Saturday, 5 March 2011

The farewell

It was his D Day. The day when he was to retire from his company. Precisely 25 years ago he had joined as a wide eyed young boy, to become a salesman. Coincidentally, on his first day in office, there was a farewell for a retiring colleague that day. There was a huge crowd. Speaker after speaker came up and extolled the virtues of the retiring man. A huge gift was presented. Many photos were taken. A few tears were shed too. The young man looked on in awe. His boss to be, nudged him and said, "Remember this young man; when its your time to retire from the company you should have done well enough to deserve a function like this ".

The young man started in all earnest the next day. He worked hard and learnt fast.Some days were good; others bad. He traveled many a kilometer, slept in many a strange bed, sold a million cases. The years flew by. After a decade or so he was promoted as a supervisor. He was proud as a parrot that he got promoted. He worked even harder. Nurtured dozens of young men who started out, just like he had , years ago. More years flew by. And suddenly, one fine day, he realised he had turned fifty. And had just completed 25 years in the company.

On that birthday, his wife nagged him to take a day's leave. So at home he stayed. That's why when the postman came, he was there to receive the letter in person. The letter from the company that said that , being fifty, he was being offered Voluntary Retirement. Could he please accept it and come to the office on the 31st of that month so that they could give him a farewell.

What choice did he have ? Its was a young man's world. There wasn't a place for the over 50s. He had to accept. Came that fateful day. He wended his way to the office. He remembered his first day when he had witnessed that grand farewell, all those years ago. Now, it was his turn. With a wistful sigh he went in.

Of course, nobody recognised him. Whoever recognises a sales guy from the field ? The pretty young thing at the reception made a face at this rather unsophisticated fellow who had come. When he said that he had come for his farewell, he was ushered into a room. And told to wait. The Branch Manager was busy on a call and would be late.

He waited and waited and waited. All alone. At long last, somebody came to fetch him. There were 15 people in the hall. He didn't recognise a soul. Most of the office had gone home - who was after all interested in the farewell for an old foggy, whom they had never even seen before. The Branch Manager came rushing in - he was a yuppy. MBA from somewhere. He loudly proclaimed, "Lets get this thing started. We need to finish fast as I have to get into another meeting ".

The Manager made a speech. Some 3 minutes or so. Of how the company was built by people such as the one to retire. He hadn't remembered his name. So he said - "this man". They had forgotten to get him his farewell gift. The HR type whispered in his ear - could he come after a week to collect it please. They had been very busy these days. Then came the dreaded moment. When he was invited to "say a few words".

You see , he had prepared his retirement speech very carefully. He had written and rewritten it some 10 times. Of how this was a great company. Of how he owed his entire life to the organisation. He wanted to talk about the good old days. He wanted to say why its values and caring were the reason he had stuck on for so long. He wanted to narrate the incident on his own first day. He wanted to tell the young people, how they could carry on his legacy and make the company even greater. He had even written a quote from the Gita to round off his speech.

When his moment came, however, he looked rather sadly around the room. The crowd had whittled down to 9 - a few had left to catch the bus. One was talking on the mobile; another was texting away. He folded his speech and put it back into his pocket. Instead he just thanked everybody for coming, of how much it meant to him and wished them all well. They came around to shake his hand and patted his back. Somebody thrust a cup of coffee in his hand. And in a few minutes everybody had left. He was alone in the room again.

He slowly made his way to the exit. All alone. A stoop had come to his shoulders. His thoughts were far away. His step was a tad slower, minus his customary spring. He paused for a moment at the door. A single tear dropped down on to the floor.

27 comments:

  1. why why this from you.? nowadays you surprise a lot. is it really fiction? a good one though :)

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  2. ??!!!@@##$$%%^^&&**(())__
    ada...comment panna vaarthaiye kedaikalangaratha vera edpinga solrathu. Etho balu mahendra padam paatha mathiri iruku!!

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  3. I was also a bit confused by this one. I hope this is only a foray into fiction - was too sad to be true. Though I suspect there are many silent warriors who are quietly stepping aside or being pushed aside these days.

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  4. Aww..This is so touching...and could be very true!
    Life just moves on with new people and new challenges and no one bothers about the bygone victories.
    We only tend to stand on such 'fallen shoulders" as you may call it.
    OMG...it could be me, in a few years !
    Very touching post Sir!

