more sinister than a wall of framed Successories posters. So hiring a houngan, even if one could be found in the eastern hemisphere, or a local pujari wasn’t going to do us any good. The trick was going to be finding someone who had experience with mind-altering drugs, and that was way out of my league. I’m not a good Hindu, but mama-ji would have had my hide if there had been even a hint I was experimenting with such things.
Mind-control drugs is not the kind of thing you Google, cop-ware being what it is these days. Calling the cops seemed promising, but what would we tell them? “Namaskar, sahib. Our American boss is turning us into zombies by spiking the free donuts with zombie powder. Can you help?”
Not even in a Bollywood film.
This is the kind of corporate maneuvering where it would be great to have a powerful boss who can intervene on your behalf. I don’t think I have to tell you why that wouldn’t work in this era of matrix management. So like it always was, the job was ours. Fortunately, years of neglect have taught us to be clever when necessary. When you don’t have any power, you learn to be subtle and use an enemy’s strength against them. This was emphatically not a job for Bhima—more something in Hanuman’s line of work.
The solution came to me that night over a lovely Madras curry washed down with a pint of Kingfisher. To the best of our knowledge, Cook neither ate nor drank on the job—I think he was embarrassed to be seen eating Western food in an Indian workplace—so there was no hope of slipping him one of his own donuts and letting karma take care of the rest. But, like most Americans in India, he found the climate unbearable, and sweated profusely. To solve the problem, he filled his dress shoes with Gold Bond powder. As a result, he emitted tiny puffs of powder with every step, and left a faint trail of the stuff wherever he walked.
I picked the vendor with the best ratings on Amazon, crossed my fingers they weren’t gaming the reviews system, and ordered a week’s supply of the carefully named “relaxation powder”. We’d know within a few days whether it worked, and there would be plenty of time to order more if it did. It arrived the next day. By then Lakshmi, had recovered, though her usually sharp wit had become blunter than usual and she was reluctant to cross words with me. Nonetheless, Anjali and I persuaded our little Aishwarya Rai to distract Cook long enough for me to slip into his office. When I left my cube, he was sitting in her cube and she was standing so his eyes would be at breast level; we’d all had many opportunities to notice where his eyes lingered whenever he visited her cube.
In Cook’s office, there was no challenge to finding his supply of Gold Bond; the drawer it lived in bore traces of powder on the handle, and powder had dripped downwards onto the two drawers below it. And sure enough, when I opened the drawer, there it was—beside an unlabeled canister of what appeared, at first glance, to be powdered sugar. I briefly contemplated stealing some before thinking the better of it. Instead, I tipped out the Gold Bond into my pocket, careful not to leave any visible residues, then replaced it with the powder from Amazon. Then I left, wanting to do more prowling but afraid of being caught.
On the way back to my cube, I passed Cook, who ignored me. Back at the cubicles, Lakshmi was fuming. “Did you see the way he was looking at me? Pig!”
“Your sacrifice for the side will not go unrewarded. In a few days, you’ll p0wn him.”
“If you ordered the right stuff.”
I hoped she had reason to.
The next day, I stopped by Cook’s office to see whether we’d made any progress.
“Cook, Sahib?” He looked up from his monitor and grunted. “Friday is a Hindu holy day, and I would like to take the day off to visit my mother.”
He reached for his mouse, hand shaking, and clicked something on the screen. “I don’t see anything on the calendar.”
“This is an obscure local holiday celebrated by the people of my village.”
“I don’t even know where your village might be.” He licked his lips. “But if it’s important to your family, then by all means take the day off. Just be sure that one of the others can take over any of your deadlines. Shiv seems to be ahead of schedule; ask him.” He met my eyes briefly, guilt plain on his face.
“Most assuredly I will.”
He looked away from the screen. “Don’t you have any work to do before you leave?”
I bowed. “Of course, Sahib.” And I left before I could do anything that would disrupt his unusually accommodating attitude.
Shiv and Deepak were still typing like madmen, and I could smell them almost as soon as I came within earshot. Lakshmi was waiting for me by my cube. “So?”
“Day 1: so far, so good. I asked him for the day off on Friday for a religious holiday and he let me go.”
“Really? That stuff’s powerful, whatever’s in it.”
“I’ll say. But tomorrow it’s your turn to check in on him.”
“Fair’s fair. I’ll get Anjali to check on Thursday.”
We returned to our work.
The smell had gotten so bad that by the mid-morning chai break, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I went to the Reliance Fresh across the street, beside the Barista where I sometimes splurged on really good Western coffee, and bought a sixpack of plug-in air fresheners. Holding my breath and pinching my nose shut with one hand, I dashed into Shiv’s and Deepak’s offices, plugged the small cubes into the wall, dialed them up to full potency, and fled the scene, gasping. Lakshmi was waiting back at my cube, a particularly evil grin on her face.
