A recent column in our leading newspapers was heart rending. The chief executive of one of India’s tallest and most respected corporations in the information technology space has had to take a haircut on his annual salary to the tune of around 15%, bringing his booty down to a measly Rs.12 odd crores. Other senior officials of the organisation have had to join the CEO in some heavy weight shedding, which would have left them a few crores lighter as far as their bottom lines went. I was deeply moved when I read this. What is poor Ashok (real name withheld) going to tell his family on this cruel blow when he gets home? The expression ‘poor Ashok’ is employed metaphorically. A lame ‘Covid19’? A sticky quandary. I mean, three family holidays a year to Europe or the US is clearly not on the cards anymore. Two, if they can stretch it. The head honcho may have to look at Thailand or Vietnam, with their dirt cheap hotel rates. There’s just so much one can do with Rs.12 crores, particularly after the tax man has done his hatchet job. ‘But Ashok dearest’ chimes in his distraught wife, ‘how can we go anywhere when all international flights are grounded?’ Fair point. Ashok’s grand gesture has left top gun executives from many other companies fuming. ‘Who does he think he is? If this sort of thing starts taking hold, the next thing to go will be our club memberships, and I’ll have to sell my Callaway golf clubs to make ends meet. I don’t have a problem with people taking salary cuts, it’s their business, but why make a song and dance about it and give other companies ideas?’ Ah well, one can but sympathize. If you don’t have golf, what have you got? Might as well turn into a monk.
Then there’s the matter of the cars. Ashok is at pains to explain to the love of his life. ‘Darling, I know we have four garages, doesn’t mean we must have four cars. I think we must make do with three. The kids will simply have to adjust to the SUV. The BMW will have to go. And stop that groaning. I am putting my foot down. I am surrendering the Audi to the company as well. We’ll take a raincheck on the Merc. There’s some talk of cycling to work, but I never learnt to ride a bicycle. So that’s out.’ The better half was not best pleased as she retorted, ‘Ashok, pin your ears back and listen. I am putting my foot down as well, on the Saab’s accelerator and not taking it off the floor. So there.’ Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
You have to feel for Ashok and his ilk. As the company head, he has to set an example. The salary cut will pinch and there will be strife at home, but at least, three square meals can still be managed, with some shrewd planning on the kitchen front. Thank God the cook is still there, though straining at the leash to get back to his home town somewhere in the Kerala backwaters. ‘They are running the trains to Trivandrum, Sir,’ he bleats. Gosh, Cookie has his ear to the ground and Ashok has to employ all his wiles, including handing out the threat of catching this awful Coronavirus infection in those crowded trains. Bloodied but unbowed, Cookie stalks back to the kitchen to rustle up some toothsome appam and stew for breakfast. Peace reigns, but only just. You can lose your wife, for a while. You lose your cook, and you’re in Doldrumsville. And your marriage could be headed for Splitsville!
Corporate honchos everywhere are grappling with the problems of pruning and cost cutting during these straitened times. Look at Mukesh Ambani. He has given up an entire year’s salary, a figure that contains more zeroes than you and I can configure on ten fingers. The report, however, was foggy on whether the Reliance boss was giving up his dividends and other goodies that come with being the head of an awesome behemoth. Ultimately, it’s all very well for us mere mortals to be mordant about corporate bigwigs taking salary cuts. Try doing it. It hurts like blazes. So let’s doff our hats to Ashok and his intrepid band of brothers. To quote Othello via the quill and ink of Shakespeare, ‘Of one whose hand / Like the base Indian / threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe.’