Sunday, August 22, 2010

RoboCorps

It's almost the end of my six week internship at a certain multinational bank. As it so happens whenever a certain chapter of our lives draws to a close, I find myself reflecting upon the entire internship and what aspects of it I'll miss when I'm back to eat-sleep-eat-repeat mode.

The most uncanny thing about interning here has undoubtedly been the kind of devotion that employees show towards work. Hence the term RoboCorp (short for Corporate. Yes I know I'm very smart to have coined that term). The first day that I entered the department I had been assigned to, I chose to be the Extra Preppy Internee and went around introducing myself to everyone there. The head of the department was effusive and cheerful enough. So was my supervisor, who was quietly surveying me and wondering if he would regret volunteering to be my supervisor over the next six weeks. I strode over to the other employees, especially one who hadn't even participated in the conversation I was having with the others and was staring at his computer screen with alarming attention. Not blinking. Clack clack clack, went his fingers on the keyboard. Eyes affixed to the screen. Silent and motionless, otherwise.

'Hey, I'm the new internee,' I chirped happily, trying not to get freaked out by the zombie-like behaviour.

'Yes, I know.' He replied shortly. Without even looking away from the computer screen. The keys on the black keyboard continued the staccato.

I shrugged off this incident, unnerved by his brusque behaviour. However, as I later found out, I had misinterpreted his abrupt manner. It wasn't just him, it was everyone. And that's when I realized that two years at this bank had transformed them all into RoboCorps.

Each morning, they would all troop in silently. Like missionaries on a secret vigil. They'd plop themselves into their identical swivel chairs, switch on their systems, and whoosh. What then ensued was a mindless marathon of never ending work- poring over spreadsheets spreading over so many columns that I never even know MS Excel could hold, devouring financial frameworks like teenage girls over the Twilight series, and matching figures from ledgers like mathematical superheroes. Of course, mindless would be the wrong adjective to use in this case. All of this work required immense concentration and dexterity. And undoubtedly resulted in heavy salaries.

Nevertheless, it was freaky. Every morning, I'd be forcing my bleary eyelids open just so that I could wrap my head around the rows and rows of figures splayed on the screen. All around me, these mathematical maestros were in their element, engrossed in their work. The only sound in the room was that of six pairs of hands going clickety clack, clickety clack. Morning passed into afternoon, past twilight and into the late hours of the night. And still, the clicking and clacking went on relentlessly, like the harbinger of some kind of impending doom.

Sometimes I felt like going up to them and shaking them. Unplugging their computers and scattering all their papers everywhere. The monotony was dreadful.Yes, there were pockets of laughter where they would crack jokes, pick on each other or have a rare conversation, but this mirth was seldom to be experienced.

It would be hours before any of them would even look away from their screens. Most of them arrived promptly at 9, or even before that at times. Instantaneously, they'd morph into RoboCorps and start working. Most of them didn't even go for lunch, and merely subsisted on the chai that the Bitchy Peon brought in twice a day. Nowadays, they even have aftari in the office. It's a wonder that their families haven't disowned them yet.

Their robotic indifference to everything around them was perturbing. As mentioned in my previous post, a number of employees in Business Planning & Analytics and Commercial Banking have had babies every week. Each time anyone in my department received an email, or was greeted by a peon bearing the glad tidings and mithai, someone would comment nonchalantly 'Guys, Zubair/ Hamza/Taha has had a baby.'

Awkward silence. The spell of the sinister staccato had been dispelled, painfully cleaving the air into half.

'Oh,' someone would finally say. 'I didn't know his wife was expecting.'

And that was it. The ceaseless agony of the keyboards would start again.
The day the AirBlue crash took place, someone piped up 'There's been a terrible crash in Islamabad. Over a hundred people were in it.'

A weighty silence pressed down upon us all. Then another whispered solemnly 'Mr. XYZ's wife was in the crash too. I just got an email.'

And then they all went back to the clickety clacking.

Fast forward to the day that the ANP member was killed. 'Some political person been killed,' someone spoke up all of a sudden. 'There are riots everywhere. You should go home,' he advised an employee who lived in Johar.

The employee's' eyes briefly moved away from the screen. 'Yeah,' he finally blurted out after much thought, and went back to his keyboard. He finally managed to pull himself away from his seat after half an hour. Maybe that's how long panic sets into a RoboCorp, I thought.

The other day, a fire drill was being conducted in the office. My heart leapt at the sound of the low, repetitive siren blaring throughout the office. Yes! Finally a chance to get a break and stretch my legs. I surveyed the people around me, waiting for any of them to make a move.

Nobody did.

The employee mentioned in the beginning of the post motioned me to come over and started explaining what I had to do with the file I was poring over.

I was stunned. Were these people deaf?

Finally, some female barged into our department, apparently out of breath. 'Get up you guys, it's a fire drill!' she hissed viciously and ran out.

These guys looked at each other and grinned amusedly. A slow smile flickered across their faces as they contemplated whether to participate in a silly fire drill or continue with their RoboCorp-ing.

Then someone finally pulled back his chair and ordered everyone to lock their systems.

I skipped down the stairs of the emergency exit and out behind the Branch Operations area. People were milling about and talking to each other; the diversion seemed to have been quite a welcome one. A much needed one, I might add. I hung around with my other internee friends for half an hour after that, and when I finally trooped into my department, bracing myself for those wretched keyboards, a calm silence descended upon me.

There was no one in the entire department.

Apparently that was the only time that the RoboCorps decided to get a life. I sighed, grateful to know that these guys were human too.

12 comments:

Maryam Zahoor... said...

that's what we have become today.

robocorps exist because ikea, nike, pizza hut, etc do.. and vice versa. it all happens in the name of perfection, professionalism, standardization and 'modernization'.

Robo Billa said...

No wonder they can't make babies, poor sterile robos XD

Nida Fareed said...

I like it Maryam :) in your funny & witty style as usual!

Nabeel said...

HAHAHA .. Loved it !!!! Same across all banks i guess...

emma kaiser said...

none in my department !! all were humans , totally faarik ,socialising ,txting to their gfs ,bla bla blaaa!!! :p

emma said...

texting sum1 special was the job of our drug addict , u know who ;)

MK said...

Nida: Thank you :)

Nabeel: No way man, I've heard local banks are better. At least they leave by 5.

Emma: Haha, yes, everyone in your dept is very farigh :P

Anonymous said...

If we're all robocorps then I'm the coolest one, ok? The rest are all fonkeys!

And I'm pretty sure the person who believes "it all happens in the name of perfection, professionalism, standardization and 'modernization'." would consider herself very lucky if she gets a chance to work in any of those organizations she mentioned above.

MK said...

Anonymous, don't be such a sexist. It could very well be a 'he'. Like you.

The One and Only Roxie said...

That sounds awful!! But you're much braver than I am; I certainly wouldn't go around introducing myself to everyone. I'm having a heck of a time at university trying to meet people. :/

MK said...

Lol, it's not about being brave. I used to be very introverted as a kid, it's just that over time I figured out that taking the initiative is important- it's just like anticipating the first plunge into a cold pool. I don't think, I just do it. Because I know that I can't come up to people all of a sudden a couple of days later. Now THAT would be awkward.

A RoboCorp :) said...

Mariyam talking about Barclays PLC ryt..?