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


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


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)


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

: 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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Curious Case of a Chocolate Flan

On the personal front, I'd started feeling that anyone interesting of the male variety I'd lately met (or not met), fell into five categories. By interesting I mean - humane, witty, intelligent and attractive (to me).

This only reconfirmed my theory refined over the years, that all the good guys: 

1. Have left the country for the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand or S.E.A.*
2. Are about to leave the country for USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand or S.E.A.

3. Are married or taken.

4. Are gay.

5. Are too young for me.

For obvious reasons I refuse to acknowledge those who were just not interested in me.

* These are the most attractive destinations for all working professionals out here. In USA it would be NY winning hands down as the leading destination of the pack.

Not that it mattered. My working hours and the way I consequently looked over weekends - eyes ringed with dark c's, the occasional sniffle attack due to sudden transition from heavy cool air-conditioning to searing or humid heat - did not leave me with the time nor inclination to socialize. Story of my life, so far.

On this day, I was geared up for my first day long excursion with LL. Naïve newcomer that I was, as per his instructions, I'd shown up on the dot at 7 a.m. below his residence building and was instructed to wait in his car, manned by his driver.

LL joined us at 8.30 a.m.

Though my enthusiasm for the exciting day ahead had wilted somewhat, it quickly revived as we started our journey.

In stark contrast to our claustrophobic workstation sans windows, it was nice to look at the blue sky, puffs of clouds and the lazy marshes whiz by.

Running late for the first meeting meant that we were hard pressed for time, and by late afternoon, having managed to pacify and satisfy various clients along the way who were not expecting us to show up considerably more than an hour after the scheduled time, we unpacked our delayed lunch tiffins of biryani (LL's) and soggy sandwiches (mine) as we drove to our final two meetings from the suburbs to the South of Bombay.

On such days LL's car resembled a mobile makeshift office, with files piled up on whatever space the driver, LL and I didn't occupy.

Both LL, I and the driver were usually on calls the entire time, with brief intervals of respite. 

Why was the driver on phone? Because LL never spoke directly to his driver.

All instructions were conveyed by LL's wife from home to the driver. For any last minute change in route, LL would first call his wife and then she would call his driver. Watching this ritual did get my blood pressure up a little higher, but I never knew why it was done, so don't ask.

Despite everything, our meetings were successful and the view from the window again captivated me. Okay, so this time, it was more buildings, shopfronts, hoardings and less horizon, but Bombay looks progressively cleaner and somewhat wealthier as you head southwards which gives a feeling of ascension to something better that really lifts your spirits. Only true Bombay 'burbies will understand this. 

Just before we reached our client's office, he called LL and cancelled the meeting due to some urgent reasons. This gave us a couple of hours to kill until our next one.

I stayed quiet, waiting to hear what his next instruction to Mrs. LL would be. Strangely, LL made no move to speed dial her number. Curious and curiouser.

"Oberoi chalo", said LL, spraying Polo liberally all over himself.

The car swerved slightly.

Bablu the driver recovered quickly from his shock at being addressed directly and drove on.

I slid open my window slightly so I could breathe again.

For once, the scenic curve of Marine Drive failed to capture my attention. The expression on LL's face was very familiar - I'd seen it before. On kids who’ve discovered the junk food stash and TV remote while their parents are out.

"Let's take a break, eh? If Mrs. L calls up on your cell just pretend it's on silent", puffed LL. What fun. This was a side to LL I didn't know existed.

We plonked ourselves down on the plush couches in front of the famous windows at the cafe overlooking the sea. It was exciting. In pre office days and window shopping at the Oberoi, I would look with wonder at all the super-busy men and women lounging around the lobbies and cafes for power brunches, power lunches and power teas. It was all so aspirational. I wanted to be part of that fascinating world.

And there we were. I was no longer awe-struck student, walking past looking at all the corporate movers and shakers, but felt at home amongst them. 

Well, once you're seated, anywhere in the Oberoi can make you feel that way.

All around us were people just like us, seemingly in between meetings or conducting them. It was fun to mimic their snooty expression while glancing over to check them out.

LL, feigning disinterest, tried eavesdropping on the conversation at the next table. He fed me snippets of what he occasionally overheard.

I wondered though if that's all he would feed me on. 

I also wondered if it was okay to order myself, or wait for him to ask. I tried recalling etiquette pointers on 'when unexpectedly out with the Boss, first time'**, but nothing really came to mind. Slightly tense and conscious, on this my first social outing with the boss, I wanted to avoid a faux pas of any kind. Or what LL the Martian, oops sorry, LL the Marrkitian would consider one.

Even after half an hour of arriving, LL showed no signs of encouraging the occasionally hovering server. 

I remembered how my day had begun and steeled myself. "I think I'll have a juice", I ventured. 

"Sure! Ofcourse!!", said LL, ever the gentleman. "In fact, I'll have one too!", he boomed.

Midway through our juices, LL had thawed greatly. 

This was partly because, given his uncanny luck, the conversation he'd eavesdropped upon had yielded results. One of our client's competing product's advertising strategy was being laid bare by the loud and eloquent ad account manager to our left, straight into LL's eager ears. Having secured this little titbit of a nugget, LL leaned over to wink and whisper, "His voice got louder after he saw you. What a show off!". 

