Saturday, May 28, 2011

Morphology


This was one of those extremely rare days when we had spare time on hand.

It helped that we had lost a client or two, after they dared go up against LL's sacred and all too fragile ego, which couldn't be compromised even in the face of future loss of income. While LL lost his temper and alienated the clients irrevocably, it consequently left us with a little breathing space. 

This was because he couldn't pin the blame on any of us for a change. Witnesses, you see.

For the forever-politically-correct and give-the-guy-a-break type of folk reading this, do understand that am not being unduly harsh in this pronouncement.

Imagine my surprise when on a goodbye call with the managing director of one of my favourite clients who had terminated our services last week, he expressed that he was really happy with me and my team's work over the last few years and was sorry that his falling out with LL and discovery about his prevarication on an important matter had led to this. Especially as LL had called a sombre group meeting and claimed that this client had resigned because of dissatisfaction with the way my team and I had handled things. This would have had implications on our annual increment as well as bonuses due. 

While I was still dazed and ruminating on the implications of being stabbed in the back by one's own boss and owner of our fascism, uh.. company, LL called another meeting for group heads. 

This meeting was to do with our Internal Projects. This meant tasks like public relations for LL, making sure he was spotted on TV and interviewed on radio. It included displaying our work for various brands on whiteboards dotted around our office. The whiteboards were strategically placed so that any client and coterie would spot them on the way to the conference rooms. 

When I walked into LL's cabin, our event photographer Jignesh, was present too. This guy's expertise so far had been wedding videos and still shots of brides and grooms on stage in various simpering poses. Different weddings ofcourse.

No doubt, he fit right into LL's thrifty budget, but why LL favoured him was a mystery to me. When it came to promoting himself, LL unhesitatingly spent top dollar.

Call me biased, but I'd reached a stage given recent events where I was wary of anyone whom LL considered a friend. Besides, trigger-happy Jignesh was just a little too eager to please and shifty.

"I'd like some of my photos up on the boards", said LL.

Puzzled, I looked at him. "They're already there. Saw to it myself."

"No, no, I mean this", he said, chuckling.

He had pictures of himself at various award ceremonies, and some other group pictures with each client and their teams spread over his desk.

"Alright, would you like me to select a few?", I asked.

"No, I mean this one", he said, waving the one picture he held tightly in his hand. "This one is really good, Jignesh, am so glad you found it!" said LL full of rapture, looking at it.

He turned it over, still not letting go and I got a look. I could hardly believe my eyes. This was a picture of LL walking slightly behind St. Meresa*. No, there isn't any snarky follow up here. I do really mean St. Meresa.

* Since am painstakingly disguising all identities here, this is just to keep up with the overall theme.

LL looked much younger in the snap and I wondered how he'd managed it.

To me, this seemed blasphemous. Like the end of all good things as we know it.

Like seeing Osama posing with Nelson Mandela or Saddam with Aung San Suu Kyi.

I looked closely, too stunned to comment. LL was looking directly at the camera lens and smiling widely, but St. Meresa, bless her, seemed to be unaware of the lens and her gaze was focussed in the opposite direction, with a kindly expression.

I have to admit that yet again, I felt a grudging respect for LL and his methods. Somehow he'd managed to be in the right place at the right time. Isn't that what success is all about? Superficial success, at least.

This didn't impress me at all though, as the right PR can get you any image you care to project to the world.

"My family too had met her, but we don't have a picture", said he. "Anyway, you can send the others across as soon as you redevelop them", were his final instructions to Jignesh.

"Oh, and AJ, you need to tone down the language in your reports. Don't use big words. Some of our clients can't understand it."

Having perfected my deadpan look, I managed not to show any reaction. Our clients seemed quite well read and articulate and given that English is one of the easiest languages to learn, I was sure that linguistically, my reports were not a difficult read at all. I wondered if this was another fabrication on LL's part to find fault with my work.  

LL handed over the snapshot and I tacked it up on the most prominent board.

Over the course of the week, clients were suitably impressed and we spent a good fifteen minutes during each meeting discussing how, when and where this occurred.

As I walked in early next Monday morning at 6 a.m. to prepare for a 6.30 a.m. meeting, I ran a cursory eye over the boards. Something seemed different and I noticed a new photograph added to the crop of earlier ones. It showed LL's family posing with St. Meresa, oddly enough at what seemed to be their home's verandah. I was impressed this time.This seemed more than good PR. Had he contributed so much to the cause that she'd visited their home?

Effective PR can fool people, but St. Meresa's testimonial was convincing indeed.

The day was busy and much later mid-morning, I bumped into Sandra, current EA to LL looking at the same photograph. Except, she was peering at it very closely.

"This is really impressive", I commented.

She looked at me with a twinkle in her eye. "Really?"

"Sure. I'd earlier thought it was just good PR, but if she actually visits his place, then... "

"Look carefully, AJ, how come you didn't notice this?", she grinned.

I peered closely too. It was a rather small photograph.

Sandra looked all around even though we were alone just then.

"Ssmorhhd..." she whispered, giggling at the same time.

"Sorry, what?"

"It's morphed!"

I've never met a saint, but I can say that I did experience enlightenment of one kind just then.

Looking at it with this newfound knowledge, one could see that the Saint indeed seemed to have astrally manifested herself into the photograph. She looked a little larger in size than the others and her body was angled differently from the others too.

I thanked Sandra for giving me my first real laugh of the day.

And decided not to worry too much about LL's directions, morphologically speaking.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Search String Theory


Since hitting bloggers block ("Yet again", I hear some drawls) and after a satisfyingly sunny beach holiday, I thought fondly of another visit to the service that tracks my hit count here.

Much as a mother revisits photographs of her offspring, or an author lovingly caresses the glossy jacket of his latest bestseller, I too on occasion like to see from which part of the world people find their way to my blog.

Somewhat to my chagrin and not very severe blow to my ego, here are the winning entries from the usual suspects. In tabular form, with the country of origin and the search string that brought them here, needless to say, ad verbatim. I do say it however, for those of you who do not know me should know that even my imagination would balk at inventing this.

