Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Resignation Story

It’s been a while since I mentioned that I had resigned my job and joined the ranks of stay at home mothers (SAHMs). At the time, I had said I would write  a more detailed post on why I did it. Well, hold your breath – here it comes. Actually, don’t hold your breath – this is likely to be one of those long, rambling posts. There might even be bullet points, but if you’ve been coming around here a lot, you already know to expect those ;)

In the immortal words of Julie Andrews “Let’s start at the very beginning… a very good place to start”. The beginnings of this decisions do not, as you might expect, lie in the birth of Tarana but go back to the time when Ayaan was a wee babe a few odd months old and I was faced with the prospect of going back to work. It was one of the hardest things I ever did. But the fuzzy cloud of expectations of family and friends hanging over my head and the markedly less fuzzy spectre of a massive home loan hanging over our bank accounts ensured that I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. So I whined and wept, but pulled up my socks and went back to work.

After the initial teething issues, I settled into work well. It helped that I had an amazingly understanding boss, a job that I liked and some great colleagues. I never really looked back and questioned my decision and while I did regular attacks of working mother guilt, I was largely comfortable and content with my choice.

Four years zoomed by. I did well at work and was due for a promotion to middle management when I found out that I was pregnant. Giving higher responsibility to a woman who was pregnant and would be disappearing for six months soon was obviously not something I could expect from the organisation so I tabled my expectation that I should promoted post maternity leave and left it that.

Tarana was born and before I knew it, six months of maternity leave had gone by in a flash of diaper changes (Tarana's), attention-seeking behaviour (Ayaan’s) and sleep deprivation (mine). And before I knew it, it was decision time again. This time, the loan was almost paid off and I cared a lot less about what other people would think about my decision to stay at home or go back to work, as the case might be. This time, the battle was purely internal. On the one side, there was an opportunity to bury that infernal guilt monster, at least temporarily. On the other hand, there were my career aspirations. The promotion, if it came through, would be a level jump from a junior manager to a boss, with a ‘director’ designation. If I turned it down and took a break, I would have to put in a few more years of slog at the junior level to get back to where I was.

I decided to be coldly rational about it. I knew that the regret from turning down the promotion would haunt me so I decided I wouldn’t. But I would only go back if it came through with immediate effect and the role was something that excited me. It would still be hard to leave the kids and go back to work, but I knew I could make it work. I had already done it once and while my opinion might be biased, I know deep in my heart that my working for four years of Ayaan’s life did him absolutely no harm.

If the promotion didn’t come through, then I really didn’t have that much to lose professionally by taking a break. Either way, I would have to put in months or years at my existing level when I did go back to work.

In a way, I copped out. The seemingly simple decision was too hard – the kids or my career? So I decided to leave it up to fate. If I was destined to go back to work, the promotion would happen and I would rejoin the workforce. If not, it was the universe’s way of telling me that staying home, at least for a while, was the right thing for the kids and me.

So anyway, that was my thinking as my maternity leave drew to close. I got back in touch with the people in my company who were supposed to help me figure out what I was supposed to do next. In my first meeting with the HR manager responsible for my move, I was told that there were a couple of interviews coming up for jobs at the higher level. (In the organisation I worked for, there is a system of shortlists and interviews even for internal candidates). Both did not pan out – the HR department, in all their wisdom, forgot to send in my application for one of the positions and while my interview for the other job went reasonably well, the hiring manager was looking for someone with a somewhat different experience profile.

I was then offered a choice. I could either continue to be on leave till other positions became available or I could return to work at my current level and move up when the next opportunity presented itself (subject to, in both cases, clearing the interview). I was counselled that choosing to extend my maternity leave would reduce my chances of landing a promotion, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and all that. Since I was clear on my decision matrix (no promotion = no going back), I decided to continue staying at home.

Over the next couple of months, I applied for and attended another couple of interviews but again, they seemed to be looking for someone with a different set of skills and exposure and I wondered why I was shortlisted in the first place. I got the feeling that the whole process was a mere formality. I also started to get really irked by the way HR was treating me - almost as if they were doing me a favour by even returning my calls, when all I was doing was asking for my due.

