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21.06.2018

There’s something about Chinese food and drudgery. At any Indian Chinese establishment in Delhi, you’ll invariably find a group of eight people every evening, dressed as identically as it’s possible to dress without a uniform, talking about deliverables and project completion dates. They will be eating, loudly. The music is thumping, vainly trying to drown out their conversation (but only succeeding in killing your own). Five men in matching rumpled white shirts and shoes that could do with a round of Cherry Blossom. A maximum of two women. These people are known as Colleagues.

They work nine hours a day within three metres of each other, lumbering toward a goal that remains forever just out of reach. They dislike each other casually. They don’t even go out to eat fancy Chinese food: the whole point of the meal is the lack of imagination in chilli chicken, veg Manchurian and fried rice.

Stepping out with colleagues is a time-honoured tradition. It’s a temporary escape when you realise that your co-workers are real human beings, only to forget it the next morning. The people you work with are lettuce in a burger; you could live your whole life without it if you really had to. Occasionally, you’ll become real friends, which is nice (upgrading to iceberg). But for the most part, work-friends exist because they’re paid to be there.

This is why “post-work drinks” are some of the saddest meals we’ll ever have.

The regular rules of social engagement needn’t apply; it’s all about convenience over quality. The place you’re going to has to be either right next to the office, so that it requires the minimum possible effort to get there. Or it needs to be “central.” Chinese food, the safest of all kinds of food bar dal-chawal, is an easy consensus to reach.

At the very least, it can’t be anything too exotic. Nothing you can’t get at one of those all-rounder bars in CP that list chicken lollypop next to malai tikka next to honey chili potatoes on their menu. If you happen to work at a cool, new, hip, young, urban, chic, millennial startup, the choices will be more trend-driven; a popular new lounge perhaps. Or a fusion restaurant. Maybe something reviewed in a cool publication. (Disclosure: We paid him, but not to say that).

Block (Your Calendar) Party

The most important question: is the boss invited?! Conversation tends to flow freely at these post-work scenes, because there’s an understanding audience for you to complain about your work. That’s the most fun bit about having a job; it’s not the money or the job satisfaction or the stability. It’s the sense of injustice at an authority figure curbing your professional instincts to soar. And yet, not inviting the boss means risking their wrath the next day. Let’s not even get into what to do with the new intern. (The answer is “Send them home.”)

The passive-aggressive dynamics at play are thrilling. The infuriating slacker inevitably ends up being the most fun person at the table. Mini-cliques are always entrenched in these situations. Someone invites a friend, ruining the whole thing. And let’s not forget: with drinks, there’s always the possibility of over-drinks. (I should have led with the fact that all this is basically contingent on Happy Hour, without which the whole idea of “post-work drinks” may as well never have been invented.)

And then there’s money. If the person sitting next to me orders, like, New Zealand lamb chops because they’re a super-team-leader and I’m only under-team-leader, will I feel really bad about my life and ask HR (ugh, HR) for a salary bump tomorrow? It’s almost as harrowing as - my favourite part - paying the bill.

As long as the boss isn’t there, you get to split everything exactly as per what you’ve had. There’s no shame in whipping out the old calculator to get the precise amount of tax you need to pay over and above your food, and no one gets to judge you for it. Or maybe the best part is the realisation that the people you work with aren’t actually drones or slugs or squares or losers. That they’re real people with real human emotions and rich inner lives.

Or maybe it’s the walk of shame the next day, as you enter the workplace, avoid all eye contact, and slide into your chair, back into the real world. It’s a veg Manchurian feeling.

Akhil Sood is an arts and culture writer in New Delhi.

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