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.

Good Manners

“May I speak to Manisha please?” asked the deep and polite male voice in my entire history of working here. Man, I thought, transferring the call, who says, “please”? Certainly not callers to Marrkit.

Though designated “Group Brand Head”, am expected to pick up phone calls as we supposedly cannot afford to hire a telephone operator. Special timings are allocated for calls to be picked up in rotation by everyone who works here. The list of timings was taped to my Workstation desktop.

By the way, when I joined, I was designated Brand Executive. Then I was confirmed as Brand Executive. The career path then dictated that I become a Senior Brand Executive, then Brand Manager and then Senior Brand Manager. This was as per the Marrkit Career Path. This was also framed by LL.

However, fate and perhaps my work skills intervened and I received an “accelerated promotion” which meant I became a Brand Manager directly after Brand Executive.

It did make me proud.

At this stage, I was a Group Brand Head. Go figure.

The Beginning

Let’s start with when I took up my first job. I was 23 then. A small marketing consultancy called Marrkit. People working for Marrkit were known as “Marrkitians”.

Am not kidding.

Each time I heard myself being referred to as one, I felt as if I’d turned into a distant species of some creepy-crawly alien life form.

The firm is headed by a super-thin and tall “Boss” whom you almost can’t see if he turns sideways. He’s called LL by most. Not short for LL Cool J, but Luvleen Lalitlalkishen. Don’t blame ‘em. There were a few diligent ones in our office who still persisted, or rather, laboured with “Mister Lalitlalkishen”. His wife called him Luvleen. I decided to join the throng of those who called him LL.

He loved jargon. For those who don’t know, jargon is official management speak. Let me elaborate.

You know how when you call up and the Secretary, oops, Executive Assistant* says, “He’s not available right now”? That really means, “He’s on his favourite toilet seat, pondering over the next marketing strategy. And taking way too long. Call later”. He also loved creating his own jargon.

My name is Aashita Joshi, of Hindu (Indian) origin, and means, ‘one who is full of hope’. I guess now I just have one small correction - ‘One who was full of hope’. I haven’t fully recovered yet.

Scott Adams had nothing on me, man!

*: At Marrkit, it was a mortal sin to call a secretary a secretary. You had to call her Executive Assistant. Yes, it was always a ‘Her‘ at Marrkit. You could tell which one she was as she was the only one who left at 5:15 pm sharp. Our office timings were from 9 am to 6 pm.

Not! far from the madding crowd

This is a narrative with a difference.

That it reflects what went on in the past, being jotted down only now, experience by experience. Another difference is that names have been changed, as the objective is not to be offensive to any one or provide publicity, positive or harmful, to any of the personalities mentioned.

This is about my first job. In the most ‘happening’ city of India - Mumbai. This is also a compilation of conversations and experiences from my somewhat eventful life (at least to me) interspersed with meeting an astonishingly varied and interesting set of people, some nice, some odd. I haven’t simply invented this. There are frequent jumps between space and time and myriad digressions, so pay attention. If it still doesn’t make sense, I’ll endeavour to clarify.

So what is this about? Read on to know more. Some of it would be in the form of conversations, or just plain rambling. Do visit often and comment if you like. Would be nice hearing from you.

I’m a single gal, living in India, in a city called Mumbai, also known earlier as Bombay, a teeming metropolis; like no other.