With or Without You is what’s easily the new C-fiction, corporate/cosmopolitan fiction, a genre less explored and even less successfully executed. Women (or men) in the workplace and women out of it have written about boardroom expeditions with malice, indifference, sarcasm, and intellect but never with the easy warmth that Parthasarthi Basu does. Partha writes a racy sensitive story about couples in and out of love, colleagues in and out of love and about trying to finish first in the race to the top, in what is a light (yet so very dark!) metro read.
The corporate story like life, is uneasy on the bowels. Is marital bliss imperiled by rise in the corporate structure? What is the biggest guiding myth out of one’s wit’s end at work? Many scenes from this book are real and timely, and the story is a depressing take on corporate success, the snakes and ladders, ambition gone awry, when not mildly illuminating about the very real road to the top. Mind you, this is not a story that averts you from corporate fiction or fictitious corporates, but actually, astounds you with questions from the back of your head:
- What kind of a boss are you?
- How much do you leverage sex in the workplace?
- Are you happily married, or conveniently estranged?
- Will they hire and fire you, or keep you for good?
Love is at the heart of this slim cosmopolitan read that warms you to its insecurities, naked characters, and middle (aged) route to, oops, the middle path. Is it hard, nay, impossible, to be a happy woman in the Indian workplace? Questions like these are shrouded in a warm pessimism that draws you to the author like glue. This author, a Mr. CFO of India’s largest low cost airlines carrier dabs his story with prowess, and is guided by a general courage of conviction and belief in bare fate, nature’s sedate hand sometimes. Aarav, the headless chicken and CEO of B2Y, a Seattle based multinational with operations in several top countries of the world, with a doting but restless wife sets about finding his niche, losing it, and coming to terms with it again. Other interesting women and men dot his life, but the perspective is strongly grounded in the uneasiness of the central male character. Raika, the protagonist’s wife in a moment of marital epiphany reveals to her husband his similarity with salmons: “Salmons are born in fresh water; they migrate to the ocean for few years but finally come back to fresh water. They return to the exact spot where they were born to spawn.” Is Mr. Basu a corporate yogi? No. He’s a simple IIM graduate from Kolkata who has risen in the very corporate structure he has torn apart, and lived to tell the tale of a single harried man in a suit.
Corporate Lessons: An Interview with Partha Basu
It was a delight to be in conversation with Partha Sarathi Basu, two time author and Country Finance Director of AkzoNobel India Limited (Past CFO – India Operation of Whirlpool of India, CFO – Spicejet).
Dial-a-Book: Where do you get fodder for books?
Partha: Like most youngsters, I too used to write short stories and poems. But the habit died once education became demanding and life became hectic in the corporate world. In my training sessions, I used stories drawn from real life. One day, just after I finished an internal training program, one of the participants said, ‘Partha, you must capture these stories in a book.’ That set me thinking….why not? Later, I was on a long flight, and the thought stuck me again. I took out my laptop and captured few incidences. That is when I started re-writing.
The corporate world has given me enough—it is my turn to give back to the corporate world.
Dial-a-Book: Your first book is non-fiction, something that might be a blueprint to the top of the corporate ladder, while your second work is a novel on corporate politics. How have readers, colleagues, ex bosses reacted to both your works?
Partha: The reaction I get from people are different …some say “You and writing?” Some react with ‘”You too?” or, “I am proud of you.” But these are the people who know me in person. Initially they were surprised, not many took my ‘journey to authorship’ seriously. But then they started reading book reviews, interviews and I could sense a clear shift in their attitude. Many corporates have used my book for the purpose of corporate / employee gifting. Readers have been really supportive. I get many mails, asking “When is the next one coming?” That encourages me a lot.
Dial-a-Book: But fiction brings out the real ghosts. What got you writing Aarav’s story: Was it a real life moment, incident or character you knew?
Partha: Most of the characters we read or write are around us. An author just watches them closely, feel them and the stories emerge. Aarav is no different, he is one among us, or I should say a mix and match of many around us since both fiction and real life deals with the real stuff….emotion, ambition, competition, politics, love, betrayal, failure, success……. an author just takes the pain and the pleasure to put them together and shares. Thus an author may chose to express his thoughts as ‘fiction’ or ‘non-fiction’ but most of them are stories from our everyday life.
Dial-a-Book: How much of a good idea is it to real-life-romance your colleagues and bosses?
Partha: My opinion is of no relevance. We all know people who have had a serious relationship in a workplace and lived happily ever after and we are also aware of people who have had a real-life-romance at the work place but never lived happily ever after. It’s a personal choice.
Dial-a-Book: Aren’t you known for instilling reading habits among your employees?
Partha: I do believe that reading changes a person; it opens up many new horizons. The reading choice might differ from person to person, time to time. It may depend on the stage of life or the mental framework of a person at a given moment in time, but reading is definitely a great habit to pursue. I just tell people to read, whatever they want.
Dial-a-Book: What were your parents’ reading habits like and did those pass on to you?
Partha: My father is an avid reader. I have never seen him finishing a day without reading something. At my young age I was too much into sports… never a passionate reader that time. However later I realized the ‘lack of reading’ in me and developed the habit for myself. Now I enjoy every moment of it.
Dial-a-Book: What thing or trait would make you lose your confidence if you didn’t have it anymore?
Partha: Time for myself….
Dial-a-Book: What are your thoughts on regional literature? Did you for example, grow up with Bengali literature as a staple reference?
Partha: I love Bengali literature, and grew up with them. I am really proud of them. I regularly read Bengali literature, magazines. I feel bad that in my lifetime probably I will be able to read only a fraction of the Bengali creation. I hope to write a novel in Bengali soon.
Dial-a-Book: How often do you look up the dictionary in a day?
Partha: I look at a dictionary on a need basis. And I really thank Microsoft Word, the right click really helps.
Dial-a-Book: Who is your favorite bestselling author and why?
Partha: There are many authors that I would like to read again and again and thus I would not like to single out any one in particular. However, few books that I read again and again are: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom; Execution: The discipline of getting things done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan; Like a flowing river by Paulo Coelho
Dial-a-Book: How educated must one be to deal with the corporate rough and tussle, without losing one’s grit?
Partha: Education is relative. One can achieve education, knowledge or wisdom through formal or informal education. Corporate life itself is a great teacher. No one is a misfit in the corporate world; it is big and magnanimous enough to absorb everybody. It needs different people to perform different jobs. It therefore always depends on a person on how he is coping, without losing his/her grit.
Coverage Credits: Arundati Dandapani
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