Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just a Random Day at Work

Venue : Boss's cabin, one fine day.

I know you'll excuse the overall poor sketch quality and the fact that I couldn't quite draw the bodies.

Yes, those figures represent people.

The ones without any visible hair are male.

(Click on the image to see it clearly)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Marrkit's Memorable Memos

If one studied the memos which did the rounds, one could quite easily imagine the events that led to it.

Each crisis faced was thus chronicled by an appropriately worded memo. New administrative rules were created at the drop of a hat. No matter how absurd.

The current memo in circulation often indicated an accurate reading of the administrative woes of the company. Good practices of HR and Personnel Management were, however, realms that no one in this department had ever entered.

At other times, the memos reflected the diabolical cunning with which the small organisation (read LL & co) found new ways to frustrate us and take the joy out of living.

Office Memo no. 91

Dear Marrkitians,

We are happy to see that our new policy of introducing alternate Saturdays as a half-day off for the first time in the history of this company was welcomed by all.

However, we have noticed that some employees have taken undue advantage of our leave rules. (Author's note: One of the newcomers had had the temerity to club his compensatory leave with a Sunday)

Here are new amendments to the Marrkit Leave Rule Policy:-

1. If you have not taken an alternate Saturday off in the month, you are entitled to take a compensatory half-day leave on any other day of the week.
2. This compensatory leave can only be taken in the week following the Saturday you worked on. It expires thereafter.
3. It cannot be taken on any day preceding or succeeding a holiday, including Sundays. (Saturdays & Mondays, therefore, cannot be taken as a half day off)
4. Care should be taken, after permission from your respective group head, that your day of leave does not hinder regular flow of work. (Author's note: The clincher. This clause effectively meant that no one could take any compensatory leave… ever.)
5. More than two persons cannot take the compensatory leave on the same day. More than one person in the same group cannot take the compensatory leave on the same day.
6. Please submit your application letter for compensatory leave in triplicate, that is, one copy to LL, one to the EA and one to the respective group head.

Kindly adhere to these rules. This memo is available in the leave rule file for reference.



Office Memo no. 123

Dear Marrkitians,

Greetings for this festive season!

The Diwali bonus cheques will be given out on the day of Diwali at 8 a.m.

Kindly be present for the pooja and to receive the swami's blessings. The swami will be from Iskcon temple.



Office Memo no. 145

Dear Marrkitians,

Days on which Marrkit will observe a public holiday for this year:

   1. 1st January
   2. Republic Day - 26th January
   3. Independence Day - 15th August
   4. Diwali day

No other public or bank holiday will be recognized.



Office Memo no. 162

Dear Marrkitians,

The biscuits and snacks provided in the office pantry are for all to enjoy as a facility, however they are primarily provided to be served to clients.

Our office boys have reported that in the last month, the standard biscuit, tea and coffee stock has depleted far more quickly.

This is a gentle reminder that as per our new Marrkit Cost Cutting policy, we would like to hope that we can refrain from having to increase supplies for the next month. We appreciate your support.


Office Memo no. 179

Dear Marrkitians,

I will be going for my annual vacation to Switzerland from 15th April to 29th May.

Kindly note that no group heads are allowed to take leave during this time. I am confident that you will ensure that the office remains fully operational in every way.

During my absence, I will call at 9.00 a.m. (IST) to speak to the group heads, everyday.



Office Memo no. 185

Dear Marrkitians,

It has been brought to our notice that two employees left for lunch outside of the office premises for 25 minutes.

We expect you to be present in the office during your lunch in case of call, emergency or requirement for your clients.



Office Memo no. 204

Dear Marrkitians,

Your cars are parked at the parking space within building premises at your own risk.

We regret to state that in the event of any Marrkit office boy helping himself to your car keys and damaging your car, this organisation will not take responsibility for the same.



Office Memo no. 222

Dear Marrkitians,

It has been brought to our notice that some of you are not printing out all emails received at the company email id.

Kindly see to it that all emails received and sent are maintained as a printout.



Office Memo no. 244

To A. Joshi,

Still awaiting a printout of the complete company website for review.



Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Brief Digression - Friends & Hearts of Gold

Am sure you'll forgive the brief digression from work-related chronicles for a random break from frivolity.

Found myself thinking of what makes a heart of gold and had to put this down.

As we go through life, it gets rarer to meet people you form close friendships or even friendships with, irrespective of their gender.

It happens, but at a slower pace, as one's growing years of school, college and sometimes early work days usually chronicle the start of lasting friendships which can easily pick up over the years where you left them off - if at all.

What differentiates a good soul from the selfish? Or from those who go through life blissfully unaware of anyone but themselves and their own problems?

I have been fortunate to keep meeting lovely people at every stage of life, some of whom slowly mature into lasting friends.

What tends to stick in my memory are simple acts of kindnesses, which have been good markers for the best human beings one knows - the good souls you meet through life.

Just small, simple, acts of consideration.

Whether a pal from yesteryears who makes it fun on the dance floor without making you feel like a dweeb, even though you can't shake a leg to save your life.

Or those who sacrifice a Saturday evening to attend a boring documentary film screening, get there early and stay right to the end, because they sense you need the moral support of a friendly face around.

Includes you in a gathering of their intimate buddies for a fun evening, probably knowing you’d be doing nothing otherwise.

At midnight, fixed up an emergency consultation with a top specialist doc for your friend (whom he doesn't even know), for 8 a.m. next morning.

Or someone who planned and surprised you with tickets and a visit to a one-dayer, knowing you hate watching cricket but still wanted you to experience it, live.

Contacts you occasionally long distance, nationally or internationally, just to say hullo in case you're wallowing in a rare bout of self-pity or loneliness.

Calls you up for your professional opinion on an issue, knowing fully well that he doesn’t really need it but just wanted you to feel involved.

Or indulged in a leisurely bout of shopping and long conversations over coffee, knowing you enjoy her company as much as she does yours.