Janesville, United States : "dr seuss with a religious twist"

Am not sure I'd like Seuss quite that way. 

Somewhere in the United States : "orange aura manipulate"

Not sure if you can, hon.
 
New York, United States : "kapil shrikhande marriage"

My apologies that you were led to my blog first, but hope you found what you were looking for, you stalker you. Kapil's married girl, just deal with it.

Decatur, United States : "How to fill a whiskey flask"

Am truly mystified as to what tag I must've inadvertently added brought this person here, but I would suggest, use a funnel and just pour it in. 

Washington, United States : "whats an intervert"

If you find out, be sure to let me know.

Chula Vista, United States : "is tom cruise a introvert"

Vila Nova De Gaia, Portugal : "whats an introvert"

The last three sure bust some myths about knowledge of grammar in English speaking and non-English speaking countries, what say?

York, United Kingdom : "introvert personality will never be successful as a lecturer"

Aw, we can't be sure of that. Curious as to what this person was looking for online, to validate this statement or refute it? Gotta love the Brits though. Typing a flawlessly correct sentence into the google search box deserves credit, especially with known pitfalls such as 'introvert'.


Montreal, Canada : "stationery supplies frivolously"

Perhaps.

Hong Kong, Hong Kong : "witty pantry notice"

I'll endeavour to script some for you.

Vasai, India : "astrologer contact number"

Rodovre, Denmark : "dark thoughts, love, Greece"

Ooh. I think I like Danes already.

Bangalore, India : "brittania bourbon activation ideas"

Oh, come on! Come up with something yourself, for once. And do you seriously think you would find "activation ideas" specifically for your brand of biscuits in cyberspace? What, you think there's an Internet God?

East London, South Africa : "tips for the mentor support to menties in academic progress or successful"

Menties?? 

Warning, it gets quite x-rated from here onwards.

New York, United States : "dunce houseboy mistress"

As they say, only in New York.

Regrettably and unsurprisingly, from New Delhi, India : "where can I get phone numbers of udupi homosex mates"

I still feel a little violated on behalf of my blog and my first instinct is to ask for a transfer and citizenship to some other country altogether. I cringe to have to bring this sordid touch here, but one must be honest and fair to my country of origin, though thankfully, not the same city.


Scranton, United States : "gay loo"

I reserve my comments on this.

And here's the winning entry.

Chicago, United States : "In your work or everyday life, what is an example of a situation where it would be important to take into consideration the variance around the mean?"

The least said the better, I should think.

This was an illuminating exercise however, and I can only think this - there is an extremely weird set of people trawling through the backwaters of cyberspace and it is no consolation to me that I am part of the throng. However, these are happily, the exceptions to the rule. So far.

Thinking back, I too have probably surfed for extremely bizarre topics on the internet, and am sure it's afforded someone, somewhere a good laugh.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Excerpts from LL's Personal Diary


These forgotten pages from LL's diary were anonymously scanned and emailed.

After great trepidation, as I felt uneasy unleashing great evil unto the world, I overcame my scruples as this would give you, dear reader, tremendous insight.

After all, wasn't Mein Kampf published in paperback for the same reasons?

Read with caution - there's no going back.

Some necessary omissions such as names of people/ clients have been made and acronyms have been expanded. Only some of the notes are featured here.

Some illegible scrawls could not be deciphered.

13 March 20XX


Sack someone before 31 Mar.

## new recruit - joined 3 months ago - expendable. No notice period.

Author's note: The reason for this was that in a weak moment, LL had allowed the number of employees to exceed 20. Dangerous, as any company with employees >20 would have to provide benefits like gratuity and canteen facility. This would go against everything LL believed. He couldn't let that happen.

5 May 20xx

XX (client) chose the agency's tagline instead of mine.

10 May 20xx


Sent brochure to competitor of XX.


26 May 20xx
Hope to dump XX in 2 months and sign up YY*

* Author's note: Competitor of XX

6 April 20xx


Dictate memo about new leave rules.

Author's note: Refer to Marrkit's Memorable Memos

12 May 20xx


Call from Candyboy mne's magazine for interview - 4 page spread! Schedule appointment on priority basis. What an honour. Everyone important reads Candyboy. They'll be so jealous.

13 May 20xx


Call photographer - new head shots/ profile views for photo handouts.

Send to all journalists.

1 June 20xx

Frame cost cutting policy.

4 July 20xx

Nice campaign idea by agency of ABC client.

10 July 20xx

XYZ meeting a success. Client loved my campaign idea.

Reminder - Clients ABC & XYZ to never meet.

10 August 20xx


Serious news. Mrs. LL reports that Group heads are on easygoing, friendly terms with each other.

12 August 20xx

Divide and rule. Divide and rule. Move client from one group to another.

13 August 20xx

Told client, group two not performing and they are upgraded to group one.

14 August 20xx

Told group two they are not performing and client will move to group one.

16 Aug 20xx

Tell group one they are not productive enough so have to manage group two's client. Praise head of group two in front of group one.

3 Sept 20xx

Schedule time with Mrs. LL for update on employee calls she's listened in on.

12 Sept 20xx

Must get invited as a panellist on CNBC. Invite the show's anchor for lunch. Crash annual party?

2nd Nov 20xx

Find out about personal life of all employees to help manipulate them. Options: hire detective/ install cameras/ phone bugs/ call in hypnosis expert/ actor.

4 Dec 20xx

Today is VN's day off. Email letter in his name to client sales manager, accusing him of manipulating sales figures. VN must not find out.

10 Dec 20xx

Memo to Mrs. LL - Destroyed VN's credibility with client. Use this as a reason to sack him before he resigns.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hasty Retreat


I jump ahead many years with this account, from what I think of as my third life.

I never promised you chronological accuracy anyway.

On this day, I was to encounter my most bizarre meeting ever. I was at the head office of a mid-sized company's MD for different reasons, perceived by me as altruistic and by him as predatory. I only realized this much later.

The most amazing thing is - this man got exactly what I now suppose he wanted out of the meeting - for me to beat a hasty retreat and never look back. Let's call him Mr. Marfatia*.