I didn't get it for quite some time. Hey I was younger and innocent then. Ofcourse it stumped me. A compliment? From LL? I didn't know how to react.

The other reason LL was really happy was that a group of newly hatched, smart MBAs at another table had recognised him and clustered around briefly telling him how much they admired him. Nothing made LL's day more than public recognition. After subjecting them to a fifteen minute homily, he'd let them go.

Meanwhile, LL, feeling expansive, said, "Let's celebrate. Order anything! This is for you, you deserve it!"

Recovering from this shocker, I took the menu he proffered. I knew him well enough to wait a bit.

"From here", he suggested, pointing to the truffles and pastries section. He still held on to one end of the massive menu so I pretended to study it and waited some more. 

"Let me help you. How about the chocolate flan? It's really good here, you must have it." 

I can never say no to chocolate but I knew LL well enough now not to get my hopes up.

"We'll have a chocolate flan pastry", said he to the server.

"Just one?", the superior looking server raised his eyebrows, flicking his glance at me.

Just in case you're wondering, the times I speak of, were not those of recession or economic slump. 

"Yes, yes, just one will do. It's for her, my colleague - I'm not allowed to have all this. I was telling her it's the best here", said LL loudly, playing the part of magnanimous, indulgent boss taking his employee out for a meal, for the benefit of his fans at the next table who were paying us a lot of attention. 

The flan arrived and I suddenly realized that it was a wise move on LL's part to order just one. It was massive, and flanked on either side by two dessert spoons. The server strategically placed it in the exact centre of the space between LL and me.

I picked up my spoon and waited for LL's move. He slid the plate slightly closer to my end of the table. 

Here was another etiquette related quandary. Given his oddities, would LL really not mind if I dug into the same pastry he would later have? Did he really want me to have it all? 

"I'm not allowed, this is all for you", he mourned. 

Unable to resist the charms of a good chocolate for long, I dug out a minuscule piece. It was melt-in-the-mouth gooey, dreamy, dark chocolate, and I couldn't wait to have more. 

I pushed the dish over to his side.

"Do have some, it's great", I offered, inviting him to taste it before I polished the rest off.

"No, no, I really am not allowed, if Mrs. LL finds out…" His gaze was fixed on the flan and his fist was clenched hard around the dessert spoon.

Perhaps I'd misjudged LL. He wasn't all self-centred and self-serving. I felt glad that he meant it this time and wasn't faking it. It's always a pity when people have to deprive themselves of the good things life has to offer. For the first time, I looked at LL with new eyes. I was slowly getting to see the real persona behind his "Boss" image.

I waited for form's sake while he took a call on his cell.

The loud-spoken agency guy had apparently finished his meeting and I watched him swagger out with his client.

My gaze wandered to the spectacular view which relaxed and mesmerized me once again. The gently swaying palms and the wide expanse of the aqua sea looked beautiful through the tinted windows.

LL was right. I deserved to indulge in chocolate like that. Eagerly anticipating the rest of it, I decided to pull the plate back to devote myself exclusively to the flan as the mandatory polite interval from the time I made the offer had passed. 

I turned around and reached out. To an empty plate. 

And saw LL, licking the last few crumbs off his spoon. 

It hadn't even taken him a minute. More fool me.

He caught my eye. "We won't tell Mrs. L about this okay?", he winked.


** Given my valuable experience working with LL all these years, I decided to pen my own helpful list called "Etiquette pointers when out with the Boss, especially if he's LL ". Flatteringly, the list became worth it's weight in gold and folklore amongst Marrkitians old and new. Will add it to the archives another time, if you like.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Pursuit of Bollyness - I

There are some who have the ability to catnap anytime, anywhere.

An enviable trait, unless they happen to be sitting next to you at a movie show.

Having snoozed peacefully through the crucial part of a thriller*, they awake newly refreshed, demanding that you fill them in on the intricacies of the plot.

* A Hindi movie allows a lot of opportunity for the sleep deprived, as the average flick is a three-hour long saga. At least.

Knowing they won't connect with the rest of the movie unless you do, you summon all your extempore précis skills to give an expert synopsis of the story so far, in a very audible whisper.

How the (tycoon) male action lead or the "hero" - actual age 45, playing 28, in a complicated flashback recalls how he met and fell for the yet-to-be brutally murdered (impoverished & orphaned) female lead - actual age 16, playing 22, ultimately executing violent, gory revenge to the evil doer.

Note to global readers: Yes, such movies exist. 

If you're lucky, a Hindi song starts just in time, sparing you homicidal glances from neighbours as you yak on.

Such an audience is however an exception. The average Hindi movie addict would willingly watch any movie released, over and over again, with complete attention.

Entertainment apart, Bollywood fascinates one and all.

If there is a common element that brings people together - young and old, homemaker and the career oriented, scientist and DJ, teacher and socialite, whether slumdog or penthouse millionaire, man and woman, it has to be the Hindi Movie. Or even, the Hindi movie star.

Our clients were no different.