I handed her two of the air fresheners. “Here. One for you, one for Anjali.” I plugged in my own. “So?”
“He’s definitely declining. I paid him a visit,” she put her shoulders back and pushed her chest forward, “and he hardly noticed. Same idiot gaze as usual, but when I changed position, he didn’t follow me. I think it’s working.”
We exchanged smiles, and went back to work.
Day 3 was Anjali’s turn, and when she returned bearing sheets of paper, we knew something was up.
“What?” Lakshmi and I chorused.
“Here are your quarterly performance reviews.” She handed each of us a sheet of paper. There was silence long enough that I knew Lakshmi was also reading hers a second time.
“I wouldn’t give myself a review that glowing,” I muttered.
“Neither would I, but… yeah. Me neither.” Lakshmi frowned, and snatched the third sheet of paper from Anjali’s hand. “Humph,” she snorted. “Figures you’d give yourself the best rating.”
“Of course it’s a great review. I did all the work.” Anjali tipped her nose in the air, snooty as a rajah, then couldn’t sustain the required air of wounded dignity and giggled.
“At least he finally stopped calling you Angela.”
“I’m fed up with being called Angela. Honestly, how hard is it to remember Anjali?”
“Seriously, though. How long do you think it will be before anyone notices?”
“Longer if we keep meeting our deadlines and don’t give anyone reason to pay closer attention.”
“I’m with Lakshmi. I’ll check on him again tomorrow, and refill his powder if necessary.”
“Agreed. Now back to work. I’ll go see if Shiv and Deepak are showing signs of life now that Cook isn’t dosing them every day.”
With Anjali’s help, Cook submitted the daily status reports in glowing terms; because of the enormous volume of work Shiv and Deepak had done, we were well ahead of schedule, so those reports were not exaggerations. By the end of the next week, Shiv and Deepak were back to what passed for normal in our little group, and we were able to unplug the air fresheners. They had no memory of the past week, but were ravenous after a week of neglect by Cook; apparently, none of us had realized they might need to be told to eat. Naturally enough, we ended up at our favorite thali place for lunch.
“I am outraged,” Deepak said after finishing enough dhal and rice for three men his size. “There should be some justice here.”
“Oh, I think karma will be satisfied.” Anjali had gotten creative with the departmental budget, and for the first time since we’d worked together as a team, our computers were up to date and the false Aerons had been replaced with real ones that would not cripple us before retirement. The catered dinners that had arrived when we had to work late earlier in the week were another nice touch.
“It occurs to me we may be thinking too small,” Lakshmi observed.
“Small people have small goals,” I replied, ducking as she threw a piece of naan at me.
“Here’s a goal big enough even for your swollen head: the New York management team will be arriving next week for their annual inspection tour and showing of the flag.”
Shiv cleared his throat. “I think what she’s saying is that if we can zombify one manager, there’s no reason we cannot zombify them all. A weekly conference call to instruct our pet zombies on our goals for the rest of the week, to remind them to take their medicine, and to take personal hygiene breaks every few days. Then there’s no limit to what we can accomplish.”
“I’m not sure I like where this is headed.”
“Because males are always the weaker sex.” Lakshmi threw another piece of naan at me. “What’s that phrase your American friend liked so much? Payback is a bitch. Time those bloody Americans learned a little lesson in payback, Indian style.”
“Reverse colonialism at its finest,” Deepak observed.
“Indeed.” Lakshmi raised her glass of chai. “Lady and gentlemen, let us raise our glasses to karma!”
Cups clinked, chai spilled on the banana leaves, and we shared warm smiles.
Author’s notes on Offshoring, Onshoring and the Zombie Success Story
For readers who aren’t technical writers, the underlying irony is that a significant number of documentation jobs have been outsourced to Indian tech writers; if you own a Windows computer, you’ve probably already encountered outsourced Indian technical support staff. I liked the notion of predatory capitalists finding a way to offshore Indian technical writers while still keeping the jobs local. That seems somehow fitting for the 1%. The main inaccuracy here is that the local boss is an American, but I’m invoking poetic license for plot purposes.
- In 1993, Abhishek Jain achieved a typing speed of nearly 550 keystrokes per minute (about 110 words per minute) with a 99.92% accuracy rate. To put that in perspective, most office jobs that require writing ask for about 50 words per minute, and 80 is considered decently fast.
- Aishwarya Rai is one of the most beautiful of a large crop of beautiful Bollywood actresses.
- Luke Kenny starred in what may or may not have been the first India-made zombie film.
- Bhima was a hero from the Mahabharata, one of India’s great epic tales and famed for his strength; think “Hercules”, though the parallel should not be extended beyond the superhuman strength.
- In contrast, Hanuman has many aspects, but the ones I’ve chosen here emphasize his quick wit and nimble fingers.