The HR Specialist From NISE

My home phone rang…

“Hey Arinvan, you have been selected!” announced the good-humored HR specialist from my alma mater National Institute of Software Engineering, NISE, Mr. Ram Narayan Sangwani over the phone, his Vinod Mehra-like voice humming into my ears in good measure.

“Oh! Goodness gracious me! Really… ? Naaww, you are pulling my leg now!” I delightedly blurted into the receiver. My happiness knew no bounds. Great expectations rose from the chambers of my heart and went into the recesses of my mind to soak up the news, and turning it over several times in my head I prepared myself to believe it, ultimately.

“Yes, I got a call from Mr. Pavan Bommaraju of Satyam Computers today and he says he would like you to join coming Monday. Is that OK with you?” said an ardent Ram Narayan.

~

It must be mentioned that the HR aficionado called Ram Narayan Sangwani (name changed) who, besides the managerial trappings of his HR department and his academic panache of a well-earned MBA degree, had some kind of canny ability to spot, not bare “talent” as such, but shy and introverted “intellects” from the hallowed stables of his college. Every inch a man of honour. His ability to notice potential human resource augured well for his overall job performance at NISE and he was doing a fantastic job out of it. He knew how to make places in people’s hearts and settle there. Placing individuals in companies requires not just innate talent (on his part) but a profound sense of business acumen, which we always knew he had in great abundance. And I was one of the lucky few who happened to be his, sort of, protégé and a friend alike. But Ram never started out with me as a mentor but as a friend. Not only had his job entailed him to be a sure-fire mentor to everybody he was dealing with at NISE, but preferring me to be one of his friends was his personal inclination, or better still our joint personal predilection.

At the NISE campus, I came to value his friendship not for what he was ultimately expected to do with my candidature for a job but because I couldn’t miss out on to be friends with a rare cool guy like him. His interpersonal skills were par excellence. One could learn from him on a platter. Ram and I were from the same age group and by virtue of that fact our bond of friendship knew no bounds. One-by-two Irani Chai at a local café became a permanent fixture on the itinerary of our endless conversations we had had over a hot cuppa or two. He had a habit of placing his hand on my shoulder and talk things through with me, never aiming to either dictate or control.

In fact, transforming all warts-and-all neophytes like us into presentable professionals, who’d soon be stepping on the corporate ladder was Ram Narayan Sangwani’s life’s unsung mission. Ram was a true HR professional that one hardly ever comes across these days. His mind was a beehive of hyperactivity; his winsome smile nearly always would make up for lost time. A connoisseur of classical music – raag mulhar is one of his favourites – and old Hindi songs, a passion for reading books, and while in office the songs he always relished singing were:

“Neele neele ambar par chand jab aye,

Pyar barsaye humko tarsaye

Aaisa koi saathi ho,

Aaisa koi premi ho,

Pyas dil ki bujha jaye… “

and…

“Zindagi ki yehi reet hai,

Haar ke baad hi jeet hai… “

and then…

“Kai din se mujhe koi sapno mein

Awaaz deta tha

Har pal bula tha

Accha toh woh tum ho tum ho tum ho… “

Some of us lesser mortals still sing songs about his prowess, his expertness at clinching deals. He was damn good at his job at NISE; a complete natural he was.

Thankful though I was for the great piece of news from Mr. Sangwani but honestly, I was quiet unsure to pursue it to its logical end – that is to get on the Satyam Computers’ employment rolls and start working. I was a nervous jelly! That such a thing could have been pulled off by Mr. Sangwani deserved a personal standing ovation on behalf of all employable fraternity he encounters on a daily basis. Really so. Not only was Arinvan thankful for, apart from Satyam’s own HR professional who got him on board, the yeomen service rendered by the great Ram Narayan Sangwani of NISE, the in-style in-form HR personnel, but also for what we as friends shared together up till now. For me, especially, every little perspective that Ram could come up with counted. His way of doing things was based on the premise that why make life complicated when it is simple enough really. Our usual “Cakes & Ale” tea party used to take place preferably at Taj Mahal Café (gone forever, demolished – blame it on the shortsightedness of the municipal road-widening pastime) on SP Road near Pantaloons/Shopper’s Stop or Garden Restaurant located just around the circle at Clock Tower or hullabaloo-prone Adarsh Hotel located on the busy hilly road leading all the way to the ever wonderful Birla Mandir in Adarshnagar was the high-point of our chitchat sessions over a cup or two of steaming hot garam chai.

“Cakes & Ale” is an English phrase of the Somerset Maugham vintage that we used to avail ourselves of to celebrate our long-standing friendship – a way of saying: “party kab dera!” (When’s your treat?). More than five long years afterwards when I made my mind to leave Satyam for good, I realized I was not the same person anymore.

