Author : Jaidev Chandrasekharan
Company : UST Global
Email : email@example.com
I parked the car in the basement of Bhavani building in Technopark and walked towards the lift. It has been just a few days since I took over the role of a Project Manager. So I was enthusiastic.
“Hello Raj, how is the new role?” The question was from my pal, Durai who was leaning on the lift.
“Not many hassles yet buddy.” I replied with a grin.
Before the lift opened up on fourth floor, he teased, “It’s like suddenly being a parent, right?”.
“Yes, it certainly is.” I chuckled, getting out of the lift and showing my bag at the security desk.
I walked into the office bay in which my cubicle is located. A few faces smiled at me and I smiled back. “Smile more. You are a PM now.” I reminded myself. I sat on my desk, wore my tie and went through the day’s plan. In the next 15 minutes I am going to take on my first real challenge in people management. I have scheduled a meeting with one of my team members, to give her some constructive feedback on being available at desk instead of roaming around and wasting time. Also, she needs to be more flexible in her work. Her team mates were lately a little frustrated. As per their complaint, she was acting as a “Royal highness”, coming and going at her own time, without sharing a fair load of the team’s work. She wouldn’t be at the seat half of the time during the day. I was all determined to give her the necessary feedback in a friendly but stern manner. I used to be too much of a techie, and this is going to be my first shot in people management. I was excited!
In another 15 minutes, I was sitting in the meeting room with Hanna D’Souza, the problem girl. She looked beautiful in her formal attire, with an innocent face.
“So Hanna,” I started. “Though we have a flexible office timing policy, it is a responsibility of each employee to make judicious use of it. From the data captured from your electronic identity card swipe history, it looks like you are spending only around four hours a day inside the office. This, Hanna, is not acceptable. It has started affecting the morale of your fellow team members.”
Hanna was listening. There was no sign of defense or frustration in her face. I went on.
“Next thing is flexibility. Our project is going through a very tough time. I can assure you that this will not take too long. Our workload will be much less after we deploy our current work by end of this month. Until then, you have to share more workload and spend more hours in the office. I am also expecting that just like others have volunteered, you will be willing to take up night shifts for a few days.”
I stopped and looked at Hanna’s face, so as to prompt her to speak next. Hanna smiled. I could not spot an ounce of defensiveness in her voice.
“Raj, I accept both feedbacks you have given me, and I will work on them.” She said with a firm nod.
“Aha. That was an easy win.” I chuckled to myself.
“But Raj,” Hanna continued. “I have some concerns. Since you are my new PM, I would like to raise them to you. I hope you will do the needful to help me out.”
“Definitely.” I assured.
She said. “Usually, I step out of office between 10AM until 12 noon and then again from 1 PM until 3 PM. I want to continue doing that. To compensate this, I promise to start working from 7 AM in the morning. I will work until 9 PM in the night. I will follow this schedule until we deploy our deliverables.”
I asked. “Why are you putting yourself under such a stress? If you can avoid these two two-hour breaks during the regular day, you can go home in time and have some rest.”
“Sorry Raj. I can’t avoid those breaks. I need it to sustain my life.” Hanna said.
“What? To sustain your life?” I was at a loss.
She let out a deep sigh. Then looked at me in hesitation, and said. “Raj, I am like plants. I don’t eat food. I use photosynthesis to create the food I need. I need a lot of sunlight for that. I won’t get it if I sit inside my cubicle.”
I stared at Hanna as if she is a ghost.
It took a few seconds for me to get myself back into the scene. I am now a manager. I should not show anger. I chuckled tactfully at Hanna. “Nice joke.”
Hanna breathed heavily. This time she was a little impatient. “Raj, this is not a joke. I have decided to tell you the truth. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not.”
I said sarcastically. “Then why don’t you give me the full story? I’m all ears.” I was worried that my first people management exercise is now going weird.
Hanna continued. “Ok. And the next thing is that I need to rest during night to balance the chemical processes in my body so that I will be ready for photosynthesis the next day. Just like plants. So working in nightshift is impossible for me as well.”
I interrupted her in between. “Hanna, if you are not willing to come in nightshift, you can just tell me that. You don’t have to mock me like this. I did not insist you on it. It was a suggestion.”
“But I must tell you the truth.” Hanna insisted.
“Then tell me,” I asked with some playful sarcasm. “Are you a new species? The latest product of evolution?”
“No.” Hanna said firmly. “I am an extra-terrestrial.”
“Wow! It is getting more and more interesting. Tell me where are you from?” I inquired, mocking eagerness.
