Are the attacks on Indians in Australia racist? Or are they cases of Indians being killed by Australian thugs? Are Pakistani cricketers being boycotted by Indian Premier League patriots? Or are they being dropped because hiring Pakistanis makes bad business sense in these tricky days? Did Jyoti Basu singlehandedly destroy the state that I ran away from? Or do I romanticise one man’s destructive powers to make my escape from Alcatraz more meaningful?
These are the tricky questions that have kept me awake during meetings at office last week. At the time of writing, my views are as follows: those Indian-killers in Australia killed Indians solely because the latter were Indians, thus making them racists; unsure about when visas to Pakistani players may be withdrawn, IPL franchise owners stayed clear from making risky purchases, thus making cold-blooded business, rather than hot-blooded patriotic, decisions; Jyoti Basu destroyed West Bengal as collateral damage by tapping into the psyche of a battered, lethargic, envious and viciously petty citizenry who wittingly and unwittingly made things so easy for him.
Which brings me to the only untroubling thought I’ve had the whole week: how I plan to ride into the sunset on a donkey — or, how I plan to behave when I’m told that I may be sacked. No, I haven’t done anything that will make my bosses start a sentence with, “Indrajit, we have to talk.” At least, I don’t think so. But next week marks ten years of me being on the rolls of Hindustan Times , and there comes a time in a man’s life when he wonders whether he should play the field a bit more, push the (non-pink) envelope a bit harder across the table instead of being such a snore-friendly model of professional fidelity.
If that sounds like a whine from the wilderness (read: a room with a colleague and a red sofa), that is certainly not my intention. Who wants to be exposed as a whiner anyway? What has made me toy with the idea of committing a sackable offence and then play out my notice period with gusto is the situation being played out by a favourite of mine, American talk-show host Conan O’Brien.
American TV network NBC airs both The Tonight Show (hosted by O’Brien) as well as the show hosted by his predecessor Jay Leno. Trouble began when NBC bosses, reacting to Leno’s lukewarm ratings, decided to push O’Brien to a later slot and have Leno return to his old prime-time slot that he held for the last 17 years. O’Brien rejected the deal even as NBC planned to go ahead with ‘demoting’ him despite O’Brien proving to be a runaway hit.
Which is when O’Brien decided to do something outrageous: launch a daily on-air assault against the hand that feeds him. Yes, that’s right, NBC.
Not only has the prospect of being sacked emboldened O’Brien — making his anti-NBC jokes as subversive as a Mecca mullah’s wisecracks about the Prophet who expects mullahs to refrain from cracking jokes about Him — but it turns out now that NBC is also offering its resident star heretic $40 million to stop him badmouthing his employer. Will that include bringing Leno over to his slot? I don’t know. But I do know that rival network Fox has already been asking O’Brien to join their ship.
According to legends, there is a beautiful window period that exists between committing a sackable offence and actually being sacked. With nothing holding them back (flawed notions of self-respect, strings of authority etc) in this purgatorial period, some folks can come up with their finest, most uninhibited work.
Am I such a worker waiting for the right catalyst? I don’t know. Should I test the system as I complete ten years in HT next week? Should I push the button to see if I erupt in full professional bloom (and get a thick wad of cash in the bargain)? Perhaps it’s a good idea to get the mob on my side first. But hey, the Conan O’Brien vs NBC battle has made O’Brien more popular than ever before. And he is still on the NBC rolls. Could this all be part of the greatest PR win-win strategy ever? Bosses? Would you like to sack me? It’ll be good for me. And definitely for this paper.