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Lean In and Sideways

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We book a table for 2 at Sunny’s on Residency Road, Bangalore and wend ourselves up to the first floor at a lovely seating by the open verandah. It’s Thursday evening and Bangalore is our city. Its a city I first moved in on my own, worked, set up home, got pregnant and had my first child. Its a city where I took my career break and decided I’d rather be a stay at home mom. We left Bangalore when our son was four months old.

Milind and I are done with our respective meetings in the city. I finish later and reach the hotel room. We make impromptu dinner plans and resist the temptation to walk to Koshy’s. Let me check and I propose Sunny’s. Its going to be a 16 minute walk from our hotel. Amrita had booked a table at Sunny and Vedika was a toddler then. She was a stay-at-home Mom in Bangalore then doing pro bono work with a social enterprise into dairy. Milind takes a few selfies to send them to our kids and to my sister. ‘Eat an extra dessert for me’ she messages.

Seated at the table set perpendicular across us  is a group in full conversation. Nine men, one woman and wait… a toddler. Except that this isn’t family. It’s a work group. There are people of mixed nationalities, three seem Asian, one Caucasian and there are about six Indians. A few people catch my eye more than others. Many voices reach our table and the clearest voice is of the lady. Seated straight across with her back to me, she seems the most interesting. Dressed in a sleeveless black and white striped outfit, she has a toddler to her left. He is seated, sometimes he stands, leaning on her, occasionally puts an both arms around her neck. She seems confident and speaks with easy laughter. She looks at the child sometimes. Some words float up to me. She mentions a visit to the Mitsubishi campus in Japan and on how collegial it was with people doing their own thing. She describes the place and the atmosphere. Some more words like ‘my husband’, ‘my family’, ‘my in-laws’, reach from time to time. There is conversation on work and life. Her body language is clearly that of ‘lean in’ and ‘lean sideways’

The child has a device in both hands and is engaged in play and occasionally sidles up close to her. She is neither awkward nor embarrassed. The drinks arrive, and she gets a Breezer and settles back into conversation. Everyone at the table listens. Four people are more talkative, and the others appear quieter. Eye contact, no devices, nodding, laughter, building on each other, the conversation configuration group and re-group. Food arrives and the conversation flows. The toddler gets down from the chair and walks around, all the while staying close to the mother. He goes back to his place at the table. Her body language does not give away any distraction. Her attention does not waver from her colleagues. She is in a casual corporate context and immensely comfortable in her skin.

The woman has her back to me but when she turns her head to the child, murmurs something to him and seems to be in flow at the table. Her poise, naturalness and the easy flow between roles is immensely attractive. It says a lot about the workplace culture. One of easy acceptance.

I go back to the food at my table and our conversation. The food is delicious. Have extra dessert for me says my sister’s whatsapp message. When our clients who have become friends arrive to join us for desserts and coffee, and we are in our own flow. Two professional couples, we talk of work and life, of parents, kids, recent travel and business ideas and things to do in the future. Everything is melded. Work and life in flow.

When we get up to leave at 11 pm, the dinner party with the woman has not ended. Deep in conversation with our friends, I don’t give them any thought. Back on the flight it all comes back. The group in easy flow. What will stay is the woman professional with her supremely confident style, easy going, with her ability to lean in and lean sideways.

~ Deepa Soman, 23rd June 2018

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