Coffee Chronicles Episode 7: ‘Usha Di’

It has been quite some time at the floor and on my blog. The coffee machine broke twice and was restored to working order soon enough. The soups fell out of favour with people who went back to coffee and lemon tea. People raised concerns that the quantity of coffee in the cappuccino had gone down. Then they sighed heavily and moved on, quietly accepting it, as if it was only time before the decadence of the age caught up with the coffee machine. New people have arrived here while some old ones are about to leave. The floor was voted by a poll both informal and spurious to be rather dull and demotivating for its employees. When the result of the poll was communicated at a meeting to the people gathered at large, the audience, majority of which belong to the age at which it is advisable to live on salads and green tea, appeared to take offence. However, the youth on the floor, though outnumbered outright by the senior brigade, demanded something be done to at least make the floor not look like the drab piece of hell it was. There followed, upon this decision, a sudden spurt of activity on the floor. But all that is reserved for another day and another post. This one will be dedicated to a person who occupies a very important position on the floor. It is a continuation of the series on attendants and associates.

The first table, on entering the floor, belongs to a lady. She is by no means inconspicuous. Although short, she occupies substantial space and wears an expression which seems to be the reason the word ‘pugnacious’ was coined for. Said lady goes by the name ‘Usha Di’. In the hierarchy of attendants, she is above everyone else. Even Shamu the Enigmatic reports to Usha Di, husky of voice and imposing of size.

Usha Di rules the floor with an iron hand. She hoards envelopes, pens, post-it notes, diaries and notebooks but does not make these vital resources available to people easily. One must be in her good graces to harbour any hope of getting anything from her. Then there is the photocopier-cum-scanner in the mini-kitchen. Anyone touching it without having consulted its keeper will be alerted by a shriek that sounds like the amplifier feedback of a jarring note from a broken string of a guitar. With a gust of wind and the howl of dingo, Usha Di will appear in the scene, arms flailing, nearly knocking the coffee and head of any unfortunate employee who happens to be in her way, and then will severely admonish the poor soul who had touched the machine. She will make a mental note of how to best starve the offender for the next few days- by refusing him a morsel of a birthday cake, ripping off the letters from his name-plate or just looking him coldly in the eye whenever he has to pass her. The last is, as has been guessed by now, the most cruel and is administered to the gravest of offenders. There have been reports of men losing their voice for days when subjected to this treatment.

On one eventful day, I was caught up in a situation in which Usha Di was involved as well, for a brief period of time. During that time, she told me her story, which was sad. Her husband had met an untimely demise and from what I could gather, it was due to the negligence of the doctor. She brought up her daughter, then all of three, by herself. My heart warmed up to her after this story, and I admired her feisty spirit.

Then, one day, I was waiting for the elevator when I saw Usha Di come and wait nearby. Her head was bent down and she was wearing an expression woven of such delicate strands of forlornness as had never graced any countenance. I became sad too, and started walking towards her to initiate a conversation. I had heard from other attendants that her nephew lived off her earnings and was an ungrateful prick. She would cry at times, when she was not busy ragging other attendants or denying officers stationery. I had made up my mind to make some small talk to cheer her up. When I was about three feet from her, the expressions on her face intensified to resemble a cloud that would burst immediately. Then, with a further exaggeration of her already complex expression she opened her mouth and let out a monster of a burp. It echoed along the passage and I imagined the glass panes shook a little.  Then the clouds cleared on her face and she gave me a tired and painful smile.

I think I gave her a half confused and half terrified nod and went up in the elevator, having been relieved of the need to have a conversation by the timely arrival of the elevator.

Usha Di recently won the carrom competition held for women. She came to the floor with the cup, and was cheered lustily by those expectant of a ‘treat’. When the subject was brought up, she snarled and demanded a treat of those who congratulated her and for some she reminded they had such ‘treats’ due too. The matter ended then and there and Usha Di resumed her victory lap on the floor, now to the sound of muffled claps and disappointed murmurs.

Usha Di is respected by the attendants and held in awe by most of them. She is regarded with caution by the officers and the associates have no choice but to keep her happy, for they are the ones to gain the most from their association with her. At a time and age when women leaders are making the headlines as heads of States, Usha Di continues her unchallenged rule on the floor, suppressing both dissent and unnecessary demands under her enormous weight, both metaphorical and literal.

P.S. : We were hanging out in the mini-kitchen, waiting for someone to fill up the milk for the coffee machine and wondering if we should do it, when in came Usha Di. Then, as she got herself busy pouring the milk into the bottle that stood inside the container for the milk, one guy suggested we could have chocolate in cold milk. Usha Di turned around and said, “Of course you can” and then emptied the entire packet of milk onto the complicated arrangement of apparatus. We stood there for some time, unsure what to make of her statement when she, carrying two cups on a plate and an air of having won a crushing victory, asked us to give way. We moved, and out went she, with a victorious toss of her head. And we, clueless souls lost in time and her wake, took our respective cups of coffee and went back to our seats.

*End of Episode 7*