Hanna replied calmly. “I am from a planet which revolves around the star Vega, which is at 25 light years from your sun.”
“And did you travel all the way in a spaceship, which probably might have taken hundreds of years to reach here?” I questioned again. I dropped my PM image. I was back to my old techie mind, trying to debunk her Vegan theory for fun.
“No.” She spoke naturally. “There is a wormhole which makes it possible for us to travel from Vega to the outer parts of your solar system.”
I had read about wormholes. As modeled in Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, wormholes are certain “warps” in space time which could connect two points in space time in an awkward but mathematically plausible manner. A wormhole can reduce the effective distance between two points in space-time drastically.
Hanna continued. “Once we reach the outer regions of solar system through this wormhole, we use our spaceships to travel to earth. In fact, we have setup a small intermediate space station in Europa, the satellite of Jupiter. We are now considering decommissioning that station, because your NASA has started exploring Jupiter and Europa.”
“Would you mind if I tell you that I have some real work to do, and so do not have time for this thing?” I was losing my control.
But she remained calm. I continued. “So whatever are your reasons for stepping out between 10-12 in the morning and 1-3 in the evening and not coming in nightshift, I am counting on your assurance to compensate by working extra hours. I will track this by following up with your technical lead. I appreciate your offer to work extra hours. Thank you!”
Hanna must have understood that I wanted to end the meeting and that I was not enjoying her fun game. She offered me a shake hand and said “Nice talking to you Raj. Thanks for your time.”
I shook her hand and said with a grin. “Nice and weird talking to you.”
“Dude, what if she is telling the truth?” Anand asked over tea with a wink. I had told him in detail about the meeting with Hanna. Anand was one of my best friends in office. A freak who is interested in ET, conspiracy theories and stuff like that. He claims that he saw a UFO once when he was a kid and that is when he became interested in these mystery topics.
I said, zipping my tea, “Leave it man. She was mocking me in the gentlest way possible. Anyway, I don’t want to take any harsh steps against her. If she can produce results if I allow her conditions, then I’m good.”
“So it doesn’t matter to you, whether she is an ET or not?” Anand was insisting.
“She does not eat when she is at office. I heard it from the team members. So that is true. But that does not mean that she is not eating at her home, or during her so called “Photosynthesis breaks”.” I said.
“What about her identity cards, passports etc.?” Anand pressed on.
“She has a proper passport. That was verified at the time of her hiring.”. I kept disappointing him.
Anand insisted. “Why don’t we just do a background check? You know the college she studied from the records, don’t you?”.
In the evening, Anand and I dropped into the Principal’s office of the famous Marian College of Engineering, Kazhakootam, where Hanna did her Btech course. Principal was a distant relative of Anand, and that made things easier. Anand had talked to Principal earlier and she said she will be available to talk to us in the evening.
“Hanna D’Souza was one of the most brilliant students ever studied in the college. Her mental abilities were unbelievable. If you give her a page number in any textbook in the Syllabus, she would be able to remember the contents in the page by heart. That was just one of her charms.” Principal recalled her memories of Hanna.
“Did she have any weird habits? For example, have anyone seen her eating anything?” Anand asked.
“Hmm…I guess you might have found it weird. We found it weird too. None of us have seen her eating anything. Even when her friends shared snacks, she would stay away. She didn’t care even if it offended people. She was the way she was.” Principal said.
“And…” She was about to tell something. But she stopped it half way.
“Is there anything you wanted to tell us, Madam?” I asked.
“Oh, no. Leave it. Nothing.” She dismissed it with a smile.
We thanked her and left the office.
It was never my idea to visit Hanna’s home to get more information about her. But Anand’s pestering was unbearable. I felt it funny that, somewhere inside his heart he wanted to believe that Hanna’s ET story was true. Poor chap.
Mr. Robert D’Souza opened the door. He was a tall, well-built frame. Anand told him that we are coming from Hanna’s office and I am her project manager. He said we just wanted to drop by Hanna’s home when we happened to pass through this way.
Mr. Dsouza ushered us in, and offered us some tea. I denied it politely, saying that we were in a hurry. We had a short chit-chat, and I nicely introduced the subject. “By the way uncle, Hanna was telling us a funny story today.”
Mr. D’Souza looked at me sharply.
“The story was that she is in fact an extra-terrestrial who lives by sunlight. We all had a good laugh about it.” I said, diplomatically.
