‘Salaam sahib,‘ the doorman hastily moved forward to open the glass door as Sandeep strode inside the lobby of his new office.
He was an Assistant Manager at a logistics firm and had been transferred to the firm’s Nagpur office to take charge as the new Branch Manager. The branch had been running a loss since almost a year now and he being a bright and enterprising professional, had been sent to breathe life back into the account books that were almost on the verge of absolute collapse.
Ever since the news of his promotion and transfer was conveyed to him, he had been looking forward to the challenge, charting out big and small plans to get the Nagpur office back on track and ace the onerous task handed out to him by the big bosses.
And today morning, as he walked into his office, his mind was choc-a-bloc with things to do and plans to execute. There was so much to take care of, things to turn around… he was immersed in his plans as he neared the entrance of the lobby, and it was the doorman’s languid ‘Salaam sahib‘ that snapped him out of his thought flow. For a second he did not know what to say or how to acknowledge that slow salaam from the doorman who looked almost his father’s age – gray haired but with a sharp presence. Coming from him, the salaam somehow sounded a bit strange. It sounded imperialistic – like the days of yore when India was under the British rule and Indians would go about clicking their heels wishing salaam to every white man that mattered. This is how they show it on the TV, isn’t it?
Salaam sahib…how he detested the words. Even in the malls and restaurants, he would cringe every time a doorman uttered the words salaam sahib. Ah, was there no alternative to these bureaucratic sounding salutations, he often wondered. But right now there was no time for such musings. He acknowledged the salaam with a small smile and moved on. Once inside his cabin, the first hour of his first day at work was taken up in getting introduced to the staff from the different departments. Because of the gradual slowdown in the branch’s work, there were just a few people in the office now and his personal assistant had arranged for everyone to be formally introduced to him. It was only when he was done with the formalities and doling out the first set of instructions for his assistant that his mind went back to the enervated ‘Salaam sahib’.
He buzzed for the doorman, as much for a little introduction as for the salaam sahib that he had a feeling would become a daily ritual if he did not nip it in the bud. Within the seconds the doorman appeared, expressions of shock, surprise and anxiety all visibly apparent on his face.
‘Ji Sahib, aapne bulaya?’
‘Ji. Kya naam hai aapka?’ Sandeep’s voice had a warm engaging tilt to it.
‘Ji Bhairon. Bhairon Singh’, the doorman sounded perplexed.
‘Kitne time se hain is office mein Bhairon ji?’
‘Ji sahib paanch baras ho gye. Kuch galti ho gyi kya sahib?’
‘Nahi, nahi, sab se mil rha tha to socha aap se bhi mil loon. Aap bhi to office ka hissa hain na. Chaliye, phir milte hain.’
Bhairon Singh heaved a visible sigh of relief. In all his 5 years at this office, no manager had ever as much as acknowledged him, let aside calling him inside the cabin to ask about his well-being. And here was this new manager, calling after him. Though at first instance the call from the manager had sent shivers down his spine. Why was he wanted? Would they fire him? Was he now too old for the doorman’s job? Questions such as these raced through his mind. But now, as he walked out of the manager’s cabin, all his fears were gone, relief washing over him like a happy foamy wave. He was back at his position by the door with a new vigour and enthusiasm that looked somewhat odd for his age.
Bhairon Singh was as alert and beaming as the day before when Sandeep walked into the office the next morning.
‘Salaam Sahib’, this morning his voice was contagiously spirited as he clicked his heels together and wished Sandeep.
‘Namasate Bhairon kaka. Aur sab theek? Aur haan, salaam sahib nahi, bas namaste boliye roz aap. Aapse bahut chhota hoon,’ he smiled, a warm almost affectionate smile and walked inside.
Bhairon Singh stood there, weak in the knees, full of affection and blessings for the son he saw in the stranger that was his new boss. A son that he never had.