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Yellow Strawberries — Part 4: The Townhall

June 16, 2024 | By

The doting Dad takes his daughters to an office meeting. An honest and candid exchange of opinions and ideas follows with his eldest daughter after the meeting. They both leave the premises feeling evolved and reformed.

Yellow Strawberries is a candid and sweet anthology of short stories about doting parents and their two little daughters in today’s tech-driven age.

THE TOWNHALL Yellow Strawberries Part-4 Short Story - Prosenjit (LnC)

“What is a townhall? Why is it called a townhall?” That was the first of an unending barrage of questions thrown at me by my 10-year-old daughter Jhilik the moment we stepped inside the giant indoor auditorium at my office.

Today is a rare day on the calendar – a day when I get to babysit both my daughters. My wife had to leave town on short notice on a last-minute business assignment that cropped up from nowhere, leaving me in charge of the kids for 48 hours. But unbeknownst to her, my calendar wasn’t empty either. I had an office townhall meeting to attend to which I had conveniently forgotten about until an email reminder popped up in my inbox at 6.30 in the morning.

What followed next was a drastic change of plans. Instead of fulfilling my parental responsibilities at home, I had to break the news to my daughters that they were to accompany me to my workplace for a couple of hours. Our Company CEO would be addressing the entire workforce via video link from his New York City headquarters,  and it was mandatory to attend.

While my youngest – 5-year-old Riya – only wanted to carry her drawing books with her to this townhall, my eldest, Jhilik, insisted on learning the history of townhall meetings as a precondition to accompany me to my workplace.

“The term ‘townhall’ originated in North America,” I told Jhilik in response to her query. “In 17th century New England Province, to be precise.”

“They had a big hall there?” she asked again.

“Not exactly. The term ‘townhall’ does not refer to a building but to a congregation of people, preferably in large numbers, ideally the entire population of the town. The intention was to discuss matters of public interest and make announcements and seek feedback.”

“Got it,” quipped Jhilik. “So, why follow a 17th century custom in the 21st century?”

“Well … these days, politicians organise a townhall to share their agenda with a large gathering of people; and in the corporate sector, a townhall meeting is arranged to address the entire workforce of the company by senior management – usually by the CEO, CFO, Country Manager etc.”

“Got it,” repeated Jhilik. “Looks like it’s about to start.”

“Yes,” I looked at my watch and at the massive crowd assembled inside the office auditorium. “Now, please keep quiet and maintain total silence.”

Surprisingly, neither of my daughters uttered a word throughout the two-hour meeting. Riya kept doodling in her drawing book while Jhilik kept her eyes fixed on the giant TV screen that beamed the CEO’s speech live.

It was only after the speech was over that she opened her mouth. And what followed was something I was not prepared for at all.

Chapter 1 – The ‘Q & A’ Session

“So, the CEO shared his vision for the next three years and sought feedback from all employees?” asked Jhilik once the TV screen went blank.

“Yes, that’s an essential part of a townhall meeting. Senior management reviews the Company’s performance for this year and sets targets for the near future. Seeking inputs from employees is a necessary step to meet those targets.”

“How come we don’t have townhall meetings at home?” Jhilik blurted out.

“What do you mean?” I was taken aback. “Why should we have townhall meetings at home?”

“Well, it seems to be a good practice to discuss everything with everyone,” she replied in a rather serious tone. “Why not implement it at home?”

“Your mother and I always discuss pressing issues at home,” I answered matter-of-factly. “Not sure what you are aiming at.”

“Why are me and Riya not involved in the process? We, too, live in the same house and are part of the family.”

“Maybe so, but children are not supposed to be involved in the decision-making process,” I caught the drift of Jhilik’s agenda.

“Why not? If your CEO is addressing everyone and not a chosen few, why should you leave out me and my sister?” Jhilik sounded a bit agitated now.

“It doesn’t work like that,” I tried to reason with her. “It’s not a matter of choice – kids are not meant to be involved in making choices on behalf of the family because they can’t assess alternate resolutions.”

“How do you know that? We have never been offered that choice, have we?” she sounded more agitated now.

“Listen, sweetheart, you will get a seat at the table once you turn 18,” I explained to her politely. “But till then, you will be treated as a child and will not be allowed to take part in decision-making. It’s an adult’s domain and will remain so.”

“Fine,” Jhilik frowned in anger and frustration. “What worked in the 17th century does not apply to out home in the 21st century! There is no democracy!”

“Can we change the topic now? I am getting irritated,” I responded in genuine annoyance. Jhilik has an uncanny ability to get on somebody’s nerves with her incessant questioning and never-ending arguments.