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  5. kiwibloke6/3/11

    nice one. felt like reading an excerpt from Arthur Miller's death of a salesman! on a serious note I guess with GenX,Y, Z, Next and whatever else jargon the young MBA types coin, sometimes having worked for a long time (read 20+years) gets you into serious doubts whether you fit in (Culture, skills, value systems) Point to ponder, retirement at 50, may be 45 might be a good idea!

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  6. Influenced by something that happened close to you? Even if fiction, there is quite a ring of truth to it. :(

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  7. Sandhya Sriram6/3/11

    i am sure you are not the ones who write fiction. in my last role, couple of years back, the company gave me a formal farewell dinner, a greeting card, a gift and all that... but except for a few for most it was just a formality and it reflected. I walked out like the salesman - non existent!!

    but then, it is not necessary that a hierarchy driven appreciation or a quorum is needed to make you feel good.

    There were a set of implementation consultants who were working closely with me in that role. they gave me a small cup which said "We could not have spelt Sccess without U". Believe me, it is one of my most cherished possessions till date. a message, a gift, a note has no meaning no matter what cost unless it has a heart beating behind it. but the heart can be anyone. I am sure the sales man would have also had such hearts. they may be few, they may be small, they may not give him a farewell dinner or a farewell speech, but they will beat for him and that beat is worth the life spent -- isnt it Ramesh?

    Incidentally, Sekar and the salem team gave me a beautiful farewell card last week. it had captured very special photographs of mine spent in Salem amongst the beautiful and gleaming faces of Salem team. So, it isnt only a formality every where. But the MBA Yuppys are more in number i suppose!!

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  8. @Zeno - Part fiction part true. Me surprise zeno ??? Now that's a feather in my cap.

    @Gils - Overwhelmed enough by the kindness in your comment not to spoil it by asking who Balu Mahendra is and what might be his claim to fame !!

    @J - If you strip of a fair bit of journalistic licence to dramatise, its not entirely a fiction ...

    @Hema - Thanks. But No way you. That day a couple of decades away ....

    @kiwi - In Generation Z of course, nobody will serve long enough to miss a retirement do. The problem with leaving at 45 is one of financing until 90 !!

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  9. @RamMmm - There's more than a ring of truth unfortunately. I took a lot of licence to embellish, but at its heart, this is , alas, true.

    @Sandhya - I know - even in the formality of a function, there will always be at least that one soul who truly feels and makes it real. That's the sort of licence I took in this narration to keep out, just to make the point. Would have loved to see the Salem farewell. That lot is a special lot - the hurly burly of corporatism has not still hit them and they retain the spirit of a start up.

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  10. An unusual post from the blogger master....True, but sad/ugly facets of the corporate world...But, beyond all this, as Sandhya says, there are a few hearts that beat for an examplary leader. She has added such warmth to this post :).

    You have this very unusual way of clubbing business and emotions together, Ramesh. That's why, I peep into your blog every once in a while to see if there are any new posts :) and there are not many let downs (except for those few typical businessy posts that sounds greek to a dumbhead like me). Thank you...

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  11. Anonymous7/3/11

    approaching 50 myself, only a couple of years away..... perhaps I'll save the effort and ink on preparing the exit speach !!!

    trevor

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  12. I am too young to come closer to what he could have felt, Ramesh! But having worked around 1/6th time of my career, I just wonder how transient things seem to be, how oblivious people turn out to be, how ungrateful the cultural system seems to respond as such! Alas! As Sandhya says, farewell speeches are a formality for many of them, if at all there is one. Consider a situation where people just don't realize the worth of a great individual, leave alone speaking good. More prominent in this part of the country where I work! Very sad but true!

    PS - even if you embellished this post, every word appeared to be so true and so touching!

