The Oxford and Lawn Club
Ahh… the Oxford and Lawn Club! It was the city’s most prestigious, most eminent, most sought-after, most talked-about Club. It was referred to as The Club by everyone in this city: awestruck outsiders who had no hope of ever being admitted through its hallowed portals, or even getting a glimpse of its impeccably groomed grounds and proud British architect-designed colonial-era buildings (where Robert Clive himself was rumored to have danced, and where his ghost was said to wander about, disconsolate and gaunt, at midnight every full moon); and also its coolly casual and nonchalant Members who liked to mention The Club and their membership in it whenever possible, but oh-so-subtly, and in an offhand and indifferent manner that befitted their rarefied status.
Membership here was by invitation only. It was an unwritten
and unspoken policy that families with Old Money, people who worked in “proper”
companies and not their own start-up businesses (this last produced a delicate
shudder through the Old-Moneyed Members), and those who had educated themselves
at the world’s most prestigious universities, were the ones the club
sought. New Money – the detested and
scorned Nouveau Riche – had no hope of ever attaining membership. Only the
foreigners – the Americans, the British, the Australians, the French, and
somewhat less welcomingly, the Nigerians and the Kenyans – were instantly
guaranteed membership for the period of their stay in the city, without having
to subject themselves to the scrutiny that the locals had to. And once you were
in, your children, and your children’s children, (but not necessarily their
in-laws) and so on, were in as well. And you could be assured that you had
arrived at the very pinnacle of social eminence.
Mr. Narayana Murthy
earns a Letter of Merit and a Pin which is not made of silver
Mr. Narayana Murthy had worked at the Oxford and Lawn Club for 25 years. He had started as a Boy, and with skillful deployment of his eavesdropping and tale-bearing skills, had made his way swiftly up the ranks to Head Butler. Six months back, he had been given a Letter of Merit lauding and thanking him for 25 years of loyal service. The Letter of Merit was accompanied by a pin on which were engraved the words “25 Years”, as well as the coat-of-arms of the Oxford and Lawn Club, the latter a somewhat confused arrangement of a clock face, a flower and a lion, all contained within a finely-etched shield. Mr. Narayana Murthy originally assumed that it was a silver pin, as befitted a 25 year anniversary, but it had retained its shine without any tarnishing at all, and he was forced to concede that it was made of some cheap metal. Mr. Narayana Murthy wore this pin on his lapel (with somewhat less pride than when he had thought it was a silver pin) every day. The Letter of Merit was framed and hung in the front room of his house. Since neither his wife nor his mother could read English, Mr. Narayana Murthy let his imagination run riot and invented a highly colorful and exaggerated version of the letter, wherein the Oxford and Lawn Club lavished praise on him for all manner of heroic deeds and acts of extraordinary service. The actual words in the Letter of Merit were far more modest and tame.
How Mr. Narayana Murthy feels about working at the Oxford and Lawn Club
Mr. Narayana Murthy hated working at the Oxford and Lawn Club. He hated its Members, whom he thought were supercilious and overbearing. He despised the way they arrived, cool and collected in their chauffeur-driven cars, not a hair out of place, not a wrinkle in their clothes, barely acknowledging him as they spoke intently into their top-of-the-line cell phones. It infuriated him that they took so many things for granted, the very things that he struggled with at home on an almost daily basis. That there would never be a power cut, for instance, or a shortage of water in the Club, or mosquitoes in the Main Garden View Dining Room.
But more than any of this, Mr. Narayana Murthy hated the
Manager of the Main Garden View Dining Room. Mr. Narayana Murthy felt that
after 25 years of loyal service, he
should have been the Manager of the Main Garden View Dining Room, not this
young whippersnapper, this arrogant know-it-all with his fancy Catering College degree (Mr. Narayana Murthy
had only studied up to the eighth grade).
The Main Garden View Dining Room had had a succession of
Managers through all the years that Mr. Narayana Murthy had worked there, each
one more pompous and insolent than the last one. Each time, he had to suffer
the humiliation of having to ingratiate himself with the new Manager, of being
told that his way of doing things was old-fashioned and archaic, of having his
helpful suggestions ignored or even laughed at. He had such a fund of priceless
information, built up with care and attention over the years: Mr. Ravi Thirunal,
a Senior Member and Chairman of the Dining, Sports and Library Committees, and
one of the most valued Members of the Club by virtue of his belonging to the
Travancore Royal Family, liked his whisky (always Glenlivet) with exactly two
teaspoons of warm water; Mr. Nagendra Rao, a Senior Member-in-Waiting (and a
distant relative of the last Mysore Maharaja) liked to have his bread rolls
already buttered with unsalted butter, a mere dab, it had to be applied just
so, and only Mr. Narayana Murthy did it the way Mr. Nagendra Rao really liked
it; the list was endless and was surely rich material for promoting him to
But no, every time a Manager left and his position fell
vacant, no matter with how much extra diligence Mr. Narayana Murthy went about
his duties, it always ended the same way: the new Manager was always appointed
from the Catering College.
Mr. Narayana Murthy never let his bitterness or his disappointment show, but he
did take out his frustrations on the Head Waiters, Waiters, Sub-Waiters, Boys, Dining
Room Plant Gardeners and Dining Room Sweepers.
Mr. Narayana Murthy also had to keep a close and careful eye
on the Head Waiter, who, it was evident in how he fawned shamelessly all over
the Manager, was clearly jostling for position of Co-Head Butler. But Mr.
Narayana Murthy was not born yesterday. He knew how to fawn, too, and he had many a tale to tell about the Head
Waiter, which would surely keep him right in his place. Mr. Narayana Murthy
would see to it that he would never make the leap to Head Butlerhood.
But Mr. Narayana
Murthy paints a different picture at home
At home, Mr. Narayana Murthy let no hint slip of his frustrations at work. To his gratifyingly wide-eyed wife and mother he boasted about the royalty he hobnobbed with, the high-level corporate executives, the important foreigners. He described the Grand Ballroom, the beautifully manicured grounds, and his own Main Garden View Dining Room. His wife and mother were made to understand that the Oxford and Lawn Club would collapse to a close if it were not for Mr. Narayana Murthy’s expert management. No mention was ever made of the Manager of the Main Garden View Dining Room, or that there was a rival Head Butler in the Pool View Dining Room (who, lacking the 25 Year Pin and a certain je ne sais quoi which Mr. Narayana Murthy was certain he possessed, was clearly of a lower order). He knew that an even more extravagant version of his working life would make its way around his neighborhood, where the other husbands worked in low-level clerical jobs in no-name local offices. Accordingly, he was treated with great reverence and respect by his neighbors. This pleased him immensely. At least here he was given the importance he deserved.