~

“Of course it is okay with me, Ram. Thanks so much. I appreciate it,” said I with much enthusiasm and somehow overpowered the apprehensive part of me about the old resolute devil in the form of words – ‘working and earning a living’ bungling within my head.

Sudden surprising excitement sometimes gives you the strength to beat the blues in its own game and come out of it unscathed. I was happy, more than happy, in fact, far too happy than I could hold or manage about, and so was Ram in every step of the way. Working in partnership with him had helped me make great headway in those days when I was taking baby steps into the supposedly fickle world of IT – Information Technology.

“Can you come over for signing please?” asked Ram before continuing colloquially “I need to put this up the next step… you know protocol and stuff… and I need your signature to get you confirmed from our end”.

“Sure I can. Anytime. When can I come over?” I asked.

“First thing tomorrow morning and I shall get you the start date of your employment with them tomorrow when you come here. In any case it’s gonna be Monday. Pavan is the HR guy there and he seems nice enough to get this all done for you within this week,” said Ram Narayan confidently.

“Huhn huhn,” I said.

“What magic have you… I mean did you cast a spell or something?” asked Ram in his down-to-earth Vinod Mehra-like voice before quickly continuing: “It was not that you’d not break through Pavan’s interviews… because I am aware of his penchant for being ‘tough’ and all that. He is easy-going sometimes but it can be uninvitingly ‘challenging’ to please him first off; you understand what I mean”.

“Oh yes I do, Dear. I mean, he looked brilliant and well-attired and you know that kinda offers me a comfortable position when I am in a situation like this. You know very well Ram I speak well when the other person in front of me speaks well, otherwise I simply conk out and lose confidence! That’s my weakness and I am working on it, Ram,” I said.

“Yes, I am sure as hell familiar with that!” said Ram positively.

“I guess that’s how it is, Ram. I like brilliant… intelligent people: the ones who mean business straightaway and not beat around the bush or try to be overtly domineering in the interview process and give moral-high-horse bullshit,” I said in an opinionated way.

“Yes. You know, he told me… and I jotted down here in my diary that he thought of you to be a “nice resource”, “a good corporate fit that we require”, “more knowledgeable and confident than most others I interviewed” and things like that. That’s positive! You did great in the interview ejecting all the other 7 to 8 interviewees. They chose you over others,” said Ram Narayan Sangwani.

“Thank you, Ram. Ummm… Well, yes, I thought Pavan was a nice interviewer. I just felt that he hardly comes across as a genteel person when things during the interview don’t add up to his expectations or not to his liking. That’s a positive sign when one wants to talk business first, you see. It did not happen to me but I kind of detected that. That’s understandable… if you ask me. He asked me several questions before asking the toughest one at the last, which was a clincher you know. The fact is: Pavan is a great guy and I had a pleasant conversation with him,” I said.

“Yes, most definitely he is. What were the questions like?” asked Ram Narayan Sangwani, the HR specialist of NISE, jotting down points in his dairy about my interviews with the HR at Satyam.

“Actually, you know my job entails a whole lot of GSM operations and development and I didn’t know I was supposed to be familiar with GSM business, but luckily I did. I have a working knowledge on it. Arguably the most famous and ambitious one in the business satellite communication is the US-based Iridium which is foraying big time into that niche area! He asked me what I can tell him about Iridium, which is the world’s only mobile satellite communications company. Deal-maker-or-breaker one, you know Ram! That was his final question before he asked me to wait for the next round,” I said.

“GSM… ? What did you say?” Ram asked logically.

“I was surprised that, of all people, an HR guy would care to know something about Iridium. That was a feat. I mean is he supposed to know that at all? Was he filled in by the tech team or something just before my interview commenced? Well, it was by all means an HR round and technically HR people refrain from asking anything of ‘technical’ kind. Either that or my world hasn’t seen better days yet!” I reasoned in complete honesty to Ram.

“Huhn Huhn… Okay… go on,” he said.

“Well, I had read up about Iridium just a few days ago. I was very impressed as to what I read in the local newspaper and I had analyzed the news item to retain most of it well enough in my mind. The article was interesting to make a personal note of. They covered it so well with cartoon pictures and stuff; it was a comprehensive feature article. You know Iridium uses direct-to-satellite connection to make or receive calls that no GSM company in the whole world ever came near to even hoping for it,” I explained a little breathlessly.

“Wow! Direct-to-satellite connection… ?” said Ram wondering aloud about the unbelievable technology.

“Yeah… You as a user will not have to be dependent on anything in between. No possible power outages will affect your call, no intervention of any kind… just clear mobile transmission and stuff like that,” I described with a newfound enthusiasm bordering on delight.