Mr. D’Souza frowned. “She said it as a joke? Usually she used to tell such stories seriously. A lot of people, especially children used to believe her. You know? My niece’s kids believe that Hanna is an Interpol agent. That is what she had told them.”
Uncle gave a blank look and remarked. “My poor girl was always like this. She lives in a fantasy world, but the good part is that, she is very good in real life too. You know? She was the top performer at College.”
Mr. D’Souza continued. “Which father will want his daughter to be known as a psycho? My daughter is very much gifted. Her little fantasies do not hurt anyone. So let her be who she is. Why torture her with unnecessary psychotherapy stuff?” His voice was shivering.
“It’s ok uncle. Please don’t be upset.” Anand said. “Raj is a good guy. He will make sure that Hanna gets good care in the team at office. No need to worry”.
We were prepared to go. That was when I remembered that we missed out the most important question. I asked. “Uncle, if you don’t mind – What is Hanna’s favorite food?”.
Mr. D’Souza had a big hearty laugh. “She eats practically anything, boys! If it is cooked by me or my wife. And she is crazy about Chocolates.” Then uncle turned a little gloomy, and added. “Poor girl had a bad food poisoning when we had food from outside when she was a small kid. After that she would never take food from outside.”
I looked at Anand and grinned, indicating that his hopes have collapsed. Hanna is a normal girl after all. I could see the disappointment in Anand’s face.
“Uncle,” Anand said, “Are you saying the truth?”
Mr. D’Souza gave a questioning look towards Anand, and said. “Son, I live by the commandments.”
“Sorry uncle. That was more of an exclamatory statement than a question.” Anand excused himself.
We left Mr. Dsouza’s home. While driving back, I could not stop laughing. Anand was silent.
Hanna kept her word. She did what she said she would do. The results were awesome. Hanna could work out complicated program designs very fast. She proved to be a fine multi-tasker. Though Hanna was a fresher, it turned up that she was capable of finishing the task of any complexity much faster than any senior resource in the team. She was able to work on 3-4 tasks at a time and still, her deliverables were hundred percent defect free. I did not forget to appreciate her for this big change. I even recommended her for the quarterly awards distributed by the company for best performers.
Meanwhile, Anand continued his investigation about Hanna with no success. Hanna did not maintain any social network profiles. She kept her friendships within the limits defined by herself. She still took the two two-hour breaks every day.
The project was finally deployed successfully and client was very happy. The client representatives sent special thanking notes to Hanna for her exceptional contribution. Everything was looking good.
That was when Hanna requested for a meeting with me.
I could not digest what I just heard. Hanna wanted to resign from the organization due to personal reasons.
“It is not a wise decision for your career, Hanna.” I said. “Senior management is very much pleased with your performance, and you are all set to become the best performer of the year, with a big salary hike.”
But Hanna would not give up. “Raj, I know you have done so much to make my work visible to senior management. Thank you very much for that. But, unfortunately I have a personal situation. I have no other choice but to resign.”
“Why don’t we go for a walk?” I asked. Hanna nodded.
“So Hanna, I wonder,” I asked in hesitation. “Is this personal situation something that is manageable? I am asking this because I am concerned about your career.”
Hanna replied. “My career on earth is about to be over Raj.” She let out a laugh.
I frowned. Here she begins again. But I had learned to let her be with her fantasies.
“You know Raj,” She spoke. “It is my time to return. There were a few things which I did not tell you. Shall I, now?”
“Please go on.” I said, encouragingly.
“The Government of our planet has a long term objective to establish friendly relationship with the people of planet earth. As a first step, they have sent a Government representative to stay on earth, study the way of life on this planet and create a detailed report on whether it is safe to establish connections with your people. And if yes, a detailed strategy needs to be outlined considering all possible aspects. My father is the representative assigned for this mission. He was in this planet for seven years now. He thinks his mission is over. He is in the process of doing the final touch-up of his report.” She said.
“And what is his recommendation? Does he think we humans are safe to be friends with?” I asked with a grin.
“His recommendation is classified information. He wouldn’t reveal it. Not even to me.” Hanna said.
I recalled the image of the good old Mr. D’Souza. He also turned into an extra-terrestrial government agent in Hanna’s imagination. Poor old man. I thought.
Hanna continued. “I came to earth with my father. My father, accepted a name Robert D’souza. He estimated around seven earthly years for his mission. I had to find some ways to spend my time on earth. I spent my first two years studying about different cultures, history and languages of this planet. I also assisted father in his research. Then I spent the next four years doing my Btech. Most of it were the things we Vegans already knew, but it was a fresh experience to learn it all again from a human perspective. I enjoyed it. Then the last one year, I spent working in your organization, to understand the work culture in a sample organization driven by humans.”
