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Who is a common man

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Ever since he first appeared in the front page of Times of India more than five decades ago,with a disapproving gaze emerging out of a worried face, signifying both helplessness and concern over a certain issue ,the ‘common man’ created by noted cartoonist R.K.Laxman has for many years presented a view on impact of Indian state policies on the average citizen. Thus, the common man, not being able to influence the policy or withstand its outcome in any manner looks on helplessly at its implications. As chance might have ,it was in the same university town of pune which is home to Laxman for a long time that seeds of what was called IT revolution of India of 1990’s that has had a major influence in changing the definition and priorities of ‘common man’, was being sown during early seventies. IT industry of seventies was relatively obscure even compared to ayurvedic pharmaceutical industry. IT revolution nevertheless brought about a lot of socio-economic changes. Whether Laxman’s ‘common man’ is as much affected today by timing of elections or electoral malpractices as he used to be a few years ago or definition of who is a common man has undergone vast and significant change over a period of time is an interesting debate .

To start with i would like to take look at desirable attributes of a common man. Common man is a gentle, law abiding citizen espousing middleclass values. In the by gone era ‘common man’ essentially meant an office goer who relied to a very great extent on public transport system for travel and a stagnant monthly income for the maintenance of a sizeable family.Dependent as he was on state machinery any change in state policy had an impact on him.scenario two.Liberalization of 1990’s.Unprecedented economic growth.How does one define a ‘common man’ in such a scenario? what are the factors that affect him?

As I have stated in the previous paragraph the basic characterics remain the same. Ability and willingness to hover around a set of values and abidance to law and order.let us call this entity as modern common man.Then what are the concerns of this modern common man?which Economic category could throw in perfect examples of his proto type?these are the questions worth pondering.

Take for example Tech Industry.It constitutes of approximately 5-10% of total workforce in the country,but is preferred destination for majority of the young aspirants.Most companies in this sector are essentially BPO’s,many of them operate globally and have multiple foreign clients.Professionals working in this industry are hired mainly to do mundane jobs and are hired in large numbers.They are well paid and there is neither stress to be innovative nor extraordinarily productive and have the option of changing jobs according to their will .Also many such companies follow five day weeks offer ESOP’s(Employee stock options) and quite regularly send their employees on onsite assignments. One wonders if anything else is required to keep a person happy throughout.But inspite of all these, is modern day’s common man who is definitely a part of tech industry free from worries and secure? Interesting Eh.

Some years ago a well known NRI writer had observed that if Hypocrisy is a British disease then envy is Indian. I’d like to instantiate his observation in the following story.

Vijay a fresh recruit to a top multinational company, was not born to end up in trauma care center at the age of 26.Coming from an upper middleclass family, throughout his formative years he never faced financial crunch and grew up very much like other kids of the same background, worrying about exams, marks and taking time off for recreational activities. Every one who knew him rated him a nice kid. Having completed both his engineering and management degrees from country’s premier institutions and in both the fields finishing at near top of the class, he had every reason to believe that he only got what he deserved when he was snapped by a world class strategy firm executing very important projects for more than three dozens of countries world wide. But even such an interesting assignment full of great responsibilities could not make some one out of him .On his very first project he was supervised by one Mr.Fusli an individual who was as wily as he was cunning , political and manipulative. As a result they constantly differed and quarrelled. It was not long before that the man with more authority started revealing his true colours.Vijay was asked to put in enormous hours of work and the gruff supervisor started nitpicking .Often he found himself becoming an unappreciative butt of Mr.Fusli’s legpulling jokes and taunts. Fusli consistently held vijay responsible for every thing that went wrong and took advantage of his position and clout to create hostile working environment for vijay. Naturally,vijay inspite of his attributes and qualifications was helpless because this was his first assignment and like anyone on their first assignment required enough help and time which for him unfortunately did not exist .What more,in this particular organization as everywhere else, men in power never deemed any rules applied to them.To make things worse his attempt to bring Mr.Fusli’s behavior under notice also backfired as the cunning superior pounced upon his straightforward approach and outspokenness and accused him of being arrogant and abrasive. The option given to him was to continue in a different project along with the same supervisor or quit. After going through bouts of depression he was finally admitted in a special ward of a trauma care center.

I would like to take the above case to redefine ‘common man’.I strongly believe an individual like vijay inspite of his accomplishments is the modern day ‘common man’.There are several hundreds from different sections of the social stock pile who inspite of being a part of ‘good’, ’ethical’ companies often find themselves in some extremely unpleasant situations at the work place.If the common man of the past was a victim of state policies,the common man of present time is being harassed and even humiliated constantly by nasty bosses,unscrupulous colleagues , manipulative schedules,vague assignments and doubtful ,controversial organizational procedures.He may have the option of changing jobs but it is very likely that he ends up facing similar situations.Thus the problems faced by the modern day common man are numerous and more complicated. It has the propensity to affect him physically and mentally. There are quite a few cases of schizophrenia,dementia,trauma and even suicides.Quite a few number of cases go unreported and casually dismissed due to emotional intimidation and deliberate misrepresentation of facts. Many people do not know how to handle the situation they are into and end up in very unpleasant and shameful situations. Many companies fearing the loss of brand value and business, do not conduct serious investigation into the matter(or in accordance with their professed values may not have a system to investigate) thus letting off the guilty unscathed. Only those employees who unashamedly enjoy some kind of favouritism and those who do not have anything to lose in comparison not find themselves in such situations.Particularly,during periods when the industry is under recession and an economic down turn is being experienced the power of grumpy bosses within the organization tends to be disproportionate and quite a few employees feel the pinch.

So it is here where the common man is at present. Finding himself enmeshed by an opportunistic manager and a weak redressal system.Being almost always required to recognize and be sensitive about silent menace round the corner.The matter of subordinate-superior relationship within an organization needs a serious look.There are cartoons like dilbert which give an idea of day to day life within an organization but they tend to portray a business organization as being full of glitz and glamour,a place of fun , crazy antics and dazzling employee events.They never touch upon sensitive issues,and clearly lack an eye for detail. Any good cartoonist having an aptitude for important matters should be able to gather enough data through interactions with employees,to come up with more realistic portrayals on the present day work scenario.

-K.Sethumadhavan,Business analyst, Siemens ,Gurgaon
The author works with a leading software company in India and views are personal.He may be contacted at,
Published: 2007-06-27
Author: K Sethu Madhavan

About the author or the publisher
A management professional with eight years experience in telecommunications industry, I have written a lot of articles in subjects related to management and strategic information analysis.

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