Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

82. FOOL

“So, this is the plan and everybody should perfectly play their role. Any questions?” Ashish asked, in apparently mild tone. It was a typical tone a person with unlimited authority generally uses when speaking to his/her subordinates.

Everybody spontaneously looked at Ranjita. Generally she was the person to raise questions, to critically look at the process and to proactively think about various options. Others always put their gun on her shoulder, which was always safe for them. Anticipating other’s reaction; Ranjita kept the eye contact but did not say anything. By experience she knew that this was just a necessary ritual. If she said something, Ashish was not going to take it sportingly and would become aggressive. And others would always be on the fence, and would join the wining side. They were cowards. It was the game Ranjita was tired of playing any more.

“This is it then. Let us proceed. Keep me informed on the overall progress, I am sure we will do well this time too as we always do.” Ashish was trying to hide his relief that Ranjita was silent and wanted to wind the meeting immediately.

March is the hardest month in the life of those who work in Non Government Organizations –NGOs. Though called non-government, most of the NGOs in India are culturally close to government; at least Manthan, where Ranjita worked, was! They have the hierarchy, the authority, the ‘red tape’ism, the over-emphasis on rules and systems and general apathy towards efficiency. However March brings lot of change in working culture. March is the time to show as much impact as one can show, to utilize as much money as one can before 31st March, to document as many success stories as one can, to impress the Boss as much as one can because it is the time of annual appraisal, opportunity to get increment and promotion.

Ashish was the team leader of one of the important projects – in NGO sector Foreign Funded Projects have a special place. Ranjita, Mahesh, Devendra, Rayabhan and Pawan were the team members. Actually Ashish was not much experienced, but he came from the ‘Institute’, that was qualification enough according to the senior management. If it was only inexperience, others could take it, because each one of them was inexperienced at some point of time. But Ashish’s arrogance, the ‘know all’ approach was irritating and frustrating. The team wished the Institute had given Ashish some elementary lessons in humility! What irritated the team more was when seniors were present, Ashish was totally different person. How a person can be ‘two’ constantly, Ranjita wondered.

Manthan, though had a perfect ideology when it was established was slowly converted into a body with ‘ideology of convenience’. No matter what the ground reality was, the donors were kept pleased. No one had the courage to say ‘No’ to donors, because it was more a question of good will than the development of rural people. Everyone talked a lot of jargon – sustainability, participation, empowerment, capability building, linkages etcetera, but the words had long lost the meaning.

Now this proposal put forth by the donor agency, was not at all practical. They wanted certain processes to be completed in a very short time – forgetting that no community is homogeneous, each community has power structures, not every member of the community can participate and not all people want the poorest of the poor to benefit. But Manthan management with its ideology of convenience had accepted all those terms and conditions.

Now everybody in Manthan knew that the project intervention had faced so many hurdles that it actually was not initiated, forget about the impact. It was difficult for the grassroot workers to motivate purdah clad women, sensitize their men. Addressing issues raised by the last communal riots was beyond the control of Manthan. Then there were issues related to basic infrastructure, issues related to social inequality, issues related to politicization and issues related to human dignity. Still Ashish was talking about grand success.

The team respected Ranjita. According to them Ranjita was not competitive in nature, she believed in coexistence and cooperation. She believed that people have different strengths and one should work with others’ strengths and never focus on anyone’s weaknesses. Ashish had exactly opposite philosophy. He was ruthless, ambitious, and selfish. The team had to salute Ashish because of his designation, but for them Ranjita was their friend, philosopher and guide. Working with Ranjita was motivating and highly creative.

However Ranjita was tired of acting like a fool. She had the capacity to lead, but she had to play second fiddle just because she did not come from a renowned Institute. She was constantly neglected when it mattered most. She was tired of being ‘used’ by the management conveniently. It is time, Ranjita decided, to teach them a lesson; it is time to act and to act intelligently.

Ranjita thought about it over a cup of coffee, over routine emails and telephone conversations, she thought about it over signing number of vouchers, she thought about it again and again. She did not have much time to act, just a week left. The time was an important factor, if she mistimed it, then it would backfire. Ranjita remembered all those talks in the early days of Manthan, and felt that she had become a cheater. It was not only moral dilemma to her; it was a question of professional honesty too. But sometime life has larger stakes. ‘When there are other worlds, why care for this world?’ - Ranjita told herself.

Back home, Ranjita opened her laptop at one in the morning. “Dear Sir”, she wrote to Mr. Sarkar, the President of Manthan. She summarized the situation. She questioned the rightness of whatever happened. She appealed the President to intervene and guide the team properly so that the integrity of the team remained intact. She re-read those ten polite but potentially trouble making lines once again. With a sigh she pressed the ‘send’ button.

Ranjita knew her action was like placing a bomb. Either the President did not know it or it was under his instructions Ashish was working. If the President did not know, there were hopes. But if it was the other case, Ranjita was committing suicide. Or were there still other hopes? She wondered. She was sure she had nothing to lose in either case.