Finally, I decided I didn’t want to go through the whole charade any more and told them that I wanted to resign. It wasn’t an idle threat just to make them sit up and notice but they did. And within a couple of weeks, a job materialised with the promise of a guaranteed promotion within 3-6 months. I turned it down and resigned anyway.

It was not an easy decision. I worked for this same company since I passed out of business school over a decade ago. I enjoyed most of my time here, and the ups were way higher and far more numerous than the downs. I also had the good luck to find some great colleagues and bosses, many of who are and, I hope, will continue to be friends. But I decided to leave for a bunch of reasons, which I shall get into now. (Enter bullet points – numbered ones, no less!)
  1. Often it takes just one person to destroy years of trust and loyalty that you feel towards your employer. In this case, it was the HR person who single-handedly managed to do so and I was left feeling undervalued and ignored. 
  2. The whole process took six months – six long months filled with uncertainty, bitterness and even moments of self-doubt. Again, this didn’t leave me with a very positive feeling about returning. 
  3.  What they finally offered me was too little, too late. They still expected me to wait around for 3-6 months before getting the official promotion. Maybe if they had offered me this at the outset, I might have considered it. But after 6 months of being put through the emotional wringer, I was in no mood to compromise. 
  4. While this was going on, Tarana’s w-sitting problem came to the fore and we started physiotherapy for her. If I had already been back at work, we would have found a way to make it work – between Jai, me and the maid, we would have ensured that she made it to all her sessions. But since I was on a break already, this was another very strong reason for continuing to be on one. 
  5. Now for the biggie. (ALERT: More big news in the offing). As I was still figuring out my choices, Jai was approached for a job that greatly excited him. The twist: it was in Hyderabad. Since I was veering towards quitting in any case, we decided he should interview and see where the whole thing went. Eventually, they made him a really attractive offer at the same time that I was offered the job with the delayed but guaranteed promotion. With everything else, it just was the final nail in the coffin of any plans to get back to work. So, yes! WE ARE MOVING TO HYDERABAD!
  6. The last reason is what I like to refer to as my need to scratch my SAHM itch. Through the post-Ayaan years of a full-time career, I had the guilt monster sitting on my shoulder. I looked at moms who had stayed home and felt a mixture of curiosity and envy. It was my ‘grass on the other side of the fence’ and it looked temptingly green. If for nothing else, a break will allow to me experience both options and hopefully find a greater degree of peace with whatever I finally choose to do.
So that, in a very large nutshell, is it. I don’t know what lies ahead for me career-wise. I am hoping I will figure it as I go along and that I won’t live to regret the choices I have made.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

'Winter' in Mumbai

 The other day, I found myself at a class meeting at Ayaan's school. Once the agenda was over and done with, a parent raised her hand to ask a question:

'It is so cold in the mornings. My son's legs are exposed in the shorts. Can we please have the option of sending them to school in long pants or jeans till the winter gets over?"

I wondered whether the mother in question was joking and turned around to find her to be completely in earnest. I looked down at my sleeveless top, cotton capris and flipflops and wondered - what winter?

My mind instantly went back to my school days, spent in the chilly environs of Delhi. When winter rolled around, we went from wearing our summer uniforms to more heavy duty woollen stuff. But even as we braved the fog and temperatures in the low single digits on our way to school, our legs were pretty much exposed to the elements. Girls, irrespective of their class, wore skirts and boys wore shorts till they got to senior school but with our feet encased in thick woolen socks and 2-3 layers of warm clothes on our torsos, we weren't in any danger of hypothermia. And here in positively tropical climes, there was talk of covering up legs in long pants or stockings!

To my mind, Mumbai has only two kinds of weather. Hot and rainy. Cold is simply not on the menu. My wardrobe remains the same through the year in this city. December doesn't see me banishing my shorts and slinky tops to the farthest reaches of my wardrobe. And my limited stock of woollies stay wrapped up with mothballs unless a trip to the North is on the cards. The only concession I make for this so-called winter is to reduce the speed of the fan.

