Chocolate and Gold Coins

Monday, February 28, 2005

Stuck Working on Saturday Evening, Mumbai

"Sniff," she sniffed into her handkerchief. "Why are you standing over me? Sit down." This was a friend, and I wasn't standing over her. I was leaning on the door frame of her tiny office.

The room was airless, and bloody silent. The stale smell meant the air conditioner hadn't been switched on for a while. Muffled music pumped away from speakers outside.

"My glasses broke, "she said, squinting at a laptop. "Just like that. One glass just popped out and landed on the table." She half-smiled and sniffled.

"You not well?"

"Just sick. But I have so much work to do." Her eyes were half open now, slowly giving in to the misery of her situation. "Calling up people, handling complaints about the trainers, the helpers in the restrooms, taking care of promotions. I wish I had your job."

"Be careful what you wish for. Pakistan's [the national cricket team] coming next week and there's a lot of work happening. By the way, do you get overtime?"

It was 7:30 pm on a Saturday evening; her smile said: a) what do you think, b) I wish, c) the thought hadn't crossed my mind. "The guy at the front desk is reception and marketing. He works 14 hours a day. But he gets paid for it as well."

"So when is your next day off?"

"Today was supposed to be off, but I had to come in. I have to remind him [the boss] that I'm entitled to a day off every week." She was dressed in a neat salwar-khameez, ready to go somewhere, but not just yet. "I wouldn't mind moving to Dubai. I love it there. The standard of living is so much better.

This dialog comes from a wonderful post by Rahul Bhatia, a sports journalist based in Mumbai. The lady in the office works at an upscale gym.

I asked Rahul why she puts up with the treatment. I could guess the answer. She’s paid reasonably well for a desirable position, and there are plenty of people in India to fill any position. She could find another position with more regular hours, but it wouldn’t pay as well. In India, her salary might be considered very good, but in Mumbai, where the cost of living is outrageous, she needs every rupee just to cover the basics of rent, (especially rent), and other necessities.

It really isn’t any different in New York City, Los Angeles, or Washington D.C. People go there attracted by the high salaries and discover that money doesn’t go very far. Some places my wife interviewed with in Washington, D.C. openly admitted that 80 hour work weeks were not uncommon. At least they were up front about it. And some people will work like that. Leisure is postponed until partnership or until retirement.

Rahul goes on in his piece to explain his own experience with an unreasonable boss. In the short term he put up with the extra hours and cancelled leave. In the long term, he found better employment. And someday this lady will move on as well. But for now, she puts up with it.

Thanks go to Rahul Bhatia for kindly explaining the background to his post. I found Rahul’s post via Amit Varma.


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