* Names have been changed, to protect me.

Introducing myself via the person who had referred me to him, I gave him a succinct background of the cause I was there to promote and a little printed information - a worthy dossier, I thought.

In hindsight, I ought to have come armed with a few idols, some 'prasad' and a quotation or two from the Bhagvad Gita which foretold his support of the cause.

I was ready for the questions which usually get asked about the non-profit organisation I was representing.

He leaned back in his chair, eyes narrowed and steepled fingers resting on his chin.

"You have an orange-yellowish aura. That's very interesting!" he said.

I had no comeback.

Especially as I was not sure whether an orange aura was good or bad according to the aura seers.

If, amongst aura seers, this was a shameful insult, I'd be a fool to smile and say 'Why, thank you!'. And what if this was the ideal colour? I'd alienate him forever if I spat out a 'Says you! I want a second opinion' at him. 

"You have gone through difficult times. And you are a nice, lovely person" he continued.

I could see where he was going with this. No person on earth would dispute these statements.

"And mature". I hoped he meant my mind, not age.

"I can see auras, y'know", he added unnecessarily.

I knew I had to say something soon. I couldn’t forever sit dumbfounded.

While he took a call on his deskphone, my gaze wandered to the extra-large prints of various Gods to Sai Baba's portrait on the wall to an array of idols on all available surfaces. He was clearly a god-fearing soul and I felt - surprisingly - less at ease.

An overly grandiose exhibition of spirituality, that too, in commercial surroundings like an office, amongst the wrong kind of people, causes an opposite reaction in me. It’s like the person is trying hard to disguise his real nature amidst the signage of all that is good and worthy in the eyes of the world.

The truly spiritual don’t need opulent physical expression of it except the little needed to sustain their faith. Especially at the workplace.

Mr. Marfatia in particular, suddenly seemed all wrong.

Instinct told me I'd met my match at repartee - when trying to get aid out of very rich people for a cause - simply because I had none.

Might as well get my fortune told.

"So, how did you find me?" he asked.

Now he was beginning to scare me. Perhaps there should be less agarbatti smoke and more oxygen in the room.

"In my mail requesting an appointment, I'd enclosed the reference from Mr & Mrs XY who had recommended you? They said that you'd expressed interest in supporting this group's work and gave us your details. After which I spoke with you and you confirmed this meeting."

"You met them on a flight", I helpfully added.

"Yes, yes, I remember them, amazing people. But this is my new office, how did you find the address?"

"When my first courier came back undelivered, I surfed online and found a listing of your new address and resent it." And overcame your attempts to avoid my visit.

"Very, very resourceful" he mused.

Not really, I thought. In this digital age, what I’d done was simply the manual equivalent of finding a name from a phone directory. No matter. I was waiting to see by how much he'd loosen his purse strings. Based on one or two past successes, I had a number in mind.

"Y'know, am surprised to see you. I had expected to see a lady in a cotton sari with a jhola. Maybe even an old lady", he went on to say.

Disclaimer: I have to insert this here for other good folks who may or may not be working with NGOs and may or may not be reading this. Please remember, the views expressed here are not my own and I am not liable for inflammatory statements made by others.

What I have left out here are the innumerable times I'd responded to his comments from this point on, with a little nugget about the ngo's achievements. Each time he looked at me blankly and continued speaking as if I hadn't.

"So what do you get out of it?"

I was ready for it. I was always asked this.

"I am not a college student hoping to earn a better score in a foreign university admission by showing non-profit work experience, and neither am I at the start of my career where I hope to add this to my cv to give it an edge. I don't take any monetary benefit." I rattled off glibly.

Or looking for self-publicity and get myself profiled across 4-page articles in popular women's reads like Femyna after barely 3 months of ngo "work experience". They would run a 'we'll feature you and a friend for free' special once in a few months. Curiously, in the half page outdoor pic, you'd find the ngo employees in Fabindia kurtas and stoles or demure 3-yard cotton dupattas swathed around a deprecating, just visible white salwar. No matter that no one ever saw them in such these clothes before or since. I'd been fooled in the past many a time by such features, once even calling up an ngo thinking that the person featured was a demi-goddess, who managed dangerous fieldwork to being the administrative brains behind the show and a star fundraiser, only to be told by the incredulous and actual founder that the lady in question was an office trainee hired for media coordination, who unwisely had access to all information. The founders occupied in managing the small ngo realized only much later that she had misunderstood the brief to mean - publicity for herself.

His eyes seemed to have misted over.

"You know, I feel very comfortable with you. I am cancelling my lunch appointment and extending our meeting beyond the 15 minutes I'd promised."

Far from rejoicing, I slid forward slightly, and glanced over my shoulder to memorize the position of the door, just in case I'd have to make a run for it. So far, he had not shown any interest in the non-profit he'd purportedly expressed interest in.

"I've also had great personal tragedy. My wife died y'know. She had this illness for a long time and was very weak towards the end and bedridden for months. The doctor was not sure what it was. My twin daughters have grown up well and taking the loss somehow. They are my only solace. I have been sent many trials. I have had to face so many losses - much much more than anyone else.

This man was officially wasting my time. All he needed was someone to talk to. Well, why not? He deserved sympathy. His life did sound hard. Maybe my intuition causing all this uneasiness was wrong for once.

"And then, I decided to move on. God gave me a second chance and I married again. Her twin sister. She is my wife now."

What?! I thought this happened only in Hindi movies.

Now, my instinct was clanging alarm bells at me.

For many reasons. Why was he going into such personal detail? I'd only known him some ten minutes. It felt wrong. Also, hadn't he said his daughters were his 'only' solace? What about his second wife?

"But you will not believe this. My happiness was shortlived. She has been ill too these last few months and is very nearly bedridden."

"You killed your first wife, married her twin in no time - how ghoulishly creepy is that! And now you're doing away with your second wife with slow poison just because you didn’t get caught the first time? You sex maniac!!" I screamed out.

But only in my head.

"Y'know, I can tell you’re a spiritual person."

