The 21st Century’s Cold War is the Office Air Conditioner
Illustration: Juergen D
Elon Musk has managed to float an electric car in space, we’re transplanting animal organs into human bodies, and we have even achieved recreating meat in the laboratory. We have all of this technological progress and finesse at our feet, but there is a final problem we still don’t have the solution for: the office air conditioner.
That seven people in a co-working space can’t agree on a mutual AC temperature must surely be one of the biggest questions of this age. In a world where Google can provide the answer to every question, why does the air conditioner stand in the way of complete collegial harmony?
One reason could be that we can’t get the language right. If you really look at it, “temperature kam karo,” is an ambiguous command, open for interpretation. Does it mean yanking up the warmth? Does it mean that your colleagues could do with more chill (they almost always do)? Lloyd has come up with an AC that has WiFi and AC remotes these days have more buttons than a PlayStation controller. But every AC in every office still has only two modes: igloo and desert.
Which would have been OK if you’re from Delhi. However, for the rest of the working population in the country, this “blow hot, blow cold” attitude leads to intense internal politicking.
One brave soul will break the ice and ask the rhetorical question “Isn’t it too hot here?” Nobody wants to force their personal preference on other people and this soft approach is the best way to gain consensus. After all, there’s centuries of empirical evidence that democracies work better than dictatorships. You can’t just change the AC temperature because you feel a certain way. All you need is someone else to also validate your personal condition, or suddenly it just becomes only “your” problem.
Another area of conflict in office is – who should be the custodian of the AC remote? The remote in an Indian office gets passed around more frequently than a soft toy in the passing-the-parcel game at a toddler’s birthday party. Everyone is constantly on the lookout for where the damned thing is, since it always has a sneaky habit of hiding under a mound of tissue paper in the pantry. Maintaining a clear line of sight for the remote at all times is more difficult than the job of an American sniper. Just like dogs mark their territory, desi colleagues mark the AC remote and the acceptable range it is allowed to travel.
After spending a few months in office, distinct groups are formed that lobby together to have their say over AC temperatures. You tend to get along well with people around you who have the same “AC taste” as you. People who don’t agree with the decision have their own passive aggressive ways to show discontent. This can sometimes devolve into an ugly battle of the sexes, although not always.
You’ll find the people divided over the climate change debate, wearing sweaters in Mumbai in the middle of May. You start sweating with just the thought that there is that much wool making contact with their skin. At times, folks will just get up and move to a different place, but in this very loud and overt way, making sure that you’ve noticed their movement, a not-so-subtle way of letting you know that you’ve driven them out of their preferred seat, and by the way, you’re also on asshole. Out of nowhere, someone will loudly make a call to the office boy and ask, “Yaar who changed the AC temperature?” The tone is arrogant and seemed to be aimed at office help but it is actually directed at other personnel in office.
In a country of immense diversity in food, language, culture and tradition, we still struggle to come to an agreed solution in the simple binary of hot and cold. This is the real cold war of the 21st century and there seems to be no imminent solution in sight.