Maternity Leave

by Abhipsita Kundu

Divya was in the third trimester of her pregnancy and was struggling to reach the file on the top shelf that her boss, Venkat, had asked her to pull out. Venkat only stared at her and offered no help.

She couldn’t wait to go on her maternity leave. Only ten more days, she thought.

She finally managed to pull the file out and handed it to Venkat who looked annoyed because of the extra few seconds she had taken.
‘Divya, I’ll need your help on something,’ he began.

Divya simply waited, wondering what he had in store for her now.

‘You know, our firm has been empanelled on that new audit.’

‘Yes, Sir. I’ve heard. Congratulations!’

‘Yeah, so, I’ll need you to run it. Shouldn’t take more than a fortnight to complete. Less if you’re efficient.’

‘But Sir, isn’t their office in Borivali?’ Divya asked, gaping at her boss in disbelief.

‘Gotten used to the cushy SoBo life now, have we?’ he raised an eyebrow at her.

How dare he call her life cushy? She toiled night and day without fretting, even in her third trimester!

‘No, Sir, that’s not what I meant,’ she replied calmly. ‘How do you expect me to go all the way to Borivali every day in my condition?’ Divya stared at him incredulously.
‘C’mon, Divya, these days, you women can have it all, no? A career, a family – I’m sure you’ll manage. Also, you’ll have a team of three juniors. I’m giving you an army! You’ll figure it out.’

Tears of frustration sprang into Divya’s eyes, but she wouldn’t give the bastard the satisfaction of watching her break down at work.

She composed herself and tried one last time – ‘But Sir, I’m due to go on maternity leave in ten days.’
‘Right, and after that, we can’t bother you anyway, no?’ Venkat continued to ridicule her. ‘Might as well do us this little favour before you go on your l-o-n-g vacay, then’ he added, stretching out the syllables, and making her skin crawl.

He was the one going on a ‘long vacay’, Divya thought bitterly. He was supposed to go to the Maldives next month. Could he not be a team player and take care of the audit, himself, before his outlook started sending automatic out of office replies?
Divya realised that it was a lost cause. She was a consultant and not an employee at the chartered accountancy firm. They could choose to deny her maternity leave altogether and she’d probably have no recourse against the firm.

She’d have to work extremely efficiently and submit her report in ten days.

Divya started her day at 7 am instead of 9 the following day. Her 9-5 job had turned into 7-10, thanks to the 45-kilometre commute from Colaba to Borivali and back every day.

Despite numerous protests from her family, she worked tirelessly, confident that her report would be ready by the tenth day. She wouldn’t work a day more on the wretched assignment, she promised herself and her baby. And by the end of her maternity leave, she’d start looking for other jobs. She couldn’t continue to work for that despicable Venkat.

On the eighth day, Divya realised that she was burning up. She wasted no time in undergoing an RT PCR test and learned the following day that she had the virus, and her CT score made her extremely contagious.

She was devastated. She was so close to completing the audit! And the baby! What if the virus affected the baby’s health!

She couldn’t believe that she was afflicted with a life-threatening illness and her first thought had been work and deadlines instead of the life growing inside of her. God, what was happening to her!

The CFO of the company Divya was auditing, upon receiving her call, was extremely sympathetic. He promised to make an exception by setting up a virtual data room and upload all the documents she was yet to review, so she could complete the audit remotely.

Divya was relieved! Her team continued to coordinate with her on calls and emails, and she put the final touches on her report at 5 am on the tenth day, which was well within the deadline.

She would pop into the office wearing two N-95 masks, maintain her distance from everyone and leave as soon as she had handed Venkat the report.

As Divya placed the final report of 200 odd pages on her boss’s desk at 9 am, she couldn’t help but feel extremely pleased with herself. She felt ready to collapse but had accomplished an impossible feat.

As Venkat sat, skimming through the report, nodding to himself, he too, seemed impressed.

‘Well done, Divya. But this seems to only cover life insurance. What about their general insurance vertical?’

Divya was astounded. She was absolutely certain that the scope of the audit only included life insurance products.

‘But Sir, you’d only mentioned life insurance -‘ she began.

‘Oh, forget what I said, Divya,’ he snapped back. ‘Did you not go through the engagement letter?’

‘Sir, you never gave it to me. I was only following your instructions.’

‘Ah, rookie mistake, Divya. You should’ve asked for it, no. Someone with your seniority should think of these basic things. Anyway, there’s clearly a disconnect and an expectation mismatch. Our firm still has exclusivity. So, you can audit the general insurance business as well, in say, 5 days from now? That should be enough. Now, chop chop.’

Divya saw red. As she was about to storm out of her abhorrent boss’s office, he called out, ‘Oh, and Divya, please send the pantry boy over. Need my espresso.’

Divya slowly made her way to the HR’s cabin. But first, she calmly filled her boss’s mug with piping hot espresso and set it down on his desk. She sincerely hoped he enjoyed it. She also hoped that he’d enjoy his isolation.

She had spat in it.

Divya knocked on her HR Manager’s cabin door and when greeted by the polite, familiar face she had known for five years, wasted no time in letting her colleague know about her condition. Her HR Manager was more than sympathetic and insisted that they move to the largest conference room in the office, so they could maintain physical distance.

‘Is something the matter, Divya?’ Radhika, the HR Manager asked her. ‘You’re visibly distressed.’

Divya narrated the incidents of the past ten days to Radhika.

Before she could even begin to plead her case, Radhika assured her that she would not have to work on her maternity leave. The rest of the audit would be taken care of.

‘I’ll personally take this up with the MD if I need to, Divya, but you’ve done more than your bit. You should’ve come to me sooner. We can’t reward our hardworking resources by killing them with more work, definitely not on their maternity leave, and especially when there’s so much bandwidth available in the firm.’

Divya felt some of her stress begin to dissipate.

‘But -’ Radhika added, ‘I’m not sure what to do about Venkat. This is not the first time someone’s come to me to discuss his transgressions, but you know who his parents are. He’s incredibly well-connected. The management will probably want to have a ‘chat’ with him and let him go with a slap on the wrist.’

‘I understand, Radhika’, Divya took a deep breath, and got up to leave.

‘But I’ll see what I can do about a change of teams for you.’

‘Thanks, Radhika! That’ll be ideal!’

‘You enjoy your break, Divya,’ Radhika called out after her, adding, ‘And don’t worry about Venkat. I’m sure one day he’ll slip up so terribly, that even his parents won’t be able to bail him out.’

Divya delivered a beautiful healthy baby girl a week into her maternity leave. Both mother and daughter had escaped the clutches of the virus. She decided to name her daughter ‘Aparajita’ – undefeated.

She learned soon after that Venkat had tested positive for the virus and had to cancel his ‘long vacay’ to the Maldives. She derived some enjoyment from his plight. She was human, after all.

At the end of her maternity leave, Divya learned that she’d no longer be reporting to Venkat but to an alumnus from her business school who was a lateral hire from a rival firm and had been appointed to lead a vertical.

Six months into resuming her duties at work, Divya was promoted to Vice President, which put her in the same position as her erstwhile boss, Venkat. While she worked very closely with the board of directors and advised the risk team, Venkat was relegated to the team that managed corporate social responsibility. His decisions had led to far too many hiccups, he had been told, in his last appraisal meeting, and CSR would be a better fit for him.

As Divya walked past Venkat’s office one evening and saw him languishing under a pile of paperwork, she remembered something a senior colleague had once told her, ‘No one voluntarily quits a well-paying job, Divya. Corporations simply have their ways of squeezing non-performing assets out.’

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