"I don't think of myself that way" I replied, "I have yet to understand much about it."

"Which God do you pray to?" he asked.

This was all too much. Can’t a person be entitled to some spiritual privacy?

"All" was my answer.

He seemed displeased.

"You must come over and meet my daughters sometime" he suggested.

Why only daughters? I wondered, struck dumb again by the ramifications of what I thought he was saying - between the lines.

"Tell me about your family" he commanded.

As if hypnotized, and also because in India, it's considered acceptable for people you meet in the work context to ask you what your mother and father did and do, and what your siblings did and do, I answered.

"I have parents. Retired now." was all I allowed myself to say, keeping it to the barest minimum.

"I have a farmhouse in PQR. Why not join me on the drive down? Will take only 3 hours"

Through the haze of smoke, I noticed that he'd stood up behind his desk and was walking around it.

This comforted me, because standing up had made no noticeable difference to his height. I was sure I could overpower him in a struggle if it came to that. Stop being absurd, I told my intuition - that was a remote possibility. This was a civilized man.

He walked around me to get a file out of a cabinet.

"Why are you carrying a cloth folder? From now on, you must use this" he said grandly, handing me a glossy leather laptop case. Empty, ofcourse.

"I'm trying to cut down on leather" I managed not to say aloud. I didn't want to trigger anything that would send him over the edge.

Another part of my brain wondered purely academically, if I would have accepted the dinner-with-family invite if the case had contained a laptop too. The non-academic part of my brain reminded it that I would have refused to accept the gift in the first place. What if it was the latest Sony Viao? it countered. The non-academic part of my brain now kicked in full force with a reminder that this was no time for idle thought and I should get out of all this smoke before permanent damage occurred. Hadn't I read somewhere that inhaling the smoke of 4 agarbattis was the equivalent of smoking a whole pack of cigarettes?

"Tell me more about yourself. What is your time of birth?"

Picture yourself in my mules. How would you have avoided answering?

"No one is sure. My parents still argue about it. The hospital clock and wristwatches were all showing different times and though I could tell you the time, it could be +/- 5 minutes either way", I congratulated myself on this evasive reply.

Now I was convinced he was shopping for wife no. 3. Until he met wife no. 4? I wanted to say that I didn't have a twin. And maybe I was not desperate enough (yet) to marry someone 20 years older, no matter how many foreign offices he had. God forbid he find quadruplets the next time.

By now, all thoughts of selling the cause were forgotten. It was getting onto 6 pm and the outer office seemed to be emptying quickly. My herd instincts were urgently nudging me to join the outer throng.

"You must come with me to this party on Saturday. I'll introduce you to all sorts of bigwigs. We'll go to many parties."

He may look like Napolean, but this seemed my Waterloo.

Could this man get any more crass? Selling myself as an escort was not what I had in mind, no matter what the cause.

I knew how to put him off though.

"So Mrs. XY had said that you had given a firm commitment of Rs. 11 lakh?"

For once, Mr. Marfatia was speechless. As it very commonly is with such people, his generosity was in inverse proportion to his ego.

"I'll have to read the dossier first", he finally said.

"Ofcourse, Mr. Marfatia, I wouldn’t expect you to decide before knowing all the details. And I'd be happy to answer any other questions you may have."

I never heard from him again.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What's an Introvert


…like you, doing in a field like this?


Good question. One that I got asked a lot. Of all the unlikely career choices, this was a big mistake, or so I was beginning to think.

Let some alternative titles I contemplated for this post serve as a warning in advance:

If Only I’d Known

While We're Dreaming

Speculation

Your Grass is SO much Greener


Everyone knows what an introvert is like. That would be my safe 'weakness' to list in a job app. So I've forced myself to cut you a break and delete a whole paragraph I just wrote on the subject.

Let me assure you - this is not a long whine about all the circumstances which led me to where I was. I've enjoyed my life. I totally get the fact that life does not run on some path that you imagined or romanticized in your teens. I never knew what career I was meant for and I probably still don't. I just went along. I still do. I'd better stop before this turns into a Dr. Seuss story.

I was quite happily settled into the routine, and more importantly, happy with what I was making. I liked what it did to my seriously introverted personality too.
Nowadays, I languish somewhere in between the two extremes, but occasionally drift back to the Completely Introvert end of the scale. But off late, anyone I'd met or spoken with, who'd had the guts to start off doing something considered unlikely to survive at, was spectacularly better off for doing it.

Should I have taken the road less trampled? You bet.

I still remember the conversation that made me lose faith in the advice I'd come across so far. It was a rude awakening to how clueless we were.

The day had started with a news story about how roadside beggars in Mumbai, using ingenious methods were making more actual cash than, say, certain employed folks per day. Though it was sensationalized and glossed over the trials of the homeless, it was irksome to know I was making less per hour than the guy whose palm I'd dropped a buck into this morning.

On this day, my desk phone rang - a bright ex-batchmate. We'd all hung out together. We were all getting caught up in long hours and consequently keeping in touch less frequently than before.

Have cut out the preliminaries we chatted about - largely about a new cocktail he'd mixed which I simply had to taste and his coolest new pair of shoes.

College Batchmate (CB) : "So hey, am thinking of quitting..."

Me : "And go where? You're in such a fabulous job already"

CB : "Actually, I'm planning to join ##TV."

Me : "Really? Do they have much going on for Finance grads like you?"

CB: "Are you kidding me??"

CB (lowering his voice) : "That's what I wondered at first too. But this is the most amazing thing I've discovered."

Me (mystified and because it's catching, whispering): "What?? Go on"

CB : "This group, has something called a media sales team."

Me (finally in a position to display some competitive superiority) : "Yeah, I know all about that. We get them all the time, nearly half a dozen channels all day. But aren’t those marketing/ sales folks? Are you Switching Fields??"

Though I tried not to, my tone implied this was a sin that ranked higher than Moses' top 10. I was slightly prissy about such things*.

* Back then.

CB : No, no. They sell media spots…

Me (interrupting**): "Hey trust me. I could write a thesis on the subject. Have had the benefit of being involved in media planning for nearly five clients at the mo. We've had the top few agencies here - I know how it all works with them."

