When they go out in public, columnists for national newspapers are often mobbed by fans and curious onlookers. These ardent admirers then pepper the scribe with questions: “How do you write so awesomely? Have you been working out? Where do you get your ideas? Sir, lifetime free platinum credit card?” and so on.
For some this can be a hassle. But many secretly enjoy the attention.
I eagerly anticipate the day this happens to me. Sigh.
But till then let me tell you where I got the ideas for this edition of Cubiclenama: the Delhi Auto Expo 2010.
If you are in Delhi this weekend, and love your cars and buses, I highly recommend that you pop over to Pragati Maidan for a look-see. Thousands of people are planning to do so and the roads outside the Maidan will be gridlocked for kilometres in every direction. This will give you a good opportunity to get to know your car or bus intimately. And, if you follow traffic lights, you can get to know other people’s cars intimately also.
Once you make it inside the Maidan, however, there are many delights that await. Mercs, Audis and Harley-Davidsons sit, and sometimes slowly rotate, inside swish company pavilions.
This year there is a fair amount of focus at the expo on green/alternative/non-fossil/renewable/sustainable/low-carbon/low-emission technologies. You’ll see plenty of hybrid bikes and autos zipping around the venue driven by slightly embarrassed product marketing managers under strict orders.
But nothing represents this focus on green technology more than the sheer Paris-Dakar rally-like distances you need to walk, with minimal support from signboards, to go from pavilion to pavilion. For instance, the route from Hall 6 to Hall 7 is a short walk past a soft drinks vendor, around an unmanned assistance booth, and then past Connaught Place, take a U-turn near Jantar Mantar and then a short auto ride through Safdarjung Enclave before you hit a flyover. Hall 7 is just behind you on the left.
But enough about the expo itself. So I walk into Hall 12 A and whom do I run into unexpectedly but Ambal!
Ambal was one of my first bosses on my very first job many years ago in a factory in Chennai. At the time he was the maintenance manager of a plant. Now he is deputy general manager of a division.
While it was nice to meet him after so long, it wasn’t something I would have arranged myself.
My first job was not entirely a pleasant one. I won’t go into details, but there may have been a scene or two at work. Perhaps a sudden resignation. Perhaps a long letter to the board of directors. Perhaps this letter used “hiring policy” and “astronomically moronic” in the same sentence. Perhaps hate mails followed.
I was expecting Ambal to skewer me to the Hall 12 A floor with one of the welding machines on display.
But in fact we had the nicest, sweetest conversation. Ambal made no reference at all to the “Graduate Trainee Incident of 2001” and we spent warm minutes chatting about work, families and old co-workers. Later when I thought about it, I was taken aback.
I’d never ever expected to ever again meet the old bunch from Chennai except over small-caliber handguns or Malappuram knives.
Organizations, it actually appears, seem to have shorter memories than you think.
Have skeletons in the closets of your professional past? Some of them may not be skeletons at all.
Some may be cute Ambals.
Later, I was in yet another pavilion. One of the big-badge car makers. Top management milled around in suits. Middle management milled around top management looking anxious.
One journalist stepped up and asked a CXO-type what he thought of the company’s new model. A ripple of panic passed over the CXO’s face. And then, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that he had an MBA from a premium business school, he spoke:
“Oh, this model is really at the cutting edge of this product vertical. We have very strong expectations from this model given the market share that this variant has potentially in this sub-segment.” And then, with a flourish: “The Indian market is ready for world-class products like this.”
I know what you’re thinking: “He could have surely used a ‘paradigm shift’ in there somewhere.”
The thing is, while he is more than happy to be photographed, his knowledge of these products is somewhat less than encyclopaedic.
Alas it is, I suppose, the way of the world. That the guys who actually make the cars hardly get the weekend off, while the boss is traipsing around Pragati Maidan smiling for the cameras and telling quietly to himself:
“Four wheels. Twelve cylinders. Four wheels. Twelve cylinders... But how many cc?”
Anyhow, I need to run now. There is this display I must see in Hall 3 on Sunday evening. I better leave for Pragati Maidan now.
Cubiclenama takes a fortnightly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at email@example.com