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  13. This is really emotional.I am now experiencing western part of world where emotions have virtually no place in this world. I always thought so but reality and experience hits you very hard.
    I recently witnessed retirement of a very senior executive of a company.Very successful individual and delivered superb results. Worked for almost 20+ years for this company. He was driving and managing big team and was regarded and respected a lot in company for his work. A re-organisation takes place and this individual decides to retire .. voluntary retirement. You do not see any emotions among people about this individual who was so important the other day. No big farewell and big parties. I thought his absence will create a void for some time and he will be difficult to replace. It is just a normal thing for everyone and there is just not any discussion on this topic. No speech and no functions.I had dinner with this person and I could not stop myself and ask him if there was a farewell planned for him. He proudly stated that practice is to have "Happy Hour" on one of these days (where people instead of buying will get free drink but no speech and no function).
    It is sad that we are also moving in wrong direction of being mechanical rather than being individuals with warmth and beating hearts. Perhaps it is true that working in place like Salem will be more satisfying

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  14. @RS - Oh Yes - Minus Sandhya's comments, this place will be much poorer indeed. Thanks for the kind words.

    @Trevor - Hey Trevor, this is totally irrelevant for you !! Long Long way to go.

    @Vishal - A sad fact of business life today. And then we wonder why people are not affiliated to companies and leave at the drop of a hat. Companies have broken the rule of a relationship with the person beyond a mercenary level.

    @Sanjay - You've so eloquently brought out the dilemma in other cultures. I totally agree with you that sometimes Salem may be better. Maybe old world, but I am proud to be in that world.

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  15. Sharath Bhat8/3/11

    I represent the generation that thinks it's not too much to expect a "ceremony" of sorts, when someone's leaving. Especially after a long stint.

    It does look like the corporate world has lost its desire and ability to build relationships with a meaning.

    Instead of one small world, it is now one small cubicle.

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  16. We go to a store to buy a certain thing,may be a special one.The owner of the shop may be more than happy to have that leave his shop.But the salesman who cleans it daily would have a void feeling when it leaves.
    Similarly,the management may not feel a thing when a employee goes,it just like another item for sale in a store,but someone like the salesman who was close to it,would definitely feel bad.

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  17. @Sharath - Thanks for leaving a comment. Like you, I am firmly in the same camp. I am not so sure that the world is becoming a cubicle - organisations have simply lost the sense of affiliation with employees.

    @ambulisamma - mmmm interesting analogy.

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  18. Oh that was a tad sad!! but truly in these days of jumping around from one company to the other, I am not sure if a farewell is hosted for someone at all. And I sincerely hope Gen Y or Z (whatever) is not that insensitive.

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  19. A few years ago, I was at a "Dining-Out" ceremony for my Dad's retirement. The uniform has been his second skin and he reveres the institution. But being the 'Gen Y' that I am. I could see that even Army is not what it used to be. I almost lived your story that evening. I am a little protective about my mom and dad, because of which I was so concerned that maybe my dad is going to be overwhelmed by the occasion and maybe the others in the room wouldn't care enough. They were all younger officers, younger than him, not even from a regiment my dad started with.

    But to this day I can never thank those men in that room, who let him speak his heart out. They all walked him back to his room and bade him a farewell. I was touched, relieved and heartbroken all at the same time. It was a moment in my dad's career that will never happen in mine.

    I didn't confront that thought ever again, because that moment passed by harmlessly. When I read this blog, I almost wished you didn't write it.

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  20. @Priya - Its a dying concept that will go into oblivion in a little while. Trust you are doing great - mails to your id are bouncing ???

    @Deepa - Sorry Sorry Sorry ....

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  21. Anonymous10/3/11

    It happens everywhere - in a different context:
    married for decades - left a career to support the family - daughter almost leaving home - it feels like retirement. Nobody at home bats an eyelid for what you gave up... i'll leave the world like your subject. Am sure many others will too!!!

    But you do what you do for yourself - I'll choose my tomorrow post retirement (when the kids have left the nest) -but i dont regret what i did even if there was no farewell worth mentioning!

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  22. @Anon - Wow; never thought of that angle. Brilliant insight, I am chewing on.

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  23. This is really emotional
    JK

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  24. Brillaint post Ramesh.
    Irony so well illustrated and so well written this one.
    Loved this post.

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  25. @Preeti - Thnaks very much

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  26. Touching post Ramesh, people are sooo...on the surface these days. It doesnt occur to even one of them that it could be them in his shoes a few years down the lane.
    I remember watching a Jack Nicholson on the same line....'About Schmidt' I think it was called

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  27. @Reflections - Senti me ..... Thanks for the movie tip - will dig it out.

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