They would simply lose their heads at the dizzying thought of attending their ad film shoot with a leading luminary of Bollywood.

Throwing caution and indeed, their budgets to the winds, they were suddenly willing to overlook a lot of past parsimony.

Having spent the last two quarters of the year haggling over not having to hike budgets, employee bonuses and even employee strength, they were categorically ready to pay obscene amounts to see their favourite film star shooting loving glances at or cuddling their bottle of hair oil, shampoo, toilet bleach, wall paint, soap or toothpaste as the case may be. All permanently frozen in celluloid. 

Just in time for boosting the bottomline, final quarter. I refer ofcourse to the balance sheet bottomline, as in, profits. Not keeping your bottom in shape by dancing to the latest Bollywood track. Don't be offended. This clarification is meant more for a certain cross section of ex-clients who may be reading this, like the one written about here, not you. Just pre-empting queries, as it were. 

In some cases, we were able to make their dreams come true - not so much we, but the media pundits who ruled all things Bollywood - the well connected ad folks and the production houses, including the occasional Bolly movie director, like Karan Sabjan who also made ad films on the side just for fun and some pocket change. Given that he had direct access to most of the top stars, he was one of our most popular and in demand ad makers. 

On this day, one of our cow belt* clients settled himself down for our next meeting. He headed a (largely) junk food company that was mid-sized, unheard of in the West zone, but popular in the North. 

* It was interesting to discover that the media world referred to the certain sections of the North and Central zone of India as the "cow belt". This may give a general impression of dairy farming, rustic poverty and the simple life, which is indeed the common man's way of life in rural India. However, the entrepreneurs that belong to the 'cow belt' are multi-millionaires to say the least. Their lifestyles are luxurious owing to the subsidies they enjoy as "farmers" and forget to pass on to their farm labourers. Modern day zamindars, they own sprawling designer farmhouses, a fleet of cars, and their wives would put any fashionista to shame given her accumulated knowledge and wealth of international designer labels. Don't believe me? Go see. No surprise that Indians hold the largest number of offshore Swiss bank accounts.  

"I want Amibath Machchan*", said Mr. Prakash, once ensconced comfortably in our conference room. His bratty offspring, let's call him Bottompincher Jatin or BJ, was busy settling his array of four cell phones in front of him. Two of them were the latest models of mobiles, just launched. Each meeting that he attended once a month, at least two of his phones were replaced by a newer model. 

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

Amibath Machchan also known as the Big M, is one of the leading stars here. Which is an understatement as anyone knows. For those who are visiting our planet from elsewhere in the universe and still haven't understood his significance, it would suffice to say that in certain parts of India, he had temples dedicated to him, with people garlanding his effigy. 

I looked over at LL and he at me. For once, we were in empathy. 

"Well, he's certainly the biggest", said LL. What he meant is, the Big M had been around since the last 30 (or was it 40?) odd years, having in no way eroded his appeal. Nor his price. 

He was also known as the King of endorsements. Not wishful thinking, in this case. 

A fact we were sure Mr. P was missing the significance of - financially speaking. 

"Exactly why he would be perrrrfect ji. Our sweets are the best and so is he. A best to best* tie-up, as you always say, ha!", countered Mr. Prakash. "Besides, he's doing Badur's ads! If he doesn't mind selling their hair oil, mosquito repellent and Gawd knows what else, then he should certainly have no problem with our brand. Everything of superb quality! What say Jatin?" BJ, jolted from his unmoving gaze at his new palm pilot, nodded. 

* The term we used was 'leader to leader'. Not quite 'best to best', but I guess Mr. P had absorbed the point well, which is the important thing. 

Badur was Mr. Prakash's pet bugbear. Now, we happened to have heard only last week from Karan Sabjan, the exact amount Big M had negotiated for the Badur campaign for a two year exclusive. Nothing less than Rs. 12 crores. Or 120 million. 

Mr. Prakash's new brand wasn't even selling that much yet. Realistically it wouldn't, even for the next 5 years. 

This was going to be difficult. There was no way of breaking it gently to Mr. Prakash. 

He was one of those obstinate ones who once having made up their minds, considered it unthinkable to change it. Failure on our part to follow his decree would mean loss of face for him, and loss of revenue for us. Why? Because he'd drop our consultancy like a hot brick. 

Bitten by the Bollywood bug, he'd have to be weaned off some other way. It was easy to guess why he'd succumbed. All the top actors were on an endorsing spree, from male innerwear to outerwear, shoes to hair gel, perfumes to pens. Small wonder that Mr. P felt the urge to take a flying leap onto the celebrity bandwagon. 

"Okay, we'll see what we can do", said LL, taking the easy way out. 

I let my jaw get back to normal position before the client could notice. 

We'd ended the meeting satisfactorily. I backed out of the room, making sure never to face my bottomline, er, behind towards BJ. The small matter remained however, of signing up Big M for Mr. Prakash's cow belt brands. 

If A. Machchan could be called the King of Endorsements, and M. Jackson the King of Pop, then that would make LL the undisputed King of Manipulation. 

If anyone could do this, he could. It was time to wag the dog. 

To be continued…