As expected Ranjita’s cell phone rang at 7.00 in the morning, Mr. Sarkar was on the line.

“Are you sure about the truth of the story you wrote me today morning, young lady?” Mr. Sarkar was known for his no-nonsense approach.
“Yes Sir, I am. I do not want this to happen sir, it will spoil the image of Manthan”, Ranjita pleaded.
“Don’t worry about the image” snapped Mr. Sarkar back. “Do you have any proof?” he asked casually.
“Yes Sir, I have back up of all those transactions”, she confidently told.
“Mail me those now and meet me at 10.15 sharp” he ordered and without any formalities cut off the line.

Ranjita was excited. The President had called her for discussion meant he had taken her seriously. She needed to prepare for the meeting, because the President was famous for asking apparently irrelevant questions, but Ranjita knew that his mind worked fast to connect and infer. Her earlier experience of him was encouraging, that is the reason she had chosen to approach him. The first step brought the expected result, thought Ranjita and beamed.

At 10.15 Ranjita entered President’s room and was disappointed to see Ashish and Mr. Gogia, the Vice President sitting there. All the three men welcomed Ranjita with a broad smile. “You have done a great service, young lady”, Mr. Sarkar was in a very friendly mood. “Yes sir, Ranjita is a very capable colleague; her critical analysis and proactive way of working is always valuable. Her insights have saved us from many troubling moments”, Ashish added enthusiastically. Ranjita was speechless. Why was Ashish praising her in front of seniors? What was his plan? Was he too in the game?

Now it was Mr. Gogia’s turn. “Yes, she is an asset to Manthan, Sir. She is a hard worker and a selfless person. Sometimes I feel guilty that we have not really understood Ranjita’s worth.” He added. “Sir, I have an idea.”

“Please, go ahead”, ordered Mr. Sarkar.

“Sir, I suggest that taking into consideration Ranjita’s experience, commitment, professional excellence, I suppose she is the only eligible person to take on this Seattle opportunity. She would represent Manthan most appropriately and truthfully.”

“That is a great idea. Ashish, what is your opinion?” asked Mr. Sarkar.

Ashish was confused for a moment. He was sharp enough to fall in line when needed. Those two men had planned specific action, and it was clear that they were not hurting him. They were trying to throw Ranjita away in a civilized manner. If that meant a loss of US trip, Ashish was ready for that. He knew if he followed the bosses now, many more opportunities would come. And he needed to save his neck too.

“But Sir,” Ranjita tried to appeal to the President. She sounded desperate.

“Don’t worry. I will take care of everything. Now hurry up. You have only three days to prepare. Yes, I know you have a valid US multiple entry Visa. It is a six months stay in USA, fully sponsored by Manthan. It is a lifetime opportunity. Congratulations, Ranjita, you really deserved it. Gogiajee, I leave the whole affair to you. Ranjita should have no trouble. Budget is no constraint, her comfort is important. Now what are you thinking about young lady? Run, you need to prepare for the travel. ” Mr. Sarkar smiled.

Ranjita had no option but to leave the room. She could feel that the three men were completely relaxed now. They had successfully fooled Ranjita. Had they?

Outside, Rayabhan and Mahesh were waiting anxiously. Ranjita tried to smile; but could not.

“We know, don’t speak”, said Mahesh.

“They have fooled you again”, Rayabhan said disgustingly. “Why are you such a fool? Couldn’t you resist the US offer? If you did not want to take a stand, why at all you started it? Were you frightened of losing the job? Why did you compromise?” He bombarded Ranjita with questions.

“Mate, Ranjita is not a fool.” Devendra was looking at her sternly. “We are fools to believe that she is acting for certain principles and we are fooled by all that rotten moral talk of hers. Don’t be stupid to be shocked. Ranjita is clever; she has gained what she wanted. She caught the management in bloody corner and blackmailed them. All this was done so sophisticatedly that even the President was fooled. Not that he is innocent; he is the biggest monster I have come across. But it takes brains to fool that President of ours. Am I right Ranjita? Kudos to you!” Devendra as usual was sarcastic at his best.

Ranjita had nothing to complain about the win-win deal. The seniors had their way and she had hers. She allowed them the satisfaction of fooling her, but in reality she had fooled them. It will take months for them to understand what she had provided. By the time they understand the futility of her accusations, she will be safely employed in US. She wanted to laugh, but controlled her feelings. She always believed that when you win, you should be most humble. In this situation she could afford to take on distrust of her colleagues. They did not matter any more to her. Now she had no time for arguments, defenses, discussions and convincing anyone. She did not need it now.

May be, she would discuss when she returns from USA. If at all she returns!

Just three days to leave for US! With infinite dreams in her eyes, Ranjita walked away without looking back.

Suddenly Ranjita stopped dead remembering Rayabhan’s distraught face. She realized that in the name of ambition and in the name of victory over others, she had lost something precious. A moment of temptation had destroyed her commitment and honesty forever. She realized that now onwards she has to live with this guilt.