** I do that a lot. Sometimes when you call, I'll carry on the whole conversation myself if you're not careful.

CB : "Cool. So you know about the commission, right?"

Me (even more mystified) : "Commission?"

CB : "Yeah, the media sales guys get commission.."

Me : "Wait, but the real work's all done by the media planners."

CB : "Really? But listen to this. At ## TV, you get the commission on whatever deals you freeze with media planners."

I felt I'd been sucker punched in the small of my tum and lost my breath, momentarily.

Me : "But these plans are worth crores for a year. Spends on one channel run in to lakhs for just one account!"

CB : "Exactly!"

I was about to throw up at this point, I felt so sick.


How come I didn't know this? I would have taken up working in Finance for a TV channel. Was this true? Or an urban legend, a myth sent out to lure bright stars like my friend here? Why couldn’t college equip us for this kind of knowledge?

CB : "Which is why am mostly taking this up - just waiting for another place's offer before I decide."

Me : "That is so good! Congrats!"

And I meant it. It's an instant mood lifter to hear of something good in anyone's life. It's our way of assuring ourselves that good things happen to good people. Maybe that's why the Chicken soup series are so popular. I may be wrong though, I haven't read any myself.

The day moved along in a slow crawl. I got this uneasy feeling I was working in the kind of place from which you could check out but never leave, when my cousin called.

Have cut out the preliminaries we chatted about - largely about designer unmentionables she'd splurged on and her coolest new pair of shoes.

Cuz : "So hey girl, come over, spend the weekend at my place."

Her place was this sprawling company acco in Breach Candy - always a pleasure.

Me : "Tempting! Let’s try catch the late night show too. And a much lighter dinner this time."

Post window shopping, we tended to eat out like we'd been starving all week.

Cuz : "I've just had the heaviest lunch ever at Lings, so don't worry about that. I'm still so full."

Me : "How come? Celebrating something?"


Cuz : "For an ex colleague - do you remember him? From my housewarming? He'd called us to celebrate his new job."

Me : "Nice. Everyone seems to be job hopping these days".

Cuz : "Yes...and he's moving to his penthouse soon. Can't wait for the parties there!"

Me : "Really? Penthouse? What kind of job gets you one?" 


Cuz : "Well, he's an investment banker, y'know. Packages are hitting the roof for them - given what's happening."

She meant economically.


I couldn’t quite picture the man I’d met as a successful investment banker. I mean, he was not THAT much different from me. To me***, investment bankers ranked somewhere up there with fighter plane pilots. The Tom Cruise in Top Gun kind.

*** Back then. I cannot emphasize this enough.


Me : "I've always wanted to know this, just how do companies afford investment bankers' salaries?"

Cuz : "Didn't you know? They get paid on every merger/ acquisition they work on."

Me (still not getting it) : "Sure, but why is it in crores? I mean, how come it's so stark a difference?"

Cuz : "It is a very high profile line of work and extremely high anxiety too, burn out rates are really high, a lot of them need counselling. I have a friend who apparently used to talk in his sleep, he was that stressed - but the incentive is, they get a percentage on the total amount of the deal for the acquisition."

Cuz : "Helloo…? You there?"

I was experiencing nausea once again.

Maybe this is fancy - but I swear I'd have studied harder had I known it was possible to earn in crores working a job! I could've conned my way somehow through one such deal and then joined something a little less stressful.

It made me think of what I could've or would've been if only I’d known better, or to be more honest, if I’d had the guts.

Or taken more interest. Or, to be fair, had the opportunity. Thank you, Malcolm Gladwell.

I seemed to have spent that entire week talking to people who were earning a comfortable living doing what they enjoyed and who were probably laughed down in their time for doing it. But this very same fact made worklife tolerable.

Sitting in my cramped space, I allowed myself a two-minute daydream of visualizing something wondrous I could've been doing work wise, if only I'd thought of it then.

I could see it all - with a backdrop of fruit laden green trees, fresh air, azure water, crisp blue sky, chirping birds and happy sunlight. Utopia for the employed.


To pen it all down, here's my list, which seems to grow longer each time I look at it.

If I hear you laugh, we're through.

An Indian classical dancer

An archaeologist

An anthropologist

A singer (you never know)

An Indian classical musician (you really never know)

An artist

Writer

Teacher (Preferably kindergarten or primary school)

College lecturer

A manager of museums (I don't know where that's coming from)

A book store owner


Gym aerobics instructor (where you get paid to conduct aerobics and end up with a fantastically toned body yourself on account of all that exercise)

Conservationist

A photographer (Ideally, following a conservationist)

At an embassy (Everyone says the perks are great)


Travelling show host (Or heck, more realistically, the camera asst., or equipment incharge or bag carrier or anything that gets me to go with them.)

The job of the desk guy overlooking boat trips at a holiday resort on Lake Vembanad in Kerala. (Am serious. You should see the view he's got.)

Exotic holiday home manager (In the wilderness, or any beautiful locale like Goa).

Wait. Any job in Goa.


Okay, this was fun.

Do you have a list?


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

If Men are from Mars

I liked the Patel brothers.

Quite apart from their ripping, unholy ambition to take on the mammoth market leader, and new launches almost at the speed of light as compared to Indian marketing standard time, they had well balanced family lives, or so I liked to believe.

Juggling four cell phones between the two of them, or at least the four that I'd seen, one cell phone each was allocated only for calls from wives and close family. This was more of a guess than a certainty, as of late, any meeting that crossed 8:30 p.m. had their phones ringing almost in unison. These were well buried within their jacket pockets and fished out to be spoken into staccato in rapid fire Gujarati. Though that's not a language I speak, it was clear from their uniquely docile tones that they were responding to timely wifely reminders to leave our office as soon as possible.

This was extremely welcome, as our meetings with them usually went on from about 4 p.m. to half past eleven at night.

Have I already griped that our office had no policy where I could charge a cab ride home from our middle of nowhere location even at this late hour, to LL's overflowing coffers? Lately, I'd been asking around for pepper spray.