Or invites you to visit and stay over with their family, in a new city.

Or sends over a tasty snack or special dish for a meal when you're alone, knowing you'd have lost motivation to cook.

Or have dedicated their lives to a social cause leading to a manic lifestyle and hectic schedule but still find time to call and see if you're doing okay every once in a while.

Or drives over at midnight on Xmas eve just for a leisurely chat over coffee.

These are only a few examples but what they all have in common is that none of them would ever mention this ever again, or possibly even remember it.

Or feel that it was any kind of a big deal.

This is a tribute to the truest hearts of gold I know for real, throughout my life - am fortunate and thankful for them.

Friday, November 14, 2008

One of the boys

Have been described as one of the boys with such monotonous regularity from platonic guy friends (most of them - either happily married or happily separated and/or divorced) that I no longer automatically imagine a fast-forwarded Kafkaesque metamorphosis into a male version of myself. To picture this if you have nothing better to do, hark back to MJ’s Black or White video. Hey, judge the man(”?”), not his music.

But back as a newbie corpie, I would’ve been horrified to be described such.

Most of our clients were pushing 60 plus, which was good. Kept my mind on the job.

It was usually the least personable ones who chose to display certain annoying traits. Like the self-important EA to the MD of a mammoth group that probably contributed to a substantial percentage of India’s GDP with their taxes, who wanted to generate my horoscope to see compatibility with the company & presumably the managerial cadre. (Note to global readers: No further explanation on this follows, cause I haven’t understood how this was supposed to work either.) Ofcourse, I’d refused.

Or, the young marketing head of an FMCG competing with the brand leader, whose ambition was to reach no. 2 position versus them. Currently somewhere at no. 6, his part-time mission however, was to get home phone numbers of anything that crossed his path in a skirt.

Dealing with unwanted male attention in a world where you were the only one in the room with ovaries, became second nature. Strange and inventive tactics had to be adopted to deal with it which perhaps will catalogue some other time.

It often resulted in conversations like this:

Occasion no. 1: Last 10 minutes of training for reluctantly assembled sales reps

Me (in a mix of Hindi & English): Okay everyone, this was how to fill in the stock & sales summary every cycle. You already know how to analyse your daily sales numbers to get this information. And this wraps it up! (Pause) We have ten minutes for clarifications. (Long pause…) Any questions?

Sales reps (in a resounding chorus, with their murderous expressions being replaced by those of relief): No, SIR!!!

Rather than taking it as a slur, it amused.

Entering the training room often meant being thrust in a male dominated scenario with an audience that largely resembled a collection of our early ancestral primates across various stages of evolution, with the smells and scratching that went with it. And gold chains glinting from hairy chests visible through unbuttoned shirts.

Sorry if am grossing anyone out here. Am in a realist mood and feel like exploring or rather, exposing gritty underbellies of worklife. What’s that you ask? No, no. In most cases, the bellies were well confined. What I’m trying to say is, am in a gritty underbelly state of mind. Due apologies to Billy Joel.

Okay, let’s get a move on before this deteriorates further.

However, the first time I realized that I was viewed as ‘one of the boys’ in a professional context, was in completely different circumstances.

Occasion no. 2: A giant boardroom with a beautifully polished circular mammoth table, in a building tastefully and impeccably furnished, seated across from a team consisting of the VP, GMs & Brand managers of two SBUs of a multi-crore company whose brands are a household name here.

Watching their MDs at these meetings was extremely edifying. It was a privilege watching them make quick, incisive decisions. Cutting through the pfaff that was usually discussed for agonizing hours or even months by all of us.

In these meetings everyone would state their stances on various issues after which the MDs joined in and took the final call. This was standard procedure every month.

The half of the meeting that took place before the directors joined in was much more casual. Everyone relaxed in various comfortable poses in their chairs, legs stretched and one particular guy always took this opportunity to catch up on his nap. He had a trick of blending into the background somehow - all the while with an expression that looked like he was in deep, profound thought. I was convinced otherwise. The occasional gentle snore helped me arrive at that conclusion.

Once in two weeks, the ad agencies joined in. This was one of those weeks.

We’d already had an excruciating 3 hour long discussion. The tray of biscuits had nothing left on it but a few crumbs. And this was before it even reached my end of the table. Well, the room had 10 men full of hearty appetites. The office boy, fed up of serving and teas and coffees, substituted with glasses of water instead.

The room appeared animated briefly once he refilled the tray of biscuits. The sleeper opened one eye and grabbed 3 at the same time. I was deeply offended at this lack of consideration.

The Britannia Bourbon ones disappeared at record speed about 6 people down the row from me.

The Parle Gs were last to go, under duress.

Clearly, no one felt in need of any glucose supplementation. Empty tray at my end yet again.

Why was I even noticing this? It was to keep from throwing myself out the window on yet another endless repetition of all the pros and cons being discussed ad nauseum.

Their ACs worked super efficiently, and the temperature was Siberian. I couldn’t get more uncomfortable.

Suddenly, the door behind me opened with a decisive swing, which could only be the director.

What caught my eye was the sudden, amazing transformation. It was like watching a Domino effect.

The veep right across from me sat up straight, one hand automatically flying to his tie. His partner, did the same. Sleepy guy suddenly looked wide awake and alert and uncurled his spine. It was wonderful to watch. Buttons got buttoned and biscuit crumbs got brushed away. All in a few discreet split seconds.

LL who’d sneaked a look over my shoulder, looked a little red and was similarly fingering his tie and straightening his files. This was odd. He was usually unintimidated and unfazed by the directors.

The new entrant walked into my line of vision.

She was the stunning, new creative director (CD) from the agency, taking over to present a few concepts.

No wonder the wilted team now looked its smart and shiny best. It was just like a shot from one of those David Attenborough nature shows where mushrooms grew in fast-forward or petals unfolded at high speed. Like watching a stadium crowd wave.

This was human stimulus-response at its best.