“Hmmm… that’s interesting! Now I know. It seems that part was just enough for Mr. Pavan Bommaraju to get you through to the technical round,” surmised Ram Narayan Sangwani. “And what happened in the technical?” he asked expectantly.

“Technical was okay. No big deal. There were two guys one goes by the ominous sounding name GG Howdy and the other I think the name was Balzie Gigamorthy. The former guy insisted that he be called “GG”… I have no idea why. He asked several technical questions, before it came to asking about “compensation” and by which date I can join and the compensation I expect,” I said.

“GG… ?! What’s that suppose to f**king mean?” said a puzzled Ram.

“I am none the wiser, Ram. It beats me. It’s funny rather. One has to gnash his teeth and say ‘GG’. I found him a little snobbish, argumentative, hot-headed and pestilential type. Perhaps, it is not for me to say that and I don’t even know him properly enough, but he seemed straight off the cuff and flies off the handle when you come back at a point you insist in making – no doubt he’s sure-shot aggressive and patronizingly boorish even,” I added in good measure about ‘GG’ who was, I guessed, soon-to-be my boss at Satyam!

“Okay… Huhn huhn,” said Ram again.

“Guess I did well in the technical round too and that is all matters, I suppose,” I said.

“You most certainly did! But wait a minute! What was that again? P.E.S.T.I… lential? What is that suppose to mean, Arin?” asked Ram Narayan slowly articulating the word: pestilential.

“Yup! Pestilential. Meaning… you know… ummm… annoyingly troublesome, vexed! I don’t mean to be rude but he sounded a lot grumpier than a man scraping through his middle-life crisis would,” I replied before adding “for some rhyme or reason that I in my young youthful existence couldn’t catch a head or tail of!”

“I thought it was something to do with pests and parasites!” tackled Ram with a well-meaning grin I could almost see it on the phone.

“More like it! Bingo! And don’t worry I was ready with my BAYGON spray though! I’d have sprayed it all till thy kingdom come!” I said it in tongue-thoroughly-in-cheek way and laughed out loud.

Ram and Arinvan together laughed again on the phone, nonstop. For Arinvan, Life was steadily turning out to be gift of a generous slab of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate inviting him warmly to have a big bite on. And I was not shying away from it. In fact, I was eagerly looking forward to it.

~

I met Ram Narayan Sangwani during my sophomore year at NISE. Strange that all good things in college happen during the sophomore year! During my time there, I was too much of a novice to not notice that this bona fide MBA HR-guy once had been a software engineer. Nothing was evident of him being one such before. I mean, he had a long standing penchant for developing customized software earlier on in his career but he confessed to me that he “could take no more” and before long he decided to call it quits.

Switching from Software Engineering to Human Resources was easier said than done. But since he had an MBA in HR it provided the necessary impetus and proper willingness to place himself well in the new job role. He had plentiful stories to tell, and I was the one who had just the right kind of inclination to hear them all out. One among them was that he worked cruelly hard while he was at it and was decent enough doing a “Donkey’s load of coding”. Eventually, he felt terribly “fatigued” “exhausted” and “pooped out” for some reason and didn’t feel like to continue, as he jokingly said, “The monkey business” for long, but thankfully Fate or Destiny (whatever you prefer to call it) had other prognostications in store for him. After he gave up coding for good, he took up something different, something that he would “relate” to. And finally feeling vindicated in doing what he thought he would be at his best doing: Ventured into HR.

Careerist like Arinvan Maliek had harboured a secret desire too to eventually ship out of the world of ‘the monkey business’. In fact, he’d say that such a thing can hardly be kept as a secret from others, at least not from Ram. However, I could never let Ram on it; not in those initial days at least when Ram and I were working our ass off to get a decent job placement. I knew it very well: the best approach is to openly tell Ram about it and duly acknowledge my unwillingness to continue in an area which continually vexed me too just like it did him once. But what could you do at the start of your career when your college placement guy had been working solid to get you a great job placement? Acquiesce to it, for all you know.

That’s exactly what Ram Narayan Sangwani did when he was into S.E. and I got to know of it when I was in the sophomore year at NISE. Ram could do with such risk-taking, for he probably knew how to call it quits when the time was right; therefore, in the same manner of speaking: will I be successful just like him if I do it too? For all I know I could end up on the streets! As a matter of fact, just before the time when Ram gave his software engineering days a slow and patient burial, he firmly assured himself with his own phrase: Life is much better without software coding. Of course, it is a different thing altogether that I couldn’t run away from my own career in software; the software professional tag had stuck on me like a Fevicol!!!

After he quit that earlier part of his life, Ram never looked back ever since. And he lived happily ever after. God bless him.