On this day, the calls were repeated every 2 minutes and a quarter of an hour later, it was clear why. Their better halves were actually waiting under the building this time and decided to come upstairs to see for themselves our den of vice that held the Patel bros' collective interests.

I was mildly surprised. Whereas the good natured and nattily attired Patel brothers had the sheen of overconfidence and power that comes from a long lineage of a well-stocked family treasury, they would never find themselves on the uppermost end of any list drawn up of the best lookers in business.

Their wives however, were stunningly beautiful, perfectly proportioned, elegantly attired, with lovely and charming personalities, minus pretension. With such a wife, any man would think himself a Greek God.

Trying to self analyse* why I was surprised, it could be because I'd seen too many bored, beautiful women living in comfortable marital (dis)harmony with their fat and balding obsessively rich industrialist husbands.

*A purely academic side hobby.

Am not by default implying that looks are important to make a relationship work. It's about the eye of the beholder, I do believe that. I mean the couples where there's no respect for each other once they're home, or complete disinterest except in living upto the t & c of the virtual contract. Upsetting. Just like yours, my vote goes out to those who marry because they're in love. With the person they're getting married to, ofcourse. The alternative is simply sordid.

Over the weekend, this set off a chain of thought along the usual depressing lines. When was I going to meet The One?

I know what it's all about, ofcourse. The euphoric rush, besotted, sleepless nights, countless imaginary meetings/ conversations.

So what if my most long term, committed relationship has been with the Snickers bar?

When couples talk about falling more in love over time, I know what that means too. I felt the same way when Snickers Dark was launched.

These couples explain it’s about experiencing new delights and consequently even more respect for your partner. I feel the same for the folks at Snickers. Despite a guaranteed winner on their hands with the original, they still made Snickers Dark! What do you call that?

They know how to woo. And they have me.

You say tall, dark and handsome? Have you seen a Snickers bar lately? The description fits.

If men are from Mars, so are Snickers.

Okay so am on a sugar rush right now. I have been bingeing on you can guess what. So they probably have addictives. Big deal. I don't smoke, my last drink was over 5 months ago and that's usually the case each time you ask me. Leave me my Snickers. Sure I'll give them up when I find my human, male substitute.

Am familiar with the flip side of the coin too. A tough break-up can get you addicted to endless reruns of Under the Tuscan Sun, One Fine Day and Something's Gotta Give. Who wouldn't want to buy a charming, crumbling villa, befriend and feed grateful Polish workers, assist in their love life, hang out with Italians and end by meeting someone (non Polish) who likes the way you write? All this in Tuscany mind you.

Next day, however, brought my mind firmly down to earth and perhaps, lower. I was back at Marrkit after all.

The office saw minor excitement of the sordid kind as it was discovered that the Accounts guy who came in thrice a week from our outsourced tax expert's office, had spent a lot of his time researching delectable internet porn instead of deductible expenses.

Normally this bit of scandal would have been swept under our imitation oriental carpets, but since he had been surfing the internet from Mrs. LL's office and her very own PC in her absence, she was quite vocal in her denouncement of the accounts chap lest anyone think she was the one using her computer this way.

Outraged and on the warpath, she took it upon herself to root out hitherto unsuspected immorality amongst the lesser staff.

She triumphed while reviewing the monthly fax expenses which had hit the roof. Coupled with constant complaints from clients that they could never reach our fax line, she pounced upon the Head office boy one evening glued to the fax line phone, having spent many happy after hours connected to a phone sex line. This was even bigger scandal.

Which hardly came as a surprise to us.

My colleagues and I were quite sure that this particular head office boy who ruled the office floor and particularly the stationery supplies like the local representative of the mafia, was an established member of the underworld for some time now.

All Marrkitians had to fill out a form in triplicate to issue a five rupee ballpoint. The boy would then bring the requested stationery, with enough delay to boost his self importance and only after having surreptitiously inspected our workstation drawers lest we were indulging in some lucrative ball pen smuggling. Sure. He also controlled rationing of the tea and coffee supplies. Okay, am not sure what all this has to do with the point I was making, but it goes to show our bias. See, I can be fair.

We were not surprised when he was not sacked, as this office boy also doubled as LL's houseboy and presumably knew too much. The only downside from his point of view was that he had to from now on, show up in uniform and that too, clean shaven. We celebrated this miracle.

On this day, with Greeks and Italians very much in mind, a very creditable Indian version walked right into the office. I forget what he was there for, but knowing the laws of Murphy - as they applied to my world in particular - I knew he had to be engaged or married even before I noticed his diamond studded gold ring. All seemingly eligible guys are usually out of circulation. The Gujarati ones, far earlier.

I said as much to my colleague who couldn't take her eyes off his fair Kutchi face.

"I didn't know Murphy wrote about guys and stuff?" she said.

"Okay I don’t know if he ever actually said that, but you know what I mean".

I decided to test my theory, just in the interests of getting her expression back to normal. The guy seriously didn't need any more of an ego boost. Like those extremely good looking guys who know they're something special, he had that look on his face. He was so sure we fancied him. Annoying.

"So, congratulations", I smiled at him, "When was D-day?"

"Oh, last month. Just gotten back from our trip to Europe".

"Cool. We were just talking about how parents should support cross-cultural marriages. If you don't mind telling us, was it love or** arranged?"***

**Note to readers: Please don't send me impassioned mails saying the two don't have to be mutually exclusive. I agree they don't. Not always.

***Note to global readers: In India, this is a valid question. If you still don't know about the Great Indian Arranged Marriage, get back under your rock in Mars. Okay, that was mean. You may write in and I'll send you a list of movies you could watch to be clear about the concept.

"No, no. It was love at first sight", he grinned.

"Hey that’s so romantic. Did your parents take it well?"

"Ofcourse, they had no problem".

"That's really great". I meant that genuinely. I'd have to get back to my mom and tell her that Gujarati parents were also equally as progressive.