Yep, I was clearly - one of the guys.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


It was one of those days again.

Had reached office at 8 a.m. and a whole 12 and a half hours later, was still there.

Did I mention that we were understaffed and overburdened? Or that we could have held a record for the highest attrition? Lately, I'd forgotten what sunlight looked like.

Since it had always been my burning ambition since childhood to be 'independent', I was happy to be working in an office, earning my own income, rubbing shoulders with - well, not exactly the 'who's who' of the advertising and marketing world, but quite close.

Plus, the terrible impression I had of those who worked in "business" was slowly changing. Some of the people who did this were actually human. Not heartless, cut-throat, ready to sell their own grandmother.

'Some' is the key word here, of course.

LL was a brilliant orator and he was quite different while interacting with our clients. He was charming, affable and humorous. He bent a sensitive ear to our clients' woes when required and when a client wasn't quite convinced, he was passionate and forceful in making his point.

Witnessing this for the first time, I was amazed at the transformation. I counted myself amongst his many admirers, for his intelligence and genuinely successful marketing tactics. And I was still proud to be amongst the chosen few recruited by him. (Notice the subtle self-flattery).

Thinking back, this must have been the quality that Adolf H. aroused whenever he spoke publicly. I'd read somewhere that without quite being able to recall any particular sentence of his speech, budding or fellow Nazis were willing to follow his ideology blindly, once at the receiving end of his magnetic oratory.

I was similarly still overawed by LL and admired the fact that he had set up a whole organisation like this, which ran on professional lines.

Ofcourse, I had many misconceptions as will become clear over time.

This was one of the days everyone at work had witnessed him being unnecessarily nasty with a newly recruited sweet, timid girl who had made a simple error in a communiqué to the client. His sarcastic comments yelled at the top of his voice reduced her to tears. We also watched him spectacularly lose his temper with another guy who'd dared send a press-release write-up to the client without LL's having seen it first. What upset him primarily was that his own quote was not included in the press release. LL did not like losing any opportunity of being quoted in media and ranked any journalist's call as the highest priority.

I was sure he'd have a couple of resignations on his table by tomorrow morning. And we’d continue losing people almost as fast as we hired them.

All us Marrkitians* soon understood that LL was rabid about getting credit for his contributions no matter how negligible. We were so used to him taking credit publicly, even for our team's ideas that we never thought about why he couldn't share the credit a bit. Or use "we" instead of "I" while talking of a successful launch or repositioning.

*Refer to 'Glossary of Marrkit's Marketing Terms/ Office Jargon' section for meanings

Still trying to come to terms with what colossal ego could get a kick out of picking on youngsters like that, I was revising my earlier impressions of him - largely got from his media personality. Oh yes, he was very often to be seen on the business news channels and widely quoted in marketing articles.

Did I mention already that we all had many misconceptions?

One of his favourite quotes recently was that the fifth 'P' - 'People' are most important in an organisation and must be treated well. Well, he didn't seem to be acting on it himself, did he? I did reflect on how he had never taken such liberties with some of us who were still loyal. I would never have stood for this sort of treatment. I'd made errors in judgement too, but followed that adage of never repeating a mistake again, which was getting me 'good' to 'excellent' performance ratings every quarter. (I'm sure you'll allow the continuing self-flattery here)

He also chose to mentor me, as this was my first job. This meant I was exposed to long, lengthy reminisces from him of his first job and subsequent ones. By now I knew his life history by heart. He was highly experienced in the corporate way of life, and passed on lots of useful tips on handling various situations, clients, people. I appreciated this interest and this was one of the reasons he fostered loyalty.

Over tea (for him), coffee (for me) and soggy biscuits in his office, he would narrate many interesting anecdotes from his early working days. I found these fascinating - each episode ended with him achieving fantastic targets, or reaching glorious new levels of sales for the companies in question, or devising a brilliant marketing strategy in the nick of time to save the brand from ruin by the new, deadly competitor. Or reaching hitherto unaccessed markets in remote locations and placing the product there.

I was enchanted and saw him as the gladiator of the sales and marketing world, who had now retired into consulting for lesser mortals.

Or perhaps it would be more correct to say - he saw himself that way.

I was beginning though, to feel uncomfortable about the fact that I was tending to take the easy way out. By simply doing everything his way - compromising on what anyone else thought was best for the situation, including my own judgement. To use a trivial example, in any press release we penned on the client's behalf, I would automatically include a discerning quote from LL, which he sometimes found good enough to not improve on at times. One clearly needed to develop a very thick skin to be working with him. Was I getting one? Telling myself that I had to earn a living and that he was basically honest and ethical as far as I could see, I decided that we had no right to question any of his tactics. After all, we were earning a living thanks to him, and it was his company. Things could be worse.

All in all, the day was one of those which whizzed by with unimaginable speed, ate up my lunch break, and included uncomfortable thoughts crowding in, about my employer.

I badly needed to cheer up, get home, relax, watch some Frasier.

And an 'approval' from LL on another strategic note drawn up and his signature on it. Knowing that once I got this, I was a free bird for the day, nay, for the evening, I barged into his cabin.

I knew he was getting an update from another Sales head (let's call him Mr. Milkah) on what was going on in his territory. Mr. Milkah had a naturally lugubrious countenance and I wondered why the atmosphere seemed funereal.

This was not one of my clients, however, so I barely listened to what was going on.

LL didn't mind that I'd intruded. He knew that this note had to be sent right away. While nodding at Mr. Milkah across from him, he casually skimmed through my file.

"And our team is doing a really good job. We have expanded in many new territories already. A lot of first-time orders", said Mr. Milkah, looking mournful.

"Good, good..", said LL absentmindedly. His Cheshire cat grin was in place like a fixture. Depending on his mood, it could make him look menacing or happy.

"And we have even converted some outlets completely. They have stopped keeping our competitor's product".

"That's great news. Congratulations..", chuckled LL, still not looking up.

