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A Day in the Life of Usha from the show "Office Office"
We all know a Mussadilal, but what about Usha? Why did she stop caring?
Usha wakes up at 5:00 AM. Her world and one at large is still asleep. She reminds herself that she chose this life. She starts making breakfast for the family. Poha should do? She has been hesitant since her mother in law taunted her about the lack of love in her food. She wonders what other than love would have her making Poha at 5:00 AM. The crackle of the mustard seed distracts her from answering her own question. She doesn’t want to know. There’s breakfast, lunch, and kid's school work. Miles to go while everyone sleeps.
She reaches the office by 9:00 AM. She’s often the first one in her sarkari office and the only one on time. Her male counterparts slowly pop-in. She isn’t pals with Shukla who marks the attendance. She’s had a hard time socialising with the men at work. She doesn’t smoke or eat paan either. You never know what people will think? Surely, Patel will think more than two things. She likes to keep distance from Shukla. She has heard things too.
The staff is talking about the branch closing. Liberalisation people say. But her job has been liberating, but this isn’t about her. When is anything ever? Almost always as per her husband. She likes her job. Account Officer for the state telecom department. Any other job and her family wouldn’t have let her work.
The smell of samosas comes from the left. Bhatia is having his breakfast. An innocent looking man patiently sits opposite and waits for Bhatia to attend to his query. He seems like a familiar face, maybe comes here frequently? Then again, over time the faces of almost all people visiting the government office have mashed into one: powerless eyes and nervous postures. She used to feel bad for them before, not anymore.
She knows the drill, Bhatia will redirect the person to one of them and they’ll redirect further. The existence of the office depended on a fine balance of action and inaction: constant moving around of people and hoarding of files in one place for as long as possible. Yin and Yang. They don’t know what happens if this balance changes. The seniors have theories. A world put together by two games: hot potatoes of people and treasure hunts for files. She did feel a little bad for the poor chap, poor potato.
Was she always like this? Was it always like this? She thinks of the time when she had just joined; fresh out of college with a CA degree and brimming with idealism. Happy to be able to work. She would be on time, process her files quickly and relate to the people who sat across her desk. They were the same as her, often from the same neighbourhoods? When did they become different? When did she become better than them?
She remembers a person similar to the chap at Bhatia’s desk who wanted to get a new telephone connection. She’ll never forget the name: Musaddilal. It was in the first month of her joining the department. She was quick to process his file when it came to her but she had no control on what happened at the other desks. She got invested in this person. She had pestered Bhatia to move his file quickly. There were legit reasons for slowness. Lack of staff, changing bosses, pending files, bloated paperwork, VIP requests, computers not working etc. Not everything was in her control. But she felt personally responsible for Musaddilal every time he would come to office. In the office, he became Usha’s Musaddi. So much power, but also so little. Mussadilal got a telephone after 6 months, but she decided to grow a thick skin there-on. Be helpful but not get too invested. Overtime, she forgot to care as well. She started taking bribes too. Everyone was doing it. She didn’t want more attention. She didn’t want to stand out.
The poor chap across Bhatia is now patiently waiting for her across her desk. She is cutting vegetables on her desk. She has a house to run as well. It is part of the deal so she can continue working for the government. The poor chap has a complaint about a wrongly calculated phone bill. Usha knows what went wrong - a simple printing mistake, easy to fix. But she has vegetables to cut and many pending files to process already. She acts as if she doesn’t know what’s wrong with the bill. She redirects him to Shukla. She buys time. She is always buying time, but she no longer remembers what for? Does she do anything at all? This reminds her of her mother-in-law. She gets back to kaddu in front of her: chop-chop.