"That's so nice, your kids would learn at least two Indian languages and absorb both cultures" I gushed. Indians are bilingual at the very least. We know a native language or two and English, a fact noticed particularly by China while analysing why Indians who landed upon foreign shores in equal hordes had an edge over them. The next generation would be a super generation, linguistically. Learning two or more native languages and English to boot.

"So you would teach your kids Kutchi. What language would they learn from her? Just calculating how many languages an average Indian kid would know", I explained while imagining his future tots prattling in 4-5 tongues.

He looked at me as if I were a dunce.

"She's Kutchi, ofcourse!"

Now I looked at him as if I were a dunce.

"Ofcourse?" I had to ask, confused.

Perhaps this was a twist of fate. What were the odds? I thought of my Parsi friend who wanted to marry a Gujarati guy and had to go through major drama including excommunication. She could've used such luck.

"Well, I would always follow my parents' wishes" he replied, still looking at me like I was a lot dumber than he'd first estimated.

This guy was beginning to bug me.

"I just mean it’s lucky that she turned out to be Kutchi. What if you had fallen in love with…a Catholic, or Parsi or an American? Would your parents still be cool?" I went on purely because we seemed to be talking at cross purposes.

"Oh no, I'd never do that!" he said, genuinely horrified. "I knew she was Kutchi before I fell in love with her!"

Sure my job's hazardous. I owe some of my greys to this conversation.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Pursuit of Bollyness-II : Wagging the Dog

Continued from P of B Part-I…

For the next couple of weeks things got so hectic that there was no time to worry about the promise made to Mr. Prakash and the next meeting due.

A scene I was beginning to picture increasingly with graphic images of dangling Damocles' swords and me as the hapless Damocles. Uneasy, however, did not seem to lie our modern day Dionysius' head. At least, to all outward appearance.

I tried calling Karan Sabjan for his opinion on whether the Big M would be interested. Sabjan thanked me for adding years to his life by giving him his best laugh of the month.

This was one situation where I had nothing further to contribute. Either one knew how to get to Amibath Machchan or didn’t. I didn’t.

Feeling a bit like Pandora, with thoughts leaning increasingly towards aftermaths of usual Greek tragedies, I decided to broach the subject with LL.

As the days went by, this was not easy though. Surely he wasn't avoiding me?

With the next meeting just a couple of days away, I redoubled my efforts to corner LL and ask him for strategic guidance*.

*This is polite subordinate to boss management-speak for: Hey, you got us into this mess, and this time, you've gotta get us out.

"Get me Prakash", said LL.

Having got him on phone, LL proceeded to tell him how his father had an urgent though minor surgical procedure due on the very same morning of the next meeting scheduled and could we reschedule it? Mr. P was fortunately off to Denmark and so the next meeting was fixed up to be a whole two and a half weeks away.

Admiring this adroit manoeuvre; I admit it freely, would have never thought of it - we heaved collective sighs of relief, but I felt the figurative dangling thread fray a bit, and the sword inch closer.

But LL had thought of something.

There were only two possible approaches as advised by LL's role model Confucius:
One - Man who run in front of car get tired.
Conversely, also known as - Man who run behind car get exhausted.
Two - He who will not economize will agonize.

Next meeting, Mr. Prakash walked in fully expecting to see Machchan ensconced in our humble office abode. In his best suit and tie too. Mr. P, I mean.

LL informed him that we had contacted the Big M and that he had quoted an astronomical rate similar to his Badur contract.

I adjusted my expression accordingly so as to try look like we were the sort of people who had Machchan on call.

Knowing fully well Mr. Prakash would have never been able to loosen his purse strings to this extent, LL then commenced upon a severe campaign against using celebrities in advertising. Having embarked upon the celebrity route once, you are stuck with them forever. You've got to continue using a well known face else all will be lost. The fickle customer would move on. The astronomical fees you pay would have to be permanently budgeted for.

In short, hiring a celebrity for advertising would be like riding a tiger. You couldn't ever get off.

And what if the celebrity you've chosen lost popularity suddenly? Made a racist slur or in a drunken haze drive over a number of innocent people on the footpath. It would rub off negatively on your brand. A dreadful fate indeed.

Having made this convincing argument, LL decided to hammer the final nail in the coffin.

Amibath Machchan, while shooting in a rural, drought prone area for his next film, had insisted on a truckload of mineral water bottles. No, not for distributing amongst the thirsty populace as you may be excused for imagining. The popular brand of bottled water was used by him - wait for it - to bathe.

As LL would have it, this generated a lot of controversy and criticism for the Big M. In reality, it was soon forgotten.

This same region incidentally was an important one for Mr. Prakash's brands, generating a substantial amount of sales. As LL drew an eloquent picture as to what would have happened had we paid so many millions for the Big M; Mr. Prakash's disillusionment was complete.

Having reacted true to type, he now thanked us fervently as we had been personally responsible for saving him from a fate worse than death.

It took him only another ten more minutes to decide that he had actually arrived at this conclusion himself and claim that he had already planned to decline the offer for Machchan's endorsement should he have been ready and willing.

It is just as well the Big M would never know how far he fell from grace in our conference room in that one hour.

To soften the overall blow, LL suggested several second and third level Bollywood stars but Mr. Prakash was now a staunch convert to our cause. He happily agreed to endorsement from a humbler actor, known for playing character-led roles, suggested by Karan Sabjan.

Thus concluded another successful chapter of a highly strategic, skilfully played zero sum game.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mafia Marketing


For weeks now, we had been noticing a simmering of excitement in LL's demeanour.

He would spend hours closeted in his cabin with his EA, who would then stumble out unsteadily, with sheaves of papers spilling out of her file.

Post such a tete-a-tete, we would often see her stagger back into our workstation* with a disoriented air, blinking a little. A bit like a convict let out into the free world after long incarceration. Then spend the rest of her time feverishly typing at her top speed.

* For those who've chanced upon this only now, scroll through the archives for a description of the Workstation in the introductory paragraphs of 'The Day of the Call - I'

I didn't ask her what it was all about as she'd been working beyond her usual 5 p.m. deadline and was consequently frazzled and tight-lipped.

I didn’t mind. It was so good to have some human company in the evening hours besides the hunk of machinery that crowded in from every angle.