Mr. Milkah didn't mind. He was on a roll.

"All thanks to you Mr. LL", he said dolefully, giving credit where it was due.

Now I started to pay attention. I badly needed to hear something good, something that would affirm that I was working for a marketing whiz and that all this daily drama with emotionally battered colleagues, was worth it.

I looked over at Mr. Milkah. He finally smiled and so did I. LL very flatteringly introduced me as one of his brightest and best and spoke of how my clients had increased their business with us since I'd taken charge. Flattered, I promptly forgave him his past sins.

Yep, back in those days, it was usually that easy with me. And well, timely bonuses and pay hikes also helped.

Mr. Milkah decided to impress me, though his words again seemed at variance with his demeanour.

"You know", he added, "Thanks to LL, our business has increased and my area's sales have gone up so much that our Directors are really happy."

"That's wonderful", I responded. "But I'm not surprised. That's what we usually deliver for all our clients".

"And that amazing idea he gave us, was so good..", Mr. Milkah continued, looking even more depressed. I wondered if something was wrong, despite the breaking news of record sales he seemed to be reporting.

LL pointed out a minor rephrasing to me in the document. I peeked over while nodding at Mr. Milkah, now paying attention to what LL was trying to whisper.

Mr. Milkah continued his woeful rave, "The team was so reluctant at first, but I explained it to them like LL had to me. We arranged a bus ride for them and called them all for a training…"

I listened with half an ear trying to simultaneously fix my expression such that either party would feel I was paying them attention.

"…I had to give them all, what is it called? My English is not so good. I am so bad at all these terms. Ah yes, mouth-to-mouth. I personally gave them. Each and every one.."

My attention snapped back. My God! He was describing a catastrophe. Hadn't I read something about it in today's papers? A bus load of tourists got stuck in a landslide? Surely that wasn't Mr. Milkah's sales team? And that too, headed for a training that Marrkit was indirectly responsible for!

LL too was looking over his glasses at Mr. Milkah. He looked over and noticed my expression. And went back to reading the file. Thick-skinned indeed.

Unable to believe that even LL could be so completely heartless to this tale of mayhem and horror, I stared with shock at Mr. Milkah.

"Oh my God, how are they now?", I asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.

Mr. Milkah too, apart from his general expression of woe, seemed to be maintaining his composure quite well. He frowned at my question.


"The sales team!"

"They are fine, thank you".

"Glad to hear it", was all I could say, still in some shock. I imagined them all in a row of beds, in some hospital, recovering from the accident and showing up for work swathed in bandages.

LL finally looked up. "Mr. Milkah, Mr. Milkah...", he chortled. By now I was feeling sick that he could giggle at such news.

"Mr. Milkah….", LL said, wagging a finger at him, "It's called 'Word of Mouth'. Not Mouth to Mouth. Hahaha! It's word-of-mouth marketing - THAT's what it's called!"

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Point is Missing

In the course of acclimatization to the new work-world, which seemed to have till now few opportunities of applying what we had slogged over in b-school, I sometimes felt that my new work life was full of plain good old troubleshooting.

At this stage, I was assigned clients for Account Planning/ Client Servicing, which is the function I was handling within my firm. A lot of it involved receiving and making telephone calls to clients, and ancillary organizations like ad agencies, outdoor media specialists, media agencies, direct marketing companies, PR firms and Event management companies.

Most calls were mundane; fairly routine in nature. However some ended up being a little unusual. Far from the hallowed semi-intellectual, insightful discussions I'd imagined myself participating in.

Particularly so when they were in full hearing of my by now inevitable audience. The same pair who witnessed my embarrassing personal call a few days ago, had walked into LL's cabin where I had to take the call as per our ever helpful Executive Assistant's suggestion. This maneuver was necessary as our workstation was so noisy that it easily sounded like peak lunch hour at an Udipi restaurant.

On this day, Mr. Sen, the General Manager-Marketing, of one of the largest industrial houses of India dealing in commodities had called up. India, still largely 70:30 urban-rural, this was one of my largest-sized clients in terms of revenue.

Mr. Sen was a somewhat elderly gentleman, and spoke with a lisp, in a pronounced Assamese accent, which took some getting used to. Every conversation with him usually left me with a surreal feeling, and this time was no different as I was still rusty at interpreting his accent. I liked him though, as he was always polite and spoke with respect, which was a distinct pleasure in the new circles I found myself moving in, primarily consisting of disgruntled and tough as nails sales managers.

“Ah shit… ", he drawled, "thank you for sending the meeting report on time." No, he wasn't being profane. That's how he pronounced my name, Ashita.

He continued, "However, as I went through it, I realized that the whole point is missing.

Now, the last meeting was pretty much as per the agenda framed earlier and to my mind had gone well, with each point being discussed, debated upon and a consensus reached quite satisfactorily.

Consequently, getting this feedback from the client really shocked me. He was questioning the way I had planned it all.

"The whole point's missing?” I blankly repeated. This was a person who usually never had a negative word, or always phrased things diplomatically. Plus, this was an account where I was involved right from the pitch stage and had the joy of having them sign up with us. I had left no stone unturned and had created new standards of servicing for them. Each interaction was a new discovery into the world of commerce, the diversity of each geographical zone and I was thrilled with mini-new epiphanies every now and then.

A new account for us, this was the crucial stage where the company could easily decide to cut their losses and move on (from us) if they were dissatisfied with anything. Also, their move would influence a lot of future, Potential clients. (Refer to the Glossary section for definitions).

Having an audience at the wrong moment, that too, the same one, was yet another instance of the aforementioned Murphy in my life. Why no one was around to witness it when I received a professional compliment, I could never understand. Yet, the first whiff of negativity from the client and hark - there you had a ready pair of interested ears perking up.

“Yes”, replied Mr. Sen with what seemed like ghoulish insistence on the subject.

