Lessons in Peon Management

Sunil is the “peon” we never wanted.  He was hired when Nina rented the temporary office/residence for us because it is unthinkable for any Indian in a position to rent an office to be without one.  Sunil swept and mopped the floor (but would not clean the bathroom when it was flooded:  “I will not do that work – get someone else to do it”), served water, made and served tea, and ran errands.  But mostly, he hung out in the back room (our bedroom) and played with the cell phone he had been lent so that we could be in touch with him, nosed around whatever he could find lying around (he was particularly interested in a Learn Hindi book that Mark had gotten from a relative of the author), or slept.

About three weeks ago, Nina asked him to start cooking because she didn’t like eating take-out food every day.  He had never cooked before, but he was game.  Nina brought a round spice tray familiar to every Indian home with some starter spices and some pots and pans, some rice and dal, and we were in business.  For about two weeks, Sunil made rice, dal, and a vegetable for lunch.  The same dal every day, and vegetables spiced the same way, every day.  No matter what kind of vegetable we asked him to make, he put the same spices in the dish:  a tiny spoon of every single spice in the tray.  And he was a damn good cook for a first timer – his food was tasty and consistent.  Too consistent.  After a while, I could no longer take another day of the same dal and the same tasting vegetables.  We took to ordering in again.

A week ago, Sunil was told that his last day would be on August 8th.  Most of us would be moving on to Amritsar for the big event on August 14th – 15th.  He complained to Nina that he was being let go in the middle of the month and that it would be difficult for him to find other work.  Every day, he would ask me when I was going to Amritsar.  Every day, I would tell him I didn’t know.  (And I still don’t.)

Yesterday, he wrangled an advance out of Devanshi, and then before Nina left, she paid him his salary for the previous month plus a little bit extra for the remaining days.   This morning, he was MIA.  He left behind the key to the office, but he took the cell phone.  We don’t expect to see him tomorrow.

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