I knew LL would tell us himself. All in good time. Ever paranoid about leaked secrets, it was usual for him to act like we were the headquarters of the NSA**. Or that there were hostile agents out to get his cherished trade secrets. This delusion was so much part of his personality that we learned to work with it.

** Oh c'mon! You've read Dan Brown, haven't you?

Besides we'd already guessed. His desktop was littered with mountainous piles of books on branding and marketing by authors both Indian and international.

On this day, he called me in to be witness to a contract for his first literary effort. The success of the Ries' recently launched book on 22 laws had cut him to the quick. Not to be left far behind, he'd decided to pen his own, for Indian markets. He was fulfilling yet another desire to be famous, this time as an author.

Over the next few weeks, any activity that wasn't linked to his book's launch was put on the back burner.

We sent out mailers on priority basis to every unfortunate who'd ever had reason to mail us in the past. No one was spared - this included job applicants to our organisation, cumulatively numbering in their hundreds.

The uncharitable would've called it spam, which we did try explaining but he chose to be conveniently obtuse and said that he didn't understand all these new age words.

Still marvelling at LL's clever and precautionary brainwave of inviting a whole regional sales team to the book launch event ensuring that the venue would appear to be bursting at the seams by his eager fans, we also prepared to attend it ourselves.

After LL grudgingly agreed to contribute cab fare for our 'voluntary' visit to his event, we all closed the office down early, for the first time in the history of Marrkit.

LL had also the foresight to order us to buy one copy each of his book that same evening from the store.

Needless to say, the launch event was deemed a success by the store manager who was bedazzled by the record sales of the book that same evening.

But LL couldn’t relax just yet.

Like an anxious new mother, he would daily scan the 'Bestseller' lists published by a variety of newspapers.

Finally, his book entered second from last - that too in a local rag.

This was unthinkable. Clearly the world would have to be made to sit up and take notice.

The lists were based on sales of books in categories of fiction and non-fiction compiled weekly book-shop wise, which the newspaper then printed as gospel. Having ascertained this fact from the newspaper's editor, LL set his well thought out master plan into motion.

It remains the most perfect campaign I've ever seen. With a hundred percent success rate.

Directed personally by LL, with great finesse and precision.

To digress a bit, altruist that I am, here are pointers for those authors who aspire to bestseller glory:

  • Call up certain friendly college principals and tell them about how the book has taken everyone by storm.
  • Corleone style, make them an offer they can't refuse. Suggest that you would, as a friendly gesture, like to donate your book to the college library.
  • Further suggest that one book would not do for so many b-school students. You'd like to donate one for each student, but please don't tell them that as you would like to keep your act of generosity anonymous.
  • Send out an office employee, your very own trusted Sonny, to various bookstores in each suburb that happen to stock your book to place orders for it. Payments to be made only in cash, lest anyone suspect that the buyer is linked with you in any capacity.
  • Give your gang of employees the mandate to buy your book, minimum 12 copies each over the weekend, again - payments to be made only in cash without revealing names or whom they really work for. Later, reimburse the amount to each employee. Extra books thus amassed at the office can be gifted complimentary to your clients or anyone who happens to wander in at your workplace.
  • Ring up the remaining institute directors and drop into the conversation that so-and-so college has ordered 40 copies of your book for their marketing students and how they are simply cutting-edge when it comes to providing every sort of facility to their students.
  • Tell anyone else who happens to ask that you don't believe in the 'Bestseller' lists and that's not important to you at all. After all, who ever understood the TRP racket? This is much the same. What matters to you is that only one, just one person find your book useful. That is all that would make you feel completely fulfilled. Really.
  • Dial store managers of leading book shops and tell them how successful your book launch event at the other store was. Suggest that you are booked up for various other such launches but you can make time for their store if need be. Do this for all other metro cities too and plan your travel accordingly.
  • Never let anyone outside the Family, know any of this.
Follow this and success is guaranteed. If you are a marketing person***, all this should come easily to you.

*** See 'Glossary' section for definition of a marketing person.

Thank you in advance and the least you could do to express your gratitude is send me a complimentary copy of your book.

And well, some day, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me.

Nothing personal, strictly business.

Oh and before I forget, for those wondering about the fate of LL's first book, by next fortnight it had blazed its way right to the top, no less than Number 1 on the bestseller lists of the two leading newspapers.


Heil LL!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Just a Random Day at Work



Venue
: Client's office, one fine day.

As always, do bear with the poor quality of sketch.


The options presented did stump me at first glance. But you can guess which door I chose.


And hey, if you can draw better than this with a mouse, please feel free to volunteer your services for the future. Versus my previous image, hope you've noticed that I've graduated from using boxes to depict bodies to curved shapes. And no, am not missing half a limb. I just can't draw hands yet.

(Click on the image to see it clearly... only if you want to.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Answering Queries from Willing Victims - II

Have stuck to adverbatim questions so readers can recognize their own. 


Q: Why do you keep leaving 'notes for global readers'?


Me: Hey, c'mon mate, allow me the dream. Besides, I really do have global readers (I hope).



Q: How do I leave a comment anonymously?



Me: Click on the option that says 'Anonymous' in the comment section. If you're not a complete stranger, do leave me a clue that it's you as it's a bit creepy not knowing who it is.


Q: I hate your blog. Is my name in it? I'm going to send you a legal notice.


Me: No, it isn't. No one knows it's you. No one even knows it's me, really. No one cares. So tell your lawyer to take the day off.


Q: I want to leave a comment about how bad it is, but I know you'll delete my comment.


Me: You again? Go ahead, do your worst. No, I won't delete your comments. I can take the bad with the good, buddy.


Q: On second thoughts, writing on your blog would give it importance it doesn't deserve. I wouldn't want to even acknowledge it or demean myself by writing on it.


Me: Sure.


Please note my level of self-deprecation - I've truly included all reader feedback sans editing.


Note to self: The fact that I find it necessary to point this out means that LL has rubbed off on me a bit. 


I have understandably hit writer's block after this critique. So, do bear with me while I recover.