Friday, August 14, 2009

Fire'd Drill

I had a great lunch and it was not long before sleep started weighing heavy on my eyes. It was a lazy day and I had no work to shoo the sleep away. This was becoming a trend now. I had experimented with: lime juice, mini meals and whopper thalis; but sleep would invariably find me in the afternoon. So we decided to head to the break-out area and treat ourselves with some antidote - Caffeine. Namit doesn’t indulge in luxuries like coffee or tea, but still came along for company. A few sips and the conversation started flowing: how we finally bagged the Oscars with some shit and lot of slum, how charming Hugh Jackman looked as a host and why Aamir always avoids those award functions where he can definitely bag some awards and always goes to those where he doesn’t stand a chance. The silence in between the conversation was broken by the shrill sound of the fire alarm.

The last time there was a fire drill; we casually strolled around, picked up coffee, then lazily took the stairs down and were the last to reach the ‘safe’ zone. The security supervisor was not at all pleased. He singled us and made examples out of us in front of the whole company. He was bemused by the fact that we were looking for espresso when we should be looking for the exit. A little more mockery and we felt as if we were on fire. So the moment I heard the fire alarm this time, it all came back to me. But I looked around and felt a sense of salvation. This time I can confidently carry the coffee around because I was in the break-out area and having coffee, when the alarm rang. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Arrogance was wrapped all over me. But soon a voice on the messaging system informed that this was not a fire drill and there was an actual emergency. We looked at each other and didn’t knew how to react. We could sense urgency in people around us; who otherwise would be indifferent to fire drills and the voice from the speaker was adding to the hysteria. It kept reiterating that this was not a drill. We ran to our desk to fetch our ‘fire emergency kit’. We prized open the emergency kit as if it were a Christmas gift. Never before had we bothered to check what was in the pack: a trashy looking eye glass, a whistle, a smoke mask and an LED torch. Somewhere deep down we were excited to have got an opportunity to use these stuff. Shikha was still holding on to her coffee cup. It was no use reasoning with this girl.

The only good thing about fire drills is that it’s a one way street, you walk down the stairs but there are always escalators to bring you back. I remember of a fire drill in London, where one had to climb down twenty eight floors. But it was not as bad as it sounds because we were served doughnuts and orange juice when we came back and yes we took the lifts back. It was not a long way down this time; just seven floors. We joined a crowd of other employees, on the stairs, rushing towards the ground floor. It felt like we were coming out of a movie hall. There was silence all around; same as you feel, after you have witnessed something remarkable and people take time to let it all sink in. It was only later that I realized that we were actually heading towards something remarkable rather than coming out from one. With each passing floor we had more people joining us and suddenly there was a sense of frenzy that was starting to build. There were a few people with their masks on, some had goggle and mask both, others shining torch at each other and a few others playing with whistles. I tried looking around to see if there was any fire or smoke around; but none that I could see. The fire warden admonished us that the whistles were to be used only by a person in distress, to attract attention. If only I knew it beforehand, I would have blown both my lungs into it. It was not long before we reached the ground floor and assembled towards the evacuation point. It was odd that we did not see any signs to indicate an emergency or fire though we were relieved to have escaped from whatever was out there.

The Human Resources head of the company came forward and started addressing the group. It was odd; usually it’s the security supervisor who runs the show on such occasions. Then gradually through his speech it hit us; this was a layoff exercise and not a fire drill. He told us that the company was not doing well, business was badly hit, they had tried cutting cost by other means and this was the last attempt to shore the firm. Now I felt the fire starting to burn and the smoke choking my breath. But are we all out of jobs, I thought. We looked at each other with shock; words had no meaning here, everything was understood; we were all on the same ship, a sinking one. But there was a lifeboat thrown to us, though in a particularly weird way. We were asked to swipe our access cards on the turnstile and those who still had access still had their job and they can enter the building and those who don’t can take a cab back home. Any personal items left at the desk would be couriered to the individuals and their final settlements would be handed out the same way. There was no scope for discussion here. The fire was over but it was the pain that was left; it was lingering on. No one moved an inch. The HR guy, once he was done with the farewell speech, swiped his card and calmly went back in. A few others took the cue and soon there was a crowd forming in front of the three turnstiles. It looked like students standing in front of a notice board, trying to figure out whether their names made it to the passing list. But this notice board was much advanced; which blinked green if you pass and red if you fail. Those who didn’t pass had disbelief written all over their face, which slowly gave way to disappointed and ended with tears. They tried their access cards again and again but with the same agonizing result. The turnstile soon started looking like an international border, with friends at both sides, looking expectantly at each, not knowing what to say. The ones who made it in were not going back to their desks because they were worried for the fate of their friends and those who didn’t make it had nowhere left to go. It was not long before we got our turn at the notice board. Surprisingly we three reached the turnstiles at the same time. We swiped our cards and waited for the lights to blink green. We looked at each other in disbelief.

1 comment:

bhuji said...

Hmmmmmmmm, This is one of my fav editor. I really believed it completely, when I read it some time back ;)