“Yes, I am hungry,” little Riya lifted her hand from her drawing book and helped bring the argument to an end. We made a beeline for the snacks corner where food and water were stacked on a row of tables to be consumed on a self-serving basis.

“Why did everyone have to attend this townhall in person?” Jhilik enquired with her mouth full. “This could have been held virtually too.”

“Good question,” I nodded in agreement. For all her flaws, Jhilik does seem to have a logical mindset. “All townhalls in 2020 and 2021 were held virtually due to the pandemic. Therefore, in 2022, it was decided that all townhalls going forward will need physical attendance from each employee as a rule of thumb.”

“But why? What’s the logic?” was Jhilik’s next question.

“Sometimes, decisions taken by top management defy logic,” I spoke my mind. “You might call it ‘boss mentality’. The boss believes he is always right.”

“Kind of what we have at home,” Jhilik’s super-quick retort caught me by surprise.

“What do you mean?” I wondered aloud.

“Like you behave as the boss at home and we have to adjust to your whims,” she replied with a deadpan expression. Then, as an afterthought, she quickly added, “Especially me and Riya. We have no rights, no authority. It sucks being a child.”

“Please don’t use that word,” I started to feel irritated again. “And you have no idea how difficult adult life is. You will miss being a child once you grow up.”

“At least I will be able to choose for myself,” Jhilik responded emphatically.

“Choose what?” I became tense and curious.

“Choose a new ‘Papa’, for instance. A new ‘Papa’ who will pamper me more and control me less. Someone who will let me decide everything for a change.”

I looked at Jhilik in despair and sadness. My eldest daughter harbouring a secret desire to replace me with a more ‘accommodating’ father was not exactly a flattering thought. I replied with a hint of scorn.

“Fine! It will be good riddance. At least, I will be spared the agony of answering these never-ending questions and these unnecessary arguments,” I declared.

“Well … someone once told me not to accept anything blindly and to question everything,” quipped Jhilik.

“I know. I did. I had no idea it would backfire on me one day,” I scoffed.

“The pot calling the kettle black,” Jhilik retorted with a naughty grin on her lips.

“What else do you want to do once you become an adult?” I braced myself for more shocks. I was now convinced that Jhilik was capable of upsetting me beyond my wildest imagination.

And she didn’t disappoint.

“Explore the possibility of adopting a new name,” she replied.

Chapter 2 – What’s in a Name?

“A new name? What’s wrong with your present name?” I asked in dismay.

Click to read all episodes of Yellow Strawberries

Yellow Strawberries – sweet stories of Gen Alpha and doting parents

“For one, I didn’t get a say in choosing my own name,” Jhilik replied while sipping Diet Pepsi from her paper cup. “Also, I would prefer a name that better resembles my personality.”

“Such as?”

“Such as Gale, Tempest, Monsoon, etc.”

“What kind of names are those? Storms and rain?” I sneered in disapproval.

“Those are just examples. I will think about it and come up with better options,” she replied with a condescending smile.

“You know,” I remarked in disappointment, “your name holds a very special place in my heart. You have no idea how many people I had to fight with to earn the privilege of naming you – my parents, my in-laws, and even your Mamma. Each one of them had their own recommendation and none was too happy with my choice.”

“And yet I didn’t get a vote in the matter,” Jhilik relied calmly.

“But that’s the norm. Children are named by adults – parents, grandparents etc. How can a child name himself or herself?”

“Well … a child can certainly attain the right to decide upon reaching my age,” she retorted sharply. “Why give a permanent name to a child when he is born? In fact, every child should be given a temporary name at birth, and a permanent one should be decided only by the child when he turns 10.”

“A temporary name?” I was dumbfounded. Jhilik might have a lot of flaws, but illogicality is not one of them.

“Why not? Something as important as a name should not be finalised without the child’s consent. That’s my firm belief,” Jhilik frowned and grimaced to make her point. “My name is my most important identity, and to not give me control over it is downright unethical.”

“All right,” I threw up my arms in despair. This whole debate had made me heartbroken. If only my daughter knew the sentimental value and emotional significance of her name!

“Do as you wish when you turn 18,” I said.

“I might decide to retain the name you have given me, you know!” Jhilik concluded. “But that will be my choice, not yours.”

Chapter 3 – Multitasking

“Papa, Papa …” Riya spoke suddenly after a long while. “What is ‘mully-taasky’?”

“What is what?” I looked at her flabbergasted, unable to comprehend what she meant.

“I think she means ‘multitasking’,” Jhilik was quick to interject. “Your CEO mentioned this term many times in his speech.” Turning to Riya, she then remarked, “It’s something Mamma is very good at, and Papa is terrible at.”