Deciding to defend my reputation and put up a fight, I firmly responded with, “Mr. Sen, we went as per the pre-decided agenda, covering a few additional matters as well and we made great progress on several key issues”. As you can see, I’d by now got the hang of saying a lot without actually saying anything, if you know what I mean.

Mr. Sen responded very nicely to this and affirmed that yes, everything was covered, however the point, as he could see, was missing.

Despite the negative feedback, I felt a tingle of pleasant surprise. Till now, he had seemed a man of simple thinking, very easy-going, almost bucolic. While talking with him, one always felt that he wasn't quite all there. Discovering this philosophical depth to his mind was intriguing.

Pondering on his comment, I had to agree. There were times when I'd wondered at the futility of what we did for the brands we handled as it seldom translated into the utopian objectives we had for it. Of course, I say this in confidence. You'd never catch me admitting this to a client. What I mean is, I could make a research analysis interpretation on the product attributes with consumers sound positive or negative by interpreting it's findings accordingly. Devious LL was an expert at this. My conscience was still alive and kicking so I'd managed to avoid manipulating results thus far. Spiderman really had it all figured out. With great power came great responsibility. You'd have a hard time convincing LL of though. He would agree and yet manage to convince you that manipulating research results was being responsible. More on this some other time, though.

Anyway, getting back to the call, I decided to go with the flow, consequences be damned.

“You know, Mr. Sen, its true. This needed to be said. Am so glad someone did. I do think about it very often. Am relatively new at this and still trying to make sense of the corporate world, but working for someone who makes a hundred thousand a day while I make under a thousand and for clients who very often are purely into profiteering makes me wonder what the point of it all is. We get stuck with our own selfish money-making agendas and it’s not fulfilling…”.

“Yes, yes… so you’ll send me the point?” said Mr. Sen who was clearly not paying attention.

“What???”. I wondered why Grammar was such a neglected subject.

Thinking feverishly about what he could mean, I gestured to my team-member who’d entered a minute ago, to bring me a copy of the alleged report of the meeting, from notes I had taken. Since I was now Manager, I had people reporting to me. In effect, the only difference was it meant that they keyed in the report, not me. And I could delegate the more boring tasks to them.

My hopes of breaking into new insightful territories with Mr. Sen were all too good to be true. He clearly wasn't commenting on the futility of most of what we did. I thought about Mr. Sen and our past conversations. And suddenly got it.

I heard the door open and spotted my boss about to walk in. He was partly wedged into the room as his opening the door meant that my team-mate was half squashed behind the door and the cabin wall. No other sight made my mind race as much. If LL smelled a complaint, it meant a blot on my as yet unblemished record. Not to mention my reputation to be salvaged in front of my interested audience.

I suddenly felt a burst of goodwill towards Mr. Sen. Must be the endorphins from the adrenalin rush, a reaction to the stress I always felt on seeing LL. In a way, I was happy. With Mr. Sen, what you saw was what you got. I'd rather have a client who was easily satisfied. Knowing LL was keenly listening, I continued.

“Mr. Sen, before I respond, let me state how much of a pleasure it is to work with you and your team. Let me assure you that there’s no 'point missing'. Yes, the automatic paragraph numbering in the MS-Word typed report has jumped from 14. to 16. Am planning to write to Bill Gates on this matter. Why the numbering goes haywire in a saved document, whenever a print command is given to the printer shall always remain a mystery to me. Meanwhile, I’m sorry for the inconvenience, and Seema will re-send the report with the correct numbering in serial order.”

As I paused to draw in breath, Mr. Sen slowly said, “So, the point is not missing?”

“No, Mr. Sen.”

I sent an obligatory frown to Seema to indicate the least she could do was check the bullet point numbering on what was sent out. In case you are smarter than the average reader and use an operating system different from Microsoft, then read this explanation. He had meant “a” point was missing. A numbering point like this:-

1.Phase I of Product launch to be on Dassera*

2.Media rollout on 1st Dec

4.Phase II commences 15th Jan

Notice how 2 skips to 4. I swear it happens. For anyone who's suffered this, and wants to gripe, do get in touch. Will be happy to offer words of wisdom and the solution. 

*Auspicious day of launch as per the Hindu calendar. All clients were deeply terrified of earning the ire of Gods by launching at an inauspicious time. All us Group heads had a mandatory calendar of religious dates taped to our desktops.

“Are you sure?”, repeated Mr. Sen.

Clearly he needed time to get used to the new state of affairs.

“Yes, Mr. Sen. Everything discussed and every decision taken has been included fully in the report. How did you find the report otherwise?” I quickly added.

“Oh, excellent, excellent as always” replied Mr. Sen, very gratifyingly, and clearly enough for LL to hear. "They are always helpful. So all points are there, eh?”

I reflected on how one never learned things like this, how to interpret and use keen psychology, deep perceptual insights, to understand what the client actually meant.

After due reassurance I bid adieu and turned to LL.

I felt naughty and bold. It was time to say it. Especially, with the right number of witnesses present. I looked straight at my nemesis.

“Don’t you think I deserve a raise, LL?". 

I saw my faithful audience nod.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Day of the Call...continued

Bro: Not bad!

Me: Why are you on the extension! Buzz off!!

Bro: No way

Me: Get off or you’ll regret it.

At this point, it struck me that this interruption could be used to my advantage.

‘When embarrassing conversation occurs, shift focus’. Did Sun Tzu say that or Confucius? Maybe the last fortune cookie at that Chinese place.

Me: Mom, you need to concentrate on Akshay. He is going wayward. And Aksh, if you don’t put the phone down, this is my last warning.

Bro: There’s nothing you can do about it.

Me: Oh yeah? I was thinking of NOT telling mom about the cigarette I found in your jacket pocket.

Mom: What!

Bro: Oh Sh@#!!

Me: How long have you been smoking.

Bro: I don’t smoke. It’s a friend’s.

Me: And I’m Jennifer Lopez

Bro: By the way… what did you do with it?