In the process of fooling others, Ranjita had ultimately fooled herself!!


  1. Hmm...a very interesting read. I was unaware of how an NGO works. So reading this post was a very different and interesting.

    A doubt, in the end did u mean that the boss was trying to test her honesty and integrity ?

  2. Informative and very interestingly written!

    The twist was unexpected.

  3. hmm...Is it not the same everywhere you go to work?! whether corporate, non government or government sector...In the end everyone has to deal with the "bad" part in a very mater of fact way, like Ranjita had to. This is how the system overrules a person.
    The lines between good and bad apparently go too fizzy to decipher. Even a person with greatest sense of "sadvivek" is boggled when confronted by this most illusive ways of "system".

  4. You write so nice... then why do you write as a part of blog-a-ton where voting decides a good post?

    I have added "Times Change" on my blog and keep enjoying reading your posts.


  5. Good post. This is probably how most of the organizations work. But is this fiction or did it happen for real?

  6. Wow- a very short but honest take on NGOs. I have been wanting to do it myself.. well, now, I have a bench mark!
    I guess, this happens in many organizations- May be this kind of inner battle is the essence of being human on this earth?
    Keep writing..

  7. kudos for writing such a balanced story...
    As a founder of NGO, i can really relate to it.....
    the plot is gripping and so is the narration...
    well done...

  8. A very interesting read... all the best for BAT!

  9. a good one
    very thoughtful
    beautifully written

  10. Wow, one of the best posts in this months BAT, I am into reading the last few now!

    I had talked with a lot of ngo's in hyderabad in 2008, and this was one observation I too made, many NGO's are very bureaucratic like the governmental oragnizations and also quite a few of them embraced corruption for their survival. Some NGO workers had taken up this field for the money it offers and also for their lack of other skills. One of them offered me to get a strong foothold too!

    Here is my BAT post::Murali - FOOL

  11. Well narrated and well connected to the topic of BAT 9..

  12. I dont know whether I should appreciate the shrewdness of Ranjita or the shrewdness of the mgmt of the NGO.

    It was a nice read......

  13. Thanks Megha and welcome to Times Change. About your doubt.. I leave it to you to interpret :)

    indianhomemaker, welcome to Times Change and thanks for your encouraging words.

    anunja, yes, it takes a big heart to 'stand' the systems ..everywhere!

    Vivek, welcome to Times Change and thanks for your encouraging words. I write in Blog a Ton because I an thrilled by the idea that so many people think together on a given topic. I like to think together , and at the same time think differently. And there are some good posts on Blog a Ton. This is an opportunity to reach out to readers as well as find out some good blogs to read. I do not really look forward to votes, as I know I am not relevant to the market demands. And I could not get link to your blog, kindly send it to me.

    Krishna Chaitanya, I leave it to you .. but for me, nothing is completely true and nothing is completely imaginary! :)

    Sachin, look forward to your story.

    Mahesh, thanks. Being an NGO person, you definitely have more insights into realities of NGO life! Glad that you liked it.

    Thanks Tavish and Chetan.

    Murali, good, bad and ugly is everywhere ...

    Thanks geeta, Shilpa and Guria.

  14. :) how many man hours and lives are wasted in scheming to fool the other.. sad but true

  15. Informative indeed got to know how NGOs operate... and it seems basic human nature is common across the board ...good one

  16. The NGO world is a different world indeed !

    I have a few friends in the sector and years backs worked closely with students that were studying NGO mgmt !

    Equations at work, NGO or otherwise largely remain the same. When there are human beings, the normal emotions apply although manifestations could be very different !

    lovely writing. All the best for the contest..

  17. Very interesting read and very well woven plot! Liked the climax too.
    All the best for BAT-9!!
    Cheers :)

  18. you know what: every such post of yours fills me with a surge to work for the mankind(not that i am not working!!)

  19. magiceye, sad but true.. one has to live in such world again and again...

    Dhiman, because NGOs talk about bringing a change, it is more serious here..

    Kavi, human nature .. it is the same everywhere .. rightly said..

    Thanks Shilpa Garg.

    Sahil, thanks for your compliment. Would like to know more about what you do, and will contribute to it if I can.

  20. Interesting plot. Very engaging story. All the best!

  21. Yours was the best one according to me this time. Really loved it. And powerful message regarding where NGOs are going these days too.

    A piece of critical feedback - It would have been better if you had used show rather than tell. Instead of describing nature of Abishek and Ranjitha, it would have been nicer if you had let reader discover their characters through instances.

    By the way, thanks for reading and commenting on my blog.

  22. Thanks Dreamer and rtfgve788.

    The Fool, thanks for your critical feedback. Yes, instead of describing the characters, I should have left it to readers to understand the characters. Next time, when I write a story (this is only my fourth story!), I will definitely keep this in mind. I appreciate your feedback and need such support in future too.


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