I chucked, applauding her imagination. “Good luck, my Lady. So what would you be doing after you return to your planet?”
“Well, Father and I will have a lot of work to do. Presenting this report, answering questions etc. You know, the usual government stuff.” Hanna shrugged.
“Hmm. Hope you will enjoy over there.” I said.
“I will.” Hanna said. “Though I will miss you all. And especially you. You had been very good to me.”
“Never mind. Have you said your good byes to our team mates?” I asked. Convinced that she is determined.
“Yes, I have.” She said. She added. “So I am leaving earth before tomorrow’s sunrise. This is our last meeting.”
We walked in silence. That was when I noticed the chocolates which were out for sale in a nearby restaurant.
I asked with a grin. “What if I buy you a few chocolates? Your father said you are crazy about them.”
I observed keenly for the reactions in her face.
“Oh, I know he told that to you guys.” She giggled. “He was lying. He is a man who always lives by the commandments.”
“Wait.” I was confused. “I remember him saying that too. When Anand and I visited his home, he said the same thing. But, if he lives by the commandments, that should mean that he never lies. Isn’t it?
Hanna laughed out loud. “Oh…no no no. You are wrong. Father was not talking about the Biblical commandments. He was talking about the “Commandments for Intergalactic Interactions”. It is a detailed code of conduct prepared by our government for the travelers who venture out of our planet. As per these commandments, he is responsible to protect the identity of our planet and our people from you, until it is the right moment.”
“Ah, I see.” I chuckled along with her. “It makes sense Hanna. No more questions. Enjoy your trip back home.”
It was 5 AM in the morning. I woke up hearing my phone ringing continuously. I reached for my phone, unwillingly. The display showed. “Anand calling…”.
I was about to yell at Anand for waking me up. But I was stopped by Anand’s frantic voice.
“A crop circle. Man…It is a crop circle.”
“Anand, what are you talking about?” I asked.
“Raj,” Anand was panting. “There is a crop circle in the grass. Don’t you know what does that mean?”
I had read about crop circles. They are strange shapes or patterns formed in agricultural fields suddenly in one night. The crops would be destroyed selectively, forming a particular shape. Crop circles have been reported at many places in the world. The main explanation for this effect is the intervention of Extra Terrestrials. When their space ships land on agricultural fields, they leave their mark on the fields.
“So are you saying that you are now in front of a crop circle?” I asked calmly.
“Yes man. I am. But not just that. I was doing my morning jogging. Suddenly I saw something like a flash of light. Something like a heavy light beam pointing to the sky. When I looked closely, I saw a saucer shaped object slowly drifting in the air. It stood still for a while, and the shot itself upwards like a rocket. The crop circle is now seen exactly below the place where I saw the saucer shaped object.”
I could hear the sound of morning wind. So I was sure that Anand was outside, and he is not in his bed, in his dream.
Anand spoke after a few moments. “What do you think about this, dude?”
I told Anand calmly. “Anand, listen. Hanna resigned from the company. She told me yesterday that she and her father would leave earth before today’s sunrise. “
“What?” Anand’s voice was frozen. I gave him a detailed account of Hanna’s story.
When the sunlight started falling on earth, Anand was at my home. We decided to go for a ride.
We first drove to Hanna’s home. The gates were locked. One of the neighbors told us that Mr.D’Sousa moved away from this place last night because he received an official transfer as part of his job.
Suddenly, I remembered something. I took out my cell phone, and dialed a number. The phone was attended by the Principal of Marian Engineering College.
“Was there something else that you wanted to tell us that day, Madam?” I asked.
“Yes.” Came out a confused voice. “We later discovered that the school level education records she submitted at College were all fake. But by that time she had become the best student of the College and a promise of the future. So we shut our eye on it. Hope you will keep this information to yourselves.”
“We will madam, we will.” I said and clicked off the phone.
Anand and I looked at each other. Anand was totally confused and shaken. He asked. “Dude, what should we believe? Were Hanna and her father really Extra Terrestrials? Or should we believe Mr. D’Souza’s story that she is just out of her mind? Plus I am a little out of my mind because I already had two UFO sightings in my life?”
I told him with a chuckle. “You know what is the best part of it, Anand? It is that we can choose to believe either of the two stories. But man, I am enjoying this because I haven’t made my choice yet. And I don’t have any plan to choose one soon.”
We both laughed.