Me: Threw it in the dustbin. And don’t dare go looking for it.

Yes, he was capable.

Bro: I thought you had lofty ideals, so how come you went through my jacket pockets?

Me: I wouldn’t touch your filthy jacket with a barge pole. It was lying in the middle of my bed and when I lifted it up, the cig fell out.

(And, digressing) Me: Why is even my bed not sacrosanct? I come home after a hard day’s work and why do I have to find some dusty heavy duty metal lump in middle of my bed!?!

Bro: They are my new guitar pedals. They are actually very cool. They were hard to find here. They are..

Me : I’m not interested in the case history!!! Next time, they go out the window. Okay now, here’s the deal. I won’t mention the other thing if you get mom off the line.

Bro: What other thing?

Me: Do. you. want. me. to. say. it.!

This time I was bluffing, but he didn’t know it.

Bro: Mom has settled down on the sofa with two cups of tea and the telephone. It is beyond my powers to get her off the line.

Me: I have already spent two hours talking to her.

Bro: I know. I was listening.

Of course, it had actually been only 20 minutes. I also found it surprising that Mom had stopped participating in the conversation. Apparently in the Joshi household, sons could get away with more than daughters. Or perhaps she was marveling at our long distance communication - that we were actually speaking without chucking things and/ or threatening dire consequences to each other’s cherished possessions.

By this time, enlightenment had dawned on my brother. He was actually smarter than me even though he was younger. I hate it when that happens.

Mom meanwhile continued the conversation as if this were a family intervention cum conference.

Mom: At least tell him to cut his hair. He listens to you.

Me: That last statement again proves how deluded you are mom. Anyway, on that point, Aksh, do see the Eagles’ latest acoustic track. They’ve all cut their hair. The guy from Pink Floyd’s cut his hair. What about RHCP*- they’ve cut their hair too. For the first time, I actually saw their faces. Long hair is passe. Jon Bon Jovi’s cut his hair too.

*Red Hot Chilli Peppers for the uninitiated.

Bro: Whatever

It was time to cut to the chase.

Me: Okay so hang up the phone and I’ll pay for your next gig equipment rental.

Bro: Done.

Me: Bye.

Bro: Bye.

Conversation finally over, I felt as if I’d survived a marathon still standing.

And ofcourse, my humiliation was complete. For now.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Answering commonly asked questions by faithful readers

Have stuck to adverbatim questions so readers can recognise their questions. Send your questions to

Q: Why the double R in Marrkit? And what the heck does it mean anyway?

Me: Look, I wondered too. We are Marrkit Marketing Consultants. We Capture the Marrkit. (Capture the Marrkit is our baseline. Get the pun? Marrkit, Market? LL is particularly proud of it). As per Indian law, you cannot register an English dictionary word as a Company name. Therefore, the twist in the spelling.

Q: What do you look like?

Me: Read the blog and draw your own conclusions!

Glossary of Marrkit’s Marketing Terms/ Office Jargon

Marrkit: An orifice (oops.. office) in Bombay - a marketing consultancy

Marrkitians: Employees at Marrkit.

Marrkitians Unofficial Definition of a Marketing Person: Start with a good human being; and take away his/ her innocence, commonsense, ethics, morals, values and add some ruthlessness, pedanticism, ego, ego and some more ego. That’s good to start with. Obviously, I really don’t think of myself as an MP.

Contact: Potential Prospects

Prospect: Potential Clients.

Client: Prospects converted into Clients.

Ex-Client: Clients who saw reason and quit while they still had some money, market share, self-respect and were tired of being conned.

Market Share: Share of Market. For more, refer to Kotler, Aaker etc

Acquired Learning (AL): When one learns, not so much by doing, but by watching what other people do. This is an Acquired Skill (AS).

Acquired Skill (AS): Achieved once Acquired Learning is perfected.

Flexi-time: Have replicated the office memo here exactly:-

Congratulations Marrkitians! We are happy to announce that as per your feedback, we are introducing "Flexi Timings". This is an initiative taken to improve your Quality of Life. Please follow as under. Please follow only one on any given day.

8 am to 5 pm

9 am to 6 pm

10 am to 7 pm

Note: For those who sign in later than 11 am, it will be considered one day’s leave. By tomorrow, kindly submit in advance on which day you will adhere to which of the above three time bands.

Now, I have the actual Feedback form, and have replicated the adverbatim suggestions from it. Suggestions were given anonymously.

(Disclaimer: Content is shocking, not for the weak hearted and is recommended for those above 18 years of age only.)

Dear Marrkitians, we believe that employees are our assets, and do help us serve you better by giving us our valuable feedback regarding Marrkit. Please use only 2 lines to answer. This is in line with our quest to Save Paper and Save the Environment.

PS : Filling the form is compulsory.

1. My whole team has quit! When are we going to stop being treated as slaves - how can we be expected to work 14 hours a day without overtime. I will quit if things don’t change.

2. I am married now. I have to reach home on time to cook. My mother in law is fed up of cooking alone. My husband is complaining. Let the married people at least leave first.

3. If we are expected to work till 10-11 pm at night, kindly allow cab-fare. Other companies allow cab-fare.

4. I am the sole supporting member of my family. I should be allowed to leave on time.

5. I come all the way from Kalyan. I leave my home in the morning at 5 am and reach home only at 11.30 pm. My daddy is saying I should leave this job. My dad wants to speak to LL.

6. There are cockroaches in my workstation.

7. There is no drinking water in the office.

8. There is no water in the toilet.

9. I cannot fit in the toilet. (Author’s note: This is possible. It happens with those who cross Body Mass Index (BMI) limits. To understand, stand up and extend your left arm straight ahead and the other arm to your right. That’s the dimension of the office loo. I’m guessing the office was designed keeping LL’s body proportions in mind. This is not only possible but also probable, because the office was designed by his wife.)

