Alice doesn’t wear drawers, anymore

It’s funny how words have more than one meaning. It’s funny how that one fact can give rise to some very funny situations. Here is one I remember from an earlier time.

Regular readers will remember that once upon a time I was a young man living in Calcutta. This is a story about a time when, as a 19-year-old, I was serving my 3-year sentence as Articled Clerk to a firm of Chartered Accountants. This was a mandatory service required to be a Chartered Accountant. You had to pass two sets of exams too, the first of which I failed miserably and did not bother to retake. Thus, you’re reading the words of a loser, dropout and quitter, all rolled into one. I prefer to think of it as a providential escape from the humdrum world of accounting to the exciting world of a lion tamer, which is what I became. ( But that’s another story… )

That video completely and utterly encapsulates my own feelings for accountancy. I may add that probably the only other occupation that trumps it for boredom and futility is auditing. Anyone remember a little company called Enron and a little accounting and audit firm called Arthur Andersen?

Anyway! Back to Alice……. now where was I?

Ah yes, at an impressionable age of 19, in my second year of university, bonded into labour by a firm of Chartered Accountants called Basu, Chatterjea and Co., whose major account was ITC Ltd, the cigarette manufacturer. I spent most of my 3 years at the Head Office of ITC and a lot of that time was spent finalizing the accounts of the Superannuation Funds. These were the Pension and Gratuity Funds that acted as the retirement funds for employees of ITC, which was then one of the top 3 companies in India by revenue.

The SuperAnnuation Cell ( SAC ) was a small department which consisted of the manager Mr M and a bunch of clerical staff, almost exclusively female in composition. Mr M was a middle aged Bengali Bhadrolok ( gentleman ), whose English was grammatically correct but not at all colloquial. He was also a little embarrassed, I think, dealing with the girls under his command. They chatted away in English, they were either Anglo-Indian, otherwise predominantly English speaking or had studied in the best English medium schools. Most of the chatter was lost on Mr M. The SAC was a linear department. Mr M sat at the top facing the girls, who all sat in a single row of desks facing him. From Mr M’s viewpoint the line of desks was flanked by the wall on his left. On the right was a passage and then a long line of filing cabinets.

Virgina House, 37 Chowringhee Courtesy:

I learned how to really smoke during my time there. Every morning when I came in, I walked over to Belinda, who was Mr M’s admin assistant ( or hell, secretary, is what the post was called then ). I said “Hi!”. She would push back her large glasses and then hand me a sealed pack of 20 cigarettes. Which I smoked all through the long and boring day. (see video above. “Dull, deadly dull”).

I did quit smoking a few years later – chronicled here.

Belinda and I shared some common background. Her husband and my elder brother played table-tennis together. Sometimes, I would sit at the last desk in the row. Other times, I sat in a managers room that housed 2 large desks. I’ll tell you about that one of these days. One of the girls in the cell was the elder sister of a school-mate of mine. Consequently I was quite friendly with the cell and the daily visits simply made it easy for me to enjoy the company and the daily banter among them. The girls all did the Daily Jumble, which is a cartoon accompanied by a set of 4/5 jumbled words. You un-jumble those words, pick out the marked letters from each and then solve the final jumble, which was the punchline of the cartoon’s joke. I’d developed a habit of solving the puzzle without messing about with the jumbles. I would solve it in the morning and wait for the girls to consult me in the afternoon. A peaceful easy life…

Mr M was not really able to say anything too strong about my disruptive presence, because I had the work under control. Alice was one of the girls in the SAC. She was a member of the famous bakery family who ran a bakery shop (store, if American ) in New Market. Alice was, by far, the loudest member of the SAC, with an open and hearty personality.

One day, I was standing there chatting away with the girls when Mr M came bustling in looking very important as he sometimes did. He had a file folder in his hand. He walked up to Alice’s desk, which was where I was standing.

“Alice, put this in your drawers.”, he said, handing the folder over to Alice.

Alice took the folder, looked up at him.

“Mr M, I don’t wear drawers.”, she said.

Snorts of choked laughter from me and the others.

Exit Mr M, confused and befuddled.

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This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. A.PROMPTreply

    Oh, my! Now that is a faux pas in communication!

    1. TheLastWord

      ha ha! Yes! I still remember that close to 40 years later… 🙂

  2. ladyofthecakes

    I also spent the first couple of years of my working life in accountancy (long story, won’t bore you) and I felt like I was dying inside just a little bit more each day. I remember one day when the head sales ledger clerk reported that we had processed invoices amounting to half a million DM that day. Her face was flushed and she was hyperventilating. I gotta get the fuck outta here, I thought…

    1. TheLastWord

      I don’t blame you …. I felt it myself. I had this colleague who could not balance his trial balance, ever. He had a habit of taking his previous totals and then adding and subtracting differentials from it and two days later he was still unbalanced. I, on the other hand, used to simply correct the figures in place and add them again. I was typically done in about 30 minutes….

      Remind me to write the story of my first ever out of town trip sharing a hotel room with him and another guy. 🙂 🙂 It was a helluva learning experience!

      1. ladyofthecakes

        I shall await that one in eager anticipation 😉

  3. subroto

    Ha! Ha! Nice one. It happened in school when a boy protesting his innocence said “but sir you can check my drawers” and our teacher quick as a flash said “I don’t really think I want to look inside your drawers”.

    1. TheLastWord

      Yeah – similar! Thanks for dropping in stranger!

  4. Piyali Ganguly

    Really enjoyed this narrative. The last few lines about the “drawers” made my day! Poor Mr. M. Hr spoke correct English though. Did Alice deliberately ‘misunderstand’? (Big smiles).

    1. SloWord

      Oh, yes. Alice knew what she was doing! Thanks for dropping by!