“Says who?” I responded in protest.

“Says my memory,” Jhilik shot back unapologetically, “and all your relatives and friends.”

“Multitasking is a myth,” I remarked in disdain. “It is an excuse for not being able to accomplish anything in pursuit of trying to accomplish everything.”

“Really? Is that what Grandma’s manual says?” Jhilik asked in mock sarcasm. She never fails to join the dots and is always quick to associate all my beliefs to my upbringing.

“Yes, your Grandma certainly said so,” I nodded in agreement. “She taught me that multitasking was a sad excuse for becoming a ‘Jack-of-all’ instead of a ‘Master’ of something. The right way to approach a task is to finish it and then move on to the next one. Juggling with too many tasks at the same time is counterproductive.”

“But the whole world believes in multitasking. Are they all wrong? Your colleagues, your CEO – are they all stupid?” Jhilik asked in dissent.

“I can’t say for them, but I will certainly say this – it is not important to try to perform 20 different tasks in a day. You will end up achieving nothing. What is important is to finish a job to perfection, even if it means performing only 2 tasks a day. Finish what you have started, and then move on to the next job.”

“Why is ‘finishing’ so important?” asked Jhilik.

“Because ‘finishing’ provides ‘closure’ and ‘closure’ marks ‘completion’,” I explained. “If there is no completion, there will be no closure. The task will remain open and the issue will remain unresolved. We don’t want that, do we?”

“Maybe not, but sometimes you may need to do multiple things at the same time due to circumstances,” argued Jhilik. “Like, Mamma does grocery shopping after she picks us up from school, and also attends phone calls and emails while cooking. She runs the family and the business at the same time. How is she supposed to do it without multitasking?”

“Well … your Mamma …” I fumbled for a suitable response. But Jhilik didn’t let me finish and persisted with her reasoning to drive home her point.

“If Mamma were not so good at multitasking, what would happen to us? She would either cook, or help us with homework, or manage her business – but not accomplish all of these efficiently every single day as she has been doing for years. Is she a ‘Jack-of-all’? Isn’t she a ‘Master-of-all’ too?” Jhilik paused to catch a breath.

I kept quiet. I couldn’t find the right words to counter her argument. I also realised that I didn’t have a logical line of reasoning to dispute her claims.

“Papa, everyone multitasks at some point on a given day,” Jhilik resumed her persistent objections after a brief pause. “You are multitasking yourself today – looking after us while attending your office townhall. You may not be aware of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a reality.”

“Human beings are not supposed to do too many things at once,” I responded meekly. “That’s why we have two hands and not ten.”

“Maa Durga!” Riya blurted out suddenly. “Maa Durga has ten hands!”

“Exactly!” Jhilik jumped in glee. “See, she gets it but you don’t. Even Maa Durga has to do multitasking. That’s why she has ten hands. We are ordinary people, so we have to manage with two.”

I had no desire to keep fighting anymore. Jhilik knew that even though I am an atheist, I have a soft spot for Maa Durga! As well as my wife and Mom. All three are beyond reproach – never to be questioned, always to be revered.

“I am sure Grandma was right. Finishing what you started is important,” Jhilik mellowed down in am uncharacteristic gesture of compromise. “Quality is more important than quantity. Doing things correctly should be the goal instead of doing too many things and ending up in a mess. But that should not limit my ability to make the most of my time. If I can sing and study at the same time, why should I restrict myself into believing that I shouldn’t?”

We had now exited my office building and were walking towards the underground car park. A sudden surge of pride and affection overtook my senses momentarily. I realised that my education, which began decades ago, has not ended. It still continues, though the role of the teacher has witnessed a change. Earlier, it used to be my mother. Now, it is my daughter. My eldest. I felt like the proudest Dad on the Planet.

I took a sudden detour towards the ice cream vendor on the other side of the parking lot.

“Where are you going? Our car is here,” Jhilik asked in bewilderment.

“I am going to buy ice cream for all,” I replied. “I will have an ice cream while I drive.”

“Will you be able to manage doing both?”

“No, but I want to try my hand at multitasking,” I smiled.

—Concluded—

Yellow Strawberries Anthology of Short Stories

 Click here to read all episodes of Yellow Strawberries

More Must Read in LnC

Papa Scheherazade!

Let the Flowers Bloom!

An Unexpected Companion

The Battle of War and Peace

Prosenjit Purkait is a 22-year veteran of International Trade residing in Delhi and an amateur author. Now self-employed, he devotes considerable time to his first love — writing fiction. His passions include cinema, literature and book reviews.
All Posts of Prosenjit Purkait

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