10. My internet is not working.

11. My printer is not working.

12. The AC (air-conditioner) is not working.

13. My AC is also not working.

14. Can there be some biscuits kept in the office. I fainted yesterday as there was nothing to eat. Since there is no restaurant one can order food from, can we at least have a pantry? All offices have a pantry at the very least. (Author’s note: We did have a Pantry. It was called a Pantry, but it consisted of a gas stove. Only tea and coffee* could be made there. For this, there were four Office Boys. 2 Office Boys were actually LL’s cook and houseboy too. Our company size was 16 employees excluding Office Boys.)

*: The unwritten rule was, coffee is not to be asked for by Marrkitians, as it is more expensive. Tea was okay. Of course, one asked for coffee, but getting it was dependant on the Office Boy’s mood. If you got it while it was hot, with sugar and without an insect floating in it, it meant you were having a good day.

15. Please excuse that Sheetal has not filled in the form. She has resigned today and left the office.

Books to read to become a Marketing Consultant (in Recommended Order):

  • How to Surprise Your Competition
  • How to Kill the Competition
  • Don’t Focus on Competitors
  • Get Your Customer
  • Know Your Customer
  • Keep Your Customer
  • What To Do When the Customer Starts Leaving
  • Stop Selling, Start Living… Start Marketing
  • Ageless Product, Timeless Profit
  • So What if Your Product Doesn’t Meet Any Consumer Need?
  • Reap First, Sow Later
  • Principles of Marketing
  • Business Ethics for Newcomers
  • How to be Ethical and Yet Succeed - All New Secrets!
  • Marketing For Dummies
  • Marketing Is For Dummies
  • It’s Not About Marketing!
  • It’s About Brand Building
  • 360 Degree Communication
  • Zen and the Art of Customer Maintenance
Author's note: These books may not be easily available at your friendly neighbourhood bookstore as they are usually sold out. At least, they were when I tried.