But that's not how most long-time Mumbaikars view the city's seasonal variations. In fact, you can tell a born-and-bred city slicker from the migrants by the way they dress in the 'winter' months. They are the ones with the jackets, scarves, stoles, socks and turtlenecks in full display on their evening walks. They are the ones who carry warm stuff to office in December because the air-conditioning at work makes them shiver. They are the ones who put up Facebook status updates about how they are chilled to the bone. To someone who grew up in the North, it's all very amusing :)

And the media hops on to the winter bandwagon as well. Every city newspaper worth its salt carries at least a weekly article commenting on the drop in mercury. Here's a random sampling from the last month or so:

Temperatures dip in city as winter sets in

2010 ends on coldest note in seven years

City's coldest day

And what do you think this brrrr-inducing annual low temperature they are talking about is? 12.8oC (or 55oF for the American residents amongst us). And that is the minimum temperature, recorded at hours when most respectable people are fast asleep. During the daytime, the temperature continues to be in the tropical late twenties and early thirties.

I shouldn't be too quick to poke fun at the warm-blooded Mumbaikars though. Because my son is one by virtue of being born here and having a father with Goa in his blood. Like the husband, he wants to take his jacket along to air-conditioned movie halls and restaurants and complains bitterly if we deign to forget. And wears a sleeveless sweater to school in December and January. Kids exist to make us eat our words, don't they :)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

'Tis The Season To... Er... Travel

Every year, when December rolls around, we pack our bags and go traipsing across the countryside. It's never a simple visit to one place and one year, I even needed a flowchart to explain our wanderings! This year was no different and starting with a trip to Calcutta in the east, we proceeded to cover all the other directions as well.

First, we headed northwards to Delhi for my cousin's wedding. This was a pretty complicated event in itself since the pre-wedding celebrations were in Delhi, the wedding was in Neemrana and the reception was back in Delhi! As a result, we spent most of our time between getting dressed, attending functions and traveling in the car. But it was fun and Neemrana makes for an amazingly grand backdrop to a wedding - the whole thing had a royal feel to it. The kids got nicely pampered by the extended family. Tarana, being the only baby in attendance, got almost as much attention as the bride! She charmed everyone with her cheesy grin and even perfected her fake, social smile in the course of the wedding.


Done with the wedding festivities, we flew south to Bangalore for our annual Christmas visit. It was a full house with my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law and his wife in residence. We took every opportunity to palm off the kids on to the willing tribe of baby-sitters so that we could get some R&R. Mornings were the responsibility of the grandparents as Ayaan was taken off for an early morning jaunt in the park by my father-in-law and Tarana had an al fresco breakfast with her grandmother.


Ayaan also took to my brother-in-law's wife in a big way and happily went off with her to unlikely places like her parents or aunt's houses. He also had great fun leading the Christmas tree decoration effort and we ended up a monstrosity where you could barely see the tree for the ornaments. But he was super-thrilled with the results and we actually had to ferret away some of the ornaments when he wasn't looking so that they didn't end up on the tree as well.


He remembered his trip to the giant Xmas tree and gingerbread house at the Leela last year and insisted on being taken there again. He went crazy with all the eats up for grabs and had a huge sugar high for the rest of the day. (I know that the latest research says there is no such thing as a sugar high but there is a boy in my house who proves otherwise)


Unsurprisingly, the exchange of presents on Xmas day was the highlight of the trip. He even made a tracking sheet to monitor the number of presents each person got and was happy to note that he won the 'race' by far. His favourite gifts were an airplane cup from his uncle, a gingerbread man dinner plate from his grandma and a picture atlas from us. (My favoruite was my swanly new Kindle from Jai - yay!)


We got back to Mumbai a couple of days before New Year's eve, did a rushed round of unpacking, laundry and repacking before heading off a friend's farmhouse near Murud to bring in the New Year. It was a relaxing couple of days, spent lounging around and taking desultory care of the kids. This picture says it all:


The kids were pretty good and kept themselves busy.  Tarana spent her time chasing after the resident dog, flashing her fake grin at all present and foraging for crumbs on the floor. Ayaan's favoruite activities included picking shells at the beach, watering (read drowning) plants and fishing with a mug in the little pond in the front garden.


We got back last weekend and since then it has been a jumble of unpacking, putting away woollies, getting back into the school routine, catching up with my favourite blogs and kick-starting my neglected freelance work. The resolutions have been somewhat on the backburner for the last three weeks but now's the time to kick their ass. So expect to see more of me around these parts :)