The Day of the Call

I was about to take a call from my boss’s cabin, owing to my workstation phone being out of order yet again. The official work-lingo for a little 2 by 2 feet space that I was allocated was religiously referred to as the Workstation. It consisted of a table on which my PC and printer jostled for space along with my ancient phone instrument.
My phone was surely one of the items the Indian chapter of Greenpeace had protested against sometime in the past. It was hopelessly outdated technology. I was convinced that it was one of the items that had been illegally dumped into the Indian ocean by one of the “developed” countries. I was sure that LL had found it washed ashore one day during his morning walk.
I couldn’t stretch my legs out fully under the table as there were mysterious cardboard boxes there. The first time my curiosity overcame caution, I tried opening the top flap, only to set free certain baby cockroaches from their cozy home. That experience brought home the meaning of the phrase “erring on the side of caution” which I decided to follow.
I hate jargon and aphorisms pretty much equally. But I do get the point now. Of course, being a “Marketing Person” meant I could talk pretty much all the time in a mix of aphorisms and jargon. It wasn’t for nothing that I did my MBA!
I still haven’t decided on the right definition of MBA. It officially stands for Masters in Business Administration. Alternate definitions are:-
  • Mostly Boring & Avoidable
  • Minimise your Brains in Administration
  • Masters in Bullshitting Also
Pardon the use of bullet points. Am so conditioned to using them. A habit I can’t break.
Anyway, walking into my boss’s cabin, unoccupied by him, I noticed two guests, seated opposite his desk. I guessed they were either Prospects* or Clients*.
*For Definitions, refer to the GLOSSARY OF TERMS/ OFFICE JARGON Section
Prospects as per LL were to be treated with kid gloves as they represented people who could sign up for our services. It was easier for me to recognise prospects whenever LL was around as you could see the dollar signs in his eyes.
These guys however looked different from our usual set of Clients as they were well-dressed, well-read, looked like they had an IQ of over 130 and knew English.
I noticed his phone instrument’s receiver was missing and took the call on speakerphone. Big Mistake. The conversation went something like this. Have put down all I could remember, may have blocked some memories due to trauma.
Mom: Why aren’t you picking up your cell phone?
Me: Umm..its in my bag. Didn’t hear it
Mom: So what were you doing?
Me: Working. Is it anything urgent?
Mom: What time are you coming home today?
Me: Don’t know yet.
Mom: Why don’t you know? What sort of office do you work in. Make sure you reach by 7.30, the Khanna’s are coming for dinner.
Me: Why?
Mom: What do you mean why?
Me: As in, why are they coming over for dinner?
Mom: What type of a question is this??
Me: And why do I have to come home on time?
Mom: Because they are coming to meet you.
Me: Why?
Mom: What do you mean why!
Me: But they are your friends, why ‘coming to meet me’?
Mom: They have a son - have you forgotten?
Me: Don’t they have two?
Mom: Two what?
Me: Sons!
Mom: Yes, so what?
Me: Nevermind, whatever, will try to get home. Okay bye.
Mom: You’re not hanging up on me today! You never speak to me at home! You purposely didn’t pick up your cellphone. Don’t think I don’t know. Now today, you will have to listen to me..
Me: (Interrupting the flow and slightly red in the face): Err.. there are prospects here right now..
Mom: That is what I’m talking about. Prospects. They are interested in you for their son.
Me: He needs a marketing consultant..?
Mom: Don’t get funny with me. You are already too old. Everyone is asking about your marriage plans. Mrs. Shrikhande, Mrs. Holekar, Mrs. Gokhale, Mrs. Joshi, Mrs. Kulkarni and Mrs. Sapre-some of them, probably for their own sons.
Me (in an attempt to distract): Hmm.. interesting. How come all these moms didn’t have any daughters? This is an interesting trend which needs investigating, about bias and gender discrimination amongst those of their generation. This is clearly a case of women discriminating against women unless their husbands were involved in the conspiracy.
Mom: All are not as highly educated as us. We belong to the highest caste of Brahmins. (Let me explain. I have a sister and a brother, which made my parents Equal Opportunity parents, I guess.)
Me: Okay great. I have to get back to work now.
Mom: Nahin. I have not finished! And I know you are not working. Isn’t it supposed to be lunch time? For two minutes can’t you talk with your own mother? Is this the respect I get after years and years of bringing you up? You have gone out of control. You must pay more attention to your brother. He is getting wayward. He needs your guidance and attention.
Mom tended to wander in terms of topics. By the way, she’s done her Bachelor of Education in English Literature and Masters in Psychology. A troublesome combination.
The said brother was one who from childhood had modelled himself on a combination of Dennis the Menace and Damien (of Omen fame). He was four years younger.
By this time, the clients or whoever they were had perked up. Previously looking bored, one had been idly looking out the window and the other was presumably surfing the net on his cell phone. But now, they had given up all pretence and were openly listening.
I don’t blame them.
I appreciated the fact that they were well-bred enough to keep a straight face. And also that if I glanced over at them directly, one casually glanced at his shoes and the other studied the table top. Which reflected good manners.
Me: He doesn’t listen to me
Mom: So what? As a sister you have a duty to mentor him.
Me: Can we discuss this when I get home?
Mom: When you get home?! When do you get home? You have been coming home at 10 o clock!! Why don’t you just admit it. Which movie did you go for? With whom did you go out for dinner?
Me: I was at work!
Mom: What sort of office do you work in? Tell your boss you have to leave.
Me: Everyone in Bombay works late.
Mom: Mrs. Phule from Pune called up today
Maybe abrupt topic change is a psychological ploy.
Me: Can we catch up on life, the universe & everything when I get home?
Mom: No, enough is enough. Get home before the Khanna’s reach and wear a salwar-kurta.
Me: Why?
Mom: What impression will they get about you?
Me: But they’ve known us since we were kids, how does my attire matter?
Mom: Because they are interested in you for Chetak.
Me: I don’t think of him that way
Mom (ever the practical): So start thinking
Me: We have nothing in common.
Mom: How do you know?
Me: That’s my point. He never talks, he’s weird.
Now what I really meant was that this dude was the type who didn’t meet my eye. My problem with that was that I didn’t like where his eye usually was… about 6 inches southwards of my chin.
Mom (in a tone of voice implying irrefutable logic): He’s A Marine Engineer.
Now, this is what I thought of Marine Engineers, at least of the variety I’d met so far. Please don’t get me wrong. Am not implying all are like that. Maybe I’d just met the wrong type. Marine engineers are an interesting subject for a thesis. What happens to marine engineers? They lead cloistered lives. It’s my theory that marine engineers are mostly gay (as in of the homosexual variety) out of habit. Some commit suicide and others after spending so much time on a ship, usually get depraved and/ or very sex-starved. Many, I’d heard on good authority, had wives in every port. Interestingly, in India, Marine Engineers are considered good husbands as they are paid extremely well. I guess that’s to compensate for the fact that they work in adverse conditions.
I feel for them, truly. Just not the ones I’ve met so far.
I was about to express my opinion about Marine Engineers aloud, but Murphy’s Law and its ramifications in my life made me keep mum on the subject.
For those not familiar with this adage, Murphy’s Law broadly states that ‘Whatever can go wrong, will.’ I completely believe in it, because this tenet proved to have startling accuracy in the future course of events. Will elaborate on this with suitable examples later. To cut a long story short, the people in the cabin could have been marine engineers for all I knew.
Me: Am quoting Shania Twain here, ‘That don’t impress me much’.
Mom: Charu is also engaged.
Me: So?
Mom: Now you are the only one left.
Me: So?
Mom: Bakwaas band karo. (Stop talking nonsense). He’s a smart boy.
I was speechless. Only for a second however.
Me: On what basis do you claim that. Define smart.
Mom: His parents are nice.
Me: Okkayyy… I don’t dispute that. What sort of a life will I have with a Marine Engineer? He spends 8 to 9 months on a ship. Didn’t you read the last article in Femina about Marine Widows?
Mom: What about them?
Me: The fact that they are widowed!
Mom: What rubbish. It’s a good life. You are supposed to leave your job and stay on the ship with him.
Me (with irrefutable logic): If I wanted to spend 8 months on a ship, I would’ve done Marine Engineering.
Mom: You’ve become too spoilt. I’ve let you get out of hand. When was the last time you visited any temple? When was the last time you cooked dinner?
Me: You’ve been watching too many Balaji teleserials. Sure. If you like, I’ll come home, wear a sari with full make-up and way too much jewellery, will visit a temple everyday and diligently cook at least three meals a day. I’ll ofcourse, have to quit my job, and sit idle, and plot against various family members.
For those not familiar with the top ranking Indian TV soap operas, this is pretty much what happens. Spread over an excruciating 200 episodes at a minimum level.
Mom: Mrs. Trivedi came over today
Me (getting desperate by now): Mom, we have an audience.
Mom: She was telling me about her son. I think she wants you to marry him. She told Mrs. Gargi who told Mrs. Shrikhande. I heard it from Mrs. Joshi when I met her downstairs.
Me (I found this easy to follow as I was used to conversing with my mom): Do you mean Dheeraj?
Mom: No, Kapil
Me: What?! I have no idea who he is! Mom, I have unfortunately had to take this call on speakerphone in my boss’s cabin, so let me put the phone down, and call you back from elsewhere.
Mom: No, today I will not hear excuses. You are making up stories.
Me: Mom, believe me, there are unwitting hostages to this conversation!
At this moment, the senior Managing Director-type got up and walked out of the cabin. Apparently he had headed towards the washroom. We had a network of office boys who usually kept track of client movements - that’s how I know. This is easy as the office is small enough for everyone to know where everyone else is.
Me: Mummy, half of the audience has walked out, and the other half is probably contemplating jumping out of the nearest window.
I saw the remaining Client smile. Quite nicely.
I also heard laughter. It struck me that our home phone had a recently installed extension.